This morning, on Theophany eve, I woke from a dream right after someone in the dream (I believe my brother Adam) stated, “The Virgin Mary conceived the Plan!” I do not remember the context of our oneiric conversation, but I remember the speaker’s (Adam’s?) expression conveyed delight as well as a bit of mocking . . . with implication that I should have obviously thought this all along.
The phrase stirred me awake, and I marveled at my dream, as I often do. I do not believe that “the unconscious” creates our dreamscapes, at least not totally. I don’t know what dreams are, but I am pretty sure that I am not humorous, imaginative, musical, or artistic enough to be the source of what I witness in dreams . . . from cityscapes to harmonies to witty lines to engaging plots. The Greeks were onto something with the muses. No, I feel as thrown into the world in dreams as I do in waking life, and I cannot buy that I am the source of the world around me. Solipsism is false, even in bed.
Last month, I had a dream wherein I was seated in a college science class (I don’t know which discipline). After the lecture, I went up to the professor and talked for some time. I don’t remember now what he said, but it came across as very pertinent and wise. I then woke—with a strong but weird feeling . . . but not odd in the sense of uncommon. For it was very familiar, but it was weird . . . not domestic, so to speak. The thought that immediately occurred to me was that I might have just received a communication from my guardian angel. I don’t keep any sort of angelic cult. I have referred to such a guardian in the Church’s prayers, but I have not invested much thought, time, or piety in the matter. I accept the existence of guardian angels as a matter of Church teaching—and it has probably colored my outlook of the world, but I’ve never been one of those Christians. Even so, the experience very much felt like such a direct communication—though I don’t remember what was stated. I then wondered why my mind or the angel—if it was an angel—selected such a background, such a costume, for the dream. I don’t worship at the altar of Science, though I do hold all rational learning in esteem. No wizened monk in a cave, no numinous, black matron on a park bench, no sprite in the woods . . . rather an elderly professor in an undergrad. science class. Funny.
Later today, I searched online to see whether I might have come across “The Virgin Mary conceived the Plan” at some point and digested it unnoticed. The phrase and related searches yielded no results.
It’s a superb little sentence . . . and one ever welcome in our hearts. Let us always remember it . . . not as an excuse for inaction or lack of prudence, but as a foundation for all our local strategy and provisions.
Fr. Z. had a post about Gianna Beretta Molla today—her feast day on the Roman calendar and the day of her death in A.D. 1962. I recommend reading about her life and the causes for her canonization. From the letter to the Hebrews:
And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets:
Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions.
Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.
Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection:
And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment:
They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented;
(Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.
And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise:
God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.
This twentieth century woman, mother, pediatrician—someone from our own age, in modern dress, smiling in family photographs—joins the saints of old as a remarkable example of a life full of grace and truth.
Tonight marks the centennial of the Bolsheviks’ murder of Tsar Nicholas II, his wife, his five children, the family’s physician, and intimate servants who willingly followed the Tsar into exile. I believe that I last mentioned the wicked deed six years ago in “Murder of the Imperial Family.” It sickens me to think of such a horror, though Christian hope invites me to consider the eventual triumph of the cross over the hammer and sickle. Such is the way of martyrs, whose precious blood overcomes injustice in imitation of the God Man himself.
Orthodox pilgrims from around the world have traveled to Ekaterinburg to commemorate the event; one hundred thousand people will pray and make a twelve mile procession—the last segment of a 435 mile pilgrimage that thousands have made from Tobolsk to Ekaterinburg in retracing the last months of the royal family’s life. Evidently, an even longer 1,800 mile, four month pilgrimage started earlier in Pskov, where Nicholas II signed his abdication. Such is a sign of the new Russia. May God bless them and heal their land!
The Patriarchate of Moscow site features news items of the commemoration, and Metropolitan Hilarion of ROCOR has issued an epistle on the “100th Anniversary of the Martyrdom of the Righteous Royal Passion-Bearers.”
Let God arise, let his enemies be scattered: let them also that hate him flee before him.
The wise often remind us that life in this vale of tears is always in flux, with certain aspects of the world undergoing improvements while others decay. At least, this is what my friends tell me the wise say when I lament how far to hell the handbasket has already traveled. Last night, I pondered their counsel after I encountered the two following videos while reading some blogs that I regularly visit. The first video is a program from Australia’s SBS Dateline that I found on George Michalopulos’ site. It is clear that the segment’s journalist finds “Putin’s family values” alarming, but I would say that the episode is fair according to what we normally see from the agents of Satan. Let it suffice to say that the very same material horrified and gratified the right people.
What a delight it is to witness the demonic work of the Soviets melting away like wax before fire!
Again, the Aussie show is probably generous to the Russians compared to recent mainstream American media standards, though note how Tatiana Sorokina’s open house for orphans is set up as a contrast to the priest’s family (with Phariseeism not so subtly implied). For all we know, the Sorokins are a pious Orthodox family. Yet, covering salt of the earth Christian generosity and self-giving would not work as well for the narrative. Still, I’ll forgive the journalists all just for the delightful line, “Russian Orthodoxy is not a turn the other cheek religion.” I laughed out loud and actually teared up a bit mirthfully. By the way, if you would like to know more about Tatiana Sorokina, the Russian press has several stories about her large and large hearted family. Now a widow, Tatiana must support her children without her late husband’s help. Please pray for this dear woman and for the recently deceased Michael.
Overall, yet more joyous news from Russia! Alas, I then turned to Fr. John Zuhlsdorf’s blog, where the culinary cleric had posted the following sobering segment from Tucker Carlson’s show:
My old friend Tyler just asked in a comment to an earlier post whether I knew about Dr. Peterson, and I certainly do. I am impressed by his reach; even my brother listens to him. We should thank and encourage Dr. Peterson and all those who have elected to defend the city from the latest horde of barbarians. To the minions of hell, they say, “You assail our civilization. You demand that we surrender our culture, our children, our very faith! Mολὼν λαβέ.”
So, the world’s affairs make for quite a mix. I wish the Russians well; they deserve brighter days after the past century of trials and martyrs. I also hope for the West’s metanoia. We will wake from our nightmare, or our peoples will die.
I recently read a short article about the English tutor of the Russian imperial family, Charles Gibbes, in Russia Beyond the Headlines: “From Romanov tutor to Orthodox missionary: The life of Charles Gibbes.” Except for the obnoxious introduction about “Orthodoxy in England,” the story itself is fascinating, and the provided photographs make the visit worth it. These articles are an occasion of sin for me, though. Every time I see an image of the Tsarevitch, I think of the Bolsheviks’ notes about his murder and my heart consequently burns hot with anger (see “Murder of the Imperial Family”). How could anyone do such? Foul wretches. Well, Gibbes was a peculiar witness to those dreadful days, and I was ignorant of his existence until I read this article. May his memory be eternal.
“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
For today, I offer Vadim Vinogradov’s documentary «За други своя» (from A.D. 2003) about how Russian Orthodox Christians rallied to defend their homeland during the Second World War, despite the Communist state’s persecution of them during the previous decades. Even if you cannot follow Russian at all, the film includes much interesting original footage.
Russia still has many open wounds that need dressed and healed, but its transformation since the fall of the U.S.S.R. has been miraculous.
All those Leonine prayers worked—though not in the way Rome likely intended.
I would like to wish Orthodox readers a blessed Lazarus Saturday, Palm Sunday, and Holy Week. Pascha is almost here!
The parishioners of Saint Katherine Orthodox Church in Carlsbad, California have compiled a short hagiographic report on Saint Seraphim of Vyritsa to commemorate the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of his birth (March 31 / April 13, A.D. 1866): “Saint Seraphim of Vyritsa.”
The saint’s story is a fascinating modern version of those ancient Roman aristocrats who gave up their riches and status to take up the monastic cross. Business tycoon Vasily Nikolaevich Mouraviov and his wife Olga donated 44,000 rubles in gold coin (worth almost one billion dollars in today’s money) to charity and both became monastics before the First World War. Vasily took the name Seraphim after Saint Seraphim of Sarov; Olga became Christina (and later Seraphima upon taking the schema). Both survived the Bolshevik Revolution, though the Communists murdered their son. They suffered much and gave much.
Saint Seraphim’s feast just passed—March 21 (currently April 3 on the Gregorian calendar). May he pray for us. If you ever visit Vyritsa, south of Saint Petersburg, you may visit the chapel where these two laborers for Christ rest.
Pope Francis released his papal exhortation Amoris laetitia earlier this month. As expected, he upset many traditional Latins and confused many more. I am not going to comment on the document, which I have not read—the commentaries of others suffice for my purposes. Rather, I would like to share a link to Rorate Caeli’s reaction: “More Catholic than the pope.” I highly recommend that you read the entire post, but here is a lengthy selection:
. . . As explained in the First Vatican Council’s dogmatic constitution Pastor Aeternus, the Church firmly holds that “the Holy Spirit was promised to the successors of Peter not so that they might, by his revelation, make known some new doctrine, but that, by his assistance, they might religiously guard and faithfully expound the revelation or deposit of faith transmitted by the apostles.”
The Catholic Faith is not something invented anew by each pope according to his own opinions, predilections, understanding, or whims. The pope is only good as a “yardstick” when he formally teaches in accordance to “the Faith once delivered unto the saints,” as St. Jude the Apostle wrote.
When Pope Liberius assented to the unjust excommunication of St. Athanasius the Great, and signed off on an ambiguous creedal formula that could be accommodated to the Arian or semi-Arian heresies, every faithful Catholic was then “more Catholic than the pope.”
When Pope Honorius I uttered false theological opinions and failed to correct and condemn the Monothelite heretics, every faithful Catholic was then “more Catholic than the pope.” Indeed, they were so much more Catholic than Honorius that the Church posthumously condemned him as a heretic, a decision that Honorius’ successor St. Leo II approved. “We anathematize the inventors of the new error, that is, Theodore, Sergius, ... and also Honorius, who did not attempt to sanctify this Apostolic Church with the teaching of Apostolic tradition, but by profane treachery permitted its purity to be polluted.” For most of the Church’s history, priests praying their Office repeated the anathema pronounced against Pope Honorius.
When Pope Stephen VII desecrated the remains of Pope Formosus during the hideously shameful Synodus Horrenda (the “Cadaver Synod”), every Catholic who strove to practice justice and who respected the sanctity of the human body was then “more Catholic than the pope.”
When Pope John XII effectively “turned the Lateran palace into a brothel,” as contemporary historians so colorfully put it, and when Pope Benedict IX gave himself over to unchastity and bloodshed, every faithful Catholic who strove to cultivate the virtues of chastity, purity, mercy, and peace in their personal conduct was then “more Catholic than the pope.”
When Pope John XXII preached in his sermons the error that the faithful departed do not enjoy the Beatific Vision until after Judgment Day at the end of the world, every faithful Catholic was then “more Catholic than the pope”—and the loud and outraged cry of the faithful against him led him to retract his error, and his successor then infallibly defined John XXII’s opinion as heresy.
Papal infallibility doesn’t mean papal impeccability or papal omniscience. The obligations of docility and obedience do not extend so far that one must stand on one’s head and cross one’s eyes in order to see how a scandalous, erroneous papal utterance is in fact true after all. Most of what a pope says is not infallible, and papal authority has never extended to having the right to introduce teachings and laws that contradict or go counter to the Faith. It’s no dishonor or disrespect or disobedience to the Holy Father to point out and to believe those truths of the Catholic Faith.
Words fail me. Ever since my Jesuit undergrad. days, people have called me a liar and a fool for mentioning Honorius and for making the points laid out so well by Confitebor on Rorate Caeli. These accusers have tended to be the most enthusiastic Latin traditionalists, and their extreme ultramontanism horrified me and confirmed decision to stay away from the Roman Church. In truth, I sympathized with my estranged Christian brethren and excused their commitment to papism since, during the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, one could understandably believe that the Bishop of Rome alone kept the Latins from going over their cliff in a crowded clown-mass car. Yet, I knew that it was the previous popes who had veered off course to begin with, and I have always found the Latin insistence on papal infallibility either unintelligible or objectionable (or both). Why would any group of people trust their treasure to such fragile hands? Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man—successor to Peter or not! The apostolic patrimony is too precious to hand over to any man—or generation.
The Latin contention is, most fundamentally, that the buck (of resolving disputes) must stop somewhere. Hence, the pope must exercise a superepiscopal role with some sort of infallibility (to settle those disputes). For the Lord would not leave his ignorant, straying. foolish sheep without a shepherd, or so they believe. For the same reason, the Latins have centuries’ worth of experience in categorizing every conceivable sin and proper penance—the Good Shepherd would want every aspect of ovine husbandry listed and specified! The Romans have a massive global bureaucracy to manage their Christian flock, and they had specialized “think tanks” for ages before any modern secularist considered them. For the Church must have an answer for every thing—a detailed formula for salvation, a comprehensive jurisprudence that deals with every matter of life, positions on this or that issue in the domains of morality, science, politics, anthropology—you name it. The resulting edifice is impressive, and I certainly do not object to progress in knowledge or to Christians’ attempting to redeem the time here on earth to make the world better. I’m a tikkun olam kind of Christian, after all. What I find objectionable, however, is the blurring of apostolic authority on the fundamental doctrines of the faith with the theologoumena and philosophical theorizing of Christians, hierarchs or otherwise. Mission creep has affected the Roman episcopate in such a monumental way! It is no wonder the Protestants rebelled against this ridiculous shackling of the human mind—and their heirs continue to do so in ever more bizarre and demonic ways. The West’s obsessive compulsive need for the resolution of all questions—indeed, even of life in its totality!—has fouled the reputation of authority and tradition and led to (or at least helped to ignite) the Satanic reaction of the modern world.
We live in a fallen world: life is hard, truth is difficult to grasp, and ignorance is the default position for the human mind most of the time. We must work with what we have—and the Lord has amply provided us gifts—but the proper path for man is not obvious. There is no desk (or cathedra) where the buck of human questioning must stop. We are social animals, and it is folly to disregard the wisdom of previous ages and of one’s betters. Nonetheless, each human soul must struggle to conform to truth, goodness, and beauty to the extent possible. The result is messy, but that is how it must be until the eschaton. No counterfeit Gospel can resolve the contradictions of the human heart. The Almighty has left us no demigod to guide our every step; the Golden Age is long past. So, the basic papist argument fails the reality test. Our fallen world is one where we cannot resolve all our questions and disputes with surety. Rather, it is one where the seeking man finds much providential assistance along his way, though he never is absolutely certain of where he is at any given moment while his travels persist. His only consolation, besides the splendor and beauty of the landscape along the path, is that he has enough tools to know that he is generally headed in the right direction.
With that said, I think that Pope Francis might indeed provide the latest occasion for one of those undeserved divine gifts. Perhaps, someone like him is necessary to correct Rome’s ultramontanism—a prerequisite step for a possible future reconciliation between the East and the West. An odd gift, one might think, but providence often appears inscrutable until we examine it in hindsight. Similarly, the turmoil following the Second Vatican Council has been very instructive to the Orthodox. The Latins have been the blue whale in the coal mine of modernity, so to speak. In both cases, the Christian West’s contemporary hemorrhaging might be the painful though necessary trauma that will eventually lead to the restoration of Christian unity. Even the best Physician must sometimes amputate a mutilated or diseased limb to save the body.
The English version of Православие.Ru has a remarkable interview with Matushka Maria Potapova, wife of Fr. Victor Potapov and daughter of Fr. Sergy Chertkov: “I grew up near St. John.” Matushka Maria’s blood connections form a nexus of imperial Russia; she is the great-granddaughter of the pre-revolutionary Duma’s chairman, niece of Bishop Basil (Rodzianko), granddaughter of a princess from one of Russia’s most intellectually accomplished families, and relative to Tolstoy. This daughter of Old Russia recounts her childhood memories of Saint John, which you will find interesting. I have always found Matushka Maria very kind and rather pensive—the experiences recounted in the interview may explain the foundation for that disposition.
I wish my co-religionists a blessed feast of the Annunciation. For today, I’ll offer a short news report that I watched a couple of years ago about the visit of the Kursk Root icon to Kursk. Every September, there is a twenty-five mile procession with the icon from Kursk Cathedral to the Korennaya Hermitage, where the icon was found more than seven hundred years ago. You don’t need to know Russian to appreciate the story.
The uncharitable part of me relishes that the Bolsheviks must be turning in their graves. All their violence and persecution to bring about the materialist atheism Commie paradise—and their revolution’s descendants are returning to the ways of the faithful ancestors. God is great and merciful!
You may read about the history of the icon at “The Wonderworking Kursk Root Icon of Our Lady of the Sign.” Since the icon’s current home is the synodal cathedral in New York City and since it regularly travels around the States, Orthodox Christians in America have numerous opportunities to meet the icon. If you are interested, you may also watch an informative children’s program about the icon and its celebration: