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.
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.
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.
For today, I offer the life story of Venerable Righteous Princess Saint Evfrosynia of Polotsk, whose feast day we celebrate on May 23 (June 4). The following biography by Alexander Medeltsov originally appeared in The Bronze Horseman, but the following version is from Saint John the Baptist’s newsletter. As you read it, consider how modern people think about Christianity’s supposed subjugation of women, the medieval estimation of knowledge and education, and the place of women in the Middle Ages.
It would be impossible to envision the spiritual life and culture of Belarus and its Orthodox Church without St. Evfrosynia of Polotsk. A princess, abbess, and outstanding educator, she is greatly remembered by its people.
The renowned ascetic, one of the most erudite people of her time, lived in the 12th Century, during the great epoch of pre-Mongol Rus’. It was a time in which the people of the ancient Russian State accepted the Orthodox Faith, and consolidated it not only not in themselves but in monuments of architecure, literature and art.
During that period, Polotsk, with its churches and monasteries, and its episcopal throne, was a great center of education and book production. The Nikon Chronicle relates that Prince Isyaslav of Polotsk (+1001) “was devoted to reverence for books.” In running chronicles produced in Polotsk, events were recounted by those who had been actual eyewitnesses to them.
It was here that, in about 1101, Predslava, later to receive the name Evfrosynia of Polotsk, was born. She was the daughter of Prince Georgi and the granddaughter of Vladimir Monomakh. As a child, Predslava developed a love for books. Monastics taught her to read and write. Her “Life” describes her extensive abilities and her striving after scholarly knowledge. In the prince’s residence there was a large library, consisting predominantly of religious books, but also containing secular literature.
When she was 12 years of age, her parents decided to give her in marriage. However, Predslava chose a different path for herself. On learning of her father’s intentions, she said to herself, “If I marry, I will be unable to rid myself of the sorrows of this world.”
Without telling her father or mother, Predslava went to the monastery and received monastic tonsure. There was no doubt as to the name she was to receive upon tonsure: It could only be Evfrosynia, a name that means “joy,” in honor of St. Euphrosyne of Alexandria. Prince Georgi made a number of attempts to have his daughter return to secular life, and wept over her as if she were dying, but her father’s tears could not sway her from her decision. As her “Life” relates, she remained at the monastery, in obedience to the Abbess and the Sisters, and surpassing them all in fasting, prayer, and night vigils, “gathering up her good thoughts in her heart, as a bee collects honey.”
In the monastery, Evfrosynia dedicated herself entirely to learning. In the book depositories of the Fathers of the Church, she would discover the works of Roman and Byzantine Theologians, Slavic luminaries, and chronicles.
After spending several years in the monastery, Evfrosynia moved to the Sophia Cathedral, where as it says in her life, she “began to write books with her own hands.” She wrote down her own instructions and prayers, and translated Greek-language works. Evfrosynia taught people to love one another, to be kind-hearted and not to permit themselves envy, strife, hatred, or evil passions. Erudition and literary talent were characteristics present in her writings. A sermon she addressed to nuns has come down to us: “Here I have gathered you together, like a hen that gathers her chicks under her wings, and with a happy heart I care for your salvation and teach you, in hopes of seeing the fruits of your labors. I have already sown so many words of God’s teaching in the field of your hearts, but those fields do not remain in place, and do not bloom with virtues and perfection. I implore you, my sisters, become pure wheat of Christ, and be ground on the mill-stones of prayer, humility and pure love, so that on the Feast of Christ, you might be sweet, fragrant tobacco [flowers].
She greatly expanded literacy in Polotsk, first establishing a women’s monastery, and then a men’s monastery, in which there were scriptoria. From those sciptoria, books were distributed throughout the land of Polotsk. Schools had existed there before the coming of Evfrosynia, but her establishing of new monasteries and her educational activities gave new impetus to the spread of education. Thanks to Evfrosynia, many of the people of Polotsk were able to attain literacy, and not only the wealthy, but also the common people. Both in curriculum and in teaching methods, Evfrosynia’s school was one of the most advanced of its time.
With reverence for all that was beautiful, Evfrosynia became the first patron of the arts in the Principality of Polotsk. In the 1150s, at her direction, a local architect named Ioann erected a Church of the Savior along entirely new architectural lines. By the way, Evfrosynia was not simply the talented master’s patron, but also his advisor, assistant, and inspiration. The Church of the Savior, or the Savior-Transfiguration Church (often also called the Savior-Evfrosynia Church), became the masterpiece of the Polotsk architectural school. This magnificent monument of antiquity continues to amaze, both for its elegance and for the soundness of its construction. How many centuries have passed, how many wars have roared through, and yet Evfrosynia miraculously continues to protect it. Even today, it can tell us a great deal about the Saint’s outlook, for in the church frescoes, we can see the figures spiritually near and dear to her.
Evfrosynia of Polotsk is also remembered as the patron who ordered a masterpiece of ancient Russian art, a Cross made in 1161 by the Polotsk master-jeweler Lazarus Bogsha. There are no earlier Crosses like it in Rus’, and later ones are all to a greater or lesser extent copies of that holy object. Rare materials - precious stones, gold, silver, and enamel, on a foundation of cypress wood – were all utilized in fashioning the Cross. Unfortunately, through a series of events [during World War II], the Cross made by Lazarus Bogsha was lost.
In 1992, when the Millenium of the Polotsk Diocese and of the Orthodox Church in Belarus was being celebrated, it was decided to recreate the Cross. On August 24, 1997, Metropolitan Philaret of Minsk and Slutsk, Patriarchal Exarch to all Belarus, blessed an exact copy of the Cross of St. Evforsynia. Currently, it is kept in the Polotsk Cathedral of the Savior-St.Evfrosynia Women’s Monastery.
Throughout her life, Evfrosynia never abandoned the idea of visiting the holy Christian sites. In 1163, she left Polotsk and set forth on a journey. Upon reaching Constantinople, she visited the Church of the Holy Wisdom [Hagia Sophia], about which so much had been told in Rus’, and she received the Patriarch’s blessing. Everywhere, she was warmly greeted as an honored guest. In late April 1167, she reached the city gates of Jerusalem. However, she did not remain in the Holy Land for very long. She soon fell ill, and in May 1167 departed to the other world. Thus concluded the earthly path of the great ascetic and englightener, Venerable St. Evfrosynia of Polotsk. She was interred in Jerusalem, at the St. Theodosius Monastery of the Most-holy Theotokos.
In 1187, when Jerusalem was taken by Egyptian Sultan Salahuddin, Russian monks who were leaving Palestine removed the relics of St. Evfrosynia, and brought them to the Kiev Caves Lavra. In 1901, the remains of St. Evfrosynia were transferred to the Savior-Evfrosynia Monastery she had founded in Polotsk.
In 1547, Evfrosynia of Polotsk became the first woman to be canonized as a Saint by the Russian Orthodox Church.
With her strength of spirit and her educational activities, she raised up the level not only of her native Polotsk, but of all Belarus and the Orthodox Church.
Quite a different commemoration for “V Day,” no? The decadence and idiocy of our contemporary society cannot and will not last, but the prayers of Saint Evfrosynia will endure. May she petition the Lord for the true enlightenment of Christians and of their neighbors everywhere.
On the Orthosphere, Alan Roebuck responded to my comment in his “Predestination Again” thread (see “Calvinism Again” for the comment that Roebuck addressed as well as a cornucopia of Calvin castigation). I finally wrote an obviously inadequate but hopefully insight-seeding response:
I do not know what to make of the instances of προορίζω in the New Testament. I am not a biblical scholar or a theologian, but I am confident that it cannot mean what Calvinists take it to mean. As others have noted, scripture has much to say about the nature of God, directly and through examples and images—especially that God is love and that he is good—that he “is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” Now, you will say, undoubtedly, that your understanding of predestination coexists with such a nature of God, but I think that is forcing a square peg through a round hole—it does violence to our understanding of love and goodness. You may speak about human blindness, but I cannot accept any system that undermines the very foundations of human judgment. God is not a deceiver. You may point to the fall and human depravity, but such a path makes the ministry of the law, the prophets, and the apostles a big charade. God only delivers a message to beings that can understand it—and God is not a deceiver.
The word προορίζω only occurs a few times in the Bible—six according to a search that I just did (if the instrument worked correctly). It is a mistake to overturn the general and consistent message of the Gospel to make it fit into a theology defined by a few passages that became central to theological thinking only with Augustine in his anti-Pelagian activity. The doctrine was a fringe concern in the Christian world until the Reformation, and I think that is evidence that there is something suspicious about the controversy—and about Augustine’s resolution of it. Myself, I think that anyone acquainted with realist metaphysics (the understanding of the vast majority of [educated] Christians before the modern period) would not take Pelagianism seriously. For it is clear that human beings do not have being of their own power. They cannot do anything of their own power. Everything about us is derivative from the father of lights, the treasury of good things, him by whom the world was made. I attribute the Greeks’ lack of interest in the Pelagian dispute to this very fact—that the controversy seemed stupid to them. Augustine was philosophically trained enough to know better, and his line of attack sowed a poisonous seed that germinated a millennium later. [I should have noted that the Latin Christians in Augustine’s Africa were keen on rhetoric but not well formed in philosophy; only later did educated Western Christians acquire familiarity with ontology.]
You ask, “How can you say, on the one hand, that God causes all things (which would presumably include that some remain hard-hearted and are lost), but on the other hand, that a God who would refuse to turn sinful men toward him is ‘abominable and a demon and worthy of contempt?’ This seems inconsistent.” It is not inconsistent because causation of things does not include the inexplicable corruption of things—this state (or un-state) of evil that we casually affirm to be a thing by our manner of speech in order to convey what we mean really is nothing (of the sort or anything else). God doesn’t cause evil because evil is nothing. I suspect that a Platonist approach to metaphysics is required to make traditional Christian doctrine intelligible, and that is why the confusion of the Reformation did not occur until the spread of an alien understanding of the world (nominalism) had replaced the patristic one. [See “The Necessity of Knowledge,” “Square Circle,” “Nominalism, Nihilism, and the Will,” and “Whence the Will?” for more on this.]
You mention the first chapter of Ephesians. Like I said, I don’t know what προορίζω really means. It doesn’t appear to be a common word (according to Perseus, at least), and even in the New Testament, it appears only a handful of times in Paul’s letters and in Luke’s Acts. It literally means to pre-establish or mark beforehand limits or boundaries (horizons is a related term). There are many ways that one could interpret the passages with it—the standard Calvinist way, or the Arminians’ Calvinist rejoinder method, wherein God foresees men’s action and then sets up the world accordingly. I found it interesting to see that Augustine argued against that very interpretation in his On the Predestination of the Saints. His point is that God’s grace would not be grace if it were doled out on account of human worth. For him, it seems, any question of justice or merit confuses the fundamental truth that God’s grace is totally a gift. That is a good argument, but I don’t think that we have to resort to the Calvinist or this anti-Calvinist interpretation. Perhaps, God’s predestination—God’s setting of markers done outside of time from all eternity—is simply God’s assignment of roles and natures. This might be general—our general human purpose—as well as individual—in how we fit into the providential unrolling of history. I am very uncomfortable in dealing with the later; I have no idea how providence works, and yet it seems that God does work intimately through the messiness of history. God certainly knows all possible worlds—all the roads not taken and the trillions upon trillions of contingent possibilities for our cosmos. Maybe, he threads the loom to maximize goodness based on what free creatures do (per Leibniz). Maybe, he assigns definite roles regardless of our actions, and it is up to us to play (with grace given to all) the part assigned to us, but we, for no reason (that disgusting quality of evil), fall short of the ideal performance. A simple reading of several biblical narratives makes it seem that God has assigned some pretty dreadful parts to certain individuals (pharaoh, Judas), which lends credibility to Calvin’s evil puppet-master interpretation of scripture. On the other hand, maybe God’s providence is simply the skill of the master lemonade-maker, who creates sweetness from that which is bitter—men’s folly isn’t God’s will, but it is co-opted by God for the greater good. Maybe, some men get bad parts (there has to be an Iago in Othello), and God’s ultimate judgment will take that into consideration, just as the critic grades a performance with an eye to the material and what is possible given the constraints of the role. Maybe predestination is simply a way of speaking of God’s grand salvific formula—the elect are the chosen people . . . chosen as instruments to enact the Gospel Plan—that wonderful military operation wherein the Lord stages a counter-offensive to regain lost territory. Abraham, the Hebrews, the apostles, the preachers and converted of the Great Commission, the Christians of our day who strive to live in hope and in the light of the Resurrection . . . maybe this is the meaning of predestination—that the pilgrimage routes to the New Jerusalem, the path of the righteous, or the ingenious recipe of the master lemonade-maker is what is marked out from the foundation of the world. There is much ambiguity in the scriptures. Many are called but few are chosen—perhaps the chosen are simply the ones who answer the call. I don’t know. I only know that God is good, and that we must reject Calvin’s laying evil at God’s feet.
As a related topic, Kristor and I had a lengthy discussion on the “origin” of evil some years ago. You may be interested in reading the discussion, along with the comments:
“Orthodoxy and Evolution”
“Kristor on the Fall”
“Kristor Promotes Ignorance”
“Kristor Elucidates the Darkness”
“Kristor Poses Evil Problems”
I hope that you are enjoying the summer, even in these dismal times.
On the Orthosphere, Bonald continues his survey of Christian confessions by summarizing his reading of The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church by Vladimir Lossky. A reader posted a lengthy comment, and I responded with the following:
That is a lot. Well, let me add this note for those interested: “St. Maximus on the filioque” (a brief post by Peter Gilbert about Maximus’ letter concerning the controversy). Gilbert’s explanatory notes are helpful, and they show—once again (and for the billionth time)—why patristic texts serve as ambiguous testimony in these disputes. All of this has been hashed and rehashed for centuries. CP researched the issues and decided one way. Others have done the same research and differed in their judgment (myself included). Given the muddied waters, I wonder whether most (all?) of the folks who enter into these treacherous rivers allow other considerations to drive their wayfaring. Take, for instance, the issue of the Bishop of Rome’s authority in the early centuries. As I once blogged,
I have “been there and done that” with endless arguments over papal claims, replete with innumerable patristic references, scriptural commentary, conciliar minutes, and canon law case precedents in cross-diocesan judicial appeals. My basic opinion, sufficient for the present purpose, is that one can build a case for papal supremacy by employing extraordinary circumstances as normative ones. During all the Christological controversies, some bishops played ruthless politics for the sake of the faith while others did so for personal power. A pious bishop in exile often sought assistance wherever he could, and canonically questionable actions were taken and justified by the higher goal of defending the faith from heresy. Rome was usually a haven of sanity during these disputes; early Western Christians were not as a theologically interested, philosophically educated, or politically connected as their Greek brethren in the East. Hence, the Roman Church was blessedly boring while the major theological controversies raged across the Empire. It was often necessary, then, for orthodox hierarchs to seek Rome’s interference in ways that defied common practice. Papal supremacists see their justification therein. The will needs very little evidence to claim the inviolable correctness of its desires . . .
Nonetheless, the normal position of ecumenical Church government was decentralized and conciliar. Such is the Orthodox ideal to this day, though it has taken many forms, with the autocephalous system’s being the current organization. At any rate, the subject has become a moot point. Rome largely abandoned its orthodoxy centuries ago, and whatever primacy the bishop of Rome should have had has become an anachronism. Petrine fundamentalism aside, the Churches’ deference to Rome rested as much on the Roman Christian community’s sobriety and fidelity as on Rome’s status as the old capital, on its being a major center of power, communication, commerce, transportation, and ideas, and on its giving the world countless martyrs, especially Saints Peter and Paul. When Rome forsook its faith, it forfeited its special honor.
The second point that I hold firmly to be true undoubtedly sways the way I read the ancient controversies and their texts. If one particular interpretation behind the Council of Sardica leads to clown masses and the pope’s authority to declare anthropogenic global warming, I know what I am deciding!
CP criticizes the Orthodox for becoming reactive toward Latin theology, and I believe that he is correct. Roman doctrine and the Orthodox rejection of it have strongly influenced Orthodox theological thinking for centuries, and this is both understandable and unhealthy—in the same way that reaction toward “Enlightenment” thought has largely determined the thinking among those who reject it ever since. Moreover, when the Orthodox see the consequences of Latin tendencies, they begin to question even ancient Latin elements that may have led to the Reformation, Trent, and the first and second Vatican councils. That seems reasonable to me.
At some point (and perhaps always), the Greeks and the Latins began to speak past each other when they focused on certain theological and philosophical issues. Many readers here are familiar with the Christological controversies that led to and resulted from Chalcedon and with contemporary attempts by many in and among Rome, the Orthodox, and the Non-Chalcedonians to excuse it all as a big, sad misunderstanding. I wonder whether these softies are right—and whether perhaps the same dynamic is at work with many East-West controversies, like CP’s example of the Palamite issue. For certain, when we approach the inner life of the Trinity—when we begin to conceive of divinity—we are well beyond a safe harbor. Everything that we think—every idea, every mental tool—applies to creation. When we apply such to God, we should be very careful—and humble. CP calls Gregory’s distinction of the divine energies an outrageous innovation—just as the Orthodox might call the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception an outrageous innovation. Both doctrines developed from prior, ancient commitments that played themselves out philosophically within their respective community’s theological-philosophical system.
P.S.) See Gilbert’s delightful recent post, “Don’t Curse Plato.”
Update courtesy of my brother:
Well, it appears that Laudato Si may be less objectionable than the hype led us to believe: “Top Ten Takeaways from ‘Laudato Si’” (Warning for the uninitiated: Jesuit journalism! . . . which reminds me of an old joke that we students used to share—Si cum Jesuitis, non cum Jesu itis!)
I wish Western Christians a blessed Holy Week and my fellow Orthodox a fruitful continuation of Lent.
Laura Wood of The Thinking Housewife wrote a tribute to Lawrence Auster yesterday on the second anniversary of his passing: “May Perpetual Light Shine on Lawrence Auster.” Keep him in your prayers.
I miss the privilege of daily visiting Auster’s site and of reading his words. He was truly a one-off genius. When I wrote about my first encounter with Auster in “Auster’s A View from the Right,” I noted that, contrary to reports of his being humorless, I found Auster quite funny. Laura Wood reminded her readers of that quality this past year when she quoted Auster’s comment about studies (“Live by Studies, Die by Studies”):
The Muslim says, “If Allah wills it.” The Christian says, “In Jesus’ name.” The liberal says, “Studies have shown.” These are the sacred words that establish the authoritative truth of whatever ruinous mischief the liberal is about to propose.
“Studies” are one of the principal means by which the liberal regime maintains and extends its power.
Years ago I attended a conference of Swiss academic types in New York City. Their subject was Swiss immigration and multiculturalism policies. They maintained that multiculturalism and diversity was the way for Switzerland to go, because “studies” showed that it worked. Though I was just the guest of a guest at this event, I interposed: “So Switzerland has existed as a successful society for seven hundred years, and you want to change it radically—on the basis of “studies“? They didn’t get my point. Humorlessly they maintained that their studies were the best authority.
Auster’s death was bitter for us, but perhaps his passing was an act of providential mercy. Auster lamented the state of his country, of Christian institutions, and of the West in general. The decay has become ever more apparent since Auster’s death, though he foresaw such clearly and with heavy heart. May he find rest in the Kingdom of God.
As an offering in memory of Auster, I present a video from the Eastern American Diocese of R.O.C.O.R. about the divine litugy:
Requiescat in pace, servant of God, Lawrence Auster.
Yesterday, I received two links to fascinating Marian articles that may interest you:
“The oldest hymn to the Theotokos”
The Wikipedia entry on Mary Untier of Knots
I hope that you have a lovely May weekend. May—it’s the best month, and therefore it is wholly suitable to be the month for Regina Cæli.
On the Feast of the Annunciation, I was thinking about how prevalent women are in the New Testament, and I laughed as I recalled “The Embarrassing Gospels.” I then remembered being forced to listen to a crazy professor in undergrad harp on and on about how Western civilization restricted women to virgins, whores, and mothers, and, for the thousandth time, I became angry at the utter stupidity of such an opinion. What nonsense! I then noticed that the importance of women in literature, at least, was not peculiar to Christianity or even the Judeo-Christian tradition—though Esther and Judith surely fit Ambrose Bierce’s observation millennia before he defined Hebrew: “n. A male Jew, as distinguished from the Shebrew, an altogether superior creation.” Consider the classics of Western civilization and the place of women in them. In a bizarre, freakish disconnect from reality, “feminist scholars” have convinced contemporary Americans that half the human race has been absent from art and literature until recently. At the same time, such folks (or least the ones among them who can read) have an intense interest in “subversive” characters such as Antigone, Diotima, and Camilla, showing that they must realize that Western literature has always included women who do not fit into their virgin, whore, mother Canopic jars. (Such dames are fine, but one of my favorites has long been Andromache. I suppose that she is too feminine to be considered interesting for the womynist crowd.)
Anyway, Camilla led my stream of consciousness to John C. Wright’s recent “Saving Science Fiction from Strong Female Characters,” wherein he reflects upon the butt-kicking babes of modern fantasy and science fiction. Long before Xena was Camilla—in addition to (other?) historical examples (Deborah, Boudica, Joan) that have inspired the Western imagination for ages. Indeed, if we consider immortals, we see the pagans make Athena the goddess of the battle and Artemis the goddess of the hunt. What underlies this—a fascination with mixing opposites? A long prepared divine joke to mock and to confuse feminists once they arise? Something more fundamental?
Christians themselves follow this pattern in their veneration of the Theotokos. The aforementioned academic liked to mention the Virgin Mother Mary and the redeemed whore Mary Magdalene (in the Roman tradition) as iconic representations of Western women, but what would she make of our actual liturgical texts and Marian piety that depict the Mother of God more like a combination of Attila the Hun and Aristotle than a tender mother or quiet nun (not that there’s anything wrong with that)? From the beloved akathist:
To Thee, the Champion Leader, we Thy servants dedicate a feast of victory and of thanksgiving as ones rescued out of sufferings, O Theotokos: but as Thou art one with might which is invincible, from all dangers that can be do Thou deliver us, that we may cry to Thee: Rejoice, O Unwedded Bride! . . .
Rejoice, initiate of God’s ineffable will:
Rejoice, assurance of those who pray in silence!
Rejoice, beginning of Christ’s miracles:
Rejoice, crown of His dogmas!
Rejoice, heavenly ladder by which God came down:
Rejoice, bridge that conveyest us from earth to Heaven!
Rejoice, wonder of angels sounded abroad:
Rejoice, wound of demons bewailed afar!
Rejoice, Thou Who ineffably gavest birth to the Light:
Rejoice, Thou Who didst reveal Thy secret to none!
Rejoice, Thou Who surpassest the knowledge of the wise:
Rejoice, Thou Who givest light to the minds of the faithful!
Rejoice, O Bride Unwedded! . . .
Rejoice, Mother of the Lamb and the Shepherd:
Rejoice, fold of rational sheep!
Rejoice, torment of invisible enemies:
Rejoice, opening of the gates of Paradise!
Rejoice, for the things of Heaven rejoice with the earth:
Rejoice, for the things of earth join chorus with the heavens!
Rejoice, never-silent mouth of the Apostles:
Rejoice, invincible courage of the passion-bearers!
Rejoice, firm support of faith:
Rejoice, radiant token of Grace!
Rejoice, Thou through whom hades was stripped bare:
Rejoice, Thou through whom we are clothed with glory!
Rejoice, O Bride Unwedded! . . .
Rejoice, uplifting of men:
Rejoice, downfall of demons!
Rejoice, Thou who didst trample down the dominion of delusion:
Rejoice, Thou who didst unmask the fraud of idols!
Rejoice, sea that didst drown the Pharaoh of the mind:
Rejoice, rock that doth refresh those thirsting for life!
Rejoice, pillar of fire that guideth those in darkness:
Rejoice, shelter of the world broader than a cloud!
Rejoice, sustenance replacing manna:
Rejoice, minister of holy delight!
Rejoice, land of promise:
Rejoice, Thou from whom floweth milk and honey!
Rejoice, O Bride Unwedded! . . .
Rejoice, tabernacle of God the Word:
Rejoice, saint greater than the saints!
Rejoice, ark gilded by the Spirit:
Rejoice, inexhaustible treasury of life!
Rejoice, precious diadem of pious kings:
Rejoice, venerable boast of reverent priests!
Rejoice, unshakable fortress of the Church:
Rejoice, inviolable wall of the kingdom!
Rejoice, Thou through whom victories are obtained:
Rejoice, Thou through whom foes fall prostrate!
Rejoice, healing of my flesh:
Rejoice, salvation of my soul!
Rejoice, O Bride Unwedded!
Allow me, if you would, to indulge in a bit of imaginative speculation. Consider the end of days when the armies of heaven begin the final counteroffensive. As fearsome to the minions of hell as Michael must be, imagine what will happen if You Know Who joins the mêlée.