Category: joyful sorrow

The 1/2 empty or 1/2 full glass

by Andrea Elizabeth

Take this famous pessimist/optimist test. There’s a lot of pressure and guilt to be a half full person. Just be thankful there’s water! I asked my daughter one time why Millennial songs are so pessimistic but with an upbeat tempo? She said Millennials are realists, but if you act sad or depressed you’re labeled as messed up and that something is wrong with you.

I want to know why the glass isn’t filled up, because a glass is made a certain size to hold a certain amount of water with a little room at the top to prevent spillage. Additionally, Christians are promised an overflowing amount of water. Appreciating the half full and ignoring the half empty is artificially hyping yourself up to unrealistically experience fullness when there is actually half-fullness. Yes a very thirsty person will be very glad to find a half full glass of water, but he will also want the other half.

If you ask a waiter to refill your water and he only fills it up half-way, you’ll naturally experience rancor and wonder if he’s playing some sort of twisted joke. You ask him why and he says, “well you’ve finished your meal, so I didn’t think you needed more than that and didn’t want to waste.” He’s obviously overstepped his bounds by not minding his own business but yours. His business is to fill, not half fill, water glasses, and not to nosily analyze how much he can leave unfilled.

Or if you filled your water glass, leave the room, and come back to find it half-filled, I don’t think appreciation should be mandated. It’s time to call Miss Marple or Ghost-busters, not the Hallelujah Squad.

Or if right in front of you the cat comes up and knocks your full glass over and you catch it so that only half spills, are we really supposed to praise the situation? If it was an exceptionally good catch and the likelihood of evaporation just reached capacity and not the likelihood of mold or an embarrassing stain, then a certain amount of relief is to be experienced. Otherwise, it’s like telling a hurting person things could be worse. Yes, context is used to gauge and control a grief response, but grief should be given its proper due! It’s ok to cry. Just not over spilt milk.

Anxiety with freedom

by Andrea Elizabeth

Kierkegaard disagrees with the idea that Adam fell because forbidden fruit is more enticing than permitted fruit. That may be a motivation now, but in Adam’s innocent state, he had no concept of evil or even of death to arouse desire or fear for them. Instead it was freedom that awakened anxiety.

When it is assumed that the prohibition awakens the desire, one acquires knowledge instead of ignorance, and in that case Adam must have had a knowledge of freedom, because the desire was to use it. The explanation is therefore subsequent. The prohibition induces in him anxiety, for the prohibition awakens in him freedom’s possibility.

Post-fall, it has been explained that freedom in Christ means that with grace we can choose righteousness over sin. This has been used to contrast the notion that freedom means the ability to choose to disobey, which is what Kierkegaard is pointing out here in a pre-fall context. More neutral language would be, it is the ability to choose among several possibilities. Gnomically we want the best, as did Adam, but then it becomes a matter of deliberation and inspiration, for better or worse.

What passed by innocence as the nothing of anxiety has now entered into Adam, and here again it is a nothing – the anxious possibility of being able. He has no conception of what he is able to do; otherwise – and this is what usually happens – that which comes late, the difference between good and evil, would have to be presupposed. Only the possibility of being able is present as a higher form of ignorance, as a higher expression of anxiety, because in a higher sense it both is and is not, because in a higher sense he both loves it and flees from it.

After the word of prohibition follows the word of judgment: “You shall certainly die.” Naturally, Adam does not know what it means to die. On the other hand, there is nothing to prevent him from having acquired a notion of the terrifying, for even animals can understand the mimic expression and movement in the voice of a speaker without understanding the word. If the prohibition is regarded as awakening the desire, the punishment must also be regarded as awakening the notion of the deterrent. This, however, will only confuse things. In this case, the terror is simply anxiety. Because Adam has not understood what was spoken, there is nothing but the ambiguity of anxiety. The infinite possibility of being able that was awakened by the prohibition now draws closer, because this possibility points to a possibility as its sequence.

In this way, innocence is brought to its uttermost. In anxiety it is related to the forbidden and to the punishment. Innocence is not guilty, yet there is anxiety as though it were lost. (The Concept of Anxiety, p. 44, 45)

This is a sad thing, but it is better than the idea that God was dangling an enticing carrot in front of Adam. In His love, he knew the  consequence of anxiety, but to love means to make free. Anxious freedom in love is more important than peaceful security in lower ignorance. This anxiety is not the goal however. It takes maturity to push through it and to find peaceful facility with the knowledge of good and evil.

Church Slavonic Prayers

by Andrea Elizabeth

The only exposure I’ve had to Church Slavonic prayers is through the Valaam Brotherhood CDs, except for the Divine Liturgy we attended at the Holy Virgin Cathedral in San Francisco. Lately I have been wanting to be more familiar with this lovely sounding language, hopefully to the point of being able to repeat some of it besides Gospodi Pomilui and Christos Voskresi, Voistino Voskresi. The Valaam monks chant pretty quickly, and I don’t want to learn the wrong pronunciation as toddlers do, so I sought help online. Church Slavonic E-Tutor has audio files where the words of the prayers are pronounced slowly, facilitating more exact repetition. The prayers are also written in Slavonic, which looks almost as pretty as it sounds.

(The above link to the Cathedral has an interesting account of a miraculous ringing of the Cathedral bells.)

Brothers Karamazov V; Seek Happiness in Sorrow

by Andrea Elizabeth

Part 1, Book 2, Ch 7, “A Seminarist-Careerist”

Frail Elder Zosima counsels Alyosha,

“For the time being your place is not here. I give you my blesing for a great obedience in the world. You sitll have much journeying before you. And you will have to marry – yes, you will. You will have to endure everything before you come back again. And there will be much work to do. But I have no doubt of you, that is why I am sending you. Christ is with you. Keep him, and he will keep you. You will behold great sorrow, and in this sorrow you will be happy. Here is a commandment for you: seek happiness in sorrow. Work, work tirelessly. Remember my words from now on, for although I shall still talk with you, not only my days but even my hours are numbered.

Strong emotion showed again in Alyosha’s face. The corners of his mouth trembled.

“What’s wrong now?” the elder smiled gently. “Let worldly men follow their dead with tears; here we rejoice over a departing father. We rejoice and pray for him. Leave me now. It is time to pray. Go, and hurry. Be near your brothers. Not just one, but both of them.”

This sort or reminds me of the director telling Jane to go obey her husband (who thankfully had a conversion experience accompanied by true repentance) in That Hideous Strength. Not all are called to monasticism though, like is brought out in the post below on Mother Raphaela’s Living in Christ, we all struggle to attain purity, illumination, and theosis. Sometime I would like to see if any non-monastics attain theosis in this life. Maybe there’s different manifestations, but I don’t know if I’ve heard of any married Saints glowing or being miracle workers, but I am not a thorough student of hagiography. It does seem that many of the married Saints were martyrs. We are all called to martyrdom.

The elder instructing Alyosha to seek happiness in sorrow is a surprise. I look forward to seeing how this plays out. George listened to the audible version during his commute to work a few years ago, but I’ve asked him not to tell me what happens. I’ve tried several times to listen to the audible version but I have trouble with the reader and my attention usually is drawn elsewhere, so I’ve missed big chunks of the first part and have never gone further than that. Luckily, I’ve not seen any movie versions either. George agrees with me that there seems to be big sections left out of the audible version, Garnett translation, which is supposed to be unabridged, compared to the leafed translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky that I am reading now. With this experience, the words are nourishing me like food rather than seeming like work to get through. I just get lazy about picking it up in the first place. Let me attend!

A Call to be Sober Minded

by Andrea Elizabeth


I just came across this review of Living in Christ by Mother Raphaela of Holy Myrrbearer’s Monastery in New York. I am very thankful for the instruction given in this foretaste, and I’ll go ahead and put the book on my wish list, but I’m not sure I should abandon other books yet, which I tend to neglect, by ordering it now. I really want to work on being more diligent in my reading.

Reviewed by Deborah Malacky Belonick

It’s a reality check. This collection of essays stuns the reader at every flip of the page and issues an invitation to a world of perseverance without excuses for bad behavior. The author offers both a tempting image of abundant life in Jesus Christ and a warning of the personal sacrifice and labor necessary to acquire it.

Ironically, she compels her audience to desire to live honestly and in joyous communion with God while cautioning them that such spiritual growth comes neither by magic, nor feigned piety, nor by laziness. It comes by “…proven ability to be responsible and willing to work, plus the inner resources to function even when there is not a great deal of external excitement or stimulation….” plus, oh yes, the acceptance to be humiliated.

The author, Mother Raphaela, is a North American monastic and abbess of Holy Myrrhbearers Monastery in Otego, New York. Formerly a nun in the Episcopal church where she served as a novice mistress for her province, she entered the Orthodox Church in 1977. Drawing on her experience within and without the monastic life, she offers these practical reflections as tools to live with integrity. Her practical wisdom crosses the boundaries of the monastery fences and is applicable to anyone trying to walk a Christian path.

If you’re looking to gather warm, fuzzy kudos for a rainy day, don’t look here. These essays are for people who are serious about giving up excuses, complaints, ingrained bad habits and blaming others for all their problems. They are not chicken soup for the soul. They are strong medicine for intransigent sin. They are the cold showers for hot passions that have led us into anxiety, depression, power trips, and problems with relationships. But if you are looking for sound, solid advice to aerate a parched soul, by all means peruse these gems.

The essays, with titles like “Maturity,” “Challenged by Freedom,” “Work and Obedience,” and “Human Love: a Trilogy,” are brimming with remedies that seem paradoxical to the modern humanist mind. Mother Raphaela encourages readers to put aside our own ideas and opinions to grow into greater freedom; to give up gods of our own making, even religious ones we have enshrined, to let the real God act; to cultivate gratitude and count one’s blessings before attempting ascetical efforts; and to learn the discipline of silence in a world bent on entertainment.

Mother Raphaela disdains false selves, false gods, and false piety. She challenges those beginning spiritual warfare to “…practice giving up their attachment to resentments, bitterness, the taking of offense at any questioning of their words or behavior….” Only then, she claims, can a person begin to think of the harder disciplines of prayer, fasting, silence, solitude and self-denial which are medicines for the sick soul. In regard to those seeking to enter the monastic life, she warns of the massive battle involved in remaining celibate. But she equally warns the married to grapple with sexual expression, fidelity and temptations.

As far as discerning a monastic vocation, Mother Raphaela scorns a martyrdom of one’s own making: “If a woman sees the monastic life as a ‘terrible sacrifice,’ that is normally a sign that God is not calling her to it.” She also concludes that wounded, fragile people generally are unfit for the rigors of monastic life and would be better healed in alternative settings.

Despite their no-nonsense emphasis, these essays are irresistible. They supply truthful criticism that may lead to healing in an overly tolerant world. Instead of offering the apple of Paradise, the fruit of wayward will, they offer the cross, the way to living in Christ.

Because the author paints the cross with incredible desire and love, she makes us willing to step out in faith, to acknowledge our sins, to fight hard battles, to endure pain, and to do it with joy. In so doing, she leads us from the circular paths in which we spin onto the narrow road to glory.

Recent posts by Aaron Taylor, The Rivers & Seas of the North Were Honoured to Bear Thee, Oh Anskar, and Deacon Monk Felix Culpa, Egoism’s Immense Vigor, also emphasize the need to get serious about Christianity. Lord have mercy.

Perelandra 2 and Patristic Theology 2

by Andrea Elizabeth

I have said before that I am a disillusioned optimist. I keep believing that there is an answer and a fix to all the mess. I can’t help myself. And I have found answers, and when I do, like in Out of the Silent Planet, I hitch my wagon to the horse from whose mouth it came. Every time. I can’t help myself. Then the horse stumbles – how could he not? C.S. Lewis did not become an Orthodox Christian, but I so wanted someone in the western tradition to speak Orthodox, and I think he comes close many times because Orthodoxy is the language we were all meant to speak and lies in potential in all of us. What is not Orthodox is foreign, and sometimes we develop foreign habits. In Perelandra, Lewis shows his Protestantism in that he believes that Christ was incarnated because of the Fall, instead of the Orthodox belief that Christ’s intention in creation was to join with us in the Incarnation from the beginning and would have happened without the Fall. So on Perelandra when the unfallen Green Lady and the King get married, it is seen as a less great thing than what happened on earth as a result of the Fall.

Then Ransom’s sacrifice is seen as an unmeritorious act I assume because of the Protestant creed of Glory to God Alone. But this causes him confusion when he sees the King’s face who is created in the image of “Maleldil”.

“You might ask how it was possible to look upon it and not to commit idolatry, not to mistake it for that of which it was the likeness. For the resemblance was, in its own fashion, infinite, so that almost you could wonder at finding no sorrows in his brow and no wounds in his hands and feet. Yet there was no danger of mistaking, not one moment of confusion, no least sally of the will towards forbidden reverence. Where likeness was greatest, mistake was least possible.”

He continues to struggle with idolatry when he talks about man-made images,

“A clever wax-work can be made so like a man that for a moment it deceives us: the great portrait which is far more deeply like him does not. Plaster images of the Holy One may before now have drawn to themselves the adoration they were meant to arouse for the reality. But here, where His live image, like Him within and without, made by His own bare hands out of the depth of divine artistry, His masterpiece of self-portraiture coming forth from His workshop to delight all worlds, walked and spoke before Ransom’s eyes, it could never be taken for more than an image. Nay, the very beauty of it lay in the certainty that it was a copy, like and not the same, an echo, a rhyme, an exquisite reverberation of the uncreated music prolonged in a created medium.”

His iconoclasm is showing, but he knows that there is something to marvel at in humanity. It is so hard when converting from Protestantism to be able to make peace between the Creator and the created. We have been so conditioned to believe that it is a sin to appreciate the greatness of creation. Proper veneration has become foreign. We are more afraid of committing idolatry than to venerate man’s intended end, and that which represents and communicates those who have accomplished deification, or theosis – icons.

But it is because of Christ’s and the Saint’s union with God that venerating them is not idolatry. God is in them, unseparated, unmixed, distinct, and undivided. To venerate the Saints is to worship God and His intention in Incarnation. Perelandra is full of What Would Jesus Do? Instead of God filling His Saints so that they can reach their potential – deification. Lewis presents a copy, but not the real thing.

Back to disillusioned optimism, less than perfect people can still impart improvements to where we are at present, so I’ll not give up on Professor Lewis. And I’ll not give up on Father John Romanides who has also let me down with this unsubstantiated ad hominem on page 90 of Patristic Theology, “If we use the criteria of the Apostle Paul and the Church Fathers such as St. Symeon the New Theologian regarding who is truly a theologian, we will see that contemporary modern Orthodox theology, under the influence of Russian theology, is not Patristic theology, but a distortion of Patristic theology, because it is written by people who do not have the above-mentioned spiritual prerequisites [that they be in theosis].” This is all he says about Russian “theologians”. I’m very disappointed and now will have to force myself to finish this book as I did with Perelandra.

I struggle with disillusionment a lot, but I know I can’t keep retreating forever from the less than perfect. Part of it is dealing with being offended and learning to forgive and have a humble attitude about how much I fail myself and require patience and forgiveness from others. But also I have read that love requires perfection, so it is ok to notice when something is not perfect and to bring it to attention when it is presented as the truth. We are easily deceived and must fight it in ourselves and others. Father John Romanides is motivating me to seek theosis through purification and illumination by prayer and repentance, so I will keep reading him even though he must be one of those ethnocentric Greek Orthodox. It just takes some of the fun out of it is all.

In Remembrance of Christ

by Andrea Elizabeth

We reverently touch and praise Him who was cruelly beaten, scourged, mocked, spit upon, and pierced through for our sake. He is gently removed from the cross where He was killed and which becomes His glory. We take His body down, anoint it with spices, wrap it in fine linen, and lay it in a new tomb. We remember, wait and watch.

On the Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ Pt 3

by Andrea Elizabeth

cont from Ad Thallasium 60

“The Scriptural Word knows of two kinds of knowledge of divine things. On the one hand, there is relative knowledge, rooted only in reason and ideas, and lacking in the kind of experiential perception of what one knows through active engagement; such relative knowledge is what we use to orderour affairs in our present life. On the other hand, there is that truly authentic knowledge, gained only by actual experience, apart from reason and ideas, which provides a total perception of the known object through a participation by grace. By this latter knowledge, we attin, in the future state, the supernatural deification that remains unceasingly in effect. They say that the relative knowledge based on reason and ideas can motivate our desire for the participative knowledge acquired by active engagement. They say, moreover, that htis active experiential knowledge which, by participation, furnishes the direct perception of the object known, can supplant the relative knowledge based on reason and ideas.

For the sages say that it is impossible for rational knowledge of God to coexist with the direct experience of God, or for conceptual knowledge of God to coexist with immediate perception of God…. This may very well be wha the great Apostle is secretly teaching when he says, As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will disappear (1 Cor 13:8). Clearly he is referring here to that knowledge which is found in reason and ideas.

This mystery was known solely to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit before all the ages. It was known to the Father by his approval, to the Son by his carrying it out, and to the Holy Spirit because they also share one esence and power. The Father and Spirit were not ignorant of the Incarnation of th eson because the whole Father is by essence in the whole Son who himself carried out the mystery of our salvation through his incarnation. The Father himself did not become incarnate but rather approved the incarnation of the Son. Moreover, the whole Holy Spirit existis by essence in the whole Son, but he too did not become incarnate but rather cooperated in the Son’s ineffable incarnation for our sake.

…For truly he who is the Creator of the essence of created beings by nature had also to become the very Author of the deification of creatures by grace, in the gracious Giver of eternal being might appear also as gracious Giver of eternal well being… And in the future he will by grace confer on those created beings the knowledge of what they themselves and other beings are in essence, and manifest the principles of their origin which preexist uniformly in him.

…For it is impossible to be completely coexistent with Christ, just as it is furthermore impossible ever to depart from him entirely, since the termination of time is fixed within Christ, as is the stability of mobile created beings, a stability wherein no created being will know any change at all.”

Therefore rational knowlege has it’s place, to make us hungry for experiential knowledge. One must be balanced in learning and praying as in all aspects of life.

I believe I’ll quit quoting such large sections of this book and leave the rest for Saint Vladimir’s Press to distribute.