Monday, December 28, 2009
Sunday, December 27, 2009
What Shall I Offer Him?
A meditation adapted from Sergei Bulgakov's The Gifts of the Magi (1934).
"Gold is found deep in the earth, its purity and luminous glow are hidden within the darkest recesses. It is carefully and patiently extracted from the earth, bit by bit, and then it shines with such splendour! So too is the spiritual beauty given us by God, hidden deep within us but to be brought forth, in order to shine, made radiant in the reflection of His gentle light. This gold belongs to the King of Glory; we are His and we are to bring Him the glory He has given us, the glory hidden within us.
Fragrant frankincense melts on the burning coal and ascends to heaven. It is an image of the longing of our soul rising to our heavenly homeland, of our prayer making its way to the throne of God, of our sighs joining the intercession of the saints and the acclamations of the angels, all things caught up in glorifying Him. Truly there is a frankincense of the soul, its fragrance hidden and as if frozen in our hearts, longing to be released through love, in the censer of love, and brought to the Christ Child. Every soul has its own prayer, its own sacrifice, its own fragrant ascent of veneration to the throne of glory.
The wise men foreshadow the myrrh-bearers, and myrrh is the gift of love for the burial of the Beloved One. His birth is the beginning of the way of His death, leading to Golgotha. His manger in the cave is a symbol of His grave. The way of love is sacrifice and the price of the sacrifice is death. Our myrrh must be our decision to die with Him, our commitment to follow Him, to deny ourselves, to be united to Him, so that we may rise with Him. Myrrh stands for love, and love is as strong as death, indeed stronger, for death in Christ is actually life; it is resurrection with Him.
May our gifts be pleasing to Him, who for our sake is born, the eternal God."
for reconstructed representation, go to:
Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus -- and Here's What He Looks Like
Is this the real Santa Claus? By tradition, no one is supposed to see the actual Saint Nick. Come Christmas night, as the song has it -- and even the Boss sings it -- he sees you when you're sleeping, he knows when you're awake. So you'd better be snoozing as well as pretty darned good, or else.
Besides, we all know what he looks like. Since the advent of Clement Clark Moore's "Night Before Christmas" in 1823 and his invention of that "jolly old elf," we have become so conditioned by the kid-friendly version of the roly-poly guy with dimples and cheeks like roses that we stopped wondering who the real Santa Claus was, much less what he looked like. From movies like "Miracle on 34th Street" to all those Santa stand-ins at the mall -- and his visage on every piece of Christmas kitsch you could ever sell -- the myth is so widespread and so good there seemed little reason to question it.
Until, that is, the invention of powerful computers and some fancy new software that uses "virtual clay." The technology makes possible the reconstruction of a face from a skull, even one as old as that of Nicholas of Myra -- also known as Saint Nicholas, also known as Santa Claus -- who lived and died in the fourth century in what is now Turkey.
So holy was Nicholas that after his death his relics were carefully preserved, and through the vagaries of history -- basically a Muslim-Christian war a thousand years ago -- the saint's skull and other bones were relocated (stolen or rescued, depending on your point of view) to Bari, a city on what would be the Achilles' tendon of the Italian boot.
In the 1950s, the bones were removed while the crypt was spruced up. While they were out, the Vatican asked an anatomy professor at the University of Bari to take thousands of minutely detailed measurements and x-rays of the relics. Flash forward to the present day, and another University of Bari expert, forensic pathologist Francesco Introna, decided to commission an expert facial anthropologist, Caroline Wilkinson of the University of Manchester in England, to reconstruct the saint's face and head using the new technology and the earlier measurements.
The wizards at Image Foundry in England then took the data, and presto!
Delighted? Disappointed? Arguments for the veracity of the face are strong. Every face has the same 26 muscles but each skull is different, and that underlying bone structure gives a unique form to each person's face. Which is what happened when Wilkinson began laying the virtual muscles onto the 1,600-year-old skull of Saint Nicholas of Myra.
Moreover, this Nicholas is in many respects not so far removed from the Santa Claus or at least the Saint Nick who was long venerated in icons like the lineup the folks at the St. Nicholas Center have helpfully put together.
To be sure, he's more olive-skinned than rosy-cheeked, and his eyes are more piercing than twinkly. But the white hair and beard, while a bit of artistic license, make sense: the beard is in the style of the time, and the white hair would fit a man who died in his 70s after a life a sanctity that prefigured the Santa Claus of our time.
Nicholas of Myra (270-346 AD) was born into a patrician family of some wealth, but as a devoted Christian he used what he had to help others (and to intervene on behalf of the falsely accused). The most famous story to come down to us is how Nicholas, hearing of the plight of a father who could not afford dowries for his three daughters, secretly left bags of gold coins at their home to provide a dowry and preserve the ladies from a likely fate as prostitutes. In one version of the story, the father lay in wait the third time the donor was to visit and thus discovered the identity of history's first secret Santa.
But Nicholas was much more than a kindly, anonymous gift-giver. As a bishop in the fourth century, he was also deeply involved in the raging disputes of the day over core issues of church doctrine that we now take for granted, or ought to.
Back then, even three centuries after the death of Jesus, many beliefs remained unsettled. Chief among these was the true nature of Christ, and hence the nature of the Trinity. Was Jesus both God and man? Or was he just a man, a creation of God, albeit a special one? That was the line taken by followers of Arius, known as the Arians. So fierce was the divide over Christ's nature that Constantine, the Roman Emperor who had only recently legalized Christianity and ended the persecution of the church, called all leading bishops together for a council at Nicaea in the year 325 to settle the matter.
The Council of Nicaea, which produced the Nicene Creed that believers still recite as the foundational expression of Christian belief, was hardly the somnolent discussion that one might expect of such angels-on-the-head-of-a-pin topics. Instead, there were nasty arguments and periodic fisticuffs, and at one point Bishop Nicolas of Myra -- who already had a reputation as a staunch defender of orthodox belief against the heresy of the Arians -- popped Arias himself in the face.
The new facial reconstruction certainly gives credence to Nick's reputation as a battling bishop who gave as good as he got -- just look at that strong jaw and his broken boxer's nose. "It must have been a very hefty blow because it's the nasal bones between the eyes that are broken," Wilkinson, who did the reconstruction, told The Guardian.
In the end, Nicholas and the other orthodox bishops carried the day, vanquishing the Arians and confirming the belief that Jesus was true God and true man -- the heart of the mystery of the Incarnation that is observed on December 25. (Ironically, Christmas was not widely observed in Saint Nicholas' day, nor was there an agreement on a date to mark Jesus' birth. Easter was the oldest and most important celebration, and its date was one of the other debates settled at Nicaea.)
There is some speculation that Nicholas may actually have had his nose broken during the persecution of Christians under the Emperor Diocletian, who reigned from 284-305 AD.
Yet whatever the source of the broken nose, the reconstructed face of Nicholas of Myra reminds us that the real Santa Claus came from a time before Christmas, and from an era when the meaning of Christ was something worth fighting about.
Friday, December 25, 2009
from Oration 38 of our Holy Father Gregory Nazianzen on the Manifestation of God in the Birth of the Anointed (ie, the Christ)
Christ is born, glorify him!
Christ from heaven, go out to meet him!
Christ on earth, be exalted!
Sing to the Lord all the earth,
and that I may join both in one word:
let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad,
for the One who is of heaven and then of earth,
Christ comes in the flesh.
Rejoice with trembling and with joy;
with trembling because of your sins,
with joy because of your hope.
...The Word of God Himself, who is before all worlds,
the Invisible, the Incomprehensible, the Bodiless, Beginning of Beginning, the Light of Light,
the Source of Life and Immortality,
the Image of the Archetypal Beauty,
the immovable Seal, the unchangeable Image,
the Father's Definition and Word,
came to His own Image - mankind - and took on Him flesh for the sake of our flesh, and … for my soul's sake, purifying like by like;
and in all points except sin He became human. Conceived by the Virgin… He came forth then as God with that which He had assumed,
One person in two natures,
flesh and Spirit, of which the latter deified the former.
O new commingling;
O strange conjunction;
the Self-Existent comes into being,
the Uncreated is created,
the Uncontainable is contained,
And He Who gives riches becomes poor,
for He assumes the poverty of my flesh,
that I may assume the richness of His Godhead.
He that is full empties Himself,
for He empties Himself of His glory for a short while,
that I may have a share in His fullness.
What is the riches of His goodness?
What is this mystery that is around me?
I had a share in the image; I did not keep it;
He partakes of my flesh that He may both save the image and make the flesh immortal.
The Good Shepherd, He who lays down His life for His sheep, came to seek for that which had strayed upon the mountains and the hills… and found the wanderer; and having found us, took us upon His shoulders - on which He also took the wood of the Cross;
and having taken us, brought us back to the higher life, and having carried us back, numbered us amongst those who had never strayed.
He lighted a candle - His own flesh - and swept the house, cleansing the world from sin, and sought the piece of money, our royal image that was covered up by sinful passions
and He calls together His angel friends on the finding of the coin, and makes them sharers in His joy, whom He had made to share also the secret of the Incarnation. On the candle of the Forerunner there follows the light that exceeds in brightness, and to the voice the Word succeeds; and to the Bridegroom's friend the Bridegroom, to him that prepared for the Lord a peculiar people, cleansing them by water in preparation for the Spirit…
He girds Himself with a towel and washes His disciples' feet, and shows that humiliation is the best road to exaltation.
For the soul that was bent to the ground He humbles Himself, that He may raise up with Himself the soul that was tottering to a fall under a weight of sin.
He eats with tax-gatherers and at the taxgatherers' tables, and that He makes disciples of tax-gatherers, that He too may gain something - and what? - the salvation of sinners.
A little later on you will see Jesus submitting to be purified in the river Jordan for my purification, or rather, sanctifying the waters by His purification (for indeed He had no need of purification, who takes away the sin of the world) and the heavens cleft asunder, and witness borne to him by the Spirit that is of one nature with Him;
you shall see Him tempted and conquering and served by angels, and healing every sickness and every disease, and giving life to the dead - O that He would give life to you who are dead because of your heresy, - and driving out demons, sometimes Himself, sometimes by his disciples, and feeding vast multitudes with a few loaves, and walking dry-shod upon seas, and being betrayed and crucified, and crucifying with Himself my sin, offered as a lamb, and offering as a priest, as a man buried in the grave, and as God rising again, and then ascending, and to come again in His own glory. Why what a multitude of high festivals there are in each of the mysteries of the Christ; all of which have one completion, namely, my perfection and return to the first condition of Adam.
Now then I pray you accept His conception, and to leap before Him, if not like John from the womb, yet like David, because of the resting of the Ark. Revere the enrolment on account of which you were inscribed in heaven, and adore the birth by which you were loosed from the chains of your birth.
Honour little Bethlehem, which has led you back to Paradise.
Worship the manger through which you, being without sense, were fed by the Word.
Know as Isaiah bids you, your Owner like the ox, and like the ass your Master's crib…
Run with the star, and bear your gifts with the Magi, gold and frankincense and myrrh, as to a king, and to God, and to One who has died for you.
With shepherds glorify Him;
with angels join in chorus;
with archangels sing hymns.
Let this Festival be common to the powers in heaven and to the powers upon earth. For I am persuaded that the heavenly hosts join in our exultation and keep high Festival with us to-day, because they love mankind, and they love God …
One thing connected with the birth of Christ I would have you hate - the murder of the infants by Herod. Or rather you must venerate this too, the sacrifice of the same age as Christ, slain before the offering of the New Victim. If He flees into Egypt, joyfully become a companion of His exile. It is a great thing to share the exile of the persecuted Christ. If He tarry long in Egypt, call Him out of Egypt by a reverent worship of Him there. Travel without fault through every stage and faculty of the Life of Christ. Be purified; be circumcised; strip off the veil which has covered you from your birth. After this teach in the Temple, and drive out the sacrilegious traders. Submit to be stoned if need be, for well I know you will be hidden from those who cast the stones; you will escape even through the midst of them, like God. If thou be brought before Herod, answer not for the most part. He will respect your silence more than most people's long speeches. If you are scourged, ask for what they leave out. Taste gall for the taste's sake; drink vinegar; seek for spittings; accept blows, be crowned with thorns, that is, with the hardness of the godly life; put on the purple robe, take the reed in hand, and receive mock worship from those who mock at the truth; lastly, be crucified with Him, and share His death and burial gladly, so that you may rise with Him, and be glorified with Him and reign with Him. Look at and be looked at by the Great God, who in Trinity is worshipped and glorified, and Whom we declare to be now set forth as clearly before you as the chains of our flesh allow, in Jesus Christ our Lord, to Whom be the glory for ever.
Monday, December 21, 2009
Though the Son was incorporeal, He formed for Himself a body after our fashion. He appeared as one of the sheep; yet, He still remained the shepherd. He was esteemed a servant; yet, He did not renounce the Sonship. He was carried in the womb of Mary, yet was arrayed in the nature of His Father. He walked upon the earth, yet He filled heaven. He appeared as an infant, yet He did not discard the eternity of His nature. He was investedwith a body, but it did not circumscribe the unmixed simplicity of His Divinity... He needed sustenance inasmuch as He was man; yet, He did not cease to feed the entire world inasmuch as He is God. He put on the likeness of a servant, while not impairing the likeness of His Father.
Melito of Sardis 2nd century
Saturday, December 19, 2009
...and Caedmon is St. Romanos'--in a narrative sense, their trajectories are, if not exactly "double," at least strikingly similar.
Here is the story of Romanos ("my" saint, even though I am female!), followed by Caedmon's, both copied and pasted from various sources:
ROMANOS THE MELODIST
Romanos was ordained a deacon and served in the Church of the Resurrection in Berytus (Beirut). Most sources agree that he went to Constantinople during the reign of the Emperor Anastasius I (491-518).
Church legend has it that during this time, Romanos’ voice was quite harsh and rasping and he was also tone deaf. It is said that the congregation cringed at hearing his voice. It was in the Church of the Most Holy Theotokos in the Blachernae quarter of Constantinople, that he received the gift of sacred poetry. After a religious retreat there, in his sleep on Christmas eve, he saw a vision of the Most Holy Theotokos who told him not to despair. Blessing him with her right hand, she held forth a scroll with her left hand, saying, “Take the scroll and eat it”. The saint, in his dream, opened his mouth and swallowed the parchment. It was Christmas Day, and immediately he awakened and marveled and glorified God. According to an account by Poulos, the service commenced as usual and when it came time for the voice of Romanos to be heard, the participants braced themselves for the accustomed cacophony that would ensue. Then, mounting the pulpit in the church, Romanos began the strains of his kontakion: Today the Virgin gives birth to the one who is above all living things. But when the tone rolled across the church like the sound of a heavenly angel, the stunned listeners stood transfixed. When he had finished, the confused priest signaled him to continue and once again the resonant voice reverberated in the house of God. Then it dawned on one and all that a miracle had occurred. He was now hailed as the “Melodist”.
CAEDMON (Bede's account)
The man was established in worldly life until the time when he was of advanced age, and he had never learned any songs. And consequently, often at a drinking gathering, when there was deemed to be occasion of joy, that they all must in turn sing with a harp, when he saw the harp nearing him, he then arose for shame from that feast and went home to his house. Then he did this on a certain occasion, that he left the banquet-hall and he was going out to the animal stables, which herd had been assigned to him that night.
When he there at a suitable time set his limbs at rest and fell asleep, then some man stood by him in his dream and hailed and greeted him and addressed him by his name: 'Caedmon, sing me something.' Then he answered and said: 'I do not know how to sing and for that reason I went out from this feast and went hither, because I did not know how to sing at all.' Again he said, he who was speaking with him: 'Nevertheless, you must sing.' Then he said: 'What must I sing?' Said he: 'Sing to me of the first Creation.' When he received this answer, then he began immediately to sing in praise of God the Creator verses and words which he had never heard:
Now we must praise the Protector of the heavenly kingdom, the might of the Measurer and His mind's purpose, the work of the Father of Glory, as He for each of the wonders, the eternal Lord, established a beginning. He shaped first for the sons of the Earth heaven as a roof, the Holy Maker; then the Middle-World, mankind's Guardian he eternal Lord, made afterwards solid ground for men, the almighty Lord.
Then he arose from that sleep, and all of those (songs) which he sang while sleeping he had fast in his memory, and he soon added in the same manner to those words many words of songs worthy of God.
Then in the morning he came to the town-reeve, who was his alderman. He said to him which gift did he bring, and he directly lead him to the abbess and made it known and declared to her. Then she ordered all of the most learnèd men and scholars to assemble, and to those who were present commanded him to tell of that dream and sing that song, so that it might be determined by the judgement of all of them: what it was and whence it had come. Then it was seen by all even as it was, that to him from God himself a heavenly gift had been given. Then they spoke to him and told some holy story and divine words of knowledge; they bade him then, if he could, that he turn it into poetical rhythm. Then, when he had undertaken it in this manner, then he went home to his house, and came again in the morning, and with the best adorned song he sang and rendered what he was bid (to recite).
Then the abbess began to embrace and love the gift of God in that man, and she exhorted and adviced him that he should abandon the worldly life and accept monkhood, and he readily agreed to this. And she accepted him into the monastery, with his goods, and united him into the community of God's servants, and ordered that he be taught the (entire) series of holy stories and narratives. And he was able to learn all that he heard, and, keeping it all in mind, just as a clean animal chewing cud, turned (it) into the sweetest song. And his songs and his poems were so beautiful to hear, that his teachers themselves wrote and learned at his mouth. He sang first about the creation of the world and about the origin of mankind and all of the history of Genesis--that is the first book of Moses--, and afterwards about the exodus of the Israeli people from the land of Egypt and their entry into the promised land; and about many other stories of the holy writ of the books of the canon; and about Christ's incarnation, and about his suffering and about his ascension into the heavens; and about the coming of the Holy Ghost, and of the lore of the apostles; and after about the day of impending judgement, and about the terror of the torturing punishment, and about the sweetness of the heavenly kingdom, he wrought many songs. And so also many others he made about divine mercy and judgement. In all of them he eagerly sought to pull men away from love of sin and criminal deeds, and to love and to zealously awake to (the doing) of good deeds. For he was a very devout man, and humbly subjected himself to regular service. And against those who wished to do otherwise, he burned with surging of great ardour. And he for this reason with a beautiful end he closed and ended his life.
For when the time of his departure and going-forth neared, he was for fourteen days before (his death), that he was afflicted and encumbered by bodily weakness, yet so moderately that he all the time could both speak and move about. There was in the neighbourhood a house for sick men, in which it was the custom to carry in those who were ill and those who were near to death, and minister there to them together. He bade that his servant--in the evening when (the time) of his leaving the world was nearing--that he prepare for him a place in that house, that he might rest (there). Then the servant wondered why he bade thus, because he thought that his end was not so near, but nevertheless did as he said and commanded. And when he went there to rest, and he in a happy mood was jesting and speaking about various things with those who were gathered together with him, those who were in (the sickhouse) before (him); when it was past midnight he asked, if they had any housel within. Then they answered and said: 'What need of the housel? Your passing is not so near, when now you are this cheerfully and this pleasantly speaking to us.' He said again: 'Bring to me the house.' When he had it in his hand, he asked whether they had peaceful minds and happily beared him no ill-will. Then they all answered, and said that they knew no ill-will towards him, but they all were very happily disposed towards him. And they in turn asked him if he was happy with all of them. Then he answered and said: 'My brothers, my beloved ones, I am very blithe of mind towards you and all men of God'.' And he was thus strengthening himself with heavenly provisions, and he prepared himself for entry into the other(/next) life. Then yet he asked how near the time was to when the brothers must arise, and offer up praise to God and sing their matins. They answered, 'It is not long til then.' He said: 'Good, let us fully wait that time.' He then prayed and blessed himself with the sign of Christ's Rood, and inclined his head to the bolster, and in a small space of time, he fell asleep -- and thus ended his life in stillness.
And so it came to pass that as he served God with pure spirit and with mild and serene devoutness, that he likewise left this middle-earth by a serene death, and he arrived in His sight. And the tongue which had set so many healing words in praise of the Maker, so likewise (uttering) its last words to praise Him--as he crossed himself and offered up his spirit into His hands--ceased.
Here is the poet Susan Mitchell's mediation on Caedmon's story in her beautiful poem "Rapture":
'Sing me something'' is what the other keeps saying
night after night, regular as a pulse.
urging, making impossible demands
of him? 'Come on,''
the other one is saying like
a faucet dripping, like a branch beating the window.
The window in his head. He opens it.
'Come on, Caedmon, sing me hwaethwugu.'...
I can't, he says, filling his mouth
with a big hole. Refusing, it begins for him.
Protesting, it swings itself up, it gets
going. It comes to him coming.
Or, it comes to her. What she lacks.
What hasn't happened in her
entire life, now it's coming, its absence
spread everywhere like a canyon in waves
of magenta and purple and gold.
The voice spreading before her...
So the song begins in the impossible as poet Allen Grossman points out:
[Grossman: On Cædmon's song and other impossible things]: Caedmon ... composed his precisely impossible poem, the precise work of which he knew himself incapable, asleep, in response to a second, mysterious demand ..."Caedmon, sing me something" (canta mihi aliquid).... Caedmon's "hymn" is sung, impossibly by a singer who knew no songs and could not sing, about a (likewise) unknown Lord, master of first making who did the prototypal impossible thing (that is why he is remembered and praised)--which was not however, as in Judeo-Christian text (Caedmon, of course, would have known the Creeds), precisely to make something out of nothing. Rather, Caedmon's "Wuldorfaeder" is praise-worthy because he constructs out of existing materials a house for human beings, and donates it to their keeping. (Grossman 1997:4-5)
On poetry and world-making]: Poetic vocation always remembers the moment before the calling, before the making of the maker... but not I think before the making of the maker's discourse, which is the condition of the knowability even of making....The making of persons, like the making of the worlds persons know, refers in any case to a possible state of affairs. There are both persons and worlds, though there once was not...But the analogy of world making and person making depends on the likeness of the two actions, and that likeness rests in the impossibility of producing in either case the difference between the not-being and the being of the world... [P]oetic vocation is like world making and person making in that it is both possible and impossible: possible in fact--there are, as I say, both persons and poems--but strictly, logically, materially, as a matter of deliberation, impossible--destined to fail. The poet is the artisan (skilled worker) whose work it is to tell of this state of affairs. Poetics accordingly....is the science of the weight and implications of the resistance that produces not any world but just this one.
More on Caedmon and Romanos another time, I hope... They must be the saints of verbal blunderers and fumblers, the tongue-tied, the mute, those who feel (momentarily or ongoingly) that whatever they say is wrong or lacking, those who think they have no song, those who are "blocked" or sparkless in expression, those who feel as if there's something fundamentally wrong or lacking in them, those who are self-outcast from the community hearth...
Friday, December 18, 2009
Thursday, December 17, 2009
"After the death of Jesus, we are given a new possibility to face death. Death can be seen as something very passive on one hand, because we have no choice at all over the time, place, and condition. It just happens. But some theologians say that death is also something very active. It’s the supreme moment of our life, the supreme event. The German theologian Karl Rahner has a beautiful reflection on the theology of death. He says that death is the most personal act each one of us has to accomplish, the supreme moment. That can be also seen if we compare our life as a long letter written to God—the daily conversation, surrender, dedication. The moment of death is like a signature. I affirm. I sign the whole letter of love for my whole life. That’s the supreme moment. Who gives us the possibility, the right to do this? I think it’s the death of Christ as total surrender to the Father. Christians, or those who follow Christ, are able to appropriate the death of Christ to the moment of our own death."
"...We understand that Christ went through death, and in the agony in the garden said, 'May this cup pass from me.' Some interpretations of those words have been that Christ wanted to be able to live through the crucifixion. The death struggle had already begun in the agony of the garden, and he didn’t want to burn himself out and die prematurely before he went through the crucifixion and then into the resurrection. Finally, footnotes are very important in writings. Even Ray Brown in his book, The Death of the Messiah, talks about one of the last words on the cross, 'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me.' It is not always accepted that 'forsaken' is the term that Christ actually used. There is a tradition that the sentence should really be interpreted as, 'My God, my God, why hast thou glorified me?' Ray Brown mentions this and that interpretation has certainly been part of a tradition. It’s worth thinking about that subtle distinction between being forsaken and glorified."
"On the lack of recognition of Jesus after resurrection: The resurrection of Jesus in the New Testament is clearly not simply the resuscitation of a corpse. It’s not like Lazarus coming back to life where he is going to die again. The disciples have to go through a whole process of learning to see, which is not solely the experience of Mary or the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, but representative of a broader process in the whole Christian community. It’s especially dramatic in the story of the road to Emmaus, where the disciples hear the stories of hope, know the tragedy of history, and are in between. That’s exactly where the early Christian community was. The figure of the risen Lord in the story teaches the early disciples how to understand the scriptures, and then they recognize Jesus in the breaking off the bread. As soon as they recognize him, he is gone, which is similar to him saying to Mary Magdalene, 'Don’t touch me. Don’t grasp me. Don’t cling to me.' The resurrection of Jesus is not a possession that we can hold onto."
"And if we really do Christ’s bidding, all that He went through will be repeated in us, be it to a lesser degree. The intensity of Christ's sufferings cannot be gauged. Entering into them makes it possible for us to know the eminence of Divine providence for us and achieve the perfection of love."
Archimandrite Sophrony Sakharov, On Prayer, p. 100.
from the Synaxarion:
"As for the Three Children, Ananias ("Yah is gracious"), Misael ("Whois what God is?), and Azarias ("Yah is keeper"), since they refused to offer adoration to Nabuchodonosor's image, they were cast intothe furnace of fire. They were preserved unharmed amidst the flames -even their hair was untouched - by the descent of the Angel of theLord, that is, the Son of God. Walking about in the furnace, as though in the midst of dew, they sang the universal hymn of praise to God,which is found in the Seventh and Eighth Odes of the Holy Psalter."
We always sing about the three holy youths' rest and refreshment in the fiery furnace. But listening to the whole story last night at vespers, it occurred to me that perhaps this rest and refreshment didn't begin in the furnace, but was already present inside the youths--in their own internal experience of having come through to a place of both steadfastness and self-abandonment, as expressed in their response to the king:
"...we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
Thus, it could be that their experience in the furnace was actually an outward manifestation of the interior state of trust in God that the youths had already achieved in the fiery furnace of their own sanctification.
"Not gold by nature, they were manifested as more proven than gold..."
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Everyone should be completely veiled (except for faces and hands) to keep us from being distracted by each other's choices of clothing, jewelry, hair styles, etc. (Optional but provided at door: those things they put on horses so they can see only straight ahead.)
The veil-outfits should have lots of pockets so we wouldn't have to grope in our purses, etc. for kleenex, cough drops, water bottles, and so on.
THE FLOOR SHOULD BE MADE OF RUBBER or whatever it is that they put on tracks to make them easier on the joints.
***Most importantly, everyone should have assigned places BASED ON HEIGHT so that the short people can still see the icons, altar area, etc.
More babies, all sorts and conditions thereof--bring 'em on!
And of course, somehow, everyone should have access to all the words of the hymns, kanons, etc.
Saturday, December 12, 2009
Thursday, December 10, 2009
"The final decisive Christian distinction is not between the sacred and the profane, the cult and the world, the just or unjust, or even between good and evil. The decisive distinction is between the old and the new. Christian ethics must be imbued with this same eschatological vision."
Essays in Orthodox Ethics
by Vigen Guroian
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
"God saw that mankind worship things created: He put on a created body, that in our custom He might capture us. Lo! In this our form, He that formed us healed us; and in this created shape, our Creator gave us life. He drew us not by force: blessed be He Who came in ours, and joined us in His!
"He was servant on earth; He is Lord in Heaven. Heir of height and depth, He became a stranger: Whom men judged in guile, He is judge in truth: He whose face they spat on, breathes His Spirit on theirs: He Who held the frail reed, is become the staff of the world, which grows old and leans on Him.
"And as He began at birth, He went on and fulfilled in death. His Birth received worship; His Death paid the debt. As He came to His Birth, the Magi worshipped Him; again He came to His Passion, and the thief sought refuge in Him. Between His Birth and Death, midway He set the world: in birth and Death he gave it life."
-- from Hymn XIV on the Nativity by St. Ephrem the Syrian, 4th century
Monday, December 7, 2009
Thursday, December 3, 2009
Be ashamed when you sin, don't be ashamed when you repent.
There are two things: sin and repentance.
Sin is the wound, repentance is the medicine.
Sin is followed by shame; repentance is followed by boldness.
Satan has overturned this order and given boldness to sin and shame to repentance.
--St. John Chrysostom
My Lord is the One who resurrects. He resurrects the dead from morning until dusk, and from dusk until dawn.
What the morning buries, the Lord brings to life in the evening; and what the evening buries, the Lord brings to life in the morning.
What work is more fitting for the living God than to resurrect the dead into life?
Let others believe in the God who brings men to trial and judges them.
I shall cling to the God who resurrects the dead.
Let others believe in the God, who does not even draw near to the living when they call upon Him.
I shall worship the God, who holds His cupped ear even at cemeteries and listens, to hear whether anyone is crying out for resurrection or for the One who resurrects.
The gravediggers dig graves and are silent. The Lord opens graves and shouts.
A mother places her daughter in a grave, the Lord takes her out of the grave; the Lord is a better mother than the mother.
A father covers his son with soil, the Lord uncovers him. The Lord is a better father than the father.
A brother buries his brother, the Lord resurrects him. The Lord is a better brother than the brother.
The Lord has neither tears nor smiles for the dead. His whole heart belongs to the living.
The world mourns for their kindred in the cemeteries, the Lord seeks His own with a song and awakens them.
Resurrect my soul, O Lord, so that my body might also be resurrected. Dwell in my soul, and my body will become Your temple.
My neighbors ask with anxiety whether this body of ours will be resurrected.
If you have denied yourself once and for all, and no longer live for yourself, then your body is already being resurrected.
If your body is a temple of the Most High God, then the One who resurrects is within you, and your resurrection is already being accomplished.
Our body changes with age, throughout our lifetime we have called many bodies our own. Which of them will be resurrected?
Perhaps none of them. But you can be certain that if you have had a body which expresses the Word of God clearly, it will be resurrected.
My Lord who resurrects, does not resurrect death, because death was never alive.
You are the One who resurrects and You are the resurrection, for You are life.
Only the seed which contains You is resurrected, and that seed which is of You.
You will only bring to life that soul which now lives by You and not by the world.
You will only preserve that body, which has begun to be filled with the Holy Spirit during this time.
That which is of the Living God in the graves, will be resurrected into life.
No one can resurrect the dead except the Lord, and no one can rise from the dead except the Lord.
For He is in His holy people. Truly, He is in His living people, both in the grave and out of the grave.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
The Jesus Prayer
The Ancient Desert Prayer That Tunes the Heart to God
by Frederica Mathewes-Green
168 pages of text plus notes and citations
This book is a feast, both appetizing and nourishing for anyone who even remotely wishes to learn about prayer. Though the writing seems to address beginners, the author's understanding and presentation of the subject are so richly nuanced, it is hard to imagine anyone, even the most experienced person of prayer, failing to benefit from it. And it's so much more than just a book on "technique"--I came away from it feeling as though I'd been offered a glimpse of the heart of God.
The book provides a clear, insightful introduction and discussion of the Jesus Prayer in terms of history, Scripture, meaning, and context, and contains much explication in ordinary language, many helpful anecdotes and examples, and a lot of searing, and yet hope-inspiring quotations and passages from both ancient and contemporary sources. There's a lot of "unpacking" of "how-to," but it's quite the opposite of a paint-by-number approach--as the author states, "[i]t's not as if anyone could make a detailed map, because everyone's makeup and history is different. What's more, our omnipotent God is free to do whatever He wants...Still, it can be helpful to get an overview of what others ahve observed."
This is an incredibly practical book, not only addressing what the Jesus Prayer is and is not, but dealing with all kinds of questions and roadblocks, including those with which we may have struggled inchoately before finding that the author has put them into words for us.
Here are some of them:
How should I prepare to start practicing the Jesus Prayer?
And then what? How do I begin the Prayer itself?
How many times should I say the Prayer during one practice period?
When I do spend time practicing the Prayer, how do I keep track of repetitions?
Should I have a special place for prayer in my home?
Where am I supposed to get this stuff--icons, prayers ropes, and so forth?
Should I picture Christ looking at me or anything like that? Or should I keep looking at an icon of Him while I pray?
What if I don't want to include formal repetition of the Jesus Prayer in my daily prayer time? What if I don't even have a daily prayer time?
What form of the prayer should I use?
I'm still not very comfortable with all this begging for mercy.
How fast should I say the prayer?
But what if I don't feel awe--what if I don't feel anything?
But haven't we progressed beyond fear of God? It sounds so negative.
What good is repentance, though? What's the point?
Is it right to ask over and over for anything? Didn't Jesus say something about "vain repetition"?
So the content of the prayer seems to change as you say it, over the years?
What does it mean to have the awareness rooted in the heart? What is the heart, anyway?
I don't get it. You can transport your mind around to different parts of your body?
What about moving the nous down to the heart--what in the world does that mean?
Do these four natural levels of attention correspond to levels of the Jesus Prayer?
Have you experienced any part of this firsthand?
This business about going from the head to the heart sounds like an Eastern religion. Isn't there something in Hinduism about different energy locations in the body?
But don't Buddhist and other meditation techniques result in tranquility and quieting of thoughts, like the Jesus Prayer does?
Still, all this repeating of the same words sounds like a mantra.
Does this business about feeling prayer inside the head or the heart have anything to do with the reports about "God in the brain," the theory that spiritual experiences are just ordinary, biological brain events?
How can you kow whether the spirit you sense listening or responding to you is really Jesus?
Can someone fall into delusion, even though trying sincerely to practice the Jesus Prayer?
But I can't forgive my enemy. Not because of what happened in the past; it's because I'm afraid he'll do it again.
I'm discouraged. I can't do this at all. I'm distracted every minute.
But how can you fight against thoughts, or logismoi?
Aren't visions sometimes the real thing?
I don't want to offend God if He's trying to tell me something.
What kind of "peace" does the Jesus Prayer aim at? Does it mean making your mind empty?Can I say the Jesus Prayer as intercession, putting someone else's name instead of "me"?
Can I say the Jesus Prayer during church?
Could you pray the Jesus Prayer with other people, either silently or out loud?
It sounds like saying the Jesus Prayer is all about having spiritual experiences, which, no matter how elevated, have no impact on the world.
Despite everything, it still doesn't seem like God is really here. I don't know if it really is possible to have direct contact with God.
I really don't think I have the personality for this; I don't think God can do much with me.
Here are just a few lines and passages that moved me:
"Reality is God's home address." "A nun had been assigned to care for an elderly monk with advanced dementia. One day his babbling was of a kind that was distressing to her. Suddenly he broke free, as it were, looked her in the eye, and said, 'Dear sister, you are upset because of what I am saying. But do not fear. Inside, I am with God.'“
"We don't merely encounter Christ or imitate him, we don't merely become like Christ; we actually become one with him, saturated body and soul with his life."
"Salvation means healing from the sickness of sin, so we are always seeking to confront the sin that infects us, and be healed at ever deeper levels...Only Christ the Physician can know how the healing should progress, how quickly things should be dealt with, or in what order. Nothing found there will be surprising to him, because he sees all the way through us already....You may feel aware of one particular sin...that embarrasses or frightens you. You feel certain that it has to be the first to go, and so devote to it all your fretful attention. You have made vehement vows to never fall again, and you have fallen numeroud times...But the Lord may know something about the underlying structure of your sin that you don't. It may be that some other debility, maybe something you're not even aware of, is holding that big sin in place, and that has to be dealt with first. You might think that the Lord cannot stand the presence of your ugle sin, but he has been standing it a long time already, and he's not going to stop loving you now. If he can be patient enough to bring about a healing that is permanent, you can too..."
"Everyone wants to be transformed, but nobody wants to change."
"...some folks have a more sober quality, while others are full of joy; there isn't any one personality type. If anything, the indwelling Christ enables each person to be more himself than he was ever able to be before."
"That 'still small voice' is more like what we're looking for. So don't expect something overwhelming and showy, but instead something subtle but real. Silence is necessary because we're trying to learn how to hear something; we must learn discernment...My son Steve is a piano tuner in his spare time, and even though electronic tuners are a big help in that business, there is no replacement for acquring an exquisite sense of pitch. If you picture yourself trying to gain that ability, to be able tell C from C# while it's hanging in the air, then you know the kind of silence I mean."
I've read this this book a couple of times, and plan to do so again, as well as loan it out to others--truly, it's a treasure.
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Just Like Pastrami
by Lee Shulman January 1, 2007
Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching
Educational psychologist Lee Shulman is president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching in Stanford, Calif. For nearly 20 years he was on the faculty of Michigan State University and founded its Institute for Research on Teaching.
I believe in pastrami -- well-marbled pastrami. Hot, thinly sliced, piled on fresh rye bread with dark mustard and a crisp dill pickle.
I believe that pastrami is a metaphor for a well-lived life, for a well-designed institution and even for healthy relationships. Pastrami is marbled rather than layered. Its parts, the lean and the fat, are mixed together rather than neatly separated. Too much of life is lived by adding layers that don't really connect with one another.
When I was about 12, my parents bought a small Jewish delicatessen on the northwest side of Chicago. And that's where I learned about pastrami. I worked at the counter and I learned the differences between well-marbled and merely layered meats. My Dad would explain to me that some customers wanted him to slice away all of the fat on a brisket and then they'd come back to complain that the meat wasn't juicy. He'd sigh and explain that without marbling, they'd never get what they wanted.
I've seen the wisdom of my Dad's insight over time. When I started teaching college, my mentors warned me against having any interest in my students' lives outside the classroom. In my first month on the job, I taught a 500-student class. One day a young woman came to my office to tell me she wouldn't be able to complete all the course requirements. It turned out her husband had been killed in a car accident the month before. She was a 19-year-old widow.
I then began to wonder about the other 499 students. Their stories may not have been as extreme, but I would have been a fool to think their lives wouldn't have an impact on the classroom. Learning and living were marbled in my students' lives, not layered. To teach, advise and mentor them, I needed to be sensitive and aware of their tragedies and celebrations, their ambitions and their anxieties.
Separate layers are much easier to trim from the brisket. Separate layers are much easier to build, to schedule and to design. But I believe that marbling demands that we work with the messy world of people, relationships and obligations in their full, rich complexity. The diet mavens inform us that marbling can be dangerous for our health, but as an educator I'm willing -- even obligated -- to take the risk. I want to marble habits of mind, habits of practice and habits of the heart with my students -- just like pastrami.