Archive for September, 2013

September 30, 2013

the easy yoke that is self-reproach

We have abandoned the easy yoke, that is self-reproach; and we have burdened ourselves with a heavy yoke, that is, self-justification.

Abba Poemen (Pimen), as quoted in the Prologue of Ohrid, May 3rd

September 30, 2013

the ways in which they unsettle us

One could dare say that a man’s friends do more harm to his soul than his enemies. The Lord Himself said, ‘A man’s foes, shall be they of his own household’ (Matthew 10:36; Micah 7:6). Those who live under the same roof with us, and who are so concerned for our bodily needs and comfort, are often the worst enemies of our salvation, for their love and concern are not aimed at our soul but our body. How many parents have done inestimable damage to the souls of their sons [daughters], and brothers and sisters to the souls of their siblings, and wives to the souls of their husbands [and vice versa]? And this all out of love for them! This realisation, that is confirmed every day, is a further solid reason for us not to give ourselves over too completely to love of our kinsfolk and friends, nor to lesson our love of our enemies. Is it necessary to say once again, that often, very often, our enemies are our true friends? The ways in which they unsettle us are of help to us; the ways in which they denounce us serve for our salvation; the ways in which they press on our outward, physical life help us to withdraw inwards, into ourselves, and find our souls cry to the living God to save them. In very truth, our enemies are often those who save us from the ruin that our kinsfolk prepare, inadvertently making our characters lax and feeding up our bodies at the cost of our souls.

St. Nikolai Velimirovic, Homilies Vol 2, 19th Sunday After Pentecost, p. 196

September 23, 2013

love your crooked neighbour

As I Walked out One Evening
by W. H. Auden

As I walked out one evening,
     Walking down Bristol Street,
The crowds upon the pavement
     Were fields of harvest wheat.

And down by the brimming river
     I heard a lover sing
Under an arch of the railway:
     “Love has no ending.

“I’ll love you, dear, I’ll love you
     Till China and Africa meet
And the river jumps over the mountain
     And the salmon sing in the street.

“I’ll love you till the ocean
     Is folded and hung up to dry
And the seven stars go squawking
     Like geese about the sky.

“The years shall run like rabbits
     For in my arms I hold
The Flower of the Ages
     And the first love of the world.”

But all the clocks in the city
     Began to whirr and chime:
“O let not Time deceive you,
     You cannot conquer Time.

“In the burrows of the Nightmare
     Where Justice naked is,
Time watches from the shadow
     And coughs when you would kiss.

“In headaches and in worry
     Vaguely life leaks away,
And Time will have his fancy
     To-morrow or to-day.

“Into many a green valley
     Drifts the appalling snow;
Time breaks the threaded dances
     And the diver’s brilliant bow.

“O plunge your hands in water,
     Plunge them in up to the wrist;
Stare, stare in the basin
     And wonder what you’ve missed.

“The glacier knocks in the cupboard,
     The desert sighs in the bed,
And the crack in the tea-cup opens
     A lane to the land of the dead.

“Where the beggars raffle the banknotes
     And the Giant is enchanting to Jack,
And the Lily-white Boy is a Roarer
     And Jill goes down on her back.

“O look, look in the mirror,
     O look in your distress;
Life remains a blessing
     Although you cannot bless.

“O stand, stand at the window
     As the tears scald and start;
You shall love your crooked neighbour
     With your crooked heart.”

It was late, late in the evening,
     The lovers they were gone;
The clocks had ceased their chiming
     And the deep river ran on.

From Another Time by W. H. Auden (Random House, 1940)

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September 23, 2013

a passion for us we could not return

The More Loving One

Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
That, for all they care, I can go to hell,
But on earth indifference is the least
We have to dread from man or beast.

How should we like it were stars to burn
With a passion for us we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.

Admirer as I think I am
Of stars that do not give a damn,
I cannot, now I see them, say
I missed one terribly all day.

Were all stars to disappear or die,
I should learn to look at an empty sky
And feel its total dark sublime,
Though this might take me a little time.

From Homage to Clio by W. H. Auden (Random House, 1960)

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September 23, 2013

subtlety and obedience

The Jesus We Missed: The Surprising Truth About the Humanity of Christ by Patrick Henry Reardon (excerpts from chapter 5):

By the time the four gospels were composed, it is safe to say that probably nobody was certain of the actual sequence of all the events in Jesus’ life. It was not thought to be important. Other considerations, consequently, determined the order in which these stories were handed down in the church’s catechesis (based on the apostles’ preaching) and later recorded (in the four gospels).

…When the Spirit descended on Jesus at his baptism, something changed. It was an event, with a before and after. Of course, Jesus already was conscious of himself as God’s Son (cf. Luke 2:49), but this new experience at his baptism was decisive; it created, in his life, a then and now. He grew, he increased, through this experience; and, when he went through it, his family and friends recognized that something truly unique had happened to him. Indeed, they were disturbed by his new behavior.

…No one else in the world could read the prophecy as Jesus did, claiming complete and internal ownership of it. Luke implies that his hearers in the synagogue sensed the difference, inasmuch as “the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on him.”

…Like the preceding sign, this one involves no physical contact by Jesus. But we do detect another common trait appearing in both signs; namely, obedience to a command: “Fill the water jars with water” (John 2:7) and “Go your way” (4:50). Disobedience to these commands, we presume, would mean no miracle! Exactly the same traits—subtlety and obedience to command—characterize the third sign described by John, the healing of the paralytic at the pool of Bethesda.

September 23, 2013

orthodoxy’s grumpy but indispensable twin

“With no small amount of irony,” Jonathan Wright points out “[heretics] did many favors to the cause of orthodoxy. Heresy was always orthodoxy’s grumpy but indispensable twin.”

…Both doubters and believers stand to lose if religion in the age of heresy turns out to be complicit in our fragmented communities, our collapsing families, our political polarization, and our weakened social ties. Both doubters and believers will inevitably suffer from a religious culture that supplies more moral license than moral correction, more self-satisfaction than self-examination, more comfort than chastisement.

From Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics by Ross Douthat

September 17, 2013

a light and jocund side of Jesus’ relationship

The Jesus We Missed: The Surprising Truth About the Humanity of Christ by Patrick Henry Reardon (excerpts from chapter 3):

When it became clear that Jesus would be completely rejected by official Judaism, he began to lay the foundation of a new community, a remnant qahal or “congregation” (in Greek, ekklesia), united in the foundational confession, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16–18). When the new community, based on this confession, began to take shape, Jesus provided organizational leadership for it. After a night spent praying about this development, the Savior appointed twelve of these men—commonly called “those sent,” or apostles—to be the patriarchal foundation stones of the new congregation (Revelation 21:14).

…A somewhat closer look at the gospel texts also reveals, I think, how Jesus related to these original disciples—even from the beginning—as “individuals,” as particular men. He does not permit their specific identities to become lost in the group. Philip, Andrew, Thomas, and the others preserve their individual characters. Observe, for instance, how he teases them. Jesus’ irony toward Nathaniel is a perfect example of this. [John 1:45-47]

…What shall we say of the nickname Jesus gave to the two sons of Zebedee: James and John? He called them “sons of thunder,” which in our modern idiom would be “hotheads.” One suspects the brothers received this moniker because of an incident recorded by Luke: And as they went, they entered a village of the Samaritans, to prepare for him. But they did not receive him, because his face was set for the journey to Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?” (Luke 9:52–54)

…Luke relished the irony of it: John bar Zebedee had wanted fire from heaven to fall on the Samaritans. He got his wish! The church at Jerusalem sent him—when the time was right—as one of its delegates to call down on the Samaritans the true fire from heaven—the Holy Spirit.

…Peter, when he felt enthusiastic, imagined himself invincible, but he fell miserably when his enthusiasm waned. He readily mistook a rush of adrenaline for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit—a confusion rather common among individuals with too much adrenaline. Rock? Jesus surely recognized the name’s improbability in Peter’s case. The only time this “Rock Johnson” showed any rocklike quality was on that memorable occasion when he attempted to walk on water! In all these instances, we perceive a light and jocund side of Jesus’ relationship with these men, whom he chose “that they might be with Him” (Mark 3:14). With these disciples, Jesus carried himself as a man among men, to whom he was bound by the sorts of habits, attitudes, and discourse in which most normal men establish friendships and maintain loyalties.

September 17, 2013

a bit of overt pressure from his mother

The Jesus We Missed: The Surprising Truth About the Humanity of Christ by Patrick Henry Reardon (excerpts from chapters 1 and 2):

The problem, which is historical, is easily stated: Just where did Matthew and Luke discover the historical material that fills the first two chapters of each of these gospels? Since this material had not been part of the early preaching of the apostles, how did the two Evangelists know about it? The only reasonable answer, it seems to me, is that the “source” was Jesus’ own mother, of whom we are told, “Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19, 51). Later in the first century, when Matthew and Luke wrote, she alone was still alive to remember those details, which could have been known to no one else.

…The evidence, however, indicates that this was not the case. Joseph was not a person given to anxiety. He appeared, rather, as a man of extraordinary serenity. We find Joseph in five scenes in the gospel of Matthew, and every single time he is sound asleep (Matthew 1:20–24; 2:12, 13, 19, 22). Whatever troubles Joseph endured, they did not include insomnia. Perhaps we see Joseph’s mark on Jesus—particularly the example of his serenity and simple trust in God—when we contemplate a later New Testament scene:

…Mary’s “Be it done unto me according to your word” (Luke 1:38) was also the first step along the road to Jesus’ “Not my will, but Yours, be done” (22:42). I believe the correspondence between these two verses indicates, likewise, the important spiritual mark of Mary on her son. It was from her that he learned to respond in faith to the call of God, not counting the cost. Their destinies were inextricably entwined in the mystery of redemption.

…There is no doubt that Jesus was literate, for we find him reading, and there is every reason to believe he learned the Scriptures as did any other young man from a working-class Galilean family: at the local synagogue. Normally, in fact, in a small town such as Nazareth, copies of the Scriptures, or any other books, were available only at the synagogue.

…Jesus was not “working out” a religious theory. He was taking possession of his own identity. This was a process of growth, and Jesus’ study of the Hebrew Scriptures was integral to that growth. He did read books, and he learned from them. The works of Moses, David, Jeremiah, and the others truly contoured his mind and conscience. The mental horizon of Jesus, as we discern it in the four gospels, took shape during those long years at Nazareth, where—Luke tells us—he went to the synagogue “according to his custom.” So when Luke also tells us, “Jesus increased in wisdom and stature,” it is wrong to imagine his growth was unrelated to what he read—any more than his increase in stature was unrelated to what he ate (Luke 2:52).

…Nonetheless, to speak of the “influence” of the Hebrew Scriptures on Jesus’s mind dramatically transcends our normal use of that expression. The Law and the Prophets shaped his self-awareness in an unparalleled way because the Savior found in those writings his identity, vocation, and mission. His grasp of those texts—an understanding at the root of Christian theology—is the very substance of Jesus’ “self-regard.” It was in studying the Hebrew Bible that Jesus became convinced, “I must be about the things of my Father” (Luke 2:49).

…Christian theology begins with—and is inseparable from—understanding the Old Testament as Jesus understood it.

…I believe it is misleading, however, to inquire “when” with respect to Jesus’ self-knowledge. Self-knowledge is not objective. One does not acquire it as “information,” like the study of biology or business law. Self-knowledge is an extension and activity of the self; it is, by definition, subjective. It is necessarily tautological—that is to say, self-knowledge is its own cause. The knowledge of one’s self is inseparable from being oneself.5 It is important not to “objectify” Jesus’ self-awareness and then try to determine at what point—“when?”—he acquired the knowledge of his identity. Self-knowledge is intrinsic to, and an extension of, self-being. His consciousness of his identity came from his identity. Self-knowledge, however, does take place in a process of growth. It is historical, like all components of human consciousness. Human self-knowledge is an ongoing “event.”

…There is a subtle hint in this juxtaposition. Luke seems to imply that the sustained contemplation in Mary’s heart was in some way related to her son’s increase in wisdom. The author paints here a provocative picture of the home in Nazareth where Jesus and his mother, joined in a common faith during the three decades of their shared life, continued to mature spiritually in each other’s company. Given the delicacy of this subject, it is important not to sail off into speculations beyond the data provided by Holy Scripture. Does the Bible give any sign of this personal and interpersonal growth of Jesus and his mother? As it touches their relationship—especially their shared faith in the Father’s purpose and the mission of the Holy Spirit—is it possible to discern in the relevant biblical texts some indication of this spiritual development? I believe it is.

…However we name it, nonetheless, both stories—in the temple at Jerusalem and at the wedding party in Cana—portray Jesus and his mother as “not agreed.” They are not in harmony. The two conversations convey, between Mary and her son, a sense of initial opposition. Their questions to each other disclose a rough patch, as it were, a foothold of friction that serves to move the narrative forward.

…I suspect, by the by, that Jesus’ answer to Mary was a sort of continuation of his discussion with the rabbis. Recall that Jesus, when his parents discover him in the temple, has been engaged (for three days, apparently) in discourses with the rabbis; he has been asking them questions and answering theirs. In other words, Jesus has been engaged in a pedagogical and rhetorical method where a favored device is the “counterquestion”—the answering of a question by a further and more probing inquiry. We find this style of debate frequently in rabbinic literature and in the Gospels. The boy Jesus, then, so recently exposed to this pedagogical and rhetorical method here in the temple, spontaneously has recourse to it in order to answer his mother.

…Luke’s story, which chronicles Jesus’ growth in wisdom, is told here through the person who witnessed that growth and who was obliged, in a very personal way, to explore its meaning. It was certainly from her that Luke learned the facts of the case.

…Mary was not just a temporary or purely physical conduit of the Incarnation. The relationship between Jesus and his mother was transpersonal and transcendent to biology. She was truly the mother, and not simply the “bearer,” of God’s Son. When, during her pregnancy, she declared, “He who is mighty has done great things for me” (Luke 1:49), she was aware of at least this much. Day by day she measured, and now continued to measure, what this meant. If she knew Jesus at all, if being the mother of God’s Son meant anything, then it certainly meant she was entitled to speak to him about a shortage of wine.

…Perhaps our English “ma’am” comes closest to the sense of the Aramaic idiom. It is especially noteworthy that in John’s gospel Jesus addresses his mother this way as he is dying (John 19:26). In this gospel, Cana and Calvary are the only places where Mary’s son speaks to her, and the same word is used both times.

…Jesus was declining his mother’s suggestion that he intervene in the wine problem. De facto, he was telling her no. And how does Mary respond to his objection? She ignores it! Mary does not argue the point with her son. She simply turns and boldly says to the waiters, “Do whatever he tells you.” She thus puts the pressure squarely on her son, manifestly confident that he will not disappoint her. It is worth remarking that “Do whatever he tells you” are Mary’s last recorded words. We know the day’s outcome: Mary’s son, at the direct instigation of his mother, transformed the water into wine. We surmise, too, that the wedding party was transformed, once the guests discovered that the host had “kept the good wine until now!” Indeed, Jesus’ own ministry was transformed. Here it was that he “manifested his glory; and his disciples believed in him.” The “signs” have begun. Up to this point, it was possible for their contemporaries to think of Jesus and John the Baptist mainly in terms of similarity, inasmuch as both were teachers. No more, however, because “John performed no sign” (John 10:41). After the Cana event, people in the region would tell “how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good” (Acts 10:38).

…The organic particularity of Jesus’ life included a bit of overt pressure from his mother. The doctrine of the Incarnation affirms that we were redeemed through the personal experiences of God’s Son in human history—the very things that the Word underwent—from the instant of his conception, through his birth and infancy, through the events and phases of his life, through his tears and laughter, through his ministry and teaching, through his obedient sufferings and death on the cross, through his resurrection and entry into eternal glory. Human redemption “happened” in the humanity of the eternal Word as he passed through, transformed, and deified our existence.

…“Imagine,” Augustine wrote of Jesus, that the Almighty did not create this man—however he was formed—from the womb of his mother, but abruptly introduced him before our eyes. Suppose he passed through no ages from infancy to youth, or that he neither ate nor slept. Would that not have proved the heretics correct?9 An adequate Christology, then, affirms that the Word’s becoming flesh refers to more than the single instant of his becoming present in the Virgin’s womb. He continued becoming flesh and dwelling among us, in the sense that his assumed body and soul developed and grew through the complex experiences of a particular human life. We see this actually happening in these two conversations between Jesus and his mother.

…She was, like himself, a person of faith. Indeed, her faith pertained very much to his own person and mission.

September 15, 2013

the life-bearing Wood of the cross was planted on the earth

Orthodox Axion for the Elevation of the Cross (Sept. 14):

Thou art a mystical paradise, oh Theotokos, in which Christ blossomed; through Him the life-bearing Wood of the cross was planted on the earth. Now at its Elevation, as we bow in worship before it, we magnify thee.

September 11, 2013

bridge, well, gate, jug, olive tree, window

Maybe we’re here only to say: house,
bridge, well, gate, jug, olive tree, window —
at most, pillar, tower … but to say them, remember,
oh, to say them in a way that the things themselves
never dreamed of existing so intensely.

Rainer Maria Rilke

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