25 February 2008

The Value of Tears

I'll start this post with a profound confession: I can't remember the last time I cried.

This really troubles me, and did long before I became Orthodox. I simply don't emote this way, and this is probably a result of childhood conditioning. My father, God bless him, didn't believe that boys should ever be seen crying, and so anytime I did cry as a kid, I got his infamous stare of displeasure. Over the years, I suppose, I really internalized this to a new level. I emote, sometimes very strongly, but my emotions usually come pouring out in my writing. Since, however, I gave up my poetic idolatry in the last year, I've been even more disturbed. I half-way expected that, once my substitutionary outlet was removed, without another outlet, surely tears would come.

They have not.

I say all this with the fact that I am very mindful of the value of tears in our Orthodox tradition. Quotes abound from the Fathers about them being the fruits of genuine repentance. St. Isaac the Syrian even has this to say about weeping:

The fruits of the inner man begin only with the shedding of tears. When you reach the place of tears, then know that your spirit has come out from the prison of this world and has set its foot upon the path which leads toward the new Age. Your spirit begins at this moment to breathe the wonderful air which is there, and it starts to shed tears, The moment of birth of the spiritual child is now at hand, and the travail of childbirth becomes intense. Grace, the common mother of all, makes haste to give birth mystically to the soul, God's image, bringing it forth into the light of the Age to come. And when the time for the birth has arrived, the intellect begins to sense something of the things of that other world--as a faint perfume, or as the breath of life which a new-born child receives into its bodily frame. But we are not accustomed to such an experience and, finding it hard to endure, our body is suddenly overcome by a weeping mingled with joy.
Where does this leave me? Certainly, I have felt deep sorrow over my sins; certainly I have sat in prayer, reciting the Canon of Repentance, the 50th Psalm, and praying with my own words that Christ would help me achieve this repentance--that the Theotokos would visit my ailing soul and show me the path to true metanoia.

And yet, no tears.

The Fathers say that man who cannot weep cannot be saved. This thought terrifies me, and I can't help wondering if my inability to get beyond the merely psychological realm of belief--which is shallow, hollow, and no-where near the goal of theosis--isn't somehow connected here.

O God, cleanse thou me a sinner, and have mercy on me.
O God, cleanse thou me a sinner, and have mercy on me.
O God, cleanse thou me a sinner, and have mercy on me.

Pax vobiscum+

21 February 2008

About Those Icons on the Wall

The icon is a song of triumph, and a revelation, and an enduring monument to the victory of the saints and the disgrace of the demons. —St. John of Damascus

Icons... were dynamic manifestations of man's spiritual power to redeem creation through beauty and art. The colors and lines of the [icons] were not meant to imitate nature; the artists aimed at demonstrating that men, animals, and plants, and the whole cosmos, could be rescued from their present state of degradation and restored to their proper 'Image'. The [icons] were pledges of the coming victory of a redeemed creation over the fallen one... the artistic perfection of an icon was not only a reflection of the celestial glory --it was a concrete example of matter restored to its original harmony and beauty, and serving as a vehicle of the Spirit. The icons were part of the transfigured cosmos —Nicolas Zernov (1898-1980), The Russians and Their Church

19 February 2008

Strong Words, as Father Would Say...

2 Peter 2:9-22

The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust to the day of judgment to be punished: But chiefly them that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, and despise government. Presumptuous [are they], self-willed; they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities. Whereas angels, who are greater in power and might, bring not railing accusation against them before the Lord. But these, as natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed, speak evil of the things that they understand not; and shall utterly perish in their own corruption: And shall receive the reward of unrighteousness, [as] they that count it pleasure to riot in the day-time. Spots [they are] and blemishes, sporting themselves with their own deceivings while they feast with you; Having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin; beguiling unstable souls: they have a heart exercised with covetous practices; cursed children: Who have forsaken the right way, and gone astray, following the way of Balaam [the son] of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; But was rebuked for his iniquity: the dumb ass speaking with man's voice, forbad the madness of the prophet. These are wells without water, clouds that are carried with a tempest; to whom the mist of darkness is reserved for ever. For when they speak great swelling [words] of vanity, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, [through much] wantonness, those that had quite escaped from them who live in error. While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption: for by whom a man is overcome, by the same is he brought into bondage. For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known [it], to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. But it hath happened to them according to the true proverb, The dog [is] turned to his own vomit again; and, The sow that was washed, to her wallowing in the mire.
So, that's today's Epistle reading from the lectionary. There are so many, many times that I feel precisely like the vomiting dog, or the once-washed sow. I remember, very often, the words from the Canon of Repentance: "Why dost thou wrong the poor man? Why dost thou hate thy brother? Why dost thou pursue lust and pride? O my sinful soul, what is this thou hast desired?" Why is it that knowing the right, I choose the wrong? Why is it that having tasted the fount of immortality, I should choose to drink from the polluted mires of sin?

The sad and sorry truth is, I obviously am not so far along the road to salvation as I like to think. I am constantly telling my friends that are fence-sitting about belief that they cannot understand who Jesus Christ is in their heads--that they have to come to perceive it with their hearts, with the nous. And yet, here I am, still trying to do precisely that: to make my salvation into a psychological experience. God, cleanse Thou me a sinner, and have mercy upon me! How is it that I can know the route and the destination, and yet cannot seem to find even the modicum of motivation to walk down it? I crawl, like some infant, around the start of the path, while the race runs past me. Lord, have mercy upon thy unprofitable servant, and deliver me from my many transgressions!

I suppose this is the best time of the year to come to these sorts of realizations about yourself; Lent has a wonderful way of sharpening the perceptions about one's self, and one's sinfulness. I shall leave today with the prayer after the Canon of Repentance, which I really ought to say every day:

Lord Christ our God, Who hast healed my passions through Thy Passion, and hast cured my wounds through Thy wounds, grant me who have sinned greatly against Thee tears of compunction. Transform my body with the fragrance of Thy life-giving Body, and sweeten my soul with Thy Holy Blood from the bitterness with which the foe has fed me. Lift up my downward looking mind to Thee, and take it out of the pit of perdition, for I have no repentance, I have no compunction, I have no consoling tears, which uplift children to their heritage. My mind has been darkened through earthly passions, I cannot look up to Thee in pain. I cannot warm myself with tears of love for Thee. But, O Lord Jesus Christ, Treasury of good gifts, give me thorough repentance and a diligent heart to seek Thee; grant me Thy grace, and renew in me the likeness of Thy image. I have forsaken Thee - do not forsake me! Come out to seek me; lead me up to Thy pasturage and number me among the lambs of Thy chosen flock. Nourish me with them on the grass of Thy Holy Mysteries. By the prayers of Thy Most Pure Mother and all Thy saints. Amen.

Pax vobiscum+

15 February 2008

Today's Scripture Readings

Going into Lent is always a time of separating the black from the white, the wheat from the chaff, the sheep from the goats. Today's scripture reading from the Lectionary is about this theme especially, so I thought I'd post it here (forgive the archaic translation, it's the best I can do for a pure Byzantine text-type):

2 Peter 1:1-10

Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Savior Jesus Christ: Grace and peace be multiplied to you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord, According as his divine power hath given to us all things that [pertain] to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given to us exceeding great and precious promises; that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. And besides this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make [you that ye shall] neither [be] barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purified from his old sins. Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall:

Mark 13:1-8

And as he was going out of the temple, one of his disciples saith to him, Master, see what manner of stones, and what buildings [are here]! And Jesus answering said to him, Seest thou these great buildings? there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down. And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, over against the temple, Peter, and James, and John, and Andrew, asked him privately, Tell us, when will these things be? and what [will be] the sign when all these things shall be fulfilled? And Jesus answering them, began to say, Take heed lest any [man] deceive you: For many will come in my name, saying, I am [Christ]; and will deceive many. And when ye shall hear of wars, and rumors of wars, be ye not troubled: for [such things] must needs be; but the end [will] not [be] yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there will be earthquakes in [divers] places, and there will be famines, and troubles: these [are] the beginnings of sorrows.
The temple was destroyed in 70 AD--Christ clearly tells his apostles that the temple will be destroyed and people will begin to come in his name, but even then, the end will not yet be. The nations and kingdoms have raged against one another since that time, and with great intensity since the fall of the last Orthodox monarch. The spirit of Anti-Christ is now at work in the world unrestrained, but my friends, we should be of good cheer: Christ our God is risen, no matter what they tell us, and he has overcome the world and he has destroyed the power of death. What can they do to us? As the Psalmist, the prophet and king David said, Of whom shall I be afraid?

Psalm CIX
The Lord said unto my Lord: Sit Thou at My right hand, until I make Thine enemies the footstool of Thy feet. A sceptre of power shall the Lord sent unto Thee out of Sion; rule Thou in the midst of Thine enemies. With Thee is dominion in the day of Thy power, in the splendour of Thy saints. From the womb before the morning star have I begotten Thee. The Lord hath sworn and will not repent: Thou art a priest for ever, after the order of Melchisedek. The Lord at Thy right hand hath broken kings in the day of His wrath. He shall judge among the nations, He shall fill them with dead bodies, He shall crush the heads of many upon the earth. He shall drink of the brook in the way; therefore shall He lift up his head.

14 February 2008

Metr. Kallistos: A Quote on Prayer

"When we pray, we're all sharing the noetic onion."

This quote, of course, refers to the (in)famous story of Dostoevsky about the woman whose guardian angel tried to get her out of hell by means of an onion that she once gave to a beggar. It failed to work because, as be began to pull her out with the onion, other souls began to try to hold on to her, and she began to shout "Go away, it's my onion!" At which time, the onion promptly snapped and she fell back in.

06 February 2008

St. Photios of Constantinople

From the Synaxarion:

Sainted Photios, Patriarch of Constantinople, lived during the IX Century, and came from a family of zealous Christians. His father had died a martyr's death in defense of holy icons. Saint Photios received an excellent education and, having family relations with the imperial house, he occupied the position of first state secretary in the Senate. His contemporaries said of him: "He so distinguished himself with knowledge in almost all the secular sciences, that it rightfully might be possible to take into account the glory of his age and compare it with the ancients". The young successor to the throne, Michael, and the future Enlightener of the Slavs, the Equal-to the-Apostles Cyril, were taught the sciences by him. Deep Christian piety protected Saint Photios from being seduced with the charms of court life -- with all his soul he yearned towards monasticism.

In 857 the co-ruler with emperor Michael, Bardas, expelled Patriarch Ignatios from the Constantinople cathedral-see. The bishops, knowing the piety and extensive knowledge of Photios, informed the emperor about him as a man worthy to occupy the arch-pastoral throne. Saint Photios with humility accepted the proposal. Over the course of 6 days he was led through the hierarchical positions, and on the day of the Nativity of Christ he was ordained bishop with elevation to the patriarchal throne. Soon however there began discord within the Church, stirred up by the expulsion of Patriarch Ignatios from the cathedra. In the year 861 there was convened a Council for ending of the unrest, and at which was affirmed the deposition of Ignatios and the affirming of Photios as patriarch. Pope Nicholas I, the envoys of whom were present at this Council, hoped by affirming Photios as patriarch therein to subordinate him to his power, but not having received what he expected, he betrayed Photios with an anathema at a Roman Council. From that moment there began for Saint Photios, and lasting to the very end of his life, his opposition to the papal bullying and enroachment upon the Orthodox Church of the East. In 864 the Bulgarian land voluntarily converted to Christianity. The Bulgarian prince Boris was baptised as they proposed, by Patriarch Photios himself, after which Saint Photios dispatched an archbishop and priests for the Baptism of the Bulgarian people, and in the year 865 -- Saints Cyril and Methodios were dispatched for the preaching of Christ in the Slavonic language. But the partisans of the pope incited the distrust of the Bulgarians towards the preachers of the Eastern Church. The calamitous situation in Bulgaria because of an invasion by the Germans forced them to seek help in the West, and the Bulgarian prince turned to the pope with a request to send his bishops. Having arrived in Bulgaria, the papal legates began actively to affirm there Latin teachings and usages in place of the Orthodox. Saint Photios, being a firm defender of truth and denouncer of untruth, informed the Eastern Church by means of a circular letter about the deeds of the pope, indicating that the falling away of the Roman Church from its ancient Orthodoxy was not only in rituals, but also in confession of faith. A Council was convened, censuring the arrogance of the West.

In 867 Basil the Macedonian seized the imperial throne, having murdered the emperor Michael. Saint Photios denounced the murderer and did not permit him to partake of the Holy Mysteries of Christ. For this he was removed from the patriarchal throne and locked up in a monastery under guard. In his place was again put Patriarch Ignatios. A Council was convened for an investigation into the conduct of Saint Photios: this Council was made with the participation of papal legates, who demanded of the Council the signing of a document about the unconditional subordination of all the Church to the judgment of the pope. The Eastern bishops, not in agreement with this, entered into an argument with the legates. Summoned to the Council, Saint Photios answered all the accusations of the legates with silence, and only to the question of the judges as to whether he wished to repent, did he reply: "Wherefore do ye consider yourselves judges?" The opponents of Photios after long disputes gained the victory, and their judgment being baseless, they pronounced an anathema upon Patriarch Photios and the bishops defending him. The saint was sent to prison for 7 years, and by his own testimony, "he thanked the Lord, for patiently enduring His judges...".

During this period of time the Latin clergy were expelled from Bulgaria because of the arrogance of the pope, and Patriarch Ignatios sent there his bishops. In 679, after the death of Patriarch Ignatios, there was convened a Council (many fathers of the Church call it the Eighth Ecumenical), and again Saint Photios was acknowledged as the lawful pastor of the Church. Pope John, knowing Photios personally, through his envoys declared at the Council the annulling of all the former papal decisions about Photios. The Council acknowledged the inalterable invariability of the Nicean-Constantinople Creed, rejecting the Latin distortion ("filioque"), and it acknowledged the independence and equality of both thrones and both Churches (Western and Eastern). The Council decided to abolish in Bulgaria church usages and rituals introduced by the Latins, which ended their governance there.

Under emperor Basil's successor, Leo, Saint Photios again suffered through false denunciations, being accused of speaking against the emperor. Again deposed from his cathedral-see in the year 886, the saint finished his days at the Armoneia monastery in 891.

The Orthodox Church venerates Saint Photios as a zealous defender of the Orthodox East from domination by the pope, and as a theologian, leaving behind him various works, exposing the errors of the Latins, refuting various heresies, explicating Holy Scripture, and exploring various topics of the faith.

Troparion of St Photios the Great (Tone 5):

As a radiant beacon of wisdom hidden in God,
and a defender of Orthodoxy revealed from on high,
O great Photios, adornment of Patriarchs,
thou dost refute the innovations of boastful heresy,
O light of the holy Church,
preserve her from all error,
O luminary of the East.

Kontakion of St Photios the Great (Tone 8):

With garlands of chant let us crown the Church's far-shining star,
the God-inspired guide of the Orthodox,
the divinely sounded harp of the Spirit and steadfast adversary of heresy
and let us cry to him: Rejoice, O most venerable Photios.

05 February 2008

The Holy Martyr Agatha of Palermo

From the Synaxarion:

The Holy Martyress Agatha was the daughter of rich and respected Christian parents from the city of Palermo (formerly called Panorum) in Sicily. During the time of the persecution under the emperor Decius (249-251), the city governor of Catana, Centianus, -- having heard about the wealth and beauty of Agatha, sent his soldiers after her to bring her to trial as a Christian. At Catana they housed the saint with a certain rich woman, who had five daughters. They all attempted to provide temptations for Saint Agatha by means of fine clothes, amusements and entertainment, urging her to offer sacrifice to the pagan gods, but the saint would not give in to their tricks, and disdaining all the delights, she prayed the Lord to grant her the strength for the act of martyrdom. At the interrogation under Centianus, the holy martyress was swayed neither by the flattery, nor by the threats, and she was subjected to cruel jeering: they tore at her bosom with iron hooks, and finally, they cut off her breasts. In prison the holy Apostle Peter appeared to her and healed her of her wounds. Led again to torture, Saint Agatha astonished Centianus, in that her bosom was unharmed. They thereupon began to torture her anew. At this moment in the city there began an earthquake, and the earth opened up and swallowed the closest companions of Centianus. The terrified inhabitants rushed to Centianus, demanding that he stop the tortures. Fearing a revolt by the people, Centianus sent Saint Agatha back to prison, where the martyress, in offering up thanks to God, peacefully gave up her soul to the Lord.

01 February 2008

St. Brigid's Day!

First of all, I want to wish a very blessed and happy nameday to my godmother, Robbie Brigid Cox!

Now, on to St. Brigid of Kildare:

She was not a Christianization of Celtic goddess, first and foremost. Granted, she shares a name with the legendary Celtic deity, but, as she was a Celt, and was born to pagan parents, this is not uncommon. She was, however, a great and noble saint of the Irish Church, and is one of the three patron saints of Ireland. Her instruction in the faith by St. Patrick imbued her with a zeal for Christ, and her life of asceticism and holiness is one that we should all seek to emulate.

Troparion (Tone 1):
O holy Brigid,
thou didst become sublime through thy humility,
and didst fly on the wings of thy longing for God.
When thou didst arrive in the Eternal City
and appear before thy Divine Spouse,
wearing the crown of virginity,
thou didst keep thy promise to remember those who have recourse to thee.
Thou dost shower grace upon the world,
and dost multiply miracles.
Intercede with Christ our God that He may save our souls.
Kontakion (Tone 4):

The holy virgin Brigid full of divine wisdom,
went with joy along the way of evangelical childhood,
and with the grace of God
attained in this way the summit of virtue.
Wherefore she now bestows blessings upon those who come to her with faith.
O holy Virgin, intercede with Christ our God that He may have mercy on our souls.

Holy Brigid, pray to Christ our God for our salvation!

+Pax vobsicum