Sunday, November 29, 2009

What is up

So life has been busy. Still is.

I am enjoying an unaccustomed hiatus in the middle of a typically frenetic day, and ventured this way to say hi, hello, dobray dyen'.

Clare is now 9 months old, baptized, communed, and about to celebrate the anniversary of one of her namesakes.

Our boy is 2 years 4 months old, and well into his "terrible twos" and the concomitant testing of limits. The limits of parental patience, mostly. [Said drily.]

E. is kept busy with children, house, and struggling to maintain order where entropy is maximal.

And I have diversified from my bit of thorn, thistle, and sweat of my face (cf. Genesis 3), which is general contracting, and have returned to school.

It had come to my attention that I care a lot (or at least rant a lot) about God's Creation, and I decided to do something about it this caring. So I am moving in a direction that will allow me to better involve myself in the creation (or sub-creation, as Tolkien might describe it) of buildings that reflect an "environmentally-friendly" ethos.

These are exciting times, but busy. I think I've already mentioned the busy part.

- V.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Murder of Dr. George Tiller

I heard on Sunday that an abortionist had been murdered. “Uh-oh,” thought I. “Here comes the inevitable demonizing of those that condemn the evils of abortion. We’ll all be tarred with the same brush.”

When I had a chance, I read the news story. Until this weekend, I had never heard of Dr. George Tiller. I am not an American, so the unique place he held in popular thought (“Tiller the Killer”, “lightning rod of controversy”, etc.) was unknown to me, though I was well aware that there were those that aborted infants in the third trimester.

Reading his life and death I found myself with several reactions. Too many to process easily. Enough to warrant a post.


First, let me echo the words of countless others concerned that the evil action of one (murder) may cause a backlash against the many who do not murder.

I do not know with whom the murderer of Tiller affiliates himself. He may call himself a Christian. He may call himself pro-life. I don’t know at this time what he calls himself, or even who he is, although I can safely conclude he is neither Christian nor pro-life.

Christian is as Christian does.
By our fruits are we known.
Christianity is not a noun or a state of being, but the act of repentance.
Murder is incompatible with Christ.

He is also not pro-life. Oh, he may be anti-abortion … that seems safe enough to conclude (I feel no need to invent a conspiracy theory at this time) … but he is not pro-life. Pro-life, by definition, means no killing. None. Not abortion, not capital punishment, not war, and certainly not murder.


Second, I found myself surprised. Surprised that Dr. Tiller hadn’t been murdered before now. I read of a man who had slaughtered 60,000 or so antenatal infants, and found it amazing that this “lightning rod of controversy” had lived so long.

Why the shock? Simply put, (as Christ said) those who live by the sword die by the sword – an observation, might I add, not an injunction or command. In modern parlance we might say that violence begets violence.

And this is readily observable. Not just with tit-for-tat feuding, as in the Hatfields and the McCoys. In the past 50 years, U.S. imperialism begat Islamic extremism and terrorism which begat American anger (mis)directed at Iraq which has in turn begat an Iraqi insurgency. It is safe to say that the cycle will continue unless some party decides to a bloodless and nonviolent response.

It seems that those who deal in violence most often reap in violence. Blood sown is blood reaped. Sorrow breeds sorrow, and the passions unleashed beget answering passions.

I reiterate: this is not a justification for murder. Following the examples set me by Christ and His Saints, I cannot and will not condone the murder, assassination, killing, or slaughter of anyone, not even a mass murderer like Tiller.

But I can observe patterns, and I can marvel at the miracle of this man’s long life.

Religious hypocrisy

Third, I was troubled, deeply troubled, by a veneer of religiosity that pervaded Dr. Tiller’s life.

He was murdered at church … a church-goer, then. Not just that, but a member in good standing, an usher (a position of responsibility and respectability). He also had a chaplain on staff at his clinic to provide baptisms and funerals for the infants he killed. Balm to solace the heart and numb the conscience of those who had aborted.

I didn’t know Dr. Tiller, and I haven’t the opportunity now, even if I wanted it. I cannot know whether his hypocrisy was deliberate – the work of a minister of evil – or if it was innocent and he was a profoundly deluded and misguided man. Indeed, the point is moot, for he is dead, and his actions and his heart are weighed by Someone infinitely more merciful than I, and more holy, and more just.

Instead, I find myself angered with the spiritual leaders and false shepherds of Reformation Lutheran Church, and their predecessors. They have failed in their duty to condemn the actions of Tiller; they failed to refuse him Communion if he continued to kill; if he was deluded, they failed to save him from his delusion; if he was a minister of evil, they failed to protect their flock. Their responsibility is the souls of their parishioners, of Tiller, his family, and the rest of their spiritual flock, and they have failed all of them.

- V.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Waving Hello from the Scary Valley on the Other Side of the Mountains of Parental Madness

Christ is risen!
Hristos voskrese!
Christos anesti!

Well, I'm back.

In an attenuated sort of way.

I have discovered that taking care of two children under the age of two is a daily journey into chaos. When little B. was born, I wondered at all the spare time I had when I had no children at all, and I wondered what on earth I did with my time before he came along. I see now that I had no idea, no conception at all.

I had so much free time when I had only one child. What on earth did I do with my time before my daughter was born?

- V.

Friday, February 20, 2009

I'm Taking a Break from this Blog

... for the best of reasons.

My daughter Clare was born today.

Glory be to God for all things.

Keep her and her mother in your prayers.

Your servant,

- V.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Neil Postman, in his own words

Neil Postman is a critic of contemporary culture. His is not an Orthodox voice, but one that I think well worth heeding (in the vein of Ivan Illich and Wendell Berry).

Medium: video, from Youtube.

Six questions to ask about technological change:
  1. What problem does the technology solve?
  2. Whose problem is it?
  3. What new problems might be caused by decisively solving an old one?
  4. Which people and what institutions might be most seriously harmed by a technological solution?
  5. What changes in language are being enforced by new technologies and what is being gained and lost by such changes?
  6. What sort of people and institutions acquire special economic and political power because of technological change?
Here is the full lecture:

Medium: printed text, from The Lion & The Cardinal.

Five things to know about technological change:
  1. Culture always pays a price for technology.
  2. There are always winners and losers in technological change.
  3. Embedded in every technology there is a powerful idea (or ideas). The medium is the message.
  4. Technological change is not additive; it is ecological.
  5. Media tends to become mythic.
And here is the full lecture:

"I call my talk Five Things We Need to Know About Technological Change. I base these ideas on my thirty years of studying the history of technological change but I do not think these are academic or esoteric ideas. They are to the sort of things everyone who is concerned with cultural stability and balance should know and I offer them to you in the hope that you will find them useful in thinking about the effects of technology on religious faith.


"The first idea is that all technological change is a trade-off... Technology giveth and technology taketh away. This means that for every advantage a new technology offers, there is always a corresponding disadvantage. The disadvantage may exceed in importance the advantage, or the advantage may well be worth the cost. Now, this may seem to be a rather obvious idea, but you would be surprised at how many people believe that new technologies are unmixed blessings. You need only think of the enthusiasms with which most people approach their understanding of computers. Ask anyone who knows something about computers to talk about them, and you will find that they will, unabashedly and relentlessly, extol the wonders of computers. You will also find that in most cases they will completely neglect to mention any of the liabilities of computers. This is a dangerous imbalance, since the greater the wonders of a technology, the greater will be its negative consequences.

"Think of the automobile, which for all of its obvious advantages, has poisoned our air, choked our cities, and degraded the beauty of our natural landscape. Or you might reflect on the paradox of medical technology which brings wondrous cures but is, at the same time, a demonstrable cause of certain diseases and disabilities, and has played a significant role in reducing the diagnostic skills of physicians. It is also well to recall that for all of the intellectual and social benefits provided by the printing press, its costs were equally monumental. The printing press gave the Western world prose, but it made poetry into an exotic and elitist form of communication. It gave us inductive science, but it reduced religious sensibility to a form of fanciful superstition. Printing gave us the modern conception of nationhood, but in so doing turned patriotism into a sordid if not lethal emotion. We might even say that the printing of the Bible in vernacular languages introduced the impression that God was an Englishman or a German or a Frenchman - that is to say, printing reduced God to the dimensions of a local potentate.

"Perhaps the best way I can express this idea is to say that the question, What will a new technology do? is no more important than the question, What will a new technology undo? Indeed, the latter question is more important, precisely because it is asked so infrequently. One might say, then, that a sophisticated perspective on technological change includes one's being skeptical of Utopian and Messianic visions drawn by those who have no sense of history or of the precarious balances on which culture depends. In fact, if it were up to me, I would forbid anyone from talking about the new information technologies unless the person can demonstrate that he or she knows something about the social and psychic effects of the alphabet, the mechanical clock, the printing press, and telegraphy. In other words, knows something about the costs of great technologies.

"Idea Number One, then, is that culture always pays a price for technology.


"This leads to the second idea, which is that the advantages and disadvantages of new technologies are never distributed evenly among the population. This means that every new technology benefits some and harms others. There are even some who are not affected at all. Consider again the case of the printing press in the 16th century, of which Martin Luther said it was God's highest and extremest act of grace, whereby the business of the Gospel is driven forward. By placing the word of God on every Christian's kitchen table, the mass-produced book undermined the authority of the Church hierarchy, and hastened the breakup of the Holy Roman See. The Protestants of that time cheered this development. The Catholics were enraged and distraught. Since I am a Jew, had I lived at that time, I probably wouldn't have given a damn one way or another... some gain, some lose, a few remain as they were.

"Let us take as another example, television, although here I should add at once that in the case of television there are very few indeed who are not affected in one way or another. In America, where television has taken hold more deeply than anywhere else, there are many people who find it a blessing, not least those who have achieved high-paying, gratifying careers in television as executives, technicians, directors, newscasters and entertainers. On the other hand, and in the long run, television may bring an end to the careers of school teachers since school was an invention of the printing press and must stand or fall on the issue of how much importance the printed word will have in the future. There is no chance, of course, that television will go away but school teachers who are enthusiastic about its presence always call to my mind an image of some turn-of-the-century blacksmith who not only is singing the praises of the automobile but who also believes that his business will be enhanced by it. We know now that his business was not enhanced by it; it was rendered obsolete by it, as perhaps an intelligent blacksmith would have known.

"The questions, then, that are never far from the mind of a person who is knowledgeable about technological change are these: Who specifically benefits from the development of a new technology? Which groups, what type of person, what kind of industry will be favored? And, of course, which groups of people will thereby be harmed?

"These questions should certainly be on our minds when we think about computer technology. There is no doubt that the computer has been and will continue to be advantageous to large-scale organizations like the military or airline companies or banks or tax collecting institutions. And it is equally clear that the computer is now indispensable to high-level researchers in physics and other natural sciences. But to what extent has computer technology been an advantage to the masses of people? To steel workers, vegetable store owners, automobile mechanics, musicians, bakers, bricklayers, dentists, yes, theologians, and most of the rest into whose lives the computer now intrudes? These people have had their private matters made more accessible to powerful institutions. They are more easily tracked and controlled; they are subjected to more examinations, and are increasingly mystified by the decisions made about them. They are more than ever reduced to mere numerical objects. They are being buried by junk mail. They are easy targets for advertising agencies and political institutions.

"In a word, these people are losers in the great computer revolution. The winners, which include among others computer companies, multi-national corporations and the nation state, will, of course, encourage the losers to be enthusiastic about computer technology. That is the way of winners, and so in the beginning they told the losers that with personal computers the average person can balance a checkbook more neatly, keep better track of recipes, and make more logical shopping lists. Then they told them that computers will make it possible to vote at home, shop at home, get all the entertainment they wish at home, and thus make community life unnecessary. And now, of course, the winners speak constantly of the Age of Information, always implying that the more information we have, the better we will be in solving significant problems - not only personal ones but large-scale social problems, as well. But how true is this? If there are children starving in the world - and there are - it is not because of insufficient information. We have known for a long time how to produce enough food to feed every child on the planet. How is it that we let so many of them starve? If there is violence on our streets, it is not because we have insufficient information. If women are abused, if divorce and pornography and mental illness are increasing, none of it has anything to do with insufficient information. I dare say it is because something else is missing, and I don't think I have to tell this audience what it is. Who knows? This age of information may turn out to be a curse if we are blinded by it so that we cannot see truly where our problems lie. That is why it is always necessary for us to ask of those who speak enthusiastically of computer technology, why do you do this? What interests do you represent? To whom are you hoping to give power? From whom will you be withholding power?...

"Since technology favors some people and harms others, these are questions that must always be asked. And so, that there are always winners and losers in technological change is the second idea.


"Here is the third. Embedded in every technology there is a powerful idea, sometimes two or three powerful ideas. These ideas are often hidden from our view because they are of a somewhat abstract nature. But this should not be taken to mean that they do not have practical consequences.

"Perhaps you are familiar with the old adage that says: To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail. We may extend that truism: To a person with a pencil, everything looks like a sentence. To a person with a TV camera, everything looks like an image. To a person with a computer, everything looks like data. I do not think we need to take these aphorisms literally. But what they call to our attention is that every technology has a prejudice. Like language itself, it predisposes us to favor and value certain perspectives and accomplishments. In a culture without writing, human memory is of the greatest importance, as are the proverbs, sayings and songs which contain the accumulated oral wisdom of centuries. That is why Solomon was thought to be the wisest of men. In Kings I we are told he knew 3000 proverbs. But in a culture with writing, such feats of memory are considered a waste of time, and proverbs are merely irrelevant fancies. The writing person favors logical organization and systematic analysis, not proverbs. The telegraphic person values speed, not introspection. The television person values immediacy, not history. And computer people, what shall we say of them? Perhaps we can say that the computer person values information, not knowledge, certainly not wisdom. Indeed, in the computer age, the concept of wisdom may vanish altogether.

"The third idea, then, is that every technology has a philosophy which is given expression in how the technology makes people use their minds, in what it makes us do with our bodies, in how it codifies the world, in which of our senses it amplifies, in which of our emotional and intellectual tendencies it disregards. This idea is the sum and substance of what the great Catholic prophet, Marshall McLuhan meant when he coined the famous sentence, The medium is the message.


"Here is the fourth idea: Technological change is not additive; it is ecological. I can explain this best by an analogy. What happens if we place a drop of red dye into a beaker of clear water? Do we have clear water plus a spot of red dye? Obviously not. We have a new coloration to every molecule of water. That is what I mean by ecological change. A new medium does not add something; it changes everything. In the year 1500, after the printing press was invented, you did not have old Europe plus the printing press. You had a different Europe. After television, America was not America plus television. Television gave a new coloration to every political campaign, to every home, to every school, to every church, to every industry, and so on.

"That is why we must be cautious about technological innovation. The consequences of technological change are always vast, often unpredictable and largely irreversible. That is also why we must be suspicious of capitalists. Capitalists are by definition not only personal risk takers but, more to the point, cultural risk takers. The most creative and daring of them hope to exploit new technologies to the fullest, and do not much care what traditions are overthrown in the process or whether or not a culture is prepared to function without such traditions. Capitalists are, in a word, radicals....

"I trust you understand that in saying all this, I am making no argument for socialism. I say only that capitalists need to be carefully watched and disciplined. To be sure, they talk of family, marriage, piety, and honor but if allowed to exploit new technology to its fullest economic potential, they may undo the institutions that make such ideas possible....


"I come now to the fifth and final idea, which is that media tend to become mythic. I use this word in the sense in which it was used by the French literary critic, Roland Barthes. He used the word myth to refer to a common tendency to think of our technological creations as if they were God-given, as if they were a part of the natural order of things. I have on occasion asked my students if they know when the alphabet was invented. The question astonishes them. It is as if I asked them when clouds and trees were invented. The alphabet, they believe, was not something that was invented. It just is. It is this way with many products of human culture but with none more consistently than technology. Cars, planes, TV, movies, newspapers - they have achieved mythic status because they are perceived as gifts of nature, not as artifacts produced in a specific political and historical context.

"When a technology become mythic, it is always dangerous because it is then accepted as it is, and is therefore not easily susceptible to modification or control. If you should propose to the average American that television broadcasting should not begin until 5 PM and should cease at 11 PM, or propose that there should be no television commercials, he will think the idea ridiculous. But not because he disagrees with your cultural agenda. He will think it ridiculous because he assumes you are proposing that something in nature be changed; as if you are suggesting that the sun should rise at 10 AM instead of at 6....

"Our enthusiasm for technology can turn into a form of idolatry and our belief in its beneficence can be a false absolute. The best way to view technology is as a strange intruder, to remember that technology is not part of God's plan but a product of human creativity and hubris, and that its capacity for good or evil rests entirely on human awareness of what it does for us and to us."


HT to Daniel Mitsui of The Lion and the Cardinal, and to the blogger [I can't remember whom!] that pointed me to Neil Postman's lecture.

- V.

Orrologion Must Reads

I do not have Orthodox "must reads." I don't know enough about the condition of anyone's soul (truth be told, not even mine own) to know the medicine best suited for its healing.

However, if I had to provide a list for someone who insistently demanded it of me, I might start here:

  1. The Orthodox Church by Bishop Kallistos Ware (formerly known as Timothy, now a Metropolitan)
  2. The Orthodox Way by Bishop Kallistos Ware (formerly known as Timothy, now a Metropolitan)
  3. The Way of a Pilgrim by Anonymous (I still like the translation by R.M. French the best)
  4. Way of the Ascetics by Tito Colliander
  5. Father Arseny, 1893–1973: Priest, Prisoner, Spiritual Father by Anonymous, tr.Vera Bouteneff
  6. Saint Silouan the Athonite by Archimandrite Sophrony Sakharov - especially the first part of this book which was also published separately as The Monk of Mount Athos: Staretz Silouan, 1866-1938.
  7. Father Seraphim Rose: His Life and Works by Hieromonk Damascene Christiansen
  8. Eastern Orthodox Theology: A Contemporary Reader, ed. Daniel Clendenin
  9. Great Lent by Fr. Alexander Schmemann
  10. The Orthodox Faith, vols. 1 - 4, by Fr. Thomas Hopko

I thought these books would offer at least some insight into various aspects of Orthodoxy that are important to be aware of. The two books by Ware give a strong overview of the Church, touch on spiritual traditions, patristics, liturgical and historical issues - as well as relations with the West and other Christians. Way of the Ascetics goes further in presenting, simply, the spiritual traditions of the Church and personal ascetic exertion. The Way of a Pilgrim is really sort of a saint's life, as is Father Arseny (which also introduces religious persecution under the Bolsheviks) and Saint Silouan (which introduces Mount Athos). Father Seraphim Rose and Clendenin's Reader are probably the most 'controversial' on this list. First, Clendenin has edited a very good selection of Orthodox writings from a number of sources and 'schools' within Orthodoxy inlcuding Ware, Schmemann, Florovsky, Meyendorff, V. Lossky, Stavropoulos, Nassif, Bulgakov, Ouspensky and T. Weber. Second, Father Seraphim Rose offers a look at the life of an American facing many of the Orthodox religious issues of his day thus raising both his own 'camp's' position, as well as those to the Left and Right of him. Most important is a presentation of a modern American who became Orthodox and a monk, which is simply a statement that conversion is possible and Orthodoxy is not simply Greek or Russian, etc. It also presents a picture of St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco. Hopko's Rainbow Series is a very useful presentation of all aspects of Orthodoxy, especially the basic facts of the Liturgy, Orthodox history, her thoughts on various doctrines, etc. A very good primer. Schmemann's Great Lent is him at his best, which to me is as a pastor. He presents the meaning and mind of the most dramatic elements of the Orthodox calendar very well, step by step. I think these books give one a taste for the various wings of the mansion of Orthodoxy; after reading these, one can explore further by reading other books mentioned in these texts or that are similar to them.

Credit: Orrologion.

- V.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Isolations, and the Divorce of Creation from Christianity

The devil's best weapon is that of isolation.

Isolation from God is first and most obvious - it is the ultimate isolation to which all other isolations point. It is not for nothing that hell has been described as a God-absent sensory deprivation chamber.

There is also the isolation of persons. With individualism and individualistic non-Trinitarian thought, we have lost the sense of salvation as corporate and communal.

The twentieth century has seen the (empty) triumph of many other isolations, the acquisition by our Enemy of many isolating tools:
  • In feminism (and reactionary machoism), the isolating and putting at enmity of the sexes.
  • In public school, television, and modern nontraditional music, the isolating of each generation from those that have gone before.
  • In modernism, the isolating from history (and her lessons) and tradition.
  • In funeral homes' crematoria and embalming rituals, the isolating from death and the repentance death engenders.
  • In an officially urban world, the isolating of man from the Created order.
It is this last isolation that I wish to consider.

It is an old tactic that has taken on new dimensions. Hitherto cities were best for the proliferation of leisure and its concomitant vice, but the Created order was still close. Not so today.

Concrete covers the ground, skyscrapers and "light pollution" shut out the sky, globalized agriculture and food distribution centres divorce us from the origins of our food, sewers and garbage trucks hide from us the consequences of our waste. Never before has man been so isolated from the natural, so separated from the Created order. In fact, as Wendell Berry points out, we have created a new word to articulate this separation: the environment, that which is around us. We have lost the sense that we are in it, that we are part of it, and that ultimately we will return to it.

It has been suggested in this blog (not by the authors) that the Created order is not a self-evident good because St. Paul - among others - fails to mention it. Completely aside from the fact that the Bible does not address everything nor was it meant to ...

[The New Testament was collated by the Church, its several parts determined by comparison with the oral tradition of the Church. The Church in turn has become epistle ... she has become the good news of Christ, articulated as she incarnates Him. The Church is the New Testament. Rather than a model where an issue does not exist for God (like cannibalism, say) if it hasn't been addressed in a text two thousand years old, we proclaim the living Body of Christ, which by virtue of its life can and will address all issues that the centuries reveal.]

... I would argue that it would have been utterly redundant for the Bible to have addressed it. If a man in those times chose not to care for his garden or his farm, weeds would have overtaken it, the plants would have withered, and he and his family would have starved. The apostles, evangelists, and epistolists were in the Created order; they had no concept of a people so divorced from their food source that they need a note from God to tell them to stop soiling their food supply or their water supply.

This last is the part that gets me. Christians, no matter their creed or lack thereof, have a responsibility to work for the betterment of Creation. This is not a matter of Left vs. Right, not a matter of hippie granola-crunchers vs. sober suit-wearers, not a matter of The Will of God vs. the sideshows. Even if a person who professes the name of Christ has the nerve to assert that care for God's Creation is a spiritual non-essential, he cannot get past the fact that pollution contaminates our water, our food, & our bodies, and pollution ultimately sickens and kills us.

It is impossible to get past the logic of this. Soil your bedsheets and you will sleep in excrement. Soil your food supply and you will eat the consequences.

- V.
The usual caveat.

Monday, February 16, 2009

On Wanting More Turf Than 7 Feet of Canadian Soil

I've had Wendell Berry on the mind of late, and a post has been hovering at the back of my mind, waiting for articulation.

One of the things I wanted to mention was our desire to have a bit of land to nurture, to use, to reap. E. and I were discussing Ochlophobist's recent series of posts (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12) - a thesis in pictures, really, lauding a way of life that he (and we) finds laudable - and it struck us forcefully that there is a fascinating subculture within Orthodoxy (agrarian postmodern?) that hungers for land. This is a hunger not for the gain that land might bring, but a hunger for the toil and the sweat and the tears that is a Christian engagement with God's Creation. A step back and away from the petroleum-fertilized factory farming of the latter part of the 20th century, a return to sustainable (ie. non-polluting) living, even if on a limited scale, and a re-engagement with God's Creation after the soul-straitening concrete canyons of the Big City.

A recent moment of envious yearning (and joy! - both with him and for him) was reading about Lotar's purchase of a homestead for he, his wife, and his 1.5 children. These things are possible, evidently - I just don't know how to get where I can realize these dreams also.

Andrea Elizabeth articulates some of that bewilderment. She is not in quite the same place that I am in - I still hope for something a little more country, and I get the feeling that she has reached a point of contentment with her place/situation in life. In her words:
While I agree with and admire [Wendell Berry's] ethics, I haven’t been able to become an ardent disciple because I don’t think his particular way of life is completely practical for everyone. I love self-sufficiency, but not everyone is as smart as he is. Did he make most of his livelihood on his farm or by his gifted writing? I’ve talked about how much more fertile and better watered Kentucky is compared to where I live too. Still, I could probably get by with the produce available at our Farmer’s Market. Wait, last time I was there I noticed that most things weren’t local. But if I spent a lot of time studying, I could probably find enough local sources to keep us well-fed. But my attentions are usually diverted elsewhere. I resent the hour and a half I spend at Walmart every week as it is. And my home garden, which I prefer to access rather than going across town to the farmer’s market, I’m self-sufficient that way, got mostly eaten by bugs, or didn’t produce much (for the needs of a family of 8) for other unknown reasons. I intend on getting better at gardening though. It is a healthy sport.
Again, I don't agree with her conclusions, but I sympathize with her frustration. Here is Ochlophobist's response:
This weekend past we spent time with our best friends, on their third attempt at a sustainable farm [the subject of which was the photo-essay mentioned above -- V.]. They have all the skills and the desire to farm, but did not inherit any land, or any significant means, and they have not followed the most common path of niche farming today - to spend a few decades in a lucrative field and then, after accumulating means, running off to the boutique farm. It is likely that this third attempt will be their last, that most of their lives will be spent as serious gardeners, and not as farmers. There is a place for the mourning over lost dreams, but then one must go on and do the hard work in the real here and the real now that God presents to us.

I have written before, and I think honesty requires us of agrarian bents to say it again and again - Wendell Berry inherited the family farm, one that was semi-functional. He had financial means outside of farming, whether or not he needed such. What of those of us who did not inherit such things, and would never have access to such means? These facts are one reason why I must read Berry and Edwards (who wrote Ebenezer) as, first and foremost, eulogists.

But we can learn many important things from these eulogies. We can remember many important things. We are offered in them something of an image of repentance, if we look with our eyes open enough. And we can make our little, sputtering, seemingly inconsequential efforts at the human things. I live in a cheap ranch house on half an acre, but I can double dig a small garden, and I can make things with my hands as time permits, I can cook my own food from as honest of ingredients as I am able to secure. I can read lasting words, sing hymns, sit still. I can attempt to pace my life in a manner that bows as little as possible to the rush of the constant movement of consumption. I can remember that I have failed, and I will fail, and that I am small, that my efforts will matter little but somewhere in that littleness is my salvation, and as God wills the salvation of my children. One can still strive, even in this place, to cultivate the quiet, the slow, to choreograph the movement of one's hands and breath in the dance of activity and stillness in a manner that befits a human life - as best as one is able, in the midst of all those troublesome cares and demands. To borrow my oft put example - even the single mother living in one of those awful bauhuas projects can bake her own bread, and while that may be the only careful human act she has time for, aside from prayer, it is the sort of rebuke of consumenivorism that reveals a clinging to life, and grants a reward, the richness one experiences when coming upon the flower in the desert.

There is also the temptation, the very American temptation, of taking from Berry & Co. a moralist perfectionism. An all or nothing disposition which rots the soul, as it judges any effort which does not achieve a fast and secure perfection to be hell-fodder. There is a lack of pause with this sort of perfectionism, scarce disposition to cover the sins of others, few allowances, a poverty with regard to tenderness of heart. We have to live the life that we are given, and when we read Berry as moralist only, or moralist primarily, most of us end up under a load of impossible moral burdens. I will never get to the farm in KY. I have no way of getting there. I must concern myself with my own home, as Berry exhorts. In much of Berry's literature there is that call to be who you are where you are, in as human a manner possible, but the overt moralism in much of his work provides something of a contradiction in tone at times, and one is best to follow Andrea Elizabeth's reading and take this with a grain of salt. There is not going to be a Wendell Berry movement that changes America. You are not going to take part in some great motion of social change by getting your produce from a local farmer or growing one quarter of your caloric intake. This is not to say that such social movements do not exist and will not push and pull society in this and that way. It is to say that such an agenda betrays Berry and the whole notion of living an honest human life. Movement agendas are destructive abstractions. It is better to simply and quietly go about doing the best things one is able. There will always be the temptation to fight the Dark Lord of Mordor with his own Black Speech. Our focus must be upon the goodness of a row of okra where and when we find it, the goodness of the chicken in the backyard, the goodness of a pig allowed to run about, the goodness of grain and water getting under fingernails. These things are miracles always and only in their instances. As soon as we make of them a rule or a paradigm they are lost to us. God only ever loves this bruised reed, the one here, that you see trampled in front of you. The Society for the Protection of Bruised Reeds (S.P.B.R.) is not the work of angels, but a diversion. The poor in spirit hold up those reeds within their very short reach. And yet that greatest of miracles - the seemingly smallest reach that is the summit of all human affairs, of all human history, that short length from pierced torso to nailed hand, holds the entire universe in its mercied place. Today, right now, this world is kept on its rotational axis for the prayer of a little old nun, chanting O Heavenly King as she presses a cucumber seed into earth with her nub of a finger. There is no other way. [highlighting mine -- V.]]
This is life in the meantime, living without despair, living in prayer and finding God in the here, in the now. This is re-remembering that what is holy in yearning for land is not the ideal of healthy land, sound ecology, the economy of thinking small and local ... what is holy is that baptism of the broken (land, ecology, and the rest of the cosmos) by Orthodox, through prayer, through vigil, through labour offered to God, ascesis in all its forms.

I will continue to yearn, and hope. I don't think this is wrong. But the now cannot, must not be forgotten.

- V.

On the meaning of the title:
When King Harald Hardrada of Norway put in his bid for the Kingdom of Anglo-Saxon England, the holder of the crown - Harold Godwinson of Wessex - retorted that the only English land that he would give Harald was the 6 feet to bury him. Or, as Harald was reputed to be a tall man, 7 feet.

... I would like land, yes, but I would rather that there be more planted in it than just me.

Sunday, February 15, 2009


It has come to my attention that many Orthodox writers preface their logismoi [private spiritual opinions, usually wrong-headed] with the words: "The Orthodox Churches teaches that..."

If I am not guilty of that exact phrasing I am certainly guilty of the implication.

I should like to make it very clear that I am not a theologian, I am not clergy, and I am no saint.

When I write, I write as a sinful Orthodox parishioner. Where I accurately convey the voice of the Church, this is the success of the Church; where I drift into heterodox thought, the error is mine alone.

I can't promise not to touch on theological matters, but I will be in future more scrupulous to avoid implying that mine is the voice of the Church.

- V.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

On Miracles

"[I]t has often been said that all events are works of creation. On this view, it is only a concession to popular phraseology to say that one body is attracted toward another in accordance with a law of gravitation; what really ought to be said is that when two bodies are in proximity under certain conditions they come together. Certain phenomena in nature, on this view, are always followed by certain other phenomena, and it is really only this regularity of sequence which is indicated by the assertion that the former phenomena 'cause' the latter; the only real cause is in all cases God. On the basis of this view, there can be no distinction between events wrought by the immediate power of God and those that are not; for on this view all events are so wrought. Against such a view, those who accept our definition of miracle will naturally accept the commonsense notion of cause. God is always the first cause, but there are truly second causes; and they are the means which God uses, in the ordinary course of the world, for the accomplishment of His ends. It is the exclusion of such second causes which makes an event a miracle.

"It is sometimes said that the actuality of miracles would destroy the basis of science. Science, it is said, is founded upon the regularity of sequences; it assumes that if certain conditions within the course of nature are given, certain other conditions will always follow. But if there is to be any intrusion of events which by their very definition are independent of all previous conditions, then, it is said, the regularity of nature upon which science bases itself is broken up. Miracle, in other words, seems to introduce an element of arbitrariness and unaccountability into the course of the world.

"The objection ignores what is really fundamental the Christian conception of miracle. According to the Christian conception, a miracle is wrought by the immediate power of God. It is not wrought by an arbitrary and fantastic despot, but by the very God to whom the regularity of nature itself is dueby the God, moreover, whose character is known through the Bible. Such a God, we may be sure, will not do despite to the reason that He has given to His creatures; His interposition will introduce no disorder into the world that He has made. There is nothing arbitrary about a miracle, according to the Christian conception. It is not an uncaused event, but an event that is caused by the very source of all the order that is in the world. It is dependent altogether upon the least arbitrary and the most firmly fixed of all the things that arenamely upon the character of God.

"The possibility of miracle, then, is indissolubly joined with 'theism.' Once admit the existence of a personal God, Maker and Ruler of the world, and no limits, temporal or otherwise, can be set to the creative power of such a God. Admit that God once created the world, and you cannot deny that He might engage in creation again."

- J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism.

HT: Esteban Vazquez.

- V.

Friday, February 13, 2009

What I Have Found, from the Vantage-Point of a Decade

Today marks the tenth anniversary of my entrance into the Orthodox Church.

It has been an interesting journey, one with falls and detours, but a journey with a destination. A journey with many friends, that great choir of witnesses who pray with us and for us. A journey that is never alone, but always in the midst of relationship. A journey of great richness.

I remember being told that the Church was a temporary fad, and that I would last five years on account of my stubbornness. There was a part of me that feared that this was true.

It is difficult to convey what I have found instead. [Pray forgive me if I am inarticulate when attempting to describe the ineffable.] Once I compared belief systems, totting up contrasts and similitudes. Once I sampled everything like a hummingbird sips at nectar. Once I felt the fear that comes from the attempt of man to hew from Scripture the right theology, the right teaching. Once I did not know myself.

And now?

The Church is the Bride of Christ. She has a mind, a heart; she has been lifted up into the heavenlies and stands orant before the throne of God. She is richness; she is the pleroma for which I hungered without knowing my hunger. She has overwhelmed me with beauty and grace. She has given me theology that can be understood by a child, simple, elegant, all its disciplines interwoven and seamless, and yet it is a theology that can be plumbed for a lifetime without reaching the end of its mysteries. She has given me sacrament - she has rebuked my intellectualization with their earthiness and physicality and overwhelmed me with the grace they bestow. Similarly with the sacramentals, like icons and relics. She has given me liturgy. She has given me the Saints: the Mother of God, my patron saint, my other friends, and the countless others whom I have yet to meet. And the Bride of Christ has given me … me – for I am more fully myself as I am freed from my slavery to my passions, my bondage to sin, and restored from my godless half-self shadow and given life, definition, illumination in union with Christ.

And why is this? Simply because she is the Bride of Christ and she leads me to Him Who is the author and finisher of my faith. Though I am blessed by Creation and tutored by the Law, my salvation started at Christ’s death on the cross, His harrowing of Hell, His resurrection from the tomb, and His ascent to the Father’s right hand. But He has yet to finish it, and he is finishing it, and because of my [continued] baptism with Him through His Passion and Joy, it is already finished.

Because the Church is and has been under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Our God is a God of maximums, and He will use every means and every consolation to teach us, nurture us, and bring us into full union with Him.

I am guided into the Church, guided by the Church, and comforted in my fallen humanity by the gifts He has given her.

And by the Grace of God, one day my journey in the Church will get me to my destination.

- V.

E. Comments on Breastfeeding Hero and Upcoming Birth

When I checked this morning's news headlines, I came across this. I don't know if it's just the pregnancy hormones, but I felt moved to tears. If I had to choose a hero from Hollywood right now, it would be Salma Hayek.

I also thought I'd ask our readers to remember me, Elizabeth, in your prayers. I am due to give birth any day now, though my official due date is not until March 4th (funny how babies seldom get that memo). I regret that I'm not quite able to post here as often as I'd like, but I'm sure many of you understand how the responsibilities of motherhood often do not mesh with my spending more than a few minutes at a time Online. Thank you in advance for any prayers you might offer on my behalf. We'll keep you posted concerning the details of our next baby's arrival.

Scripture & Sacrament

On the RC show Journey Home, Marcus Grodi takes a phone call from a man who makes an interesting point. (HT: Whippleshire)

Luke 24:13-35

"[...] which is the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus. It really hit me how Christ came along, walked along with them, opened up the Scripture to them, talked to them about Scripture, their hearts were burning about Scripture ... and yet they did not recognize our Lord until the breaking of the bread.

They went back to Jerusalem to the disciples, they told about what happened and how the Lord was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

When I talk to my Protestant friends and all, they are so focused on Scripture (and God bless them, that's great) but I point out to them in this one here how even with Scripture-- even with Christ Himself explaining it to you, yet it was in the Eucharist that they recognized Him."
Our eyes are darkened. When we do see, it is in a glass darkly.

Interpreting Scripture is a perilous task, a walk with precipices upon either side. Without a guide it is all too easy to fall into heresy. Some suggest relying on the Holy Spirit as a guide. Orthodox would agree with this statement wholeheartedly, but not in how it is often interpreted: alone, independently, individually. Here self-deception is made too easy, prelest' all too common. Which we know, for even the disciples' eyes could be closed to the teaching of Christ.

We offer the Church instead, the Church as guide under the tutelage of the Holy Spirit. Her Tradition has been safeguarded by the Holy Spirit, she knows the common errors, the slips that could become falls, she understands the dangers of prelest'. And it is in the Church that eyes are opened, for it is here that the Eucharist is, the Real Presence of Christ. In the Sacraments we meet God, in the Sacraments we are the Church, in the Sacraments the Scriptures are opened to us and we see Christ and we hear His voice.

- V.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Priestly bloggers

For reasons that escape me, the weekend before last I looked for Orthodox priests who blogged (in English). I found fifteen, and one subdeacon. Who knew that there were so many?

This is not an exhaustive list, as I kept finding more the more I looked. But it is an interesting one. It is also a list to explore - our priests offer a voice of authority in an Internet with none.

  • Glory to God for All Things - Fr. Stephen Freeman's (OCA) blog is the best out there. He teaches Orthodoxy without apology or diminishment. A source of spiritual food and a must-have for the Orthodox blogroll. (We must remember Fr. Stephen and this ministry in our prayers.)
  • Second Terrace - Fr. Jonathan Tobias (ACROD) is a poet and a philosopher. His is another of my favourite blogs.
After those personal favourites, here are the rest:

  • Again and Again - I just found this blog by Fr. Milovan Katanic (Serbian), so I don't know its flavour yet. But he writes on a variety of topics and appears quite Orthodox, and people I like like him.
  • Koinonia - Fr. Gregory Jensen (Greek) shares this blog with 7 other "members", one of whom is a Fr. James Early (Antiochian) - that said, all the most recent posts are Fr. Gregory's . His posts are dense, meaty. I need to do more reading before I can say any more.
  • Antioch Abouna - This is another great place to go for Orthodox teaching on or response to a wide variety of topics. Fr. Gregory Stockport (Antiochian) is the author.
  • Fr. John Whiteford's News, Comments, & Reflections - As advertised, Fr. John Whiteford (ROCA) uses news items as a launching point for his thoughts. Typically conservative and political.
  • Orthodixie - Fr. Joseph Honeycutt's (Antiochian) blog is a popular stop for many Orthodox. Many of his posts touch on materials covered in his podcast.
  • Conversi ad Dominum - Apparently, this Latin call to worship is the equivalent to Ad orientem. Fr. John W. Fenton (Western rite) posts on a range of topics, typically derived from life and current events. A fascinating blog in that it is a glimpse into the life of the Western rite.
  • The Traveling Priest Chronicles - Here is an exceedingly wide range - sermons to snippets of posts, pop culture to theology to politics. Written by Fr. John Chagnon (Antiochian).
  • Fr. Peter-Michael Preble - Fr. Peter Preble (Romanian) responds to current events and the calendar of the year. He also takes prayer requests.
  • Writings of a Fr. Costa Christo - Fr. Costa Christo (Greek) posts quotations from the Fathers (and Orthodox theologians) on various topics.
  • Looking East and West - So far this blog by Fr. Stephen Herney (Western rite) has only 13 posts on a range of topics, all written from an Orthodox Christian perspective. We hope that he will continue his venture.
  • Devshirme - Fr. Gregory Christakos (Greek) writes on a variety of topics. This blog is more of a traditional diary-like weblog.
And the remainder ...
  • Ora et Labora - This is the highly respected blog by an anonymous priest. I list the blog down here in part because the priest is anonymous (giving us the interesting question as to how much of an authority is an anonymous priest), and in part because the writer hasn't posted since August, 2008.
  • Ad orientem - In theory this blog is shared between "John" and Fr. David Thatcher (OCA). But the latter doesn't appear to have posted often, if ever. Instead ...
  • Fr. David's Blog is found on the parish website. Unfortunately, Fr. David hasn't posted there either since March, 2008.
Happy surfing! and let me know of any others to add to my list.

- V.

Monday, February 9, 2009

The Advertisement Section of the Blog

There will be a book draw.

Fine print:

[E]ngaging in the task of historical reconstruction is both necessary and unavoidable, and we would all do well to acquire such bibliographical resources as would set our investigation on firmer footing. On the subject of the Pharisees and other Jewish sects in the First Century, one would be hard pressed to find a better and more comprehensive study than the late Anthony J. Saldarini's Pharisees, Scribes and Sadducees in Palestinian Society (1988; reprint, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001). Quite fortunately you, my gentle snowflakes, as I searched my library for books touching on this important subject, I discovered that I have not one, but two copies of this important work. I have therefore decided to bestow the additional copy upon one of you in the first (and probably the only) ever Week of the Publican and the Pharisee Giveaway at The Voice of Stefan! Following Nick Norelli's sage advice, I only ask you to sign up for the giveaway in the comment section of this post, and perhaps to advertise the giveaway on your own blog, should you have one. [UPDATE: If you choose to announce the giveaway on your own blog, I will enter you name twice into the contest.] I will draw a winner next Friday, February 13 (N. S.), 2009, and send out the undoubtedly coveted prize to the winner's regular US address shortly thereafter. (With profuse apologies to readers outside the US, I am presently unable to ship internationally.) Best wishes to any and all who choose to participate!" [Quoted from this post by Esteban Vazquez.]

Saturday, February 7, 2009

When Did We See You?

"When did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and come to you?" (Matt. 25:37)
The rest of Steven Robinson's post is over here.

And I love that icon.

- V.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Betrayal by Cube

I am scandalized and sorrowing.

Orrologion, a blog that is rapidly rising in my esteem, has posted what the author has called the "Orthocube." Maybe it retails by a different name.

It is a Rubik's Cube with icons replacing the traditional blocks of colour.

If it were pictures of my son, pictures of my Aunt Mathilda's black poodle, pictures of classic Renaissance works like Michelangelo's "David" ... my aesthetic sense would be offended, like a bad odour offends my nose, and I would labour the resulting Cube "kitsch", 20th century debunking, the trivialization of culture, or something similarly critical.

But this is terrible. In the comments, one writer (a new convert to Orthodoxy) asks
More pressing than "where would I buy one" is "how would I dispose of one?"
And here he touches on a truth that the creators of this ... thing ... have forgotten. Icons are not team badges or baseball caps; they are not decorative elements à la Footprints. Icons are holy things, as another writer says. Ironic that I should find Fr. Stephen Freeman's post on the need for Orthodox to reclaim the holy after seeing this.

Yet I want to take this one step further.

Icons are holy like so many articles that we use in worship, teaching us thereby the holiness of the God whom we worship. But icons are unique within the history of Orthodox holy things: they are condoned by the Incarnation of Christ, made necessary by the Incarnation of Christ, and hallowed by Christ's gift to us.

They were threatened by the heresy of the iconoclasts, the last in a series of heresies that misunderstood the Incarnation, until they triumphed in the Seventh Ecumenical Council. We celebrate that triumph in the Sunday of Orthodoxy.

They are also unique because their presence in Orthodox Churches was bought not only through the teachings of the confessors (like St. John Damascene), but through the blood of martyrs.

Our fathers among the Saints died in defense (apologia and martyric witness) of Orthodoxy, proclaiming the iconic outworkings of the Incarnation, in order that we could glimpse into Heaven, in order that the Saints would thereby commune with us ...

... in order that modern hands would do this.

This is not reverence, but a betrayal.

St. Theodosia the Martyr (May 29)
Ss. Julian, Marcian, John, James, Alexis, Demeter, Photius, Peter, Leontius,
and Mary the Patrician (Aug 9)
St. Peter the Martyr (Nov 28)
St. Nicetas the Confessor (March 20)
St. Stephen the Younger and his companions (Nov 28)
St. Paul the Martyr (Mar 17)
St. Andrew the Martyr (Oct 17)
St. Thaddeus the Confessor (Dec 29)
St. Emilian the Confessor (Aug 8)
St. Theodore the Branded (Dec 27)
all of whom died under the hands of iconoclasts

Remembering also the many other confessors who were tortured, exiled, and otherwise persecuted for the Faith.

- V.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Sourcing Problems in Contemporary Orthodoxy

There are some major problems in contemporary Orthodoxy. I classify major problems as those that divide Orthodox from Orthodox:
  • the involvement of Orthodox in the WCC and similar ecumenical gatherings,
  • jurisdictional pluralism in the New World,
  • the institution of a revised calendar,
  • and the adoption of the Gregorian Calendar (complete with Gregorian Easter) by Finland.
In Orrologion I read a post which reprinted a 2005 letter to the Ecumenical Patriarch (EP) from Alexei II of Moscow and All Russia, concerning the situation of the diaspora. The "situation" is one of jurisdictional plurality, compounded by the EP's resistance to recognize the OCA. Patriarch Alexei characterized the problems as stemming from a) the creation of a [Greek] Archdiocese of North and South America under the EP, and b) EP pretentions of universality outside traditional Orthodox countries.

Here is what the Patriarch had to say:
As regards America, from 1794 Orthodoxy on that continent was represented exclusively by the Church of Russia, which by 1918 had brought together some 300,000 Orthodox of different nationalities (Russian, Ukrainians, Serbs, Albanians, Arabs, Aleuts, Indians, Africans, English). The Greek Orthodox were among them, receiving antimensia for their parishes from the Russian bishops. This situation was recognised by all the local Churches, who released clergy for the American parishes into the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church. The Patriarchate of Constantinople followed the same practice. [...] Jurisdictional pluralism in North America began in 1921, when an “Archdiocese of North and South America” was created without the agreement of the Russian Church, which was not informed of the matter.


Patriarch Meletios IV developed the theory of the subordination of the whole Orthodox diaspora to Constantinople. It is precisely this theory, which is clearly non-canonical, that is quite obviously “hostile to the spirit of the Orthodox Church, to Orthodoxy unity, and to canonical order.” It is itself, in fact, the expression of “an expansionist tendency that is without canonical foundation and is unacceptable on an ecciesiological level.” By claiming a universal spiritual power, it does not correspond to the Orthodox canonical tradition or to the teaching of the Holy Fathers of the Church, and represents a direct challenge to Orthodox unity.
As I read the letter, it was if a light went on. I wondered if the Patriarch Meletios IV mentioned above was the same person that presided when the offensive archdiocese was created - the dates dovetailed, as I remembered them. But then, hadn't I read somewhere that Meletios was involved in the ecumenical movement before it ever became one?

Not knowing where this line of questioning would take me, I began this post with a list of (as I see them) the central problems of contemporary Orthodoxy. I began researching.

1) Patriarch Meletios IV Metaxakis (1921-1923) was indeed the same person who both single-handedly created jurisdictional plurality in North America and who claimed a larger role for the EP than had previously existed (primacy of honour translated as primacy of power). A simple check of the dates confirmed that. The throne at Constantinople had been empty for the three years prior to Meletios' elevation.

2) Astonishingly, Patriarch Meletios IV Metaxakis was also the patriarch who presided over the 1923 synod that saw the adoption of a revised calendar. He resigned his seat in 1923 due to the [violent] protests of the people.

3) And again, as I searched I found Patriarch Meletios - this time as the Patriarch who seized Russian parishes in Finland and brought them under the EP.

4) And yet again, there he was ... Patriarch Meletios, worshipping with Episcopalians (1921), recognizing Anglican orders (1922), holding a synod with an Anglican bishop present (1922), attending Lambeth (1930) ... going further in the direction of ecumenism than any prior Patriarch, paving the way for the controversial presence of Orthodox in the WCC.

As a bonus, I discovered that he tried to become Ecumenical Patriarch in 1912 and he attempted to become Archbishop of Cyprus in 1916. He was also the heads of two other autocephalous Churches: Meletios III Archbishop of Athens (1918-1920) and Meletios II Patriarch of Alexandria (1926-1935) ... and a bishop in a third autocephalous Church: Meletios of Kition in Cyprus (1910-1918). A truly ambitious man.

I am flabbergasted. If I am reading this right, the source of some of the most divisive problems in Orthodoxy is the man Meletios. How can one man sow so much strife? For years my poster child for the "enemy of Orthodoxy" has been Tsar Peter the Great [so-called]. If I read this right (and how could I not?) Meletios has done as much or more wrong to Orthodoxy.

Here is an interesting article that summarizes this man's life, covering the most salient (and scandalous) material, not least of which was his status as a Mason. You will find the same information duplicated at OrthodoxWiki, albeit without the jaundiced eye.

Lord have mercy.


If you are like me, you are familiar with the above problems - how controversy has been roiling the people of God for a century - without attaching them to the work of one man. And you, like me, wish to see these ongoing tragedies undone.

I cannot help but feel that we would work immeasurably to the unity and glory of Christ's Church if we repealed the decisions and the actions made by this enemy in our midst, wait 2-3 generations, and then, if the people of God so desire it, convene an Ecumenical Council where the calendar is revisited.

In the meantime, leave Canada to the Ukraine, restore America to Russia and her daughter Church (the OCA), and put Western Europe and Australia under a single Church - perhaps the former to Romania?

I'll leave those details to the hierarchs. But I can't see us going forward until we go back and undo the wrong that has been done.

- V.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


Cows ruminate.

6 + 8 = Ethical Debate

There's been some fuss about a mother of 14 recently. A fuss because she had 8 (octuplets) by in vitro fertilization on top of a previous 6, also by in vitro. Because she is unwed.

I can't say that I agree with Ms. Suleman's initial decision to implant embryos, she unmarried and without a father's support (and as the father of 1.5 children, I have to say that that support is needed). However, I think it wrong for Christians to be making too much of this.


1) We are called upon to aid the widow and the orphan. She lacks a husband (and a visible means of income) and her children lack a father. There is a need for help, and it the rôle and bounden duty of Christians to come to the aid of our neighbours.

2) Whatever her initial reasoning, Ms. Suleman did the ethical thing. With embryos left over from her IV session, she had the option of discarding them. Christians call this murder - infanticide or feticide - and the "option" the devil's sophistry. But she didn't take the easy route; she chose life instead.

I am concerned that in our all-too-human rush to rebuke Ms. Suleman for her ill-advised actions, we may punish a mother and her children. ... We may lose sight of the persons behind the drama.


I've always been fairly confident in my intelligence. [In the Orthodox world we call this pride.] That was before the Internet and the advent of blogging.

To my surprise, there are many lucid thinkers out there, and more than lucid. There are thinkers whose depth and breadth of knowledge are so vast I find myself not so much swimming through the streams of thought as frantically treading water.

I am glad these writers have seen fit to stroll the agora of the Internet, to chat in her cafés. But still, it has been an adventure.

Daunting, exhilarating, stretching ... formational. Humbling.


To come: Priestly bloggers.

- V.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Conscious of Beauty

I found a new blog today. Some interesting themes come up in its last few months of posting, and a couple moments of breath-taking beauty.

Here they are:

Orthodoxy is alive and well in Romania
"... [T]hese people are fleeing the world and living an austere life of solitude and prayer; just like in Egypt of the 400s or Russia of the 1700s."

Orthodoxy is alive and well in Missouri
"This is an amazing story of one's heritage coming full circle. Father Moses Barry, a priest of the Eastern Orthodox Church, owns a plot of land that was part of a plantation. Moses Barry's ancestors worked on that plantation as slaves. The structure on the property houses his chapel and a small slave museum. Also on his land is the paupers' cemetery in which his ancestors are buried..."

Thanks for this, Justin.


Sunday, February 1, 2009

The monk Makarios

On the feastday of St. Makarios (Macarius) the Great, I inevitably think of my friend Fr. Makarios.

Fr. Makarios was a simple monk of the Orthodox Church. He has since joined the choir invisible but I had the great blessing of meeting him and conversing at great length with him before he died.

A Trappist monk before he was 20, Fr. Makarios had been severely disillusioned by Vatican II; he travelled far from his Catholic roots before finding a home and peace in the Orthodox Church. He was a man who had drunk deep from the well of the Fathers and who had a profound and thorough knowledge of the lives and writings of the Saints. Happily, he had the unmonastic failing of garrulity (his term, not mine), and was more than willing to answer the myriad questions of a new convert to the Faith.

I credit him with introducing me to the mind of the Church, exposing me to Orthdoxy's monastic heart, teaching me the things that don't come up in catechism class. Through him I was exposed to the strange but beautiful asceticisms of the Stylites and the Fools-for-Christ, I learned of the Protecting Veil, I was told of the miracles with which God has blessed His Church, the wonders worked by His Saints. He also told me of the Saints' secret and hidden asceticisms, those that only death revealed. He introduced me to the Edenic "environmentalism" that reveals itself through the lives of the Saints and the ancient traditions of the monasteries.

Through Fr. Makarios, I was shown the heart of Orthodoxy. I stopped thinking of Orthodoxy as a spreadsheet of points that had to be argued or proved in defense against the Protestantism of my youth or the Catholicism with which I had flirted as a young man: through his unteaching I came to see the Orthodox Church as a pearl of great price and unparelleled beauty, as my Mother, holding me to her bosom.

And he told me stories from his life, a bit here, a piece there, to illustrate his points. I won't tell his story at this time - instead, I will tell the part of that story that I witnessed. Because I cannot think of Fr. Makarios without remembering the bees.

Fr. Makarios and the Bees

I and one other had been helping Fr. Makarios in the monastery's candleshop when he was called out. He blessed us to continue his work, and departed. During his absence a batch of honey-encrusted beeswax melted, attracting a small swarm of bees. They filled the small candleshop.

I got to work industriously killing them, keeping count as I went. The other followed suit. I was nearing 100 bees killed with plenty more to go when Fr. Makarios returned.

"V.!" he cried, "What are you doing?"

I got that sinking feeling that is awakened guilt. And I remembered him telling me that in a monastery, Eden is restored and man is no longer at enmity with Creation.

"I'm killing bees," I said.

"Why didn't you ask them to leave?" he asked. He gestured us towards the door, and shooed us out. "Out! Out!"

I couldn't respond to the absurdity of his question, and I was feeling myself in the wrong and out of place, so I meekly complied with his order.

We sat down outside the shop in an embarrassed silence. A couple minutes had gone by, when Fr. Makarios invited us back into the candleshop. A single bee buzzed about the celing where previously there had been many dozens.

"What happened?" I said, incredulous. "Where are the bees?"

"I asked them to leave," said he.

By God's grace, through Fr. Makarios the concept of a harmonious Creation was made real to me; around him Eden was restored.


I don't know when Fr. Makarios died, so I remember him today.

Remember Thy servant - schemamonk Makarios - in Thy Kingdom. вечная память. Through the prayers of Thy Saints, revealed and hidden, have mercy on us.

- V.

Home Schooling Under Siege

I take you to England ... not because most of the readers here live in England, but because this earth of ours is a global village where bad ideas propagate all too swiftly.

Recently, a Baroness of the Realm made the astonishing assertion that increased supervision of home schoolers was necessary because home schooling "could be used as a cover for abuse" (story here).

Under that kind of reasoning, every minute of every day, every facet of every life, should be under government supervision and control. Because, hey, just about anything could be used as a cover for abuse.
Even if a small number of parents were found to be using home schooling as a cover for child abuse, which so far as I know has not happened in Britain, that would not warrant an inquiry into home schooling as such. You might as well investigate all primary schools, or all nurseries, on the basis that some children who attend them are abused. (Peter Hitchens' blog)
But then, this is what small-government conservatives (or paleoconservatives) have been saying for some time: what the left and now the right (with the advent of neoconservatives so-called) want is total dominion. They do not want thinking persons, but obedient (and docile) automatons.

Further commentary on the situation from the same blogger:
The inflamed, all-seeing red eye of political correctness, glaring this way and that from its dark tower, has finally discovered that home schooling is a threat to the Marxoid project, and has launched its first open attack on it.

[...] What the modern left really don't like about homeschooling is that it is independent of the state, and threatens its egalitarian monopoly from below. If it became a mass movement, it would be very dangerous to their project of enforcing equality of outcome, while using the schools to push radical ideas on sex, drugs, morality and politics.

[...] And as long as it was just a matter of a few retired hippies and eccentrics keeping their young at home, which it was until very recently, home schooling didn't matter. But what is happening now is that many parents are taking their children out of state schools because a) they are being horribly bullied in anarchic classrooms and playgrounds and b) they have begun to notice that many of the schools aren't teaching them anything much anyway. - despite years of propaganda, stunts, gimmicks, 'specialist status', absurdly glowing OFSTED reports and allegedly improved (but fiddled) exam results.

If all the plumbers in your area were no good at fixing leaks, and kept flooding your kitchen, you'd teach yourself plumbing and do it yourself. The results couldn't be worse. Why not take the same view with schools? Why not just keep them at home and do a better job yourself? Of course this is impossible for couples who both trudge out to work every day. But one way or another there is now a significant minority of households where this isn't the case, where homeschooling looks like a serious option and may take off. I suspect the left-wing establishment want to nip it, hard, in the bud.
Home schooling is seeing a boom in America right now. The schools don't educate (or, at least, they educate at the pace of the slowest student), the classrooms are a breeding ground for vice and infamy (not least of which is rampant bullying), and for those of a religious turn of mind, the secular antipathy for all things to do with God leaves them feeling beset by evil on every side. And being good parents, they wish to save and protect their children.

Many decide not to gamble with a growing mind, a questing soul, a curious spirit. They choose not to leave their children with the latest social experiments or the Frankensteins who implement them. They choose not to abandon their children to the savagery of an unparented generation. They choose not to leave the spiritual nurturing of their children to Christian rock, barren baptism*, or Sunday school (if that). They fight for the next generation. They fight for the souls of their children, not against flesh and blood, but against an Enemy who wishes destruction upon us all.

And so they home school. Or they take their child to a private academy.

It isn't enough simply to stuff a child's head with facts. Intellectual formation is the learning how to learn, how to question, how to think.

It isn't enough simply to tell a child to suck it up when beaten. Psychological formation is love from two parents and a distinct absence of abuse.

It isn't enough simply to hope God will miraculously raise a child in the Faith when his parents don't give a d@mn (literally and figuratively). Spiritual formation is salvation itself. We canonize those who have been brought up well, and frequently the ones who brought them up.

So in home schooling I see a Christian defense against Satanic attack, and a Christian offense against the gates of Hell. I am not surprised that it is coming under seige.

- V.

* barren baptism: a baptism into a culture as much into a Faith, where salvation is assumed and no further provision is made for the spiritual education of the child.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Angry God? - The Mind of the Church

My thanks to Fr. Stephen Freeman for his post, Loving an Angry God.

Here are some gems gleaned from that post and its subsequent discussion:

St. Anthony the Great:
God is good, dispassionate, and immutable. Now someone who thinks it reasonable and true to affirm that God does not change, may well ask how, in that case, it is possible to speak of God as rejoicing over those who are good and showing mercy to those who honor Him, and as turning away from the wicked and being angry with sinners. To this it must be answered that God neither rejoices nor grows angry, for to rejoice and to be offended are passions; nor is He won over by the gifts of those who honor Him, for that would mean He is swayed by pleasure. It is not right that the Divinity feel pleasure or displeasure from human conditions. He is good, and He only bestows blessings and never does harm, remaining always the same. We men, on the other hand, if we remain good through resembling God, are united to Him, but if we become evil through not resembling God, we are separated from Him. By living in holiness we cleave to God; but by becoming wicked we make Him our enemy. It is not that He grows angry with us in an arbitrary way, but it is our own sins that prevent God from shining within us and expose us to demons who torture us. And if through prayer and acts of compassion we gain release from our sins, this does not mean that we have won God over and made Him to change, but that through our actions and our turning to the Divinity, we have cured our wickedness and so once more have enjoyment of God’s goodness. Thus to say that God turns away from the wicked is like saying that the sun hides itself from the blind.

St. Basil the Great:
But one may say, if God is not responsible for evil things, why is it said in the book of Esaias, ‘I am He that prepared light and Who formed darkness, Who makes peace and Who creates evils’ (45:7).” And again, “There came down evils from the Lord upon the gates of Jerusalem” (Mich. 1:12). And, “Shall there be evil in the city which the Lord hath not wrought?” (Amos 3:6). And in the great Ode of Moses, “Behold, I am and there is no god beside Me. I will slay, and I will make to live; I will smite, and I will heal” (Deut. 32:39). But none of these citations, to him who understands the deeper meaning of the Holy Scriptures, casts any blame on God, as if He were the cause of evils and their creator, for He Who said, “I am the One Who makes light and darkness,” shows Himself as the Creator of the universe, not that He is the creator of any evil…. “He creates evils,” that means, “He fashions them again and brings them to a betterment, so that they leave their evilness, to take on the nature of good.” (Quoted by Fr. Stephen)

St. Luke the Evangelist:
But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil. Luke 6:35 (Quoted by Fr. Stephen)

St. Isaac of Syria:
[A compassionate heart] is a heart on fire for the whole of creation, for humanity, for the birds, for the animals, for demons and all that exists. At the recollection and at the sight of them such a person’s eyes overflow with tears owing to the vehemence of the compassion which grips his heart; as a result of his deep mercy his heart shrinks and cannot bear to hear or look upon any injury or the slightest suffering of anything in creation. This is why he constantly offers up prayer full of tears, even for the irrational animals and for the enemies of truth, even for those that harm him, so that they may be protected and find mercy. He even prays for the reptiles as a result of the great compassion which is poured out beyond measure — after the likeness of God — in his heart. (Quoted by Bill Tickel)

St. Isaac of Syria:
That we should imagine that anger, wrath, jealousy or the such like have anything to do with the divine Nature is something utterly abhorrent for us: no one in their right mind, no one who has any understanding (at all) can possibly come to such madness as to think anything of the sort about God. Nor again can we possibly say that He acts thus out of retribution, even though the Scriptures may on the outer surface posit this. Even to think this of God and to suppose that retribution for evil acts is to be found with Him is abominable. By implying that he makes use of such a great and difficult thing out of retribution we are attributing a weakness to the (divine) Nature. We cannot even believe such a thing can be found in those human beings who live a virtuous and upright life and whose thoughts are entirely in accord with the divine will — let alone (believe it) of God, that He has done something out of retribution for anticipated evil acts in connection with those whose nature He had brought into being with honour and great love. Knowing them and all their conduct, the flow of His grace did not dry up from them: not even after they (started) living amid many evil deeds did He withhold his care for them, even for a moment.

If someone says that He has put up with them here (on earth) in order that his patience may be known — with the idea that He would punish them there mercilessly, such a person thinks in an unspeakably blasphemous way about God, due to his infantile way of thinking: he is removing from God His kindness, goodness and compassion, (all) the things because of which He truly bears with sinners and wicked men. Such a person is attributing to (God) enslavement to passion, (supposing) that He has not consented to their being chastised here, seeing that He has prepared them for a much greater misfortune, in exchange for a short-lived patience. Not only does such a person fail to attribute something praiseworthy to God, but he also calumniates Him.

A right way of thinking about God would be the following: the kind Lord, who in everything He does looks to the ways of assisting rational beings, directs thought concerning judgment to the advantage of those who accept this difficult matter. For it would be most odious and utterly blasphemous to think that hate or resentment exists with God, even against demonic beings; or to imagine any other weakness or passibility, or whatever else might be involved in the course of retribution of good or bad as applying, in a retributive way, to that glorious (divine) Nature. Rather, he acts toward us in ways He knows will be advantageous to us, whether by way of things that cause suffering, or by way of things that cause relief, whether they cause joy or grief, whether they are insignificant or glorious: all are directed towards the single eternal good, whether each receives judgment or something of glory from Him — not by way of retribution, far from it! — but with a view to the advantage that is going to come from these things. (Quoted by William)

St. Maximus the Confessor:
On God’s wrath:
The wrath of God is the painful sensation we experience when we are being trained by Him. Through this painful experience of unsought sufferings God often abases and humbles an intellect conceited about its knowledge and virtue; for such sufferings make it conscious of itself and its own weakness. When the intellect perceives its own weakness it rejects the vain pretensions of the heart.

The wrath of God is the suspension of gifts of grace — a most salutary experience for every self-inflated intellect that boasts of the blessings bestowed by God as if they were its own achievements.

On God's judgment:
By a single infinitely powerful act of will God in his goodness will gather all together, angels and men, the good and the evil. But, although God pervades all things absolutely, not all will participate in Him equally: they will participate in him according to what they are.

All, whether angels or men, who in everything have maintained a natural justice in their disposition, and have made themselves actively receptive to the inner principles of nature in a way that accords with the universal principle of well being, will participate totally in the divine life that irradiates them; for they have submitted their will to God’s will. Those who in all things have failed to maintain a natural justice in their disposition, and have been actively disruptive of the inner principles of nature in a way that conflicts with the universal principle of well-being, will lapse completely from divine life, in accordance to their dedication to what lacks being; for they have opposed their will to God’s will. It is this that separates them from God, for the principle of well-being, vivified by good actions and illumined by divine life, is not operative in their will.

On God’s justice:
God is the sun of justice, as it is written, who shines rays of goodness on simply everyone. The soul develops according to its free will into either wax because of its love for God or into mud because of its love of matter. Thus just as by nature the mud is dried out by the sun and the wax is automatically softened, so also every soul which loves matter and the world and has fixed its mind far from God is hardened as mud according to its free will and by itself advances to its perdition, as did Pharaoh. However, every soul which loves God is softened as wax, and receiving divine impressions and characters it becomes "the dwelling place of God in the Spirit." (Quoted by William)
- V.