Saturday, January 31, 2009

A Tearful, Liberating, Very Good Day

Today I have understood that I've been a Pollyanna all my life. It isn't just lately; it isn't with just one incident. Whenever I have suffered any hurt at the hands of another, I have released the resentment (eventually!), but then I have buried the hurt. Why? Why on earth have I done this, with so many things, for so many years? Because our culture tells us we are supposed to be stoic? Because we are "supposed" to do that as good Christians?

No, we're not, either! That's not bravery; that's just inhuman! Bravery means carrying on anyway. It doesn't mean hardening your heart against hurt. And anyway, I didn't do it because I was somehow supposed to; I did it just to avoid hurting. But the natural, normal, human thing to do is to let it hurt for as long as it hurts, to let come as many tears as wish to flow. Why not? We have Christ to cry to!

Besides which, I also have Demetrios to cry to.

And I have been doing both today. What started out as willingness finally to cry over one thing turned into a flood of other things that needed tears, and it's been wonderful. Wonderful, not horrible! There's the marvel. I think this has been very healing already and is likely to be more so until the day when the Lord shall wipe away every tear.

And as far as I can tell, I'm nowhere near through. I keep remembering that verse about "casting all your cares upon Him, for He cares for you."

Cry, baby, cry! It's good for you.

Interpreting the "S"

Two banners I've spotted recently, hung on the fronts of businesses, each momentarily surprised me:

www.bettermenswear.com

www.farmersexchange.com

Holly Has 'Em



Our First Baby Squirrels of 2009.



Three came in, one already dead. These are females, each weighing 28 grams. They are about 10 days old.

Pollyanna Doesn't Get It

That high-pitched "kew, kew, kew!" I hear outside is a cry I always momentarily mistake for a gull. We do have gulls here; they come up from the coast via the James River. But the reaction of the other animals always reminds me, after a second or two, it's no gull screaming; it's a hawk. My outside squirrels have dived into their nest bag, and even the flying squirrels, in the sun room, are restless in their nest, making scrunching noises as if burrowing deeper down for safety. The smaller birds are hiding in the bushes. The crows are gathered together in two big trees, screaming back at the hawk, who, however, is not intimidated. I've decided not to watch how it ends, and instead to share something I've just learned about forgiveness.

Forgiveness entails putting away resentment. Carry resentment around with you and it will poison you -- and drive away the Holy Spirit as quickly as anything else. (Okay, so technically, He never departs from us, but we exclude Him from our awareness, cut our relationship with Him.) Fr. Stephen has two excellent articles on anger that are relevant here; one is called, "Understanding Anger," refuting the concept of "righteous indignation," and the other is a link to Met. Jonah's wonderful, wonderful sermon on resentment. I hope you'll take the time to read them both. That would be time very well spent.

But what about the opposite problem? It's one I never thought of before. What I mean is, there are some hurts we sustain, about which we can never say, and should not say, it doesn't matter. Some things do matter, and will continue to matter. To take a public example, the attacks on September 11, 2001 do still matter and always shall and always ought to. It would be very wrong, downright immoral, ever to say they didn't. Or, to take an all-too-common hypothetical example, a spouse's infidelity. Even if he or she repents and the married couple is reconciled, it will always matter.

So, since we are commanded to forgive, since resentment swiftly kills us, yet since there are some things about which we never can and never should say, "It's okay," what is supposed to be the condition of our hearts relative to these? A sweet, sunny insouciance seems just wrong. And it is. And the heart knows it. So what should be our attitude?

"Sorrow," said one wiser than I, "especially on account of the condition of the other person's soul. Not that we can know that, but we worry some when we see such indicators."

"So why haven't I felt any sorrow lately?"

"Because you haven't been willing to."

"That's true. I'm so tired of hurting so much..."

"But you have to."

"Why?"

"Because burying it isn't normal and right and isn't safe. But carry this cross together with Christ; that's the key."

So it is. Because all of us know, or most of us anyway, that when we do that, the sorrow is transfigured. It becomes another form of communion with Him, and so becomes a light and even sweet burden. Carry your cross together with Christ, and you will never grow tired of it.


* * *

I don't hear any more birds now. I don't know who won.

* * *

DISCLAIMER: No, I have never been the victim of marital infidelity. It's just an example.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Obama Comes to Dinner

...in my dream.

Last night, I dreamed I was walking in the neighborhood when I encountered a kid of about 10, who in the dream was supposed to be one of the neighborhood boys, who says to me, "Let's go see B'rackObama."

"Where is he?" I ask.

"Down the street, over there."

So I follow the kid, and sure enough, there is the President, with several Secret Service guys, conversing with some neighbors on a street corner.

"B'rackObama," says the little boy, "Come to my house for dinner tonight!"

Mr. Obama smiles, shrugs, and says, "Okay. I'll come! Where do you live?"

The kid recites his address and a Secret Service dude writes it down.

We go back to the kid's house. "B'rackObama is coming for supper," he tells his mother.

"Oh, right!" is her reply.

"Really," he says.

"Really," I say.

The mother, thinking I am humoring her son, decides to play along. She doesn't take the game so far as to go to the grocery store, but using whatever is already on hand, she cooks the best meal she can scrounge up. I help her.

Six o'clock, the doorbell rings.

"There he is," says the kid.

I can see the tall, dark form through the glass in the door. It really is Barack Obama, with his entourage. I go with the kid to answer the door, the mother bringing up the rear. Just to tease her, to prolong her uncertainty another moment, I say to the President, "Sir, you ought to go on television and do impersonations of Barack Obama; you look just like him!"

"Yeah, it's a pretty good resemblance, isn't it?" he laughs.

He comes in and there's a lot of handshaking.

I leave (not having been invited to stay for the meal), wondering, on my way home, whether it would be a good idea for me to invite him to my house for dinner sometime.

Then Demetrios touches my shoulder and the dream melts away as daylight and reality outshine it.

Oh, Goodness!

Demetrios says now's the time to get serious about acquiring a place to stay in England. He lived in Ormskirk for a while, which is in Lancashire, near Liverpool, so he'd like to go back there. He says the Liverpudlians have a great and unique sense of humor, a delightful culture, I'll like it there, the western part of England is especially pretty, and Lancashire is near Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. The dollar is going a bit better against the pound and housing prices are currently depressed, so now's the time to use the money from the property we sold here a year or so ago.

So I've spent some hours this week looking, on the Internet, at what's available in the vicinity of Ormskirk in our price range.

I'm having to learn new terms. The "lounge" is what we'd call a living room. An "en suite" is a small bathroom connected to the master bedroom. "First Floor" is the one immediately above the Ground Floor (as is the case throughout Europe). "No upward chain!" apparently means if you sign a contract, it won't be contingent upon the seller finding a new home. "Partial Ownership" means you still pay monthly rent to the other owner(s). DG is double glazed windows and GC is gas central heat. I don't know for sure what an Artexted ceiling is (textured?) or coved. A hob, I think, must be a stove top. (Dear Elizabeth, have I got these more or less right?)

These homes are mostly tiny. Tiny is what we want, of course, and it seems likely we'll find something delightful. Still, I think I'd feel claustrophobic in a kitchen no wider than the kitchen sink, like this one.



And, while I was looking, I came across this photo of a half-length, easy-chair shaped "tub" just like the one we used to have in Thessaloniki! I had supposed it unique, but here's its twin, except this one is bright and shiny and clean looking, whereas ours was hopeless. You sit on the shelf and lower your feet into the well.



I found a picture of a shower just like the one we installed in Greece, too, except our tiles are forest green and our glass is partially frosted. It's so small you have to be careful not to bump your elbows!



Well, it's a lot of fun looking and dreaming. It'll be even more fun if we manage to get there in March and look around in person!

Thankful Thursday, January 29


If you'd like to participate in Thankful Thursday, you would normally go here, but this week, go instead to the blog called Lori’s Reflections and add your blog to the list (so other participants can read your post). You can grab the logo either here or from that blog.



This week, I have been especially thankful:

  • That poking a tube down my throat and giving my heart 4 electrical shocks turned out to be no ordeal whatsoever (except in the anticipation)

  • That it worked (!!!) and I feel about 90% better

  • That I’m also feeling emotionally better than I have for more than a year, emerging from the gray mists

  • For the way the trees have looked this week, with tiny, globular crystals hanging from every twig, making the trees look like chandeliers

  • For something else I noticed while admiring the trees: buds at the end of every twig

  • That Spring will be here in a few, short weeks

  • As always, for God’s unfathomable, unconditional, infinite love, and for everybody in my family

  • And ditto to all the things Lori has written!


Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Word Games

There are a lot of ways to slip up in logic, and one web site that lists the major ones is here, and it's where I found the examples quoted in this post. I think it’s fun to note all the ways arguments can be unfairly twisted, and I believe people in general and Christians particularly ought to be very careful not to fall into any of them. Yet it happens every day.

Some denominations believe we ought not worry too much about “human logic” and just “take God’s Word for it.” But of course that in itself is a logical fallacy, because what it really means is, I insist that the places where my theology breaks down are the places where I'm being most faithful, in accepting the contradictions. I’ll go with my/our own interpretation even if it contradicts itself. If my theological system teaches, for example, that (1) grace is universal, (2) man can do absolutely nothing whatsoever toward his salvation, and (3) not everyone is saved, well all three of those are true, even though they can't all be. It's just plain sad when such contradictions do not even cause their proponents to hesitate, to consider that there may be a problem in their teaching, when not even logic or common sense deters them or brings them to sound doctrine.

It’s true that God’s ways are “past finding out,” as St. Paul tells us. But that is not at all the same as – in fact it is the exact opposite of – saying His ways insult our intelligence. It means His intelligence is infinitely greater than ours. Though the Truth will always surpass our ability to understand it, it will not fail to meet reason’s basic requirements. If any doctrine does, it isn’t from the Logos. (That's the root of our word, logic, and another name for the Second Hypostasis or Person of the Holy Trinity.) It is also true that Christian faith has a logic different from that of secular faith (Yes, secularism and materialism and humanism are all faiths.) but it is still logical in its own terms.

Here, then, are a few of my favorite logical fallacies. (The following are not my words, except as clearly labeled; they are excerpts from the above-mentioned website.)

EQUIVOCATION

Explanation

The fallacy of equivocation is committed when a term is used in two or more different senses within a single argument.

For an argument to work, words must have the same meaning each time they appear in its premises or conclusion. Arguments that switch between different meanings of words equivocate, and so don’t work. This is because the change in meaning introduces a change in subject. If the words in the premises and the conclusion mean different things, then the premises and the conclusion are about different things, and so the former cannot support the latter.

Example

(1) The church would like to encourage theism.
(2) Theism is a medical condition resulting from the excessive consumption of tea.
Therefore:
(3) The church ought to distribute tea more freely.

This argument is obviously fallacious because it equivocates on the word theism. The first premise of the argument is only true if theism is understood as belief in a particular kind of god; the second premise of the argument is only true if theism is understood in a medical sense.

Real-World Examples

(1) Christianity teaches that faith is necessary for salvation.
(2) Faith is irrational, it is belief in the absence of or contrary to evidence.
Therefore:
(3) Christianity teaches that irrationality is rewarded.

This argument, which is a reasonably familiar one, switches between two different meanings of “faith”. The kind of faith that Christianity holds is necessary for salvation is belief in God, and an appropriate response to that belief. It does not matter where the belief and the response come from; someone who accepts the gospel based on evidence (e.g. Doubting Thomas) still gets to heaven, according to Christianity.

For the kind of faith for which (1) is true, (2) is therefore false. Similarly, for the kind of faith for which (2) is true, (1) is false. There is no one understanding of faith according to which both of the argument’s premises are true, and the argument therefore fails to establish its conclusion.

Another example, this time from Anastasia:
(1) Double Predestination means God chooses whom to save and whom not to save.
(2) Single Predestination means God only chooses whom to save, but does not actually choose to damn anyone.
(3) We believe in Single Predestination but not in Double Predestination.

This is an equivocation on “choose”; it overlooks the fact that in real life, “not to decide is to decide.” Not to choose to save someone is practically (and morally!) identical to choosing not to save him.


CIRCULAR ARGUMENTS (BEGGING THE QUESTION)

Explanation


An argument is circular if its conclusion is among its premises, if it assumes (either explicitly or not) what it is trying to prove. Such arguments are said to beg the question. A circular argument fails as a proof because it will only be judged to be sound by those who already accept its conclusion.

Anyone who rejects the argument’s conclusion should also reject at least one of its premises (the one that is the same as its conclusion), and so should reject the argument as a whole. Anyone who accepts all of the argument’s premises already accepts the argument’s conclusion, so can’t be said to have been persuaded by the argument. In neither case, then, will the argument be successful.

Example

(1) The Bible affirms that it is inerrant.
(2) Whatever the Bible says is true.
Therefore:
(3) The Bible is inerrant.

This argument is circular because its conclusion--The Bible is inerrant--is the same as its second premise--Whatever the Bible says is true. Anyone who would reject the argument’s conclusion should also reject its second premise, and, along with it, the argument as a whole.

Note from Anastasia: The issue here is not the inerrancy of the Bible, but the fact that anyone who wishes to make a logical argument for inerrancy will need to do better than this.

Real-World Examples

The above argument is a straightforward, real-world example of a circular argument. Other examples can be a little more subtle.

Typical examples of circular arguments include rights-claims: e.g., “I have a right to say what I want, therefore you shouldn’t try to silence me”; “Women have a right to choose whether to have an abortion or not, therefore abortion should be allowed”; “The unborn has a right to life, therefore abortion is immoral”.

Having a right to X is the same as other people having an obligation to allow you to have X, so each of these arguments begs the question, assuming exactly what it is trying to prove.

Other Examples from Anastasia:
(1) Scripture is all trustworthy.
(2) Our confessions are drawn entirely from Scripture
Therefore, our confessions are the correct way to interpret Scripture.

The circularity lies in the fact that ones confessions are always his
interpretation of Scripture. The argument in effect says, "Our interpretations of Scripture [confessions, creeds] are correct because they are [our interpretation of] Scripture."

We believe in the Bible because of Christ – and in Christ because of the Bible.


FALLACIST'S FALLACY

Explanation


The fallacist's fallacy involves rejecting an idea as false simply because the argument offered for it is fallacious. Having examined the case for a particular point of view, and found it wanting, it can be tempting to conclude that the point of view is false. This, however, would be to go beyond the evidence.

It is possible to offer a fallacious argument for any proposition, including those that are true. One could argue that 2+2=4 on the basis of an appeal to authority: "Simon Singh says that 2+2=4". Or one could argue that taking paracetamol relieves headaches using a post hoc: "I took the paracetamol and then my headache went away; it worked!"

Each of these bad arguments has a true conclusion. A proposition therefore should not be dismissed because one argument offered in its favour is faulty.

Example

"People argue that there must be an afterlife because they just can't accept that when we die that's it.”

‘NO TRUE SCOTSMAN'

Explanation


The no true Scotsman fallacy is a way of reinterpreting evidence in order to prevent the refutation of one’s position. Proposed counter-examples to a theory are dismissed as irrelevant solely because they are counter-examples, but purportedly because they are not what the theory is about.

Example

If Angus, a Glaswegian, who puts sugar on his porridge, is proposed as a counter-example to the claim No Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge, the ‘No true Scotsman’ fallacy would run as follows:
(1) Angus puts sugar on his porridge.
(2) No (true) Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.
Therefore:
(3) Angus is not a (true) Scotsman.
Therefore:
(4) Angus is not a counter-example to the claim that no Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.

This fallacy is a form of circular argument, with an existing belief being assumed to be true in order to dismiss any apparent counter-examples to it. The existing belief thus becomes unfalsifiable.

Real-World Examples

An argument similar to this is often arises when people attempt to define religious groups. In some Christian groups, for example, there is an idea that faith is permanent, that once one becomes a Christian one cannot fall away. Apparent counter-examples to this idea, people who appear to have faith believe but subsequently lose it, are written off using the ‘No True Scotsman’ fallacy: they didn’t really have faith, they weren’t true Christians. The claim that faith cannot be lost is thus preserved from refutation. Given such an approach, this claim is unfalsifiable, there is no possible refutation of it.

Note from Anastasia: A claim that is unfalsifiable is not necessarily untrue; it's just not supported by a the unfalsifiable argument.

(It just so happens, however, that this particular example does have a refutation of a different sort. It's found in John 15:2, in which Jesus tells us that any "branch IN ME" that doesn't bear fruit will be cut off.)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Grace and Freedom: Two Words, One Mystery

This is from Vladimir Lossky's book, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church (St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, Crestwood, New York, 1976). This excerpt appears near the beginning of Chapter Ten; in my edition, it begins on page 197.

The notion of merit is foreign to the Eastern tradtion. The word is seldom encountered in the spiritual writings of the Eastern Church, and has not the same meaning as in the West. The explanation is to be sought in the general attitude of Eastern theology towards grace and free will. In the East, this question has never had the urgency which it assumed in the West from the time of St. Augustine onwards. The Eastern tradition never separates these two elements: grace and human freedom are manifested simultaneously and cannot be conceived apart from each other. St. Gregory of Nyssa describes very clearly the reciprocal bond that makes of grace and free will two poles of one and the same reality: 'As the grace of God cannot descend upon souls which flee from their salvation, so the power of human virtue is not of itself sufficient to raise to perfection souls which have no share in grace ... the righteousness of works and the grace of the Spirit, coming together to the same place, fill the soul in which they are united with the life of the blessed.' ('De Instituto Christiano', P.G., XLVI, 289 C.)


Note (my own): St. Gregory does not mean God deprives anybody of His grace, but that some people do not want it and God will not force Himself upon them. But in the blessed, grace and works unite and together fill the soul. Lossky continues:

Thus, grace is not a reward for the merit of the human will, as Pelagianism would have it; but no more is it the cause of the 'meritorious acts' of our free will., For it is not a question of merits but of a co-operation, of a synergy of the two wills, divine and human, a harmony in which grace bears ever more and more fruit, and is appropriated - 'acquired' - by the human person. Grace is a presence of God within us which demands constant effort on our part; these efforts, however, in no way determine grace, nor does grace act upon our liberty as if it were external or foreign to it.


If you are not a theology buff, you'll probably be glad to stop reading right here. But if you like this sort of stuff, here's a bit more. The above paragraph continues:

This doctrine, faithful to the apophatic spirit of Eastern tradition, expresses the mystery of the coincidence of grace and human freedom in good workis, without recourse to positive and rational terms. The fundamental error of Pelagius was that of transposing the mystery of grace on to a rational plane, by which process grace and liberty, realities of the spiritual order, are transformed into two mutually exclusive concepts which then have to be reconciled, as if they were two objects exterior to one another. St. Augustine, in his attack on Pelagianism, followed the example of his adversary intaking his stand on the same rational ground, where there was no possibility of the question ever being resolved.

Growing Old

My friend Sylvia sent me a whole slew of cartoons about getting older. These are my favorites of the bunch. I don't see any copyright information on them...


(You can see this better if you click it to enlarge it.)


(This one really cracks me up. That's something my cat Molly would absolutely certainly do if we had dentures!)

“…I Cannot, of My Own Strength…"

Many denominations are very emphatic in telling us all the things that are necessary yet impossible for us “on our own” or “apart from God”, such as believing or repenting or doing anything truly good. All these things, they stress, are possible only by the grace of God.

To which I usually reply that we cannot even so much as breathe or digest our food apart from the grace of God. That is, these people are not wrong about this, they’re just attacking a straw man. Why is it a straw man? Because there simply is no such thing as “on our own” or “apart from God” or “by my own strength”.

God does not, ever, literally desert anyone. Anyone. He pursues us wherever we go, even to the depths of hell.

Whither shall I go from Your spirit?
Or whether shall I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend up into heaven, You are there:
If I make my bed in hell, behold, You.
If I take the wings of the morning
And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea;
Even there shall Your hand lead me,
And Your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,”
Even the night shall be light about me.
(Psalm 139:7-11)


Some people still think God abandons people, and for evidence, they quote verses such as Romans 1:24-26, which twice says, “God gave them up…” But this doesn’t mean He turns against anyone; it means He let them have their own way when they insisted; He did not force Himself upon people, precisely because He is unfailingly good to one and all.

God is not the Celestial Prig Who cannot tolerate proximity to sinners. That is why Jesus did not scorn the company of sinners, but actively sought out the demon-possessed, the traitors, the prostitutes, the cheats. God is not tainted by the presence of sinners; instead, the reverse: sinners are sanctified in His Presence.

God is often alleged to have abandoned Christ as He hung on the Cross – just at the climax of His faith, obedience, and love! – and Psalm 22:1 is cited in support of this idea. Read further if you believe it. Check out verse 24 of that same Psalm. It didn’t happen.

If you are searching for a gracious God, know that God is always gracious, and to everybody. The Lord taught us, “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and you shall be the children of the Highest: for He is kind to the unthankful and [to] the evil.” He is kind, unfailingly kind. He does not hope for any return, for Himself, upon His kindness.

He never leaves us to our own strength, never leaves us entirely on our own, although He does allow us, so to speak, a very long leash. And that’s why everyone can breathe, everyone can digest his food, and everyone can believe in Him when given a genuine opportunity.

Certain things, however, do remain which we cannot do apart from Christian faith.
Like love our enemies
or know ourselves as we really are
or have hope that does not end in the grave
or become deified
or, well, any of the things that matter to us most.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Why God Created Us

On Saturday, my husband was having a theological conversaion with a friend who is Roman Catholic. The man mentioned (alluding to Paragraph 1721 of The Catechism of the Catholic Church) that "God put us in the world to know, to love, and to serve him, and so to come to paradise."

Demetrios burst out laughing.

No, dear friends, that is not why God created us. It's a sweet doctrine if you claim to be God's vicar on earth, of course, because then knowing, loving and serving God implies knowing, loving, and serving you! But the true God has no need nor want of our knowledge or love or service. He Who is our Revelation of the Father told us, "The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve."

God has so much glory already that all the glory the human race could ever bring Him throughout all of its history would be infinitely less than a miocroscopic drop of water in all the oceans of the world. His glory is His goodness, and it is already infinite. He already has the plenitude of everything, "nor wanting nor wasting," in the words of the Protestant hymn. He lacks nothing.

God created us for our sakes, not His! He created us that we, too, might be good and glorious as He is good and glorious, that we might be blessed by sharing in His own blessedness, that we might be gods participating in all He does.

The true God is not, not, not self-serving.

The notion that He is appears to me to be the root of all sorts of further heterodox errors. Not the least of them is this: that the deities people worship embody their followers' highest notions of morality. This means we can't be more moral than our concept of God. If our god is self-serving, we are doomed to be likewise.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Video of the Day

Laughter is contagious! (You'd laugh, too, if you had identical quadruplets! Or maybe not...)

video

The Organist's Speech

Yes, the Greek parish here has an organ up in the choir loft, in the rear of the nave. The original organ, installed above the protests of many in the parish, caught fire. When the new was installed back in the 'Sixties and the inaugural recital was played, pulling out all the stops including the diapaisons, it blasted out the church windows.

The organist, a Protestant lady who has played our organ since 1966, has just retired. Today, after church, the parish council gave her a plaque and a gift and invited her to speak to the congregation. She did, speaking slowly, her face absolutely deadpan. Here, in its entirety, is what she said:

"I've just realized that today is the first time I've ever sat downstairs. And it's nice to see your faces, after 42 years of looking at the backs of your heads."

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Yesterday

Actually, the most interesting thing that happened to us yesterday was not my cardioversion; I know nothing about that. I maybe, maybe, remember thinking, one time only, "That must be the electricity going through me," but without caring. (Or am I imagining that and not really remembering at all?)

And I remember thinking, afterward, "Oh, my goodness; I forgot to tell the doctor I'm pregnant!" and sort of smiling to myself at my little secret, and at the wonder of anybody my age being pregnant. But then, the effort to concentrate upon the question of whether this procedure might have harmed my baby woke me up long enough to realize there was no way I could be pregnant. No way. (It's Grace, my niece, who is; her son is due February 10th.)

The most interesting thing that happened was actually while we were sitting in the little room waiting for me to be called. We had a little earthquake. The hospital rocked back and forth about five or six times.

Thing about an earthquake is, by the time you look at each other and one asks, "Is this an earthquake?" and the other says, "Yes," - it's over. It's too late to do anything if you needed to. Fortunately, we didn't need to.

True Humanism

It strikes me that Orthodox Christians are the world’s true humanists in one sense. That is, we have a much higher view of mankind than secular humanists or Catholics or the children of the Reformation or anybody else I know.

We have a far more exalted view of the human being than secular humanists do for at least two reasons. The first is, we believe man is created in the Image of God; that his whole being is patterned after the Holy Trinity. (This takes at least a chapter or two to begin to explain in detail, though.) The second is, we believe mankind’s intended destiny is do be deified, to be glorified and godlike, and more than that, actually to participate in the inner life of the Holy Trinity. Because every human being, including unbelievers, including criminals, including every single person, is a bearer of the image of God and is called to become a god, every human being is “more honorable than the cherubim, incomparably more glorious than the seraphim.” (For anyone not up on your angelology, cherubim and seraphim are the higher ranks of angels.) We are higher than the angels because angels remain forever God’s servants and ours, whereas we are God’s children and called to be His heirs.

In Christianity, God actually came to us in human flesh, that fact alone bringing great honor upon humankind, greater honor than any other creature ever had. More than this, though, He died in human flesh and raised that human flesh from death, transfiguring it into something glorious and immortal. And if that weren’t enough, He did not shed that human flesh when He “ascended into heaven and sat at the right hand of the Father,” meaning the Lord of the entire Universe, who lives and reigns forever and ever, now and forevermore does so with a human body.

It is our exalted view of what a human being is that leads us to wish to protect all human beings, and to oppose abortion on demand, euthanasia, physician-assisted suicide, and yes, physician-assisted murder. Nobody but God Himself has the right to decide when a human life shall end, and even if he had the right, nobody has the wisdom or the love or the dispassion to be qualified to make such a decision.

Orthodox Christianity also has a higher view of mankind than, say, the Vatican, as her history amply demonstrates. And so does her theology, as for example when she considers religious liberty a civil right but not a moral one, except for Roman Catholics.

Orthodoxy also has a higher view of mankind than Protestants. We do not agree with John Calvin that humanity is “but rottenness and a worm”. (Calvin, John, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 1, Chapter 1, Section 3) It is true that worms are better than we are in that they do not sin; but then worms never had the capacity either to sin or to do anything morally good. We do not believe in Calvin’s Total Depravity. Everything is us is indeed affected by sin, but not everything is completely destroyed.

We also hold a higher opinion of man than the Reformers because, unlike most of them, we believe that Man still has free will. True, we do not believe our will is entirely unimpeded; indeed, our passions and our ignorance importune our will vigorously and continuously. Nevertheless, despite their heavy lobbying, ultimately we choose what to do, and we can choose evil or we can, when presented with the opportunity, choose God.

Orthodox Christianity also insists that we are not individuals, as the Reformers assumed; rather, we are persons; and persons, the Orthodox Church teaches, only blossom as persons in communion with other persons. That means you are more than my brother or my sister; you are to me another self. I am to love you as I love myself because you are myself, you are another me, inhabiting different skin. And this is so whether you consider yourself my friend or foe. Orthodoxy insists that if I haven’t learned to love my enemy, I haven’t yet learned true love at all; I do not yet love anyone rightly.

So I think if you really want to exalt human beings, you want to be an Orthodox Christian.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Cardioversion Worked!

They had to give me four separate shocks, but it worked.

And I don't remember a single thing about it.

Right now, I'm going to crash for the afternoon.

Sure feels good to feel normal!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Thankful Thursday, January 22


If you'd like to participate in Thankful Thursday, you would normally go here, but this week and next, go instead to the blog called Lori’s Reflections and add your blog to the list (so other participants can read your post). You can grab the logo either here or from that blog.



This week, I have been especially thankful for:

  • The cardioversion to be done tomorrow

  • Sleep, when I can get it

  • Your prayers

  • God’s answers

  • Some very much needed new clothes I finally bought today

  • My husband’s very special love, who knows how to love much better than most people do, in this culture, anyway

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Plan C

I don't know what ever happened to Plan B, but my cardiologist has decided to skip to Plan C, which he hopes to perform on Friday. Plan C is cardioversion, which means giving the heart an electric shock or two to jolt it back into rhythm. I've been feeling so rotten that I actually look forward to it, if it will cure me. Doc thinks it will.

Wait, there's more. Before they can do this procedure, they have to make sure there's no blood clot lurking in the heart. (Last thing you want to do is knock loose a clot anywhere, but especially in the heart.) To that end, they are going to insert a scope down my throat (gag!) and by means of it, do an ultrasound into the heart.

I'm going to be heavily sedated but awake, they tell me, for all this. Rather be asleep...

How fortunate for Anastasia, you may be thinking, at a time like this to be married to a doctor! Well, this particular doctor has an immoveable, uncompromising philosophy of always encouraging a patient. You can't get the downside of the picture out of him for anything. So yesterday when I told him this stuff was planned for Friday, he said, "Friday, good. Okay. Are you ready to go out? Nick and Sharyn will be waiting for us at Angelo's." Making a point of treating it as a small thing so as not to alarm me, and I have no idea whether it really is such a small thing or not. (And there seems no point in finding out, either.)

Your prayers will help me greatly. Thank you.

UPDATE: The whole business is scheduled for 8:45 on Friday morning. Then they want me to wait 3-4 hours while the sedatives wear off before going home. So I should be able to post again sometime Friday, or if I'm too sleepy, by Saturday morning.

Rethinking Reading, by Fr. Stephen

Here's Fr. Stephen again, on reading the Bible. I'm reprinting it for your convenience, but heartily recommend you read it at his own blog, so you can profit from the comments there as well.

by Fr. Stephen Freeman

If, as I have wrtten, the Orthodox Church itself is the proper interpretation of Scripture - then one might ask, “How am I supposed to read the Scriptures if their interpretation is the Church?” It is a good, even an obvious question, but one which points us to the very thing at hand: the nature of interpretation.

In general usage, to speak of interpreting something is to speak of explaining and commenting and seeking questions of meaning. Of course, this presupposes that the answer to the question is something that can be spoken, explained, commented, etc. Thus, interpretation is seen as essentially a literary question.

I have taken my lead from two verses of Scripture - both of which illustrate how I am re-presenting interpretation. The first is St. Paul’s statement to the Christians in Corinth:

Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men: Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart (2 Cor. 3:2-3).

And St. John’s description of Christ as the exegesis of the Father [John 1:18]:

No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared (exegato) him.

(Exegesis is the technical term that theologians use when they speak of explaining a passage of Scripture.)

Thus the question can be pushed back and asked, “How are the Corinthians an epistle?” and “What does it mean that Christ exegetes the Father?”

In both cases the answer is not a literary event, but a matter of a life lived. Christ so exegetes the Father that He can say, “If you have seen me you have seen the Father,” (John 14:9). God did not make Himself known by giving us words about Himself. Those who think the Scriptures are the revelation of God are sadly mistaken. Christians are not Muslims. Christ Himself is the Word of the Father and it is through Christ that we know God, not through the Bible. The Scriptures have their place of great importance and are an essential part of the life of the Church, but that place is precisely that of which I am writing.

The revelation of God to the people of Corinth is not to be found in St. Paul’s two epistles written to the young Church in that city, but in the Church itself. They are God’s revelation to Corinth, “written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the Living God; not in tables of stone but in the fleshy tables of the heart.”

If the people of Corinth do not see and come to know Christ in and through the Church, His Body, which has been established in that place, then Corinth will not know God.

Some of this goes to the very heart of the Church’s existence. It has become a commonplace in modern Christianity to reduce the Church to a fellowship of convenience, existing only to encourage and strengthen individual Christians (this is particularly true in Evangelical Christianity but has spread as a larger cultural understanding as well). Whereas the Scriptures speak quite differently of the Church.

The Church:

Is the Pillar and Ground of Truth (1 Timothy 3:15);

Is the Fullness of Him that filleth all in all (Eph. 1:23).

Is the very Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12 and other places).

Is the Bride of Christ (Rev. 21:2 and elsewhere).

Such descriptions in no way fit an organization whose purpose is to encourage and strengthen individual Christians. The modern understanding of the Church is blasphemous in its denial of God’s own description of His Bride, His Fullness, His Body, the Pillar and Ground of Truth.

The Church is an epistle just as Christ exegetes the Father. Christ said, “For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself” (John 5:26). In the same manner, Christ is the life of the Church. The Church does not exist merely to speak words about Christ but to manifest the very life of Christ among mankind. The Church has no other life.

“Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory” (Col. 2:2-4).


Thus we do not “read” the Church as though we were reading a book. We “read” the Church as its life impacts and informs our own life. If we are part of the Church, then our life itself is to be increasingly the life of Christ, an epistle written on the fleshy tables of the heart. But this is not for us to do as individuals, for we cannot do this outside the Church and without the life that is lived by the whole Church. We do not Baptize ourselves.

The great challenge to the Orthodox Church in the modern world is to remain the Church, to be God’s faithful epistle to the world and not simply an exotic brand of modernized Christianity. For we are an epistle, written by the Spirit of the Living God, not an organization whose programs entertain the interested.

Let the dead bury the dead. The Church has to be about living a Life.

Please forgive me if the force of my writing in this post is in any way scandalous. I do not mean to cause someone to stumble, but rather to point the way to the truth of God’s Church and the place of Scripture within it.

Monday, January 19, 2009

A Unitarian Service

Friday night, while I was visiting my mother, we shared a dinner table at her retirement home with some Unitarians. One of them was talking about Unitarian services.

I said, "I have a question I've always wanted to ask a Unitarian, if you don't mind. When Unitarians have a 'service', whom are they serving?"

He looked puzzled for a moment at my failure to grasp the obvious. Then, seeing I was being serious, he replied, "Well, I mean - whoever shows up!" And he shrugged.

Faith in What or in Whom?

Someone recently wrote on the Internet that she had always supposed the proof for Jesus was to be found in the Bible. The Bible was what supported our belief in Christ.

If this were so, then please notice what the situation would be. Our faith in Christ would be derivative, derived from the Bible. If we believed in Christ "for the Bible tells me so", then our faith in Christ would be a function of that, would be secondary. Our primary faith would be in the Bible.

The word for that is not "Christian" but "biblicist".

St. Makarios of Egypt

Today is the feast day of St. Makarios of Egypt. Since it's largely to him I owe my conversion to Holy Orthodoxy, in his honor and with gratitude to him and to God, I pass on to you this, posted by Christopher Haas in his blog, "Word from the Desert".

They said of Abba Macarius the Egyptian that one day he went up from Scetis to the mountain of Nitria. As he approached the place he told his disciple to go on ahead. When the latter had gone on ahead, he met a priest of the pagans. The brother shouted after him saying, "Oh, oh, devil, where are you off to?" The priest turned back and beat him and left him half dead. Then picking up his stick, he fled. When he had gone a little further, Abba Macarius met the pagan priest running and said to him, "Greetings! Greetings, you weary man!" Quite astonished, the other came up to him and said, "What good do you see in me, that you greet me in this way?" The old man said to him, "I have seen you wearing yourself out without knowing that you are wearing yourself out in vain." The other said to him, "I have been touched by your greeting, and I realize that you are on God's side. But another wicked monk who met me insulted me and I have given him blows enough for him to die of them." The old man realized that he was referring to his disciple. Then the pagan priest fell at the feet of Macarius and said, "I will not let you go till you have made me a monk." When they came to the place where the brother was, they put him onto their shoulders and carried him to the church in the mountain. When the people saw the priest with Macarius, they were astonished and made him a monk. Through him many pagans became Christians. So Abba Macarius said, "One evil word makes even the good evil, while one good word makes even the evil good."

St. Macarius the Egyptian, commemorated 19 January

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Beatitudes

This morning I was able to attend my sister Barbara's parish, Deb's parish. I got to worship and chat with Deb, who is Barbara's godmother, and with Deb's equally wonderful godmother, Carol. What loves they both are!

Today I was especially struck by the Beatitudes, probably because singing them at Divine Liturgy usually made Barbara cry, if she weren't crying already before then. When I asked her why, she said she just loved and was comforted by the way they turned the usual world upside down.

I remembered today how a New Testament professor whose class I took (many years ago), a Baptist, told us the Beatitudes were to be considered hyperbole. Jesus was exaggerating to make His point. And I remembered an Orthodox priest telling us during a Bible study session that the Beatitudes were the New Testament moral code.

They were both so, so wrong. The Beatitudes are descriptions of what Christ's life, lived in our flesh, is like. They describe how things really are when we live in Christ, when He lives in us. And there's no hyperbole at all; Barbara knew they just describe the sober reality she had found.

"Blessed are the poor in spirit,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
For they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
For they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
For they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
For they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
For they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
For they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
"Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven...

Is the Bible True? by Fr. Stephen

Again, as so often, I begin to wonder whether the main reason my blog exists is to promote Fr. Stephen's! Here is another in his series on the Scriptures, this time having to do with fundamentalism v. liberalism, both of which, as he points out, are two sides of the wrong coin. Read this especially if evolution, for example, is an issue for you.

by Fr. Stephen Freeman

There is a fundamentalist anxiety that I hold in great sympathy. My sympathy is driven by the fact that I lived for many years under the burden of that very anxiety. It is the hidden fear that possibly, despite all faith exercised in the opposite direction, the Bible may not, in fact, be true. A great deal of energy is spent in maintaining the integrity of the dike that withstands this anxiety.

I grew in the shadow of Bob Jones University, one of the most prominent bastions of American fundamentalism. The ideas of that university permeate not only the students who study there, but in many ways the surrounding culture of Christianity in the area. The fear is pointed towards Darwin and any possibility of his evolutionary theory. It drives biology students at the university to reach strange conclusions, regardless of the science. I was taught at age ten by a biology student from Bob Jones, in a Baptist summer camp, that blacks were simply biological inferior to whites based on false information that he shared with a group of young, impressionable kids. Perhaps his biology was not the product of his university classes. But it was as baseless as much of the science that was done there.

The same fear drives the concern for the Flood of Noah and the age of the planet (not to mention any possible hint of evolutionary science). Thus the earth must be young, the flood must be literal (with perhaps a still existing Ark on Mt. Ararat). Science has an answer that it must prove, rather than a question to be answered. The agenda of such fundamentalist science is set by the need to refute anything that possibly undermines a peculiar view of Scripture. One flaw and the entire house of cards comes tumbling down.

It makes for bad science and even worse Biblical interpretation.

I am no friend of liberal Biblical studies. I suffered under such oppression for a number of years and can say that fundamentalism also has a liberal form. I was punished (intellectually) for believing all of the articles of the Nicene Creed as much as a Darwinist would suffer at Bob Jones. But that is its own story.

The history of literalism is a checkered affair. Some of the early fathers leaned in a literalist direction for many parts of Scripture, though leaving room for other, more symbolic approaches, where appropriate. The great battles over the historical literalism of Scripture arose in the 18th and 18th centuries in Europe and America (battles over certain scientific matters versus literalism began even earlier).

Part of the tragedy in these battles was that the battlefield itself was a fairly newly-defined area and failed to take into account the full history of Biblical interpretation. For a young believer in the midst of America’s own intellectual religious wars in the late 20th century - my question was whether the choices presented were the only choices available.

I should preface my remaining remarks with the simple affirmation: I believe the Bible is true.

Having said that, I must add that the Scriptures do not stand as an independent work of literature or a self-contained Holy Book. The Bible is not God’s revelation to man: Jesus Christ is God’s revelation to man. The Scriptures bear witness to Him and are thus “true” as a true witness to the God/Man Jesus Christ.

As others have noted, the Scriptures are true as they are accepted and understood by the Church that received them. They are Scripture as recognized by the Church and cannot be removed from the Church only to turn them against the Church. They are unique writings, and must be read in a unique way. That way is found in the liturgies of the Church and the commentaries of the Fathers.

It is also true that within the writings of the Fathers there can be a variety of opinion on a number of Scriptural matters. The essential agreement is their testimony to Christ. Genesis is about Christ. Exodus is about Christ, and so forth. Read any other way, the books are interesting, but they will not be read in a manner that has been received by the Orthodox Christian Church.

Of course, the historical method (whether literal or historical critical) represents only two possibly ways of reading the text of Scripture. There are assumptions behind both that are problematic from an Orthodox perspective. For many, the notion of “salvation history” has become so dominant that they cannot think about history in any manner other than that which they have been taught. I can think of a number of problems:

First - the traditional modern view (whether fundamentalist or otherwise) of history, is a matter of chronology. It sees a beginning at some point in the past and a progression to some point in the future. This same chain of events is generally viewed as reality, or the ground of reality, and championed above all other things. God acts in history, they will argue, but history is somehow the reality with which God has to deal.

This is highly problematic for an Orthodox theological understanding. Not only does Scripture treat history as quite relative (Christ is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, He is also the “Lamb slain from the foundations of the earth”), it in fact makes history subject to the end of things - making history simply one aspect of lived eschatology.

Thus time and chronology do not govern reality - God governs reality.

By the same token, Holy Scripture is a Divine account of reality, not itself explained by chronology nor subject to historical validation, but subject to the Truth as it is made known to us in Jesus Christ. Thus the New Testament is Scripture, though the writings of Josephus or Tacitus are mere history.

There is a nervousness that runs through the body fundamentalist when phrases such as “mere history” are uttered. It is a nervousness that is born of the attempts of liberal modernists to dismiss as “myth and fiction” what are seen as events essential to our salvation in Christ. No one who is a believer could treat such anxiety with anything but sympathy. In many ways, with the tools at hand, conservatives in Western Christianity have fought a valiant fight to defend the faith against a serious contender. But that fight does not justify every argument advanced by fundamentalism. Orthodoxy offers a different approach.

I recognize a nervousness that occurs among many conservatives if “truth” is approached in any manner other than literal. Liberals have played games with words for so many years that believers are rightly wary of word-games. On the other hand, for theological accuracy, it is necessary to speak of truth and its character in Christian revelation. The Scriptures tell us that Jesus Christ Himself is the Truth. This is not to say that He is the Truth as compared to some external criterion of truth, but rather that He Himself is the criterion and definition of what is true. Things are true and false only as they are compared to Him. He may be compared to nothing else.

By that token, it is problematic to define “truth” by some particular standard of “historicity.” I understand the importance of saying, “This is really true,” and would never want to deny such a thing. The tomb on Pascha was empty, Christ is truly raised from the dead by every standard and then transcending every standard. His resurrection is the true ground of all reality.

Having said that, it must also be said that the Scriptures are true (as Scriptures) only inasmuch as they reveal Christ as the risen Lord and what that means for all creation. The witness of the Church is that these writings do precisely that and are thus Scripture. But it is the resurrection of Christ that undergirds the Scriptures and not vice versa. The disciples did not understand the Scriptures until they understood the risen Lord. And this remains the case.

Thus the import of Noah’s flood is to be found in Holy Baptism and not the other way around. Creation as shared in the first chapter of Genesis is an unfolding of the Paschal mystery and it is from that mystery that it derives its value. I could multiply such examples. When this principle is forgotten, Christians find themselves arguing over points of geology or archaeology and not over the triumphant resurrection of Christ. If Christ is risen from the dead, everything else becomes moot. If Christ is not risen from the dead, then all Christian statements become moot.

Christ is risen from the dead.

What can we say to these things? The Scriptures are true because Christ is risen from the dead and this is their message. The faith of the Orthodox is that all things find their beginning and their end - their meaning and their fulfillment in the Pascha of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This is the good news. What other good news could there be?

Friday, January 16, 2009

Help Reading the Old Testament

Old Testament Interpretation (Like Everything Else in Christianity) Begins and Ends With Jesus Christ

You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. (John 5:39)

In the Church’s view, the whole of Israelite history, as contained in the Old Testament, is about Jesus Christ. The relationship of the Old Testament to the New is one of promise to fulfillment, and of type to anti-type. Put another way, we interpret the Old Testament neither in the same way the ancient Israelites did, because we are looking at it with hindsight; nor in the way Jews do today, for everything in it takes on new and fuller meaning in the light of Christ. Everything in Orthodox Christianity begins and ends with Jesus Christ, and the Old Testament is no exception.

… the Hebrew Scriptures are also to be understood and interpreted in relation to Jesus Christ, who is both their source and their fulfillment. He is their source because he is the Logos, the eternal Word of God, who serves both as the agent of creation and as the ultimate content or referent of the prophetic oracles. And he is the fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures because at the deepest level of meaning they point forward to him and to his saving work. Christ, therefore, provides the true key to the inner meaning of the Law and the Prophets. Accordingly, Christ himself is our “hermeneutic principle” or principle of interpretation, in that it is he who reveals the true sense of all inspired Scripture. (Breck, John, Scripture in Tradition: The Bible and its Interpretation in the Orthodox Church (Crestwood, New York, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2001) pp. 9-10)

Every passage of the Old Testament as well as the New bears direct or indirect witness to the person and work of Jesus Christ, who is Truth itself in incarnate form. ”I am the Way, the Truth and the Life,” he declares, Jn. 14:6). (ibid., p. 33)

The Fathers also insist that the God with whom all the Old Testament figures deal is God the Son. It was God the Son who walked with Adam and Eve, God the Son who appeared to Moses in the burning bush, God the Son who instructed Noah to build his ark.

All of these three stories bear typological meanings. That is, they each prefigure Christ, are each “types” of Christ or of something related to Him. The bush that burned without being consumed, for example, typifies how Mary became pregnant and gave birth to Jesus, her body alight with Him, without her virginity being destroyed or in any way diminished. Noah’s ark symbolizes the Church, bearing her passengers safely to the other side of the turmoil of life and death. The story of God liberating Israel from slavery in Egypt foreshadows Christ liberating His people from bondage to sin and death. Some fathers, with regard to some biblical accounts, go so far as to say God’s main purpose in arranging or permitting these events was for our sake, to prepare us for Christ’s coming, so we would understand what Jesus was doing.

The Early Church was not particularly interested in the historicity of the Old Testament. The early Fathers didn’t necessarily deny it, but what interested them was always what the Old Testament had to say about Jesus. They looked for Him and found Him throughout.

Therefore, since we have such hope, we use great boldness of speech-- unlike Moses, who put a veil over his face so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the end of what was passing away. But their minds were blinded. For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ. But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart. Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. (2 Corinthians 3:12-16)

The Old Testament is to be interpreted according to Christ, and not vice-versa! As Christ said in a parable, nobody patches an old garment with a new piece of cloth, because the patch will shrink and the rip will be made worse. Old clothes must be patched with old fabric. Similarly, nobody puts new wine into old wineskins, or the wineskin will burst and the wine will be lost; but new wine must be put into new wineskins, to preserve both. (Matthew 9:17, Mark 2:22, Luke 5:37-38) Christ is the New Wine; He transfigures the Old Testament. We must not interpret Him by it, but it by Him, “bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5)

Christ Himself began the process of giving new, deeper interpretations to the Old Testament; or, rather, of bringing out what was implicit there all along but hidden. The Fifth Chapter of Matthew contains several examples of Jesus giving the Old Testament deeper meanings than others had seen there before. Perhaps the most startling example of His re-interpretation of the Scriptures came when Jesus preached against divorce.

They said to Him, "Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?" He said to them, "Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so...” (Matthew 19:7-8)

In other words, God spoke to ancient Israel with great and gracious condescension, in His decrees making generous allowances for His people’s spiritual weakness and immaturity, and in His language often putting things in over-simplified, too-crude words to make it understandable to them. Meat is for adults; infants cannot digest it and need milk instead. The Old Testament is spiritual milk. The meat must await the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Another quite startling re-interpretation Jesus gives to the Old Testament is contained in one of His claims to divinity: “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw [it], and was glad.” (John 8:56)

Jesus also appropriated the title “Son of Man,” giving new meaning to that figure in the book of Daniel, Chapter 7.

After His resurrection, as He was walking with two of His followers on their way to Emmaus, Jesus continued the process of interpreting the Old Testament for them. Here is His response when they spoke to Him (whom they did not yet recognize) of their distress that Jesus had been crucified.

"O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?" And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the scriptures the things concerning Himself.

St. Paul also found new, Christian meaning in the Old Testament. For example, in I Corinthians 10, he says the Israelites, by passing through the sea, “were baptized unto Moses.” (10:3) Then, speaking about the rock in the desert which Moses struck with his stick and it gushed forth water for the thirsty Israelites, St. Paul says, “That rock was Christ.” (10:4) In verse 6, he adds, “Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted.” St. Paul is much more concerned with the function of these events as examples today than as history; in fact, the part he mentions in verse 3 about the rock following Israel is pure legend.

In Galatians 4:21-31, St. Paul makes what he himself calls an allegory (v. 24) of the story of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar.

Most of the Epistle to the Hebrews is devoted to interpreting Old Testament worship in terms of shadows and patterns of “things to come”, especially in chapters 9 and 10. Moreover, it is in the name of spiritual maturity that St. Paul urges his Jewish readers to adopt this typological understanding of the old Testament. (Hebrews 5:12- 6:2)

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.
Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.

So Christians from the beginning have followed Christ and St. Paul in telling the old story in a new way, in a way that begins and ends with Jesus Christ. They have set aside parts of it (such as ritual laws) as no longer relevant to Christians (Galatians 4:10); they have found new meanings in other parts of it.

For example, Christians see Psalm 22 as an astonishingly detailed prophecy of the Crucifixion. But before Jesus was crucified, there was no way to interpret that Psalm in that way. Similarly, in Isaiah 7:14, Christians see a prophecy concerning the birth of Christ: “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” But before Christ came, the prophecy only meant that God would destroy King Ahaz’ enemies within the time it would take for a maiden to marry, conceive, give birth to a son, and teach him the difference between right and wrong. Christians have always reinterpreted the Old Testament.

St. Basil the Great gives us a fine example of what it means to reinterpret Old Testament understandings of Divine Justice in the Light of the New, which Light is Christ. The “disasters” God is said to bring us are to put a stop to evil or at least contain it, or to correct us, not literally to gratify some divine hostility.

Famines and droughts and floods are common plagues of cities and nations which check the excess of evil. Therefore, just as the physician is a benefactor even if he should cause pain or suffering to the body (for he strives with the disease, and not with the sufferer), so in the same manner God is good who administers salvation to everyone through the means of particular chastisements. But you, not only do you not speak evilly of the physician who cuts some members, cauterizes others, and excises others again completely from the body, but you even give him money and address him as savior because he confines the disease to a small area before the infirmity can claim the whole body. However, when you see a city crushing its inhabitants in an earthquake, or a ship going down at sea with all hands, you do not shrink from wagging a blasphemous tongue against the true Physician and Saviour.

And you may accept the phrase ‘I kill and I will make to live’ (Deut. 32:39) literally, if you wish, since fear edifies the more simple. ‘I will smite and I will heal’ (Deut. 32:39). It is profitable to also understand this phrase literally; for the smiting engenders fear, while the healing incites to love.

It is permitted you, nonetheless, to attain to a loftier understanding of the utterance. I will slay through sin and make to live through righteousness. ‘But though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day’ (Il Corinthians 4:16). Therefore, He does not slay one, and give life to another, but through the means which He slays, He gives life to a man, and He heals a man with that which He smites him, according to the proverb which says, ‘For You shall beat him with the rod, and shall deliver his soul from death’ (Proverbs 23:14). So the flesh is chastised for the soul to be healed, and sin is put to death for righteousness to live.... When you hear ‘There shall be no evil in a city which the Lord hath not wrought’ (cf. Amos 3:6), understand by the noun ‘evil’ that the word intimates the tribulation brought upon sinners for the correction of offenses. For Scripture says, ‘For I afflicted you and straitened you, to do good to thee’ (cf. Deuteronomy. 8:3); so too is evil terminated before it spills out unhindered, as a strong dike or wall holds back a river.

For these reasons, diseases of cities and nations, droughts, barrenness of the earth, and the more difficult conditions in the life of each, cut off the increase of wickedness. Thus, such evils come from God so as to uproot the true evils, for the tribulations of the body and all painful things from without have been devised for the restraining of sin. God, therefore, excises evil; never is evil from God.... The razing of cities, earthquakes and floods, the destruction of armies, shipwrecks and all catastrophes with many casualties which occur from earth or sea or air or fire or whatever cause, happen for the sobering of the survivors, because God chastises public evil with general scourges.

The principal evil, therefore, which is sin, and which is especially worthy of the appellation of evil, depends upon our disposition; it depends upon us either to abstain from evil or to be in misery.

Of the other evils, some are shown to be struggles for the proving of courage... while some are for the healing of sins... and some are for an example to make other men sober. (If anybody can give me the reference for this, which I have lost, I shall be grateful.)

Some Fathers of the church, notably St. Gregory of Nyssa, bid us make heavy use of allegory in interpreting the Old Testament. St. Gregory does just that in his most famous work, The Life of Moses, in which he brings out allegorical and spiritual meaning and application from every incident in Moses’ Life.

Other Fathers agree that Christians ought to value the stories in the Old Testament more for their spiritual than their historical or literal meanings. “Very often many things are said by the Holy Scriptures and in it many names are used not in a literal sense... those who have a mind understand this.” (Saint Isaac the Syrian, Homily 83.)

If one fails to allow the revelation in Christ quite frankly to re-work the Old Testament, to let Christ be the Light of the World, by Whom and in Whom all else is properly understood, ones reading of both Testaments will be seriously misguided and the correct doctrine of salvation will be in jeopardy.

Now please go and read Fr. Stephen's far better (and shorter!) post for some different points on the same subject here.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

God's Wrath

This is from Fr. Stephen's blog and it has already been reprinted in Christopher Orr's blog as well, but it is so important I'm also reprinting it here, just in case any of my readers have deprived themselves of these other two blogs

By Fr. Stephen Freeman

What shall we make of the wrath of God?

We have this quote from the Gospel of St. Luke:

And it came to pass, when the time was come that he should be received up, he stedfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem, And sent messengers before his face: and they went, and entered into a village of the Samaritans, to make ready for him. And they did not receive him, because his face was as though he would go to Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did? But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of (Luke 9:51-55).


In this passage, sending down fire from heaven, in the pattern of Elijah is rebuked as somehow belonging to “another spirit.”

Fans of New Testament wrath are quick to point out the passage in Acts concerning Ananias and Sapphira:

But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession, And kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land? Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God. And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things. And the young men arose, wound him up, and carried him out, and buried him. And it was about the space of three hours after, when his wife, not knowing what was done, came in. And Peter answered unto her, Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much? And she said, Yea, for so much. Then Peter said unto her, How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? behold, the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out. Then fell she down straightway at his feet, and yielded up the ghost: and the young men came in, and found her dead, and, carrying her forth, buried her by her husband. And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things (Acts 5:1-11)


For accuracies’ sake, it must be noted that we are nowhere told that Ananias and Sapphira died as the result of the action of God. We are told that they fell down dead. This is not unimportant.

Of course the New Testament makes reference to the wrath of God. Indeed there are 45 verses which make reference to the wrath. It is little wonder that interpreters should want to make a theological point out of so common a reference. Of course many of those verses refer to our own wrath and tell us to put it away from us.

But of the wrath of God we read a typical passage:

Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: For which things’ sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience (Colossians 3:5-6).


A legitimate question has to be: has the Spirit “of which we are” changed between Luke 9 and Colossians 3? Or is there a deeper understanding at work?

With this I offer an Orthodox answer. First, Christ Himself is the definitive revelation of God and that revelation is not corrected by either an Old Testament reading (for “these are they which testify of me”) nor by an Epistle, for Christ as witnessed to in the gospels is the definitive revelation for interpreting even the Epistles. Of course my citation of Luke 9 is often countered with, “What about the moneychangers in the Temple?” To which I can only say that He “drove them out with a whip” which is not the same thing as saying that Christ beat them, nor did He call down fire from heaven to consume them.

For various reasons, some people are determined to make the economy of salvation to be linked with the Wrath of God. If you do not repent, then God will do thus and such… I have always considered this representation of the gospel to be coercive and contrary to the love of God. I have heard convoluted ways in which this wrath is interpreted to be “the loving thing to do” but I do not buy it.

The common witness within Orthodox Tradition is that the wrath of God is a theological term which describes not God Himself, but a state of being in which are opposed to God. Thus the work of Kalomiros, The River of Fire, makes ample citation of the fathers in this matter. We may place ourselves in such a position that even the love of God seems to us as fire or wrath.

But it is essential in our witness to the God Who Is, to always relate the fact that He is a loving God, not willing that any should perish. He is not against us but for us. This is utterly essential to the correct proclamation of the Gospel. Those who insist on exalting His wrath as a threat, inevitably misportray God and use anthropormorphism as a substitute for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Intricate theories of the atonement which involve the assuaging of the wrath of God are not worthy of the God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ. I can say it no plainer. Those who persist in such theological accounts do not know “what Spirit they are of.” It is not ever appropriate to exalt a Biblical system over the plain sense communicated to us in the Gospel. No matter the chain of verses and the rational explanations attached - we cannot portray God as other than as He has shown Himself to us in Jesus Christ. To do so makes the Bible greater than Christ.

It is very difficult in our culture, where the wrathful God has been such an important part of the gospel story, to turn away from such portrayals - and yet it is necessary - both for faithfulness to the Scripture, the Fathers, and the revelation of God in Christ.

I commend the referenced work, the River of Fire, for its compliation of Patristic sources. I also beg other Christians to be done with their imagery of the wrathful God. They do not know the God of Whom they speak. Forgive me.

To be Helpless is Not to be Conformed to the Image of the Son

Earlier this week, I spent some time (nearly half an hour) listening to an on-line sermon by a Lutheran minister in which he espoused the idea that we cannot do a single thing toward our own salvation.

The trouble with this idea is that, like the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, it immediately runs into a couple of logical contradictions, absurdities, impossibilities that render the doctrine meaningless. Because unless the person holding this idea also believes in Irresistible Grace, he will admit that to be saved, it is necessary that we not resist Grace. But non-resistance, admitted to be an essential factor in salvation, turns out to be something very active, because Grace is constantly seeking to accomplish good things in and through and by us. Faith turns out to be a way of life, the modus operandi for everything we do. Without deeds, faith is the mode of operation for no operation to be the modus of, and what's that but meaningless?

Of course, as I've pointed out before, this idea that we cannot do a single thing toward our salvation also runs into another huge problem (unless one is a Calvinist), and that is that if God alone is entirely responsible for our salvation and there was never anything at all we could do about it, then no matter how one tries to wriggle out of it with slick words, God still ends up being entirely responsible, too, if we are damned. We are admittedly full of grievous faults, but if we have absolutely no choice in the matter or power to correct anything, how can any fair morality count those faults against us?

We aren't saved by our works (lest we should boast), but we are saved through them so it still means no salvation without good works. There is indeed a lot we can and must do, from the moment we repent until the moment we die.

Thankful Thursday, January 15



If you'd like to participate in Thankful Thursday, just go to the blog called Sting My Heart and add your blog to the list (so other participants can read your post). You can grab the logo either here or from that blog.

This week, I have been especially thankful for:

  • Friends and relatives (some of you reading this) who have telephoned me this week

  • My dear friend Laura, age 15, who used to live next door, whom I've known since she was born, who is still just as sweet as when she was a toddler. Laura thinks of me as an extra grandmother and she came to visit me over the holidays.

  • Molly the cat's surviving the hawk (or owl or eagle?) attack.

  • The continued flourishing of the 2 gray squirrels and 4 flying squirrels wintering over with me

  • The sermon Father Milton preached on Sunday

  • The easing of Demetrios' pain from his sciatic nerve

  • Being in control of my own time

To Brighten Your Day

Father Hollywood” (Pr. Larry Beane) put me onto the failblog.org website. It’s full of photos and videos of funny mistakes, but this one made me laugh until the tears came.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Estrogen!

Do you know what happens to a young woman when her estrogen level drops (as it does approximately every month)? PMS, that's what. She feels listless and blue, she feels weepy; she is irritable and miserable.

Do you know what happens to a post-menopausal woman when she stops the estrogen pills she had been taking ever since her body stopped producing it? Why, she feels listless and blue, she feels weepy; she is irritable and miserable. Because estrogen is a feel-good drug.

And THAT'S WHAT'S WRONG WITH ME LATELY! Of course! Why didn't I realize it? I'm very grateful and relieved for this bit of belated understanding.

(But I still plan to stay off the estrogen, if I can adjust.)

"My Cats Are Safely Indoors"

Wellll...this turns out to be not quite accurate. Portia, our retarded orange tabby cat, shows no interest whatsoever in going outside. Open a door and she cowers. But Molly, the calico, will shoot out between your legs every chance she gets. She gets out, briefly, about once every six weeks.

There's nothing you can do, either, once she's out, but wait for her to come to the back steps and meow to be be let in again. That may take an hour or so; ten minutes in cold weather or rain.

And that's why she still needs rabies vaccinations and flea and tick and heartworm medicine (expensive stuff!), and that's how she got hurt recently and is lucky to be alive.

She is missing big patches of fur and has three wounds: two long gashes on her neck, one below and one on top, and a smaller elongated gash on the side of her neck. There are puncture wounds within those gashes, and they aren't teeth marks, either. They're talons. A raptor's talons really are sharp as razor blades.

A Great Horned Owl can carry about 1.75 pounds. A Red Tailed Hawk can carry 2.5 pounds. A Bald Eagle, which we also have here, can carry up to 12 pounds for a short distance. But these birds don't necessarily carry their prey away. If undisturbed, some of them actually prefer to eat their prey on the ground right where they kill it. That means the above weight limitations do not apply. A hungry hawk will try to kill anything it thinks it can.

That includes cats. And Chihuahuas and Yorkies and Toy Poodles and pretty much anything under 25 pounds.

Molly weighs 9 pounds. In some ways it's surprising she got away, although if you knew this cat, you'd pity any bird of prey that messed with her!

Still, guard your pets. If you can't keep them indoors, keep them in a covered pen. And if the cover is of wire, put a tarp over it, too. What the hawks can't see from aloft they won't come down to investigate more closely. Be sure the wire mesh is too small for a bird's claws to go through. I once watched a hawk grab one of my ducklings right through the wire of the pen! Of course he couldn't get the duckling out, but the duckling was still dead.

Let Molly's misfortune be a warning. She won't heed it, but I hope you will.

On Authority

In Roman Catholicism, ultimate authority in matters of faith and practice resides in the pope. Among Protestants and other children of the Reformation who don’t like to call themselves Protestants, ultimate authority is accorded to the Holy Scriptures. (If pressed, Catholics and Protestants alike will tell you God Himself is the ultimate Authority, but they mean either insofar as He acts through the pope, or insofar as He has inspired the Bible.)

There are large problems with both of these forms of authority, problems apart from the fact that in each case, 500 years was more than enough to prove them simply unworkable. The papacy has shown itself, over and over again, too easily and grossly corruptible, while “Sola Scriptura” is the poison pill that has divided its adherents into almost countless denominations and sects, as each subgroup of them holds to its own interpretation of the sacred texts. The other problems are summarized by the fact that both these forms of authority are external. Being external is considered by many people a good and even necessary thing, as they do not trust what goes on in their hearts. But that is precisely the nub of the problem: why don’t they? From sad experience? What has happened, then, that the Holy Spirit in their own hearts no longer leads them into paths of truth (hence, of unity), so that they turn to a man or a book to do this? Why does their practice in effect deny what St. Paul wrote: “But we have the mind of Christ.” (I Corinthians 2:16)?

An external authority means an artificial, unnatural authority, one that must be imposed upon a person, and that in turn means the person upon whom it is imposed quite naturally chafes under it. He (rightly!) has a notorious tendency to rebel against it – and in the process, to try to discredit pope or Scripture.

You can’t discredit the Holy Spirit in the Church and in her children. He is pure Goodness, pure Truth, pure Love; He is now your highest principle and your best, new self in Christ. You can’t deny the Truth He discloses in your heart, either, for now He has made you yourself a firsthand witness of that Truth (Christ), has made you, therefore, your own authority, and no longer someone who merely relies upon the word of another. That is the surest Authority there could ever be, but simultaneously, the only Authority that leaves you free, utterly free. That’s why the Orthodox don’t speak of binding anybody’s conscience; our consciences are never bound at all. We need no coercion to profess what is flowing into our own minds from our own hearts, where the Holy Spirit lives and guides.

You can disregard the promptings of the Holy Spirit, but you still cannot but acknowledge the Truth against which you are acting, and you always know it as your own Truth. You always know that in acting apart from the Holy Spirit, you are not merely violating some external precept, but are tearing your own self apart. But if you are true to Him, hence to yourself, “if you remain in My word,” says Jesus, then “you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:31-32) Every other authority, whether man or book, puts you into servitude; the Holy Spirit alone makes you free.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Who will stop you from getting to heaven?

By Fr. John Brian
Friday, December 26, 2008

I had a dream where all that is good in heaven was available to me, but my enemies (real and imagined) were blocking my access. I was both afraid and revulsed and could not even approach. My heart's desire was to be with God and be with Him in heaven. So, I moved closer to them with revulsion, enmity and fear mounting. I noticed they were smiling and offering hugs. What a cruel joke! I thought. This is no dream, it is a nightmare! I turned away in disgust, heaving with difficult breaths due to fear-stoked adrenaline. I prayed "God, is there no way to get to you except through them?"

"This is the way," He spoke quietly in my heart, "and you are so close. Why would you let them stop you from heaven?"

"What do I do?"

"Love them."

So, I turned and ran at them with my arms open wide. I closed my eyes in terror for what might happen. Tears streaming down my face. I was met with a warm embrace. Instead of my enemies, it was the Lord Himself. He held me as I sobbed uncontrollably, saying, "I didn't know. I didn't know."

Pray for me

Fr John Brian


(Having found such cool blogs on Tony's site, I went there again to see what else I could find through him. My browser messes up his blog, so I cannot see much of his blogroll. This is from the only entry there I could actually see. But with luck, you can see his entire blogroll.)