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Category: Fr. John McGuckin

The Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer

by Andrea Elizabeth

The beautiful looking and sounding film formerly known as Sophia, Secret Wisdom has a new trailer and release date. Click here for more info.

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Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer

by Andrea Elizabeth

I emailed Dr. Chumley who is listed as a contact for the film, Sophia Secret Wisdom and requested an update on the filming progress. Here’s his response,

“Thank you for writing.  Indeed, there is a name change.  It is now likely to be “Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer.”  Do you like that?  We feel it will be more of interest to a general audience.

It is near completion, and we hope that it will be released fall 2010.  Yes, we urgently need funds.  We must still raise $50,000!  But by the grace of God, we will.

I will put you on our mailing list, and let you know when it is released.

Before relating my response to Dr. Chumley, I’d like to write about why I’m interested in the film. It is nice to be able to see locations and the faces of people that I am not likely to have access to in my lifetime. Is this an unhealthy appetite? One statement however bothered me in the trailer, “There’s no need to leave your family, your work, your home; travel with us!” I don’t think there’s anything wrong with looking at people’s travel pictures and listening to their experiences, but it’s going to far to say you don’t need to actually go anywhere yourself, I’ll do it for you. I am prone to want to stay home and look on my icons as all the window to heaven I need, that my view out my windows is all the scenery I need, that my computer provides me with all the information and social contact that I need, and that my immediate family provides all the love I need and even missionary work I need to do. But I know I am protecting myself too much by not physically going out nor letting anyone else in. Besides how can one say they love Christ if they are not willing to go to where He’s present in actual Body and Blood? There’s also something about praying with one’s fellow parishoners that is a very bonding experience. Monastics praying in the same room is not only a great example but a great blessing. Watching monastics pray on film can still be a good and motivating example imo, but only if one actually ends up praying in subsequent silence. Ostrov similarly motivated me to pray.

Another reason I want to see the film is to hear Fr. John McGuckin’s voice. My mother has a very good read-aloud voice which has provided me with some of my fondest childhood memories. My two older brothers and I would excitedly gather on her bed while she read “Huckleberry Finn”, “Old Yeller”, “Savage Sam” and “Where the Red Fern Grows”. I experience something similar when I hear Fr. John’s beautiful voice either on podcast or in the film trailer. His scholarly achievements also make him a very beneficial instructor.

Should Orthodox films be recommended? I’m willing to be classified as a handicapped person who benefits from the extra aid of moving pictures and sound. Of course I don’t think they should be shown during Church Services. There’s enough motion, sights, smells, and reading aloud to keep my attention. But as a catechizing aid, I don’t see why not. I remember being so relieved at school when they would show instructional films instead of having to read everything from a book or listen to lectures. Is the extra dynamic just candy? If so, I’ll go back to the illustration of Saul and his starving army who refused to eat the honey, Jonathan did better by partaking in that case. But to each his conscience and reactions. And I know there is an extra benefit to reading books – it can just seem more like exercise than a meal. My scales are definitely tipped in the wrong direction, and I’m trying to fix that.

Here’s my reply to Dr. Chumley,

“Dear Dr. Chumley,

Thanks for the good news. Regarding the name, it strikes me as more specific to the content, but possibly less relate-able to non-Orthodox. When I was a Protestant I was taught not to pray to Jesus, but just to the Father, so I don’t know if it will raise any defensiveness. I was also thinking the previous title would catch the eye of Buddhists and other more generally spiritual people, but if the content is that specific, the new title wont fall into setting people up for something they may not be ready for. Also only knowing what I know from the trailer, I’ll gladly defer to your judgment. The filming looks exquisite, and I look forward to seeing the whole thing as well as hearing Fr. McGuckin’s wonderful explanations.

I’ve also been wanting to study about Fr. Bulgakov’s Sophiology, which has some appeal to me, but is warned off by many for being too gnostic. Therefore your new title will probably keep those people from warning people off the film. I guess a person can’t please everyone!”

das Es, das Ich, unt das Über-Ich

by Andrea Elizabeth

Another thing now-Metropolitan Kallistos Ware brought out in The History of Orthodox Christianity is that in today’s world a person’s Orthodoxy is less about the circumstances of one’s birth and more about a conscious “commitment”. Today’s Orthodox Christian needs to know much more about the details of theology and anthropology and to more consciously follow the Tradition. This subject of consciousness is much within my thoughts lately. I wrote in “Problem Solving” of self-consciousness and goal-consciousness, and careless abandon in “Christmas Spirit”. Others’ thoughts about being observant and employing onesself are also circulating.

The problem I have with the lack of goal orientation or problem solving is the problem of unfinished business. We are to run the race, as St. Paul says. Our goal is Christ, and He has worked this into our own individual teloses. I suppose one has to navigate between acquiring notches on one’s belt and only doing things when one feels love or some other motivating feeling in doing things well. And in doing things well, one needs to love the telos of others. This focus on others leads into the idea of abandonment. Careless abandon is reckless and inconsiderate. We are not to lose consciousness, but to remain vigilant and aware on a very deep level. If we are employing ourselves, we are concentrating deeply on an object besides ourselves.

This gets more tricky when one is looking in a mirror. The refectory bathroom at Holy Archangel’s Greek Orthodox Monastery does not have a mirror. I understand the admonition against vanity, but I believe it can be considerate to others to look in a mirror. I am bad at head coverings, which are required there, and had to have a friend rescue me from having a particularly silly arrangement that would be distracting to others for different reasons that not wearing one would be. However, learning to depend on one’s friends may make not having a mirror of greater benefit. But some friends aren’t bothered by spinach and such, so is it vanity to not want others distracted by things that they may not consider bothersome? Maybe so.

Continuous prayer takes great concentration and vigilance. Yet there are moments where it is not supposed to just seem like work. Great caution is mandated in such experiences though. They can easily lead to prelest and emotionalism. Some people cut them off on purpose. It is also interesting to me how personal most of the prayers are. We not only worship who God is in our prayer, but much attention is given to personal confession (the “me, a sinner” part), crossing ourselves (some people call this blessing ourselves), and petitioning Psalm-like things for ourselves. We are not annihilated in our relationship with God.

If I may expand upon a general impression I’ve had converting to Orthodoxy that I am drawn towards. It does have a sort of self-centered focus. This is the criticism many non-Orthodox have about Orthodox monasticism in particular. A person withdraws from the world and others in order to save himself. The outcome of this is supposed to be that one finds union with God and thus becomes automatically (and unselfconsciously) a more effective intercessor for others, either directly in contact with visitors and fellow monastics,  or what can be misunderstood as indirectly.

It is this idea of indirect contact that can almost seem gnostic. I have not worked this out yet. Today in researching Fr. John McGuckin’s film project, Sophia, Secret Wisdom, I find that there haven’t been any updates on the websites since 2008, except for one reference to a name change to Living with God: Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer. I wonder if they came under criticism for any perceived associations with Bulgakovian Sophiology or gnosticism.

One other floating thought about my criticism in my last post of The History of Orthodox Christianity regarding ecumenism. I do sometimes want  to stress the common humanity of people with other faiths, but also worry about compromise or dilution. The Greek Church may be able to navigate those mysterious waters. Many look on nervously while even the Orthodox Church in America’s primate, Metropolitan Jonah, seeks to find common ground with the Anglicans. He is a bit more obvious about stressing several points that wont be compromised, like the ordination of women and homosexuals and Calvinism, but still there is the worry that some of the more subtle differences will be glossed over. Perhaps this worrying is a lack of faith in the cleansing power of the Spirit in the Orthodox Church.

Still, to relate again to the ideas in “Christmas Spirit”, and to discussions of Western Rite Orthodoxy and Celtic Christianity, even if some Christmas Carols are “Orthodox enough”, it seems that the errors that occurred contemporaneously in the communions from whence they came may creep in through the cracked door. My thought on Celtic Christianity is that at the time it was Orthodox, but that much of the context in which those Saints worshiped has been lost (reading their lives would still be as valid and in context as reading eastern Saints lives, imo). There may have been an abiding strain in continuing Anglicanism, but trying to extract it requires unbaking the cake or such microscopic dissection that one is not left with an intact body. Eastern Orthodoxy is still intact, and the fullest expressions have been preserved mainly by monastics who are the most serious about saving themselves.

[update: I was speaking of Christmas Carols not being appropriate for Liturgical, not “secular” settings. I do not discount that realizing the Orthodoxy in one’s favorite western carol can be a helpful bridge to Orthodox hymnography however. As I have shared, my first visit to an Orthodox Church was in a Western Rite where they sang Handel’s “He Shall Feed His Flock Like a Shepherd” and I felt my first Orthodox feeling of presence while my long nagging cough went away. If I’m not being too polemic, I could justify that Handel’s libretto is solely comprised of Scripture verses. It’s been a while since I heard the whole thing, but I think there may be an emphasis on substitutionary atonement towards the end though. I’ll save comments about western classical style for later, but would meanwhile defer to Father Seraphim Rose, His Life and Works for how to contextualize a love for Bach or Handel. I’ll just say I don’t think he played it in the Temple.]

The Fr. McGuckin/Dr. Hart exchange

by Andrea Elizabeth

I’m trying to decide whether to pay the $15 for David B. Hart’s response to Fr. McGuckin’s critique in the Scottish Journal of Theology of the former’s The Beauty of the Infinite, which enjoys this review from the latter,

“The same issue of the Scottish Journal of Theology has a symposium on David Hart‘s remarkable book The Beauty of the Infinite. John McGuckin of Columbia University writes, “It is undoubtedly one of the most important and timely works of theology written for many decades past, and will prove itself to be so, I suspect, despite many eccentricities and idiosyncratic judgments.” “Many decades” may be pushing it, but certainly the most interesting and provocative book of theology in the …”

I’m leaning towards reading the book first, but Dr. Hart offers such a tantalizing rhetorical carrot in this little teaser,

“I should first of all thank John McGuckin and Francesca Murphy for their remarks; both are scholars I very much respect, and it is flattering that they think my work worthy of their scrutiny and of – occasionally – their animadversions. I much prefer praise to censure, of course, but only the latter affords any scope for a meaningful reply. One dare not respond to a compliment by agreeing with it, or amplifying upon it; but to demur from it is to squander a gift that may not come again. So it is probably for the best that, even if I have apparently succeeded on the whole in pleasing both readers, I have nevertheless failed to please either of them in every particular. And I hope I may be excused for confining my replies almost entirely to their more critical remarks.”

Orthodox Christian Network Podcasts

by Andrea Elizabeth

I was in the car a lot today so I listened to a couple of podcasts from OCN which weren’t long enough, neither one.

The first was Metropolitan Jonah’s Preparing for Great Lent. It is only part one of three and I don’t see the other two parts. Hopefully they’ll be added soon.

The other was Fr. John McGuckin speaking on St. Symeon the New Theologian. He spoke about being downcast, depressed, or perhaps actually oppressed. I really like his presentation. I wonder if his movie, Sophia: Secret Wisdom, is getting close to completion.