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Since it has been three months since I have posted here, I need to make a decision about what I want to do here and what direction I want to go in. It astounds me that this blog still gets about 30 hits a day from all kinds of different places and that some of my oldest posts are the most popular.
Discussions of gender and sexuality I would like to retreat from. My views on humanity expressed in maleness and femaleness are not only objectionable to the vast majority of my fellow Christians, but lo and behold, they may not even be as Orthodox as I thought they were. Exposure to some of St. Maximus the Confessor’s thinking on man as male and female dislodged me from my dogmatic slumber.
The problem with binary solutions to everything – prickly Malacandrian Blog And Mabloggery over and against gooey Perelandran Sexual Existentialism – is that they foster that continual us-vs-them low-grade conflict that militates against our salvation. As Father Philotheos Faros points out in Functional And Dysfunctional Christianity, individuals define themselves over against, and in competition with, other individuals. Odio ergo sum. On the other hand, persons can only come into the fullness of their personhood in communion with other persons, who will supply what is lacking.
That’s a hard word for me. I am deeply invested in being right. I need to adopt the attitude of Matushka Elizabeth, the beloved virgin-wife of St. John of Kronstadt: “I am content to let God reveal who is right and who is wrong.”
After resisting the temptation for almost twenty years, I finally started reading Robert Jordan’s series The Wheel Of Time. I had heard a lot of things that were not good about this series; that it is over-written, that Jordan reuses the same female character over and over again, that it suffers from a lack of focus. Although it is hard to judge from reading the first volume of the series, The Eye Of The World, I can see justification for all of those criticisms.
One thing that annoys me is how often his characters chuckle. I have had to learn to un-notice this lest it distract me from the other virtues of Jordan’s storytelling. It is true that Jordan (actually pulp writer James Oliver Rigney, Jr) is wordy. If Joe Abercrombie had written this series, there would have been three or four sharply written battles by now. If George R.R. Martin had written it, half of the characters in whom I had invested my emotional capital would already have been killed off in unexpected ways. If JRR Tolkien had written it, I would already have been exposed to a half-dozen invented languages. Jordan has just moved me about two hundred miles down the road from the protagonists’ home turf, and nothing much has happened yet.
Jordan/Rigney is American, and rumor has reached me that a lot of the sturm und drang of postwar American life finds a reflection in The Wheel of Time. Having slogged through Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, and having unexpectedly enjoyed the experience, I am willing to give Jordan/Rigney the benefit of the doubt. I have also heard that his female characters get better and more full-orbed, although I don’t expect them to rise to level of Martin’s.
Anyone who expects the Orthodox observance of Lent to make them a better person or a better Christian is laboring under a severe delusion. We’re about halfway through now, and never have I felt more like human refuse than I feel right now. I have to admit my cowardice, my love of comfort and convenience, my propensity for judging others harshly and demanding special consideration for myself, my snippiness and shortness with my wife, my family and my fellow parishioners. What makes it worse is that I have to admit that even repentance and confession is not likely to make me any better. Maybe if I undertook some severe spiritual chemotherapy á la St. Mary of Egypt it might make some dent in my habitual solipsism…
When the fast ends, I will return to my normal self-indulgent lifestyle with a sigh of relief. The additional calories will be put to use not in service to God and others, but towards my ongoing project of self-delusion and self-justification, which project must necessarily end some day.
I need the mercies of God and the forgiveness and forbearance of others as much now, maybe even more, than I did when I began this Christian project.
Just on a whim, this morning I entered the phrase “male spirituality” into Google. The quotation marks are explicit, so that Google would search for the phrase rather than the two words. What came back was an interesting potpourri of links that I had only the time to skim the very surface of, much like a water-skeeter dances across the surface of a pond without breaking the surface tension. If she stops (I believe water-skeeters, like bees, are female), she drowns. There is almost no subject in the contemporary universe of discourse where there is as much danger of drowning is as in discussing sex, gender, and the relationship between the sexes. So I’m going to try to keep things as light as possible, to avoid breaking surface tension, to avoid drowning. For this reason, I start with a question, and it is not rhetorical. I am open to wherever the investigation leads.
About a year ago, someone asked me point blank in an email if I believed that men and women were equal. Because I didn’t really want to engage with this person and because the probability of mutual respect and civil discourse was minimal, I responded ‘Of course. What’s your point? ‘ It was cowardly on my part, I guess, because I don’t even believe men and men or women and women are equal, or that the same man or woman is equal diachronically. It got me thinking about our concept of equality. What does it mean for a man to be equal to a woman? What does it mean for a man to be equal to another man? It obviously isn’t the same as identity, or being the same, which is the schoolyard equivalent. Sameness is more of a function of manufactured things, things made by machine, on purpose, to be as identical as possible. Variety, diversity is more of a function of nature. But we live in a time where manufactured equality is crucial. Among other things, it makes it much easier and much less expensive to repair our cars, build a house, or track a household’s consumption of peanut butter. Also, we grow from the playground into the courtroom, but we carry our playground concepts with us when we go, and they grow along with us.
Equality, then, has to be something of an abstraction. We have to consciously disregard differences if we are going to treat two things as equal. I am a Trinitarian Christian, and therefore I can be neither a holist nor a reductionist. Neither the similarities nor the differences between men and women are absolute. The prevailing sentiment is that the differences between men and women should be minimized, that they are culturally defined, and these differences should never enter into consideration when a man or a woman is considering a course of action. Biology will have her tribute, though. Barring a technology that I can only imagine as infernal, men will never give birth, and a trained female mixed martial arts fighter would be suicidal to enter the Thunderdome against her male counterpart. These are differences of the body, of the human being considered as a physical object with all of its quiddity and measurability. A toaster and a grandmother dropped from Galileo’s tower will both strike the pavement simultaneously, but no one on this side of madness would consider them equal because of that.
But what happens when we leave the body, as we suppose, behind? What happens when we move into the realm of the spirit, of that indefinable something that differentiates the grandmother from the toaster, indeed, even from a birch tree, sea snail, or a Shetland pony ? Surely we leave the distinctions of the body behind. Now, I am not a trained theologian, but I can follow theologians when they talk, and that is a useful skill. What I want to do is examine evidence both for and against the idea of gender-specific spirituality and leave aside the urgency of coming to a conclusion. Especially, I don’t want to be railroaded towards a conclusion. I may as well mention the Manosphere, especially its Christian “branch”, whose meticulously ground and deeply resentful axes will find plenty of timber upon which to assay purchase.
I lean by temperament and upbringing to believe that men and women will respond to God differently. I am not alone in thinking so. Very soon after becoming a conscious disciple of Christ I was assailed by a group of married Christian women who wanted me to ‘evangelize’ their husbands. It was thought that, being a man, it would be easier for me to encourage them to participate in churchly activities. I was a dismal failure at this. I am a transplanted Yankee. Their husbands were Southern good ol’ boys. Church was, for them, something that it was fitting for women and children to be involved in, and Yankees, who don’t much care for NASCAR and whose football loyalties were tied to Big Ten teams with highly suspect ground games. “Men are too proud for church. Their masculine pride won’t allow them to accept any help, even from the Lord”, one wife complained to me in the presence of our pastor. This pastor had been on the ground at Guadalcanal. I don’t think anybody could accuse him of a lack of masculinity. Yet the fact remained, men were scarce in our church. They were scarce in the Pentecostal Church, in the Baptist Church, in the Methodist Church. They were less scarce in the PCA Presbyterian church, but they tended to be bookish and intellectual. If they were aggressive, it was usually with a lawyerly kind of aggression.
The Orthodox church doesn’t have this problem. If anything, it has too many men. It is said that Orthodoxy attracts and retains men because it is “challenging”. The rules are more stringent in Orthodoxy than they are in other precincts of Christendom. The fasting rules are strict. The Orthodox faithful are vegan some 40% of the year, and often at inconvenient times. Services are long and you are expected to stand for most them. Prayers are interminable, and no quarter is given to the flesh. It remains that many people believe that Orthodoxy has a “heroic ethos” that “attracts men”. The less charitable accuse us of being the last bastion of the He-Man Woman Haters Club that used to be coterminous with Christendom and has been reduced in these enlightened times to a diminishing circle of Slavic waggons, and THAT is what attracts men, and you are welcome to them.
A thousand words in, and I haven’t even quoted a Bible verse. I’ll do that next time. Actually I think the venerable Auld Booke is more egalitarian than I am, but that for next time.
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.
Before 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 to 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.
Lent has started, and my belly is rumbling. Even though the freshness of the Fast has yet to fade and the initial enthusiasm is still riding high, I know that before long the drab meals, the prostrations, and the abstention from electronic entertainment will begin to take its toll on my good nature. My family, unfortunately, will be the first to pay the price. Sooner or later, the Great Fast will bring me face to face with an undeniable fact about myself that I try energetically to deny the rest of the year; that I am a sinner, someone who puts his own comfort and convenience ahead of even the most legitimate of claims others have on me.
By the time the fourth week in Lent rolls around, my bruised and battered self-righteousness may be ready to pray this lovely prayer, and mean it:
“I have outdone the Publican in my transgressions,
yet I do not emulate him in his repentance;
I have not gained the virtue of the Pharisee,
yet I surpass his self-conceit.
O Christ my God, in Thy supreme humility
Thou hast upon the Cross destroyed the devil’s arrogance;
make me a stranger to the past sins of the Publican
and to the great foolishness of the Pharisee;
establish in my soul the good that each of them possessed,
and save me.”
The Orthodox Church is a good place for sinners. There are a lot of us here. As a former Evangelical, it has been quite costly to jettison the concept of the “regenerate Church”. The field of Protestantism is full of formerly “pure churches” where the hands currently on the rudder are steering their barques in a direction that I don’t believe the original pilots would have wanted them to take. It is hard anyway to keep a church in pristine form longer than one or two generations, and it would take a heart of diamantine hardness and abstraction to look down at your newborn child and see only an unregenerate heathen, cordwood for the fires of Hell. I think this may indeed be the genesis of that peculiar informal Protestant doctrine of the “age of accountability” , which if it were true, would make abortion something of a mercy rather than a misfortune.
Unfortunately, the Orthodox Church in the United States is a wonderful place to indulge a spiritual elitism that would be the envy of the most fastidious supralapsarian Neo-Calvinist or the most prophetically endowed Third Wave Pentecostal. Our parishes are for the most part small, the regular attendees at Liturgy are mostly pious and those who attend Vespers and Orthros even more so. Ehrmergerd! All of this and we’re in The One True Church as well? Talk about dropping the bacterium of Phariseeism into a Petri dish full of yummy sugar water…
Thank God as Holy Week approaches, more and more of the marginal members of the parish start showing up; that rough looking guy with the flashy wife and the tattoos on his knuckles, the couple who own the nightclub, the Coptic girl who’s married to a Muslim and wears a hijab, the husbands and wives of parishoners who you see so seldom that it is hard to remember who goes with whom. Its hard to talk with them at coffee hour, but they remind you that the Church is indeed for everyone. James Joyce made the remark about the Catholic Church – “Here comes everyone!” With a change in geography, the same could be said of the Orthodox Church. I wonder if I lived in a traditional Orthodox society whether I’d see these ‘marginal’ types more often. Would I see them as brothers and sisters in Christ, or would I see them as part of the mission field?
JRR Tolkien, in one of his letters to his son, recommended that he embrace the catholicity of the Church as a spiritual discipline :
“Also I can recommend this as an exercise (alas! only too easy to find opportunity for): make your communion in circumstances that affront your taste. Choose a snuffling or gabbling priest or a proud and vulgar friar; and a church full of the usual bourgeois crowd, ill-behaved children – from those who yell to those products of Catholic schools who the moment the tabernacle is opened sit back and yawn – open necked and dirty youths, women in trousers and often with hair both unkempt and uncovered. Go to communion with them (and pray for them). It will be just the same (or better than that) as a mass said beautifully by a visibly holy man, and shared by a few devout and decorous people. It could not be worse than the mess of the feeding of the Five Thousand – after which our Lord propounded the feeding that was to come.”
PS – Sorry about the super-heroes.
I admit I’m in kind of a quandary.
The pastor at the the Assemblies of God church my wife attends spent 45 minutes last Sunday pleading with God for a “community wide revival”. Now, although I was baptized in a church that isn’t known as a hotbed of revival, I spent around thirty years of my life between 1973 and about 1996 in and out of different revival-oriented churches. Somehow, I had gotten the idea that the church into which I was baptized was not a church to be taken seriously by serious Christians, and in 1973, I considered myself a serious Christian. You see, I had a serious “come to Jesus” moment. After several years in the late sixties, early seventies drug-and-rock-and-roll culture, something of a revival broke out among people my age. It was called The Jesus Movement, and I don’t want to think about the influence it had on American Protestantism because dwelling on that depresses me profoundly. Suffice it to say that in 1968, Protestantism was a pursuit for grown-ups and for those young people who aspired to that label. Fast forward forty years and the most important thing in Protestant Christianity is that it be relevant, i.e. amenable to a group of people who, as CS Lewis said of Susan Pevensie, want ” to race on to the silliest time of one’s life as [possible] and then stop there as long as [one] can.” Boomer fingerprints are all over early 21st century Protestant Christianity, and you can barely see inside for all the smudges.
The church into which I was baptized was a Constantinian church, that is to say, a state church or an ethnic church. It was old-school. A Christian was someone who was born into the ethnic group and who had been baptized into its fellowship as an infant. The Assemblies of God church I found refuge in in 1973 was what I guess you would call a Revival church. Father Stephen Freeman, on his excellent blog Glory To God For All Things, does a very good job of explaining the difference. You become a member of a Revival church by “getting saved” and undergoing baptism as an adult. It was implied that something was defective if you had only the first level of Christianity. It was implied that the only thing baptism accomplished for you as an infant was to make you wet. I remember the Assemblies of God pastor and many of the more eminent layfolk considering people in my native church valid objects of evangelism. I did too, and it led to some embarrassing incidents where I displayed too much zeal and too little discernment. There are a lot of very pious people in the Assemblies of God. I could tell the difference even when I was very young. A Congregational minister in whose choir I sang because my mother earned a stipend as their choir leader often allowed his Assemblies of God-ordained sister to preach when he was absent. The difference was between night and day. It took a while, and a lot of growing up, before I could appreciate the serious Christians in my ancestral church.
The “Jesus Revolution” started in earnest in my neck of the woods in the early 70s. A lot of the ne’er-do-wells I hung around with at the time put down the hash pipes, picked up Bibles and headed for the churches, especially the more progressive, cooler ones that embraced coffee houses with lots of espresso and folk-rock bands as a means of attracting truculent, “hard to reach” young people. The idea was that we would funnel from the coffee houses into the churches, eventually. What a surprise to find that the coffee houses digested the churches and now it is very, very difficult to find a church that still acts like the churches of my parents’ generation, what with introits, Kyries, responsive readings, and all of that panoplia. Indeed, it is hard to find a church that will admit to being a church at all – we are overwhelmed with Worship Centers, Family Life Centers, Gathering Places, Deliverance Ministries, etc, and sometimes you have to dig pretty hard to find out what brand of Christianity is subscribed to.
Now, I did not leave Evangelicalism/Pentecostalism because I was “disillusioned” with Evangelicalism/Pentecostalism. Evangelicalism fulfilled its purpose in my life. It introduced me to Jesus Christ, which 20 years as a member in good standing in my ancestral Reformed church did not do. This bothers me, because it was not that I didn’t have ample opportunity to meen Jesus in the Reformed church. It was that I wasn’t paying any attention. When I finally started paying attention, it was the Pentecostals who benefitted. It was the miracle stories, really, I guess. The Pentecostal God was the kind of God I assumed from my glancing knowledge of the Scriptures. But once Evangelicalism introduces you to Jesus, there isn’t a whole lot further it can take you. It’s a design flaw, really. Everything about Evangelicalism is designed to get you to Jesus as quickly and as painlessly as possible. Whether you stay with Him is pretty much entirely up to you.
I left Evangelicalism in its Pentecostal variety because I encountered the Orthodox Church, and I was convinced of her claim to be the apostolic Church founded by Jesus Christ on the foundation of the Holy Apostles. That meant that the original design was much more like my ancestral Reformed church than it was like any of the Revivalist churches I spent time in afterwards. People are born into it and find their spiritual subsistence there. Pastors of revivalist churches often scratch their heads when I explain this to them, because nobody in the Orthodox Church is “born again” according to their lights. Except the converts from Evangelicalism, who by those rights should be the ‘best’ Christians in the Orthodox Church, but who usually aren’t.
But once again, I wonder what Orthodox spiritual renewal looks like. I know the Orthodox Church went through some very decadent times, when the faith of the faithful was reduced to a handful of superstitions and family customs. Apart from this historical understanding, the stories of St. Cosmas of Aitolos and St. Nektarios of Corinth make little sense at all. I mentioned to my parish priest that the career of St. Cosmas of Aitolos reminded me a great deal of that of John Wesley, his contemporary. Now the Orthodox Church does not do “revivals” or “renewals”, like you see so often in the history of Western Christendom, but SS Cosmas and Nektarios were instrumental in “reOrthodoxing the Orthodox”; like Wesley, they founded churches, schools, and orphanges, rekindled parish life. Father replied, “Wesley, sadly, provoked a schism. St. Cosmas created unity.” That started me thinking. In every major Protestant awakening, from the first flutterings of Pietism and Puritanism in the 17th century to the Emergent movement in the 21st, the price of increased spirituality always came to be paid in the coin of schism, with one group of Christians labeling their predecessors as lacking in zeal and not really worthy of the term. Maybe monasticism takes the place of this in the Catholic and Orthodox Church.
I know what my wife’s pastor is saying. The darkness of this age is getting so thick it is nearly palpable. At a time when we need to love each other or perish, we cannot abide the sight of one another. Jesus has gone from being the Savior of penitents and the Lord of the Church to a nosegay for our culture and an issuer of seals of approval for our political positions, left or right.
But I don’t want another revival. Please, Lord, don’t send another revival. We won’t survive another revival.
Send the Holy Spirit, but Lord, to be honest, I haven’t been Orthodox long enough to know what this would mean for my wife’s pastor’s community, for my county, for my city, right now.
“I was thinking of very old times, when the Romans first came here, nineteen hundred years ago — the other day. . . . Light came out of this river since — you say the Knights? Yes; but it is like a running blaze on a plain, like a flash of lightning in the clouds. We live in the flicker — may it last as long as the old earth keeps rolling! But darkness was here yesterday. Imagine the feelings of a commander of a fine — what d’ye call ’em? — trireme in the Mediterranean, ordered suddenly to the north… Imagine him here — the very end of the world, a sea the colour of lead, a sky the colour of smoke, a kind of ship about as rigid as a concertina — and going up this river with stores, or orders, or what you like. Sand-banks, marshes, forests, savages, — precious little to eat fit for a civilized man, nothing but Thames water to drink. No Falernian wine here, no going ashore. Here and there a military camp lost in a wilderness, like a needle in a bundle of hay — cold, fog, tempests, disease, exile, and death — death skulking in the air, in the water, in the bush. They must have been dying like flies here. Oh, yes — he did it. Did it very well, too, no doubt, and without thinking much about it either, except afterwards to brag of what he had gone through in his time, perhaps. They were men enough to face the darkness. And perhaps he was cheered by keeping his eye on a chance of promotion to the fleet at Ravenna by and by, if he had good friends in Rome and survived the awful climate. Or think of a decent young citizen in a toga — perhaps too much dice, you know — coming out here in the train of some prefect, or tax-gatherer, or trader even, to mend his fortunes. Land in a swamp, march through the woods, and in some inland post feel the savagery, the utter savagery, had closed round him — all that mysterious life of the wilderness that stirs in the forest, in the jungles, in the hearts of wild men. There’s no initiation either into such mysteries. He has to live in the midst of the incomprehensible, which is also detestable. And it has a fascination, too, that goes to work upon him. The fascination of the abomination — you know, imagine the growing regrets, the longing to escape, the powerless disgust, the surrender, the hate.”
Joseph Conrad – Heart Of Darkness
It was as dark as the Dark Ages got, then, in Britain. Classical civilization, what was left of it, hugged the shores of the Mediterranean during the Indian Summer of Theodoric’s Ostrogothic kingdom. Like the blood in the arteries of a severely wounded accident victim, it refused to circulate to the extremities. It was at this time, a century or so after the departure of the legions and a century yet before the arrival of the Roman mission, that a holy man was born. He had the sad misfortune to be born in a very hardscrabble time, in a very hardscrabble place. People didn’t have much time or inclination to record their doings, indeed, it would be hard to imagine that the people who lived at this time would have thought their struggle for survival worthy of recording.
So what survived were stories, stories vivid enough to be remembered. Stories such as the one about the wandering Briton princeling who was travelling far from home when he came upon a maiden bathing in a stream and was overcome by lust. He forced himself on her, and she conceived. It was a brutal age, and it appears the leaven of the Gospel had little power to soften men’s passions among these jettisoned folk, and none among the pagan Saxons already coursing far inland. She carried the child for nine months, refusing on one occasion to allow a local ruler to terminate her pregnancy. She gave birth in a women’s monastery, and her child was raised there.
This child, grown to be a man, began to preach the gospel in his corner of the world. The reputation of his sanctity spread, and he began to become known as y Sant, or simply, the saint. It is unusual that the saint would come to be called the Illuminator of Wales, as his country was not known by that name at that time. Most likely, his country was still known by her Roman name: Britannia, and her people spoke Latin after their fashion as well as their native British, now Welsh. Like a formerly prosperous family fallen on hard times, they must have cherished these small remnants of Roman civilization, and maybe, just maybe, Christianity was one of these remnants. It is by no means certain that the saint’s countrymen were all Christian. It had been the legal religion of the Empire for only a scant 20 years before the legions departed, and there were many pagans for the saint to convert.
The full flower of his manhood is punctuated with many stories. The saint was preaching to a crowd of people, and the crowd grew to such a proportion that those on the fringes were unable to hear his preaching. He prayed, and the earth rose under his feet, forming a hillock so that all could hear his words. Some farmers nearby were complaining that there wasn’t enough water for their crops, so he prayed, pushed his staff into the ground, and a fountain of water sprayed up to provide the farmers what they needed. The monks at this time must have been quite lax, although it is remarkable that there were any monks at all. Brittania was the other side of the world from Christian monasticism’s center of gravity in Egypt and Palestine, but monks there were, and many followed the saint. He founded many monasteries and guided his monks with a rigorous discipline. They were forbidden the use of draught animals, and had to pull their plows themselves. In addition, they were enjoined to forswear beer and wine, and drink only water, a real test of faith in a day before chlorine tablets.
Not that Brittania was hermetically sealed from the rest of the Christian world. Perhaps because Pelagius himself was a Briton, the saint found it necessary to refute him in several local councils. It is a shame that his arguments against Pelagius have not survived, and Augustine’s did. It would have been informative to compare the two. Towards the end of his life, the saint found it necessary to travel to the center of the remaining Empire, to Palestine, and receive the bishopric of his country from the Patriarch of Jerusalem. Whether the saint took the land road or the sea road, it must have been a long and arduous journey, and the good patriarch must have felt like the Archbishop of Canterbury appointing the rector of the parish on St. Helena. The saint returned to his native Brittania, founded one last monastery in the extreme west of his land, and died there on this day, March 1, supposedly in 589. His last words to his disciples were
Be steadfast, brothers, and do the little things.
The saint’s country changed dramatically after his death. The pagan Saxon marauders pushed the Britons father and farther north and west until they were bottled up onto the extremities of the island, but they never found the Dark Ages to be all that dark. They had another name for it: Oes y Seintiau – The Age Of Saints. They named their country Cymru, the land of the people, and their tongue became Cymraeg. The ungracious Saxons named them the Wealas, the foreigners, but admitted that they were great warriors and greater poets and singers. Little by little, first the Saxons and later the Normans dragged this people of the retreat into the even longer and more tragic general retreat of the West into feudal Catholicism, Calvinism, secularism, and unbelief
This is Dewi Sant, Saint David, patron of Wales in the undivided Church. Interestingly, Orthodox, Catholic, and Anglican all honor him, and his last church is now a great cathedral. The Welsh still love him, and his day is their national day.
He is also my patron, and I would like to share a story of a miracle I believe was wrought by his intercession. When my family and I moved to Atlanta late in 2007, the area been suffering a severe drought for many years. The drought was so absolute that people were not allowed to wash their cars or water their lawns. I hadn’t been Orthodox longer than a few months, but I noticed that St. David had worked many miracles that were related to water. I besought his intercession on our behalf and rested the matter with him. On his day, March 1, 2008, Atlanta experienced a freakish snowfall of several inches that effectively broke the drought. The commentator on the radio noted that this was the best way to drop so much precipitation on a drought-hardened ground. Five years later, even though water levels have yet to return to normal, at least the lawns are being watered and the cars washed.
Dewi Sant, gweddia ni
Saint David of Wales, pray for us
Mary Fahl’s voice is the very first thing you notice about October Project. As colorful as the changing trees, as distinctive as the smell of burning leaves, as thick and rich as a venison ragout, and with a bite as bracing as the first frost, the voice grabs you and pulls you into the music. October Project produced two albums in the mid 1990s, and were often compared to other groups emerging at the same time as Indigo Girls, Dido, or Loreena McKennitt. As I see them, though, Mary Fahl and OP were kind of an East Coast yin to the Texas-based Sixpence None The Richer’s yang, but Sixpence road some sort of wave out of the Evangelical youth rally subculture into national prominence. Somehow, they were able to transform their adolescent whimsy into a lot of radio play. I have never heard October Project on commercial radio, and would never have know about them except for the Internet. The similarities between October Project and Sixpence None the Richer end with the jangly ‘nineties guitars and the standout female vocals. October Project explores a more adult emotional landscape than Sixpence, which makes sense seeing that the members of Sixpence were just barely in their twenties when they cut their first self-titled album, whereas the members of October Project were fifteen to twenty years older.
The songs of October Project are, like those of Sixpence None The Richer and nearly every other pop ensemble on the planet, about love, that most troubling and disturbing of emotions. But October Project’s songs are about love in need of grace; love that withdraws from its object because of fear and prior pain, love that is more in need of forgiveness than passion. Because of this, October Project gained something of a reputation as a “gothic” group. I know little about ‘goth’ subculture apart from what my children tell me, but I am surprised at its resilience. Supposedly ‘goth’ subculture reflects on the ‘darker’ elements of our experience; weakness, death, loss, longing, even debauchery, decadence, and terror. I suppose everything can be mined and marketed in our culture, and the ‘goth’ subculture is no exception. October Project’s music didn’t seem to be very amenable to commercialization. Maybe because it was contemplative rather than gloomy. Gloomy sells well in these apocalyptic times, but contemplation, reflection, and reticence, uh, not so much.
And contemplation, thy name is October. If you live in the temperate zones of the Northern Hemisphere, there seems to be a biological imperative to celebrate something at this time of year. The days are growing longer, the bright feast of summer is past. There is a nip in the air. The Green Man sheds his mantle as the light fades and photosynthesis, the life support system of our planet, shuts down for the year. Old pagan-y Hallowe’en beckons with its witches, goblins, and ghosts. The older customs; the bonfires, the candle divination, the planting of apple seeds have mostly withdrawn into a fleshy bath of candy and carnality, neither of which is either appealing nor particularly seasonal. Since converting to Orthodoxy, I don’t even have the excuse of All Saints Day the following morning, since the translation of Western All Saints Day from its traditional date on the Sunday following Whitsunday to November the 1st appears to have been the politically motivated action of a ninth century Pope who wanted to celebrate the erection of a basilica dedicated to all the saints. So, the traditional ban on Hallowe’en in our household which was instituted when my wife and I were Evangelicals, still stands, but I believe my children are the poorer for it, and I do somewhat regret it.
Nevertheless, I cannot shake the idea that Hallowe’en is itself something of a fraud and a humbug. If it were as ancient a feast as pagan apologists hold it out to be, or as demonic as the Christian alarmists make it out to be, it should be celebrated sometime around St. Martins Day (November 11), according to the old calendar. I cannot believe that pagans, if any existed at the time, would have paid any attention to Pope Gregory in the sixteenth century when he tacked ten days onto the standing calendar, nor would they have cared when King George II added eleven days when the British Empire adopted the Pope’s calendar in 1752. I have found a lot of survivals of “Old Christmas” (Christmas celebrated on the Julian Calendar – January 6) but I have found nothing about “Old Hallowe’en”. It looks like the spooks and spirits of Samhain made the jump without a hitch. Nevertheless I am thinking seriously about resurrecting some old Martinmas customs in my household; lighting a lantern on the lawn, bringing a beggar to a dinner of pork haunch (probably ham), and lifting a glass of red wine in honor of Saint Martin and my Celtic forebears.
The first fifteen days of August the Orthodox Church dedicates to Mary, the Mother of God. There is a fast, the Dormition fast, that lasts from the first of the month to the fifteenth, which is the Feast of the Dormition of the Most Holy Mother of God. Even though the fast is not as extended or as severe as Great Lent, it is a beautiful and restful season in the time of the Church, and it comes at a time when there isn’t much else going on in the secular calendar. Summer is winding down to a conclusion, and schoolchildren are preparing to return to their studies, so there is little to distract from the precious person of the Mother of God.
As a former Protestant, and especially as a former Calvinist, it hasn’t been easy for me to appreciate or properly honor Jesus’ mother, from whom He acquired our nature and united it to His Divine nature. There is always the memory of the bearded jealous fiend who rent Jesus on the cross to satisfy his inflated sense of honor, and who, having by creating created an ontological abyss even He cannot bridge, flies into paroxysms of rage if one iota of that honor is appropriated by another. Nevertheless, most of this disappeared like a morning fog at midday when I began to learn something of the Orthodox tradition of the Mother of God, who in her own person recapitulated Israel and became the tabernacle of God, the dwelling place of His glory.
The story that convinced me was the beautiful story of when St Joachim and St Anna took her to the Temple when she was three years old. The Protoevangelium of James reports that “he [St. Joachim her father, I imagine] made her to sit upon the third step of the altar. And the Lord put grace upon her and she danced with her feet and all the house of Israel loved her.” Upon reading that, the image of a tiny dark-haired girl dancing for joy before a row of solemn, bearded priests lept unbidden to my mind and I too loved her. I loved not the concept of the Mother of God, which title really speaks more about Her great Son, but I loved her, the tiny joy-filled girl she was, the obedient mother she became, the church matron beyond and behind all church matrons for whom she served as the first and greatest; the archtype of all the yiayias, matushkas, abuelitas, and grannies who pray so ardently for the salvation of their children and grandchildren.
So, enjoy the Lady Days, as I have come to call them for myself. Give your hearts and your stomachs a rest, and rejoice in her whose obedience reversed the disobedience of Eve, whose candor brought to completion the deception of Tamar, whose perseverance crowned the loyalty and patience of Ruth.
Thou who art truly the Mother of God, we magnify you
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.
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.
We dream, let us say, a sequence of persons, places and events whose casual linkages reside not in some ‘deep comprehension’ of those persons places or events, but instead are found in the empirical surfaces of the dream. [The dreamer] plainly understand[s], in the dream, how one event causes another. and how, possibly absurdly, two or more events are connected because the first is causing the next ones to occur; moreover, as the dream unfolds, [the dreamer] plainly sees how the whole chain of causation is leading to some conclusive event X; some denouement of the dream’s entire system of cause and effect. Let us call this conclusive event X, and let us say that X occurred because of some previous event T which, in turn, was caused by S, whose cause was RE and so on; going from effect to cause, from latter to prior, from present to past, until we arrive at the dream’s starting point, usually some insignificant event A; and it is this event that is understood in the dream as the first cause of the entire system. But what about the tine external stimulus, the quick sharp noise, the brief ray of light? To waking consciousness, this external stimulus is experienced as the cause of the whole causally interlocked system in which persons, places, and events arose in the dream. Let us call this external cause Ω.
Now, what makes the dreamer awaken? When we look at this question from the point of view of the waking consciousness, we might say that it is Ω (the noise or the light) that awakens us. From within the dream, however, it is plainly the conclusive dream event X – the denouement – that, precisely because it ends the dream, awakens us. Taken together, we see that Ω and X almost perfectly coincide in such a way that the dreamed content and the wakened cause are one and the same. This coincidence is usually so exact that we never even wonder about the relation between X and Ω; Ω is obviously a “dream paraphrase” of some external stimulus invading our dream from without.
For example, I dream that a pistol has gone off, and in the room near me someone is actually shot, or someone has slammed a door. So there is no doubt that the dream was accidental; of course the pistol shot in the dream is a spiritual echo of a shot in the outer world. The two shots are, if you wish, the double perception – by the dreaming ear and by the sober ear – of the same physical process. If in a dream I should see a multitude of fragrant flowers at the very moment that someone puts a bottle of perfume under my nose, it is wholly unnatural to think that the coincidence of the two fragrances (the flowers’ in the dream and the perfume’s in the waking world) is accidental. Or I dream that someone is strangling me and wake in horror to find that a pillow has fallen over my face.
Or take the famous dream outlined in the psychology texts. In this one the dreamer experiences the French Revolution, participating in the very beginnings of the Revolution and – for over a year inside the dream – goes through a long, complicated series of adventures; persecution, pursuit, terror, the execution of the King, and so on. Finally, the dreamer is arrested with the Girondists, , thrown into prison, then condemned by the Revolutionary council to die. The wagon rolls through the streets to the guillotine; and he is taken from the wagon and his head is firmly placed on the headrest, and then the guillotine blade falls heavily onto his neck; and he awakens in horror.
It is the final event (X) that interests us: the touch of the blade on his neck. Can anyone doubt this: that the whole dream sequence from the first stirrings of the Revolution to the conclusive fall of the blade, is one seamless whole, Doesn’t the entire chain direct itself precisely to that conclusive event (touch of cold steel) that we term X? To doubt this total interlocked coherence is to deny the very dream itself- and improbable supposition.
And yet the dreamer found, in the moment of his terrified awakening, that the metal bedstead of his bed had somehow broken and had struck him heavily upon his bare neck. We cannot doubt the whole coherence of his dream from the first stirrings of the Revolution (A) to the the falling of the guillotine blade (X). Equally, we cannot doubt that the sensation of the blade (X) and the touch of the metal (Ω) are the very same event; but perceived by different orders of consciousness; dreamed and wakened.
Thus, while X is a refelction of Ω in the imagery of the dream, it is clearly not some deus ex machina with no connection to the dream’s internal logic of events, some alien intruder that senselessly terminates the stream of inner imagery. No, X is a true resolution. It genuinely concludes the dream. None of this would be extraordinary if the touch of the bedstead (Ω) had awakened the sleeper and if in the instant of his awakening had been enfolded by the symbolic image of the touch , and if this symbolic image had subsequently unfolded into a dream of sufficient length. But no, it is the external cause Ω which is the cause of the entire dream. Thus, in daylight consciousness and according to the scheme of daylight causation, this event Ω, the bedstead falling on the dreamer’s neck should precede the first stirrings of the Revolution (A), but in the dreaming time, it happens inside out, and cause X appears not prior to all the consequences of A, and of all the entire sequence of consequences b,c,d..r.s.t) that follow thereupon, but following it, concluding the whole sequence determining it not as its efficient cause but as its final cause, its τέλος.
Thus, time in dream runs, and acceleratedly runs, towards the actual and against the movement of time, when we think in the Kantian sense of time, in the waking consciousness. Dream time is turned inside out. The very same event that is perceived from actual space as actual is seen from imaginary space as imaginary, i.e. as occurring before everything else in teleological time, as the goal or object of our purposefulness. Contrarily, the goal seen from here appears, because of our to appreciate goals rightly, as something cherished but lacking the energy of the ideal, but seen from there, from the other consciousness, the goal is comprehended as the living energy that shapes actuality as its creative form.