Category: St. Maximus

dense sentence

by Andrea Elizabeth

“Through these activities [Joshua] prefigures the Savior Word, who, after the death of the letter of the law, assumed from the summit of intelligible reality the leadership of the true Israel that sees God.” Ambiguum 10 – St. Maximus the Confessor

intelligible reality sounds better than ontology

To infinity and beyond

by Andrea Elizabeth

This article illuminates the misconception that our brains are like computers. It doesn’t mention minds or souls, but says the brain forms pathways of reaction and pattern recognition based on individual experiences and reflexes. The author, Robert Epstein, says that scientists don’t really understand how memory works since we don’t have memory banks in our brains.

This is perhaps the limit of animal brains, but humans have a higher function, if they choose to use it, per St. Maximus in Ambiguum 10:

6. The Contemplation of the unmoistened dough of the unleavened loaves

“Thus the people, when they were led out of Egypt by Moses, carried into the desert dough bound up in their garments. This binding, I think, signifies the need to keep the power of reason within us pure and unharmed from entanglement with sensible objects. Therefore Moses taught them to flee the sensible world and journey spiritually to the intelligible world, so that through virtue and knowledge they might henceforth become in inclination what we believe the worthy, through hope, shall become in the age of incorruption.”

This reminds me of Metropolitan Jonah’s talk “Do Not Resent, Do Not React, Keep Inner Stillness” which I haven’t heard in a very long time so…

Try telling that to a PTSD sufferer. Or someone in the midst of grief. Even they though, will want to escape the pain. There is a long process to healing. Just stoically keeping a stiff upper lip when one’s insides are boiling isn’t really the right way. It may be noble for the sake of those one is with, but we shouldn’t feel like invalidated monsters when we “break”, as they say of actors who can’t keep a straight face. We are made for life and relationship. When these things fail, it goes against the grain. And it seems we have to go through the grieving process. Through this process the end goal is acceptance. Usually this means we gain a broader understanding. I’m glad St. Maximus calls this acceptance an inclination until we experience the reality after death. We are inclined to have a relationship with the departed who are, it has been described, in the next room, on the other side of a thin veil.

What we can’t sense, though, is that things exist beyond the veil of our senses. Duh. But lets say one does come to grips with it. Then isn’t there the fear that they become “so heavenly minded they are of no earthly good”? But what are they doing in heaven? Playing harps? No, the Church Triumphant is interceding for the Church Militant, those of us still on earth. They want our earthly lives to be fitted for heaven so that they too can be perfected. Therefore the heavenly oriented person is also directed towards interceding, directly and indirectly, for the earth-bound.

Also there is the fulfillment of The Lord’s Prayer, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. We are to bring order, to right wrongs, to heal diseases, to make beautiful, etc. But from a position of peace, not fear. My current mode is to not accept that things are ever ruined. Where there’s a will, there’s remedy. If not for the other person, who may not will it, then for me. And if I cannot accept the remedy now, then that can be fixed too – either later, or if I was wrong about what the remedy should look like, I can be disabused later.

Back to the article, if we automatically respond to past experiences, isn’t what St. Maximus telling us to do is stop and learn from future experiences? Weird.

The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.

by Andrea Elizabeth

During one of the Q&A’s, Fr. Maximos was asked if man-made things have a logos. Fr. said no, only natural, God-made objects do. I would propose that man-made objects have a different logos. This is a combination of a God-created and man-manipulated logos, meaning intention. I believe God created nature to be somewhat manipulated, or cultivated. The discussion was many faceted covering things like gmo’s, atomic bombs and sky-scrapers which were strongly felt to be very unnatural. Items worked for use in the Church were not designated as having a logos. I believe that artificially (in the Aristotelian sense) manufactured items are imbued with a creatively inspired logos that God has given man the ability to bestow on his creation. There are three possible categories for these logoi: consecrated for good, evil, or for secular use. Even if an Auschwitz gas chamber were made, I don’t think it is totally without a logos. The stones and metal have been abused. They are still performing their God-given functions of strength and distribution, but to their dismay are being used for ill. I think decommissioned Auschwitz is a shrine to those whose lives were lost, the devil’s enslavement of the Nazi soldiers, who still have a logos by the way, and the abused materials that made the buildings.

To say a manufactured product, which also includes fine art, has a divine logos is to say that God determined that that piece would be made exactly as it was. This is how Calvinists view the Bible. Contrarily, if we think that the stories in the Bible were also influenced by human free will, then the Bible is a combination of divine and human intention.

It’s kind of like God is the grandfather of man-made things. Grandchildren have the DNA of the grandparent, but of three other grandparents as well.

Back to naturally created things, I saw a PBS show a while ago that said that geology is changed when man is present. I wish I could remember more, but I think it was saying that man’s simple act of breathing chemically changes his environment. If that is true, then nothing is untainted by human manipulation.

By the way, I don’t agree with Aristotle’s quote in my title either. There was a similar division proposed in the lectures between the outward appearance and inner essence of a thing as well. I don’t think the outer and inner are so divorced from each other. St. Maximus taught that Christ came to heal divided things. Granted inner and outer isn’t listed in his famous five*, but still. The superficial is a respected part of an object and can communicate a lot about it, like a face in an icon does. It does take spiritual sight to see the divine, but the divine doesn’t destroy the created thing, which is the whole point of the burning bush. The fire and the bush are significant.

*created and uncreated, intelligible and sensible, heaven and earth, paradise and universe, male and female. from here, which is not where I originally got it. I think it was from Dr. Joseph Farrell’s introduction from St. Maximus’ Disputation with Pyrrhus, but it may have been from On the Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ.

What I mean by indomitable

by Andrea Elizabeth

During the Q&A after Bishop Maxim‘s talk, where he had introduced the logos of human nature, I asked His Grace, “What is the difference between logos and telos?” With a follow up question after his brief answer, ‘are there many possible teloses?’ He said logos is like DNA and cannot be taken from us. We are inclined towards God. Telos is the goal, which is only being fixed in Christ. This is attained by following our natural coarse towards God with our free will. Unlike Aristotle’s teaching about the inevitability of reaching our telos, we can choose to go against our nature.

His Grace Bishop Maxim

by Andrea Elizabeth

His Grace Bishop Maxim (Vasiljevic) of the Western Diocese of the Serbian Orthodox Church in North and South America blessed us from Alhambra, Ca with a visit to our parish for our annual St. Maximus lecture on his feast day. He gave an overview of St. Maximus’ cosmology regarding the unified logos of creation, divided and scattered by the fall, and reunited in Christ who introduced the new mode of reunification. He very much recommended his compilation of scholarly lectures, Knowing the Purpose of Creation through the Resurrection, ‘delivered at the international conference on the thought of Saint Maximus the Confessor in Belgrade by Metropolitan John Zizioulas, Bishop Atanasije Jevtic, Father Andrew Louth, Father Maximos of Simonopetra, Christos Yannaras, and many others.’ He donated copies to the Church, so I got one. He also brought copies of his books, History, Truth, Holiness, Studies on Ontology and Epistemology, and The Thunderbolt of Ever-Living Fire: “American” Conversation with an Athonite Elder, and a CD of St. Maximus’ 400 Chapters on Love. I look forward to learning from all of these books as I pray to continue according to my indomitable human logos utilizing my gnomic (and God’s ungnomic/unhesitating) free will to my ever-well-being telos in Christ.

turn, Baby, turn

by Andrea Elizabeth

I’m on page 305, the beginning of the section called, “The Seducer’s Diary” in Either/Or, and Kierkegaard is describing how the poetic process combines reflection and, I’m reading between the lines, forgetting. You sort of forget the stark occurrence when you add the artistic touch. I’ll not go into if this on the whole is good or bad.

But it made me think of how artists aren’t bored. Embellishing is entertaining, as is making something new. Maybe some do this to stop being bored. Now if God were bored and then created, that would make him bound by time. Bored before creating, not bored while creating, then he either keeps creating, as in new situations for us to react to, or just watches us, with or without surprise. But since he does not exist in time, and knows no deficiency, then he was not bored when he created. Neither was he perpetually creating, but it may be part of a similar movement of perpetual kenosis. An overflow of his nature.

Artists do have tedious aspects of their craft, however, such as preparing the canvas, cleaning the brushes, opening and squeezing the paints on the palette, etc. What they seek is to get into “the zone” which is the closest we come to losing track of time. It is an ever moving rest.

But it is different than their product. The zone is sort of the aftereffect of getting the gears turning. It is a coasting speed. But the spectator is more interested in the new and exciting. He needs stimulation to get his gears turning. He’s interested in the unexpected, unusual and surprising. He has trouble with mundane repetition. Coasting is really only appreciated after one’s gears are already whirring. If one is in a non-moving, resting state, immediately rolling down a hill becomes a shocking, unbalanced, traumatic experience, which may be entertaining to a spectator, but not to the one experiencing it. So, the key must be to stay in the controlled, coasting state where repetition isn’t boring. One’s gears must need to be kept going fast. I think this is done by prayer. If one is praying with grace, he can endure the boring parts of life. He doesn’t have to find shocking, stimulating things to get his wheels turning.

Not that one can’t experience doldrums while praying. But if he’s addicted to externally stimulating things, he wont push through those. Should his motivation be eventual reward of bright lights, levitation, clairvoyance and bi-location? In a pinch, maybe, but love is better.

New translation of St. Maximus the Confessor’s Ambigua

by Andrea Elizabeth

by former Harvard professor, Monk Maximos of Mt. Athos.

Work with what you’ve got

by Andrea Elizabeth

I have heard transgendered people say that they are being true to themselves by surgically and hormonally changing their bodies. My first opinion about this is that we are not our sexual orientation. Transgendered people will probably say that they didn’t so much do it because of who they are attracted to, because they probably don’t have any qualms about appearing hetero or homo sexual, but it seems that sexual relationships are usually involved in their sense of identity. Indeed in even homosexual relationships, each person seems to assume a masculine or feminine identity. There doesn’t seem to be a gender neutral (SNL’s Pat appears more masculine to me). If we are not our orientation, which does seem to be tied to our sense of our own gender, then does it follow that we are not our gender either? I don’t mean to prioritize gender so much, but a story about a transgendered person did make me start thinking about identity.

When the Bible says that there is no longer male or female, Jew nor Greek, I am lead to believe that gender is not the source of identity. Growing up with a Protestant, Christ only, view of Christianity, Christ has been the sole example of humanity, so one sort of has to ignore they are female when focusing on that. There are of course many gender distinctions in the Bible such as who can teach whom and so forth, but that can be somewhat separated from one’s spiritual aspirations. It is hard to come to terms with the Orthodox perspective of increased veneration of female Saints, but I’ll say even they are Christlike.

This is all to say that from the Christian (an identity that applies both to male and female) perspective, our gender is not who we are. With that I’ll not dispose of St. Maximus’ distinctions, but the distinctions are not as obvious as we may think. Male Saints can be praised for having certain female characteristics, perhaps gentleness, and vice versa. There are many hymns that praise female Saints for “manfully bearing …” too. Therefore I think that what men and women can properly do is pretty fluid.

Then we come to traditions. There are many cultural and Christian traditions that relegate what a man and woman can properly do as men and women. In the ’60’s these traditions where criticized and the social penalties for not conforming to them where thrown out the window. More recently, I think there has been a more tolerant view of traditional “options”. They have become a matter of aesthetic choice. A person is to be true to themselves, and some people may have a more fundamentalist makeup. I’ve even wondered if this is true. At bottom, I think everyone should choose to be traditionally Christian, but maybe that’s because I score very high in judging in that personality test. Good grief. I actually don’t feel all that traditional. I don’t like feeling boxed in. I love and respect the Orthodox traditions, but I’m a bit lenient sometimes.

Some people’s identity seems very linked to their occupation. I was watching a female classical xylophone player the other day, and was amazed at her precision, quickness, and attention to musical dynamics. To focus so much energy into becoming that proficient means that you have to totally believe in music. Your whole life has to become about music. While it was most impressive, I wonder if music is worth that much belief in it and its importance. Of all the disciplines, I probably would say that music is at the top of that list. I think it’s God’s language, but it’s not His only one. Jesus is called the Word, but did he sing the world into existence? I wonder. I think atoms are probably harmonically held together.

Men and women can harmonize together. Last night we heard the male Stretensky Monastery Choir perform in Dallas. It was beautiful and wonderful and transporting, but towards the end in the folk music section the conductor turned around and lead the Russians, who were many, in the audience in singing the chorus to a particular song, which they all knew. I think it was my favorite part of the whole concert. I was hungry for the higher, lighter registers, as much as I loved the lower ones up to that point. It’s nice to hear them in their individual settings, but I like variety.

In an old blog, in my profile I wrote, “I am what I like”. While what I like is important to my sense of self, asceticism is doing without things we like. Perhaps the ascetic likes asceticism more! But we don’t empty ourselves to be empty. We want to like Christ more.

Two relational reciprocitists

by Andrea Elizabeth

‘In consequence, the ontological dimensions of the Eucharist are dimensions of this limitless and incorruptible eternal life, consisting in mutual self-giving which is identified with eternal awareness and experience of the deifying truth of our adoption in Christ – of the recapitulation of creaturehood in accordance with providence, which is activated in the context of the Church’s Eucharistic communion. Maximus’s thought is governed first and foremost by experiential knowledge of this truth, leading him to place the Eucharist at the apex of the mysteries of the Church[…], “The cup is placed before the baptism, because virtue exists for the sake of truth, not truth for the sake of virtue.” And he goes on to explain, “Truth means divine knowledge, while virtue means the struggles which those who desire the truth undertake for its sake.” ‘ (A Eucharistic Ontology, by Nikolaos Loudovikos, p. 29)

‘ “When we objectively investigate the truth, we reflect objectively about the truth as an object to which we are related. We do not reflect upon the relationship, but upon the fact that it is the truth–the truth to which we are related. When this to which we are related merely is the truth, the true, then the subject is in the truth. When we subjectively investigate the truth, we reflect subjectively upon the relationship of the individual; only when the how of this relationship is in truth, is the individual in truth, even if he is thus related to the untrue.” [Fear and Trembling]
One of his famous quotes is; “Truth is subjectivity.” It would be easy to misinterpret that as meaning you can believe whatever you want to believe. That is not the subjectivity Kierkegaard seeks. Selecting beliefs out of convenience is a superficial, consumer-level mode of living. People sometimes justify their beliefs this way saying “it works for me” or “it is my truth” or some such. As I read Kierkegaard, the appropriate slogan would not be It works for me, thus it is true but rather I work for it, thus it is true. The difference is the matter of personal commitment to the truth. ‘ (from oregonstate.edu)

St. Maximus through the Church, Kierkegaard through individual pursuit, refusing communion on his deathbed. I hope he was given another chance.


by Andrea Elizabeth

Are there just 2 choices, one right and one wrong? You or me, left or right? This may be the perception. It is more difficult to consider multiple valid options, such as up, down, front and back, with right and left, so maybe that’s why we don’t. Does that mean Hegel was lazy? Or narcissistic?

Is reality one, as Hegel suggests – a single synthesis of me and the other,

or is it one in that it is the relationship between me and the other,

or just me,

or just the other,

or is it dual as the other and how it changed me,

or multiple as all the independent others, including me,

or all the instances of relationships between each of the others, also allowing for independence and exclusiveness,

or all the relationships being mutually dependent,

or all independent beings, with their relationships being another entity, and is the nature of the independent being changed by the relationship(s)?

The above imply that reality is equal to one’s consciousness of it. Reality can also be viewed as an ontologically unchangeable thing regardless of one’s consciousness of it. But one has to leave oneself behind, as Carly learns in “Haven’t Got Time for the Pain”, to perceive this ontology that exists whether I realize it or not. 

Or is there room to believe that one’s consciousness of things also changes reality such that reality includes the dynamic of enlightenment. Enlightenment and ignorance change things. This is a common theme in literature. Pride and Prejudice is all about how ignorance leads to a set of actions that make a certain reality, and enlightenment leads to another set for a different reality. Both experienced and actualized. Ignorance and misunderstanding lead to the distance between good people with the union of not so good people, and enlightenment leads to the union of the good people. This leads to the belief  that good as a reality, is obtained through the quest for truth, which seems to be who has good character and who has bad so that I know who to unite myself to. Therefore the goal of the knowledge of reality is relationship. This is not exactly dualistic, but interpretation through a sliding scale of the worst, worse, bad, good, better and best. Dualism can still be noted in that there are still two ingredients, the good, which is to be united to, and the bad, which is to be avoided as much as possible.

Does the amount of enlightenment and the nature of the relationship change the nature of the individual? My understanding of human nature through what I’ve studied in Orthodox teaching, is that it is one and unchangeable. But a person’s participation with true humanity is on a sliding scale. It is negatively affected by sin and unconsciousness. Is a person less human who is of bad character and unconscious of goodness? I don’t think they are less in that they become something else, but I think they are smaller, as when Lewis’ Tragedian in The Great Divorce gets bigger and the man gets smaller the more he listens to him and accepts him. The man doesn’t become the Tragedian, he just disappears.

So if one person disappears, how are others affected? Is it an independent occurrence, or do the ones he is related to suffer as well? Or is it just the relationship as a separate entity that suffers? And are our multiple relationships with things compartmentalized within ourselves? I lean towards domino effects, so that one’s relationship with a small person affects one’s other relationships, but do they affect you as a person other than your perceptions and therefore future decisions? They probably do contribute to one’s personal size, or attainment of humanity. One has to decide to get caught up in the other’s dysfunction, or reject it, and how it is allowed to affect one’s view of others. This implies one needs to be more conscious of reality. One needs to be enlightened to become more human.

So is the enlightened person only concerned with the other, regardless of consciousness of relationship or of how the relationship affects him personally? The enlighten person should read his, or his actions’, affect on the other person. That is, the other person’s relationship with him. Perhaps how one is affected by another person or their actions is dependent on how big or small they are. Impassibility entails being unaffected. Loving indiscriminately. But there is the Disciple Whom Jesus Loved. There are those he considered his friends. Maybe this was his human nature. But Enoch walked with God and was no more. And Moses and David were more intimate with Him. Their relationships were results of their character, their bigness.

How conscious of ones self should one be? Carly, in “You’re So Vain”, chides you for thinking the song is about you, but isn’t it also about her? Is it ok to have it be about yourself (Narcissism), but not think that others’ songs are about you? In a certain introduction to the Psalms, in these songs, it is ok to think they are about you, sins (not other people as enemies), and Christ (who I’ll add, includes the least of the brethren). Multiple.