Friday, December 21, 2007

Icons will save the world

What a delightful Christmas gift!

Treat yourself to reading this article on the First Things website:

"Icons Will Save the World," by Susan Cushman

Here's a snip:


Icons point to beauty and art as a means of experiencing God. In a time when our senses are bombarded with the base things of this world at every turn, now, more than ever, we need for those senses to be sanctified. Saint John of Damascus called sacred images “the books of the illiterate,” and asserted that icons sanctify the sense of sight for those who gaze upon them.

Suppose I have few books, or little leisure for reading, but walk into the spiritual hospital—that is to say, a church—with my soul choking from the prickles of thorny thoughts, and thus afflicted I see before me the brilliance of the icon. I am refreshed as if in a verdant meadow, and thus my soul is led to glorify God. I marvel at the martyr’s endurance, at the crown he won, and, inflamed with burning zeal, I fall down to worship God through His martyr, and so receive salvation.

If this description of a first-millennium saint’s experience seems too removed from our contemporary life, I wonder if that’s because we have lost the concept of the Church as a spiritual hospital? Or because, in our fast-paced lives, we have forgotten how to slow down and let the beauty of God’s house touch and heal our fragmented psyches?

I have a dear friend from a life-long evangelical background who has been visiting my parish for several years. Although she usually goes with her family to their Presbyterian church on Sundays, she frequents St. John for some of the weekday services. She has told me that, as much as the prayers themselves (usually Third Hour, a short service of Psalms and prayers observed at nine on weekday mornings) bless her, it’s the icons that are having such a powerful effect on her heart. Sitting alone in the nave after the prayers, gazing at the icon of Christ on the cross—the one the priest carries in procession on Holy Friday—she is sometimes moved to contrition. At other times, she feels a longing for a deeper relationship with Christ. She is almost always filled with a sense of his love and peace, on a deeper level—one that transcends emotions. And yes, sometimes her eyes are filled with tears.

Anton Vrame would say that my friend has had an encounter with icons, that the icon actually invites a response: “There is a psychological dimension to the icons in that they sanctify vision, and through it, all bodily senses, pointing to a holistic approach to knowledge and Christian living.”


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: Many Years!

Today is the birthday of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the renowned Russian novelist, dramatist, and historian. His work made the world aware of the Gulag - the Soviet labor camp system. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1970 and exiled from the Soviet Union in 1974. He returned to Russian in 1994, the same year he was elected as a member of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts in the Department of Language and Literature.

The following quotation is characteristic of his thought:

If humanism were right in declaring that man is born to be happy, he would not be born to die. Since his body is doomed to die, his task on earth evidently must be of a more spiritual nature. It cannot unrestrained enjoyment of everyday life. It cannot be the search for the best ways to obtain material goods and then cheerfully get the most out of them. It has to be the fulfillment of a permanent, earnest duty so that one's life journey may become an experience of moral growth, so that one may leave life a better human being than one started it. It is imperative to review the table of widespread human values. Its present incorrectness is astounding. It is not possible that assessment of the President's performance be reduced to the question of how much money one makes or of unlimited availability of gasoline. Only voluntary, inspired self-restraint can raise man above the world stream of materialism.

It would be retrogression to attach oneself today to the ossified formulas of the Enlightenment. Social dogmatism leaves us completely helpless in front of the trials of our times.

Even if we are spared destruction by war, our lives will have to change if we want to save life from self-destruction. We cannot avoid revising the fundamental definitions of human life and human society. Is it true that man is above everything? Is there no Superior Spirit above him? Is it right that man's life and society's activities have to be determined by material expansion in the first place? Is it permissible to promote such expansion to the detriment of our spiritual integrity?

If the world has not come to its end, it has approached a major turn in history, equal in importance to the turn from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. It will exact from us a spiritual upsurge, we shall have to rise to a new height of vision, to a new level of life where our physical nature will not be cursed as in the Middle Ages, but, even more importantly, our spiritual being will not be trampled upon as in the Modern era.

This ascension will be similar to climbing onto the next anthropologic stage. No one on earth has any other way left but -- upward.

- from "A World Split Apart," an address given at Harvard University on June 8, 1978

Thursday, December 06, 2007

"Forgiveness is Healing" by Fr George Morelli

And Jesus said, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34).

In almost every spiritual text anger is listed as one of several deadly sins. In his classic work, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, St. John of the Ladder discusses anger in the eighth step of the ladder; and anger's dependent vice malice in the ninth step of the ladder. St. John tells us: "Anger is an indication of concealed hatred, of grievance nursed. Anger is the wish to harm someone who has provoked you. Irascibility is an untimely flaring up of the heart. Bitterness is a stirring of the soul's capacity for displeasure. Anger is ... a disfigurement of the soul."

- read it all on Orthodoxy Today