Words

Life

Category: communion

Speaking of understanding

by Andrea Elizabeth

from today’s Prolog of Ohrid:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart; on your own understanding rely not” [Proverbs 3:5).

If all the mountains would move toward you, would you be able to push them back with your hands? You could not. If darkness after darkness of all the mysteries in the heavens and on the earth rushed to the small taper of your understanding would you, with your understanding, be able to illuminate the darkness? Even less! Do not rely on your understanding for, from the perishable matter which you call intellect, a greater portion of it is nothing more than dead ashes. O man, do not rely on your understanding for it is a road over which a mob rushes a hungry, thirsty, motley and curious mob of sensual impressions.

O man, trust in the Lord with all your heart. In Him is understanding without end and all-discerning. The Lord says: “I am understanding; mine is strength” (Proverbs 8:14). He looks on the paths on which your blood flows and all the crossroads on which your thoughts wander. With compassion and love He offers Himself to you as a leader and you rely on your darkened and perishable understanding. Where was your understanding before your birth? Where was your understanding when your body was taking form, when your heart began to beat and flow with blood, when your eyes began to open and when your voice began to flow from your throat? Whose understanding was all this while your mind was still sleeping as charcoal in a coal mine? Even when your understanding awoke, can you enumerate all the illusions which it has delivered to you, all the lies in which it has entangled you, all the dangers which it did not foresee? O my brother, trust only in the Lord with all your heart! Until now, He has rescued you numerous times from your own understanding, from illusions and its lies and from danger in which it has pushed you. A blind man is compared to the man who can see, so is your understanding compared to the understanding of God. O blind one, trust in the Leader. O brother, trust only in the Lord with all your heart.

O Lord, All-seeing, Eternal and Infallible Understanding, deeper than the universe and more radiant than the sun, deliver us, even now from the errors of our understanding.

Fr. Loudovikos in A Eucharistic Ontology also criticizes philosophy’s reliance on thinking. “Thus Heidegger in his testament entitled, ‘The end of philosophy and the task of thought’, talks directly about the end of philosophy, understood as the end of metaphysics or ontology in our times (these having anyway been swallowed up by the sciences), and locates the only future for thought in the free mythopoetic quest for truth through thinking; and he does not seem bothered by the fact that the linkage of thinking and truth is a survival of the same essential identification of thinking with being” (page 5). This reliance on thinking is very egocentric and subjective even though it opens itself to the unknowability of the other and ultimately one’s own annihilation, the end result of complete kenosis. Thus also destroying reciprocity in love, dialogue and gift giving which are the essential components of the Liturgy.

Teacher’s pet, or, only child syndrome

by Andrea Elizabeth

I have thought that I could handle the monastic life with its twice daily, intensive services, quiet meals read over with scriptures, saint stories or teachings, the remote, beautiful setting, guided cell rules, etc. I have been to enough monasteries to get the impression that the hardest thing for me would be the group dynamic. This goes along with the monastic struggle of the thought life. In a marriage, one is placed in a singular position of preference. In a monastery, unless you’re the abbess, which I don’t want to be, it’s back to being a competing sibling for the parent’s favor. Most people naturally(?) want exclusive rights to that position. Going through a divorce made me realize that I wouldn’t die without that rightful place, but I think part of me did. Not entirely, because it can kick back in in a new situation. Some people want that exclusivity so much that they will actively try to get rid of the other siblings/students. This is what happened to Boris and Gleb by their brother, Svyatopolk. They are saints because they let him win. Hopefully there is a healthier way to compete without either wishing the others away or completely martyring onesself. Surely all the siblings can find happiness together.

But what is it in us that wants exclusivity. Converting to Orthodox veneration and prayer to the Saints can feel a little like being shoved to the back of a crowded room. One has to find out that they don’t disappear even if this is the case. This is helped by having to come forward to venerate the icons and take Holy Communion. For those brief few seconds, it’s only you up there, and the King of All enters in to abide. He’s with you when you go back. Orthodox also have to learn to remember each other. For the second a person’s name is mentioned, they are more blessed than if there were no fervent intercessors crowding the room.

And one must not neglect one’s private prayer. Oddly, with all the Orthodox prayer supports in the services, individual prayer can feel lonely. Perhaps this is influenced by feeling prayer is what one does during times of trouble. Then it has a negative connotation. One remembers lonely, sad times of praying in desperation and abandonment. Thank goodness for home icons that remind us we’re not alone.

The Crowd is Untruth

by Andrea Elizabeth

With the Pysanky deadline coming up, I decided to try to listen to some Kierkegaard to stay on topic with my reading while waxing eggs. The iTunes store has the largest selection of LibriVox recordings that I found. In keeping with my previous inquiry into individualism, I listened to the essay, ” That Single Individual” (text). Here is an excerpt:

There is another view of life; which holds that wherever the crowd is, there is untruth, so that, for a moment to carry the matter out to its farthest conclusion, even if every individual possessed the truth in private, yet if they came together into a crowd (so that “the crowd” received any decisive, voting, noisy, audible importance), untruth would at once be let in.[Note 3]

For “the crowd” is untruth. Eternally, godly, christianly what Paul says is valid: “only one receives the prize,” [I Cor. 9:24] not by way of comparison, for in the comparison “the others” are still present. That is to say, everyone can be that one, with God’s help – but only one receives the prize; again, that is to say, everyone should cautiously have dealings with “the others,” and essentially only talk with God and with himself – for only one receives the prize; again, that is to say, the human being is in kinship with, or to be a human is to be in kinship with the divinity. The worldly, temporal, busy, socially-friendly person says this: “How unreasonable, that only one should receive the prize, it is far more probable that several combined receive the prize; and if we become many, then it becomes more certain and also easier for each individually.” Certainly, it is far more probable; and it is also true in relation to all earthly and sensuous prizes; and it becomes the only truth, if it is allowed to rule, for this point of view abolishes both God and the eternal and “the human being’s” kinship with the divinity; it abolishes it or changes it into a fable, and sets the modern (as a matter of fact, the old heathen) in its place, so that to be a human being is like being a specimen which belongs to a race gifted with reason, so that the race, the species, is higher than the individual, or so that there are only specimens, not individuals. But the eternal, which vaults high over the temporal, quiet as the night sky, and God in heaven, who from this exalted state of bliss, without becoming the least bit dizzy, looks out over these innumerable millions and knows each single individual; he, the great examiner, he says: only one receives the prize; that is to say, everyone can receive it, and everyone ought to become this by oneself, but only one receives the prize. Where the crowd is, therefore, or where a decisive importance is attached to the fact that there is a crowd, there no one is working, living, and striving for the highest end, but only for this or that earthly end; since the eternal, the decisive, can only be worked for where there is one; and to become this by oneself, which all can do, is to will to allow God to help you – “the crowd” is untruth.

For the most part I agree with this and what follows, especially, “everyone should cautiously have dealings with “the others,” and essentially only talk with God and with himself”. But this leaves out the communion of the Saints and the conciliar decrees of the Councils, especially at the end of the first paragraph above. But if I were in Kierkegaard’s milieu, I should be more cautious. I am pretty cautious anyway, some may even say paranoid. But I trust what all the Saints have in common and what the Church has decreed. I trust that their prayers and council are beneficial to my finding the truth, God helping me. They are the only ones I can trust, yet my choosing Christ or not is ultimately my responsibility. Anyone outside the Church and her teaching must be listened to with caution. This is why the Church is not the democratically appointing crowd.

Come Closer

by Andrea Elizabeth

Even though it seems to have a western influence, I think the Three Holy Angels as seen in this 360º pan of St. Basil’s Cathedral is most compelling.

by Andrea Elizabeth

Our Father

The father of us all

The father who so quietly seeks that we think it’s our idea to find him.

The father who also made us to need an earthly father, for a time?

Some can’t go to an earthly father anymore for many reasons.

These usually wander about, for a time, like the little bird in Are You My Mother?

Hopefully a kind machine will scoop them up and put them in the heavenly nest where there is both our true Father and Mother.

Seek ye first

by Andrea Elizabeth

In the quotes I’ve previously provided, as well as ones I haven’t, The Universe as Signs and Symbols by St. Nicholai Velimirovich instructs us on reading our natural environment in a spiritual way. This takes work when one is not constantly possessing a sense of God’s presence nor feeling thankful for everything as a gift. There is also the question of whether a thing should be appreciated in its own right. For me it is easier to remember God when outside in nature. In the city, surrounded by concrete, I feel oppressed, but can be reminded by looking up at the sky which people haven’t yet managed to obliterate entirely. There are certain artistic fabrications that I manage to enjoy in the city, but should one be as thankful for them as direct gifts from God as one is a tree? First let me say that there is a question about whether we have to look for symbolism in a tree. Trees can possess a majesty of form that makes one say, “What a tree!” Is it sinful to stop there? One can look at a tree and appreciate it’s creator as one appreciates an artist, which is also a second step in art appreciation. But to look at a tree in a spiritual context, such as seeing the method of Christ’s crucifixion and thus our redemption, is a third step. A cross attains a certain beauty when seen in that light. But what about an unhewn tree? Ah, the tree of life. Yes a means of God’s provision for food, and beyond that communion. Also it is a picture of strength and shelter. To appreciate it’s beauty for itself, and not what one gets from it, not even the enjoyment of beauty, seems nice, but again, should we stop there? Shouldn’t we see that God (should probably say the Trinity or at least Christ as the Trinity revealed) must be beautiful beyond compare?

Back to fabricated, man-made things, especially things not made by hand but machine: I don’t think anything can be totally depraved, but things can be corrupted. One could seek the beauty of the original ingredients, or the similitude to traditional things like a door, which has symbolism, and get back on the above track. There’s probably a chapter on these man-made things that I’ve either forgotten or not gotten to yet.

When the pursuit of virtue by society turned to self-preservation

by Andrea Elizabeth

Some of the audio, not to mention the concepts, is a bit hard to understand, but I find the following idea from Leo Strauss’ lecture on “Plato’s Political Philosophy: Apology and Crito,” (h/t Gabriel) the first of the series, enlightening. I hope it is the point he was making.

Apparently Professor Strauss believes that Niccolo Machiavelli ushered in a shift from political or social science being based on virtue to it being based on circumstantial realism/”hedonism”. The virtues became imaginary and unattainable and a more pragmatic approach was adopted. I believe he’s saying that a person’s drive for self-preservation became the goal, not the attainment of the virtuous, ideal telos of all mankind. I like being able to pin this shift on one person and one time in history, which not all agree with Professor Strauss as occurring, but it makes comparing and contrasting, and closure easier.  Even if Machiavelli is being used as a scapegoat, what should he care at this point? The ones who disagree probably don’t think he’s the model citizen either.

I have at times considered that a selfish focus can lead to good. Nice trees and shrubs make people want to shop at certain locations, thus it is profitable for merchants to beautify the polis. However, setting the bar as low as Machiavelli does degrades humanity, and thus stifles it.

On the other hand, idealistic people can become too narrow in what they think the ideal is. The ideal man or woman behaves thus and has a certain kind of appearance. It can get pretty discriminatory and limiting. Louisa May Alcott seems to have suffered from not fitting into an ideal mold in her father’s comparison. He believed his fair hair and mild manners were perfect, whereas her dark looks and passionate manner, being the opposite, must be evil. “What Would Jesus Do” also presumes that a person can imagine the ideal on their own. We can’t completely discount this because our nature is in the divine image. Balancing this with our sinful habits and delusions is the challenge.

Another point Professor Strauss made while talking about how the idea of human nature changed with Machiavelli, was that man began to be seen as an individual and not as a social being. In his desire for self-preservation, he saw after the fact that he needed to be social. I guess this goes along with believing sin is natural. In the Orthodox view, sin is unnatural. Thus, if desiring society is virtuous, then individualism is sinful and not natural. This also fits with the idea of Being as Communion, which I haven’t read.

One can easily idealize and imagine what the perfect society would be like, but its virtuous reality may be far different from that. As long as we strive for it however, by grace we’ll attain it someday – maybe in the next life.

Returning

by Andrea Elizabeth

But when returning into herself she reflects; then she passes into the realm of purity, and eternity, and immortality, and unchangeableness, which are her kindred, and with them she ever lives, when she is by herself and is not let or hindered; then she ceases from her erring ways, and being in communion with the unchanging is unchanging. And this state of the soul is called wisdom?

Plato’s Phaedo

Martyrdom: Death and Resurrection

by Andrea Elizabeth

In looking for the source for the teaching that since Christ united Himself to humanity and conquered death, we now die, not because of sin, but because Christ died, I came across Olivier Clement’s article, Martyrdom: Death and Resurrection. It’s more about how Christian martyrdom unites the Saint to Christ’s death and thus the Eucharist, so I’ll keep looking for the more broad teaching which George tells me comes from one of Clement’s books. Meanwhile I recommend the above.

More on giving up on winning

by Andrea Elizabeth

cont. from last post

To give up on winning means that one accepts that they, to paraphrase Stuart Smalley, are not good enough, smart enough, or liked enough to deserve idealized attention. They no longer want to use others for their own personal reconstruction project, to make up for past neglect. They agree to take a back seat and let others be in control. This is a big deal because previously they thought they would disappear and die if they gave up like that. That others would take over and they would be forgotten forever. People with BPD do not have object permanence. If the person gives attention to someone else, the person with BPD disappears. Their therapist is then used to make them feel visible. The person with BPD lacks a sense of identity, and is constantly looking to others to define them. Usually they are very afraid of being alone. Perhaps this is why some people keep the tv on when home alone. Prayer can be scary for what it reveals, and thoughts can lead to a downward spiral.

I watched a movie last night about a woman suffering from post traumatic stress disorder after being a tortured prisoner in the Bosnian war – you don’t find this out until the end, so to give the title would spoil the ending. She was afraid to let people get close because their presence would make her face herself and she just might start crying and not be able to stop and the room would fill up with her tears and she would drown and drag the other person down with her. The idealized man says he will learn to swim – thus conquering his own personal demon. She then lets him close. I was dissatisfied with this because their relationship seemed based on neediness and shared pain. It seems that breaking the silence and letting onesself shed tears was the end goal. Then what? Stuart Smalley also says, “Trace it, face it, and erase it.” The last scene was years later, when she is home alone and can hear her children playing in the yard next door. The little imaginary girl that had comforted her during her years of silence comes back and talks to her for the last time, and she lets her go. Children can sometimes be idealized and used for personal reconstruction too. The person with BPD has a low level of patience with real, constant children though. I’m thinking they need to learn to give up on winning that ideal too. Maybe then they’ll have the patience and accept the letting go required to let the children be themselves.

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