Thou hast restored me, the whole man

9 February OS 2018: Thursday of the First Week of Lent; Holy Martyr Nikiphoros 

The first reading at Vespers today is Genesis 2:4-19.

God made the animals to be a companion for man “…and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them, and whatsoever Adam called any living creature, that was the name thereof.” Adam’s mind was a pure and unbroken mirror, perfectly reflecting all around him. His speech, the speech of Paradise, was perfect expression, and each name he gave perfectly expressed the essence of each thing he named.  Between the mind, the word coming forth from the mind, and the thing named by the word, there was no conflict, no gap, no misunderstanding.  Adam was at one with God, with himself, and with creation, in understanding, in activity, and in love.

Sin broke man’s mind into countless pieces, and each piece reflects only a tiny and disconnected fragment of what is real. Sin broke man’s activity, and his efforts always end in defeat. Sin broke man’s love, and he devotes his heart to that which is unworthy, and the object of his love devours him.

Grace heals man’s mind, his activity, and his love. Grace unites the fragmented thoughts, gives power to man’s activity, and directs his love to that which is truly lovable. Grace restores man to Paradise.

Christ, the New Adam, came to give us this grace.   Let us worship Him.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Divine repose

8 February OS 2018: Wednesday of the First Week of Lent; Holy Great Martyr Theodore the Commander 

The first reading at Vespers today is Genesis 1:24-2:3.

 Since God made the human heart to hold Him, man’s first occupation was to contemplate God.   He made Adam and Eve to be His friends. He commanded them to till and to keep Paradise, but this was not work as we understand it. They did the physical work of tending the plants of Paradise and governing the animals, but this gave them pure joy and delight, for it was labor without pain. They also worked at a higher “tilling and keeping,” and this was their primary activity: tilling and keeping the mind, contemplating God in His infinite perfections. God designed this “work” to continue for all eternity, intending for their minds to rise ever higher, never ceasing, to greater and greater understanding, unto greater and greater delight in knowing and loving God.

In today’s reading, the Lord Himself teaches by example what is the end of all our labors: the Seventh Day rest. “And on the sixth day God ended His works which He had made; and He ceased on the seventh day from all His works which He had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it, because that in it He ceased from all His works which God had begun to make.” Knowing our fallen state, He gives us six days of the week to work for the food that perishes, but on the day sanctified by His own rest, God commands man to cease from labor and spend the day in his original activity, which is spending time with God.

When God became a man to save us, He completed all His labors once again on the Sixth Day and rested once again from all His labors on the Seventh Day, sleeping in the tomb according to the body but going down with His human soul into Hades, to free all those held captive from ages past. Then on the First Day, which is also the Eighth Day, He broke the bonds of death by His Resurrection and sanctified this day as the icon of eternity.   Thus Christians now rest on the Lord’s Day to honor the image of that Day that shall know no evening, and not only to honor but actually to partake by anticipation of the endless delight of that Day, even in this life.

How do we keep the Lord’s Day? How do we actually spend the 24 hours from sunset Saturday to sunset Sunday? Let us, this Lent, resolve to be honest about this, make straight that which we have made crooked, and fill up that which we lack.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The light of Thy countenance, O Lord, hath shined upon us.

7 February OS 2018: Tuesday of the First Week of Lent; S. Parthenios of Lampsakos; S. Loukas of Mt. Steirion 

 The first reading at Vespers today is Genesis 1: 14-23.

 In Brothers Karamazov, the boy Smerdyakov mockingly asks the pious Grigoriy how there could have been light on the first day if God did not create the sun until the fourth day.   He grows up to be a nihilist who murders his father without remorse.

On the first day, God said, “Let there be light.” God did not need to sun to make the light. His light – both the uncreated light and the created light – illumined all that He made on the First, Second, and Third Days of Creation. He created the sun and moon and stars as servants of the light; they are not light itself. Likewise, God did not need the brain to create mind. Being the Uncreated Mind, He created countless bodiless intelligences, the Angels, before this world came to be.   Man’s physical organs of thought – both the brain and the heart – He created as servants of the mind; they are not mind itself.

To make clear that the sun, moon, and stars are not gods, God inspires Moses to state that the Lord made them “…for signs and for seasons, for days and for years.” God made all the vast physical cosmos, whose awesome grandeur and unimaginable dimensions human science has confirmed in our time, to be a calendar for man, a servant of man.   For man alone is made in the Image of God. One human heart is potentially greater than the entire physical cosmos, for into the heart of the baptized the Holy Trinity comes to dwell.

All man’s ills – of mind, heart, and body – arise when he worships creatures and not the Creator as the source of his life. All man’s ills – of mind, heart, and body – arise when he forgets the nobility of his divine calling. During Great Lent, we re-learn that God is God, and that we must worship Him alone.   We re-learn that He made us in His Image and that we must recover the primordial Likeness.   By re-learning our original nobility, we come to lament our present poverty, and we aspire to the Paradise that we lost through sin.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The beginning

6 February OS 2018: Monday of the First Week of Lent (Clean Monday); S. Bucolos of Smyrna; S. Photios the Great 

Each weekday during Great Lent, I plan to re-post the little commentaries I wrote last year on the daily readings from Genesis.   

Today’s first reading at Vespers is Genesis 1:1-13.

As we begin Great Lent, we begin also to read the Book of Genesis at Vespers. The first words remind us of the foundation of all spiritual life, the firm conviction that God is our Creator and that we are His creatures:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

The infinitely good and wise God, the omnipotent One, brought all things from nothing into being. This includes you and me.

My existence is contingent, not necessary. The blink of an eye separates me in time from the abyss of nothingness from which I came, and the blink of an eye separates me in time from the hour of my death. Compared to God, I am nothing.

All of our problems arise from forgetting this fundamental reality, in one way or another. If only we were actively mindful of this at every day and hour, we would always be happy. Our sorrows come from trying to be God. This is true of each of us personally as well as the entire human race.   When we remember that we are finite, sinful, and doomed to die, all of life comes into perspective, and we can attain peace of heart.

May the grace of this Great Lent, which may be our last, bring us to constant remembrance that we are creatures and therefore our Creator should be everything to us.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Orthodox Survival Course, Class 14

Orthodox Survival Course

St. Irene Orthodox Church

Rochester Hills, Michigan


Class 14 – The Renaissance: Timeline Overview. Topic 1: Some Key Bad Ideas from the Start

Timeline Overview: Renaissance to Enlightenment to Revolution

Tonight we will begin our section on the Renaissance, which for convenience’s sake we will say lasts roughly from 1300 to 1600. Of course, many conventional timelines show the 14th and 15th centuries as the “late Middle Ages,” and there are reasons for this, especially if you are considering the British Isles, the Iberian Peninsula, and Scandinavia, which remained “medieval” in various ways longer than the dynamic Italian and French cultures, the seedbeds and exemplars of all future European development. But for our purposes, since we are working on acquiring an Orthodox overview of the vast sweep of Western culture, it is most useful to zero in on the 14th century, and on Italy, as the key period and key place marking the transition to the Renaissance.

In my earlier proposal for a syllabus of Part II of our course (see the end of the notes for Class 10), I put forward the Reformation and Counter-Reformation as separate topics, but after further reflection, I think we’ll treat them as sub-topics within the Renaissance period. As with our earlier sessions, I’m not sure how long we’ll take on the Renaissance: Remember, you are here with me in the initial formation of our course, and we are going to take things as they come and adjust as we see fit.

Though, as we said, the real transition in the West from Orthodoxy to something else really took place in the 12th to the 13th centuries, yet the consequences of this transition were probably not foreseen by the men who caused it, men who believed – tragically and mistakenly – that they were laying solid foundations for a “Thousand Year Reich,” so to speak, of a genuine Christian civilization under the benevolent rule of the Pope. But that was not in fact the result. In the Renaissance, we will see, with dismay, shockingly different “Consequences” of the “Ideas” of the Western High Middle Ages: the collapse of the delicate Idealistic (to use Sorokin’s term) synthesis of the High Middle Ages into an open, unapologetic, self-adulating, no holds-barred Sensate culture marked by anthropocentrism rather than theocentrism, the shift from Truth to Power as the driving force of culture and politics, Superstition replacing Faith and Reason, the glorification of carnal passions, the elevation of the individual and his quest for human glory, and the misdirection of Science from its ancient pursuit of truth in the service of man’s spiritual and intellectual telos – i.e., virtue – to the “progressive” pursuit of power over material phenomena, in the service of comfort, pleasure, and the manipulation of the masses of people by a self-serving oligarchy of occult “insiders,” with this vast technological enterprise being funded by the alchemy of a usury-based financial system. It is as if one of those vast yet delicate Gothic cathedrals, so heartbreakingly beautiful in its dynamic upward thrust to pierce the heavens, suddenly got dizzy, lost its dynamic balance and collapsed into a pile of rubble. Meanwhile, the un-dynamic and un-progressive older brother of the Gothic cathedral, that old-fashioned “boring” Byzantine church sitting solidly on the ground – i.e., the Orthodox civilization – still stands silent, still, and unchanged, “left behind” in the “march of progress,” quietly living on in the monasteries and agrarian societies in the vast backwaters at the eastern end of the Western world: the Ottoman Empire and Old Russia (i.e., Russia before Peter I).

The headlong, frenzied race into passion and fragmentation initiated by the Renaissance will be, as we will see, temporarily arrested by the attempt of the “Enlightenment” (roughly the 17th and 18th centuries) to create a new stasis by means of “reason,” but, being merely man-made, without spiritual truth and power, without repentance, still marked by great hubris, this brittle, make-believe “reasonable” world of Newtonian science and rationalist philosophy will be crushed into a thousand pieces by the demonic power of Revolution, beginning in 1789.

During these last two periods, of “Enlightenment” and Revolution, the Orthodox East will once again encounter and be greatly affected by Western European man, and the latter’s bad Ideas will begin to have Consequences for our fathers, as well. It is essential to our survival that we understand what then happened to the Orthodox, leading right up to our own time.

The Renaissance, Topic 1: Some Key Bad Ideas from the Start – Three Pancakes and Occam’s Razor

So we will see that bad ideas in High Middle Ages led to worse things in the Renaissance. I’d like to go back and review three key transitional ideas that we have alluded to or spoken about in passing, that led inevitably to the collapse of that delicate Idealistic structure of 13th century Western Christian culture into the fragmented free-for-all of the Renaissance I call them the three “Pancakes,” because each one involves “pancaking” two realities into one, smashing together and confusing distinct realities.

Pancake 1 – Man: Reason and Nous, Soul and Spirit. The Scholastics, and what became “Roman Catholic” anthropology generally, do not distinguish carefully between the logos in man regarded as dianoia – the discursive, analytical intellect – and the logos regarded as nous – the synthetic, intuitive, and, properly speaking, spiritual intellect. They “pancake” them into one reality, “reason,” ratio or intellectus. Another word for one’s nous is pneuma– spirit – regarded as the highest faculty of the psyche, the soul, and with its own distinctive function, that is, to act in the invisible realm of the angelic universe through direct, undeluded and synthetic spiritual perceptions. From this point on, this intellectual confusion creates a bad theological method – that of dialectic, with primacy given to kataphasis instead of apophasis, and to the analytic over the synthetic and tradition-based method – as well as lack of spiritual discernment: the Western “saint” cannot distinguish between that which is merely of “the soul,” psychological, and that which is genuinely of “the spirit,” spiritual. By opening the door to endless dialectic and analysis, this confusion leads to theological unraveling. By opening to the door to endless delusory psychological experiences, this confusion leads to complete lack of spiritual discernment.

Pancake 2 – The Church: Organism and Organization. The full-blown papal ideology “pancakes’ the organism of the Church – Her life – into the organization of the Church – Her outward structures, with the latter controlling and dominating, or, in worst cases, substituting for the former. How do you know you are in the Church? Well, you are under the Pope. How do you know you won’t spend more time in Purgatory? Well, the Pope has granted you an indulgence. How do you know someone is really a saint? Well, the Roman Curia has gone through a specific legal process and declared it so. As we know, the Orthodox respect the ancient administrative structures, ancient sees, territorial synods, etc. (which is why we are fighting about them all the time!), but the Orthodox have never identified the structures with the Church. They are in service to the Church; they are not the Church. This confusion in the West will lead to the Church being cynically regarded as just another competitor for earthly power in the race to see who will create the new, “progressive” bright future of a New World Order, Heaven on Earth. In the Renaissance, we will see the spectacle of the popes marching at the head of armies to kill Christian men and sponsoring adventures in astrology, alchemy, and usury to bring about a “better life” on earth.

Pancake 3 – God: Absolute Divine Simplicity

We do not have time, given the broad scope of our course, to give adequate treatment to the so-called Palamite controversy of the 14th century, but we need to summarize at least the points that make up its outcome. Remember how we spoke earlier of Anselm of Bec and the famous slogan of his Proslogion: “fides quarens intellectum”. The idea here is that faith is a “leap in the dark” without evidence and without logic, and that we have to correct this defect in faith with the more sure knowledge coming from experience and reason. This, in germ, is the basic idea of the “Anti-Hesychasts” who opposed St. Gregory Palamas. St. Gregory summarized centuries of the teaching of the Orthodox Fathers when he taught that

1. Theology is grounded in the direct experience of the saints, whose nous has direct contact with the uncreated energies of God.

2. Therefore, a prerequisite assumption is that God’s essence and energies are distinct, because the nous must simultaneously experience God in reality, to avoid agnosticism, without experiencing the divine essence, which would result in pantheism.

3. This knowledge is more, not less, sure than the results of the empirical experience and analytical reasoning of the scientists and philosophers.

The “Latinophrones,” or “Anti-Hesychasts” taught the opposite, that theology is the result of applying philosophical reasoning to natural and supernatural revelation, that God is Absolutely Simple, actus purus – His essence and His energies are “pancaked” into absolute identity – and that scientific and philosophical knowledge is more certain than the knowledge gained from spiritual experience. This “leap” from trusting the Saints and Tradition to trusting “reason” will result in the humanism and worldliness that will characterize the Renaissance, which, we will see, will be an age not of reason but superstition, because…

…by undercutting the basis for undeceived spiritual knowledge, the Anti-Hesychasts undercut the basis for the functioning of reason itself, which is known to exist only by Divine Revelation. This is where the Orthodox parted ways with the Scholastics. But at the same time, over in England, William of Ockham is parting ways with the Orthodox and the Scholastics, and the Great Race to the Bottom of Western thought is off and running!

Occam’s “Razor” and Nominalism – Finally, we are coming around to the great villain in Richard Weaver’s narrative of the fall of the West: Nominalism. And we have to agree with Weaver: It’s a huge problem. Like “Anti-Palamism,” Nominalism, though one finds it before in various authors, really “takes off” in the 14th century, with the teachings of an English Franciscan friar, William of Ockham (or “Occam”). While Anti-Palamism undercuts human knowledge indirectly, by undercutting the divine-human mechanism of Revelation, Nominalism undercuts the possibility of human knowledge directly, by denying the existence of the “universals.”

Occam’s “Razor” is the nickname for an epistemological axiom attributed to the friar William: ” Entities are not to be multiplied without necessity.” As a methodological assumption for scientific work, that’s a pretty good rule: Keep it simple; throw out whatever is actually extraneous to your hypothesis. The problem is that Occam, and later many other thinkers, applied this rule to the age-old “problem of the universals,” and came up with what came to be called “Nominalism,” that is, “Name-ism,” the idea that when we call two horses by the same name – horse – it’s not because there’s such a thing as horse-ness that the horses have in common, but simply because we noticed that these two things are kind of the same and so we’ll call them both “horse” for convenience.

So what is this “problem of the universals?” A “universal” is anything predicated of more than one individual: “Man,” for example, as predicated of Peter and Paul. The “problem” is this: Does the word “man” signify something that really exists or is it just a notion, a tag, we apply to the two individuals pragmatically, for convenience’s sake? Is there such a thing as human nature, or is that a notion, a linguistic convention we can change at will? Is there such a thing as a “nature” of anything? There are three possible answers:

Nominalism – Nominalism is the idea that the universals are just names (nomina) that we give to individual substances that seem to be kind of the same. There is no such “thing out there” as human nature, horse nature, house nature, star nature, etc.

Extreme Realism – Plato combats this idea, which obviously leads to skepticism, cynicism, and the abuse of power, and which he associates with Socrates’ opponents, the sophists, with a radically opposite idea: the universals are so real that they have a separate existence in the World of Forms (τα είδη). When we perceive “humanness,” our mind is experiencing anamnesis (remembering again) of the “true world” in which our souls pre-existed before being “imprisoned” in the flesh and the delusory world of matter. There is a soteriological problem here, however: When you leave the body and re-enter the world of the forms, how does your “humanness” encounter Humanness Itself and not get absorbed by it? Thus Platonic soteriology is ultimately not different from the Hindu idea of the absorption of the individual into the One.

Moderate Realism – this is the solution of Aristotle, which in modified form is taught by the Holy Fathers as well as the Scholastics. The universals do exist, but in the created world they exist only as instantiated in individual instances. “Humanness” does exist, but we see it only in examples like Peter and Paul, not in itself. But where did our minds get these ideas? Why are we able to perceive the universals? The answer is most beautiful and satisfying: Because our minds are made according to the image of the Logos of the Primordial Mind, in which are found the logoi, archetypes or patterns, of all created things. The universals aren’t “their own things,” they are ideas in the mind of God.

The Scholastics, with their beloved Absolute Divine Simplicity, have a hard time explaining why the logoi are not created or eternal archetypes with an existence separate from God, which would throw them back into some kind of Platonism or even (if the archtypes are uncreated) polytheism, or, if the logoi really do pertain to the mind of God considered as pure essence, are not therefore necessarily merely notions in our own minds, which throws them back into some kind of Nominalism. The Holy Fathers, by contrast, most notably St. Maximos the Confessor, can explain the logoi easily, as being posited in the realm of the uncreated energies of the Logos. But both the Orthodox and the Scholastics oppose Nominalism.

We will see how the skepticism engendered by Nominalism will infect every aspect of religion, philosophy, politics, and culture in the Renaissance and succeeding ages. If you cannot know the natures of things as they really are, then real knowledge is impossible, and the pursuit of science is not to conform the mind to reality, and the passions to the mind, but to conform reality to the demands of the will dominated by the passions. This Satanic inversion is the basis of all modern culture, a sobering thought that should really motivate us to stay “out of the mainstream” and “off the radar screen,” and really stay close to the Church.

Listen to a podcast of this class at  

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The task before us

3 February OS 2018 – Friday of Cheesefare Week; Afterfeast of the Meeting of the Lord;  Ss. Symeon the God-receiver and Anna the Prophetess; Holy New Martyrs John, Stamatios, and Nicholas of Chios; S. Nicholas, Enlightener of Japan

A little known feature of our Cheesefare Week services – little known because most parish churches do not have weekday services outside of feast days – is that the Wednesday and Friday of this week are a-liturgical – i.e., the Divine Liturgy is not celebrated – and instead of the two daily readings at the Divine Liturgy from the New Testament, we have readings at the Sixth Hour and Vespers from the prophets of the Old Testament.

The two Old Testament readings in the services today are from the Prophet Zacharias – at the Sixth Hour, chapter eight, verses seven to seventeen, and at Vespers, chapter eight, verses nineteen to 23.   The Lord speaks to the prophet telling him to announce God’s mercy to those who repent. Not only will God forgive and bless His people, but other nations will come and turn to the Lord, as well.

Commenting on these passages, St. Theophan the Recluse has this to say:

“So will I save you, and ye shall be a blessing,” promises the Lord through the prophet Zachariah (Zach. 8:13). But under what condition? Under the condition that every man will speak the truth to his neighbor, that men will righteously sort out their affairs amongst themselves, that men will not remember wrongs in their hearts against their neighbor, that they will love no false oath, and will love truth and peace. If these conditions are met, says the Lord, “they shall be to me a people, and I will be to them a God, in truth and in righteousness (Zach 8:8),” and His blessing shall spread among them. Then all strangers shall hear and say, “Let us go speedily to them to pray before the Lord, for we have heard that the Lord is with them (cf. Zach. 8: 21-23). “And many peoples and many nations shall come to seek earnestly the face of the Lord Almighty (Zach. 8:22).”

 Thus did the high moral purity of the first Christians attract people and nations to the Lord. Those who live always according to the spirit of Christ are, without the use of words, the best preachers of Christ and the most convincing apostles of Christianity. – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, p. 52

“Thus did the high moral purity of the first Christians attract people and nations to the Lord.” God had prepared the pagan world of that time to accept the Gospel, and the pagan world was exhausted spiritually, looking for answers. They were ready for the new Faith. And when they not only heard the divinely inspired preaching of the Apostles and other holy teachers of the Faith, and beheld so many healings and other miracles, but also saw how differently the Christians lived from everyone else – the extreme purity and stability of their family lives, their generosity to the poor, their forgiveness and meekness in the face of persecution – they were overwhelmed: this, in deed, as well as in word, was the Truth.

Our situation is different today, in that we are not dealing with pre-Christians who are hungering and thirsting for the truth but with post-Christians who do not care about truth or who say that the only truth is that there is no truth and cannot even see that such a position is senseless. We are dealing with people who already think they know who Christ is and what the Church is, and either overtly reject both, or embrace some distorted version of the Faith, or – which is most common – are indifferent, satisfied with a vague religious feeling and satisfied with themselves.   To get people to admit there is One, True Faith, much less that Orthodoxy is that Faith, is a tall order. Our task, however, remains the same, which is repentance, with constant re-commitment, daily renewed efforts to lead our lives according to the Orthodox Faith. Great Lent, which we will begin in three days,  is the pre-eminent time to do this.

Because we live in this post-Christian age, however, we must be content to labor in isolation, not expecting great outward results.   This is our cross, the particular struggle the Lord has assigned to us, in His wisdom and providence from all eternity. We will gain courage to go on with this struggle if we do two things: if we have an intense life of prayer and if we constantly strive to communicate with like-minded fellow Orthodox. The life of prayer, nourished by spiritual reading, will console us from within, and talking to spiritual friends will console us from without. Conversely, two great dangers that threaten us are giving up on the life of prayer and isolating ourselves from our priest, our parish, and our Orthodox friends.

As we plan for Lent, then, let us look honestly at our practice of daily prayer and spiritual reading, and re-dedicate ourselves to a daily discipline. Let us plan to go to confession as soon as possible, and also to re-connect with fellow parishioners or other Orthodox friends whose encouragement has helped us in the past, and remember, too, that they need us, as we need them.

“A brother helped by a brother is a strong city.”

A blessed Great Lent to all!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Perfect Offering

2 February 2018 OS – The Meeting of the Lord 

The Meeting of the Lord is a quiet, much-neglected feast, and yet the Holy Fathers saw fit to rank it among the Twelve Great Feasts of the Church, for it is a holy mystery integral to the great mysteries that form the one great mystery of our salvation. It is the Fortieth Day of Our Lord’s Nativity, the end of the great cycle begun on the Entry of the Theotokos (November 21st OS), when we began chanting “Christ is Born,” and continuing through the Forefeast of the Nativity, through the Nativity itself, the Theophany, and all the wonderful season which celebrates the Incarnation. Observance of the Meeting is integral to truly observing Christ’s Birth and Baptism, to keeping Christmas as it should be kept.

On this day the Lord Who gave the Law to Moses on Mt. Sinai – the Lord Who decreed that every first-born of the Hebrew race, the Old Testament Church, be ransomed in the Temple, in remembrance of the Lord’s sparing their first born in Egypt – this same Lord now comes as a little babe, as a man and in place of sinful man, to fulfill perfectly the Law He Himself gave as God. The paradoxical wonder: He that is to be the Ransom for our salvation condescends to being ransomed by the offering of two young doves. That which we could not do for ourselves, He did for us. He fulfills the Law in two senses: 1. He alone could completely obey God’s command, because He alone of all the race of man, being the New Adam, had an uncorrupted human mind to receive the Law and an uncorrupted human will to obey it, and 2. He brings an end to the Old Law and ushers in the New.

This day is also the Purification of the Holy Virgin, a paradoxical name, for she alone of all mothers on earth needed no purification, having conceived without the aid of a man, without seed and without passion, and having given birth without corruption and with the seal of Her virginity intact. Before, during, and after birth She remains, in time and in eternity, the incorrupt, most-pure, and most holy Ever-Virgin Mother. Yet in obedience to the Law she submits to the prayers of the 40th Day, read by the priest to purify an ordinary human mother from the stain of corruption incurred by the passionate union of the flesh and the bloody parturition of the womb. The above-supreme honor of being God’s own mother does not lift her estimation of herself above all other women (much less above men!), but rather casts her into the abyss of utmost humility, that complete knowledge of one’s nothingness before God, the only possible appropriate response to Who God Is and who we are. For this obedience, this humility, this complete reversal of Eve’s anarchy that marked the beginning of all our woes, She is rightly ranked “More honorable than the cherubim and beyond compare more glorious than the seraphim.” Having made herself most low, she has been exalted most high, not simply above all other men, but above all the heavenly hosts, above all the visible and invisible creation, and she has become the very border of the created and uncreated realms.

O Lord Jesus Christ our God, presented in the Temple as a babe for our sakes, glory be to Thee!

O Most Holy Theotokos, save us!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Purity of intention

12 January OS 2018 – Thursday of the Sixteenth Week of St. Luke; Afterfeast of the Theophany; Holy Martyr Tatiana

Today’s Gospel reading in the daily cycle is Mark 12: 38-44.

The Lord said, Beware of the scribes, which love to go in long clothing, and love salutations in the marketplaces, And the chief seats in the synagogues, and the uppermost rooms at feasts: Which devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayers: these shall receive greater damnation. And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much. And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing. And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury: For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.

We all claim to hate hypocrisy and simultaneously imagine ourselves to be the widows whose houses are being devoured and our adversaries to be the hypocrites who are devouring them. But this only goes to show that we also are hypocrites, does it not? We profess to be Christians but blame others for our problems, which is quintessential hypocrisy, since a Christian knows that his only problem is sin, and that the only person that can really prevent his salvation is himself.

How do we acquire complete integrity of intention and a clear vision of ourselves, so that we may inherit the poor widow’s blessing? How shall we be able to offer to the Lord all that we really can, whether it is great or small, from a pure heart? Well, that is the work of a lifetime, and most people only really get there on their deathbeds, if they get there. But today let’s start with three activities:

1. Pray to see yourself as you really are. Tell God that you are so deluded that you don’t even know how deluded you are. Since this is the truth, it is pleasing to Him, and He will answer your prayer.

2. Usually, bad things will happen to you as a result of doing the above. This is because we rarely benefit from direct illumination, not appreciating it or not even seeing it for what it is, and God knows we have to learn the hard way. Most days it is little bad things, like the children misbehaving or our boss being unhappy with us. Some days it may be something much larger. Either way, Activity 2 is to thank God when bad things – great or small – happen to us, and to observe our instinctive response to these things. This will reveal a great deal about where we really “are at.”

3. Make a careful examination of conscience tonight, going over all of your thoughts, feelings, words, and actions of the day. Ask God’s forgiveness for your failings and thank Him for the good He enabled you to do and for the good things that came your way.

Tomorrow, do 1, 2, and 3 all over again. Purity of heart is on its way!

22.4.2010: Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment