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Category: Take up your cross

you think a little head jiggle is going to make me happy?

by Andrea Elizabeth

Looking on the bright side is a game of relativism. Hey, paraplegic, aren’t you glad you’re not a quadriplegic? Thanks, says the quadriplegic. Well, aren’t you glad you can breathe on your own? Thanks, says Christopher Reeves, whose dreams were always able bodied. Well at least you have a lot of money to have the best equipment and to research a cure. But some things don’t get better till heaven.

Transcendence is a thought-provoking movie. How far should technology go towards making Utopia? Luddites don’t fare well in it. Their world seems impoverished, to use William Dembski’s word. Maybe the producers, including Christopher Nolan, were confused about nano’s vs. God’s Spirit, who is everywhere present and fills all things. And the takeover of people to be more suited to the hive may be an Absolute Diving Simplicity fault.

Perfection

by Andrea Elizabeth

With culture’s obsession with youth, what are aging pop stars supposed to do? Either somehow keep their youth by artificial means or go and hide until they die? After some pictures of Macaulay Culkin’s gaunt appearance made the rounds last weekend, I heard an interview where he said he’s become a recluse. Other stars like Greta Garbo also went underground after they started declining. Some famous people, like Roger Staubach, have been able to reinvent themselves to adjust to aging, but it seems a lot can’t make the transition to something less glamorous. Glamorous is too shallow a word. Popular, or more specifically, our culture’s idea of perfection is more accurate.

Before I criticize that ideal, I have heard from Orthodox the saying that “love demands perfection.” Yesterday I heard someone comment that they prefer to remember so and so how they were 20 years ago. Maybe it was about Bruce Springsteen at the Grammy’s. I think maybe it is mostly the public’s reaction to fading looks and talent that makes these stars hide. There is very intense negativity when someone gains weight, when their face sags, when their voice cracks. People don’t want to put up with it. And should they? If someone isn’t strong enough to keep up appearances, what should they do?

Accept a dwindling amount of admiration, I suppose. Admiration is a hard thing to handle in the first place. So should no one capitalize on their talents when they are blooming so as to prevent the inevitable decline? I don’t think so. They just need to be better prepared for that eventuality. Nothing lasts forever. And I don’t want to give advice on how they should redirect themselves.

May God have mercy on Whitney Houston’s soul, whatever the cause of her death.

One for the road

by Andrea Elizabeth

from Kierkegaard’s Concept of Irony (p. 76)

Before proceeding to this documentation, however, I must pause to consider somewhat more closely the longing for death attributed to the philosopher in the Phaedo, inasmuch as the view that life essentially consists in dying to[,] can be understood both morally and intellectually. It has been understood morally in Christianity, which did not stop with the purely morally in Christianity, which did not stop with the purely negative either, because to the same degree a person dies to the one, the other has a divine increase, and when this other has been assimilated, so to speak, and appropriated and thereby refined all the germinating power in the body of sin, which must be mortified, then this, too, gradually shrivels up and dries out, and as it cracks and crumbles the full-grown God-man arises out of it, created after God in the righteousness and holiness of truth. Insofar as Christianity also assumes a more perfect knowledge related to this regeneration, this is nevertheless only secondary and mainly only to the extent that knowledge was formerly infected with the contamination of sin. The Greek mentality understands this dying to intellectually, that is, purely intellectually, and here one also recognizes at once paganism’s carefree Pelagianism.

(seems like some of those adverbs should have been nouns)

Consciousness

by Andrea Elizabeth

In Orthodox meditation, one seeks to direct one’s mind toward God. One does this by using one’s mind as a tool or a muscle to descend into one’s heart where God and the cosmos dwells. The mind is a focusing agent to observe others. Asceticism is used to direct the mind away from onesself. My impression of Buddhist meditation is that not only is one directed away from onesself, one gives up on knowing God and the cosmos too. I believe Buddhists teach that there is a means to do this through contemplating nature, but nature isn’t the end either.

The passions are distractions that make one focus on one’s feelings and appetites. When these are mastered, with the help of redirecting thoughts through repetitive Liturgical prayer, one learns to train one’s mind on God. I say mind because it is the heart’s love which makes one choose to think on God over onesself. The Prayers and Readings inform the mind on who God is and what He has done and what He desires. It is important to get this right or one will become unbalanced and not be able to advance as far towards communion with Him. For example, if one believes that God hates the unelected, one’s heart will be too warped to attain likeness to God, and one will not see Him as He is.

The hard part is what to do with one’s sense of self. If one is denying self and focusing on God, where does that leave one? The purpose is to be filled with the energies of God, or uncreated grace. One delights in the Other. Delight is unselfconscious, but an awareness of enjoyment is entailed. When one focuses on the enjoyment, one can lose focus, similar to St. Peter’s looking down at the water and thus starting to sink. When one thinks of being in love, one is focused on the object of one’s affection, and can feel a sense of their presence in one’s heart. One can get lost in this feeling. Yet one is aware that they are happy. Through this experience we can see that thinking is accompanied by feeling.

Some ascetic practices require one to deny one’s feelings. One cannot always trust one’s feelings. We can desire wrong things, or be deceived as to the nature of these things. Even if one senses that one feels the presence of God, one can be wrong and should not completely trust these feelings. One can also sense the rightness of things that are taught about God. I suggest that ultimately we do have to trust some of these feelings or one will have to deny everything, which may be the Buddhist way.

If there is one way, as I believe there is, and that it is Orthodox (which includes physical communion, not just mental), then to me everyone should have this innate sense of rightness about it. Skipping over arguing this point, does that make everyone fundamentally the same and put this sense of feeling the rightness about Orthodoxy on the level of human nature? I think so. What about individualism? Why isn’t everyone Orthodox? Because they are denying themselves. Why would someone do that? They must hate themselves, or at least they are distracted from themselves. So to become Orthodox you must learn to love yourself and quit ignoring yourself. But isn’t Orthodoxy about denying yourself and taking up your cross? Yes, in order to find yourself in Christ. You have to love Him more. So losing yourself to Christ is the way to find yourself? Yes, because He wont let you disappear. You can let go of yourself if you trust Him to keep you.

Metropolitan Jonah and Presbytera Eugenia

by Andrea Elizabeth

This past Saturday, The Nativity of Our Lord Monastery for women, which was consecrated by Metropolitan Jonah just last September, hosted Facing Jerusalem, A Scriptural, Historical and Iconographic Lenten Retreat, presented by Dr. Presbytera Eugenia Constantinou. It was preceded by Divine Liturgy with Metropolitan Jonah. It was my first time to this new monastery to which I hope to return regularly, as often as I can manage the 4 hour round trip.

The choir for the Liturgy consisted of talented ladies from St. Seraphim Cathedral, who sang melodic Russian compositions, sometimes in Slavonic. Metropolitan Jonah gave the homily on the responsibility of the hierarchy for the salvation of the people, and then afterward spoke on the upcoming meeting of the different jurisdictional Bishops in May to discuss unity in America. Fr. Oliver Herbel recently posted on this conference and provides a prayer by the laity for it’s direction.

Presbytera Eugenia then spent the next eight hours delving deep into the Orthodox Lenten journey, explaining the context for the Lenten Gospel and Epistle readings, as well as Patristic commentary, which prepare us for Holy Week, Christ’s journey to the cross. I did not take detailed notes, but will share some of her points as I remember and understand them.

She said that the Epistles from Hebrews reveal Christ as God and High Priest in the Order of Melchizedek, not the Mosaic law, even though Moses is a “type” of Christ.

The Gospel readings from Mark and John reveal Christ as the Son of God, King of Israel, the “secret” Messiah, and the suffering servant. A particular insight that I found helpful during this section was her explanation of what it means to take up your cross. She said that most say this means that we are to endure through ailments and/or mistreatment, etc., but it is more than this. She emphasized that Christ suffered willingly and sacrificially, which is different than passive acceptance.

For Holy Week, she discussed the laws and attitudes of the Jews. I wont go into that except to say that she made a case that it wasn’t just jealousy or passion or a desire to deceive or trick that caused the leaders to condemn Christ, but a conviction that as a rabbi, He truly violated their ritual purity laws and blasphemed against God. She also explained how this was because He was of the Order of Melchizedec and not the Levitical priesthood.

For Great and Holy Friday, she explained why the cross is a scandal to the Jews, Muslims, Greeks and Romans. The Jews (and Muslims) to this day do not believe God would suffer the humiliation of the cross – even if the “man” truly rose from the dead. Nowadays they believe Isaiah 53 refers to the suffering Jewish people, not the Messiah. The Romans and Greeks in their Manecheism or Gnosticism couldn’t accept that Christ would become human – created and thus lesser than God. Docetism also developed from this idea. She showed an ancient graffiti where Christians were mocked as having a God suspended from the cross – it was a picture of a suspended man with a horse’s head and a worshipper admitting that was his God. How ridiculous. Now it makes more sense why no one could just make up or rationalize their way to our faith.

She also talked about Christ’s attitudes and statements to the Pharisees and how He, before the end, escaped their snares. During the Q&A, after most of the over 100 people had gone, not expecting or able to stay for such a long day, I feebly asked (expanding on others’ comments) about Christ’s conflicting attitudes of “disgust” and acknowledging their intelligence of the law, and then at the end His blaming their treatment on ignorance; and how this “pardon” relates to free will. During the back and forth she talked about “Bible speak” which sounds like God hardened their hearts, but could be considered sarcastic like “lest they repent”, heaven forbid. They were ignorant and ‘knew not what they did’ because they were blinded by being wedded to their system and their positions of power and were not willing to humble themselves or open themselves to change – so ultimately it was their own free will that caused them to reject Christ. Even in Judas’ case. God did not cause him to betray Christ, he just made the crucifixion easier.

It is very helpful to have this additional context.

Why we die

by Andrea Elizabeth

Though distracted by life, the Olympics and Pysanky, still in my mind is finding the source for the idea that we now die, not because of sin, but because Christ died. From today’s Scripture reading I came across the following, but it seems to point to Christians, and not all mankind.

2 Cor. 4:8 We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair;
9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed-
10 always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.
11 For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.
12 So then death is working in us, but life in you.
13 And since we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, “I believed and therefore I spoke,” we also believe and therefore speak,
14 knowing that He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus, and will present us with you.
15 For all things are for your sakes, that grace, having spread through the many, may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God.

______

Even so, all are raised because of Christ (I wont say in Christ, even though I think to some extent it is true), but not all attain His likeness or as St. Maximus says, achieve ever well being.

Still hoping to find more in Olivier Clement.

The Allegory of Love 13

by Andrea Elizabeth

In Allegory #12 C.S. Lewis shows how in the first Millennium allegorical style shifted from a caricature of the moral struggle, to decoration and exoticism. He goes on to explain (on p. 78 ) that this relaxation of intent lead to a case against asceticism.

If the gods had not died into allegory, the Bishop (Claudian’s fifth-century successor, Sidonius Apollinaris p. 76) would not have dared to use them; conversely, if he had not had allegorical gods for his mouthpiece, he could scarcely have put the ‘case’ of Venus against asceticism so strongly. I do not mean that it was his intention to put it at all. He had probably in his allegory no purpose but to decorate an occasional copy of verses according to the best models. Yet in so doing he stumbles upon freedom. He is free to wander in fairyland, and he is also free to anticipate the eleventh-century reaction against asceticism. […] it is as if some mischievous spirit of prophesy took the pen out of his hand and wrote for us the history both of allegory and courtly love.

Lewis describes the next work, De Nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii by Martinanus Capella, which is,

a treatise on the seven liberal arts, set in the framework of an allegorical marriage between Eloquence (Mercury) and Learning (Philologia). But the author deceived himself if he thought that by this framework he was gilding the pill for the benefit of his pupils. On the contrary, it was for himself that the fable was a necessary outlet – a receptacle into which he could work every scrap of erudite lumber and every excruciating quirk of his euphuism which was left over from the seven arts.

Gods and virtues struggle to make the ascent up to heaven with much decorative clutter, like solar ships and exotic animals, along the way. This work,

“became a textbook in the Middle Ages. Its encyclopaedic character made it invaluable for men who aimed at a universality in knowledge without being able, or perhaps willing, to return to the higher authorities. The fantastical ‘babu’ ornaments of the style were admired. […] He established a disastrous precedent for endlessness and formlessness in literary work. […] The knick-knacks are very curious, very strange; and who will say at what point strangeness begins to turn into beauty? I must confess, too, that I am sufficiently of the author’s kidney to enjoy the faint smell of the secular dust that lies upon them. At every moment we are reminded of something in the far past or something still to come. What is at hand may be dull; but we never lose faith in the richness of the collection as a whole. Anything may come next. We are ‘pleased, like travellers, with seeing more’, and we are not always disappointed. Among all these figurative woods and streams […] some at any rate suffer us to forget their doctrinal purpose, and breathe the air of wonderland.

[…] In all (these writers) we see the beginnings of that free creation of the marvellous which first slips in under the cloak of allegory. It is difficult for the modern man of letters to value this quiet revolution as it deserves. We are apt to take it for granted that a poet has at his command, besides the actual world and the world of his own religion, a third world of myth and fancy. The probable, the marvellous-taken-as-fact, the marvellous-known-to-be-fiction – such is the triple equipment of the post-Renaissance poet. Such were the three worlds which Spenser, Shakespeare, and Milton were born to. London and Warwick, Heaven and Hell, Fairyland and Prospero’s Island – each has its own laws and its appropriate poetry. But this triple heritage is a late conquest. Go back to the beginnings of any literature and you will not find it. At the beginning the only marvels are the marvels which are taken for fact. The poet has only two of these three worlds. In the fullness of time the third world crept in, but only by a sort of accident. The old gods, when they ceased to be taken as gods, might so easily have been suppressed as devils: that, we know, is what happened to our incalculable loss in the history of Anglo-Saxon poetry. Only their allegorical use, prepared by slow developments within paganism itself, saved them, as in a temporary tomb, for the day when they could wake again in the beauty of acknowledged myth and thus provide modern Europe with its ‘third world’ of romantic imagining. (p.83)

Lewis implies that the gods, once awoken in magical fantasy, are more powerful that they were when they were believed to be real. Then at least they inspired “aesthetic contemplation”. When they became fictitious, they even became more beautiful. Since studying this, I’m seeing it everywhere. We want to invent a dreamworld in which we would like to become accustomed. And we have become accustomed to it, in our heads at least, and some even appear to have made it come true. The dream of wealth, beauty, excitement, romantic fulfillment, power, fame, winning, and bliss consume us. We chase after them, but find them to be mirages. We have been so fed the dream, that we don’t know what to realisitically expect anymore. Even in prayer we expect to be transported to something selfishly pleasurable. Boredom, pain and disappointment are the kiss of death. But really, I’m becoming of a mind that they are the door to “the other side”. A mirror is what I see when I open it. But this world beyond is actually where I am now. Dirty laundry is in the pile behind me, and my kids, my dog, my garden, my work, and my neighbor are waiting for me, in prayer, to take a leap of faith and jump through. And when I do, something magical and superiorly satisfying happens, even if I don’t notice.

Gnomic and Natural Will, and Individuality

by Andrea Elizabeth

My son Ben attended Divine Liturgy Friday, which was the final service of the Diocesan Assembly, and informed me that Abbot Jonah Paffhausen gave the homily on obedience and the gnomic and natural will. Without knowing more about what he said, I’d like to reflect on this a bit.

Retaining individuality and a sense of identity is what is on my mind. If our natural will, which is united to Christ’s human will, is good, then our true selves can be freely manifested if we operate from it. If I understand correctly, where we get into trouble is with our gnomic will which will choose differently from our natural will and give into sin. But the odd thing to me is that to live by the natural will is to sort of give up our will, “not my will but Thine be done”. This seems contradictory to maintaining individuality. Perhaps I misunderstand what it means to be an individual. Maybe it is a societal misunderstanding. I tend to think that we are defined by our choices, or preferences. ‘I’m Victorian Romantic’, ‘I’m New Age Spiritualist’, ‘I’m an Academic’, ‘I’m an Engineer’, etc. In college we make these identities more concrete, though they are somewhat influenced by natural bent. “Natural” may be the wrong word as it seems to mix contexts of DNA, nurture and choice. Still, our society is geared to catering to people’s choices by offering a variety of options for purchase, including in education. There is even variety in chosen vices. The article below talks about Alcoholics, but I listed other addictions of choice in a previous post.

from Visibilium’s post on Archimandrite Meletios on AA.

It is fundamental to the understanding of Alcoholics Anonymous and how things work, that the alcoholics hand their will back to the care of God. That is a crucial part of their recovery. I have to say, at its heart, alcoholism has very little to do with the drinking of alcohol. It is a condition which has been described variously. One way is to say that it is self-will run riot. Another way of looking at it (and this takes some research on the part of people who aren’t used to using these words), is that since alcoholism responds to spiritual recovery, then perhaps the essence of alcoholism lies in it being a spiritual malady.

It seems that individuals vary according to their choices, some choices seeming valid, and others sinful, but the Christian’s choice is obedience to God’s will, which I am assuming is to live according to our own natural will, however much that varies from person to person. I guess that is my question. If Orthodoxy is the One True Church, and the Church is the Body of Christ with His Mind (nous?), then everyone would naturally, not gnomically, choose to be Orthodox. Yet there are two most famously stark, at least on a surface level, options in Orthodoxy – Russian or Greek. Most converts in the west, where The Church isn’t as indigenous, tend to choose between these two based on individual preference. But so far the Church has said it doesn’t matter because Jurisdictions are fundamentally the same, cultural differences do not change this. So authentic Orthodoxy, thus our authentic natural will, accommodates some variety of individual style.

Perhaps individuality comes to play in form rather than content. Content has a deeper, more universal resonance, while form is more up for grabs, to some extent. Our individual sins take on different forms, but are universally, in content, distractions from God. Thus giving up our will to sin isn’t necessarily giving up our natural will that is part of our personhood, which is united to Christ. It will probably remain mysterious how we become “little Christs” and remain ourselves. Studying Essence and Energy brings this out for me more than Absolute Divine Simplicity, in my current understanding. I suppose our individual valid preferences will be participated in with a certain accompanying invisible peace, love, and joy as sinful choices are overcome.

But the giving up of sinful choices feels like death to individuality. What I want is so ingrained in who I think I am as a person, that giving it up feels like the end of life, and that I will become a dead sort of robot. Self-indulgence and getting what I want feels like the only way to be fulfilled as a person. Choosing what someone else wants or needs feels like they win and I lose. It seems that they get the joy and I get the pain, though perhaps I will get some joy too after my body finally dies excruciatingly long after my will and my soul have already done so.

Perhaps a focus on soul would be helpful. I think Orthodoxy teaches that our souls are infused in every part of our life – mind, will, heart, and body. Maybe Watchman Nee is still messing me up – to him “soul” is mind, will and emotions (I think). This latter definition of soul sounds like it is indeed killed when choosing with your mind to surrender your will, which very negatively impacts your emotions. Sadness and loss of what we want are emotions connected with death.

I think I need to let that sink in and see if I can readjust.

Serbian Saint, New Martyr Avakum (Habakkuk)

by Andrea Elizabeth

This Saint highlights Turkish/Muslim agression in the Balkans

New Martyr Avakum

Commemorated on December 17

The holy New Martyr Avakum (Habakkuk) was born in Bosnia in 1794, and was named Lepoje by his parents. Lepoje’s father died when he was still a young boy, so his mother took him to the Mostanica monastery, where his uncle was the spiritual Father. He grew up in the monastery, and later became a monk with the name Avakum. When he was eighteen, he was ordained a deacon by Metropolitan Joseph (Sakabenta).

In 1809, the monks took part in an unsuccessful revolt against the Turks, and had to flee for their lives. They settled in the Annunciation monastery in Trnava near Cacak, where the igumen was St Paisius.

After the collapse of Karageorge’s revolt in 1813, the Turks began a reign of terror against the Serbs. Disease also swept the area because of the many bodies left unburied. The people attempted another revolt under Hadj-Prodan Gligorijevic, and the monks of Trnava became involved in it. The rebellion took place on the Feast of the Cross (September 14), but it was crushed by the Turks. Many people were captured, and some were executed on the spot as a warning to others.

Some of the prisoners were sent to Suleiman Pasha in Belgrade, among whom were Sts Paisius and Avakum. The holy deacon Avakum sang “God is with us” (from Compline) in the prison cell, while St Paisius prayed. The Turks offered to free anyone who would convert to Islam. Some of the prisoners agreed to this, but the majority refused to deny Christ, and so they were put to death.

The Turks tried to pressure Avakum to save himself by embracing their religion, but he refused even to consider it. His former spiritual Father, Gennadius, accepted the offer of the Turks and urged Avakum to follow his example. The courageous deacon declared that he was a warrior of Christ, and preferred to die rather than deny Christ.

St Avakum was sentenced to be impaled on a stake, which he was forced to carry to the place of execution. His own mother urged him to embrace Islam, then to seek forgiveness later because he had been forced into it. The saint thanked her for giving him life, but not for her advice.

At the place of execution, the Turks asked him one more time to consider his youth and not to die before his time. Avakum laughed and asked, “Don’t even Turks eventually die?”

They replied, “Of course they do.”

“Well then,” he said, “the sooner I die, the fewer sins I will have.”

Because of his courage and steadfastness in his faith, the Turks decided not to impale him. They killed him quickly by stabbing him in the heart with a sword on January 27, 1815.

St Avakum the deacon is commemorated on December 17 with St Paisius.

[on St. Paisius]

St Paisius was taken from prison and forced to carry a stake to the place of execution. He was impaled, and the stake was set into the ground. The holy martyr exclaimed, “Glory to God.” Then the vizier clapped his hands to signal his soldiers to draw their swords and begin killing some of the other prisoners. Forty-eight people were killed, and their bodies were raised up on posts. After suffering for some time, St Paisius surrendered his soul to God, thereby obtaining the crown of martyrdom on December 17, 1814.

(from oca.org)