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Category: St. Athanasius

happiness is way south of Lubbock Texas

by Andrea Elizabeth

This NY Times quiz using a Harvard dialect study says that my use of colloquialisms come from Lubbock, Tx. I am not sure how this came about since the only place I’ve lived is in or near DFW metroplex, with the last half of my life in Weatherford, a little it west of there, but not near as west as Lubbock, which I’ve only drivin through twice and as an adult at that. For the quiz I chose words from my childhood where my memories are from Mesquite and Arlington. My friend, who I met in high school in the largely northern immigrated Arlington, grew up in Beaumont, but got cow-town Ft. Worth for her word origination. My parents both grew up in Louisiana, and their parents were from Mississippi and Arkansas. The only thing I can figure is that west Texas is where my heart lies. Growing up I loved westerns. I wanted a horse so bad, it was all I could think or dream of. Outdoor play was mimicking riding a horse. I suppose I mimicked cowboy language as well.

The best thing was pretending to ride about like the Lone Ranger through all that wilderness with surprises around every rock. The Big Bend area of Texas, and east of there along the Rio Grand, to the west side of the Pecos confluence, is very much like that. Judge Roy Bean, the law in those parts, is the symbol of home spun, but authoritative west Texas wisdom. East Texas is more associated with southern hierarchical formality. I’m more of a maverick and a renegade, despite my lineage.

How does this independent spirit fit in Orthodoxy? I’ll tell you it’s a struggle, and maybe why there is only one OCA mission west of I-35, which happens to be in Alpine, close to Big Bend. There are Greek and Antiochian Churches in the bigger cities however. Here’s an interesting web post from the Greek Church in San Angelo:

“An Eastern Orthodox Church may seem out-of-place in West Texas. The rough and tumble frontier heritage at first glance does not seem to fit very well with the ancient church of the east, Byzantium, and the ecumenical councils. Much about it may seem foreign and alien to Texans at first glance. But, that is only if we look at the surface.  In reality, deep down, where things matter most  they have more in common than one may realize.

The dry desert is where they both were born and where they grew up. They have passed through episodes of violence, privation and adversity which have become an integral part of their character. They hold fast to the ways of their fathers and, although they embrace new ways of doing things, they know deep down that the old ways are usually the best. They also know that the words we say do not mean nearly as much as what we do and how we live. Fiercely independent, they are also fiercely loyal and understand that they can accomplish more by working together than by working at odds with each other.

The Orthodox faith fits the West Texas character very well.”

I remember one time while I was working as a utilization review nurse for an insurance company where we had to interview patients to determine medical necessity, there was this one older gentleman from the Lubbock area who could not understand my questions, until I slipped very easily into my west Texas inflections. Where you speak in the enthusiastic twangy upper register. How y’all do-in?! This was the same natural slip I made in Boston one time working as a receptionist that caused one of the uppity principals I had transferred a call to to call me back and just say, “‘okey dokey?'”. There is no life in the speech of northerners. Life makes them uncomfortable so you have to squelch it. This is also why they mainly wear black.

Back to Orthodoxy, it is indeed the desert fathers like St. Anthony and Mother Mary of Egypt that seem like “it” to me.

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What did Christ come to save us from?

by Andrea Elizabeth

Instead of focusing on salvation from God’s wrathful condemnation to hell, Orthodox focus more on being saved from sin and death. Not so much the punitive consequences of sin, but the existential reality of being separated from God. Repentance from sin prepares him room, but then we have to cultivate Christ’s presence to fill the space. Lord Jesus quickly come before something else does!

 

The Incarnation

by Andrea Elizabeth

A few wonder-filled observations on this work by St. Athanasius,

First, the explanation of Christ’s assuming human flesh is wonderful.

Second, the emphasis on why Christ lived as he did and died as he died and why he rose as he rose in order to heal us is beautifully worked out.

Third, the point by point refutation of the Jews’ unbelief, though classic is still a grand exposition of ‘Christ’s fulfillment of the Old Testament prophesies.

Fourth, the point by point refutation of the Greek philosophers’ objections as well as the summary of their thought is fascinating.

Fifth, the power of Christ over sin, death, and demons is awe-inspiring.

I look forward to reading the letter at the end to Marcellinus explaining the importance of reading the Psalms.

To boldly go where no man has gone before

by Andrea Elizabeth

We finally got around to watching the new Star Trek movie this weekend. It made me think of the difference between science describing the world, and science remaking the world. Our technology has become less about can we, and more about should we. Yet it is my habit to let myself root for the crew of the Star Ship Enterprise and fully enjoy the trilogy of Spock, McCoy and Kirk. I want them to come up with technological solutions for getting out of impossible situations, though they always find a place for single hand to hand combat too. Mostly it’s about outwitting the bad guy though, and I guess that’s the real satisfaction.

Should we seek to colonize the moon, upon which water has recently been discovered? Do we need to make it to Mars? What about space stations? Now that budgets are tight the question is is it economically practical, not even can we or should we. I used to want them to accomplish all these things, I was three when we landed on the moon and I probably caught the bug that way. My son has it too and is pursuing aerospace engineering in school. With cut-backs, he may have a hard time getting a job. But to me, nixing the space program because there’s not enough of a material, economic advantage is worse than the “technology is bad”, tower of babel rationale. Man should want to reach up, and for many, that is what the space program symbolizes.

I wasn’t going to quote On The Incarnation, but here goes anyway,

God knew the limitation of mankind, you see; and though the grace of being made in His Image was sufficient to give them knowledge of the Word and through Him of the Father, as a safeguard against their neglect of this grace, He provided the works of creation also as means by which the maker might be known. Nor was this all. Man’s neglect of the indwelling grace tends ever to increase; and against this further frailty also God made provision by giving them a law, and by sending prophets, men whom they knew. Thus, if they were tardy in looking up to heaven, they might still gain knowledge of their Maker from those close at hand; for men can learn directly about higher things from other men. Three ways thus lay open to them, by which they might obtain the knowledge of God. They could look up into the immensity of heaven, and by pondering the harmony of creation come to know its Ruler, the Word of the Father, Whose all-ruling providence makes known the Father to All. Or, if this was beyond them, they could converse with holy men, and through them learn to know God, the Artificer of all things, the Father of Christ, and to recognize the worship of idols as the negation of the truth and full of all impiety. Or else, in the third place, they could cease from lukewarmness and lead a good life merely by knowing the law. (p. 39,40)

Getting to know the originals

by Andrea Elizabeth

I don’t know why I’ve put off reading St. Athansius’ On the Incarnation for so long. I’ve read about it and even quoted parts of it but haven’t gotten around to reading it. Sometimes when I’ve heard so much about something, I think I already know it and then don’t have the curiosity that usually motivates me to read it. C.S. Lewis explains another reason why people don’t read classical originals in the Introduction,

There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books. Thus I have found as a tutor in English Literature that if the average student wants to find out something about Platonism, the very last thing he thinks of doing is to take a translation of Plato off the library ashelf and read the Symposium. He would rather read some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about “isms” and influences and only once in twelve pages telling him what Plato actually said. The error is rather an amiable one, for it springs from humility. The student is half afraid to meet one of the geat philosophers face to face. He feels himself inadequate and thinks he will not understand him. But if he only knew, the great man, just because of his geatness, is much more intelligible than his modern commentator. The simplest student will be able to understand, if not all, yet a very great deal of what Plato said; but hardly anyone can understand some modern books on Platonism. It has always therefore been one of my main endeavours as a teacher to persuade the young that first-hand knowledge is not only more worth acquiring than second-hand knowedge, but is usually much easier and more delightful to acquire.

This mistaken preference for the modern books and this shyness of the old ones is nowhere more rampant than in theology. Wherever you find a little study circle of Christian laity you can be almost certain that they are studying not St. Luke or St. Paul or St. Augustine or Thomas Aquinas or Hooker or Butler, but M. Berdyaev or M. Maritain or M. Niebuhr or Miss Sayers or even myself.

Eight pages into the original and I’m entranced. I am seeing foreshadowing of St. Dionysius as St. Athanasius talks about God’s creation ex nihilo, and am very much appreciating how he frames why Christ assumed humanity. Dr. (?) Lewis also says, “When I first opened his De Incarnatione I soon discovered I was reading a masterpiece… for only a master mind could have written so deeply on a subject with such classical simplicity.”

There’s also a quote from The Shepherd from Hermas that I recognize in the Divine Liturgy, “Believe thou first and foremost that there is One God Who created and arranged all things and brought them out of non-existence into being.” (Book II) p. 28

I’m glad I read Dr. Jones’s lengthy intro to St. Dionysius though, since his Corpus isn’t as simply written. It may be more simply written than Dr. Jones writes, but as I’ve shared before, I had a significant block to the Saint’s use of non-being in reference to God. I had to work through that with Dr. Jones. I’m still reading The Divine Names, but I don’t know if I’ll quote much of it. Now that my blockage has been removed, I’m just going to try to absorb it.

Five Distinctions of Maximus’ Cosmology – what Christ Recapitulates

by Andrea Elizabeth

“1. The distinction between Uncreate and create being.

2. The distinction between intelligible and sensible.

3. The distinction within the sensible creation, between heaven and earth. (how diff from #2?)

4. The distinction on earth between paradise and the world of men. (again seems the same)

5. The distinction in humanity between man and woman, the masculine and the feminine.

These distinctions are in and of themselves good, but become dialectically opposed by man’s fall.

(later Dr. Farrell restates them thus)

By His seedless generation from the Mother of God He overcomes the opposition not only of Uncreate and created natures, but of male and female as well. When He says in St. Luke 23:43 to the penitent thief “Today shalt thou be with me in Paradise,” he overcomes the opposition between earth and Paradise. By His bodily Ascension into heaven He overcomes the opposition between earth and heaven, “thereby manifesting the essential unity of sensible nature beyond any separation.” By His continued bodily Ascension beyond the angelic orders of the intelligible world, He overcomes the opposition between the intelligible and the sensible, and reconstitutes human nature in Himself to be the microcosm once again. Finaly, by virtue of the Incarnation itself, He effects the complete interpenetration of divine and human natures, being the Logos of all logoi proper to deity and to humanity.”

____

Me: So this is how each stage of Christ’s life was necessary to repetitiously and in different manners and applications, to comprehensibly deify our whole existence, “God became Man so that man can become god” – St. Athanasius requoting St. Irenaeus.

Synergy in Christ

by Andrea Elizabeth

Daniel (Photios) Jones made available his impressive paper on Synergy In Christ during this discussion. Though I had to read it slowly, I posted the following response however appropriate, Lord have mercy.

“Daniel,

I am finding your paper on Synergy in Christ very interesting. To digest as I go, you are saying that Saint Athanasius distinguishes between what issues from God’s nature – His essence through conception of the Son – and His will being that of counsel in creation. This reminds me of “let us make man…” We are a product of the counsel of His will, yet to be made into sons of God through through conception and our willed participation in His energies – deification.

On to St. Maximus on Christ’s two wills/natures. I am understanding that Christ is beyond us in that His will was established in a habit of virtue before His Incarnation, and ours is gnomic – virtue is natural but not yet habitual. This ties into what I’ve learned about the necessity of Christ to redeem every stage of humanity – to perfect/redeem in a habit of virtue human infancy through adulthood. He realigned our fallen nature by His divine nature.

So is virtue the same as God’s essence and thus eternally conceived in Christ and by energy in us? Or is God’s virtue more inherent in His will – His habit? The Divine will doesn’t choose virtue, it is virtuous. Our will has to be conformed to His by choosing to establish His habit, through conception via life in Christ – to be eternally born again.

On choices between good alternatives – if Christ’s alternatives in Gethsemane were both good and virtuous – save Himself or save humanity, then love for humanity over His own life was the overriding motivator. So is loving others a higher virtue than loving onesself? “Love your neighbor as yourself”. That statement makes it equal, but in other places we are told to consider others before ourselves. Still, could God have still been God if He had not created us or saved us – which are both the same thing because if He hadn’t saved us we would have ceased to exist when we died. We are immortal because He died and rose again. So creating and sustaining life are similarly motivated actions. Is choosing the other a necessary part of being God, or Godlike? I think of monastics who are working on their own salvation and wonder if their seeming self justifying defense of praying and interceding for the world at the same time is necessary, though this intercession does seem inevitable on the path to Theosis. Perhaps virtue helps others by osmosis as well as by willed action. If a monastic hermit is saving himself alone – becoming like God – then maybe an organic, natural domino recapitulation cascades into creation around him without his putting himself out, so to speak, for others. The presence of holiness increases in the world and thus clarifies the universal muddy waters a skoche. Or like in the conversation about Sodom and Gomorrah,’’if I find 10 righteous people, I wont destroy the whole city.’ Then their intrinsic righteousness saved the many.

In the comments, I thought Jack was inspiring in his reaction to God being fully present in His creation.”