Arimathea
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Religion
The human animal is the worshipping animal. Toward the divine, we have a need to pray, to sacrifice, to offer up, and to praise. From the spirit dances of primitive animism to the rational contemplation of philosophical paganism, from the ethical code of the rabbis to the theological vision of the scholastics, from the sprinkled blood (the origin of blessing) of temple cults to helping the poor in simple Christian charity, men need to relate the immanent and the transcendent -- they see their particular lives in time and space transfigured and transfused with meaning unbounded by human things. Religion is this aspect of human life where the everyday and worldly intersects with the ultimate and divine. Is this an accident of human evolution, or is it a racial neurosis brought upon us as conscious beings who live in the shadow of our own death? Is it a reflection of the divine order, where creatures naturally orient themselves toward their source? Has God revealed himself to us, as the Christians claim? In this realm, I shall try to delve into such questions as an Orthodox Christian who ever pesters God with "Why?"
Friday, January 30, A.D. 2009
The Contrast of Orthodox Worship

Yesterday, in “Calvinism Redux,” I addressed some concerns by commentator Jack soi-disant the Ripper about Calvinism. In this post, I would like to field his questions about Christian worship.

In the comments section of “Steve Harvey and Dionysian Protestantism,” Jack writes:

Also, what exactly about the crowd makes you believe that they have swung too far the other direction than Calvinists? It seems that you are ascribing a moral standard to a matter of personal preference: Joseph would like his worship services to be slightly more active than the Calvinists, and slightly more subdued than the Pentecostals. “Greek Orthodoxy Rocks!”

Jack accuses me of making my personal taste the litmus test for correct worship. As a personal accusation, it demands a somewhat personal answer. With regard to such, Jack has the causality backward. My personal preference for a “worship style” was not a factor at all in my conversion to Orthodoxy. To be blunt, I did not really care for worship at all. Having been nourished in a Calvinist culture, I was not interested much in worship. I wanted truth. I rejected the religious traditions of my ancestors because I believed, based on the evidence that I considered, that they had corrupted the gospel of Christ. My conversion was completely intellectual in origin and in substance. I remember quite clearly an episode where I was walking on campus with an Orthodox priest, having a discussion about the faith. I had just visited his parish, and he wanted to know what I thought of the worship. I told him that it was fine, but that I was not very interested in worship. It was not what drove me. He laughed and said that many people convert because of the worship. He then somewhat scolded me and said that being an Orthodox Christian was mostly about worship. The central Christian act is worship. I acknowledged the truth of such—in the abstract. Of course, I reasoned, it is proper that the object of man’s attention is the highest possible object—namely, God. Thus, in agreeing with the priest, I continued to disagree with him without realizing it. It was only after several years in the Church that I came to see what others see immediately. The pagan emissaries who visited Constantinople knew that they witnessed heaven on earth when they attended the divine liturgy in the great Cathedral of Holy Wisdom. For they were pagans. I had been largely raised according to Calvin’s instructions, and the splendor was mostly lost on me. I loved beauty, and I loved order, but I did not grasp the transcendent quality of liturgical worship. Having finally experienced it, I cannot dismiss it as a personal preference.

Orthodox worship, like Orthodox doctrine, is not a casually suggested preferred option for the faithful. Its form is the way that it is for the salvation of souls. The way that Christians worship God echoes the Tabernacle, the Temple, and the days lived with the savior by the apostles themselves. Its organic evolution over the centuries reflects the wisdom and sanctity of generations of saints having lived, prayed, and worshiped God in the light of Christ’s resurrection. Like the rule of faith, the rule of worship exists for a reason. It is the proper diet for the soul for its orientation toward the eternal God.

Hence, Orthodoxy “doesn’t rock” because it is my personal preference. Rather, it has become my personal preference because I have come to see how its doxological regimen best trains our souls to relate to God. “Slightly more active than the Calvinists, and slightly more subdued than the Pentecostals” has nothing to do with it. They are not primary realities between which we must find a mean. Rather, they are both far removed distortions of the ancient Christian manner of worshiping God. With the latter, worship lacks measure and control. Emotions are ever poor guides in life, and connecting spirituality with emotion opens up a path toward dangerous and demonic delusions. You may know of Pentecostals whose religious life manically swings high and low, as they trust their fragile psychological states to be accurate measures of their spiritual progress—of their “blessedness.” Such is a recipe for prelest and despair.

With the former, worship devolves into an intellectual act. Calvinists historically have attempted to remove all non-cognitive aspects of worship from their services and from their architecture. The sermon became the central act of a Christian service; instead of the holy mysteries, Calvinists receive unending catechesis. High walls were built around family enclosures so that the congregants could only hear the preacher’s words. Visual representations of Christ, the saints, and the holy stories were banned and destroyed in iconoclastic fits. The body no longer was useful for such cerebral work. Only the voice—and mostly the voice of the preacher—was allowed to excel in its natural talents to glorify God. I suspect that many crusty preachers in their secular academic robes—note well the relevant fact that Calvin did not wear vestments to his services but rather his university robe—considered hymns a condescension to human weakness. What perversity—but how fitting a perversion for the new Cartesian modern man of only mind and will. Whereas the Christian temples of East and West testify of God the creator, maker of heaven and earth and of all that is therein, whereas they celebrate in color, in glass, and in stone the providence of God throughout history, from Adam unto our very days, whereas the worship performed in them addresses men as bodies, souls, and spirits, Calvinism reduces the Word to words and worship to harsh Sunday school lessons.

I reject worship that rejects man and his nature. Jack asks if it is “possible to strive for an authentic faith, spurn the cultural draw of ‘social morality,’ and yet still resist a charismatic form of worship?” Of course, such is possible. The ancient prescription for the Christian life aims for such a goal.

If Nietzsche is correct in his understanding of the human need for what he calls the Apollonian and the Dionysian, then I can see reflected in the Christian tradition that complementary meeting of the two. In Christian worship, the Apollonian element is unmistakable. Christian hymnography is intelligible; it speaks to our mind as well as to the lower parts of the soul. It is controlled. It is balanced. It is sober. It reflects the ancient insistence on apatheia—the tranquility of the soul, unmoved by the passions, ready and prepared to hear and to respond to the truth of God.

At the same time, the Dionysian element exists in Christian worship. Besides the Dionysian quality of Russian church bell ringing, the tonal system in the Church has meditative trance-inducing qualities. The rhythm of the chant subdues the soul as a lullaby. For instance, the Cherubic Hymn is marvellously worded, set, and placed. As the sabbath is made for man, so are worshipping conventions of the Church divinely designed to treat our diseased souls. The joy and the sorrow of the music (sometimes simultaneously, as during Holy Week) affect the passions and force them to coalesce around the message that the mind intellects and that the heart understands. Moreover, the oneness of the Christian community—the unity of Christ’s body—the unity of Christ himself—as symbolized in the Eucharistic act, is the fulfillment of all Dionysian longing.

Posted by Joseph on Friday, January 30, Anno Domini 2009
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Thursday, January 29, A.D. 2009
Calvinism Redux

What do we do with a problem like John Calvin?

Commentator “Jack the Ripper” has asked some questions—more deserving of attention than his pseudonym—that relate to Calvin’s monstrous spawn. Below are repostings of his comments and my attempted response.

From the comments section of “Steve Harvey and Dionysian Protestantism”:

I find your criticism of the Calvinist tradition here to be unsupported by the evidence you present. How does a complete lack of emotion in their worship service indicate that they have turned “faith into propositional assent and the Christian life into social morality”? Is is not possible to strive for an authentic faith, spurn the cultural draw of “social morality,” and yet still resist a charismatic form of worship? I think you betray your general disdain for Calvinism. Perhaps it is justified, but I believe that your reference to it here was more of a cheap shot than a thoughtful critique.

But please, convince me otherwise. I am always looking for reason to rag on Calvinists.

and from the comments section of “Square Circle”:

However, I am again frustrated by your critique of Calvinism. On this one, I am more inclined to agree with you, but my frustration stems from my belief that you are writing from a set of assumptions about Calvinism to which I have not stipulated - or am even aware. I would love a thorough post sometime discussing your fundamental views of what you think Calvinism states, your sources, and why the implications of those beliefs are so disastrous according the laws of reason as well as biblical theology.

There are several issues to be addressed here. Allow me to start with my working definition of Calvinism. It is not an academically rigorous interpretation of Calvin’s works. I have not read Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion since I was a teenager, and I have neither the interest nor the stomach to devote myself to a serious study of the Reformation. You see how devoting oneself to knowledge of the enemy’s ways affected Saruman; I prefer to remain sane. However, Calvinism as a religious and social force continues long after Calvin, and it is to this meaning of Calvinism that I refer. For Calvin’s movement spread from Geneva and transformed or at least gave structured intelligibility to nascent rebellions against Rome in various Protestant regions. Through the Dutch, the English Puritans, the Huguenots, and the Scots, Calvinism heavily influenced our American society. I refer to Calvinism because it is the air that we breathe. From Plymouth to today, Americans are de facto Calvinists, albeit wildly eccentric and backslidden ones.

I single out Calvinism from among the Protestant traditions for two reasons. First, as I just described, I think that Calvinism has been far more influential in shaping American society and religiosity. Lutherans, Anglicans, and even Christians from the ancient faiths in the United States often become Calvinists—mostly unawares—by imbibing their new national culture.

Second, as I have written before, I consider Calvinism to be the purest, most distilled form of Protestantism. This idea is controversial, and perhaps I am wrong, but it seems to me that Lutheranism and Anglicanism have strong traditional currents. They are breaks from Rome, but they, to varying extents, manage to hold onto the Catholic tradition in many matters. Calvinism, by contrast, is a rejection of the Catholic tradition. When I read Calvin, I was surprised to see how often he mentions the Fathers and their works. He often refers to councils, creeds, and ecclesial precedents. However, he employs such reference not as an authority for himself but as a foil to Roman doctrines and authority. In this, he does not transgress argumentative rules. It is permissible and useful to wield someone else’s authorities against him to show his inconsistency. Such does not imply that one holds them as an authority for himself. For Calvin and his followers claim for themselves an unadulterated understanding of Christian doctrine through their interpretation of the scriptures. The apostolic patristic ecclesial experience holds no authority for them when it conflicts with their peculiar interpretation of the Bible; in other worlds, it holds no authority.

I understand Protestantism as the spiritual form of modernity (I write a bit more about this here). Its specific difference, more than anything else, is a rejection of the past and of the past’s authority. It is inherently anti-traditional, which is why it continues to fragment doctrinally. Any new religion has doctrines that distinguish it from other religions, and it maintains such doctrines over time through its own tradition. Yet, if it is an inherent characteristic of the religion to throw off tradition, it will continually generate new religions. Indeed, Protestantism excels in the proliferation of new religions. When you witness inter-Protestant ecumenical rapprochement, it almost always occurs among groups that have lost interest in doctrine . . . Why worry about such differences? Just give us that mere Christianity . . .

The Reformation created various religious traditions that make up the essence of Protestantism, but in every way, Calvinism shows itself the more radical and, therefore, in my opinion, the more fitting representative of Protestantism. If you think that Protestantism is simply a movement to regain the religious teaching and practice of the early Christian community—without papist distortions—then you could argue that Anglicanism or Lutheranism or whatever else you hold to be true is the best exemplar of Protestantism. I, obviously, reject that definition of Protestantism; it is utterly ridiculous, given the distortions and innovations to which Protestantism has subjected the legacy of the Christian faith. The Reformation has more to do with post-scholastic philosophy and nominalism than with the world—and world view—of the New Testament. Calvin is but a pious Hobbes who works on different problems.

Earlier in the week in “C.S. Lewis: Hellbound?,” I wrote about the Protestant rejection of the religion of immanence. In doctrine, in practice, and in sentiment, Calvinism goes further than any other Reformed tradition in rejecting religion as understood by men since the stone age. It is for this reason that I wrote the following passage in “Steve Harvey and Dionysian Protestantism” that gave offense to the aforementioned commentator:

In religion, I take cold, bloodless, intellectualized Calvinism as the most notable disembodiment of harmony between the Apollonian and the Dionysian. It is purely Apollonian, where the emotive, the bodily, and the thirst for transcending the self have been expelled as pagan accretions to popery. This most distilled form of Protestantism rids Christianity of all “religion of immanence”—and religion itself. It turns faith into propositional assent and the Christian life into social morality. In other words, it is a unique form of godless Stoicism interpreted through the languages and imagery of the scriptures.

Calvinism renounces the “religion of immanence,” which is, ultimately, all religion. The particular Christian and, in my opinion, archetypal version of the religion of immanence—the sacramental understanding of the world—is cast into the outer darkness by Calvin and his followers. In doing so, Calvinism has rendered the modern understanding of the world void of the divine. In place of seeing God in all things, we have a world thoroughly secularized. It is but a short distance from the profane to the dead, and our modern lifeless world of mechanism and chance owes its pedigree to Calvinism’s rejection of religion.

With Calvin himself, Calvinism ceases to be a religion. However, the Calvinist tradition has functioned as a deficient religion for its adherents over the last five centuries. As I suggested in the previous entry secundum Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, the inherent secularism of Calvinism may have channeled its people’s energies into extraordinary secular pursuits that brought about the Anglo-American modern world. Nonetheless, Calvinism’s Sunday services, reminders of divine sovereignty, and culture of biblical literacy kept most Calvinists Christian. However, century by century, the interior rot of spiritually starved Calvinists led many sects into consciously and openly post-religious existence. Consider how the Congregationalists became Unitarians and theosophists. Their most faithful descendents today pass their Sunday morns in the United Church of Christ, in light of which, decadent Calvinism is not even irreligious social morality but rather social immorality. Lest I scandalize those few pious Presbyterians left, I acknowledge that Calvin did not have Jeremiah Wright in mind when he exhorted the men of Geneva to preach Jesus Christ. Nonetheless, as the United Church of Christ, various Presbyterian assemblies, and other Reformed bodies show, Christian praxis, divorced from the sacramental life and the traditions of the Church, becomes mere social morality. In place of theosis, the secular Calvinists trumpet faddish interpretations of social justice.

One may argue that we cannot blame the sorry state of contemporary Western Christians on poor John Calvin. One could argue that the spirit of secularism has invaded all religious bodies, rendering cultural Catholics just as secularly minded toward their religion as people from the Calvinist tradition. However, I would respond that the spirit of secularism largely originates in Calvinism. We can thank John’s cursed gift for ruin on a ecumenical scale.

Of course, there have been many good and pious Christians who come from the Calvinist tradition. They suckle poison in their milk from birth and still manage to grow into men. Unlike Calvin’s view of man after the fall, I do not think that the Reformation reduced Protestant Man to a state of total depravity. Like the Mormons, Calvinists still read the holy scriptures, though with a sickly hermeneutic tradition. In the spirit of Augustine, I suspect that even the most egregious heretics benefit from proclaiming and hearing the name of Jesus Christ. Moreover, the Reformers managed to keep, piecemeal, elements of the Catholic tradition. I do not deny that, despite itself, Calvinism has nourished many souls. Nonetheless, it has served them poorly.

Jack the Ripper finds my tangential attack on Calvinism to be a cheap shot. I think that it fits, and I have more than a general disdain for Calvinism. My hatred for it runs deep and wide; I see its deleterious effects everywhere. It has marred the civilization that I love and spiritually stunted, if not damned, millions of Christians who were trained to fear God but not to love him—or anything else. Clerical rhetoric aside, how does one love something that is ugly? Calvin’s depiction of God is ugly. Honestly consider the doctrine of God’s eternal plan to create men in order to damn them to everlasting hell and tell me that you do not find it revolting. Contrast the message of Calvin with that of Saint Paul in his second epistle to the Church at Corinth (5:14-21):

For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again. Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more. Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God. For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.

I do not wish to engage in scriptural warfare, with contrasting passages, because it solves nothing. The tradition of the Church is not the tradition of John Calvin. The seed of Calvinism can be found in Augustine’s errors, novel in his own time and sensibly rejected for a millennium before the Reformation. If you wish to see thorough traditional biblical commentary with regard to Calvinist doctrine, the web provides an endless resource.

In short, Calvinism is a shameless abomination in Christian history. For centuries, it has given scandal to the name of Christ. Countless Christians have gone into apostasy not from sin but from a sense of decency and justice because all that they knew of God was through Calvin’s hideous blasphemy. Well-intentioned heathen have sunk further into hopelessness and despair or have chased idols through empty appetitive pursuits, art, scholarship, and political utopianism to quench their thirst for God, having found no living water in the dry well of Geneva’s lord.

Weber was likely right. Calvinism played the midwife for so many accomplishments—and for how many lost souls?

Tomorrow, I’ll address Jack’s comments regarding Christian worship in “The Contrast of Orthodox Worship.”

Posted by Joseph on Thursday, January 29, Anno Domini 2009
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Sunday, January 25, A.D. 2009
C.S. Lewis: Hellbound?

Several months ago, I came across an essay titled “Did C. S. Lewis Go to Heaven?” by John W. Robbins. Mr. Robbins condemns Lewis for his unbiblical views, and he heaps upon the poor old Anglican don much fire and brimstone. The essay is a fascinating exposition of much that I find objectionable in certain currents of Protestantism—in tone, in method, and in belief. Were I to explain why I am not a Protestant, I might offer it as an example. Taste and see that the religion is bitter . . .

I, myself, love Lewis, but I do not consider him the magesterium of correct doctrine. Like Robbins, I think that Lewis held many erroneous beliefs—though our lists surely do not correspond very well. However, I do not consign Lewis to Gehenna because of his heresies. It is not my place to judge the everlasting destination of souls. Nevertheless, I would argue that Lewis has contributed much to English speaking Christians of the last several generations, and it saddens me that folks like Robbins cannot appreciate such. For them, every unworthy harvester in the fields only hastens the terrible day of wrath.

If you do not wish to follow the link provided to read Robbin’s views, here is the closing:

Time will not permit me to discuss many other doctrines that Lewis believed and taught that contradict the doctrine of justification by faith alone, but a brief list is in order. Lewis taught and believed in purgatory (despite the fact that Article 22 of the Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England describes the doctrine of purgatory as “repugnant to the Word of God”), said prayers for the dead, believed in the physical presence of Christ’s body and blood in the bread and wine, a sacrament that he came to call “Mass,” practiced and taught auricular confession, believed in baptismal salvation, and free will. As we have seen, he rejected the inerrancy of Scripture and justification by faith alone, as well as the doctrines of total depravity and the sovereignty of God.

So we ask again: Did C. S. Lewis go to Heaven? And our answer must be: Not if he believed what he wrote in his books and letters.

Sinful as I am, I must smirk at the list . . .

Next to the Lewis goes to hell essay is a short book review that I would like to post:

In 1986, Roman Catholic historian Carlos M. N. Eire published War Against the Idols: The Reformation of Worship from Erasmus to Calvin (Cambridge University Press). The book is not perfect, but it is far better than some of the books offered by apostate Protestants eager to carry us back to the Dark Ages, which they call the “Christian centuries.” Eire shows that the Reformation ended the “religion of immanence” that had characterized Western Europe for more than a millennium – the sort of religion that Lewis and his kindred spirit, Tolkien, promoted in their books.

Of course, Robbins condemns the “religion of immanence.” When I read this to Andrew, he naturally quoted the Good Book: “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

The religion that Robbins holds is a perverse form of Christianity. Indeed, it is a disease of religion, whereby the natural perception and appreciation of the sacred that even the pagans enjoy has been stifled and suppressed. It is no wonder that such a malady of the soul has borne the secular atheism of modernity into our world . . . Ye shall know them by their fruits.

Posted by Joseph on Sunday, January 25, Anno Domini 2009
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Saturday, January 24, A.D. 2009
Wee Priests

Earlier in the week, American Papist Thomas Peters showcased a toy mass kit made by Wee Believers. The company’s web site states that there was such a toy mass kit in the 1950’s, and they wished to bring it back to encourage vocations for the priesthood. I suppose that it is never too early to start sowing.

I do not know how effective such a toy would be in encouraging boys to consider the priesthood. I had toy medical kits, cowboy outfits, and police equipment, but I never wanted to do any of those jobs—they were just make-believe props. However, such toys do normalize professions for children. As such, toy mass kits are probably useful for making liturgical worship a part of life rather than a separate reality exclusive to Sundays. The kits also would teach children more about the liturgy; props make learning easier and memorable.

I would worry about the potential for sacrilege, though. What if your six year old son ex-communicated you after a spanking?

The company F.A.Q. states that they will be releasing a vestment set, too. I, myself, am waiting for the exorcism kit to come out. That would be interesting.

Posted by Joseph on Saturday, January 24, Anno Domini 2009
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Friday, January 23, A.D. 2009
Christianity’s Odd Place in the World

As I wrote in “Eve of the March for Life,” I attended the vespers service at Saint Nicholas Cathedral. Metropolitan Jonah of the Orthodox Church in America delivered a talk afterward about how our sin depersonalizes other human beings to us. His talk basically paralleled his message for the Sanctity of Human Life Sunday.

I have reservations about the metropolitan’s homily; they reflect my unease with Christianity’s apparent contradiction with human life—best symbolized by Christ’s instruction to us to turn the other cheek when we are struck. Along with many sensible words, the metropolitan’s message states:

All the sins against humanity, abortion, euthanasia, war, violence, and victimization of all kinds, are the results of depersonalization. Whether it is “the unwanted pregnancy”, or worse, “the fetus” rather than “my son” or “my daughter;” whether it is “the enemy” rather than Joe or Harry (maybe Ahmed or Mohammed), the same depersonalization allows us to fulfill our own selfishness against the obstacle to my will. How many of our elderly, our parents and grandparents, live forgotten in isolation and loneliness? How many Afghan, Iraqi, Palestinian and American youths will we sacrifice to agonizing injuries and deaths for the sake of our political will? They are called “soldiers,” or “enemy combatants” or “civilian casualties” or any variety of other euphemisms to deny their personhood. But ask their parents or children! Pro-war is NOT pro-life! God weeps for our callousness.

Of course, subtlety matters much here, but the general direction of this way of thinking confirms, I fear, Nietzsche’s condemnation of Christianity as a nihilistic religion—a Western Buddhism—in the sense that it denies life, here and now, for the sake of an unknown future life that he holds to be non-existent. I, myself, cannot see how the metropolitan’s teaching could be anything besides self-destructive for a society to embrace without reserve or hypocrisy. Pacifism—the unwillingness to perform violent acts even in self-defense—is an invitation to the wicked to slaughter or to enslave you and yours.

Of course, we do not see such madness among the ancient Hebrews or among the old Christian kingdoms. Yet, it seems that monkish wisdom holds that such people did not fully embrace the commandments of God. They wail about the hypocrisy of Constantine, but such “hypocrisy” is fully to his credit. A king who lays down the lives of his people for the sake of suicidal ethics does not deserve the trust or the authority given him.

Yet, perhaps, such a view is a distorted understanding of the faith. Maybe the judges and kings of Israel along with the many emperors and princes in Christendom rightly understood and practiced the faith—and our latter day abstractionists fail to understand the inherent contradiction of fallen human life. As Plato’s Republic rightly shows us, the human soul is divided and in conflict. There is no natural human fulfillment that does not do violence to some part of the soul. Virtue and happiness necessarily coincide frustration and pain. Human life is always a tragedy in some way. Plato gives us the best of pagan wisdom in his realization of the limitations of man.

Though the gospel proclaims God’s message of hope and salvation to all men, it does not immediately rid the world of the fall’s curses. Perhaps, Christianity’s contradiction with real life points not to the falsehood of Christ’s gospel but rather to the obstacles to human wholeness in a fallen world. All of the things that the metropolitan condemns—from the vantage point of monkish abstinence from the world—are actually evil and harmful to the soul. War corrupts. Battling a fellow human being as an enemy has a corrosive effect on our humanity. Such is true. Nonetheless, war remains necessary in a world of wickedness.

My annoyance at Metropolitan Jonah and at his fellow teachers results from their inability—in my perception, at least—to recognize the limitations of their advice to self-sacrifice. There is no one thing needful for man. Rather, there is a hierarchy of goods, and prudence demands that we weigh all of our responsibilities to judge the best path. We cannot operate in a fallen world as if we were already in paradise. We must manage accordingly.

Posted by Joseph on Friday, January 23, Anno Domini 2009
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Monday, January 19, A.D. 2009
Happy Theophany!

For those of you who follow the Julian calendar (on which today is the sixth of January), happy Theophany!

Today, we celebrate the baptism of Jesus Christ in the River Jordan by John, the feast of which is called the Theophany or Epiphany. You can read Saint John Chrysostom’s sermon for the feast here.

In the celebration of Theophany, priests bless holy water for the year. Parishioners usually take bottles of it home for home blessings and for drinking after morning prayers. It is also customary for priests to bless a nearby body of water, like a river, lake, or ocean. There are many other local customs for the feast. In Russia, Christians carve crosses into the ice and people jump into the blessed water, in obvious reference to Christ’s baptism and to their own baptism in Christ. Here is a news segment from Russia:

So, we see that the secular polar bear swim on New Year’s Day has religious precedent. Such is often the case for our practices, from theater to etiquette.

In warmer regions like Greece, Christian communities may have cross retrieval contests for the young men. For this, the whole community assembles beside the ocean or sea for the blessing of the waters. Afterward, a bishop or a priest throws a wooden cross into the water. Whoever gets it first gains glory and admiration as well as a special blessing from the priest. Sometimes, the other boys will carry the winner back to the town’s parish on their shoulders. Girls are sometimes given the job of releasing doves in the air during the celebration, which obviously symbolizes the Holy Spirit in gospel accounts. The Greek community in Tarpon Springs, Florida demonstrates this celebration well:

Have a great day, and be grateful for water, which the Lord has blessed by being baptized in it.

Posted by Joseph on Monday, January 19, Anno Domini 2009
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Wednesday, January 7, A.D. 2009
Christ Is Born!

Glorify Him!

Merry Christmas to everyone who celebrates the Feast of the Nativity on the old calendar!

Христос Рождается

I wish you joy and peace.

Χριστός γεννάται

Here is a news report from Moscow:

Troparion:

Thy Nativity, O Christ our God,
hath shone forth the light of knowledge upon the world;
for therein those who worship the stars
have been taught by a star
to worship Thee, the Son of righteousness,
and to know Thee, the Dayspring from on high.
O Lord, glory be to Thee.

Kontakion:

Today the Virgin giveth birth
to the Transcendent One,
and the earth offereth a cave
to the unapproachable One.
Angels with shepherds give glory;
the Magi journey with the star.
For our sakes a young Child is born,
Who is preeternal God!

Posted by Joseph on Wednesday, January 7, Anno Domini 2009
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