13 December 2008

Wisdom! Let Us Attend!

Throughout the history of the west, the great thinkers, philosophers, poets, and religious writers have spent a considerable amount of time writing on the topic of wisdom. Injunctions toward the acquisition of wisdom form the basis of the classical model of education which, far from being a mere acquisition of skills, was seen to be the necessary preparation of the mind, body, and soul for the gaining of wisdom throughout the course of life. That wisdom is not merely knowledge can be attested to by both Plato and Solomon—an agreement which demonstrates the dual-basis of western culture. However, in recent centuries, the quest for this foundational virtue seems to have disappeared from the cultural consciousness. In the past five centuries (that is, since the Enlightenment) the acquisition of wisdom seems to totally fall off the radar, not just for those writing about education, but also in terms of spiritual praxis. It seems curious that this intellectual and spiritual virtue of wisdom, which those who established Western culture valued so highly, should suddenly disappear, and its disappearance begs the question: why?

To understand the nature of the agreement of Plato and Solomon that wisdom is not just the possession of knowledge (as a thing in itself), a preliminary look at both Plato’s and Solomon’s understanding of what wisdom actually is seems to be in order. In Book V of Plato's Republic, Socrates makes a series of interesting statements of epistemology. The first is his rhetorical question, “...how can that which is not ever be known?” (Plato 6). With this statement, Socrates is definitively confining our ability to know only to things that are, a concept that has a long history in Pre-Socratic Greek philosophy, a full explanation of which lies outside the scope of this discussion. Nevertheless, this definition that limits what we can know only to things that exist is the necessary foundation for the analogy which defines the relationship of knowledge to ignorance, and these to opinion:

And we are assured, after looking at the matter from many points of view, that absolute being is or may be absolutely known, but that the utterly non-existent is utterly unknown ... But if there be anything which if of such nature as to be and not to be, that will have a place intermediate between pure being and absolute negation of being ... And, as knowledge corresponded to being, and ignorance of necessity to non-being, for that intermediate between being and not-being there has to be discovered a corresponding intermediate between knowledge and ignorance. (Plato 6)

In this analogy, knowledge is equivalent to being and ignorance to non-being. The intermediate between the two, which may be defined as the gradient between the two poles of knowledge and ignorance, is opinion (Plato 7). To be sure, Plato offers no definition of wisdom in Book V of the Republic, but with a slight reliance on inference, it might be said that the pursuit of true knowledge, and therefore of true being, is for Plato the act of becoming wise.

Wisdom, then, and the relationship of it to knowledge, is of vital importance. To Plato, wisdom does not seem to be a thing in itself, as knowledge or ignorance are (with their analogues in that which is and that which is not, respectively), but rather the action of acquiring knowledge/being. This agrees with Solomon—traditionally regarded as the author of the Book of Ecclesiastes—who famously proclaims: “For in the abundance of wisdom/There is the abundance of knowledge,/And he who increases knowledge will increase suffering” (Eccles. 1:18). Such a statement presents a classic statement of logic, A is equal to B and B is equal to C, where A is wisdom, B is knowledge, and C is suffering. By implication then, an abundance of wisdom increases suffering. The question then arises, why would abundant wisdom, which seems to be the result of acquiring knowledge of the world (things that are), result in suffering? This is further complicated by the discourse in the second chapter of Ecclesiastes, which declares “Then I saw that wisdom excels foolishness/As light excels darkness./The wise man's eyes are in his head, but the senseless man walks in darkness” (Eccles. 2:13-14). Here, the author of Ecclesiastes makes an analogy of his own, that wisdom is like light, and foolishness is like darkness. This has an interesting relationship to Plato, in that, in the Republic (in Book VII) Plato creates the extensive, famous “Allegory of the Cave,” in which his liberated captive, upon beholding the brilliant light of the world beyond the cave, is able to see real things that are, rather than the mere shadows of imitations. The escaped prisoner is literally and metaphorically enlightened, which draws an inescapable parallel back to Ecclesiastes, which states “Who knows the wise?/And who knows the interpretation of a thing?/A man's wisdom will make his face shine” (Eccles. 8:1).

The crux of the problem lies in the inability to know who really has acquired true knowledge (and is therefore, according to the theory so far, wise), and who is speaking from ignorance. In a polis with democratic values, such as that of ancient Athens or even of the modern west, opinion, which is neither true knowledge, or complete ignorance, but a mixture of the two, is well nigh impossible to determine simply through the application of human reason. Reason may help to evaluate differing opinions, and logic can help winnow away the more useless and ignorant opinions, but to truly find a truly wise person who has absolute knowledge of things as they are seems impossibly difficult—and so, I conclude that it is from this fundamental inability to really know who is wise or who knows the interpretation of a thing (as noted from the first verse of the eighth chapter of Ecclesiastes) is the source of the suffering that comes from the increase of knowledge, and therefore wisdom.

It should be noted that Plato's discourse on the difference between knowledge/being and ignorance/non-being, and the “flux which is caught” between them—that is, opinion—offers no solution on how to determine who has wisdom and who does not. Indeed, the Preacher—who is the speaker for the large majority of the Book of Ecclesiastes—concludes his discourse with “Vanity of vanities ... All is vanity” (Eccles. 12:8). If we were to end there, indeed, the suffering would be great. A sort of agnostic skepticism would be the result: a belief that, even if there is true knowledge out there, and even if it is knowable, no one could ever truly believe anyone that claimed to have such knowledge, because it might just as easily be merely their opinion. Thankfully, the key to understanding Ecclesiastes, and, by extension, resolving the crises between who truly knows and therefore truly has wisdom, comes at the end of the text: “Hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God/And keep His commandments,/For this is the whole man.”

If the fear of God and the keeping of His commandments is the whole of man, and understanding this fundamental limit that is placed on human beings from outside our own sphere of control, is the source of wisdom, this also agrees with Socrates, who famously was said to be the wisest of men, because he claimed to know nothing. Wisdom, then, can be said not to be only knowing things (that would be mere knowledge), but knowing that we are limited—and that there are limits to what we, as human beings, can know. Affirmation of our own limitations is part of affirming not only our place in the world, but also that the world (and reality itself) has an existence outside of us and the utilitarian purposes to which we can put it.

In classical education, learning the virtue of 'knowing one’s place' in the order of creation was part of the spiritual and intellectual virtues of a liberal arts education. That this is true no longer, thanks in large part to the fact that liberal arts programs have succumbed to the culture of utility, means that the freedom to acquire wisdom is now lost on the majority of people in our society. In his book, The Life of the Mind, Schall reflects that, in Book Seven of the Republic Plato “suggests that it is possible to learn or to be exposed to things too soon, or that it is impossible to learn many things if we begin the project of learning them too early in life” (Schall 60-61). Considering this, when reflects on the basic theme of all the primary works so far—which I would define as “What does it mean to be liberally educated?”—the implications are fascinating. One could almost conclude that, as they say, timing is everything. To that end, Clement of Alexandria writes that “So, before the Lord’s coming, philosophy was an essential guide toward righteousness for the Greeks. At the present time, it is a useful guide toward reverence for God” (Clement 169). Just as in the larger picture of human history, the study of philosophy proves useful for the formation of the soul toward the Good so that one may know the revealed Truth of Christ, the God-man.

In the Stromateis, Clement of Alexandria says that our preliminary training makes us ready to see the Truth when it is presented. This implies that, even were we to shown the truth before hand, we would not necessarily be able to see it for ourselves, or understand it. Such a condition might be called “premature enlightenment.”

As one ages, one often finds new passages of interest, new or different lessons to learn even from works one read ages ago. In fact, it seems that, as the mind matures, so too the understanding of wise words. Perhaps it is the growth in wisdom in the individual soul that allows like to respond to like. Schall makes this point in his further reflection on the thought Plato in The Life of the Mind, where he mentions that Plato did not think that anyone was capable of being “fully wise or mature much before he was fifty” (Schall 62). There is an old adage says that ‘with age comes wisdom’—and, while Plato may have disputed that one becomes wiser just by travelling through time in one direction for set period or interval, the point seems well made that if one is in the pursuit of wisdom, the accumulation of knowledge and experiences will then enable one to grow in wisdom as one ages.

That is not to say that wisdom can be stockpiled like some great hoard, on which we sit growing fatter and richer off it, like the dragon, Smaug, in Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Wisdom does not seem to be just a mere commodity. One of the purposes of liberal arts education, according to Seneca, is not to mere be acquainted with the ideas or plot of great works (such as the Odyssey), but to understand the point of the work—to be able to gain moral, ethical, or other instruction about how one ought to live from the work (Seneca 99). In such a schema, each time we “learn” more about the world, and hence ourselves, the more connections we are able to make with the things we already “know” and the things we have just learned. So, in the growth of wisdom, each new thing that one apprehends about the world, and about the self, casts new light on each things previously apprehended. In this way, everything one knows, everything one is, becomes a kind of prerequisite for each new encounter. Thereby, the liberally educated man, who values wisdom, is constantly reevaluating himself according to what he has learned.

This is precisely the lesson that Plutarch attempts to teach Nicander in “On the Student at Lectures.” Plutarch writes that the student should “immediately on leaving a lecture in the philosophic school, look at himself and examine his own mind, to see if it has got rid of any useless and uncomfortable growth and become lighter and more at ease” (Plutarch 147). Not only should we put to use what we learn through reexamining our own minds, as Plutarch recommends, but we must also be prepared to jettison any “useless” things that we already “knew.” We are called, it seems to a sort of intellectual holism; always integrating the new that is beneficial, and prepared to exorcise from ourselves those ideas which, upon later reflection, are but a cancer.
The danger of not understanding this process and expecting to gain all knowledge and all wisdom easily, without struggle, and without due attention to times and seasons of man’s life, is summed up especially well by Schall:

If they consider or experiment on something before they have either the maturity or judgment sufficient to examine it or recognize its evidence, young potential philosophers will easily become discouraged by the whole enterprise. They will think, because they did not easily see the point, that there is nothing there to be seen or learned, however highly it is praised by the dons, the sophisticated, the canon of great books, or the tradition. These disillusioned potential philosophers will suspect that the consideration of the things of the mind, of the things worthy to know for their own sakes, is a fraud and deceit because they cannot effortlessly grasp them. But the highest things are, for our kind, conditioned on a period of advent and waiting. That we are not given all things at once is not a defect in our creation. It may well be part of its glory (61-62).

There are prerequisites to the proper understanding of things, Schall reminds us. Mere exposure to the classics of liberal learning, to the great tradition itself, may be no more likely to lead us to a virtuous life, if we had no inclinations toward virtue in the first place. In fact, even some of Socrates' own students and associates became very un-virtuous men (Alcibiades and Critias come immediately to mind as examples of this). Without the proper formation of the mind and soul, even in the liberal arts tradition, freedom—much less true wisdom—is likely not to be the result. In the modern day, we cannot take for granted the assumption that the spiritual, ethical, and moral formation of people has taken place the way that the teachers of the great tradition have been able to in the past.

All the same, understanding somewhat about what wisdom is, and how one could go about acquiring it as was done in the past, why has modernity forsaken the pursuit of this lofty spiritual and intellectual virtue? Moreover, why does its disappearance coincide with the era known as “The Enlightenment”—arguably the birth of modernity? Perhaps it is because the emergence of modernity was spurred by the development of the market culture, where everything has been subjected to market forces. As such, there is no market for wisdom, and the market has simply winnowed it away like so much useless chaff. In the market culture, the value is placed on work qua work; all things are evaluated by their utility to facilitate greater and more productive work. There is no room left for the acquisition of wisdom, because leisure—that time which is necessary for the contemplative life that leads to wisdom—is gone from modern life. Work has, for Western society, become an all-embracing, all-consuming passion (Leisure 4). As such, it has taken over even the idea of education, where educated man is no longer the inheritor of the liberal, or freeing, arts, but is instead relegated to the status of the “intellectual worker” (Leisure 6). Such a change in status changes the nature of the educator from the one who passes on the traditional body of foundational knowledge, to the individual whose job it is to produce “intellectual” items (books, scholarly articles, research, etc). This change in status to intellectual workers places the thinking mind divorces the philosophic disciplines (which, Pieper claims are naturally furthest from the world of “work”) from the contemplative state of mind wherein human beings become capable of looking and seeing the world “as it is” (Leisure 8, 9).

Once decoupled from the contemplative, the idea of the world as a knowable place has, unsurprisingly, gone out of fashion in the circles of intellectual workers. In a worldview that sees no essential reason why human thought should have any meaningful relationship to reality, it should not comes as a surprise that “intellectual work” being done in the name of education has descended into mere critiques of language, where interpretation has become the slave of the particular “mode” of analysis being employed. Such an approach has nothing to do with leisurely contemplation. Where meaning is divorced from the means, there can be no getting at Truth.

Pieper says later in Leisure that leisure is that “which leads man to accept the reality of creation and thus to celebrate it” but that “[l]eisure is only possible...to a man at one with himself, but who is also at one with the world” (29). This concept of at-oneness with the world, and celebrating the reality of it, is connected very closely to Pieper’s thoughts on the necessity of the festive in the role of man’s inner life. This is stated quite explicitly at the end of Leisure, where Pieper says:

The Christian cultus, unlike any other, is at once a sacrifice and a sacrament. In so far as the Christian cultus is a sacrifice held in the midst of the creation which is affirmed by this sacrifice of the God-man—every day is a feast day […] Now, our hope is that the true sense of sacramental visibility in the celebration of the Christian cultus shold become manifest to the extent needed for drawing the man in us, who is ‘born to work’, out of himself, and should draw him out of the toil and moil of every day into the sphere of unending holiday, and should draw him out of the narrow and confined sphere of work and labour into the heart and centre of creation. (52-53).

Pieper suggests that the cure for the total work mentality is a return of the sacred and sacramental, as the festive is the key component of a leisurely culture. “Festivals are doomed,” Pieper says, “unless they are preceded by the pattern of religious praise” (In Tune with the World 37). The worshiping act is, essentially, an acceptance of one’s place within the world—leading to both the essential parts of leisure: an acceptance of reality, and the celebration of at-oneness with the world. It is only by affirming reality, and by celebrating our union with it, that true wisdom can be achieved. This leads us into the realm of worship—that which is revealed truth, and goes beyond the daily activities of work.

Nevertheless, it does matter what we worship. Mere humanistic ideological constructs (Liberty, Fraternity, and Equality leap to mind) are not enough to sustain the joy necessary for true festivity. Pieper defined joy as “an expression of love…Joy is the response of a lover receiving what he loves” (In Tune with the World 23). This love must be directed away from us, not just individually, but also collectively; the glorification of the humanity, is not sufficient for the sustaining of festal joy. Worship of the transcendental God is an absolute necessity to the achieving of this right relationship to reality and to the self. This is where the Christian Eucharist becomes the essential sacrament and expression of this transcendental worship. Through the Eucharist, man takes the gifts of the good creation, provided by God, in the form of wheat and grapes, and through the application of his own meaningful work changes these things into bread and wine; these elements, produced by the cooperation of the human with the divine, are then offered back to God sacrificially. They are then received back again, by the people, as God’s own body and blood. These acts of taking, giving, and receiving are essentially celebratory of the goodness of creation (thereby affirming it) and in receiving them back through eating and drinking, express a unity in man with both the world and the transcendent. As such, the Lord’s Day, or Sunday, becomes essential to the contemplative life, because it is a day on which no work is done; not because work is prohibited, but because the voluntary sacrifice of the proceeds of a day’s labor, and the mental, spiritual and physical rest that are necessary to both the contemplative life and, therefore, the acquisition of wisdom, are exhibited on that day.

Because there is no way to sell this conception of the universe, and our place within it, there is no way for the market culture to absorb and market wisdom. In fact, the “culture industry” seeks to find ways to totally eliminate that which it cannot rebrand and sell. As Horkheimer and Adorno have put it,

Even in their leisure time, consumers must orient themselves to the unity of production. […] This dreamless art for the people fulfils the dreamy idealism which went too far for idealism in its critical form. Everything comes from consciousness—from that of God for Malebranche and Berkley, and from earthly production management for mass art. Not only do hit songs, stars, and soap operas conform to types recurring cyclically as rigid invariants, but the specific content of productions, the seemingly variable element, is itself derived from those types. The details become interchangeable. (98)

This becomes a serious problem as our culture becomes more and more reliant on technology for both information and entertainment, as it enables the “ease of acquisition” of mere knowledge that Schall talks about, and cheapens the whole of human learning. It should be no surprise, though, that the “culture industry” has come into existence and proceeds lock-step with the rise of mass media and mass entertainment. The illusory nature of the culture of “total work” is evident in the fact that it has to reassert itself on every level of human experience. Horkheimer and Adorno summarize this well, saying,

“The whole world is passed through the culture industry. The familiar experience of the moviegoer, who perceives the street outside as a continuation of the film he has just left, because the film seeks strictly to reproduce the world of everyday perception, has become the guideline of production…the more easily it creates the illusion that the world outside is a seamless extension of the one that has been revealed in the cinema” (99).

As cinema and television grow closer together in terms of production quality, and as more and more people can watch these imitations of reality in the privacy of their own homes, on a wide array of mobile devices thanks to the internet, the access to facsimiles of reality is prevalent on a scale previously unimaginable.

But, it is not limited to the illusions of cinematography. The illusion that a person can know everything about the great works of western culture simply because they can all be downloaded on a single disk, or a single flash drive, to be searched and scanned at one’s convenience, is itself only a simulacrum of education and erudition. To really learn something from a great work, to really absorb its meaning and make it part of one’s self, one must do as Plutarch suggested to Nicander, and listen without questioning, reserving judgment until one has heard the whole of the argument. It is too easy to pilfer a work for pithy quotes, or passages that agree with one’s own opinions. Indeed, such a culture of easy information encourages an elevation of opinion, while simultaneously discounting the existence of objective truth or objective reality. By denying objective truth, the culture industry can recreate what it has destroyed outside itself as lies within itself (Horkheimer and Adorno, 107). In achieving a sort of artificial omnipresence, it has squeezed out any ability for the contemplative life, or wisdom, to flourish.

The market culture no longer only markets what culture produces, it now produces culture. Since it does not value wisdom—precisely because wisdom has no marketable value, being a virtue of the soul—it is seen as useless and worthless. The man who would devote himself to its acquisition would almost certainly be seen as a fool or a madman--it should come as no surprise that one of the jokes asked of those in pursuit of a liberal arts degree is "Would you like fries with that?" Nevertheless, this virtue of the soul is one that the Christian cannot deny, since the very revelation of Christian truth is that Wisdom has himself become a man for the purpose of the salvation of mankind. Nor should it surprise us that as western culture loses touch with its Christian moorings, wisdom and the contemplative life should begin to be looked upon as aberrant and mad. The Apostle Paul says in his first letter to the Corinthians, “Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of the age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe” (RSV, 1 Cor. 1:20-21). To be able to evaluate what is true knowledge from what is either merely opinion or true ignorance, we must look through the lens of the revealed truth of God to make sense of the great tradition of western knowledge, which is the unique gift of our personhood, made in the image and likeness of God himself. His gift is exactly this: that by His grace we are able to attain His wisdom through proper study combined with proper spiritual formation.

Works Cited or Consulted

Clement of Alexandria. “from the Stromateis” The Great Tradition: Classic Readings on What It Means to be an Educated Human Being. Ed. Richard Gamble. Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2007.169-175.

Horkheimer, Max & Theodore Adorno. The Dialectic of Enlightenment: Cultural Memory in the Present. Trans. Edmund Jephcott. Palo Alto: Standford University Press, 2002.

Pieper, Josef. In Tune with the World: A Theory of Festivity. Trans. Richard Winston & Clara Winston. South Bend: St. Augustine’s Press, 1999.

Pieper, Josef. Leisure: The Basis of Culture. Trans. Alexander Dru. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1998.

Plato. “The Republic.” The Great Tradition: Classic Readings on What It Means to be an Educated Human Being. Ed. Richard Gamble. Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2007. 6-9.

Plutarch. “On the Student at Lectures” The Great Tradition: Classic Readings on What It Means to be an Educated Human Being. Ed. Richard Gamble. Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2007. 142-153.

Schall, James V. The Life of the Mind. Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2006.

Seneca. “On Liberal and Vocational Studies” The Great Tradition: Classic Readings on What It Means to be an Educated Human Being. Ed. Richard Gamble. Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2007. 98-105.

The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha. Revised Standard Version. Ed. Herbert G. May and Bruce M. Metzger. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1977.

The Orthodox Study Bible. Saint Athanasius Academy Septuagint (SAAS). Ed. Metropolitan Maximos+, Michael Najim, Eugene Pentiuc, Jack Norman Sparks. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2008.

21 October 2008

My Prayer for the Day

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, One God. Amen.

O God, my God, hear me!
Though I am lost and afraid,
Though I am defiled and despised,
Though I am the most unworthy,
Hear Thou me and save me, O my Savior!
In the darkness, my soul calls out to Thee
For even in my sickness it knoweth that Thou art the author of Life;
In my affliction and sorrow, it knoweth that Thou art the wellspring of righteousness.
Disdain me not, nor take Thy grace from me,
Though I have forsaken Thy statues and Thy Way.
Hear me, O Lord, and return me to the narrow path
That leads ever toward Thee,
My only hope, my only refuge, and my only joy.
Strengthen me against the vanities of the earthly world
And keep me ever in Thy holiness.

Through the prayers of Thy Most Pure Mother and of all the Saints, especially of St. Anthony the Great and St. Justinian Emperor of the Romans, have mercy on me and save me, O Christ our God, for Thou art good and lovest mankind. Amen.

14 October 2008

Wisdom from St. Ambrose of Milan

from Duties of the Clergy, Book 2, Chapter V:

Those things which are generally looked on as good are mostly hindrances to a blessed life, and those which are looked on as evil are the materials out of which virtues grow. What belongs to blessedness is shown by other examples.

16. But those things which seem to be good, as riches, abundance, joy without pain, are a hindrance to the fruits of blessedness, as is clearly stated in the Lord’s own words, when He said: “Woe to you rich, for ye have received your consolation! Woe unto you that are full, for ye shall hunger, and to those who laugh, for they shall mourn!” So, then, corporal or external good things are not only no assistance to attaining a blessed life, but are even a hindrance to it.

17. Wherefore Naboth was blessed, even though he was stoned by the rich; weak and poor, as opposed to the royal resources, he was rich in his aim and his religion; so rich, indeed, that he would not exchange the inheritance of the vineyard received from his father for the king’s money; and on this account was he perfect, for he defended the rights of his forefathers with his own blood. Thus, also, Ahab was wretched on his own showing, for he caused the poor man to be put to death, so as to take possession of his vineyard himself.

18. It is quite certain that virtue is the only and the highest good; that it alone richly abounds in the fruit of a blessed life; that a blessed life, by means of which eternal life is won, does not depend on external or corporal benefits, but on virtue only. A blessed life is the fruit of the present, and eternal life is the hope of the future.

19. Some, however, there are who think a blessed life is impossible in this body, weak and fragile as it is. For in it one must suffer pain and grief, one must weep, one must be ill. So I could also say that a blessed life rests on bodily rejoicing, but not on the heights of wisdom, on the sweetness of conscience, or on the loftiness of virtue. It is not a blessed thing to be in the midst of suffering; but it is blessed to be victorious over it, and not to be cowed by the power of temporal pain.

20. Suppose that things come which are accounted terrible as regards the grief they cause, such as blindness, exile, hunger, violation of a daughter, loss of children. Who will deny that Isaac was blessed, who did not see in his old age, and yet gave blessings with his benediction? Was not Jacob blessed who, leaving his father’s house, endured exile as a shepherd for pay, and mourned for the violated chastity of his daughter, and suffered hunger? Were they not blessed on whose good faith God received witness, as it is written: “The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”? A wretched thing is slavery, but Joseph was not wretched; nay, clearly he was blessed, when he whilst in slavery checked the lusts of his mistress. What shall I say of holy David who bewailed the death of three sons, and, what was even worse than this, his daughter’s incestuous connection? How could he be unblessed from whom the Author of blessedness Himself sprung, Who has made many blessed? For: “Blessed are they who have not seen yet have believed.” All these felt their own weakness, but they bravely prevailed over it. What can we think of as more wretched than holy Job, either in the burning of his house, or the instantaneous death of his ten sons, or his bodily pains? Was he less blessed than if he had not endured those things whereby he really showed himself approved?

21. True it is that in these sufferings there is something bitter, and that strength of mind cannot hide this pain. I should not deny that the sea is deep because inshore it is shallow, nor that the sky is clear because sometimes it is covered with clouds, nor that the earth is fruitful because in some places there is but barren ground, nor that the crops are rich and full because they sometimes have wild oats mingled with them. So, too, count it as true that the harvest of a happy conscience may be mingled with some bitter feelings of grief. In the sheaves of the whole of a blessed life, if by chance any misfortune or bitterness has crept in, is it not as though the wild oats were hidden, or as though the bitterness of the tares was concealed by the sweet scent of the corn?

09 October 2008

Walking in the Midst of the Shadow of Death

Like most people, I learned Psalm 23 (22 in the LXX) as a small child. There are differences in the reading between the Masoretic and Septuagint texts, but that mainly deals with Eucharistic foreshadowing. The line that I am thinking of today is simply this:

For though I should walk in the midst of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff, they have comforted me.

To walk in the midst of the shadow of death is a somewhat interesting phrase. I've heard it commonly exegeted to mean living one's life, which culminates in death. I suppose I accepted that as the common, and therefore the manifest, reading for a long time. Something I've been considering since becoming Orthodox, however, is that Death has no power over us. In a profound way, we no longer die--for the Lord has conquered death, and set us free from captivity to it. We do not--at least, Christians do not--experience Sheol/Hades as the dismal gloominess of disembodied captivity. We experience life from the source of Life, in the person of the Risen Christ.

Given this, what might it mean to walk in the midst of the shadow of death?

Frankly, the world is filled with the shadow of death. Sin, which damages and darkens us, separates us from God; not in the way that is commonly taught, but it impairs our ability to be in communion with God, which is our original purpose in creation. Lacking that, we begin to fear death, and because of the fear of death, we sin. The world is filled with the misery of the shadow of death.

Yet, we are not to fear the evil that results from it, for the Lord is with us. Lately, I've been drowning in my own personal shadows of death. Like the Prophet and King, St. David, I find myself saying in my meditations: As for transgressions, who will understand them? From my secret sins cleanse me, and from those of others spare Thy servant. If they have not dominion over me, then blameless shall I be, and I shall be cleansed from great sin. (Psalm 18, LXX). At the moment, it feels like my secret sins have dominion over me. But if that is the case, it is because I have ignored the staff of our great shepherd; now, I must submit to the rod of his correction if I am to find any comfort.

This well-known line from what is, arguable, the most well-known Psalm, is, then, not merely an inspirational thought. It is a warning, a call to repentance, and an exposition of the need for Confession.

Have mercy on me, Thy unprofitable servant, O Lord.

Pax vobiscum+

02 October 2008

The Heiromartyr Cyprian, the Virgin Justina, and the Martyr Theoctistus

IN THE REIGN of Decius (249-251) there lived in Antioch (of Pisidia) a certain philosopher and renowned sorcerer whose name was Cyprian, a native of Carthage. Springing from impious parents, in his very childhood he was dedicated by them to the service of the pagan god Apollo. At the age of seven he was given over to magicians for the study of sorcery and demonic wisdom. At the age of ten he was sent by his parents, as a preparation for a sorcerer's career, to Mount Olympus, which the pagans called the dwelling of the gods. Here there were a numerous multitude of idols, in which demons dwelled.

On this mountain Cyprian studied all manner of diabolical arts: he mastered various demonic transformations, learned how to change the nature of the air, to bring up winds, produce thunder and rain, disturb the waves of the sea, cause damage to gardens, vineyards and fields, to send diseases and plagues upon people; and in general he learned a ruinous wisdom and diabolical activity filled with evil. In this place he saw a numberless legion of demons, with the prince of darkness at their head; some stood before him, others served him, still others cried out in praise of their prince, and some were sent into the world in order to corrupt people. Here he likewise saw in their false forms the pagan gods and goddesses, and also diverse phantoms and specters, the invocation of which he learned in a strict forty-day fast. He ate only after the setting of the sun, and not bread or anything else, but only acorns from oak trees.

When he was fifteen years old he began to receive lessons from seven great sorcerers; from them he learned many demonic secrets. Then he went to the city of Argos, where, having served the goddess Juno for a time, he learned many practices of deception from her priests. He lived also in Taurapolis (on the island of Icara) in the service of the goddess Diana; and from there he went to Sparta, where he learned how to call forth the dead from the graves and to force them to speak by means of various incantations and spells. At the age of twenty, Cyprian came to Egypt, and in the city of Memphis he learned yet greater charms and incantations. In his thirtieth year he went to the Chaldeans, and having learned astrology there, he finished his studies. After this he returned to Antioch, being perfect in all evil-doing. Thus he became a sorcerer, magician, and destroyer of souls, a great friend and faithful slave of the prince of hell, with whom he conversed face to face, being vouchsafed to receive from him great honor, as he himself testified.

"Believe me," he said; "I have seen the prince of darkness himself, for I propitiated him by sacrifices. I greeted him and spoke with him and his ancients; he liked me, praised my understanding, and before everyone said: 'Here is a new Jambres, always ready for obedience and worthy of communion with us!' And he promised to make me a prince after my departure from the body, and for the course of earthly life to help me in everything. And he gave me a legion of demons to serve me. When I departed from him, he addressed me with these words: 'Take courage, fervent Cyprian; arise and accompany me; let all the demonic ancients marvel at you.' Consequently, all of his princes also were attentive to me, seeing the honor shown to me. The outward appearance of the prince of darkness was like a flower. His head was crowned by a crown (not an actual, but a phantom one) made of gold and brilliant stones, as a result of which the whole space around him was illuminated; and his clothing was astonishing. When he would turn to one or the other side, that whole place would tremble; a multitude of evil spirits of various degrees stood obediently at his throne. I gave myself over entirely into his service at that time, obeying his every command." Thus did St. Cyprian relate of himself after his conversion.

From this it is evident what kind of man Cyprian was: as a friend of the demons, he performed all their works, causing evil to people and deceiving them. Living in Antioch, he turned many people away to every kind of lawless deed; he killed many with poisons and magic, and slaughtered young men and maidens as sacrifices for the demons. He instructed many in his ruinous sorcery: some he taught to fly in the air, others to sail in boats on the clouds, still others to walk on water. By all the pagans he was revered and glorified as a chief priest and most wise servant of their vile gods. Many turned to him in their needs, and he helped them by means of the demonic power with which he was filled: with some he cooperated in their adulteries, with others in anger, enmity, revenge, jealousy. Already he was entirely in the depths of hell and in the jaws of the devil; he was a son of gehenna, a partaker of the demonic inheritance and of their eternal perdition. But the Lord, who does not desire the death of a sinner, in His unutterable goodness and His mercy which is not conquered by the sins of men, deigned to seek out this lost man, to draw out of the abyss one who was mired in the filth of the depths of hell, and to save him in order to show to all men His mercy; for there is no sin which can conquer His love of mankind.

He saved Cyprian from perdition in the following way.

THERE LIVED AT THAT TIME in Antioch a certain maiden whose name was Justina. She came from pagan parents; her father was a priest of the idols, Aedesius by name, and her mother was called Cledonia. Once, sitting at the window of her house, this maiden, who had then already reached womanhood, by chance heard the words of salvation out of the mouth of a deacon who was passing by, whose name was Praylius. He spoke of our Lord Jesus Christ's becoming man, that He had been born of the Most Pure Virgin and, having performed many miracles, had deigned to suffer for the sake of our salvation, had risen from the dead with glory, ascended into the heavens, and sits at the right hand of the Father and reigns eternally. This preaching of the deacon fell on good soil, into the heart of Justina, and began quickly to bring forth fruit, uprooting in her the thorns of unbelief. Justina wished to be instructed in the Faith by this deacon better and more completely, but she did not dare to seek him out, being restrained by a maiden's modesty. However, she secretly went to the church of Christ, and often hearing the word of God, with the Holy Spirit acting in her heart, she came to believe in Christ.

Soon she convinced her mother of this also, and then brought to the faith her aged father as well. Seeing the understanding of his daughter and hearing her wise words, Aedesius reflected within himself thus: "The idols are made by the hands of men and have neither soul nor breath, and therefore how can they be gods?" While he was reflecting on this, once at night he saw during sleep, by Divine consent, a wondrous vision: he saw a great multitude of light-bearing Angels, and in their midst was the Saviour of the world, Christ, Who said to him: "Come to Me, and I will give you the Kingdom of Heaven."

After rising in the morning, Aedesius went with his wife and daughter to the Christian Bishop, whose name was Optatus, begging him to instruct them in the Faith of Christ and to perform upon them holy Baptism. At the same time he informed him of the words of his daughter and of the angelic vision which he had seen himself. Hearing this, the Bishop rejoiced at their conversion, and having instructed them in the Faith of Christ, he baptized Aedesius, his wife Cledonia, and their daughter Justina; and then, having given them communion of the Holy Mysteries, he let them go in peace.

When Aedesius had become strengthened in the Faith of Christ, the Bishop, seeing his piety, made him a presbyter. After this, having lived virtuously and in the fear of God for a year and six months, Aedesius in holy faith came to the end of his life. As for Justina, she valiantly struggled in the keeping of the Lord's commandments, and having come to love her Bridegroom Christ, she served Him with fervent prayers, in virginity and chastity, in fasting and great abstinence. But the enemy, the hater of the human race, seeing such a life, envied her virtues and began to do harm to her, causing various misfortunes and sorrows.

AT THAT TIME there lived in Antioch a certain youth named Aglaias, the son of wealthy and renowned parents. He lived luxuriously, giving himself entirely over to the vanity of this world. Once he saw Justina as she was going to church, and he was struck by her beauty. The devil instilled shameful intentions into his heart. Being inflamed with lust, Aglaias by all means strove to gain the good disposition and love of Justina and by means of deception to bring the pure lamb of Christ to the defilement which he planned. He observed all the paths by which the maiden would walk, and, meeting her, would speak to her cunning words, praising her beauty and glorifying her; showing his love for her, he strove to draw her into fornication by a cunningly-woven net of deceptions. The maiden, however, turned away from him and fled from him, despising him and not desiring even to hear his deceptive and cunning speeches. But the youth did not grow cool in his desire of her beauty, and he sent to her the request that she should agree to become his wife.

She, however, replied to him: "My Bridegroom is Christ; Him I serve, and for His sake I preserve my purity. He preserves both my soul and my body from every defilement."

Hearing such a reply from the chaste maiden, Aglaias, being instigated by the devil, became yet more inflamed with passion. Not being able to deceive her, he intended to seize her by force. Having gathered to his aid some foolish youths like himself, he waylaid the maiden in the path along which she usually walked to church for prayer; there he met her and, seizing her, began dragging her by force to his house. But she began loudly to scream, beat him in the face, and spat on him. The neighbors, hearing her wails, ran out of their houses and took the immaculate lamb, St. Justina, from the hands of the impious youth as from the jaws of a wolf. The disorderly youths scattered, and Aglaias returned with shame to his house. Not knowing what more to do, he decided, with the increase of impure lust in him, upon a new evil deed: he went to the great sorcerer and magician Cyprian, the priest of the idols, and having informed him of his sorrow, begged his help, promising to give him much gold and silver. Having heard out Aglaias, Cyprian comforted him, promising to fulfill his desire. "I will so manage," he said, "that the maiden herself will seek your love and will feel passion for you even stronger than that which you have for her."

Having thus consoled the youth, Cyprian let him go, full of hope. Then, taking the books of his secret art, he invoked one of the impious spirits who, he was sure, could soon inflame the heart of Justina with passion for this youth. The demon willingly promised to fulfill this and proudly said: "This deed is not difficult for me, because many times I have shaken cities, crumbled walls, destroyed houses, caused the shedding of blood and patricide, instilled hatred and great anger between brothers and spouses, and have brought to sin many who have given a vow of virginity. In monks who have settled in mountains and were accustomed to strict fasting and have never even thought about the flesh, I have instilled adulterous lust and instructed them to serve fleshly passions; people who have repented and turned away from sin, I have converted back to evil deeds; many chaste people I have thrown into fornication. Will I really be unable to incline this maiden to the love of Aglaias? Indeed, why do I speak? I will swiftly show my powers in very deed. Take this powder" (here he gave him a vessel full of something) "and give it to this youth; let him sprinkle the house of Justina with it, and you will see that what I have said will come to pass."

Having said this, the demon vanished. Cyprian called Aglaias and sent him to sprinkle the house of Justina secretly with the contents of the demon's vessel. When this had been done, the demon of fornication entered the house with the flaming arrows of fleshly lust in order to wound the heart of the maiden with fornication, and to ignite her flesh with impure lust.

Justina had the custom every night to offer up prayers to the Lord. And behold, when, according to custom, she arose at the third hour of the night and was praying to God, she suddenly felt an agitation in her body, a storm of bodily lust and the flame of the fire of gehenna. In such agitation and inward battle she remained for quite a long time; the youth Aglaias came to her mind, and shameful thoughts arose in her. The maiden marveled and was ashamed of herself, feeling that her blood was boiling as in a kettle; now she thought about that which she had always despised as vile. But in her good sense Justina understood that this battle had arisen in her from the devil; immediately she turned to the weapon of the sign of the cross, hastened to God with fervent prayer, and from the depths of her heart cried out to Christ her Bridegroom: "O Lord, my God, Jesus Christ! Behold how many enemies have risen up against me and have prepared a net in order to catch me and take away my soul. But I have remembered Thy name in the night and have rejoiced, and now when they are close about me I hasten to Thee and have hope that my enemy will not triumph over me. For thou knowest, O Lord my God, that I, Thy slave, have preserved for Thee the purity of my body and have entrusted my soul to Thee. Preserve Thy sheep, O good Shepherd; do not give it over to be eaten by the beast who seeks to devour me; grant me victory over the evil desire of my flesh."

Having prayed long and fervently, the holy virgin put the enemy to shame. Being conquered by her prayer, he fled from her with shame, and again there came a calm in Justina's body and heart; the flame of desire was quenched, the battle ceased, the boiling blood was stilled. Justina glorified God and sang a song of victory.

The demon, on the other hand, returned to Cyprian with the sad news that he had accomplished nothing. Cyprian asked him why he had not been able to conquer the maiden. The demon, even against his will, revealed the truth: "I could not conquer her because I saw on her a certain sign of which I was afraid."

Then Cyprian called a yet more malicious demon and sent film to tempt Justina. He went and did much more than the first one, falling upon the maiden with great rage. But she armed herself with fervent prayer and laid upon herself yet a more powerful labor: she clothed herself in a hair shirt and mortified her flesh with abstinence and fasting, eating only bread and water. Having thus tamed the passions of her flesh, Justina conquered the devil and banished him with shame. And he, like the first one, returned to Cyprian without accomplishing anything.

Then Cyprian called one of the princes of the demons, informed him about the weakness of the demons he had sent, who could not conquer a single maiden, and asked help from him. This prince of demons severely reproached the other demons for their lack of skill in this matter and for their inability to arouse passion in the heart of the maiden. Having given hope to Cyprian and promised to seduce the maiden by other means, he took on the appearance of a woman and went to Justina. And he began to converse piously with her, as if desiring to follow the example of her virtuous life and her chastity. Conversing in this way, he asked the maiden what kind of reward there might be for such a strict life and for the preservation of purity.

Justina replied that the reward for those who live in chastity is great and beyond words, and that it is very remarkable that people do not in the least concern themselves for such a great treasure as angelic purity. Then the devil, revealing his shamelessness, began with cunning words to tempt her, saying: "But then how could the world exist? How would people be born? After all, if Eve had preserved her purity, how would the human race have increased? In truth marriage is a good thing, being established by God Himself; the Sacred Scripture also praises it, saying: Let marriage be had in honor among all, and the bed undefiled (Heb. 13:4). And many saints of God also did they not enter into marriage, which God gave them as a consolation, so that they might rejoice in their children and praise God?"

Hearing these words, Justina recognized the cunning deceiver, the devil, and, more skillful than Eve, conquered him. Without continuing this conversation, she immediately fled to the defense of the Cross of the Lord and placed its honorable sign on her forehead; and her heart she turned to Christ her Bridegroom. And the devil immediately vanished with yet greater shame than the first two demons.

In great disturbance, the proud prince of the demons returned to Cyprian, who, finding out that he had not managed to do anything, said to him: "Can it be that even you, a prince powerful and more skillful than others in such matters, could not conquer the maiden? Who then among you can do anything with this unconquerable maiden's heart? Tell me by what weapon she battles with you, and how she makes powerless your mighty power?"

Being conquered by the power of God, the devil unwillingly acknowledged: "We cannot behold the sign of the Cross, but flee from it, because it scorches us like fire and banishes us far away."

Cyprian became angry at the devil because he had put him to shame, and reproaching the demon, he said: "Such is your power that even a weak virgin conquers you!"

Then the devil, desiring to console Cyprian, attempted yet another undertaking: he took on the form of Justina and went to Aglaias with the hope that, having taken him for the real Justina, the youth might satisfy his desire, and thus neither would the weakness of the demons be revealed, nor would Cyprian be put to shame. And behold, when the demon went to Aglaias in the form of Justina, the youth leaped up in unspeakable joy, ran to the false maiden, embraced her and began kissing her, saying: "How good it is that you have come to me, fair Justina!"

But no sooner had the youth pronounced the word "Justina" than the demon immediately disappeared, being unable to bear even the name of Justina. The youth became greatly afraid and, running to Cyprian, told him what had happened. Then Cyprian by his sorcery gave him the form of a bird and, having enabled him to fly in the air, he sent him to the house of Justina, advising him to fly into her room through the window. Being carried by a demon in the air, Aglaias flew on the roof. At this time Justina happened to look through the window of her room. Seeing her, the demon left Aglaias and fled. At the same time, the phantom appearance of Aglaias also vanished, and the youth, falling down, was all but dashed to pieces. He grasped the edge of the roof with his hands and, holding on to it, hung there; and if he had not been let down to the ground by the prayer of St. Justina, the impious one would have fallen down and been killed.

Thus, having achieved nothing, the youth returned to Cyprian and told him of his woe. Seeing himself put to shame, Cyprian was greatly grieved and thought himself of going to Justina, trusting in the power of his sorcery. He turned himself into a woman and into a bird, but he did mpt manage to reach as far as the door of the house of Justina before his false appearances disappeared, and he returned with sorrow.

AFTER THIS CYPRIAN began to gain revenge for his shame, and by his sorcery he brought diverse misfortunes on the house of Justina and on the houses of all her relatives, neighbors and friends, as once the devil had done to righteous Job (Job 1:15-19, 2:7). He killed their animals, he struck down their slaves with plagues, and in this way he brought them to extreme grief. Finally, he struck with illness Justina herself, so that she lay in bed and her mother wept over her. Justina, however, comforted her mother with the words of the Prophet David: I shall not die, but live, and I shall tell of the works of the Lord (Psalm 117:17).

Not only on Justina and her relatives, but also on the whole city, by God's allowance, did Cyprian bring misfortune as a result of his untamable rage and his great shame. Plagues appeared in the animals and various diseases among men; and the rumor spread, through the activity of the demons, that the great sorcerer Cyprian was punishing the city for Justina's opposition to him. Then the most honorable citizens went to Justina and with anger tried to persuade her not to grieve Cyprian any longer, and to become the wife of Aglaias, in order to escape yet greater misfortunes for the whole city because of her. But she calmed them by saying that soon all the misfortunes which had been brought about with the help of Cyprian's demons would cease. And so it happened. When St. Justina prayed fervently to God, immediately all the demonic attacks ceased; all were healed from the plagues and recovered from their diseases. When such a change occurred, the people glorified Christ and mocked Cyprian and his sorcerer's cunning, so that from shame he could not show himself among men and he avoided meeting even friends.

Having become convinced that nothing could conquer the power of the sign of the cross and the name of Christ, Cyprian came to his senses and said to the devil: "O destroyer and deceiver of all, source of every impurity and defilement! Now I have discovered your infirmity. For if you fear even the shadow of the cross and tremble at the name of Christ, then what will you do when Christ Himself comes to you? If you cannot conquer those who sign themselves with the sign of the cross, then whom will you tear away from the hands of Christ? Now I have understood what a non-entity you are; you are not even able to take revenge! Listening to you, 1, wretched one, have been deceived, and I believed your tricks. Depart from me, accursed one, depart! For I must entreat the Christians that they might have mercy on me. I must appeal to pious people, that they might deliver me from perdition and be concerned over my salvation. Depart, depart from me, lawless one, enemy of truth, adversary and hater of every good thing!"

Having heard this, the devil threw himself on Cyprian in order to kill him; attacking him, he began to beat and strangle him. Finding no defense anywhere, and not knowing how to help himself and be delivered from the fierce hands of the demon, Cyprian, already scarcely alive, remembered the sign of the cross, by the power of which Justina had opposed all the demons' power, and he cried out: "O God of Justina, help me!"

Then, raising his hand, he made the sign of the cross, and the devil immediately leaped away from him like an arrow shot from a bow. Gaining courage, Cyprian became bolder, and calling on the name of Christ, he signed himself with the sign of the cross and stubbornly opposed the demon, cursing and reproaching him. As for the devil, standing far away from him and not daring to draw near to him out of fear of the sign of the cross and the name of Christ, he threatened Cyprian in every manner, saying: "Christ will not deliver you out of my hands!" Then, after long and fierce attacks on Cyprian, the demon roared like a lion and went away.

THEN CYPRIAN took all his books of magic and went to the Christian Bishop Anthimus. Falling to the feet of the Bishop, he entreated him to have mercy on him and to give him holy Baptism. Knowing that Cyprian was a great sorcerer, feared by all, the Bishop thought that he had come to him with some kind of trick, and therefore he refused him, saying: "You do much evil among the pagans; leave the Christians in peace, lest you speedily perish." Then Cyprian with tears confessed everything to the Bishop and gave him his books to be burned. Seeing his humility, the Bishop instructed him and taught him the holy faith, and then commanded him to prepare for Baptism; and his books he burned before all the believing citizens.

Leaving the Bishop with a contrite heart, Cyprian wept over his sins, sprinkled ashes on his head, and sincerely repented, calling out to the true God for the cleansing of his iniquities. Coming the next day to church, he heard the word of God with joyful emotion, standing among the believers. And when the deacon commanded the catechumens to go out, declaring: "Ye catechumens depart," and certain ones were already going out, Cyprian did not wish to go out, saying to the deacon: "I am a slave of Christ; do not chase me out of here." But the deacon said to him: "Since you have not yet been given holy Baptism, you must go out of the church."

To this Cyprian replied: "As Christ my God I liveth, Who has delivered me from the devil, Who has preserved the maiden Justina pure, and has had mercy on me—you will not chase me out of the church until I become a complete Christian."

The deacon related this to the Bishop, and the Bishop, seeing the fervor of Cyprian and his devotion to the faith of Christ, called him up and immediately baptized him in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Finding out about this, St. Justina gave thanks to God, distributed much alms to the poor, and made an offering in church. And Cyprian, on the eighth day after his Baptism, was made a reader by the Bishop; on the twentieth day he was made subdeacon, and on the thirtieth day a deacon; and in a year he was ordained priest. Cyprian completely changed his life; with every day he increased his struggles, and constantly weeping over his previous evil deeds, he perfected himself and ascended from virtue to virtue. Soon he was made Bishop, and in this rank he led such a holy life that he equaled many great saints. At the same time he zealously took care of the flock of Christ which had been entrusted to him. St. Justina the maiden he made a deaconess, and then entrusted to her a convent, making her abbess over other Christian maidens. By his conduct and instruction he converted many pagans and acquired them for the Church of Christ. Thus, idol worship began to die out in that land, and the glory of Christ increased.

Seeing the strict life of St. Cyprian, his concern for the faith of Christ and for the salvation of human souls, the devil ground his teeth against him And inspired the pagans to slander him before the governor of the eastern region, saying that he had put the gods to shame, had converted many people away from them, and was glorifying Christ, Who was hostile to their gods. And so, many impious ones came to the governor Eutolmius, who was then governing those regions, and made slanders against Cyprian and Justina, accusing them ,of being hostile to their gods and to the emperor and to all authorities, saying that they were disturbing the people, deceiving them, and leading them in their footsteps, disposing them to worship the crucified Christ. At the same time they asked the governor to give Cyprian and Justina over to death for this. Having heard their request, Eutolmius commanded that Cyprian and Justina be seized and placed in prison. Then, setting out for Damascus, he took them with him in order to make judgment upon them.

And when they had brought the prisoners of Christ, Cyprian and Justina, to him, he asked Cyprian: "Why have you changed your earlier glorious way of life, when you were a renowned servant of the gods and brought many people to them?"

St. Cyprian related to the governor how he had found out the infirmity and the deception of the demons and come to understand the power of Christ, which the demons feared and before which they trembled, disappearing from before the sign of the precious cross; and likewise he explained the reason for his conversion to Christ, for Whom he declared his readiness to die. The torturer did not accept the words of Cyprian in his heart, but being unable to reply to them, he commanded that the Saint be hung up and his body scraped, and that St. Justina be beaten on the mouth and eyes. For the whole time of the long torments they ceaselessly confessed Christ and endured everything with thanksgiving. Then the torturer imprisoned them and strove by kind exhortation to return them to idol worship. When he was unable to convince them, he commanded that they be thrown into a cauldron; but the boiling cauldron did not cause them any harm, and they glorified God as if they were in some cool place. Seeing this, one priest of the idols, by name Athanasius, said: "In the name of the god Aesculapius, I also will throw myself into this fire and put to shame those sorcerers." But hardly had the fire touched him than he immediately died.

Seeing this, the torturer became frightened, and not desiring to judge them further, he sent the martyrs to the governor Claudius in Nicomedia, describing all that had happened to them. This governor condemned them to be beheaded with the sword. When they were brought to the place of execution, Cyprian asked a little time for prayer, so that Justina might be executed first; he feared that Justina would become frightened at the sight of his death. But she joyfully bent her head under the sword and departed unto her Bridegroom Christ. Seeing the innocent death of these martyrs, a certain Theoctistus, who was present there, greatly pitied them and, being inflamed in his heart towards God, he fell down to St. Cyprian and, kissing him, declared himself a Christian. Together with Cyprian he also was immediately condemned to be beheaded.

Thus they gave over their souls into the hands of God; their bodies, however, lay for six days unburied. Certain of the strangers who were there secretly took them and brought them to Rome, where they gave them to a certain virtuous and holy woman whose name was Rufina, a relative of Claudius Caesar. She buried with honor the bodies of the holy martyrs of Christ: Cyprian, Justina, and Theoctistus. At their graves many healings occurred for those who came to them with faith. (Their martyrdoms occurred toward the end of the third century—according to some, in about the year 268, but according to others, in 304.)

By their prayers may the Lord heal also our afflictions of body and soul! Amen.

24 September 2008

The Difference

I spent several years being depressed.

I suppose this is not uncommon to say anymore, with the massive number of Americans who are on psychoactive drugs for anxiety and depression. I was on some, for a while, but I quit taking them because I said to myself one day "I will not cheat the pain away with pills." I was enamored, really, with my own feelings. I wanted to feel everything, experience everything that came my way--pleasure, pain, whatever. Chasing the experience was what I wanted.

I wrote bad poetry about the experiences; the sense of loss, of the pain of the soul being forced to live in a modern world, without touchstone or baseline or values. I idealized (and idolized) myth and symbol. I worshiped at the altar of my own clever, creative vanity. And the circumstances of my life were an unending source of misery to me.

When I ask myself if things have changed, I am presented with an interesting conflict of opinion. Certainly many, if not all, of the problems that I have in my life now are exactly like those I had before. My sins, the passions that beset me, they are largely the same. So, what is different? Why am I no longer a morose, depressed person who sees all leading to a hopeless end?

The only answer that presents itself is: the cross.

My shift of perspective, my willing submission to Christ, makes the difference. Sure, I am still a sinner. I am still a passionate man. But I no longer glory in sin, or boast of my passions; I am grieved of them in my meditation. I do not want them anymore--and what a difference that makes. When I stopped wishing that the God of the Ages would just countenance me, and let me be what I want, let me do what I want, that is when the depression went away.

I know, it seems counter intuitive to modern folks. Not getting your own way--or, rather, learning to not want your passions--is the way to overcome depression, anger, and anxiety. Learning to want the will of God, for us to live in chastity and holiness of life, that is how we overcome the hell of our feelings, emotions, and reasonings.

God help me, the Cross has made all the difference.

Pax vobiscum+

23 September 2008

The Holy Martyr Iraida

from the Synaxarion:

The Holy Martyr Iraida lived at Alexandria. One time, having gone to a well to draw water, she saw a ship at the shore, upon which were situated a large number of men, women, clergy and monks, all fettered in chains for their confession of the Christian faith. Having cast aside her water pitcher, the saint voluntarily joined in with the prisoners for Christ, and fetters were placed on her too. When the ship arrived in the Egyptian city of Antipolis, Saint Iraida was the first to undergo fierce torments and was beheaded with the sword. After her, the other martyrs sealed their confession of faith in Christ with their blood.

18 September 2008

The Holy Martyr Ariadna

from the Synaxarion:

The Holy Martyr Ariadna was a servant of Tertillos, a city-father of Promyssia (Phrygia) during the reign of the emperor Adrian (117-161). One time, when on the occasion of the birth of a son the master made a sacrificial offering to the pagan gods, the Christian Ariadna refused to participate in the impious solemnity. For this they subjected her to beatings, and suspending her, they lacerated her body with sharp iron hooks. Then they threw the martyr into prison and for a long while they exhausted her with hunger, demanding worship to the gods. When they released the saint from prison, she left the city, but Tertillos sent pursuers after her. Seeing that they were chasing her, she ran, calling out to God that He defend her from her enemies. Suddenly through her prayers there opened in the mountain a fissure, and Saint Ariadna hid in it. This miracles brought the pursuers into confusion and fear, and they in their depravity of mind began to strike one another with spears.

The above Synaxarion reading for today almost seems to illustrate on of my favorite Psalms (34 in the LXX):

Judge them, O Lord, that do me injustice; war against them that war against me. Take hold of weapon and shield, and arise unto my help. Draw out a sword, and shut the way against them that persecute me; say to my soul: I am thy salvation. Let them that seek my soul be shamed and confounded. Let them be turned back, and be utterly put to shame, they that devise evils against me. Let them become as dust before the face of the wind, an angel of the Lord also afflicting them. Let their way become darkness and a sliding, an angel of the Lord also pursuing them. For without cause have they secretly prepared for my destruction in their snare, without reason have they cast reproach on my soul. Let a snare come upon him, which he knoweth not; and let the trap, which he hath hidden, catch him, and into that same snare let him fall. But my soul shall rejoice in the Lord, it shall delight in His salvation. All my bones shall say: Lord, O Lord, who is like unto Thee? Delivering the beggar from the hand of them that are stronger than he, yea, poor man and pauper from them that despoil him. Unjust witnesses rose up against me; things I knew not they asked me. They repaid me with evil things for good, and barrenness for my soul. But as for me, when they troubled me, I put on sackcloth. And I humbled my soul with fasting, and my prayer shall return to my bosom. As though it had been a neighbour, as though it had been our brother, so sought I to please; as one mourning and sad of countenance, so humbled I myself. Yet against me they rejoiced and gathered together; scourges were gathered together upon me, and I knew it not. They were rent asunder, yet not pricked at heart; they tempted me, they mocked me with mockery, they gnashed upon me with their teeth. O Lord, when wilt Thou look upon me? Deliver my soul from their evil doing, even this only-begotten one of mine from the lions. I will confess Thee in the great congregation; among a mighty people will I praise Thee. Let not them rejoice against me that unjustly are mine enemies, they that hate me without a cause, and wink with their eyes. For peaceably indeed they spake unto me, but in their wrath were they devising deceits. And they opened wide their mouth against me; they said: Well done, well done, our eyes have seen it. Thou hast seen it, O Lord; keep not silence. O Lord, depart not from me. Arise, O Lord, and be attentive unto my judgement, my God, and my Lord, unto my cause. Judge me, O Lord, according to Thy righteousness; O Lord my God, let them not rejoice against me. Let them not say in their hearts: Well done, well done, our soul. Let them not say: We have swallowed him up. Let them be shamed and confounded together who rejoice at my woes. Let them be clothed with shame and confusion who speak boastful words against me. Let them rejoice and be glad who desire the righteousness of my cause, and let them that desire the peace of Thy servant say continually: The Lord be magnified. And my tongue shall treat of Thy righteousness, and of Thy praise all the day long.
Lord, have mercy on me and defend me from the enemies of my soul!

Pax vobiscum+

11 September 2008

The Way of the Cross

So many people are spiritually thirsty these days. That should come as no surprise; the consumerist wasteland of American society has done a number on contentment, happiness, family life, and local community. Things are reduced to items for consumption—and when we’re not buying iPods and cheaply made off the shelf clothing for the latest fad, we’ve begun shopping the so-called “marketplace of ideas” for answers to the longings of the soul that cannot ever be totally shut off or filled by any material goods.

American religion has failed to supply the need. At churches and worship centers across this nation, especially the giant megachurches, the careful attention to market forces, recruitment philosophies, and tailoring messages to be most appealing to a modern audience have done nothing more than amplify the spiritual emptiness of modernity. And, predictably, after the show lights have dimmed, the smoke faded, and the mirrors broken, people are left wanting. What they want, they do not know, but they want it all the same. Some give up on God, concluding that if He was really all powerful, people wouldn’t be able to get away with some of this charlatan hucksterism in His name. The proliferation of these kinds of “ministries” that prey on people’s essential need for God are proof to them that God does not exist—and if he does, he ought to be ashamed of himself.

But the God that so many people believe in these days is just another lie. The Jesus so many want to believe in—the one that is your buddy, your homeboy, who wants nothing so much as for you to live a peaceful, happy, carefree life—is nothing more than an idol. In fact, the idea of penal substitution—where Christ is sacrificed to appease the affront of sin to an angry God—is nothing more than a return to paganism, where we do what we can to appease an essentially wrathful deity in hope of material blessing. Such a god cannot be said to love anyone—and that is not the God of Christianity. Our God is a loving God—he does all things for each. But the one thing he will not do, out of his deep love and respect for all of us, is control us. He will not take away our passions and compulsions for sin. He desires us to learn to love him through obedience, and we would not learn to be obedient to his will if he replaced our will with his.

This, then, is the Way of the Cross—that we must crucify ourselves, our desires, our wants, our self will, so that He may shine through us and live in us. We have to give up everything that we are—our minds, our bodies, our souls. We are called to give up anything that gets in the way of that—be that our dreams, or our career plans, or, yes, even our families. Even the basic animal desire for sex has to be given over—either to the mutual crucifixion of marriage, or to the monastic life (because, as the Lord told us, some will become eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom). In the end, we come out to the good in the trade; in exchange for everything we are, we get to be by grace everything He is by nature. We get eternal communion with the living God, in the presence of whom there is no sickness, sighing, or sorrow. We become the inheritance of His Kingdom, which will have no end.

But the road to get there is long, hard, and yes, even painful. We are selfish beings; we want what we want and we want it now. This can be all the more difficult if what we claim to want is the Love of God, but we want it the easy way. We don’t love him enough back to clean ourselves up a little to be in his presence. His condescension to become a man, to be crucified to defeat the curse of death which has enslaved our race since the Fall—that’s not enough for us. No, we expect him to just accept that we’re flawed and put up with our sins, rather than repenting of them and trying to change our lives, hearts, and minds to try to live a sinless life. We spurn his great gift, by demanding more.

The way of the Cross is a paradox. It is suffering and death in life, and Life and light in death. This is a heavy thing, a great mystery. We cannot understand it, but if we trust in it, without reservation, that is true Faith. We walk the path before us, trusting the one who showed it to us, that it will lead where he says it will. We do that, ultimately, without any theological, philosophic, or rational arguments; not that those things don’t have a place in our spiritual lives, but they are not the primary focus. They are tools to help us along the way, not the Way itself.

My friends, if we truly desire to follow Christ, we would take whatever suffering we meet in this world, and suffer it gladly, because we would rejoice knowing that we were permitted to suffer as did our Master. “The servant is not greater than his Master,” said the Lord; let us remember that, when we think that we are already good enough to eat at His table.

Pax vobiscum.

27 August 2008

"Te Deum"

by our Father among the Saints, Abrose of Milan
Te Deum laudamus:
te Dominum confitemur.
Te aeternum Patrem
omnis terra veneratur.
Tibi omnes Angeli;
tibi caeli et universae Potestates;
Tibi Cherubim et Seraphim
incessabili voce proclamant:
Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, Dominus
Deus Sabaoth.
Pleni sunt caeli et terra
maiestatis gloriae tuae.
Te gloriosus Apostolorum chorus,
Te Prophetarum laudabilis numerus,
Te Martyrum candidatus laudat exercitus.
Te per orbem terrarum
sancta confitetur Ecclesia,
Patrem immensae maiestatis:
Venerandum tuum verum et unicum Filium;
Sanctum quoque Paraclitum Spiritum.
Tu Rex gloriae, Christe.
Tu Patris sempiternus es Filius.
Tu ad liberandum suscepturus hominem,
non horruisti Virginis uterum.
Tu, devicto mortis aculeo, aperuisti
credentibus regna caelorum.
Tu ad dexteram Dei sedes, in gloria Patris.
Iudex crederis esse venturus.
Te ergo quaesumus, tuis famulis subveni:
quos pretioso sanguine redemisti.
Aeterna fac cum sanctis tuis in gloria numerari.
Salvum fac populum tuum,
Domine, et benedic hereditati tuae.
Et rege eos, et extolle illos usque in aeternum.
Per singulos dies benedicimus te;
Et laudamus Nomen tuum in saeculum, et in saeculum saeculi.
Dignare, Domine, die isto sine peccato nos custodire.
Miserere nostri domine, miserere nostri.
Fiat misericordia tua,
Domine, super nos, quemadmodum speravimus in te.
In te, Domine, speravi:
non confundar in aeternum.
We praise thee, O God
we acknowledge thee to be the Lord
All the earth doth worship thee
the Father everlasting.
To thee all the angels cry aloud
the heavens and all the powers therein.
To thee cherubim and seraphim do continually cry
Holy, Holy, Holy,
Lord God of Sabaoth; heaven and earth
are full of the majesty of thy glory.
The glorious company of apostles praise thee.
The goodly fellowship of the prophets praise thee.
The noble army of martyrs praise thee.
The Holy Church
throughout all the world doth acknowledge thee;
the father of an infinite majesty;
thine honourable true and only Son;
also the Holy Ghost the comforter.
Thou art the King of Glory, O Christ.
Thou art the everlasting Son of the Father.
When thou tookest upon thee to deliver man,
thou didst not abhor the Virgin's womb.
When thou hadst overcome the sharpness of death,
thou didst open the kingdom of heaven to all believers.
Thou sittest at the hand of God in glory of the Father.
We believe that Thou shalt come to be our Judge.
We therefore pray thee, help thy servants,
whom thou hast redeemed with thy precious blood.
Make them numbered with thy saints in glory everlasting
O Lord save thy people
and bless thine heritage.
Govern them and lift them up for ever.
Day by day we magnify thee;
and worship thy name, ever world without end.
Vouchsafe, O Lord to keep us this day without sin.
O Lord, have mercy upon us, have mercy upon us.
O Lord, let thy mercy lighten upon us, as our trust is in thee.
O Lord in thee have I trusted let me not be confounded.

11 August 2008

St. Feodor

from the Synaxarion:

The Monk Feodor (Theodore), Prince of Ostrozh, gained fame with the construction of churches and by his defense of Orthodoxy in Volynia against the enroachment of Papism. He was descended from the lineage of holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Vladimir (Comm. 15 July), through a great-grandson Svyatopolk-Michael, prince of Turov (1080-1093) and later GreatPrince of Kiev (+ 1113). The first time the name of the Monk-prince Feodor is mentioned is under the year 1386, when the Polish king Jagiello and the Lithuanian prince Vitovt affirmed for him hereditary possession -- of the Ostrozh district and they augmented the Zaslavsk and Koretsk surroundings. In 1410 the Monk-prince Feodor participated in the defeat of the Teutonic Knights of the Catholic Order at the Battle of Gruenwald. In 1422 the holy prince, because of sympathy to the Orthodox in Bohemia, supported the Hussites in their struggle with the German emperor Sigismund. (The holy prince introduced into Russian military arts a particular tactic -- the Hussite formation, i.e. the Taborite, adopted by the Ukrainian Cossacks). In 1432, having gained a series of victories over the Polish forces, Saint Feodor compelled prince Jagiello to protect by law the freedom of Orthodoxy in Volynia. Prince Svidrigailo, having become apprehensive of the strengthening of his ally, locked the Monk Feodor into prison, but the people loving the saint rose up in rebellion, and he was freed. The Monk Feodor was reconciled with the offender and presented himself to him for help in the struggle with the Lithuanian-Polish parties. In 1438 the holy prince participated in a battle with the Tatars. In 1440 with the entering upon the Polish throne of Cazimir, -- youngest son of prince Jagiello, Saint Feodor received the rights of administration of the city of Vladimir, Dubno, Ostrog, and became possessor of extended holdings of the best regions of Podolia and Volynia. All this together with princely power and fame the Monk Feodor left behind, having entered after 1441 the Kievo-Pechersk monastery where, -- having taken on monasticism with the name Feodosii (Theodosii), he pursued asceticism for the salvation of his soul until the time of his repose to God. The year of repose of the Monk Feodor is unknown, but it is without doubt, that he died in the second half of the XV Century. In extreme old age (S. M. Solov'ev in his "History of Russia" reckons the year of his death as 1483). The monk was buried in the Farther Caves of the Monk Feodosii (the Comm. of Sobor/Assemblage of the Monastic Fathers of the Farther Caves is 28 August). The glorification, apparently, was at the end of the XVI Century, since in the year 1638 the priestmonk Athanasii Kal'nophysky testified, that "the Monk Feodor rests in the Theodosiev Cave discovered whole in body".

20 June 2008

Shameless Plug

I just published a longish post at the Desert Calling blog. If you want, you can read it here.

28 May 2008

On the Anglican Communion

“The latest Lambeth Conference will merely continue to fail to address the question of core doctrine, just as all of its predecessors have done,” said Viscount Monckton. “To Anglicans, the only doctrine is the doctrine that there is no doctrine.”

Full text of article can be read here.

27 May 2008

Of Alcohol and Altar Boys

So, I have really not had much in the way of alcohol in a while. I used to be a moderate to heavy drinker, but in recent years, it has lost its appeal. I might enjoy the occasional evening glass of wine or beer, and while I keep liquor on hand, I hardly ever drink it anymore. I credit the fact that I have replaced an unhealthy fixation with something of a better one--that of the struggle for living a Christian life (which, more often than not, I fail miserably at...).

Nevertheless, with my current deluge of altar boys, I may have to start drinking again.

Let me back up and give the full story. For the better part of the last year, I have done altar service at every church service my parish has had, and through most of them I've done it completely and totally alone. Me and Fr. D--that's it. Father's two older grandsons (9 and 6/7), during that time, would occasionally serve. His son in law (the boys' father), who is also a Reader, would serve when we had a second Reader; we no longer have a second Reader in our parish, so he now has to resume those duties at every service. So, I said, "God, please send me some help back here" most Sundays during Divine Liturgy.

Gospodi Pomiluj! God works in mysterious ways. Not two weeks after we moved into our new facility, we had a Greek family begin coming to our parish--and they have two boys (15 and 13). They have never served before, as their previous Greek parish was so large that the boys never had an opportunity to serve. Their mother is very devout, and wants the boys to learn to serve at the altar, so, I got two new altar boys. This, of course, led my other two part-timers (9 and 6/7) to want to serve every week, because the other boys are serving every week. So, in a short period of time, I've gone from just me, to having enough boys for full processions.

Well, it didn't take me long to realize that, as a new covert who has done a lot of work to try to 'get it right' when serving (1 year crash course!), I still get it wrong. Also, in this crash course, I've been serving alone--so I'm lost on some of the finer points of full processions, never having actually done one. Compounded with this, I have a 7 year old who wants my constant attention, a 9 year old who pays more attention to the contents of his nasal passages than the liturgy, a 13 year old who really wants to learn everything and so watches me like a hawk (oh man! if he only knew!), and a 15 year old who is not really into it and seems to be serving just to please his mom.

Now, our temporary chapel has no iconostasis, so everything we're doing at the altar can be seen (and heard--it's a small space), so it's not easy to give instruction and help the boys figure things out--because I'm very aware that we're being distracting. Plus I have my trusty liturgy book, which is marked for CANDLES, CENSOR, FANS, etc at the appropriate places. It's my security blanket; without it, I would probably still know what to do, but I would freak out and mess up. So, Sunday, the 6 year old, who has a book identical to mine, grabbed my book and went to the other side of the altar, and I had his. So, I'm just going through, and I missed the first cue for the censor. I instantly knew what was wrong. I got it fixed, but then, once I make one mistake, I make another and another. It's the stress.

So, I'm herding this troupe of cats back behind the altar, trying to stay out of Father's way, trying not to distract the people by drawing attention to me/us during the liturgy...and all of the sudden, as we're praying the anaphora prayers, I wonder: why did I want help again?

The it hits me: This is to teach you patience and humility.

I can't say I "heard" it. I was focused on looking at the Chalice, and I just...had this impression that came completely from outside me, clear, distinct, and undeniable. This is to teach me patience and humility. Humility to accept correction when I am doing things wrong in the service, and when the boys whom I am directing make mistakes as well. Humility, to accept the responsibility for their actions, and patience to teach them what they're supposed to do.

In the long run, I don't need to drink to deal with the stress; I'm fully aware of that. And I'm not going to. But I know that some things must be done, and I am far from perfect, and am generally unwilling to do many things for my own salvation. Therefore, the Lord has taken over, and has given me exactly what I have been asking for: help serving and ways to improve my spiritual condition.

So now, I'm praying: Lord, give me the strength to accept the help Thou art giving me!

09 May 2008

The Post-Pascha Post, Or Primarily Providing Publishable Info Under Pressure

As you will have noticed, it's been more than a month since I've updated the Codex. There is not really any reason, except that, I've been quite busy. Celebrating Great and Holy Pascha, getting St. Gregory's moved into it's new location, working on the new parish website, being under the gun at work (lots of extra time spent there recently), finalizing grad school plans for the fall, dad's Chrismation into the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church...lots going on in the last 36 days.

I fully intend to get back into the swing of things, as I am currently reading St. Photios' The Mystagogy of the Holy Spirit. So far, just the introduction to the work has been fascinating. I'm beginning to feel as if I have a better grip on just how important the correct understanding of the monarchy of the Father is to the right-order of the Trinitarian belief, and the effect this has on the right order, not only of the ecclesiology of the Church, but also of the governance of human beings in general.

With many requests for your pardons, prayers, and patience,
Pax vobiscum

03 April 2008

Excerpt from "Prayers by the Lake"

"Truly, my God, You are just as great with or without the world.

You are equally great whether the world glorifies You or whether the world blasphemes You. But when the world blas­phemes You, You seem even greater in the eyes of Your saints."

+St. Nikolai of Ochrid and Zica, Prayers by the Lake, VI

16 March 2008

The Sunday of Orthodoxy Anathemas

To those who deny the existence of God, and assert that the world is self-existing, and that all things in it occur by chance, and not by the providence of God, Anathema!

To those who say that God is not spirit, but flesh; or that He is not just, merciful, wise and all-knowing, and utter similar blasphemies, Anathema!

To those who dare to say that the Son of God and also the Holy Spirit are not one in essence and of equal honor with the Father, and confess that the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit are not one God, Anathema!

To those who foolishly say that the coming of the Son of God into the world in the flesh, and His voluntary passion, death, and resurrection were not necessary for our salvation and the cleansing of sins, Anathema!

To those who reject the grace of redemption preached by the Gospel as the only means of our justification before God, Anathema!

To those who dare to say that the all-pure Virgin Mary was not virgin before giving birth, during birthgiving, and after her child-birth, Anathema!

To those who do not believe that the Holy Spirit inspired the prophets and apostles, and by them taught us the true way to eternal salvation, and confirmed this by miracles, and now dwells in the hearts of all true and faithful Christians, and teaches them in all truth, Anathema!

To those who reject the immortality of the soul, the end of time, the future judgment, and eternal reward for virtue and condemnation for sin, Anathema!

To those who reject all the holy mysteries held by the Church of Christ, Anathema!

To those who reject the Councils of the holy fathers and their traditions, which are agreeable to divine revelation and kept piously by the Orthodox Catholic Church, Anathema!

To those who mock and profane the holy images and relics which the holy Church receives as revelations of God's work and of those pleasing to Him, to inspire their beholders with piety, and to arouse them to follow these examples; and to those who say that they are idols, Anathema!

To those who dare to say and teach that our Lord Jesus Christ did not descend to earth, but only seemed to; or that He did not descend to the earth and become incarnate only once, but many times, and who likewise deny that the true Wisdom of the Father is His only-begotten Son, Anathema!

To the followers of the occult, spiritualists, wizards, and all who do not believe in the one God, but honor the demons; or who do not humbly give their lives over to God, but strive to learn the future through sorcery, Anathema!