Orthodox Survival Course, Class 11

Orthodox Survival Course

St. Irene Orthodox Church

Rochester Hills, Michigan


The notes below are just a brief summary of everything that we talk about.  For the most benefit, listen to the audio! The podcast of this session can be listened to at www.spreaker.com/user/youngfaithradio/orthodox-survival-course-class-11

Class 11 – The Latin High Middle Ages

A [Western]Christian of the fourth or fifth century would have felt less bewildered by the forms of piety current in the 11th century than his counterpart of the 11th century in the forms of the 12th. The great break occurred in the transition period from the one to the other century. This change took place only in the West where, sometime between the end of the 11th and the end of the 12th century, everything was somehow transformed. This profound alteration of view did not take place in the East, where, in some respects, Christian matters are still today what they were then – and what they were in the West before the end of the 11th century.-Yves Congar, O.P., After Nine Hundred Years (Fordham University Press, 1959, p. 39), quoted by Hieromonk Seraphim (Rose), in the introduction to his translation of the Vita Patrum of St. Gregory of Tours (St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1988, p. 70)

Introduction – We are now beginning Part II of our course, in which we hope to trace the development of Western European thought and culture from the time in which the Western Church left the unity of Orthodoxy until now. Necessarily, this will be a sad story. You might say that the first part of our course was the really enjoyable part, in which we reviewed what Orthodoxy is. Now we will do the hard work of understanding what it is not, and how the subtle change from Orthodoxy to what can be called “papism” or “Latinism” in the 12th and 13th centuries began a process that became an avalanche of change that led to the drastic secularism and apostasy of today. One could summarize this entire process by saying that at the beginning, Western European Christians made a subtle shift from trusting in Holy Tradition to trusting in reason, and now, nearly a thousand years later, reason having made many twists and turns, and finally proving inadequate to deal with the greater questions of life, they have plunged into suicidal irrationality of all kinds. They fell from that which is above nature to nature, and now what we see today is hatred of nature itself, a demonic hatred and destruction of everything. Tonight we will examine how this started.

We are now entering the part of our course which is dealt with in Fr. Seraphim Rose’s lectures. Tonight’s subject is dealt with in Lecture 2, “The Middle Ages,” for those of you who want to study the transcripts of his lectures in tandem with our discussions. Fr. Seraphim divides his talk into an Introduction and four topics: Scholasticism, Romance, New Concept of Sanctity, Joachim of Floris (a teacher of a kind of chiliast utopian eschatology), Art, and Politics. We will follow his outline, and tonight we will try to cover three topics: Scholasticism, Romance, and the New Concept of Sanctity.

In his introduction, Fr. Seraphim quotes from two writers, the 19th century Russian Orthodox Ivan Kireyevsky, who with Alexei Khomiakov can be said to be the founder of the “Slavophile” movement, and the Dominican modernist theologian, Yves Congar. Kireyevsky traces the beginnings of the problems with the medieval schismatic papal church to a tendency in the [West] Roman mind from the beginning, to trust overmuch in logical deduction and to value the external aspect of the church over the interior, spiritual aspect. Congar, though his conclusion is not that the West should return to Orthodoxy but somehow create a “new theology” created by people like him, did accurately identify what happened in the transition of the 12th and 13th centuries, a transition from theology based on “…a predominantly essentialist and exemplarist outlook to a naturalistic one, an interest in existence,” and “…[a] transition from a culture where tradition reigned and the habit of synthesis became ingrained, to an academic milieu in where continual questioning and research was the norm, and analysis the normal result of study.”

A. Scholasticism – Scholasticism is the name given to the philosophical and theological thought of men like Albertus Magnus and, pre-eminently, Thomas Aquinas, in the period of the 12th through the 14th centuries, who applied the philosophy of Aristotle and the tools of dialectic to explaining and defending theological and philosophical positions acceptable to the Western church of that time. We have to realize that at the time, many Church authorities in the West were against the Scholastics, because they could see that they were overemphasizing the use of reason, and that this could lead to a break with Tradition. Finally, however, the Scholastics, having come close to being anathematized by the popes, were approved, and finally their method became the only one accepted by the Western church.

Even before the “classic” period of scholasticism, in the 12th and 13th centuries, we have the key figure of Anselm of Bec, or of Canterbury, (+1109) who in his famous Proslogion redefined the goal of theological thought as fides quaerens intellectum– “faith seeking understanding.” In other words, instead of the mind (the intellectus) seeking to know through faith, through being transformed by God’s Word and by spiritual life, faith is seen as somehow defective, lacking knowledge, and seeking more certain truth through intellectual effort. This is really the basis of the whole modern error of “faith vs. reason,” as if faith is “blind” and “fundamentalistic” and “reason” is real knowledge. We already see this error in the East with Barlaam of Calabria, the famous opponent of St. Gregory Palamas in the 14th century.

Fr. Seraphim, in his lecture, goes into detail about one of Thomas Aquinas’s (+1274) demonstrations, but we don’t need to spend time on that now. The important thing to understand is that, for the Holy Fathers, Aristotle, Plato, and all philosophical method, are auxiliary to theology. The Church’s theology is revealed by God and testified to by the Apostles, Fathers, and saints. At the Ecumenical Councils, the Holy Fathers testified to what they had received, and they worked with the language of the philosophers strictly, in a limited way, as a tool, to bring out more precisely and beautifully the Tradition that everyone already believed in. The schoolmen would accept this basic idea, but in their efforts to defend the Faith they began to enclose the Faith in their syllogisms and arguments, and finally the popes began to dictate that only their explanations and definitions were the legitimate interpretation of Tradition. The problem here is that once you enter this process of dialectic, there is nothing to stop it – for every thesis there is an antithesis, and so forth, and you’ve let the horse out of the barn.

So Richard Weaver’s idea, in Ideas Have Consequences, that the degeneration of the West starts in the 14th century with nominalism, does not go deeply enough into the problem. The problem is that the scholastics invited Ockham’s critique by leaving the security of Holy Tradition and the authority of the Fathers for the uncertain project of dialectical criticism of all the Church’s teachings.

B. Romance – The high middle ages see the beginnings of romantic literature, and the romantic ideal. We see this in secular literature such as the French chansons, Arthurian literature, the mystery plays, and the highly romanticized ideas about chivalric love and so forth. But it also finds its way into church literature and, ultimately, into spiritual life. In Church literature, a pre-eminent example Fr. Seraphim talks about is The Golden Legend, and in spiritual life, the first and greatest example is the life of Francis of Assisi.

C. New Concept of Sanctity – This romanticism is exemplified in the career of Francis of Assisi (+1225), who is a key figure in the whole development of non-Orthodox Western Christian life and thought. Francis claimed to have received a revelation which commanded him to create an entirely new kind of monastic life which was not bound by the monastic tradition witnessed to in the Desert Fathers, St. Basil, St. Benedict, and so forth, a life of wandering “troubadours for Christ” who would go around and amaze everybody by their lyric, emotional, enthusiastic “love” for everyone and everything. Francis was the ultimate example, and he certainly thought he was something special. He had the hubris to ask to receive the physical wounds of Our Lord on his body, and, in a bizarre vision of extreme delusion, he did! Here we see the beginning of the whole Western church getting unmoored from the safe harbor of the teachings of the Fathers about sobriety and true prayer, and launching out into the uncharted and dangerous sea of emotionalism and fantastic, imaginative, and, frankly, carnal experiences taken as spiritual experiences.

So by the end of this period we have a “new church” of dialectical theology instead of traditional theology, and romantic, imaginative spiritual life instead of the authentic teaching of the Fathers on spiritual life. It is already really a new religion.

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Orthodox Survival Course, Class 10

Orthodox Survival Course

St. Irene Orthodox Church

Rochester Hills, Michigan


Class 10 – Review of Our Purpose, Models of History, Overview of Part II

The notes below are just a brief summary of everything that we talk about.  For the most benefit, listen to the audio! The podcast of this session can be listened to at www.spreaker.com/user/youngfaithradio/orthodox-survival-course-class-10

A. Review of Our Purpose

Why is our class called “Orthodox Survival Course”? The reason is that, to survive in your situation, you must understand it, understand why things around you came to be the way they are, and therefore how to think about them and respond to them. We all have a lot of “data” coming our way – there is no shortage of “data.” What most Orthodox people lack is the right lens to view this data, the right framework or background in which to see it, the right model of reality within which one can understand it. This lens or model or framework is what we are calling our “Orthodox Worldview.”

An integral part of learning this worldview is learning an Orthodox philosophy of history, not simply the “data” of history – though one must have that, of course – but a unifying understanding of history, a comprehensive explanation that fits all of the pieces of the puzzle together in an Orthodox way.

In Lecture 1 of his “Survival Course,” Fr. Seraphim (Rose) points out that the Orthodox explanation of the world is the only philosophy that is not “sectarian.” Even if there are very few real Orthodox, they are not sectarians, because what makes a faith or philosophy truly universal, truly catholic in the original meaning of the word, is that it does not take a little piece of truth and reduce everything to that, and limit the understanding to a little clique of people “in the know,” but rather it embraces all of reality and gives it the right meaning, which is the same meaning for everyone.

Today we have a tiny elite who are “in the know” and impose a false reality on everyone through the giant brainwashing machine of the media and educational complex, and even though it is the “mainstream” view of reality, it is still “sectarian” in that it is reductionistic and its “true meaning” is really only known by the power elite. Then there are many, less powerful, but still powerful competing sectarian philosophies, religions, groups, etc., but, again, they all take a fragment of reality and then build a whole system based on that. The papists build their system on the pope, each Protestant sect on its preacher’s interpretation of the Bible, the Mormons on the Book of Mormon, the Jews on the Talmud, the Mohammedans on the Koran, etc. The numbers of people who believe in this or that worldview is not essential to evaluating its worth; what is essential is how much of the truth the worldview comprehends.

Orthodoxy is the catholic worldview, in that it truly comprehensive and universally available. It does not reduce reality to a fragment, and it is true for everyone, not just an elite. Whether people accept it or not is up to them, and at any given time, perhaps only a few accept it. But it is still the one completely true way of seeing things, and it is intended by God for everyone.

The goal of our course is to understand how the world around us got to be the way it is today, by using our truly catholic, Orthodox worldview to understand the history of the dominant culture of the past 500 years, which we will call roughly the “Western” culture, that is, the culture of Western Europe and the Anglo-sphere – Britain and her colonies. Though Orthodoxy is the truth, Orthodoxy as a world influence has been “sidelined” for a long time, and due to Western Europe’s dominant position in world affairs for many centuries, its aggressively secular worldview has become the “mainstream” philosophy of life for everyone. How did the Christians who were once our brothers – the Western Christians – become the vehicle for the dominance of materialism, secularism, and atheism in the world, at the same time considering themselves Christians (at least until recently)? To understand this will bring us a long way to understanding where we stand now in the story of world history, and what our duty is today as Orthodox, what we must do to serve God and save our souls in this present situation.

One caveat is that we must guard ourselves against thinking that as Orthodox we are exempt from the results of this millennial degeneration. We are not. Our faith is Orthodox – may God grant – but our way of life, unless we live in a very isolated situation, is powerfully influenced to conform to the secular values of the “Western” society to a greater or lesser extent. One benefit of our course is give us a starting point for changing our thinking and thus our behavior by helping us to see accurately and to be honest about the false ideas that we have inherited and that we believe without even realizing it.

The most powerful false ideas are precisely those which we have and do not know that we have. “Ideas have consequences,” “Our thoughts govern our lives…” This is a concept I think that all we know and accept by now. But we must now also do the hard work of uprooting the false ideas, the false thoughts, and accept the truth, and then do the even harder work of conforming our lives to the truth.

In Part I of our course, the first ten sessions, which we called The Church of the Romans, we reviewed the key attributes of the “Church of the First Millennium,” which still remains today and is, simply, the Orthodox Church of all times. Part II of our course, for which we have been preparing, and whose subject matter is the subject also of both Fr. Seraphim’s “Survival Course” and Richard Weaver’s Ideas Have Consequences, is primarily an intellectual history of the second millennium of Western Christendom, which is really, from our Holy Fathers’ point of view, a tragic history of the degeneration of the true philosophy of Orthodoxy into progressively more fragmented and more misleading, false ideas. These false ideas in turn have generated bad customs, bad practices, bad culture, bad art, bad politics, and so forth and so on, until we have come to the situation we are in today, which just about everyone, whatever his beliefs, regards as apocalyptic – everyone senses, feels that we are on the edge of a knife, that things cannot go on as they are going now.

“It is later than we think.” So we have a certain urgency to understand our recent history in light of God’s holy truth, in light of Orthodoxy, conform our lives to this understanding, and try to use this understanding to help those around us, to build little “arks” to survive the “flood” to come, as we strive to remain in the Ark, the True Church. Part III of course will propose to offer practical consequences of the good ideas we will have learned in Parts I and II, positive steps to take to do God’s holy will to be like Noah and preserve our loved ones in the True Faith in the midst of the coming cataclysm. But now for Part II.

B. Models of History

Before going on to the outline of Part II of our course, I would like offer three linear “models” with which to understand history, which will help us to understand where most people today are “coming from,” as they say, and to help us also to understand how the Church’s “model” offers us the way out of the doomed way of life that the false models offer to people. Both Model 1 and Model 2 are essentially worldly and deterministic, though often their believers enforce them with fanatic, “religious” zeal. Only Model 3, the Scriptural-Patristic model, takes into account all of reality, both visible and invisible, and all of what man’s potentiality is, both for good and for evil.

Note that all three models are linear in some way, not cyclical. They posit a beginning and an end. Models 1 and 2 are basically heretical forms of the Christian historical view of reality – they propose a kind of beginning and an end of all things, and a form of “salvation.” But since they can’t offer a real explanation for beginnings and endings, or for salvation, since they are worldly and deterministic, they end up collapsing into a cyclical view, that “stuff happens” and then “happens all over again.”

I am going to attach to these notes some diagrams I drew to illustrate the three models, and I ask your indulgence for their crudeness – I am not a good artist, nor do I know how to use or even own any design software. But I think they will give you a decent idea of what I am talking about. I welcome expert assistance in producing better versions for future use!

Model 1 – The Progressive Model

This can also be called the “evolutionary” or “optimistic” model. Here everything starts with the original “blob” or Ur-stuff or whatever you want to call it, and evolves into higher and higher, better and better forms of everything, towards some “bright future.” It starts with an inorganic blob and “evolves” into the most advanced civilizations, etc, and then goes out into the planets and stars and colonizes them and so forth and so on indefinitely, into some kind of secular “eternity” that will never end. All the time “things are getting better and better every day in every way.” This is the dominant model of today’s power elite, or at least what they brainwash everyone else into believing, though they probably know it is ridiculous. Some main corollaries of this idea are

– The past is bad, the future is good, but the future is never here, so we have to keep “progressing.” Change is ceaseless. Stasis is impossible. Whatever we are thinking and doing today is always better than what people thought or did in the past. But we must think and do differently tomorrow than what we are thinking and doing today.

– The only virtue is to submit to the evolutionary process. The only vice is to oppose it. If you get in the way of “progress,” you are bad. If you cooperate with “progress,” you are good. If you do not believe in progress, you are either a heretic or mentally ill. Either way, you have to be “dealt with.”

There are two main variants of this model. One is deterministic and fatalistic, leaving no room for human decision or choice, such as in Hegelianism and Marxism. This is actually the more consistent. The other is the “liberal” model of humanist or “Christian” progressivism, which says that “do-gooders” have to work to advance the “march of history.” These people are superficially admirable, in a kind of Disney movie sort of way, but actually are very silly and deluded, and they usually make up the demographic of “useful idiots” that the real revolutionaries contemptuously do away with once they have served their purpose of demoralizing the real Christians, hollowing out the Christian institutions from the inside.

Model 2 – Inevitable Decline

This could also be called the “nostalgic” or “pessimistic” model. Here everything starts with an original Perfection, a Golden Age, from which everything subsequently declined, and this decline is, like “progress” in Model 1, inevitable. People are getting stupider and more evil all the time; morality, art, politics – all cultural manifestations – get lower and lower, and finally there is a Gotterdammerung, a final catastrophic destruction of everything.

This model appeals only to aristocratic and noble souls who are willing to fight on, knowing that they will be defeated in the end. Unlike progressivism, whose elite does not really believe in progress but only their own lust for power, and who use “progress” to delude the masses, “decline-ism” attracts a sincerely believing – and necessarily tiny – elite who don’t have Christian hope yet want to “do the right thing” anyway. The ethics of stoicism and some forms of existentialism fit in with this model. In this model, virtue consists in doing one’s duty in the face of final defeat. Only a small aristocracy trained to virtue understand this duty, and their happiness lies in doing it until the end. Vice is the normal state of the vast majority, who are hopelessly corrupt, and of the aristocrats who abandon their duty and join “the herd.”

Unlike the pedestrian, fatuous, and self-indulgent stupidity of progressivism, this view is noble and heroic – it invites the sympathy of better minds – but it is also not true.

Model 3 – Original Goodness, Sin, Temporal Decline, Eternal Triumph

This “model,” the view of history we find in the Bible and the Holy Fathers, is the only complete model, both because it takes into account the invisible as well as the visible realm, and because it offers the only satisfyingly comprehensive understanding – sympathetic but realistic – of man’s capacity for both good and evil. The first two models are this-worldly; they don’t admit any Divine Providence. The first model is stupidly optimistic about human goodness – whatever new nonsense human beings come up with “must” be good, and sin is an unknown concept. The second model is sadly pessimistic – man is just doomed, and that’s all there is to it. Only the third model offers the real solution to the whole thing – man was created good, fell, mixes evil with whatever good he does, can’t save himself, needs a Savior, has a Savior, and can overcome evil through the Savior’s grace. History is kind of up and down, with the outward tendency being mostly down, but inwardly often very triumphant, and ultimately, after things can’t possibly get any worse, God will triumph cosmically and eternally, or rather God has already triumphed *and* will triumph.

Only this model takes into account that the most important historical processes are invisible and inward, going on in the angelic universe, in which man is also a participant through the struggle within his own soul. Outward, temporal processes are but manifestations of this invisible and inward struggle.

As we go through the sad story of the second Christian millennium, we will always be trying to temper the sadness by seeing this period of decline in the context of God’s overall victory. All of our study should aim at giving us both realism – yes – but also – more importantly – hope. All things are under God’s Providence, and all things tend to His final victory.

C. Overview of Part II, the Decline of the West

It is hard for me to foresee how many classes this is going to take, and how many individual sessions we should devote to each historical period respectively. But here is a rough outline:

The Transition Period – the 12th – 13th centuries. This period demands very close study, and perhaps is the most important to understand, because it is the key period when Western Christianity really became something quite different, and when the whole mechanism of spiritual decline was launched. It is very important, in particular, that we accomplish this task well as an Orthodox “prelude” to Weaver’s otherwise excellent book, whose author mistakenly believed and taught that the process of decline began in the 14th century, with the assault on Scholasticism by Ockham. Key themes in this period include Scholasticism, romance, high papism as a form of chiliasm, and the changing view of sanctity.

The Renaissance – Though many regard the Middle Ages as ending roughly at 1500, the intellectual and spiritual roots of the Renaissance clearly go back to the 14th century, both in the Nominalism of Ockham and the Neo-Paganism of Early Renaissance Italy. So for our purposes we will call the “Renaissance” period roughly 1300 to 1600. But of course, there is a lot of overlap from the medieval period into the “Renaissance” and “Reformation,” and overlap of the “Renaissance” and “Reformation” periods into the Counter-Reformation and then the “Enlightenment.”

The Reformation – the Protestant Revolt against the papal church, which requires its own study as being simultaneous with but not identical to the “Renaissance.” 1500 – mid 1600’s.

The Counter-Reformation – Mid-1500’s till “Vatican II” – The reaction of the papal church and its faithful peoples to the Protestant Revolt. This will also include the Reaction against “Enlightenment” and the age of Revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The “Enlightenment” – Mid-1600’s to 1789 – The period in which human reason and science are enshrined as supreme in man’s understanding of the universe and in his activities in the world.

The Age of Revolution – 1789 – Now. The current period of the open overthrow of the old Christian order of society.

Again, this is a rough outline. We will try to refine it and fill it out as we go along. At each stage, we will attempt not only to describe the errors of the period, but also what was still good about each period, and, most importantly, the Orthodox corrective to these errors.

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Orthodox Survival Course, Class 9

Orthodox Survival Course

St. Irene Orthodox Church

Rochester Hills, Michigan


Class 9 – The Church of the Romans: Topic 6, Church and State

The notes below are just a brief summary of everything that we talk about.  For the most benefit, listen to the audio! The podcast of this session can be listened to at www.spreaker.com/user/youngfaithradio/orthodox-survival-course-class-9

I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. I Timothy 2: 1-4.

Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.I Peter 2:15.

the whole world is like one well-ordered and united family. For our Emperor, invested as he is with the semblance of heavenly sovereignty, directs his gaze above and frames his earthly government according to the pattern of the divine original, finding strength in its conformity to the monarchy of God.”Eusebius of Caesaria, Oration in Praise of Constantine (English translation, 1845, p. 303), quoted by Christopher Dawson, The Formation of Christendom (Ignatius Press reprint 2008, p. 140)

Introduction – Our final class on the Orthodox Church of the first millennium is on the relationship of the Church to the state. I apologize that I was not able to prepare a complete set of notes for tonight’s class. Instead, we have reprinted below the summary of our course on Orthodox political theory, which we held last year. It contains the main points I wanted to make tonight.

Orthodox Political Theory

A Study of Politics from Cain to Constantine, by Vladimir Moss

Final Class – Summary


We began this mini-course in response to the turmoil in current political life. It is essential that Orthodox Christians look beyond the chaos of contemporary life and understand the timeless truths that our Faith teaches, including truths about political authority and the organization of society.

Our vocation in the current situation is to rise above political passions and witness to the timeless truths of the Faith, in order to help our neighbors.

I. The nature of legitimate authority:

A. All legitimate authority derives from above, from God, and not from below (thepeople”). This is extremely important to remember in light of our country’s political philosophy being so influenced by the 18th century idea of the “sovereign will of the people.”

B. We see right from the beginning, in Genesis, that God established earthly authority in the persons of Adam and his consort, Eve, as possessing a delegated authority over creation.

1. Adam, as head of his family, is the prototype for all earthly rulers.

2. We see here, then, that godly authority derives from God, and is hierarchical, patriarchal, and familial.

II. False Models of Authority

A. The pagan god-king

i. arose after the corruption of the human race

ii. not only is all civic and priestly authority vested in one man, but he is worshipped as a god or The God.

iii. invariably involved with human (usually infant) sacrifice and immoral sexuality, connected to demonically distorted ideas of fertility and material success

B. The Utopias of the Philosophers

i. Plato and Aristotle had many important insights, but ultimately their vision was flawed because of incomplete understanding of human nature, the reality of sin, and, of course, their lack of knowledge of the true God.

ii. Their valuable insights, however, still shed light and can be incorporated into an Orthodox Philosophy of Politics. Examples include Plato’s Allegory of the Cave as an illustration of the need to be ruled not by the most rich or powerful but by the most wise, and his theory of the Tripartite Powers of the Soul; as well as Aristotle’s explanation of three forms of legitimate government (monarchy, aristocracy, and politeia [res publica]) and their corresponding corruptions (tyranny, oligarchy, and mob-rule).

III. True Models of Authority

A. Sacred Kingship in the Old Testament Church

i. Key figure is David, who was called by God precisely because of his personal holiness. He is the archetypal image of the Good King.

ii. The sacerdotal and kingly powers are separate.

iii. The king is not God, and his rule is not arbitrary, but bound by the law of God.

iv. The king protects the Old Testament Church structure (the temple, the priests, etc.), and they are loyal subjects of the king, not rivals to the king.

B. Sacred Kingship in the New Testament Church

i. Key figure is St. Constantine. ii., iii, and iv above are all present.

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Orthodox Survival Course, Class 8

Orthodox Survival Course

St. Irene Orthodox Church

Rochester Hills, Michigan


The notes below are just a brief summary of everything that we talk about.  For the most benefit, listen to the audio! The podcast of this session can be listened to at www.spreaker.com/user/youngfaithradio/orthodox-survival-course-class-8

Class 8 – The Church of the Romans: Topic 5, Church and Nation

For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, after whom every family [Gk patria = paternity, family, nation] in heaven and earth is named… Ephesians 3:14-15

[God] hath made out of one blood every nation [Gk ethnos] of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation that they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us… – the words of St. Paul to the Athenians, Acts 17: 26-27

Once, when He descended and confounded the tongues, the Most High divided the nations; and when He divided the tongues of fire, He called all men into unity; and with one accord we glorify the All-Holy Spirit.- the Kontakion of Pentecost

Introduction – I had originally intended to treat the Church’s relationship to the nation and to the state in one session, but later I realized that we really needed two classes to discuss these two related yet distinct questions. The nation is the organic reality of a people formed over many generations and united by some combination of religion, blood, language, soil, and culture, which may or may not enjoy its own proper political independence, sovereignty, and unity. Some nations have endured for many centuries as identifiable ethnic entities under the rule of other people, but they are still nations. The state is the political system set up over a nation or, in the case of an empire, a group of nations. Historically and theologically, the Church has a relationship to both of these things as distinct yet related realities. Tonight we will discuss Church and nation.

When we come to our study of the West after the schism and the rise of secular culture during the Renaissance, we will notice that a key element of the new, post-Orthodox culture, is the glorification of the individual. This individualism, which has come to be seen as a defining “Western value,” is inimical to the Christian Faith and to one’s salvation, because it ignores two fundamental structures God designed to be the mandatory schools of love and self-sacrifice, within which the Christian must function to be truly human as well as truly Christian: the family and the nation, which is the natural extension of the family. An orphaned and rootless person with no family, no nation, no identity other than simply being a human being, can be saved, but only with great difficulty. God designed family and nation, and the Church baptized whole families, tribes, and nations, as the normal framework within which the soul can find its way with greater ease and security to the Heavenly Kingdom.

  1. Back to Genesis – Patriarchy, Family, and Nations

Monogamy, fruitfulness, patriarchy – The family, of course, goes back to the beginning of the human race, an integral part of God’s design for man. God creates Adam, creates Eve from his rib, and commands them to “increase and multiply.” In the book of Genesis there are several genealogies, tracing the “increase and multiplication” of the various races of man, father to son. Thus we see monogamous marriage marked by fruitful childbearing and patriarchy from the very beginning, as God’s plan for the human race. In all subsequent human history, these three pillars of the family – monogamy, fruitfulness, and patriarchy – are the mark of healthy societies and strong nations,

and in particular they are the only arrangement for family life blessed by the Church. Societies marked by matriarchy, the avoidance of childbearing, and/or polygamy, polyandry, and so forth, are invariably stunted, chaotic, and degenerate in comparison.

The division into races of men – Before the Flood, the great division in the races is between the sons of Cain and the sons of Seth, the wicked and the good. Finally the sons of Seth, except for Noah, are seduced by the beauty of the daughters of the Cainites, they fall away, the entire human race becomes depraved, and God destroys all but Noah and his immediate family by the Flood, after which Noah becomes the father of the human race all over again. His descendants in turn become corrupt, attempt to build the Tower of Babel, and are scattered by God across the face of the earth. This scattering, with its concomitant multiplication of languages, is the origin of the races and nations of man we see until this day.

Thus the origin of the races is due to sin, but creating the various races or nations was the act of God, in order to limit the spread of sin, and therefore the division into various races and nations is blessed by God and becomes part of His plan for man’s salvation. It is essential to understand that all plans in history to create a “universal brotherhood of man” apart from the grace-filled unity of the Church contradict the express will of God.

II. The Chosen People

After the division of the nations, God chose one nation, the descendants of Abraham through Isaac, to be the Old Testament Church. The prophets prophesied the day when all the nations would be called into God’s Church, but the carnal-minded among the Old Testament Church stubbornly refused to accept their word and persecuted and killed several of them. When the leaders of the Jewish race turned against the promised Messiah, Our Lord Jesus Christ, they decisively chose to worship their own race over God Himself. This ethno-idolatry is the “flip side” of the coin of universalist utopianism, the One World idea. Both are heretical.

III. The Pentecostal Unity

As expressed by the Kontakion of Pentecost, which we read above, God restored human unity in the Church. In so doing, He did not eradicate racial or national differences, as indicated by the Apostles’ miraculously speaking in the various tongues of the nations gathered in Jerusalem. Rather, He sanctified and elevated national characters, creating a spiritual unity among the diversity of nations, just as He does not eradicate our personalities and make us uniform “clones” as we grow in the Orthodox

Faith, but rather enhances and sanctifies our unique personalities as we simultaneously, paradoxically, grow closer in spiritual unity with each other. In the Church we have the true and life-giving “diversity” and “multicultural” humanity, as opposed to the deadly uniformity created when fallen man tries to create a “global society.”

The Church Herself is supernatural and supranational. She is from above, a divine institution. She is not limited to one nation, but gathers all the nations into a supranational unity in the Body of Christ. This unity, however, does not destroy personal, family, clan, national, or racial characteristics, but elevates and sanctifies them.

      1. The Roman Empire and the Nations

The Roman Empire was not an ethnic group but a vast polity encompassing many ethnic groups. The Hellenistic culture of the society in which the early New Testament Church first grew was not a racial phenomenon but rather a paideia, a training to live as civilized men. Just as the Church gathered in the nations, into spiritual unity that simultaneously allowed the healthy expressions of race and nation, so the Empire and its ancient culture, baptized by the Church, hosted and leavened a multitude of nations that today still trace their origins to Church and to Empire. At first the Church baptized the existing nations within the Empire, peoples who already possessed the civilized arts. Later, with the incursion of the barbarian tribes into the Empire, and the missionary outreach of the Church outside the Empire, the Church gave birth ab initio to entire Christian nations, giving formerly uncivilized people the arts of civilization. As She made Christians out of heathens, she simultaneously made Romans out of barbarians. This process characterizes in particular the baptism of the German and Celtic nations by the Western Church and the baptism of the Slavic nations by the Eastern Church.

The Church of the first millennium then, prior to the schism, both East and West, understood Herself as the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, supernatural and supranational, but at the same time a communion of local or national churches, each of which possessed the fulness of the catholic faith and unity with the entire Church, Whose mission was not to obliterate but rather elevate and develop the character of the newly baptized nations. By remaining faithful to God’s plan for the human race to remain divided into nations, the Church avoids the heresy of universalist utopianism, of chiliasm. By insisting on the ontological oneness of the universal Church in Her dogmas, priesthood, and Holy Mysteries, the Church avoids the heresy of ethno-idolatry. From “the rising of the sun to the setting thereof,” the Church is One.

Later, after the Schism, the exaggerated pretensions of the papacy will develop into a type of universalist chiliasm, and, later still, the Reformation, Renaissance, and Enlightenment will encourage the growth of individualism. These two errors will lead the West farther and farther away from the diversity in unity and unity in diversity of the Catholic Church.

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Orthodox Survival Course, Class 7

Orthodox Survival Course

St. Irene Orthodox Church

Rochester Hills, Michigan


The notes below are just a brief summary of everything that we talk about.  For the most benefit, listen to the audio! The podcast of this session can be listened to at www.spreaker.com/user/youngfaithradio/orthodox-survival-course-class-7

Class 7 – The Church of the Romans: Topic 4, The Church

that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. – I Timothy 3:15

…[God the Father] hath put all things under His feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the Church, Which is his Body, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all. – Ephesians 1:22-23

Ye are come unto Mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and Church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus, the Mediator of the new covenant. – Hebrews 12:22-24

Here is born a people of noble race, destined for Heaven, whom the Spirit brings forth in the waters he has made fruitful. Mother Church conceives her offspring by the breath of God, and bears them virginally in this water. Hope for the Kingdom of Heaven, you who are reborn in this font. Eternal life does not await those who are only born once. This is the spring of life that waters the whole world, Taking its origin from the Wounds of Christ. Sinner, to be purified, go down into the holy water. It receives the unregenerate and brings him forth a new man. If you wish to be made innocent, be cleansed in this pool, whether you are weighed down by the ancestral sin or your own. There is no barrier between those who are reborn and made one by the one font, the one Spirit, and the one faith. Let neither the number nor the kind of their sins terrify anyone; Once reborn in this water, they will be holy. – Inscription above the Lateran Baptistery (Pope St. Sixtus III, +440)

Introduction – Our entire course, ultimately, is about the Church, and, specifically, learning to view history through the lens the Church gives us. But tonight we will, God willing, study ecclesiology itself for a little while, in distinction from our overall project of developing an ecclesiastical, Church centered view of history. How did the Church of the first millennium, the Church of the Fathers recognized by East and West until today, view Herself?

Obviously, we cannot teach an entire course on patristic ecclesiology in one class. To give the subject its due, I would estimate, would take two semesters of a regular academic curriculum. And, of course, experientially, through prayer, through our own reading, through our participation in the Holy Mysteries, life according to the Gospel, and, in short, everything involved in living the life of the Church, we should be acquiring and interiorizing a greater understanding, appreciation, and love of what the Church is every day. Tonight we simply wish to touch on and illustrate a few key ecclesiological themes that will come to our attention again later, when we get into the main topic of our course, which is the falling away of the West in the second millennium and how this impinges on our life today.

(For a comprehensive short introduction to Orthodox ecclesiology, “The Church of Christ,” which is Chapter Seven of Fr. Michael Pomazansky’s Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, is excellent. For our earlier course, when we read Fr. Michael’s book cover to cover, and discussed it, we produced some notes in the form of an outline to help study the book. I’ve attached those notes to tonight’s notes, for those who want to study more about ecclesiology per se. The entire text of Orthodox Dogmatic Theology can be found online at http://www.intratext.com/X/ENG0824.HTM . The URL for the beginning of Chapter Seven is http://www.intratext.com/IXT/ENG0824/_P1S.HTM.)

I. The Church as Pillar and Ground of the Truth

St. Paul’s words to St. Timothy, which we read above, reveal a very different vision of the relationship of the Church to the question of “What is Truth” than that held by Protestants. The Church is the “pillar and ground of the truth.” Pillars uphold; the ground provides the pre-condition for everything else. So being in the Church, being of the Church, is the pre-condition for knowing the truth, because the Church is the ground of the Truth. We don’t read the Bible and figure out where the Church is. We join the Church and learn what the Bible means. Once we learn this Truth, the Church is the pillar that upholds the true teaching, and upholds us, that supports our staying in this structure. No one person, whether a Pope or a “reformer,” can stand outside or above the Church and tell Her what the truth is. Everyone who is an authentic teacher of truth teaches that truth from within the Church and in obedience to the Church. Recall the quote we read in Class 4, from the Anglican editor’s introduction to the volume on the Ecumenical Councils: The Fathers came to the Councils not to “discover” Truth, but to witness to that which they had received. This vision of the Church as the unique place where we can know the Truth, and as the uniquely qualified judge of What is Truth, was common to all Christians of the first millennium.

II.  The Church as a Family

Earlier in this same passage, St. Paul calls the Church the “house of God.” This word in Greek, oikos, means literally a “house,” but also, by extension, a “family,” an association found in many if not all languages, as in English, a “household.” Recall from our earlier discussion of church architecture that the original place of worship and the center of parish organization was someone’s home. Both in Her literal buildings (churches) and in Her “buildings” figuratively speaking (parishes, dioceses, etc.) the Church never forgot Her domestic character and origin. The Church as a whole is a family, and each local Church is a family. Thus just as the family is primarily an organic reality which takes on an organizational structure for its survival and flourishing, so too the Church is primarily an organic reality which naturally takes on various forms of organizational structure for Her survival and flourishing. The two aspects – organism and organization – are not separate, but they are distinct. Which organizational aspects of the Church are inherent to Her organism, to Her divine constitution, and which are not, will become a great point of contention, first between the Orthodox and the papists, and later between papists and Protestants.

III. The Church as the Body of Christ

Of course, the image of the Church as the Body of Christ, employed by St. Paul

in the passage above from Ephesians, is very familiar to us. It is an even more powerful image of the Church as an organism than is the image of the household or family. There are other important quotes from St. Paul containing this image, notably his great plea to the Corinthians to remain in unity, speaking of each Christian as a “member of the Body” (see I Corinthians 12), each with its unique charism. Our Lord Himself uses the organic image of the Vine and the Branches (John 15:5). We are not just servants, followers, or disciples or even just friends of Christ, though we are all of these things. We are members of His Body; we are organically part of Him, as branches are of a vine. Neither Our Lord nor St. Paul meant these as purely poetic expressions, though they certainly are beautiful considered as poetry. They meant it ontologically – yes, these are metaphors, but they are metaphors expressing something that is, not just some pleasant thoughts about some vague something or other in Never-Never land. It’s not less real than the image; it’s more real, more solid, and the image points to it, leading our intellect to surpass the earthly shadow in pursuit of the heavenly reality. Which leads us to…

IV. The Church on Earth and the Church in Heaven

The magnificent passage above, from Hebrews, states very clearly that our membership in the Church is a membership in a heavenly, not merely earthly assembly. The reality of the Church below derives hierarchically from the super-reality of the Church above. That Church is the authentic Church whose earthly manifestations are authentic participations here below in the heavenly types above. The classic, paradigmatic patristic explanation of this is The Celestial and Ecclesiastical Hierarchy of St. Dionysios the Areopagite, which can be found online at https://archive.org/details/celestialandecc01parkgoog. In this essential treatise, St. Dionysios, a disciple of St. Paul, explains in detail the authentic tradition about the angelic orders and how the heavenly hierarchy is reflected in the Church’s hierarchy of bishops, presbyters and deacons, and in the Church’s liturgical life. Let’s go online and read the opening passage of St. Dionysios’ great work…

The true character of the authentic Church on earth, then, is eschatological, otherworldly, transparent and anagogical, which is why Her art is such, as we discussed in our sessions on sacred art. Her purpose is not to “build the kingdom of God on earth,” which is the heresy of chiliasm, an important topic we will discuss later in reference to high medieval Western Christianity, but to be a participation in as well as an icon of the heavenly and eternal kingdom.

V. Institutional Authority and Charismatic Authority in the Church

In Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, Fr. Michael Pomazansky cites the specific New Testament passages which testify to the apostolic origin of the Church’s threefold priesthood of bishop, presbyter, and deacon, as well as quoting early Fathers. Here is St. Ignatius of Antioch, the God-bearer (+110), writing to the Trallians: “…it is essential, as indeed you are acting, to do nothing without the bishop. Likewise obey the presbytery as apostles of Jesus Christ, our hope, in Whom may God grant that we live. And everyone should cooperate in every way with the deacons that serve the ministers of the Mysteries of Jesus Christ, for they are not ministers of food and drink, but servants of the Church of God.”

St. Paul, however, often refers also to the non-hierarchical, charismatic offices in the Church, and most notably the “prophets,” those inspired directly by God to speak the Word of truth. St. Dionysios links the gift of personal holiness to the selection of the hierarchy and clergy, stating that the bishops should be in the state of theosis and the presbyters should be in the state of theoria, while it is permitted to ordain to the diaconate those still in the stage of praxis, that is, active struggle with the passions. Of course, we know that all too often – to be honest, usually – the Church cannot find enough men at the higher levels of spiritual life to fill all of Her higher positions. But it is notable that She has always understood that the hierarchical priesthood should be related to charismatic worthiness, just as “official” theology must derive from authentic spiritual experience.

There is an edifying passage in the Life of a saint we all read every year during Great Lent, the Life of St. Mary of Egypt, which illustrates beautifully the co-equal and complementary character of these two sources of authority in the Church, the institutional and the charismatic. S. Zosimas flings himself on the ground and asks S. Mary’s blessing. She demands that he bless, because he is a priest; he demands that she bless, as being one possessing higher spiritual gifts. Both demonstrate humility and charity in their mutual respect.

This question of the relationship of these two sources of authority in the Church will come to the fore during the period of the West’s falling away from Orthodoxy and its development of the “high papal” ecclesiology.

VI. The Church as a Holy Mystery

The amazing inscription from the Lateran baptistery poetically describes the Church as our Mother giving birth to a new race of men, the Christians. St. Augustine aptly relates our being members of the Body of Christ, the Church, to our receiving the Body of Christ in Holy Communion: “Behold what you are; become what you receive.”

The Church is the pan-mysterion, the All Encompassing and All Sufficient Sacrament of our salvation and deification. Very early on, in the writings of a Latin Father, S. Cyprian of Carthage (+250), regarding the unity of the Church and the non-existence of valid mysteries outside the Church, this fundamental teaching is expressed very clearly. See Volume V of the Ante-Nicene Fathers series, available online at http://www.documentacatholicaomnia.eu/03d/1819-1893,_Schaff._Philip,_1_Vol_05_Hippolytus._Cyprian._Novatian,_EN.pdf

The Greek Fathers, and the Orthodox East as a whole, sided with St. Cyprian in his understanding that only the Church can confer the grace of the Mysteries, as opposed to St. Augustine, and later the consensus of the Western writers, who took Pope Stephen’s contention that heretics can confer valid baptism, combined it with Augustine’s theory of sacraments performed ex opere operato, and created a sacramental theology at odds with the essentially churchly character of the economy of the Holy Mysteries. Thus the understanding of the essentially churchly character of the Holy Mysteries and the essentially mysteriological character of the Church will be obscured later as the West grows farther away from Orthodoxy.

VII. The Church as Mother – As hymned so eloquently in the Lateran baptistery inscription, through Holy Baptism the Church becomes the Mother of a new genos, a new “race,” the Christian nation, as well as the Mother of each Christian personally and of entire Christian nations considered in the plural, as various ethnic or national groups convert en masse and received a new identity and the birth of a new Christian culture from the Church. We will examine this latter reality in more detail in our next class, on the relationship of the Church to the nation and to the state.

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The circumcision of the heart

1 January OS 2018 – The Circumcision of Our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ; St. Basil the Great, Archbishop of Caesaria in Cappadocia

Though the liturgical New Year is on September 1st, the civil New Year for centuries has been on January 1st.   Today is the civil New Year according to the Orthodox calendar, and on this occasion St. Theophan the Recluse reflects on how we should begin another year of service to the Lord:

Since New Year’s Day is the beginning of the days of the year, we ought to gather in our soul those thoughts, feelings, and dispositions that would direct our affairs throughout the year in a Christian way. We will find these the moment we bring to mind the meaning of New Year’s Day in the spiritual life. In the spiritual life, New Year’s Day is when one who has been living carelessly becomes zealous about salvation and pleasing God. When one makes this resolution, then all is rebuilt afresh both internally and externally, upon new beginnings – the old passes away and all is new. If you have this, renew it; if not acquire it – and for you this will be a New Year’s Day.

 A worthy celebration of the Feast of the Circumcision of the Lord and of the commemoration of St. Basil the Great is also connected with this. The essence of the change we have mentioned is that a person begins from this moment to live solely for his salvation, for God; whereas previously he lived exclusively for himself, preparing destruction for himself. Now he abandons former habits, all comforts, and all in which he found pleasure. He cuts off passions and lustful dispositions and takes on works of strict self-denial. Such a change precisely represents that which, according to the Apostle, the circumcision of the heart should be. The celebration of the Circumcision of the Lord reminds us of this and obligates us to do it, while St. Basil the Great provides us with an example to follow. So all the themes which crowd our consciousness on New Year’s Day come together into one – our inner renewal through the circumcision of the heart. If it pleases the Lord to give someone this mind-set on New Year’s Day – that is, not only to think in such a way, but also to bring all of this into his life – he will celebrate New Year’s Day in a most perfect Christian manner, and will prepare for a Christian passage of the whole year. On the subsequent New Year’s Day he will have only to renew and enliven what he has now taken on. – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, pp. 25-26

The saint sums up the theme of today in one expression: “circumcision of the heart.” In today’s reading from the Apostolos for the Feast of the Circumcision, St. Paul speaks of this:

Brethren: Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power: In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead. – Colossians 2: 8-12

 In the fleshly circumcision He received on the eighth day of His birth, Our Lord fulfilled the Old Covenant and made way for the New: not a circumcision according to the flesh, but of the heart, of the spirit.   This had always been the real meaning of circumcision anyway, even in the Old Testament. In Deuteronomy, Moses tells the people of the Old Israel,  “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiffnecked (Deut. 10:16).” And again, “… the LORD thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live (Deut. 30:6).” Later, the Holy Prophet Jeremias warns the people of Judea and Jerusalem, “Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, and take away the foreskins of your heart, ye men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem: lest my fury come forth like fire, and burn that none can quench it, because of the evil of your doing (Jeremiah 4:4).” In other words, mere physical circumcision was never sufficient to make a man the Lord’s true servant. Throughout the Old Testament, we see the Lord commanding, begging, persuading: “Serve Me with all your heart.”

In Acts 15, we read how the Holy Spirit inspired the first council ever held in the Church, the council of the Holy Apostles in Jerusalem, to abrogate the obligation of physical circumcision for the Gentile converts to the Faith.   The Church had a new and far greater initiation into the life of grace: Holy Baptism, which was not for men only but for women as well. But the image and true meaning of the old circumcision still remain: We must cut away our fleshly passions, which enslave us and prevent spiritual life, and we must be totally dedicated to God in body and in soul.   The baptismal grace is always there, but it does not energize in us unless we cooperate. Thus in his meditations for today, St. Theophan exhorts us to examine our lives and to re-dedicate ourselves to doing the Lord’s holy will with all our hearts.

On this day also the Lord received His name, the name above every name, the Name of JESUS, which the archangel had foretold to the Holy Virgin and commanded to be given to the Child by St. Joseph at His circumcision.   We can regard this day, then, also as the day on which the Lord Jesus gives us His name as an invincible weapon against the enemies who fight against us, and re-dedicate ourselves to the Prayer of Jesus.   This is an essential weapon in our struggle to acquire the true circumcision of the heart.

On this day also the Lord Jesus shed His Precious Blood for the first time, foreshadowing His divine Passion for our salvation.   One drop of this Blood is more precious than the whole universe, and yet He did not hesitate to mount the Cross and shed all of His Blood for us. How can we not desire to return such love with all our hearts?

This profound Feast of the Lord coincides by God’s Providence with the day on which St. Basil the Great departed this earthly life at the age of 50, having been a baptized Christian for a mere seventeen years and a bishop for only ten!    In those few years, he fought ceaselessly for the Orthodox Faith against the Arians, Eunomians and other heretics, struggled constantly for the unity of the Church in the East, established monasteries and hospices for the poor, rooted out corruption in the clergy, ordained many worthy bishops and priests, wrote commentaries on Holy Scripture and composed divine services, and, in short, became the perfect model of the bishop, combining the life of intense prayer and extreme fasting with ceaseless activity for the salvation of souls. And throughout this time, he was almost constantly ill: at one point, according to one of his letters, he had a fever continuously for 50 days.   By the age of 45, he had lost all of his teeth. At age 50, utterly worn out by a life of total self-denial, he reposed in the Lord.

As he was dying, did he see “success” crowning his life? By no means.   Many heresies and schisms were still tearing the Eastern Church apart: reposing in 379, he did not live to see the triumph of the Orthodox Faith with the accession of the Emperor Theodosius the Great and the Second Ecumenical Council in 381.   But what was important to him was that he reposed in the grace of Christ, in repentance, in the secure knowledge that he had done everything possible, with all his strength and every last breath, to do God’s holy will. What more could any of us ask for?  

The duty is ours; the consequences are God’s. By the prayers of Great Basil, let us love the Lord with all our hearts and do His holy will. He will take care of the rest.

A blessed 2018 to all!  


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Repentance makes paradise within, even in this life

31 December OS 2017 – Leave-taking of the Nativity; Saturday before the Theophany; S. Melania of Rome, the Younger

The reading from the Gospel for the Saturday before Theophany is Matthew 3: 1-6.

In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea,And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. And the same John had his raiment of camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey. Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan, And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.

Repentance is at the heart of the Gospel. Everything begins with it, and ultimately, at the end of a man’s life in this world, everything here ends with it: our hope is precisely to die in repentance.   Our life, then, is, or should be, one of constant repentance. What then is it, and how can we attain it? How can we live a life of repentance?

The Greek word we translate by “repentance” is metanoia, which we need to translate as both “change of mind” and “change of heart” to capture the full meaning, since what the words means is “change of the nous,” the nous being the spiritual intellect, whose entire reality we cannot grasp unless we think of it as the mind joined to the heart. It is the center of one’s personality and existence, the “real me.” One of the Holy Fathers (St. Macarius the Great) has said that when someone is totally living in grace, the soul becomes “all nous” – in other words, everything about the person becomes spiritual, even in this life.   This state is also what we call theosis.

Even – especially – the greatest saints never stop repenting, even when they are in theosis. How can this be? What do they have to repent of? They keep repenting because they keep on turning their minds to God, and they on keep weeping over their sins and the sins of the whole world, right up to their last breath.  The holier they get, the more sins they see in themselves.   The lesson for us is, If you are not seeing more sins in yourself, you are not getting holier.

It is in the light of this reality, of what a saint is and how a saint lives, that we can understand what repentance is: the constant turning of the mind and heart back to God, away from the ego (the false self), away from love of this world, and away from demonic thoughts.    The mind, captivated by the divine beauty, desires to think of God always and His holy commandments, by which one lives, using one’s will and energy to inject one’s love of God into one’s daily activities. The heart, desiring God and longing to be united to Him, unites with the mind in prayer and in action, and puts warmth and life into the actions of the mind and will.

When we hear, “Say your prayers! Fast! Do spiritual reading! Go to Confession! Prepare for Holy Communion!” and the rest of the whole list of do’s (and don’ts!) that the Church’s preachers and teachers are always “throwing at us,” it will help us to recall that these activities are not external badges of being “good little boys and girls,” so that others will approve us.   They are indispensable means to attaining the purpose of our entire existence. We have to decide between heaven and hell; we have to decide if we wish to attain our purpose and live forever with God in endless growth in love for Him and for all people and all creation, or if we wish for our minds and hearts to revolve now and for eternity around the idol of the ego, an existence which can be named best and simply by that old-fashioned word – hell.

So when we get up in the morning and say our prayers rather than indulging our fallen nature, we are not merely checking off an item on a list (though checklists are an excellent thing); we are taking a step towards a blessed eternity.   We have turned the mind to God. We have repented.

What then, is repentance? It is the constant turning of the mind and heart to God, and living our lives according to His commandments. How do we do it? Do what the Church says. As they say, “It’s not rocket science.”

May the prayers of the Holy Forerunner and Baptist John be with us, as we prepare to celebrate the Baptism of the Lord! May this great Mystery renew in us the desire to live according to our baptism and be truly pleasing to God Who is Manifest for our sake.   May we live in repentance.



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Faithful witness

The noble Joseph, taking Thine immaculate Body down from the Tree, and having wrapped It in linen and pure spices, laid It for burial in a new tomb.

The Dismissal Hymn of Great and Holy Saturday

St. Joseph of Arimathea and the Glastonbury Thorn

Amid the hills and marshes of southwest England lies the picturesque town of Glastonbury. Though today, sadly, Glastonbury is best known for rock festivals and attracting practitioners of the occult, its true significance is that here the Christian Faith was first planted in the British Isles. The Righteous Joseph of Arimathea came here to preach the Gospel, and one year, on the day of the Nativity of Christ, he planted his staff (which, according to some traditions, was that of the Lord Himself), which took root and budded into flower. St. Joseph pointed to this miracle as a sign that Christ was born as the flower of the fruit of Jesse, as the prophets had foretold. 

This tree, which came to be known as the Glastonbury Thorn, continued to grow and to flourish throughout the centuries, and it became a marvel to all by blossoming twice a year, both in the spring around the time of Pascha, and also, remarkably, in the dead of winter, around the time of Christ’s Nativity. In so doing it became a type not only of the Resurrection, of life overcoming death, symbolized by the blossoms of spring returning after winter, but also of the Birth into the world of Life Itself, the Birth of the God-Man in the midst of death, the spiritual winter of sinful man, symbolized by the winter of the physical world. Over the centuries, the tree’s fortunes – its flourishing and its periodic destruction – would symbolize the rise and fall of the Church in Britain.

With the tree, St. Joseph also planted the first church, which became a monastery. The holy tree attracted pilgrims throughout the centuries, and the monastery grew to be one of the greatest in Britain, second only to Winchester, which was the original episcopal seat of the British Church, prior to the founding of the English Church by St. Augustine, after which the primatial see moved to Canterbury. Glastonbury remained a key spiritual center during the period of the English Church, as it had in the British Church: We have historical evidence that the monastery was thriving in the seventh century.

Sadly, the 1066 invasion of William the Conqueror, with its imposition of papism by the Normans, ended the Orthodox period of the Old English Church, but nevertheless Glastonbury Abbey, with its precious treasure, the holy Thorn Tree, remained a place of pilgrimage and veneration. By the 14th century, it had grown to be one of the largest and most powerful monasteries in England, but its glorious history had by this time reached near its end: the despoliation and destruction of the monasteries by Thomas Cromwell’s henchmen in the 16th century, under the unhappy Henry VIII, reached to Glastonbury also. Her last abbot was hanged, drawn, and quartered, the brotherhood was disbanded, and all the abbey’s wealth was “Swept into the laps of parasites and whores,” i.e., the founders of the ruling class of modern England, as T.S. Eliot aptly describes it in Murder in the Cathedral. The lackeys of the apostate king destroyed the abbey, and without its spiritual center and higher purpose, Glastonbury became a backwater. The holy Thorn Tree, however, though orphaned of its monastic guardians, continued year after year to perform its sweet miracle of blossoming in “bleak mid-winter,” as though in reproach to the pride and rationalism of the dawning secular age.

A portion of the abbey ruins.

Though no more than a man-made sect cut out from an already-heretical church, yet Henry VIII’s church organization at least remained faithful to the patristic calendar long after the popes had changed it. When Gregory XIII imposed the unlawful alteration of the ancient calendar in 1582, it seems that the practical “Queen Bess,” Elizabeth I, was willing to go along, but her bishops, in a rare show of independent spirit, would not accept the change, resenting anything arbitrarily invented by the pope. At the same time, the instinctively old fashioned simple people, still clinging to Orthodox habits of mind inherited from their long-fathers, pointed to the miracle of the Thorn blossoming on “Old Calendar Christmas” as proof that this was the true day of Christ’s Birth, and that the Julian calendar was the legitimate calendar of the Church. From the reign of Elizabeth’s successor James I onward, a flower-laden branch of the blossoming Thorn was sent to the English king at Christmas every year. James’s son Charles I, made these telling remarks one year when the courier from Glastonbury brought the flowers:

“Well, this is a miracle, isn’t it?” said the king.

“Yes, Your Majesty,” someone replied, “a miracle peculiar to England and regarded with much veneration by the Roman Catholics.”

“How?” said the king, “when this miracle opposes itself to the Roman pope? You bring me this miraculous blossom on Christmas Day, Old Style. Does it always observe the Old Style, by which we English celebrate the Nativity, at the time of its flowering?”


“Then the pope and your miracle differ not a little, for he always celebrates Christmas Day ten days earlier by the calendar of the New Style…”

Tragically and significantly, King Charles I and the Glastonbury Thorn shared the same fate during the English Civil War (1642-1651), when a more sectarian, iconoclastic, and fanatic spirit possessed a large portion of the already Protestant nation. The Puritan rebel leadership staged a show trial and beheaded their king, and partisans of the possessed regicides cut down and burned the holy Thorn. The local faithful, however, preserved the roots of the Thorn, which they separated and planted in several different locations, where they grew into trees that continued to bloom on “Old Christmas.”

In 1752, the British government decided to accept the papist calendar in order to be in sync with Western Europe. The new regime that had engineered the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688, which destroyed the power of the monarchy and effectively made a greedy oligarchy of merchants and usurers the true rulers of the English nation and her global empire, had no use for pious customs, if they impeded lucrative trade and geopolitical ambition, and the calendar was one of these. The people did not easily accept the change, however, and there were riots in various places. Even in faraway British America, isolated communities such as the “hillbillies” of Appalachia continued to keep “Old Christmas.” And every year, on the true Christmas, crowds continued to gather around the Glastonbury Thorn to see what it would do, and the miraculous blooms continued to appear.

Time passed, the Thorn continued to be propagated in Glastonbury, and its descendants continued to bloom twice in the year, on or close to the days of Our Lord’s Birth and Resurrection. In 1951, townsmen planted one of these trees at the original site on Wearyall Hill. It made for a beautiful site seen from all over the town, and again became a center of pilgrimage. But this brief return of normality after World War II marked the last generation of a recognizably Christian England, and a new period, darker than any preceding, was about to begin.

The cultural revolution of the 1960’s with its concomitant final, utter apostasy of the Church of England into the madness of postmodern unbelief and immorality, set loose an aggressive anti-Christian spirit in the land, and demonized partisans of this anti-Christianity – public secularists and private, or not-so-private, occultists as well – began a career of destroying what was left of the old culture, in a campaign worthy of their Puritan antecedents. These were soon to be joined by fellow demoniacs, the Mohammedan invaders now welcomed and coddled by an apostate government in service of the Satanic global elite, which is using the possessed Saracens to destroy the native English people.

It is only natural that this evil spirit would reach even unto Glastonbury, for the holiest places always attract the worst demonic activity, and Glastonbury has become a favorite haunt of witch covens, neo-Druids, and all kinds of practitioners of the demonic arts. In 2010, someone viciously cut off the crown of the tree on Wearyall Hill, and he or his fellows later came back to destroy even the shoots that continued to appear. It was clear to one and all that this was a public attack on the Christian faith. Finally the town removed the tree entirely.

Another tree was planted on Wearyall Hill in 2012, but this one died also at the hands of evil vandals. There was a descendant tree of the Holy Thorn at the ruins of the abbey as well, but this was pronounced dead in 1991. To this day, however, at yet a third location, the Church of St. John, a few trees of the holy Thorn lineage can be found, and they still faithfully repeat their two annual acts of homage to the King of Life. The present Queen still receives a blossoming branch at “Old Christmas,” which is cut with special ceremony.

The present tree at St. John’s. 

Thus for two millennia, the Glastonbury Thorn, planted by the same hands that took the Lord from the Cross and laid Him in the Tomb, has witnessed the planting, blossoming, decline, and near-death of the Christian faith in Britain. Despite every attempt to destroy them, both this tree and this faith continue to live, albeit in quietness and obscurity. By the inscrutable wisdom of God, the true Faith, Orthodoxy itself, has returned to Britain, whose truth has been witnessed to silently, through all of these centuries, by the holy Tree that blossoms according to the true calendar. Though few in number, the True Orthodox on this isle, a blessed and beautiful land converted by St. Joseph and sanctified by innumerable saints, must continue to bear witness as well. Like the silent, hidden roots of the Holy Thorn, so too the silent, hidden relics of the saints, the blood of martyrs and tears of the ascetics that soak the soil of this blessed isle, the innumerable holy wells, the mossy wayside crosses – all of these too bear witness. Like the silent, hidden roots of the Holy Thorn, the True Orthodox remnant on this isle may one day bear beautiful fruit, if only they too will bear witness, if only they too will remain faithful, faithful as the merry little tree planted by St. Joseph on that Christmas Day long ago.

We thank Thee for Thy mercies of blood, for Thy redemption

by blood. For the blood of Thy martyrs and saints

Shall enrich the earth, shall create the holy places.

For wherever a saint has dwelt, wherever a martyr has given his

blood for the blood of Christ,

There is holy ground, and the sanctity shall not depart from it

Though armies trample over it, though sightseers come with

guide-books looking over it;

From where the western seas gnaw at the coast of Iona,

To the death in the desert, the prayer in forgotten places by

the broken imperial column,

From such ground springs that which forever renews the earth

Though it is forever denied.

T. S. Eliot, Murder in the Cathedral, Act III

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The pleasing Holocaust

19 December OS 2017 – Monday of the Fourteenth Week of St. Luke; Holy Martyr Boniface

Today’s Gospel reading in the daily cycle is Mark 9:42-10:1

The Lord said: Whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea. And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. For every one shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt. Salt is good: but if the salt have lost his saltness, wherewith will ye season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace one with another. And he arose from thence, and cometh into the coasts of Judaea by the farther side of Jordan: and the people resort unto him again; and, as he was wont, he taught them again.

St. Theophan the Recluse comments on the Lord’s words, “For everyone shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt.”

“Every one shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt (Mark 9:49.” Before this the Lord said that one must be prepared for all sorts of sacrifices and deeds of self-denial, so as to stand only on the good path. Though these sacrifices are precious to us, like our own eye, or indispensable, like our right hand, we must offer them without a moment’s hesitation For if you begrudge offering such a sacrifice, and are led away because of this from the right path to the wrong, you will be forced to suffer eternally in the future life. So, offer painful and sorrowful sacrifice here to escape torments there. Without purification by fire here, one cannot be saved from the eternal fire. Everyone desiring to be saved must be salted with fire, and pass through purification by fire. All of us, according to the law of creation, must offer ourselves in sacrifice to God; but every one of us is impure. This means we must purify ourselves, so that a sacrifice pleasing to God can be made from us. But if you start to purify yourself, to tear passions from your soul, it will be painful, like being burned with fire. This operation of inner self-purification is like the operation of fire purifying metal. Metal is without feeling. If you were to give it feeling, it would feel the purifying and the burning simultaneously. The same thing occurs in a person who purifies himself. Undergoing this operation, he is as if totally burned through by fire. The purifying fire passes through all his members the way salt penetrates a body which is being preserved. And only he who subjects himself to this operation is a truly God-pleasing sacrifice. That is why it is necessary for everyone to be salted with fire, as in the Old Testament, where every sacrifice was salted before being offered as a whole-burnt offering. – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, pp. 284-285

This Gospel reading, for the 14th Monday of St. Luke, falls this year (2017) on 19 December Old Style, which is 1 January 2018 New Style, the civil New Year’s Day. Let this be a sign to make 2018 a year in which we offer ourselves to God in sacrifice.

Note that St. Theophan says that we all must offer ourselves in sacrifice to God “according to the law of creation.” Simply because God created us, we owe Him our entire selves. When we add to this the debt incurred by the Infinite Sacrifice He made upon the Cross, how can we hesitate to sacrifice ourselves in return?

Acknowledgement of this double infinite debt incurs the most profound gratitude and humility on man’s part. It brings about the fear of God, which is the beginning of all wisdom. All secularists, whether honest unbelievers or dishonest modernist “Christians,” hate the idea of this debt, and they do everything to disparage thinking, much less speaking, in such terms. Modernist “Orthodox” prattle about “theosis” and the highest reaches of spiritual life, as if they actually understood something about it, while minimizing their utter worthlessness and guilt before God, their absolutely desperate need for a Redeemer. They imagine themselves already as little gods getting “better and better every day in every way.” A surprise awaits them coming to the Judgment, when “they shall look on Him Whom they pierced.”

The Martyrs and Fathers, who were wise in God, grew daily deeper in the profound conviction of their nothingness before Him. They thirsted with unslakable thirst to give themselves entirely in sacrifice to their Creator and Redeemer. They drank sufferings like cool water and rejoiced in tribulations as the finest food for the soul. They safely preserved their spiritual savor with the salt of suffering and thus became sweet holocausts ascending fragrantly to the nostrils of the Lord. When we accept any and all sufferings incurred by the double duty we owe God, of orthodoxy (unshakable witness to the Truth) and orthopraxy (unshakable perseverance on the un-deluded path of repentance), we make the same sacrifice they made, though it be in our own little way. We walk the same path they walked, though it be a thousand thousand steps behind.

By our own power, this is impossible, but think also about this: Every time the priest offers the Divine Liturgy, he offers, once more, the One Sacrifice of the God-Man to the All-Holy Trinity, for the forgiveness of sins and the salvation of the world. Once more, Golgotha is made mystically present, and we enter the timeless moment when the only true Sacrifice pronounced “It is finished” and became for us the One Victim Forever Slain, which sanctifies His communicants. He knows we have not the power to offer ourselves, and so He voluntarily becomes one with us in Holy Communion. Unworthy as we are, we become that which we receive. Thereby He makes us, by union with Him, the only Sacrifice pleasing to the Father. Once again, and again and again, He does for us that which we wish to do but cannot: to render just recompense to Him for that which He has already done for us. Ultimately, we realize, He is everything, and we are nothing. All is Gift.

How can we not love such a Lord with all our hearts? May 2018 be the year so to do.

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Having obtained a good report through faith

17 December OS 2017 – Saturday of the Thirteenth Week of St. Luke; Holy Prophet Daniel, Holy Three Youths Ananias, Azarias, and Misael, St. Dionysios of Zakynthos and Aegina, Holy New Martyr Deacon Avvakum of Serbia

The reading from the Apostolos for December 17th, the feast of the Holy Prophet Daniel and the Three Youths, is the great paean to the saints of the Old Testament from Hebrews 11:

Brethren: All the saints through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.

During this period of the holy Nativity Fast, the Holy Church holds up to us the example of the Old Testament saints on the two Sundays preceding the Nativity as well as on the Menaion feasts of several Old Testament prophets, most notably today’s saints: Prophet Daniel and the Three Youths.   As we await the feast of the birth of the Christ, it is well to remember those who awaited His birth in history, and their great faith and hope.

When we feel alone in our Faith, we should recall that the Old Testament saints kept their Faith despite being always a tiny remnant of perpetually apostate Israel. When we are tempted to give up our Hope in eternal life, we should recall that the Old Testament saints kept their Hope while knowing that at death, no matter how righteous and faithful they had been in life, they would go down into Hades.   When we feel powerless, we should recall that within us lies the infinite power of baptismal grace, while the Old Testament saints had no such help.   When we lose historical perspective and feel trapped in our present circumstances, we should recall century by century, event by event, and saint by saint, all the glorious history of the New Testament Church of the past 2,000 years – and remember that the Old Testament righteous had far less in their past to encourage them. Yet they persevered, strong in their hope, for they believed that God was faithful to His promise.

God has indeed “…provided some better thing for us…”: salvation by Jesus Christ our Lord, Who raised the souls of the righteous of the Old Testament from Hades on that first Great Saturday and perfected them with us by the grace for which they had longed and in which they had hoped.

A good exercise for today would be to re-read (or read!) the Book of Daniel.   Make sure to read the Septuagint version, which contains important sections left out by the rabbinical-minded Protestant editions. If you do not own a translation of the Septuagint (or a King James with “Apocrypha” or a Douay-Rheims translation of the Vulgate), you can read a good translation of the Septuagint version of Daniel at http://orthodoxengland.org.uk/pdf/ot/prophetical.pdf. The Book of Daniel starts at p. 199 of the PDF.

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. – Hebrews 12:1-2

Amen! Holy Prophet Daniel, Holy Three Youths, and all ye righteous of the Old Testament, pray to God for us!


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