Monday, November 30, 2009



Excerpt from Prayers by the Lake LXXXV by St. Nickolai of Ochrid and Zica

Wherever a king is found, there is also a kingdom. A king without a kingdom is not a king, nor is a widowed kingdom a kingdom.

"The kingdom of heaven is within you," said the Royal Son, and joy has illuminated all those wayfarers in the cemeteries, who have understood this heavenly message.

A Moslem does not believe that You ever touch the filthy earth. The pagan sees You entirely composed of earth. The Royal Son knows the royal way, and manifests You in purest earth. In purest earth He even clothed Himself and came down to bring luminescence and essence.

O my King, You are nearer to me than my breath and dwell deeper within me than my thoughts.

What is my breath except something that enters into me from outside and leaves? Even before my lungs began breathing You were inside me. You knew of me while I was still in my father's loins. Even before the creation of the world You thought about me.

What are my thoughts except the impressions of external objects, impressions which enter my mind like threads in a loom, where they are woven and brought together, disjoined and lost? All objects are outside my mind, and objects do not enter my mind but only their impressions.

However You are the only reality of my mind, with which my mind is also born. And You were in me before any impression was; You were in contact with me before I had contact with any object.

From the time I first heard the glad tidings of the King, I have spread out my soul like a canopy over most precious treasures and have sought You and Your Kingdom within her. I have spread her out and I see no end or bottom to her. I can neither reach all her height, nor descend into all her vaults.

I have discovered radiant rays, which indicate some sun in the distance. I have discovered the golden columns of a temple, but nowhere do I see any end to the temple.

I smell the fragrant scent of a censer's incense, but I cannot glimpse a royal throne.

The more I keep trying and discover, the more I see the One who is hidden.
You placed unimagined mysteries in me, O Lord of countless hosts. In each of Your soldiers Your royal radiance shines.

Just as a sun does not exist without radiant rays, so is the King not without His angels, His radiant rays.

You bring infinity with Yourself, my King, and You bring infinity into my soul.
You cloak Yourself with eternity as with a mantle, my King, and with this mantle you cloak my soul.

The Spirit creates His own Where and When, and is not dependent on His creations.

O Lord, Most Rich, I am discovering myself apart from the senses when I gaze into my soul. What immense wealth You have accumulated into this paltry earthen vessel!

Wherever You are, there also is the kingdom of heaven; and wherever the kingdom of heaven is, You are also.

If Your kingdom has not entered me, truly neither shall I enter Your kingdom.


Sunday, November 29, 2009

Gift from God via United Airways

There I was, looking out the window of the plane, and what did I see but a rainbow so many thousands of feet in the air--then we flew right through it. Or so it seemed, anyway. (I know there are weird optics and angles involved here...)

Where Exactly Are We During Liturgy?

Today in church, I kept thinking, "Where are we?."

Some of the prayers seem to be locating us on earth, where we pray for ongoing-in-time kinds of things such as seasonable weather, continuing sanctification, those who travel by land, sea, and air, and so on.

But other prayers would seem to locate us beyond time and space, in eternity, already at the Heavenly Marriage Supper where all is complete: "Thou it was who brought us from non-existence into being, and when we had fallen away, didst raise us up again, and didst not cease to do all things until Thou hadst brought us up to heaven and hadst endowed us with 'Thy Kingdom which is to come" and even more explicitly: "Remembering this saving commandment and all those things which have come to pass for us: the cross, the tomb, the resurrection on the third day, the ascension into heaven, the sitting at the right hand of God the Father, the second and glorious coming."

When I got home, I checked Orrologion's blog which I had not visited for a long time--I have been very behind on everything, including blog-reading--and found a link to a little book called Theosis: The True Purpose of Human Life" by Archimandrite George, the Abbot
of St. Gregorios Monastery. Here is what the Archimandrite says about location, location, location:

"...[E]very Sunday and every time the
Divine Liturgy is celebrated, we are all present
in it together with all the Angels and all the
Saints through all the ages. Even our departed
relatives are present, if, of course, they are
united with Christ. We are all there and communicate
amongst ourselves mystically, not
externally, but in Christ." there only one Liturgy, for all time and eternity, and that's where we all actually are?
Is this true for every service, such as Vespers, etc.?
Is it true when we're home praying "alone"? Praying "alone" as we walk down the street?
When, in fact, is it not the case?
It does feel very much like we're in a different place during Liturgy. But if so, why am I so distracted all the time?
When I am distracted, am I not there in that place anymore, for the duration of the distraction? Am I thus blipping in and out of heaven like a weak electronic signal?
Am I being too literalistic here?
What do they mean by "this bloodless sacrifice" if we're actually partaking of Christ's Body and Blood?


Saturday, November 21, 2009

Orthodoxy and Ambiguity--Quotation from David Dickens


David Dickens wrote this in a comment at Father Stephen Freeman's "Glory to God for All Things" blog, and I found it so helpful, I received permission from DD to post it here:

"I ...have a background in mathematics and this reminds me distinctly of a fractal.

So much of Church life seems to reveal more detail (and possibly ambiguity after a certain fashion of that term) the more closely one observes it.

Personally, I have seen all sorts of bizarre and conflicting data from around the world as the Church operates today. I’m not bothered by that. The Church is an organic, living, Spirit-moved thing. But it does leave certain questions uncomfortably unanswered.

Particularly uncomfortable, if one is trying to draw a “bright line” about anything...
It appears that the only real solution is to accept that a certain degree of ambiguity is not only impossible to avoid, but in fact, efficacious itself! Perhaps ambiguity (again for want of another more appropriate word) is a part of the operation of the Spirit, forcing us to recognize our own collective folly at trying to unravel the mind of God further than revelation intends.

The practical problem remains, but as the Church is axiomatically unbreakable, then the practical problem will not do the work that the gates of hell have failed to do for 2000 years."


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

What Is Your Life Theme/Question?


"Poets sing of the miracle of a glance, always unique. Unique as well is the destiny of each person...[T]he personal cross of each inscribed within us at birth. No power can change it. 'Which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life?'

Whether in the heart of a great city or in the depths of a desert, we cannot flee from this personal theme of our life. It accompanies us and speaks to us at every turn in our way. We can respond differently and each time change our course in one direction or another. We can marry or become monks. We can polish lenses, like Spinoza, or repair shoes like Jacob Boehme. The question, our question, remains identical and fixed is us as an integral element of our being. It is no longer a question, it is we ourselves who are called into question.

...God...expects from our faith a vigorous act, the full and conscious acceptance of our destiny. He asks us to assume it freely. No one can do it in our place, even God Himself. The cross is made of our weaknesses and our failings. It is constructed by our enthusiastic impulses and especially by the dark depths of our hearts where a secret resistance and a shameful ugliness lurk, in short, by all that complexity which is at this precise moment, the authentic I.

'Love your neighbor as yourself' allows a certain love of self. It is a call to love our cross. It means perhaps the most difficult act of all--to accept ourselves as we are...

...According to our spiritual teachers, the art of humility does not at all consist in becoming this or that, but of being exactly as God made us...It is our destiny to find the freshness of a passionately loved existence."

Paul Evdokimov Ages of the Spiritual Life


Friday, November 13, 2009




In the Fire of the Burning Bush by Marko Ican Rupnik

Back Cover Bio:

"Marko Ivan Rupnik is a Jesuit priest who works as a director of the Centro Aletti in Rome and teaches at the Pontifical Oriental Institute, the Pontifical Gregorian Institute, and Saint Anselm Liturgical Institute. Both as a visual artist and as a theologian, he is also a consultant for the Pontifical Council for Culture."

Something Important to Know About the Book:

Rupnik uses a lot of high-falutin' words and terms, but the reader doesn't have to be a rocket scientist to understand the overall sense--when I didn't "get" something, I just kept on reading, and eventually, it became clear in context (I am an inveterate skimmer, far too impatient to work with a dictionary).


The book consists of two previously published essays, "The Spiritual Life" and "Spiritual Fatherhood."

First Section:

"The Spiritual Life"

The purpose of this section is to present a fully Trinitarian and eschatological way of life "with a synthesis that can consitute a foundation from which to reflect upon the theological and anthropological categories." Drawing nourishingly from patristic and Orthodox sources such as St. Theophan the Recluse, St. John Climacus, Berdiaev, Solo'vev, Lossky, Staniloae, and others, as well as Catholic sources, Rupnik seeks "to remove encrustations, and to shed light on the real essence of Christian spirituality." Thus, he spends a lot of time "unpacking" with what true spirituality is "not"--it is not scientistic, monistic, pantheistic, dualistic, gnostic, moralistic, voluntaristic, legalistic, etc. He speaks of "pendulum reactions" that occur as a result of unbalanced spiritualities: "...[W]here an ascetic, rigorous, legalistic Catholicism was most present, after a brief period of explosion and liberation from the yoke, there follows decades of rebellion against any authhority and a break with every link to the past. The same happened in Protestant countries. Once the stronghold of the puritanical and moralistic conception of faith, they are now subject to the most ruthless liberalism and ethical subjectivism." Though he believes that contemporary psychology is not without value, he characterizes its most extreme and self-limiting forms as being nothing more than "a formal retouching of gnosticism."

Some Significant Passages:

"The identification of the spiritual with the mind, or with the non-material and ethereal, is in every case a trap. If the spiritual were the intellectual dimension--that is, the sphere of thought and ideas--to become more spiritual would then mean having ever more 'elevated' thoughts until one becomes a perfect idealist. In the same way, if the spiritual were... will-driven..., one would slip into voluntarism. If the spiritual were feelings, one would risk identifying the spiritual with the sentimental...If they were such, spiritual practices would not be anything other than mental exercises. Prayer would then be identified with mere mentation, understood as a capacity for mental concentration, a mental emptying. The 'boom' in ascetic mental practices, of prayer forms that have Eastern and not necessarily religious bases [i.e., Transcendental Meditation], is one of the fruits of such a misunderstanding. The ambiguity that the attaining of a mythic 'spiritual' state proposes, through a constant commitment of the will aided by a technique, often has a utilitarian scope: the conquest of the 'good life.'...The spiritual life becomes simply a tranquilizer. The more well-being it gives, the better it 'works.'"

"In books on spirituality, which fill the shelves of bookstores today, is find one that speaks of a real opening to a transcendence that incorporates everything, every aspect of life. It seems that the spiritual terminology of 'relationship,' of 'personal dimension,' of 'the God who has a face' is almost unknown...If the spiritual were not inseparably linked to the Divine Persons, the spiritual life could not be inseparably linked to human persons. If my spiritual reality is impersonal, separated from the divine Person of Christ, the temptation will always exist to choose a title, to find a label, and to affirm it as the whole while overlooking the personality that is each person's. This leads to an idealization, to an abstract approach that sooner of later...provokes illness because it fails to take the living person into consideration."

"I mean to say that even psychological suffering, even a disorder in our personal make-up, even a failure can communicate God, can become a remembrance of God and our participation in his Passion...After all, it is not so important to reach a psychological trranquility. Even that can be an idol and so should not be mythologized. What counts and what is really healthy is discovering that our lives are gathered and hidden with Christ in God....A fragile, suffering, or imbalanced psyche embarrasses us because those disfigured by suffering do not correspond to the formally perfect ideal of our idealistic psychological categories. However, it is not at all certain that a psyche is healthy when it corresponds to the norms that we have established. It is healthy and whole when it lives in the sphere of relationship and when it includes itself and the world in the process of hypostatization, when it lives in the Love of God."

What Is This Section's Primary Focus?

It is discernment, because, as Rupnik points out, things aren't always as they appear. "I myself have witnessed what fragility, what psychological weakeness, what deviations can intervene in people, especially the young, who embark on a spiritual journey. They can fall prey to fundamentalism, integralism, fanatacism because they understand Sacred Scripture only in one way, or because they dogmatize a feeling, or because they exchange the first thought that crosses their mind for the voice of God." He explains that "[h]aving a balanced relationship with the cross is truly a spiritual art. It does not mean seeking it, bragging about it, or punishing oneself with a cross, or making oneself a hero helping others at all costs to carry theirs. Around the cross...are many hidden traps and deceptions for the spiritual life that are sometimes only disguised psychological games."

And he is no stranger to the intricacies of group dynamics: "Any type of gnosticism always has to do with a disintegration. For examples, gnostics can be completely be absorbed in a great justice or equality. Realizing such a great ideal can completely absorb them. It can also make them unfair, bullying, overbearing...It is a phenomenon observable even within the life of the Church. It is possible to 'fight' for one group while at the same time wounding another."

Rupnik's main point is the necessity of radical human connectedness in the context of Eucharistic community as we find God in all things: "In the Eucharistic wake of the spiritual...things, both objects and events, light up before us like the burning bush of Moses in the desert."

Second Section:

"Spiritual Fatherhood"

Rupnik begins this (briefer) section with a discussion of the historical processes that have, he believes, brought us to our postmodern condition of being "separated from life," "imprisoned in many intellectual, sociological, scientific, political, and cultural systems and structures, all however without breath or direction, without life-giving nourishment." Positing that contemporary society is marked by the fragmentation of human connection, he says, "If...we live in a reified society, in a culture characterized by subjective rationalism, if, moreover, there practically does not exist anyone who has a positive experience of interpersonal relationships with his or her family, it is legitmate to ask: How is it possible to know God today if he reveals himself in relationships?" In such a world, he wonders (speaking particularly of Europe), how can evangelization even occur?

It is in this context that Rupnik presents his description of "the fatherly/motherly spirituality, transmitted to us by the Church from the earliest times," and the rest of the essay delineates the characteristics and work of the spiritual father--teaching, service, prayer, etc.

Rupnik also names common risks and errors in this ministry--for instance, "A spiritual father...cannot subsitute for the Holy Spirit or guide the thoughts of another step by step. He cannot be the light that illuminates the other. This would be a sure path to a pathological dependence on himself, a real stumbling block to the growth of faith. Today, a spiritual father does not demand that the person do what he says but that the person listen and prayerfully consider what he says and arrive at a decision, which could even be the complete opposite of his counsel..." True spiritual parenthood, Rupnik points out, is Trinitarian in nature: "Spiritual fatherhood is actually based on our faith in the presence of the Holy Spirit, in his indwelling in a person, and in his efficacy in moving creation and humanity, through Christ, to the Father. It is the spiritual father, then, who points out the inner connections between various experiences, connections that appear immediately when one's lived experiences are opened up to God. With the art of discernment, he assists persons in deciphering the language God uses with them and in discovering God's word for them in the events of their life."

And he emphasizes the fact that God's word is always a healing word: "But what can heal memory? Certainly not forgetfulness or canceling things out. If it were possible to erase every disturbing or oppressive thing...there would be very little left of some lives. There must be a way of healing that transforms memory... what was a bad memory, an act or an episode that persecuted and disturbed your heart, becomes a beautiful memory in that it recalls the One who has forgiven you. From evil you pass into the Person of Goodness and Mercy....The sin can no longer be remembered without recalling God..." Spiritual parenthood is not a closed circle, but instead, "leads us to the Church, orients us toward community, and creates us for community...Relationship, understood against the background of the Trinity, cannnot be confused with the intimate relativity of two people who look upon each other. Every relationship is true if it is opened to the Chruch, to universal humanity, and to the Triune God."

Is This Author the Kind of Person With Whom an Ordinary Person Might Want to Have a Cup of Coffee?

Definitely. If I were having coffee with him, I would ask for lots of concrete examples to help me to further understand what he says in the book--he does tend to be a little abstract.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Whispered to Me by a Friend


It can be a joy to pray for the person (unknown to you, but known to God) who made your prayer rope!