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, November 25, A.D. 2011
Outpost

I hope that everyone had a happy Thanksgiving. Let us remember to count our many blessings.

George Michalopulos recently linked to a moving documentary, “Форпост,” about the Holy Ascension Monastery in the Ukraine, where the monks have taken on the duties of caring for orphans. A neighboring convent also assists in providing the children with maternal love. It is worth watching even if you do not understand the language; it is still easy to follow:

The Fund for Assistance of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia has a page on how you can help these monastics and their wards, many of whom have disabilities and diseases that further disadvantage them:

A New Jersey resident who wished to remain anonymous designated a gift of $50,000 to a worthy project—support of a remarkable orphanage in a small village of Bancheny, Ukraine, near Chernivtsi. The orphanage is affiliated with the Holy Ascension Monastery and provides care for 220 children, 40 of whom have HIV, 41 are handicapped, and 27 suffer from epilepsy.

90 monks and 65 nuns from the Holy Ascension Monastery and Boyanski Convent take care of the children.

According to Archimandrite Longin (Zhar), abbot of the monastery, and founder and head of the orphanage, the money will be used to buy medication, food, clothes and other daily essentials.

Born near Chernivtsi in 1965, archimandrite Longin (then Mikhail Zhar) founded the orphanage in 1992 after adopting a six-month old AIDS orphan. After becoming tonsured in 1997, he became the abbot of the Holy Ascension male monastery (Moscow Patriarchate).

In 2008 he was named “Hero of Ukraine” by president Victor Yuschenko and received two medals for his work with orphans.

There are many types of recruits for the Lord of Sabaoth.

Posted by Joseph on Friday, November 25, Anno Domini 2011
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Friday, November 18, A.D. 2011
The Cult of the Saints and the Cato Institute

A few weeks ago, I lost a small screw while helping someone fix his glasses. This screw was tiny even for frames. I accidentally dropped the screw, and then our not so merry crew began to search for the humble hardware. We looked in vain for about twenty minutes, and I was starting to lose hope. I then suggested that we pray to Saint Anthony. I began the prayer, and as soon as I got to the word, “find,” one of the seekers exclaimed, “Found it!” The Lutheran fellow who owned the glasses joked that he should convert to Catholicism.

The episode occasioned thoughts about the cult of the saints. I wondered why Protestants resisted it so strongly. Protestants frequently bring up the “middleman” objection—why not simply pray to God directly? This is a strawman argument, as there has never been a Christian who did not pray to God directly. It then occurred to me that Protestantism—the spiritual side of modernity—is intensely individualistic, and perhaps that individualism is behind the Protestant inability to appreciate the Church Triumphant.

Protestants might ask why God would “assign” saints to assist the faithful. After all, the Lord is omniscient and omnipotent; he does not need an army of prayer listeners in heaven’s call center. However, we might just as well ask why God expects us to walk as children of light. We Christians are God’s invasion force that brings the gospel to the world. God works through us, not because he needs us, but because such is the fulfillment of our purpose and of our nature. We are to be gloves for the divine hands. I do not see why that role would change upon earthly death. If the saints are involved in intercessions and miracles, it is because God allows them to continue to serve their fellow men because that is their nature. God’s economy allows human beings to be his intermediaries; such is his gift to us. It is not an indication of any sort of weakness in God.

For this to make sense, however, one must see mankind corporately. We exist for one another and are accountable to one another. Our destiny is not simply as an individual; the highest thing is not between “me and God,” as one so often hears Protestants proclaim (and note the order of importance shown in the common saying). Rather, human life is social, even in its salvation. The Church teaches that it remains so even in heaven.

Posted by Joseph on Friday, November 18, Anno Domini 2011
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Friday, November 11, A.D. 2011
Russian Phoenix

I wish everyone a thoughtful Armistice Day. Civilizational decline is a long process, but the First World War seems a particularly noticeable symbol of the West’s suicidal tendencies.

However, rebirth is a central idea in Christendom. The Christians adopted the pagan phoenix, the bird reborn from its holocaust, as a symbol of Christ. There is always hope for redemption and renewal for us. As such, I wish to offer a fitting video for the day. At the time of the Great War, Satanic wickedness ascended to power in Russia, and the Communists declared war on God’s people. The video below begins with early footage of this demonic behavior. However, no matter how carefully the Old Guard treats the corpse, Lenin slowly rots in his pagan tomb while the Church has blossomed forth again in Russia. Glory be to God!

My only complaint about the video is its outrageous soundtrack. At first, the background music is some bizarre mixture of liturgical singing with New Age Enya-esque synthesizing. Then, the music morphs into a 1980’s style heavy metal guitar screed that supposedly represents the climactic triumph of the Cross, which is wildly inappropriate. It is a reminder how fidelity to tradition keeps us from traveling down the same path as the Latins, with their Simon and Garfunkel “Sound of Silence” hymns, “corn god” crucifixes, and icons of Gandi and Martin Luther King, Jr. If you let anything go, poor taste and confusing liturgical corruptions would infect the Church. I imagine that the video maker, or at least the person who did the sound, could not have been older than twenty-five years and was probably a new convert from a secular family. The Lord gladly accepts the widow’s mite; so, perhaps I should not be so critical. Anyway, aside from Axl Rose’s interpretation of the One Hundred and Forty-Fifth Psalm (146 for the Wessies), the clip is worth seeing.

Хвали, душе моя, Господа. Восхвалю Господа в животе моем, пою Богу моему, дондеже есмь. Не надейтеся на князи, на сыны человеческия, в них же несть спасения. Изыдет дух его, и возвратится в землю свою: в той день погибнут вся помышления его. Блажен, ему же Бог Иаковль помощник его, упование его на Господа Бога своего. Сотворшаго небо и землю, море и вся, яже в них. Хранящаго истину в век, творящаго суд обидимым, дающаго пищу алчущим. Господь решит окованныя, Господь умудряет слепцы. Господь возводит низверженныя, Господь любит праведники. Господь хранит пришельцы, сира и вдову приимет, и путь грешных погубит. Воцарится Господь во век, Бог твой, Сионе, в род и род.

Posted by Joseph on Friday, November 11, Anno Domini 2011
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Friday, November 4, A.D. 2011
The Vain Queen Consort

In my post on “Anti-Christian Bigotry,” I criticize David Turner’s and William Nicholls’ psychological evaluation of Christians. I thought of an image earlier in the week that plays the same game in reverse, though it is a far more reflective of reality.

Imagine a vain queen consort. This woman has many lovely qualities, and she could offer her inestimable talents to her king and to her kingdom in countless ways. However, her chief role as queen consort is to give birth to an heir. As a woman in the most important womanly task, she has an opportunity to manifest the special splendor of her sex—that of the deflection of importance from herself to her child. It is the mysterious glory and beauty of woman. Needless to say, many daughters of Eve fall short of this excellence, including our hypothetical queen consort.

Instead of finding honor in her role to give birth to someone that she loves more than herself—to someone that means more to the kingdom than herself—our queen thinks such painful and repugnant. She dwells on her many superior qualities and curses the fate that her special duty is that of a breeder. She will not rule in her own name. Knees will not bow and tongues will not confess because of her. She is but a handmaiden—a royal and treasured handmaiden—but a handmaiden, nonetheless, in that she must serve another. Instead of finding fulfillment in nursing, she begrudges her babe his destiny. She will fade in the tower while the infant whom she suckles grows up to reign. Even though she could continue to assist her family and her people in a multitude of ways, her most important act has been accomplished, and she dreads a life of waning importance. She is a miserable and spiteful queen.

In many ways, I think that Jews—as an ethne—are a consort queen. The Jewish ethne, being biological children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, has the most important role in the history of nations. For the Hebrews were to give birth to the Messiah, and it is from the Jewish ethne that the Church would arise. The New Israel grew from the seedbed of the original Israel. There is no greater honor for a people as a people.

However, most of the Hebrews rejected God’s plan. I do not think that most did so in the manner of the vain queen. Rather, it is likely that most rejected—and still reject—the gospel for religious reasons. Jesus defies the expectations of most Jews, and the newness and strangeness of his message must strike most of them as heretical and blasphemous. If he is not indeed the Son of God, then he was a terrible heresiarch—indeed, the panheresiarch—the greatest wolf in world history, who has stolen so many sheep. If he is the Messiah, however, then God’s plans did not accord with the hopes and desires of most of his ancient followers. That sounds perennially familiar. Yet, I believe that rabbinical Judaism developed separately from Christianity mostly for theological reasons.

Nonetheless, I suspect that the ethnic vanity of Jews has provided a continual stumbling block for them that impedes their acceptance of the gospel. When I talk to rabbinical Jews or read their frank “ecumenical” words, I sense the spite and resentment of the vain queen. Some of the Hebrews were not content to acknowledge their ethnic role in God’s history as a historical step toward a God’s universal adoption of mankind. What do the chosen people have to do with the filthy nations? One can see the same attitude over and over again. It is a pity. The vain queen has much to give, and she would be praised and valued for such contributions.

Posted by Joseph on Friday, November 4, Anno Domini 2011
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