October 9, 2017

we know that we are dealing with material Paul chanted before he wrote it down

From Patrick Henry Reardon’s book Reclaiming the Atonement: An Orthodox Theology of Redemption (Volume 1 of 3: The Incarnate Word).

[Paul] is commonly—and not inappropriately—thought of as the Church’s earliest theologian. This persuasion, nonetheless, certainly does not mean that the Church had no theology prior to Paul’s conversion. Indeed, on the very day Ananias baptized the Apostle to the Gentiles, there already existed an authoritative body of Christian belief—a paradosis or “tradition”—of which Paul himself became both the appreciative heir and the ardent proponent. As we shall consider presently, his appeal to that authority was both prompt and insistent.

…In what forms did Paul receive this traditional information about Jesus? He received it, first of all, through the teaching ministry of the Church, beginning with the instructions he received from Ananias, the pastor of the congregation in Damascus, when he received Paul into the obedience and sacrament of faith (see Acts 9: 10–18; 22: 12–16). The living Church, this “house of the catholic obedience” (Venerable Bede’s beautiful expression), also conveyed the inherited faith to Paul through the words of her kerygmatic and catechetical material, her basic creedal forms, her hymnography, and her other prayers.

…Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions (paradoseis) you were taught, whether by word or our epistle. (2 Thess. 2: 15)

But we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition (paradosin) which they received (parelabosan) from us. (2 Thess. 3: 6)

Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions (paradoseis) just as I handed them on (paredoka) to you. (1 Cor. 11: 2)

I received (parelabon) from the Lord what I also handed on (paredoka) to you. (1 Cor. 11: 23)

I handed on (paredoka) to you, among the first things, that which I also received (parelabon). (1 Cor. 15: 3)

…The traditions of the Church were inseparable from the forms and content of her worship. Indeed, there is substantial evidence, from her earliest days, that the Church proceeded, at least implicitly, on the premise, “the norm of worship is the norm of belief” (lex orandi, lex credendi). The reasoning supportive of this axiom seems solid: If the Church’s prayer was an expression of her faith, then the words of the prayer must give a good idea of what the Church believed. How do we find this material?

…We don’t know how much non-liturgical poetry the earliest Christians wrote, but we do know they wrote hymns, and we know that many hymns are composed in common poetic forms. Now, if there was one thing perfectly clear about the early Christians, it was their disposition to sing the content of their faith—and not only to sing it, but to sing it together, to chant common texts they all knew by heart. Thus, we find Paul and his companions, in the dark of midnight, “praying, singing hymns (hymnoun) to God” in a Philippian jail (see Acts 16: 25). Whatever hymns they were singing, they were certainly singing them from memory.

…When we find traces of Christian hymnography in the New Testament literature, the discovery is particularly precious; in such instances we know that we are dealing with material Paul chanted before he wrote it down.

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October 8, 2017

He provided a new, sacramental mode of presence

From Patrick Henry Reardon’s book Reclaiming the Atonement: An Orthodox Theology of Redemption (Volume 1 of 3: The Incarnate Word).

The Divine Liturgy, we may say, is the oven of the Holy Spirit. That grain of wheat which was sown in the earth on Good Friday sprang forth as the infinite paschal harvest and now abides forever in the granary of heaven. Christ our Lord is not content, however, simply to abide in His glorified Body. In this Body, Christ can be found in only one place. He is needed, however, in many places, and this is the reason He provided a new, sacramental mode of presence. In the Holy Eucharist, He lives on thousands of altars at once, available—edible!—for the myriads of believers who draw near in the fear of God and with faith and love.

In the mystery of the Holy Eucharist, the wheat, which is Christ’s glorified Body, is baked in the oven of the Holy Spirit, so that the nutritive energies of God may pass into those who receive Him in faith. Through the cells and sinews of our own flesh there course those divine energies that transform and deify our bodies and souls—our whole being—with the power, the dynamis, of immortality.

October 6, 2017

Jesus’ own mind was the defining locus of humanity’s capacity to hear and obey the historical summons of God

In other words, the Old Testament and the redemptive work of Christ are not related simply by way of objective semantic reference, but also through the living subjective experience of the Redeemer—Jesus’ own understanding of Holy Scripture. The conjunction of the Sacred Text and the redemptive event was originally discerned in the active, self-reflective understanding (phronesis) of Jesus of Nazareth, who heard in the words of the Hebrew Bible the Father’s personal summons to obedience. Jesus’ own mind was the defining locus of humanity’s capacity to hear and obey the historical summons of God.

…Divine revelation—God’s Incarnate Son included—is available to us only through the specific men and women in whose lives the revelation took place. This fact is most obvious in the Sacred Writings. Our access to the events of Sinai, for instance, comes to us through Moses and the myriad authors, editors, and scribes—Jewish and Christian—who transmitted the experience and content of what took place in the Exodus and the Sinai encounter. Likewise, our historical access to Jesus, the Son of God, comes through Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—and, prior to them, through Peter and Paul and the congregations to which they and their companions ministered. In short, none of this revelation is available to us except through that corporate, historical body: Israel/ the Church.

…For this reason I have always wondered about the adequacy of the expression solus Christus (“Christ alone”). Christ is, in fact, never alone. God’s Son did not simply show up here one day. He came to us through a believing Mother (whose consent in faith was absolutely essential to the event of the Incarnation), and He gathered around Him disciples and apostles, whom He commissioned to evangelize the nations. In the Bible we hardly ever find Jesus alone. He stands always with the saints. We know our Lord—and, in the strict sequence of history, He is certainly our Lord before He is my Lord—through the experiences and writings of the saints.

…Thus, the experience of the saints is essential to the matter and form of the revelation. The Church—the body of the believers, the saints—pertains to the very substance of the Gospel. Those who mediate the Good News are an integral component of the Good News. This is the reason the Creed includes “the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church” within its articles of belief. It is an extraordinary thing to reflect that God reveals Himself to us through the responsive experience of others who preceded us. Their Spirit-given response to God’s revelation became a component of the revelation. Consequently, it is crucial not to mute the historical quality—the sequential and transmitting process—of the revelation. When we speak of the historical, factual nature of revelation and redemption, we mean something very clear and definite: Certain historical events actually constitute the substance of revelation and redemption. Redemption and revelation are identical to those events.

…With respect to the second meaning of “time” (chronos), the aforesaid events took place sequentially, in the formal process of a Tradition (paradosis). They were transmitted—and in the Spirit-given memory of the Church, the very historical identity of the Church, continue to be transmitted—in a specific historical, accumulative sequence; revelation and redemption are chronometric. All of sacred theology, including the theology of salvation, comes through salvation history. It is essential to the Christian faith to insist that at absolutely no point do revelation and redemption lose their historical quality.

From Patrick Henry Reardon’s book Reclaiming the Atonement: An Orthodox Theology of Redemption (Volume 1 of 3: The Incarnate Word).

August 30, 2017

a king who knows his ken

We no longer respect the idea that some things are “beyond our ken.” We don’t treat knowledge as a serious responsibility, to be given and received slowly and with clear purpose. We no longer think of education as a cultivation of our desires or our capacity for wonder. Instead, education is the amassing of information or the mastery of skills that have no immediate connection to our personal responsibilities or our actual life experiences.

To be healthy, knowledge should always be directly connected to our actual relationships, abilities, and responsibilities. Knowledge in isolation (or for its own sake), leads to apathy, arrogance, and abuses of power. “Stand alone” knowledge is corrosive to the soul. Knowledge is power, and we must have real responsibilities and learn true respect before we wield this power.

It is no coincidence that these English words all share the same Anglo Saxon roots: can, kin, king, ken, and know. If we do not make sure that these words all stay closely related within our own lives, we just end up with young adults who think that they “ken” everything but who “can” do almost nothing of true value for their “kin.” In this condition, we don’t truly “know” anything or enjoy the blessed protection of any wise “kings.” But these days, who wants a king who knows his ken? Yet we are each called to be such a king, following the one who makes us his kin and who taught us to pray “not my will but yours be done.”

August 17, 2017

what if education was primarily concerned with shaping our hopes and passions

From Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation by James K.A. Smith:

What if education … is not primarily about the absorption of ideas and information, but about the formation of hearts and desires? What if we began by appreciating how education not only gets into our head but also (and more fundamentally) grabs us by the gut? What if education was primarily concerned with shaping our hopes and passions – our visions of ‘the good life’ – and not merely about the dissemination of data and information as inputs to our thinking? What if the primary work of education was the transforming of our imagination rather than the saturation of our intellect? …

What if education wasn’t first and foremost about what we know, but about what we love?”

July 31, 2017

by considering yourself a victim you but enlarge the vacuum of irresponsibility that demons or demagogues love so much to fill

Whenever you are in trouble, in some scrape, on the verge of despair or in despair, remember: that’s life speaking to you in the only language it knows well. In other words, try to be a little masochistic: without a touch of masochism, the meaning of life is not complete. If this is of any help, try to remember that human dignity is an absolute, not a piecemeal notion, that it is inconsistent with special pleading, that it derives its poise from denying the obvious. Should you find this argument a bit on the heady side, think at least that by considering yourself a victim you but enlarge the vacuum of irresponsibility that demons or demagogues love so much to fill, since a paralyzed will is no dainty for angels.

By Joseph Brodsky [unknown source, posted by friend on social media].

July 31, 2017

not a globe thousands of kilometers around

…And following that train of thought led him back to Earth, back to the quiet hours in the center of the clear water ringed by a bowl of tree-covered hills. That is the Earth, he thought. Not a globe thousands of kilometers around, but a forest with a shining lake, a house hidden at the crest of the hill, high in the trees, a grassy slope leading upward from the water, fish leaping and birds strafing to take the bugs that lived at the border between water and sky. Earth was the constant noise of crickets and winds and birds. And the voice of one girl, who spoke to him out of his far-off childhood. The same voice that had once protected him from terror. The same voice that he would do anything to keep alive, even return to school, even leave Earth behind again for another four or forty or four thousand years.

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card.

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July 2, 2017

public life is not larger than private life, but smaller

From G.K. Chesterton’s “Turning Inside Out” in Fancies vs. Fads, 1923:

The passage from private life to public life … is always of necessity a passage from a greater work to a smaller one, and from a harder work to an easier one. And that is why most of the moderns do wish to pass from the great domestic task to the smaller and easier commercial one. They would rather provide the liveries of a hundred footmen than be bothered with the love-affairs of one. They would rather take the salutes of a hundred soldiers than try to save the soul of one. They would rather serve out income-tax papers or telegraph forms to a hundred men than meals, conversation, and moral support to one. They would rather arrange the educational course in history or geography, or correct the examination papers in algebra or trigonometry, for a hundred childrcn, than struggle with the whole human character of one. For anyone who makes himself responsible for one small baby, as a whole, will soon find that he is wrestling with gigantic angels and demons.

In another way there is something of illusion, or of irresponsibility, about the purely public function, especially in the case of public education. The educationist generally deals with only one section of the pupil’s mind. But he always deals with only one section of the pupils life. The parent has to deal, not only with the whole of the child’s character, but also with the whole of the child’s career. The teacher sows the seed, but the parent reaps as well as sows. The school-master sees more children, but it is not clear that he sees more childhood; certainly he sees less youth and no maturity. The number of little girls who take prussic acid is necessarily small. The boys who hang themselves on bed-posts, after a life of crime, are generally the minority. But the parent has to envisage the whole life of the individual, and not merely the school life of the scholar. …Everybody knows that teachers have a harassing and often heroic task, but it is not unfair to them to remember that in this sense they have an exceptionally happy task. The cynic would say that the teacher is happy in never seeing the results of his own teaching. I prefer to confine myself to saying that he has not the extra worry of having to estimate it from the other end. The teacher is seldom in at the death. To take a milder theatrical metaphor, he is seldom there on the night. But this is only one of many instances of the same truth: that what is called public life is not larger than private life, but smaller. What we call public life is a fragmentary affair of sections and seasons and impressions; it is only in private life that dwells the fullness of our life bodily.

June 21, 2017

the ultimate mystery of evil must also be a personal one

Of Water and the Spirit: A Liturgical Study of Baptism by Alexander Schmemann.

It is not our purpose to outline, even superficially, the Orthodox teaching concerning the Devil. In fact, the Church has never formulated it systematically, in the form of a clear and concise “doctrine.” What is of paramount importance for us, however, is that the Church has always had the experience of the demonic, has always, in plain words, known the Devil. If this direct knowledge has not resulted in a neat and orderly doctrine, it is because of the difficulty, if not impossibility, rationally to define the irrational. And the demonic and, more generally, evil are precisely the reality of the irrational. Some theologians and philosophers, in an attempt to explain and thus to “rationalize” the experience and the existence of evil, explained it as an absence: the absence of good. They compared it, for example, to darkness, which is nothing but the absence of light and which is dispelled when light appears. This theory was subsequently adopted by deists and humanists of all shades and still constitutes an integral part of our modern worldview. Here the remedy against all evil is always seen in “enlightenment” and “education.” For example: explain to teenagers the mechanics of sex, remove the “mystery” and the “taboos,” and they will use it rationally, i.e. well. Multiply the number of schools and man, who is naturally good, will ipso facto live and behave rationally, i.e. well.

Such however is certainly not the understanding of evil in the Bible and in the experience of the Church. Here evil is most emphatically not a mere absence. It is precisely in presence: the presence of something dark, irrational and very real, although the origin of that presence may not be clear and immediately understandable. Thus hatred is not a simple absence of love; it is the presence of a dark power which can indeed be extremely active, clever and even creative. And it is certainly not a result of ignorance. We may know and hate. The more some men knew Christ, saw His light and His goodness, the more they hated Him. This experience of evil as irrational power, as something which truly takes possession of us and directs our acts, has always been the experience of the Church and the experience also of all those who try, be it only a little, to “better” themselves, to oppose “nature” in themselves, to ascend to a more spiritual life.

Our first affirmation then is that there exists a demonic reality: evil as a dark power, as presence and not only absence. But we may go further. For just as there can be no love outside the “lover,” i.e. a person that loves, there can be no hatred outside the “hater,” i.e. a person that hates. And if the ultimate mystery of “goodness” lies in the person, the ultimate mystery of evil must also be a personal one. Behind the dark and irrational presence of evil there must be a person or persons. There must exist a personal world of those who have chosen to hate God, to hate light, to be against. Who are these persons? When, how, and why have they chosen to be against God? To these questions the Church gives no precise answers. The deeper the reality, the less it is presentable in formulas and propositions. Thus the answer is veiled in symbols and images, which tell of an initial rebellion against God within the spiritual world created by God, among angels led into that rebellion by pride. The origin of evil is viewed here not as ignorance and imperfection but, on the contrary, as knowledge and a degree of perfection which makes the temptation of pride possible. Whoever he is, the “Devil” is among the very first and the best creatures of God. He is, so to speak, perfect enough, wise enough, powerful enough, one can almost say divine enough, to know God and not to surrender to Him—to know Him and yet to opt against Him, to desire freedom from Him. But since this freedom is impossible in the love and light which always lead to God and to a free surrender to Him, it must of necessity be fulfilled in negation, hatred and rebellion.

These are, of course, poor words, almost totally inadequate to the horrifying mystery they are trying to express. For we know nothing about that initial catastrophe in the spiritual world—about that hatred against God ignited by pride and that bringing into existence of a strange and evil reality not willed, not created by God. Or rather, we know about it only through our own experience of that reality, through our own experience of evil. This experience indeed is always an experience of fall: of something precious and perfect deviated from and betraying its own nature, of the utterly unnatural character of that fall which yet became an integral and “natural” part of our nature. And when we contemplate evil in ourselves and outside ourselves in the world, how incredibly cheap and superficial appear all rational explanations, all “reductions” of evil to neat and rational theories. If there is one thing we learn from spiritual experience, it is that evil is not to be “explained” but faced and fought. This is the way God dealt with evil. He did not explain it. He sent His Only-Begotten Son to be crucified by all the powers of evil so as to destroy them by His love, faith and obedience.

This then is the way we must also follow. On this way we inescapably meet the Devil at the very moment we make the decision to follow Christ.

June 11, 2017

it is built primarily on the double rhythm of preparation and fulfillment

Of Water and the Spirit: A Liturgical Study of Baptism by Alexander Schmemann.

We must realize first of all that preparation is a constant and essential aspect of the Church’s worship as a whole. It is impossible to enter into the spirit of liturgy, to understand its meaning and truly to participate in it without first understanding that it is built primarily on the double rhythm of preparation and fulfillment, and that this rhythm is essential to the Church’s liturgy because it reveals and indeed fulfills the double nature and function of the Church herself.

On the one hand the Church herself is preparation: she “prepares” us for life eternal. Thus her function is to transform our whole life into preparation. By her preaching, doctrine and prayer she constantly reveals to us that the ultimate “value” which gives meaning and direction to our lives is at the “end,” is “to come,” is to be hoped for, expected, anticipated. And without this basic dimension of “preparation” there simply is no Christianity and no Church. Thus the liturgy of the Church is always and primarily a preparation: it always points and tends beyond itself, beyond the present, and its function is to make us enter into that preparation and thus to transform our life by referring it to its fulfillment in the Kingdom of God.

Yet, on the other hand, the Church is also and essentially fulfillment. The events which gave her birth and which constitute the very source of her faith and life have taken place. Christ has come. In Him man was deified and has ascended to heaven. The Holy Spirit has come and His coming has inaugurated the Kingdom of God. Grace has been given and the Church truly is “heaven on earth,” for in her we have access to Christ’s table in His Kingdom. We have received the Holy Spirit and can partake, here and now, of the new life and be in communion with God.

It is in and through liturgy that this double nature of the Church is revealed and communicated to us. It is the proper function of the liturgy to “make” the Church preparation and to reveal her as fulfillment. Every day, every week, every year is thus transformed and made into this double reality, into a correlation between the “already” and the “not yet.” We could not have prepared ourselves for the Kingdom of God which is “yet to come” if the Kingdom were not “already” given to us. We could never have made the end an object of love, hope and desire if it were not revealed to us as a glorious and radiant beginning. We could never have prayed “Thy Kingdom come!” if we did not have the taste of that Kingdom already communicated to us. If the liturgy of the Church would not have been “fulfillment,” our life could never have become “preparation.” Thus this double rhythm of preparation and fulfillment, far from being accidental, constitutes the very essence of the liturgical life of the Church, of the liturgy not only in its totality but also in each of its component parts—each season, each service, each sacrament.

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