Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Atheism and the Experience of God

As has often been the case, my Lenten prayers and devotional reading have been fitful and sporadic. I've been working slowly through a little book by Archimandrite Sophrony on Saint Silouan the Athonite. It's been slow going -- I am distracted by many things and my mind is prone to wander. There are times I read and re-read the same paragraph, even the same sentence, before even coming close to grasping the meaning and significance.

Pray for me and my scattered mind and heart.

Recently, I was intrigued to find two short pieces by Father John Breck addressing the phenomenon of atheism and the Orthodox experience of God that refer to the legacy of Saint Silouan.

They're worth pondering.

Here are the links:

Atheism and the Experience of God (Part I)

Atheism and the Experience of God (Part II)

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Love means always having to say you're sorry...

...and meaning it.

...and doing something about it.

Great Lent is the season of saying "I'm sorry." And then saying it again, and again, and...

Here's a snippet from a magnificent reflection by Fr Jonathan Tobias, from his blog "Second Terrace."

"It goes without saying that “sorry” requires spiritual poverty. Physical poverty probably helps. That's why our Lord said that thistle-y thing about the camel.

The best source for sorry, of course, is the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The Holy Tradition is replete , like Mother Mary of Egypt, with examples of how sorry should be done. There should be little confusion in the Church about what my mood should be when I confess my sins. I should be embarrassed and ashamed, and frightened at the inevitabilities of the consequences. There should be no bravado, nor nonchalance, nor soliciting.

Absolution should always come as a surprise.

I should never expect the Crucifixion.

There can be no “of course” to the Cup.

I should feel, escaping from the Mystery, as though I were a death row inmate, whose injection was stopped at 2359, and whose sentence was commuted, who’s been sent to a cottage on the sands for the rest of his days, with my family in flipflops, watching the dolphins pirouette in the blue argent tide, in the Trinitarian sun.

Well, now, that was just too personal, wasn’t it?

But I think some more personal is needed in sorry these days. Myself, I’ve been too doctrinaire in a bureaucratic sort of way, thinking of sin as transgression in some cosmic juridical drama: you know, Christ as my Perry, old Louis the Officer as the DA.

To help with sorry, I’ve found a surprising source. It is Homer, no less, from the Iliad. Here is Phoenix, Achilles’ old tutor, trying to prevail upon his former protégé to join the battle line against Hector and company:

We do have Prayers, you know, Prayers for forgiveness,
daughters of mighty Zeus … and they limp and halt,
they’re all wrinkled, drawn, they squint to the side,
can’t look you in the eyes, and always bent on duty,
trudging after Ruin, maddening, blinding Ruin.
But Ruin is strong and swift –
She outstrips them all by far, stealing a march,
leaping over the whole wide earth to bring mankind to grief.
And the Prayers trail after, trying to heal the wounds.

Here and I thought my prayers for forgiveness, and all my sorry’s, were quite noble, aristocratic works. I was proud of my confessions, because it was, after all, a great condescension on my part to actually kneel down and admit I was wrong, that mistakes were made … or to say that, God, if I offended You, or if You took offense at anything I did (without my knowing) … or to admit that I failed the Fast last Wednesday by eating margarine with whey in it (I should have consulted the label first).

He should have been pleased that I was so articulate, that I fell, rhetorically and oh so Wagnerianly on my mea culpa sword.

But Homer says that my prayers for forgiveness are old ladies, limp and halt, who stumble, wrinkled and squinty, after the mad Ruin of my sin.

Sin is not so much crime, or even disease, as it is ruin. It is the ruin of Creation, logos and telos, meaning and destiny ... it is the shriveling of hypostasis, the schizophrenification of time.

Truly, sin is mad Ruin.

And the Prayers trail after, trying to heal the wounds.

And by His stripes alone are we healed.

Read it all here.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

St Benedict of Nursia on Humility

Today we commemorate St Benedict of Nursia, the Father of Western Monasticism and author of the Rule. The quotation below the icon is from his chapter on humility.

Holy Scripture, brethren, cries out to us, saying,
"Everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled,
and he who humbles himself shall be exalted" (Luke 14:11).
In saying this it shows us
that all exaltation is a kind of pride,
against which the Prophet proves himself to be on guard
when he says,
"Lord, my heart is not exalted,
nor are mine eyes lifted up;
neither have I walked in great matters,
nor in wonders above me."
But how has he acted?
"Rather have I been of humble mind
than exalting myself;
as a weaned child on its mother's breast,
so You solace my soul" (Ps. 130:1-2).

Hence, brethren,
if we wish to reach the very highest point of humility
and to arrive speedily at that heavenly exaltation
to which ascent is made through the humility of this present life,
we must by our ascending actions
erect the ladder Jacob saw in his dream,
on which Angels appeared to him descending and ascending.
By that descent and ascent
we must surely understand nothing else than this,
that we descend by self-exaltation and ascend by humility.
And the ladder thus set up is our life in the world,
which the Lord raises up to heaven if our heart is humbled.
For we call our body and soul the sides of the ladder,
and into these sides our divine vocation has inserted
the different steps of humility and discipline we must climb.

For more on his life, click here.

icon from the website of the Orthodox Church in America

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Bishop HILARION on Pope and Putin

Interfax-Religion has posted an interesting interview with Bishop HILARION on the upcoming visit of His Holiness Benedict XVI and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Here's a snippet:

Does the Russian Orthodox Church expect anything of the meeting between President Putin and Pope Benedict XVI?

I dare to hope that this meeting will help some further warming in relationships between the Vatican and Russia. It is going to be a meeting of the two heads of their respective states, both of whom have a handful of common tasks to deal with. However, it is also going to be a meeting between two Christians, each of whom bears high responsibility for the lives of the others.

Nowadays, the whole long-established people’s life-mode is traumatized due to total liberalization of morals influenced by secular and atheistic ideology. The most fundamental features of human existence, such as family and birthgiving are no longer enjoy priority in among the modern person’s values and are therefore put under threat. This results in an extreme demographic crisis that both Russia and Western European nations are facing.

In this circumstances Russia and the Vatican have many things to do jointly to defend traditional moral values, and I hope that the meeting between the Russian President Putin and Pope Benedict will contribute into our common cause...

Read it all here.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Saint Helen: Pilgrim Archaeologist

On March 6, we commemorate the Holy Empress Helen, who uncovered the Precious Cross and Nails of our Lord Jesus at Jerusalem in 326.

At the beginning of the reign of St Constantine the Great (306-337), the first Roman emperor to recognize Christianity, he and his pious mother St Helen decided to rebuild the city of Jerusalem. They also planned to build a church on the site of the Lord's suffering and Resurrection, in order to reconsecrate and purify the places connected with the Savior's death and Resurrection from the foul taint of paganism.

The empress Helen journeyed to Jerusalem with a large quantity of gold. St Constantine wrote a letter to Patriarch Macarius I (313-323), requesting him to assist her in every possible way with her task of the restoring the Christian holy places.

After her arrival in Jerusalem, the holy empress Helen began to destroy all the pagan temples and reconsecrate the places which had been defiled by the pagans.

In her quest for the Life-Creating Cross, she questioned several Christians and Jews, but for a long time her search remained unsuccessful. Finally, an elderly Hebrew named Jude told her that the Cross was buried beneath the temple of Venus. St Helen ordered that the pagan temple be demolished, and for the site to be excavated. Soon they found Golgotha and the Lord's Sepulchre. Not far from the spot were three crosses, a board with the inscription written by Pilate (John 19:19), and four nails which had pierced the Lord's Body.

Now the task was to determine on which of the three crosses the Savior had been crucified. Patriarch Macarius saw a dead person being carried to his grave, then he ordered that the dead man be placed upon each cross in turn. When the corpse was placed on the Cross of Christ, he was immediately restored to life. After seeing the raising of the dead man, everyone was convinced that the Life-Creating Cross had been found. With great joy the empress Helen and Patriarch Macarius lifted the Life-Creating Cross and displayed it to all the people standing about.

adapted from the menologion at www.oca.org