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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?"
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Monday, October 5, A.D. 2009
Paul on Mars Hill

Dr. Reynolds from Biola University wrote a fine post on the occasion of his class trip to Athens’ Areopagus in “What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?” In it, he discusses the philosophical controversy into which Saint Paul entered with his sermon to the Athenians. He points out how close the Platonists were to the gospel. Of all the intellectual currents in the Greco-Roman world, Platonism made the most receptive audience for Christianity. It is customary to hear Platonism contrasted with the earthy goodness of creation Christianity, but even our terrestrial doctrines exist within a celestial framework. The ancient Platonists were some of the few pagans who realized that God transcends the world and that the world is God’s creation. The ancient Platonists understood that God is good, eternal, and the source of all being. The ancient Platonists conceived of all being as an image of the beyond being. Given such, Porphyry rather than Origen becomes the philosophical mystery. What explains a man such as Porphyry, other than ancestral loyalty and cultural conservatism?

As my friend Andrew said, religion—or at least Christianity—only makes sense within a Platonic understanding of reality. I fully agree. I suspect that many of the intellectual ruptures of the modern West only became possible by its rejection of Platonism. When God becomes a being among beings, one must give up either his faith or his science. For God’s presence in the world will always be seen as a nullification of the world’s own order, integrity, and intelligibility. To assert such a God is to deny the possibility of scientific knowledge. To embrace philosophy likewise involves a rejection of the divine as superfluous superstition. Only ignorant regressives cling to religion to fill gaps in their ignorance, as the being God has no place in a scientifically understood cosmos. One must make this choice or cultivate bizarre confusions that attempt to carve a place for the divine and for science in the husk of our ignorance. Reason suffers terribly when forced to accept false choices. So does the human soul.

Posted by Joseph on Monday, October 5, Anno Domini 2009
OrthodoxySaintsScripturePaganismCommentsPermalink
Sunday, July 5, A.D. 2009
Dynamic Horologion and Psalter

You may be interested in the online “Dynamic Horologion and Psalter.” It is very impressive, listing the services, psalms, troparia, and kontakia for every date and time, on both the old and new calendars.

It is pretty cool.

Posted by Joseph on Sunday, July 5, Anno Domini 2009
OrthodoxyScriptureCommentsPermalink
Tuesday, May 5, A.D. 2009
Just Genesis and Converts

Alice Linsley manages a blog dedicated to the book of Genesis—Just Genesis. It is “just Genesis” in the sense that most of the posts concern passages, people, or places in Genesis. However, she does comment on other matters that have a tangential relationship to the first book in the book of books.

Linsley is a convert to the Orthodox Church from the Episcopal Church, where she was a priestess. I am not aware of any other case in which a woman in the Protestant clergy converted to Orthodoxy, though they might be out there. You can read her story in an interview, “From Canterbury to Constantinople,” posted on Orthodoxy Today.

Unfortunately, the original interview on Bible Belt Blogger no longer exists. Orthodoxy Today only contains the first part. You can read more of it in a commentary post by another convert from Canterbury to Constantinople, Clifton Healy—“From Canterbury to Constantinople: Interview with Former Episcopal Priest Alice Linsley on Her Departure from ECUSA to Orthodoxy.” Like Linsley, Healy’s conversion is an interesting story. He was being trained to be an Episcopal priest when he realized that Anglicanism was not the Church that he sought. We all seek God; some of us just happen to hit dead ends sooner than others, it seems.

Healy addresses a point about Rome, and he does it so well and succinctly that I wish to quote it here (from The Pilgrim Essays: Conclusion):

It is probably important to say something about being a Protestant convert to Orthodoxy. It is sometimes alleged, not infrequently by Protestant converts to Roman Catholicism, that we former Protestants who’ve converted to Orthodoxy would otherwise have converted to Rome were it not for our ingrained anti-pope, anti-Roman Catholic views. That is to say, it is often asserted that we converted to Orthodoxy because it was not Rome. I think my account shows something of how that view is inaccurate. For while I freely admit that I retained enough of my Protestant views to find Roman claims about the pope to be non-persuasive, it is not the case that I converted to Orthodoxy because it wasn’t Rome. After all, my first stop after considering Rome was Anglicanism, not Orthodoxy. It also assumes that Rome’s claims are self-evident if only one loses the Protestant polemic. I do not think that is true. It is certainly not true for me. I never much had an anti-Catholic polemic. If there was any sort of “failure” in my not becoming Roman Catholic it may well be a failure of the arguments to persuade rather than that I was not persuadable.

But more importantly, in converting to Orthodoxy I was not running from anything–whether my former Protestantism or Roman Catholicism (whether real or caricatured)–rather I was running to something: what I believed, and still believe, to be the New Testament Church in all its fullness. I was given a paradigm in my youth which I have followed out of the Restoration Movement churches, into and back out of Anglicanism, to at last find myself within the New Testament Church which Orthodoxy is.

All that said, then, I believe that for the thoughtful and reflective Protestant who senses the substantive lack his own churches leave him when it comes to the life of Christ in his Body, the Church, there are only two possible choices: Rome or Orthodoxy. While it is important to have solid rational reflection for one’s choice of one or the other, ultimately it is not reason that will–or even should–win the day. Such a choice is a choice of faith, from the heart. One must be drawn to one’s choice, with all the best historical, rational evidence and reflection one can muster, to be sure, but ultimately one must be drawn in by the life and worship of that church one is choosing. It will do no good, when reason fails, to fall back on reason. One will only have left one’s heart, and if there is nothing there, what is one to do?

For me, there was only one possible choice. In the midst of all my rational, historical, and evidenciary seeking, I worshiped regularly in an Orthodox parish, and prayed, in my own personal prayers, the prayers of the Orthodox Church. The reasons for becoming Orthodox were rational, coherent, and justified. But the motivation was the draw of the worship and the life I could see lived before me. I prayed my way into Orthodoxy. My becoming Orthodox has, since my chrismation, been further experiential testimony upholding and further justifying my choice. But my choice was ultimately made from the heart, not the mind. For God lives in and works from the heart, first and foremost. Our minds must descend to the heart and there partake of the truth. For the God who is truth dwells there first. It was Orthodoxy that so led me first from the mind, but ultimately from the heart. And it is from the heart that I know my decision was right and true.

Concerning the bit about Protestants who convert to Orthodoxy, I have also heard such criticism. The obnoxious Orthodox equivalent might be that Protestants who swim the Tiber only do so because Rome makes the journey so accessible due to its presence in the West and because the cultural affinities that Protestants have for their ancestral religion make the transition easier. Why go the whole road to ancient Christianity when you can latch on to an intellectually defensible ship that is not entirely foreign, that is all around you, and that does not require much of you anymore, anyway? Of course, this would be unfair—though undoubtedly true for some converts. Likewise, the papist claim about Protestant converts to Orthodoxy probably has some truth to it, as well. I wonder, though, if some of those anti-Roman prejudicial tendencies are justified . . .

Nevertheless, my own experience, like Mr. Healy’s, does not fit such an accusation. Having a Protestant mother and a Roman father, I was exposed early on to both sides of the Reformation divorce. I developed a list of things that I liked and disliked about both camps. However, when I encountered Orthodoxy as a teenager, my way of assessing the Protestant-Latin dispute radically changed. Orthodoxy did not solidify my anti-Roman tendencies but melted them. My hostility to Roman Catholicism abated as I immersed myself more in the Orthodox Church—figuratively and literally. I still have significant criticisms of Rome, but the ingrained Protestant hatred of that old whore on the seven hills has worn off. As a half-breed, such animosity was never that deep, anyway.

I agree with Mr. Healy that the serious, intellectually honest Protestant only has two choices: East or West. As Cardinal Newman stated, “To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant.” My intelligent and pious Reformed friends scoff at this, but I think that such a person can remain a Protestant only to the extent that he refuses truly to consider ecclesiology. I have heard so many folks tell me that they have abandoned the poisonous framework of the Reformation, that they have embraced the apostolic and patristic heritage of the Church, and that they can keep what is good about Protestantism without accepting its deficiencies. Why abandon the religion of one’s birth, culture, and social milieu . . . why give up Protestant congregational and charitable vitality, the Reformation’s proud tradition of homiletics, and practical relevancy in today’s world, when one can be “catholic” and “orthodox” while simultaneously being a member of the local thriving megachurch or of the healthy community mainliner?

They justify their decision with appeals to the indivisible Church. Such a defense reminds me of the Cathars’ belief in their “real selves” as spirits, which allowed them to justify doing what they wished with their unimportant bodies. Indeed, the dualism of the old heresies always resurfaces in ever new and interesting ways.

Posted by Joseph on Tuesday, May 5, Anno Domini 2009
OrthodoxyScriptureProtestantismRoman Catholicism • (1) CommentPermalink
Sunday, February 22, A.D. 2009
Religion Blogs

As much of a natural Luddite that I may be, I love the internet. I remember the days when an answer to an obscure question might require hours of research at the city’s main library. Now, one can find such information online in less than a minute. Of course, such “old-fashioned” skills are useful, and the ease of online research may have some unfortunate consequences for the new generation. Nonetheless, I feel fortunate to have lived in both eras.

One of the more interesting opportunities that the world wide web affords us is the ability to encounter various points of view so easily. In the “real world” meetings places of classrooms, cafés, train cars, youth hostel lounges, and church meals, it takes a considerable amount of time investment to discover people who share certain interests and to build up a relationship so that such matters can be discussed. The internet facilitates this process, though the depersonalized medium has its own shortcomings. For example, many folks feel free to behave like arses in ways that they would not so act among flesh and blood associations. Still, the phenomena of discussion groups, blogs, and alternative news sites are quite exciting.

In tribute to this new medium, today and tomorrow I am offering some sites that I find interesting. You may enjoy them, too. On this Lord’s day, I offer some sites that focus mainly on religion, though with commentary about society at large, while tomorrow’s entry will concern sites about truth more generally. Besides these, I recommend my “blogroll” offerings in the left column of each subject area, as well.

Orthodox sites:

Ad Orientem
American Orthodox Institute
Energetic Procession
Glory to God for All Things
Journey to Orthodoxy
Living Theology
The Ochlophobist
Orrologion
Orthodoxy Today
Paradosis
Pravoslavie
Theandros
Two Natures

Roman Catholic sites:

Ignatius Insight
Inside Catholic
Thomas Peters’ American Papist
Fr. John Zuhlsdorf’s What Does the Prayer Really Say?

Posted by Joseph on Sunday, February 22, Anno Domini 2009
OrthodoxyLiturgyPatristicsSaintsScriptureEcumenismRoman CatholicismCommentsPermalink
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