Art of Persistence

"The art of love ... is largely the art of persistence." -Albert Ellis

Monday, April 30, 2007

Book Recommendations

After Holy Week I wanted to read something light and frivolous, so I picked up Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett. This is third book in his Discworld series, a series which, if you like Fantasy novels and have a sense of humor, you've waited too long to start. These books have been compared to Douglas Adams's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, only Pratchett does a much better job of it. The Discworld series is actually worth reading apart from its comedic value. Start out with The Color of Magic and see if you don't agree.

Next I chose a book from Al Kresta's recommendations (he has not steered me wrong yet), The Bridge of San Luis Rey, by Thornton Wilder. I hesitated because a synopsis of the plot made me think the book would be a bummer. Instead, this book was quite charming and in the end edifying and profound. As one of the characters says, "Now learn...learn at last that anywhere you may expect grace."

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Wilder on "Passionate Love"

"This assumption that she need look for no more devotion now that her beauty had passed proceeded from the fact that she had never realized any love save love as passion. Such love, though it expends itself in generosity and thoughtfulness, though it give birth to visions and to great poetry, remains among the sharpest expressions of self-interest. Not until it has passed through a long servitude, through its own self-hatred, through mockery, through great doubts, can it take its place among the loyalties. Many who have spent a lifetime in it can tell us less of love than the child who lost a dog yesterday."

-Thornton Wilder, The Bridge of San Luis Rey

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The Divine Glamor of Friendship

"Like all solitary persons he had invested friendship with a divine glamor:he had imagined that the people he passed on the street, laughing together and embracing when they parted, the people who dined together with so many smiles,- you will scarcely believe me, but he imagined that they were extracting from all that congeniality great store of satisfaction."

-Thornton Wilder, The Bridge of San Luis Rey

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The Marquesa on a Bender

"Then as the sun rose she would shut herself up in her room with some flagons and drift through the next few weeks without the burden of consciousness."

-Thornton Wilder, The Bridge of San Luis Rey

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Sunday, April 29, 2007

Acknowledging Ignorance

"How am I ignorant? I am as most of us are - I do not see the world clearly for what it is. I do not see other people clearly for what they are. I do not see myself clearly for what I am. And most importantly, I do not see God for Who He Is."

-Fr. Stephen at Glory to God for All Things.

The whole post is short and simple. But contains a lesson that I need to be reminded of quite often. I'm sure I'll be reading that post again and again in the coming months.


Friday, April 27, 2007

On Friendship

In C.S. Lewis’s chapter on Friendship in The Four Loves, he states that “few value [friendship] because few experience it.” He then goes on to give something of a historical-philosophical reason for this. But a quick web search shows me that Friendship is highly valued and even hungered for, and that many people have written about how to make friends and deepen friendships. But let’s give Lewis a break here, shall we? History and philosophy have moved on from his day – which is not to say “progressed” – and his time and culture are not identical with our own. Furthermore, he does a better job of showing how to make friends and deepen friendships than anybody I’ve read on the subject.

The funny thing is, he does this by writing about the nature of friendship, not by writing advice to people who want to make friends. First of all he distinguishes between Friends and mere Companions, what we would probably call “close friends” and “friends or acquaintances” respectively-a distinction that would indeed make Friendship rare. Then he states, “Friendship arises out of mere Companionship when two or more of the companions discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share and which, till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure (or burden)….All who share [this common interest] will be our companions; but one or two or three who share something more will be our Friends.” That is all there is to making friends, really.

Much of the advice that I dug up on the internet, even from usually reputable sources, seemed shallow, contrived and a little, well, pathetic. This last adjective is used by Lewis to describe those who are desperate to make friends, but never can. Because Friendship comes about not by seeking Friends, but by seeking something else and finding someone else on the same quest. “Where the truthful answer to the question Do you see the same truth? would be ‘I see nothing and I don’t care about the truth; I only want a Friend,’ no Friendship can arise….There would be nothing for the Friendship to be about; and Friendship must be about something, even if it were only an enthusiasm for dominoes or white mice. Those who have nothing can share nothing; those who are going nowhere can have no fellow-travellers.”

If you accept Lewis’s analysis about how Friendships arise and try to fashion it into some advice for making Friends, it would seem to be this: do what you enjoy doing, and talk about what interests you. In the process you will find some Companions and a few Friends. Why then, if it's so simple, does there seem to such a hunger for Friendship? I will write more on this, but at this time your input is encouraged.


Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Response to a Friend (2)

“[M]ankind has been working on and refining his religious practices since the first people sat by a fire and gazed up at the stars and shared stories about great hunters in the sky and forest spirits. The religious practices of today are an incredibly well-tuned and marvelous achievement in man’s quest to bring some grand overarching meaning to his existence and to enforce a code of behavior on his society.”

I think you’ve almost got it with this first sentence, but then you walk away and give us the old Marxist line. It’s hard for me to imagine “primitive man” struggling to give meaning to his existence when his existence was pretty heavily occupied with trying to merely sustain his existence. And it’s equally hard for me to imagine fur-clad cavemen who lived in small bands going to the trouble of inventing a religion to “enforce a code of behavior on his society” as if he were some cynical, modern politico. Of course, it’s a bit much for either of us to speak definitively about the motivations of anybody, and slightly impossible to be very precise about the motivations of those that lived eons ago and first gave voice to their spiritual musings. But staring up at the stars has always produced in me a sense of awe, even in our modern light-polluted sky. This sense of awe seems to me to be a more credible explanation for the rise of stories about “great hunters in the sky and forest spirits”. I mean, why invent a religion to keep somebody in line when a sharp rock would have done a much more reliable job?

“When you look at religions today in a purely analytical light, their architecture is almost like that of a biological organism. They have complex facilities for the recruitment and retention of followers which include well-formulated answers to many of the recurring questions of human existence.”

And like a biological organism, they would have all faded away without the ability to reproduce and sustain life (though they may have left behind some nice Shaker furniture). So where does this line of reasoning get us?

I find it interesting that you liken religion to a biological organism. But while you obviously reject Intelligent Design of biological organisms, you embrace Intelligent Design of religion. Furthermore, you ascribe motives to these Designers which are dubious at best.

“Lastly, they each contain a code of conduct intended to not only protect the people involved but also protect the interest and livelihood of the church itself.”

So you’ve mentioned “the church” again in an essay that’s supposed to be about generic religion. Are you being sloppy, or are you really just aiming at Christianity?

”The primary means of recruiting new inductees for a religion is simply by having your existing members give birth. Religious parents live in dire fear that their offspring will leave the fold and be subjected to the punishments promised to the unfaithful."

First of all, it seems a little silly that you are trying to make it sound sinister that parents raise their children as if they really believed their religions. Secondly, not all religions have the whole “punishments promised to the unfaithful” bit. While Western Christianity does, not all Protestants and Catholics make much of a point of this. My Dad, as I pointed out in A Good Word , didn’t raise me to do the right thing for fear of being sent to Hell.

"Sometimes ritual mutilation is used to permanently mark children as initiates of a religion but generally the rites of induction are primarily ceremonial and educational for the child born into a religious home.”

Yes, I remember the haircuts with great fear and trembling.

Your next paragraph, on proselytizing, would carry more weight if you used some concrete examples. As it stands, it seems that you are simply generalizing from some bad experiences with some particularly sadistic brand of Protestant Fundamentalism.

“Once the initiate accepts the religion, retention is typically a much simpler matter. The threats ...are supplemented by a much more powerful positive force, a strong sense of community and fellowship. Humans require friendly contact with other humans so religions supply this fellowship...."

...the bastards!

You can find his entire original post here


Tuesday, April 24, 2007

White and Snowman

I believe this will be the last of the Snowman pictures. That's Old Andy standing with the ephemeral tall guy. Andy was the closest thing I ever had to a grandfather, and I miss the old man. He had no reason to treat us boys with such kindness, other than that was just the way he was. I still pray for him, and I believe he still prays for me.

I've been working on a post about C.S. Lewis's chapter on Friendship in The Four Loves, but I'm finding it difficult for some reason. In the meantime, why don't you have a look at this sympathetic critique of Lewis's Mere Christianity by N.T. Wright.

Come to think of it, when I see photos of C.S. Lewis, I'm always reminded of Old Andy. Hey, Andy, tell Jack I said, "Howdy."

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Study: Religion Is Good for Kids

"Kids with religious parents are better behaved and adjusted than other children, according to a new study that is the first to look at the effects of religion on young child development."

Read the whole article here.

Quote from Frederica

"Christianity is not an institution, not a brokerage for spiritual transactions, but a treasury of wisdom; it’s the 'art and science' of gradually, increasingly being able to bear the light of Christ—the thing that we are made for, and yearn for."

Read the whole article here.


Friday, April 20, 2007

Violence-Free Zone

I was pondering the wild successes that schools have had in proclaiming themselves Drug-Free, or Gun-Free Zones. And I had a brilliant idea.

I hereby proclaim the world a Violence-Free Zone.

Now gimme that gosh-durned Nobel Peace Prize before I sock you in the nose.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

You and Me and VT

After a week of wall-to-wall Imus, we get wall-to-wall Virginia Tech Massacre. All of the mainline news outlets parrot each other. You can imagine what goes on in some of their meetings/phone calls: "I don't care what you say. Just say something!" And so they do. And so we learn more about the psyches of the reporters than we do about the shooter's, as everybody is busy blaming somebody else. Immediately we hear calls for gun control and blaming Charlton Heston. We hear Presidential candidate Barack Obama attempting to sound profound by likening the bloody murder of 32 to the "violence" of Don Imus's use of black slang while stubbornly remaining white. Rush Limbaugh blamed politically correct thinking for keeping people from demanding more action against a minority (referring to the shooter's mental illness, not his ethnicity). We hear blame of school officials for not recognizing that somebody capable of writing such disturbing things would inevitably act on them.

What about this last charge? Can we really assume that writers of grisly fiction will carry out mass-murders? Well, then we had better round up Thomas Harris before he starts washing down human liver with a nice chianti, Bret Easton Ellis before he goes on a killing spree, and Stephen King before he puts on clown make-up and starts luring children into the sewer. But instead of locking these people up for our own protection, we watch their movies and buy their books and DVD's; we throw our money and adulation at them. We take them into our collective unconsciousness so that we can't even mention fava beans or chianti without thinking of cannibalism.

Yes, Cho Seung-Hui was very sick. But do we see that we are too? Do we realize that by harboring, even nursing evil in our hearts we all bear some responsibility for the sickness in our culture, and ultimately for the eruption of evil in Blacksburg, Virginia? What are we going to do about it? What am I going to do about it?

Lord, have mercy.

For a more cogent post on this subject, check out Second Terrace. Even better, read The Brothers Karamosov.

Monday, April 16, 2007

4 yard snowman

Another view of Mr. Snowman posing with three happy boys, one waving, one throwing like a girl, and one doing the pee-pee dance.

Patience, please, the photo sometimes disappears from this post and I can't figure out why.


Cold Case

As you can see by the snow on the ground, it was literally freezing.

This is the vandal returning to the scene of the crime first reported here to search for the dropped ax. Then a second later the boom from the 410. Too bad CJ didn't have 4 hands (but of course he does now) or he could have recorded for posterity the second stream of yellow snow being created.

Notice that in '67 bicycle thievery hadn't progressed to its current level and the two-wheeled contraptions could have been left outside overnight without fear. That must be the famous newspaper delivery bike pictured.


Friday, April 13, 2007

Response to a Friend

You'll find his original post here, and in quotes below.
= = =

“Myth: Some great force is steering the destiny of mankind. No matter how bad things get, we'll be alright as a people because someone will save us from ourselves.”

By “myth” I assume you mean “an unfounded or false notion” and not a “popular belief or tradition that has grown up around something or someone; especially : one embodying the ideals and institutions of a society or segment of society”. In either case, your statement of this “myth” is misleading by being overly simplistic; as in your posts on the Bible, you are constructing something of a straw man. Not that there aren’t people whose beliefs are this simplistic, but that this is a pretty easy belief to ridicule or argue against. You are painting with a very broad brush.

If my responses sound a little testy it’s because I am irritated by these same old double-standard arguments being trotted out ad nauseum. Double standard? Yes. Because there are atheists and agnostics whose beliefs are every bit as simplistic as the simplest and most provincial theist. But what does that prove?

”Response: Boy, this sure is a comforting thought isn’t it? By the thinking of some, it doesn’t matter what any destructive force does because they’re going to be saved at the last minute by some divine force. I’m sure that kind of comfort makes the collection plates fuller at the local purveyors of religious gratification but it’s way too convenient.”

First of all, there is the assumption that this sort of myth is comforting. But believing in a “great force steering the destiny of mankind” has very little to say about the destiny of little-old-expendable me. And the flip-side of believing in such a “force” is the accountability that mere creatures bear to such a “someone”. This is not at all a comforting thought. And the ignoring of this fact makes your “Response” a little like the pot calling the kettle “convenient”.

Next we have the statement of the straw man belief about the cosmic cavalry coming to the rescue. Yawn.

Lastly we have the cynical implication that this belief is only perpetuated as a means of profit. Now, I can understand this, especially in this country. I have long regretted the fact that so many Christians view their church as a vendor of religious goods and services that can easily be abandoned should a more responsive vendor be found. And of course if there are customers there will be producers. But in fact it is not those who preach a simple message of comfort and salvation in this country who rake in the most dough; it is those who promise that God will bless you if you give them money who really cash in on the gullible.

But there are still many who sincerely believe a more traditional version of Christianity, resist the zeitgeist of commercialism, and focus on community. So again, you’ve chosen a stereotype that’s easy to disbelieve.

“The fact is, there’s little or no evidence that the current religious fad is any more correct than the previous thousands that have come and gone. Typically, the throngs of the religious point to the bible as their ultimate evidence and proof that THEY (and only they) are in fact the ‘chosen’ people who are going to heaven. Let’s be clear, the bible is an ancient and historical document. Only a few dozen problems with the bible as a document of prognostication.”

I’ll merely point out the obviously loaded language referring to the several thousand year Judeo-Christian tradition as a fad (and it is clear that it is Christianity that you are aiming at). I am more interested in the “Little or no evidence” giganto-question that you’ve dismissed before asking. What would you consider valid evidence?

Typically, I find that atheists are indignant that God hasn’t provided a super-obvious, mathematically precise proof of His existence, and therefore angrily conclude that He is a creation of the imaginations of the great, ignorant masses. But this is a little like concluding that four-leaf clovers do not exist since your metal-detector with dead batteries didn’t find any in your basement.

And Christian apologists, typically, don’t realize that historical and philosophical evidence is not of the same nature as mathematical proof. (It seems that Gary Habermas does realize this, but I haven’t yet gotten around to reading any of his books.)

Agnostics, typically, I can stomach.

As for your “typical throngs of the religious”, I’m sure that their beliefs are neither more nor less simple than those of the typical atheist.

“Document of prognostication”? WTF?

”Firstly, the bible has been translated through half a dozen languages in series so inevitable transcription and translation errors have been multiplied and magnified over the years.”

I’m wondering where you got this information. Which languages would those be? I haven’t heard of even the most skeptical scholar refer to this.

”Secondly and more importantly, the bits and pieces of the bible we typically see are thoroughly picked over by the church (read that: Edited) to make sure the message conveyed is as close as possible to what the ancient church intended. What kind of audacity does one have to have to edit the very word of god herself?”

Well, if you view “the church” as a group of men who invented a set of beliefs to perpetuate their own power, then maybe you could call this audacity. But if this view of the church is correct, the Bible isn’t the “word of god herself” (oh, so clever). So where’s the audacity?

But if the Church is what she says she is, the Body of Christ, then the act of choosing the books that represent the most authoritative part of her written tradition is entirely appropriate. As for the editing, it kind of depends on what you mean by that. If you mean what I think you mean, then you’ll have to come up with some proof.

“Thirdly and more importantly of all, the bible does not constitute a consistent whole. The book is often contradictory, confusing and deals in a dubious level of symbolism. I mean come on… 7 days? Let’s get real. More on the ignorance of bible literalists later… “

To paraphrase you is to refute you: Fundamentalists are ignorant, therefore we can dismiss the beliefs of all Christians.

I’ll ignore the rest of your post because it’s a relatively massive non-sequitur that I find totally uninteresting…and I’m tired.


Respect for the Eucharist

The following is part of a reply (not mine) to an interesting story at Energies of the Trinity:

Regular communion is laudable, but while this was the practice of the early Church it was a practice that was part and parcel with a lot of other things. Simply picking out regular communion without paying attention to the strict piety and morality - the canons and commandments - that went along with it is simply Protestantism.

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Blues Beget Blues

It seems that (at least for those of us that struggle with depression) once our psyches start traveling down the path of sadness or depression, all of our sadnesses, depressions, failures and disappointments are more easily brought to mind. So it is that something as cheerful as the picture of the 12 foot snowman brings me back to the year of my mother's death. Just about any song from the 80's, no matter how danceable, can plunge me into the dark days of my divorce. And an innocuous Kansas license plate can bring my Dad's passing to mind and put a lump in my throat.

A friend sent me an article from Frederica Matthewes-Green that contained the following passage that is helping to nudge me back to sanity. Speaking of an epiphany she had during her father's funeral, Frederica writes:

He was [now] standing in the searching light of God, where all things are made clear and all truth is known. That meant that, from his perspective, our relationship was for the first time perfect and whole, in a way it could never have been on earth.

Though I don’t yet have that perspective, I can still grasp its truth. The only place I can ever meet my father again is in the presence of God, who understands us both, perfectly—much better than we can understand ourselves. And even though he sees right through us, his response is endless love.

This passage helped me to see that I wasn't just missing my Dad. I was also mourning the fact that our relationship wasn't as good as it could have been, and any attempt to improve it now seemed lost. It also helped me to see that I need not mourn as those without hope. All is not as it seems.


Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Bright Week Blues

Am I the only one that feels a little let down after Holy Week and Pascha? It is Wednesday, Bright Wednesday. All during Lent our parish celebrated the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts every Wednesday. Staying home tonight, catching up on housework, I miss my church family. And I feel like our celebration of Pascha should be continuing. I'm sure that this is part of why the Church, in Her wisdom, prescribes Bright Week services every day this week. Unfortunately my parish is too small to accomplish this.

Part of me thinks this is OK, though. That part would be my right arm. It is still aching from directing all of that music Holy Week.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

12 Foot Snowman

I remember how my jaw dropped when the car rounded the corner and I saw this in my Auntie's backyard. Thanks to Cousin Jimmy for the picture - and the snowman in the first place.
This is actually the second snowman he built. A vandal knocked the first one down in the night. CJ rebuilt Frosty, then waited up with a shotgun until the vandal returned with an axe. Whereupon CJ emerged from his lair and fired into the air. My Auntie still has the axe. The yellow snow produced by the vandal has long since melted.
(I'm the cute one on the right - at least I was the cute one on the right.)
Addendum from CJ:
"Didn't know you knew the whole story on Mr. Snowman, the 2nd one, the kid, the axe, my waiting inside the garage door, camera w/flash (night) took a picture of him when he came for his axe but through the fence so no detail, then as he ran around the SouthWest end of Oak School, .410 BOOM in the air. Bet he was upset, only knew his picture had been taken and a gun went off, wonder if he expected impact of a bullet, wonder if he has stopped shaking yet?"


Monday, April 09, 2007

Paschal Homily of St. John Chrysostom

If anyone is devout and a lover of God, let him enjoy this beautiful and radiant festival.
If anyone is a wise servant, let him enter into the joy of his Lord with rejoicing.
If anyone has wearied himself in fasting, let him now receive his recompense.
If anyone has labored from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward.
If anyone has come at the third hour, with thanksgiving let him keep the feast.
If anyone has arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; for he shall suffer no loss.
If anyone has delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near without hesitation.
If anyone has arrived even at the eleventh hour, let him not fear on account of his delay. For the Master is gracious and receives the last, even as the first; he gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour, just as to him who has labored from the first. He has mercy upon the last and cares for the first; to the one he gives, and to the other he is gracious. He both honors the work and praises the intention.

Enter all of you, therefore, into the joy of our Lord, and, whether first or last, receive your reward. O rich and poor, dance for joy with one another! O you ascetics and you negligent, celebrate the day! You that have fasted and you that have disregarded the fast, rejoice today!
The table is rich-laden; feast royally, all of you!
The calf is fatted; let no one go forth hungry!
Let all partake of the feast of faith.
Let all receive the riches of goodness.
Let no one lament his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one mourn his transgressions, for pardon has dawned from the grave.
Let no one fear death, for the Saviour's death has set us free.
He that was taken by death has annihilated it!
He descended into hades and took hades captive!
He embittered it when it tasted his flesh! And anticipating this Isaiah exclaimed, "Hades was embittered when it encountered thee in the lower regions."
It was embittered, for it was abolished!
It was embittered, for it was mocked!
It was embittered, for it was purged!
It was embittered, for it was despoiled!
It was embittered, for it was bound in chains!
It took a body and, face to face, met God!
It took earth and encountered heaven!
It took what it saw but crumbled before what it had not seen!
"O death, where is thy sting? O hades, where is thy victory?"
Christ is risen, and you are overthrown!
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is risen, and life reigns!
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in a tomb!
For Christ, being raised from the dead, has become the First-fruits of them that slept.
To him be glory and might unto ages of ages. Amen.

= = = = = = =
This homily is read in each Orthodox parish every Pascha. How could anybody improve upon it? What could I add to it with further comments?

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Saturday, April 07, 2007

Lessons from Great and Holy Saturday Vespers and Liturgy of St. Basil

I've been bathed in Holy Scripture and the hymns of the Church for the last week (6 hours of services in the last two days alone). I've prostrated before the burial shroud and kissed the nail-scarred feet. How could I sing the following hymn and not be overcome with awe and thankfulness.

Let all mortal flesh keep silent
and in fear and trembling stand,

pondering nothing earthly-minded.

For the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords
comes to be slain,
to give himself as food to the faithful.
Before him go the ranks of angels:

all the principalities and powers,

the many-eyed cherubim
and the six-winged seraphim,
covering their faces,
singing the hymn:
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

May I remember throughout the year the price that Love paid; that the Eucharist is more than bread and wine, but the bruised and broken body and the spilled blood of the King of Glory.


Thursday, April 05, 2007

Lessons from Great and Holy Friday Vespers

We see a strange and fearful mystery accomplished today.
He whom none may touch is seized.
He who looses Adam from the curse is bound.
He who tries the hearts of men is unjustly brought to trial.
He who closed the abyss is shut in prison.
He before whom the hosts of heaven stand with trembling stands before Pilate.
The Creator is struck by the hand of His creature.
He who comes to judge the living and the dead is condemned to the cross.
The Conqueror of hell is enclosed in a tomb.
O Thou, who hast endured all these things in Thy tender love,
Thou hast saved all men from the curse,
O long-suffering Lord, glory to Thee!


Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Lessons from Matins of Great and Holy Friday

In the third Antiphon all six verses end with the line "but Judas the Transgressor was unwilling to understand." Not that he hadn't had things explained clearly enough. Not that he hadn't reasoned things out correctly. He was unwilling to understand. It seems that it might be a pretty good idea to pray for the purification of our desires.

What caused you to betray the Savior, O Judas?
Did He expel you from the ranks of the Apostles?
Did He take from you the gift of healing?
Did He send you from the table while taking supper with the others?
Did He wash their feet and pass you by?
How have you forgotten such good things?

He who clothes Himself with light as with a garment
Stood naked for trial.
He was struck on the cheek by hands that He himself had formed.
A people that transgressed the law.
Nailed the Lord of Glory to the cross.
The curtain of the temple was torn in two.
The sun was darkened,
Unable to bear the sight of God outraged,
Before Whom all things tremble.
Let us worship Him.

How can we fully appreciate Pascha without remembering Good Friday?


I Still Don't Know Who I Am

The first time I took this test, I was informed:

You’re St. Melito of Sardis!

You have a great love of history and liturgy. You’re attached to the traditions of the ancients, yet you recognize that the old world — great as it was — is passing away. You are loyal to the customs of your family, though you do not hesitate to call family members to account for their sins.

Find out which Church Father you are at The Way of the Fathers!

The second time:

You’re St. Justin Martyr!

You have a positive and hopeful attitude toward the world. You think that nature, history, and even the pagan philosophers were often guided by God in preparation for the Advent of the Christ. You find “seeds of the Word” in unexpected places. You’re patient and willing to explain the faith to unbelievers.

Find out which Church Father you are at The Way of the Fathers!

And if I'd hit my coworker with the mallet?

Another Recommendation

From Second Terrace.

Wherever you look, go ahead, I dare you to try,
and beyond all the obvious plus-signs at Church and on your icons,
you find that Jesus’ sacrifice, the nails, the spear and death itself,
has got you surrounded.
His Eucharist, Body and Blood are writ large, incarnadine and valentine,
posted to all your inboxes, and in every wordless thought
between every unconscious breath.

For the whole poem go here.

Lessons from Bridegroom Matins of Great and Holy Thursday

The Master shows the disciples an example of humility;
He who wraps the vault of heaven in clouds
girds Himself with a towel;
He who holds in His hands the breath of all that exists
kneels down to wash the feet of His servants.

He knows that this is His last supper before agony and death. Yet He is not irritable and withdrawn as I am over my small aches and pains. He humbles Himself by washing the feet of those who are about to run away from Him and deny Him and betray Him.


Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Lessons from Bridegroom Matins of Great and Holy Wednesday

Sessional Hymn Third Tone
The harlot approached thee, O Lover of mankind, pouring out on they feet costly perfume mixed with tears; and at thy command she was redeemed from the stench of her sins. But the ungrateful disciple, though he was touched by they grace, rejected it and defiled himself with mire, selling thee for love of money. O Christ, glory to thy tender mercy.

Tone Four
Deceitful Judas, in his love for money, contrived a deceptive plan to betray thee, O Lord, Treasury of life. Given to strong drink, he ran to the Jews and said to the transgressors of the law: What will you give me, if I betray him to you to be crucified?

The first two hymns contrast the actions of Mary Magdalene and Judas. What would be sung about me in my hymn? I have sold the Lord, made His sacrifice of no use in my life, and I have done so for much less than 30 pieces of silver, adulation of my wit, a place in front of some slow-poke during my commute, 30 extra seconds to think of me and my needs rather than the person I had just offended through thoughtlessness....

Tone Eight
O Merciful One, to thee the harlot cried out wailing; she wiped ardently thy pure feet with her hair, deeply sighing: O my God Cast me not from thee and despise me not, but receive me in repentance and save me, for thou alone art the lover of mankind.

The Kontakion
O Good One, I have acted lawlessly more than the harlot, yet never have I offered thee a flow of tears, but in silence I fall down before thee, kissing with longing thy pure feet, asking thee as a Master to grant me forgiveness of my sins, and I cry to thee, O Savior: deliver me from the mire of my deeds.

May the words of the Kontakion be my own.


Monday, April 02, 2007

Lessons From Bridegroom Matins of Great and Holy Tuesday

Since my work schedule prevents me from attending services for much of Holy Week, I decided to at least read through the services, pray the prayers and participate as much as possible in this way. When I read the following prayer, I felt a heavy weight pressing down on me.

Do Thou, who of Thine own good will was lifted up upon the Cross, O Christ our God, bestow Thy bounties upon the new Nation which is called by Thy Name; make glad in Thy might those who lawfully govern, that with them we may be led to victory over our adversaries, having in Thine aid a weapon of peace and a trophy invincible.

Submitting to Orthodox Tradition teaches us to pray in the way that we should. Without bitterness, judgment or lack of love. This particular prayer also taught me that I needed to go back and re-edit the post in which I first mentioned the scandal that continues to plague the OCA. I am ashamed that I let my anger and judgmentalism get the better of me. I am no less resolved to do what I can to help resolve this scandal. But now I am also resolved to do so with a spirit of love, with The Spirit of Love.


Sunday, April 01, 2007

Lewis's Vision of Hell

"...'[A] damned soul is nearly nothing: it is shrunk, shut up in itself. Good beats upon the damned incessantly as sound waves beat on the ears of the deaf, but they cannot receive it. Their fists are clenched, their teeth are clenched, their eyes fast shut. First they will not, in the end they cannot, open their hands for gifts, or their mouth for food, or their eyes to see.'"

C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce

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From Second Terrace

"I am afraid of the Cross,
Because I am afraid of death,
But not its approximation,
Which I have embraced.
I was born to die,
And have habituated myself to its fear."

Read the whole poem here.


The Mystery of the Trinity

"The kenosis of the Son reveals the mystery of God who is Love. This gift of life is an extension of a mysterious exchange at the heart of the Deity. In God himself the One does not exclude the Other, it includes it. The Unity of God is complete, so rich, that it is not solitude enclosed in itself, but rather the fullness of communion. And thereby the source of all communion.


In God the Holy Spirit is almost anonymous (since God is entirely Spirit, entirely Holy). He is almost confused with the unmoving movement of love in the divine nature, with the divine 'common nature', as St Basil says. He is revealed as rich, 'variegated' with all the divine names, and so almost indistinguishable from the divine energies that he imparts to us, in our inmost depths. It is as if he were effacing himself.


The Spirit is the hidden God, the inward God, deeper than our greatest depth. He gives life to all things and we breathe him without being aware of it. He is the breath of God in the breathing of the world, of humanity.


But this hidden God is not lost in immanence; he is entirely movement towards Christ, and , through Christ, towards the Father, in the same way as the energies that he imparts flow from the Father through the Son."

Olivier Clément, The Origins of Christian Mysticism

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"He who believes in dreams is completely inexperienced. But he who distrusts all dreams is a wise man. Only believe dreams that warn you of torments and judgments. But if despair afflicts you, then such dreams are also from demons."

St. John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent


Onward to Holy Week

Well, Lent is over. How have I done this year? As usual, not so well. It's not just that my hypoglycemia keeps me from fasting as strictly as prescribed (after all they are fasting rules - not laws). It's hurried, distracted prayers in the morning, substituting spiritual readings for prayer, devouring my neighbor through uncharitable thoughts and words, and my pride on those few occasions when I do get something right. Nevertheless, God has given me joy.

But moving on from Lent to Holy Week, I need to shift my focus from myself and my failings to God and what He's done about it my need for Him. It's hard to imagine how a Spirit loves us. So the Old Testament is full of anthropomorphizing imagery regarding the Father's love for us. In the New Testament, however, it's not just through our language that God takes on human form; He takes our form in real, flesh-and-blood fact. And He holds nothing back; He loves us to his last drop of blood. On Holy Saturday we sing:

Let all mortal flesh keep silent and in fear and trembling stand, pondering nothing earthly-minded. For the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords comes to be slain, to give himself as food to the faithful.

Before him go the ranks of angels: all the principalities and powers, the many-eyed cherubim and the six-winged seraphim, covering their faces, singing the hymn: Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

It is only after singing this solemn hymn (merely reading the words in a blog doesn't do justice to their emotional impact) that we can experience the fullness of the joy of the Resurrection on Pascha as we sing:

Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death; and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!