Monday, April 30, 2012

A well-Loved Hymn

I know it's very much the wrong season, but I've finally found The Hymn of Kassiani in the version I know and therefore love the best and have been eager for so long to share with you. Written by Nun Kassiani twelve centuries ago, it has been an Orthodox favorite ever since. This setting is by Mantzaros; he was from Corfu, which has a rich and hauntingly beautiful musical tradition. You can read more about this hymn here. (I have to say our choir sings it even better, but this rendition is quite good.)

O Lord, a woman of many sins, perceiving your divinity, assumes the rank of a Myrrh-bearer and in deep mourning brings before you fragrant oil in anticipation of your burial; crying: "Woe to me! What night falls on me, what dark and moonless madness of wild-desire, this lust for sin. Take my fountain of tears You who gather the clouds from the ocean’s water. Bend down to me, to the sighing of my heart, You who bend down the heavens in your unutterable condescension. I will wash your immaculate feet with kisses and wipe them dry with the locks of my hair; those very feet whose sound Eve heard at the dusk in Paradise and hid herself in terror. Who shall count the multitude of my sins or the depth of your judgment, Saviour of my soul? Do not ignore your handmaiden, You whose mercy is endless".

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A Short Sermon so Beautiful it Boggles the Mind

I can't even excerpt it, because the best of it comes after the first few paragraphs.  But do yourself a big favor; give your soul a real treat and read it here.

The rest of the blog is fine reading, too.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Homosexuality, Part 2 of 2: The Christian Stance

As we saw by dozens of studies cited in Part 1, the homosexual lifestyle is not healthy; in fact, it is very dangerous to your health.

It is not happy for the majority of people in it, either, as evidenced by the disproportionately high rates of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, suicide.  In one UK study, only 30% of gays rated themselves as fairly or very happy. (To be fair, only 40% of straights rated themselves as fairly or very happy. This world seems a generally unhappy place.)

The homosexual lifestyle is not natural, if "natural" has anything to do with genes. It is not genetically caused, even though genes do have some influence. Furthermore, the process of natural selection is obviously working overtime de-selecting homosexuality.

And homosexual activity is not normal, as a mere glimpse at human anatomy argues more eloquently than any words.

What should be the Christian response?

Christians are to be concerned above all with persons. The Church exists specifically to bring persons into a deifying relationship with Christ that will culminate in glorious, everlasting life and light and love. Whatever is not healthy, not conducive to happiness, not natural, or not normal is incompatible with this goal.

It ought to be obvious that homosexuals are far from the only ones who suffer from these things; all of us have things about us that are unhealthy, unhappy, unnatural, abnormal, and yes, pathological; and all of us are called to struggle against them, to grow out of them, to do everything we can to co-operate with God as He liberates us from them. As a matter of fact, if we consider just sexual sin alone, it’s perhaps not so easy to find anyone who has never fallen into any form of it.

We’re all in this together; as Orthowiki points out, persons with homosexuality are not considered as somehow “having lower value in the eyes of God”.  They are as precious as everyone else, as beloved as everyone else, bear the Image of God the same as everyone else. The Church does not believe God has given a person same-sex attraction, whether as a gift or as a punishment. God didn’t do it! Homosexuality is neither a curse nor a form of insanity. It isn’t even anybody’s identity, for people are much more than their mere sexual orientation; a Christian’s identity is Christ. No, orientation to the same sex is just a maladaptive adjustment to a deep inner wound.

In Orthodox Christian spirituality, a big deal is made of the “passions,” and a passion is simply an emotion or drive when it is disordered. Anger, for example, has proper uses and wrong uses. A few days ago, my daughter-in-law, a schoolteacher whom I greatly admire, wrote on FB about the death of a student, “Makes me angry that I even just had to write the sentence, "began his battle with cancer before he started 7th grade".” This is a beautiful illustration of anger as it ought to be. It’s when we turn anger upon one another that it becomes warped, becomes a "passion". Fear is another example; it can be good and useful if, for example, it keeps us from harm; but it is a passion when it gnaws at us day and night.  Homosexual orientation is among the passions.

A major consideration about our passions is that every time we capitulate to them, the wound in us that they express is carved deeper. The passion is reinforced. The hurt to our sense of self-worth, to our character, to our soul, even to our bodies, is deep. We therefore do not seek to embrace these encumbrances, but to set them aside; we do not seek to hallow these infirmities, but to heal them.

And yes, healing there is! Real help is available both from reputable professionals and from the wisdom of the Holy Spirit in the Orthodox Christian Church. As for secular therapists, you have to be careful not to fall into the wrong hands. You probably don’t want “aversive therapy”, for example, in which you are given homosexual porn and then a little electric shock when your body responds to it. But for those who want it, enlightened psychotherapy is out there and it consists of steps from which anyone and everyone might benefit.

As for spiritual therapy, Fr. Thomas Hopko puts it well:
Like all temptations, passions and sins, including those deeply, and oftentimes seemingly indelibly embedded in our nature by our sorrowful inheritance, homosexual orientation can be cured and homosexual actions can cease. With God all things are possible. When homosexual Christians are willing to struggle, and when they receive patient, compassionate and authentically loving assistance from their families and friends - each of whom is struggling with his or her own temptations and sins; for no one is without this struggle in one form or another, and no one is without sin but God - the Lord guarantees victory in ways known to Himself. The victory, however, belongs only to the courageous souls who acknowledge their condition, face their resentments, express their angers, confess their sins, forgive their offenders (who always include their parents and members of their households), and reach out for help with the genuine desire to be healed. Jesus himself promises that the saintly heroes who "persevere to the end" along this "hard way which leads to life" will surely "be saved." (Matt. 7:13; 24:13)
There is no reason a person with homosexuality cannot become not only an Orthodox Christian but even a saint.

The catch, though, the part that may seem so difficult, is repentance. All of us need to approach Christ with repentance. But wait, wait!  Repentance is not what you probably think it is, if you grew up in the West. It has nothing to do with wallowing in guilt and remorse, or punishing ourselves, or with any other morbid thing. Repentance has to do with turning toward newness and hope and infinite, fathomless Love. And repentance turns out to be not nearly as difficult as continuing without it!  Repentance is laying down our burdens and taking up the Cross, a far, far lighter burden, and one that guides us home. Repentance is the way, and the only way, to meet God face-to-face, as it were. We know God is; everyone knows this in his deepest heart. We’ve heard of God. But the only way actually to encounter Him, firsthand, is repentance. We cannot experience His measureless tenderness toward us without acknowledging how much we need it. We are already brought into the forecourts of heaven when we are repenting, meaning we are already tasting its incomprehensible sweetness and joy; this is why we are taught that every Christian needs repentance, every moment of every day. Listen to what my friend Catherine has written about repentance:

I don’t measure up – this is undeniable – but why should I let this bring hopeless despair or utter coldness of heart? Why do I think I should earn Christ’s love? Don’t I realize that this is impossible? In this moment of realizing how very far away I am from Christ – right before the despair (in myself) and cool feelings of helplessness – lies the possibility for repentance, but only if I take it.
Through their recorded lives, we see that all these saints known especially for their repentance had these moments – and usually in extreme degrees. Feeling the utter weight of the truth (that they were very far from God) they acknowledged this fact and fell down beneath the weight of it. But at the very same moment, God permeates them (and us if we want it) with Himself, and overcomes this impossible divide. The harlot, so far away just moments before, accepts this reality and because of it leaps towards Christ: “A harlot knowing you, the Son of the Virgin, to be God, imploring you with weeping, for she had done things worthy of tears, said, ‘Loose my debt, as I unloose my hair; love one who loves, though justly hated, and along with tax-collectors I shall proclaim you, O Benefactor, who loves mankind’” (Holy Wednesday). To feel the weight of our nothingness before God, but then to cry out to Him – with hope and belief – because that’s what He’s told us to do! That’s what we see his Holy Ones do! And from this the distance is overcome, and we are raised high, “But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’” (Luke 14, 10).
It seems to me that the true weight of this word ‘repentance’ comes not from anything crushing, or overwhelming. St. Mary of Egypt tells us: “Having got as far as the doors which I could not reach before — as if the same force which had hindered me cleared the way for me — I now entered without difficulty and found myself within the holy place. And so it was I saw the life-giving Cross. I saw too the Mysteries of God and how the Lord accepts repentance." Thus, repentance for her (and for us) was a key – an entrance into something otherwise closed. The true weight of this word ‘repentance’ lies in its incomprehensible power – and from this the demons tremble. By it, we are able to call down the divine; we empty ourselves but only to be filled. And in this – we are told – lies incredible sweetness. Have we surmounted our sins, fixed our problems, before this moment? Absolutely not! It seems to me, there’s no more powerful, dynamic, way of approaching God than this. It is not about being “good” or “bad” – of course we must strive to acquire the virtues – but it’s about the state of the heart. Let us become good! But let us first have repentance! And let us keep this repentance! “I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15, 7)
 Christ offers, to all of us, straight or gay, not ease but inner peace surpassing understanding; not false comfort but challenge worthy of heroes; not flattery, but true love; not pleasure, but deep and abiding joy; not misery but endless mercy; not fun, but wholeness and heaven. May God grant us all also the courage to lay hold of these marvelous gifts!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Homosexuality, Part 1 of 2: Just the Facts

Sexually Transmitted Diseases  You knew about HIV/AIDS, of course, but homosexuals and lesbians are also more at risk than hererosexuals for all sorts of STDs, not only the usual (Gonorrhea, Chlamydia, Syphilis, etc.), but also for some for which there is no cure: Hepatitus A, B, or C, and for men, anal Human Papilloma Virus. In the case of Hepatitus C, there not only is no cure, but also no vaccine. For lesbians, “Bacterial vaginosis, cerebral vascular disease, polycystic ovaries, and androgehypernism were higher in lesbians than heterosexual women.” (From several web sites, including here.)

Substance Abuse  Substance abuse is much higher among homosexuals and lesbians than in the general population. In one study, fifty percent of gays admit to illicit drug use. 

One report tells us, “Recent studies seem to support the notion that gay men use tobacco at much higher rates than straight men, reaching nearly 50 percent in several studies. Tobacco-related health problems include lung disease and lung cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, and a whole host of other serious problems.” The CDC says, “Current evidence suggests that gay and bisexual men are more likely to smoke (33.2%) than men in the general population (21.3%), and lesbians are more likely to smoke (25%) than heterosexual women (15%). 

Both homosexual men and lesbians also tend to drink more than straight men and women. Drinking too much is also a risk factor, in all women, for osteoporosis.

Cancers  Homosexual men appear to have higher rates of prostate, testicular, and colon cancer

Lesbians have “the richest concentration of risk factors for breast cancer than any subset of women in the world.”  Two of these factors are thought to be not having babies and not nursing babies

Lesbians also have higher rates of gynecologic cancers than straight women

Mental Health Issues

Among homosexual men, there is a much higher rate of anorexia and bulimia than among straight men; and among both men and women there is an even higher rate of obesity than in the general population. Obesity is implicated in a host of other ailments like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and breast cancer

Gays of both sexes show a much higher than usual rate of depression and anxiety. This is often blamed upon non-acceptance by “homophobes”, but the correlation between sexual orientation and mental health remains strong even in societies where homosexuality is well-accepted, such as the Netherlands. 

The rate of suicides (successful) among gay men in partnerships is eight times that of heterosexual men. Lesbian women in partnerships are 65% more likely to kill themselves than straight women.

Molestation and violence have been "found to be disproportionately higher in the homosexual subgroup.” 

The "Born that Way" Theory   Same sex attraction sometimes feels, subjectively, as though it had been present in the person from birth, but in fact, although our genes are involved in some way in every single thing about us, there is no credible evidence that they play anything but a minor role in homosexuality. Here is a list of more than dozen studies refuting the “born that way” theory.  


Where, one may ask, did I find all this material? On some hateful, bigoted website? No.  Some details are from a site considered controversial because it also offers psychotherapy for unwanted homosexuality.  But much of this material comes from the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association.  You can also find all of these topics dealt with by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, here.  The Food and Drug Administration also discusses some of these in its explanation of why it doesn't want men who have sex with other men to donate blood; read it here

These are simply facts.

In a forthcoming post, I will discuss some conclusions and what a Christian stance toward homosexuality ought to be.

Under Attack?

It is said that God allows the demons to attack us for five reasons. The first is that, through being attacked and fighting back, we should learn to distinguish virtue from sin. The second is that having acquired virtue by struggle and labor we should keep it firm and unalterable. The third, that progressing in virtue we should not think highly of ourselves but learn humility. The fourth, that having experienced in practice the wickedness of sin we should hate it with perfect hatred. Finally, the fifth and most important is that having been freed from the passions we should not forget our weakness and the strength of Him that helped us.
- From our dear friend, the divine Elias, in England

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Updates on Hospitalized Friends

CHRIS was discharged from the hospital at the unlikely hour of 9 last night, and is happy to be home with her dogs and cats. Her wild animal nursery will soon be full again, unless, as I hope, she decides to cut back a little. The staff did NOT manage to get her heart back into rhythm. It is too weak. The suspicion is that it was damaged during her chemo treatments a few years ago. At that time, she went into the hospital because of feeling badly in the abdomen. They opened her up and found a massive tumor - benign! But then, while they were there, they also discovered a very, very tiny tumor that would otherwise never have been found until much later. So they removed both tumors and put her on chemo, and they think her heart has probably been at least slightly arrhythmic since about then. She is on various meds for blood pressure and blood thinning and will still need prayers.

DAVID opened his eyes Tuesday and now it feels like he is back with us. It was a day of great rejoicing. He has had a tracheostomy, a procedure that makes a hole in his throat. For hooking him up to the ventilator, althoug he is now breathing entirely on his own. He also has an opening into the stomach, so the nutrition can be put directly there. All this frees up his mouth, although he still cannot talk because of the hole in his throat; all the air goes out there instead of up to his larynx.

He can see us and he can now respond to us by shaking or nodding his head. We made an alphabet chart, thinking he could spell out things for us by pointing to the appropriate letters. Then the nurses brought us a "communications board" and it's great. The patient points to whatever part of the body he wants to discuss, and then points to adjectives like, "itches", "burns", "hurts", and so forth. There is also a list of things he may want. Well, it turns out to be more complicated than that because he can't point accurately yet. So we have to point for him and he stops us with a hand signal when we're pointing at the right thing.

What he pointed to was the left leg and the word, "numb". He has figured out that the left side of his body isn't working, and that is what was most on his mind when we last saw him. Well, of course. The nurse picked up his left leg and flexed it a few times. When she asked, "Is that better?" he nodded. !!! Implication, of course, is he can feel it, otherwise he wouldn't know if it were better or not. But we're getting mixed messages in that regard. The nurse said, "You'll be getting physical therapy for your arm and hand and leg." Perfect reply.

JOHN has now been home 9 days, having been either hospitalized or in rehab since January 12. Haven't heard from him since day two. He declined to join Nick and Sharyn and us for supper at Chick-fil-a two nights ago. We will keep trying.

Thanks again for remembering these dear people in your prayers.

One of my Favorite Settings for the Lord's Prayer... other favorite rendition of the Lord's Prayer, although I don't care for the setting, is this one, which I've posted before. This little girl even knows when to pause for the little organ interlude and when to raise her arm dramatically. :-)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

For You, Weekend Fisher

... a propos of one of your comments to one of your posts...

The RAsburry Patch: Conception to Birth - Visualized

Thanks to Pastor Randy Asburry for this marvelous video! As he points out, "It certainly brings out the depth and gravitas of Psalm 139:14: "I praise you, [O LORD,] for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well."

"You formed my inward parts; You knitted me together in my mother's womb."
(Psalm 139:13)

My All-Time Favorite Setting of the Cherubimic Hymn

Bortniansky, Cherubimi # 7

I think it is literally breath-takingly beautiful, sublime.

Forget the annoying and inaccurate English captions, though.  A better translation of the words is below.

Let us who mystically represent the Cherubim,
and who sing the hymn of "Holy, Holy, Holy"
to the life-creating Trinity,
now lay aside all earthly cares,
that we may receive the King of All,
Who comes invisibly upborne by the angelic hosts,
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A Beautiful Hymn for the Paschal Season

h/t Deb

This is an example of Russian Orthodox music.

The Angel cried to the Lady full of grace,
“Rejoice, rejoice, most pure Virgin.
Again I say, ‘Rejoice!’
Your Son is risen from His three days in the tomb.
With Himself He has raised all the dead.
Rejoice, rejoice O ye people!”
Shine, shine, shine, O new Jerusalem!
The glory of the Lord has shone on you.
Exult, exult and be glad, O Zion!
Be radiant, O pure Theotokos, in the resurrection of your Son!

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Downside of Cohabitation

Published: April 14, 2012 in the New York Times
h/t Rev. Christopher D. Hall

AT 32, one of my clients (I’ll call her Jennifer) had a lavish wine-country wedding. By then, Jennifer and her boyfriend had lived together for more than four years. The event was attended by the couple’s friends, families and two dogs.

When Jennifer started therapy with me less than a year later, she was looking for a divorce lawyer. “I spent more time planning my wedding than I spent happily married,” she sobbed. Most disheartening to Jennifer was that she’d tried to do everything right. “My parents got married young so, of course, they got divorced. We lived together! How did this happen?”  
Cohabitation in the United States has increased by more than 1,500 percent in the past half century. In 1960, about 450,000 unmarried couples lived together. Now the number is more than 7.5 million. The majority of young adults in their 20s will live with a romantic partner at least once, and more than half of all marriages will be preceded by cohabitation. This shift has been attributed to the sexual revolution and the availability of birth control, and in our current economy, sharing the bills makes cohabiting appealing. But when you talk to people in their 20s, you also hear about something else: cohabitation as prophylaxis.

In a nationwide survey conducted in 2001 by the National Marriage Project, then at Rutgers and now at the University of Virginia, nearly half of 20-somethings agreed with the statement, “You would only marry someone if he or she agreed to live together with you first, so that you could find out whether you really get along.” About two-thirds said they believed that moving in together before marriage was a good way to avoid divorce.

But that belief is contradicted by experience. Couples who cohabit before marriage (and especially before an engagement or an otherwise clear commitment) tend to be less satisfied with their marriages — and more likely to divorce — than couples who do not. These negative outcomes are called the cohabitation effect.

Researchers originally attributed the cohabitation effect to selection, or the idea that cohabitors were less conventional about marriage and thus more open to divorce. As cohabitation has become a norm, however, studies have shown that the effect is not entirely explained by individual characteristics like religion, education or politics. Research suggests that at least some of the risks may lie in cohabitation itself.

Is Believing in the Resurrection Irrational?

Not if you were there. Not if you saw Jesus alive after His death, touched His side, watched Him eat, heard Him speak. Especially if you weren't the only one, and all the others agreed as to what had happened. Over 500 people saw Him at once after He had arisen. In that case, not believing it would be the irrational thing.

Yes, well, but we weren't there, were we? Were you there when they crucified my Lord? We were, as a matter of fact, but that's a mystical thing. We don't go into that with everybody. Obviously we weren't there in a historical sense.

Then to believe in the Resurrection, one has to rely upon the accounts of those who claim to have been eyewitnesses. And believing a lot of things people say might not be a problem, but resurrection from the dead? Come on.

Well, the disciples of Jesus were willing to seal their testimony with their blood, and almost all of them did. How about that?

Not so impressive, I was told recently. Muslims, after all, are also willing to die for what they regard as the truth.

Yes, but here's the difference. Many are willing to die for what they think is true, but if Jesus did not rise from the dead, then His disciples were willing to die for what they knew was false. How rational is it to think they all did that?

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Flash Mob in Beirut, Lebanon, Singing "Christ is Risen"

It's mostly in Arabic, with one repetition in Greek. Click on the red CC button for subtitles in English

Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling down death by death,
And upon those in the tombs bestowing life.

A Different Sort of Easter Joy

Our friend, John, for whom a lot of you have been praying, finally came home Wednesday, after 4 weeks of being hospitalized plus 6 more weeks of very tough workouts in a rehab center.  John mounted a heroic effort and can now walk without a walker, even without a cane, but he uses it anyway for safety.  His gait is normal, no shuffling even.  The drug he had been trying to get off of is now down to a very tiny dose and even that will be gone soon.  Thanks to God, and thanks once again for your prayers and notes and love.

The Wednesday before last, which would be the Wednesday of western Holy Week, our friend David (not to be confused with David in England!) had a massive stroke.  For several days it seemed almost certain he was going to die. 

Together with Sharyn (his sister) and Nick, we dug around in his apartment some and found his will and "advance directive", which said if his condition were hopeless, he did not want "heroic measures" taken.  It wasn't clear, however, either whether he was hopeless or what "heroic measures" means.  He already had a breathing tube and a feeding tube down his throat.  They will have to be removed by this coming Wednesday, Bright Wednesday, or they will cause ulceration.  So Sharyn, his executor, made the decision to wait until then to make the bigger decision.

Then a few days ago we said to him, "David, if you can hear us, wiggle your toes" and he did!  Then he did it again.  A day or so later, it was, "If you can hear me, move your hand," and he did.  "Are you comfortable?"  Nothing.  "Do you want us to call the nurses and have them shift your position?"  Toes wiggling vigorously.  "Do you want us to call Erika (his lady friend)?"  Toes wiggling with even more vigor. 

Last night came the biggest breakthrough yet.  "Can you touch your chin?" I asked.  Nothing.  "Maybe not yet," I said, and then, slowly, up came the hand to touch the chin!  So he knows where his chin is.  Next, upon request, he demonstrated he could put up two fingers in a "V for Victory" sign. Demetrios asked if he could use his hand as if playing the piano, and all five fingers began going up and down independently.

Then he tried to shift his position a little, and in the process, he moved his left leg.  That's the one that theoretically was probably going to be paralyzed, since his stroke was on the right side of the brain.  It wasn't some small ripple of the sheets, either, misinterpreted by wilfull thinking.  No, it was a large, unmistakable movement that both Sharyn and I saw while our husbands were busy looking at David's face, trying to get him to open his eyes.  He was not able to repeat the leg movement when asked, but we shall try again in a day or two.  He couldn't open his eyes, either, but you could see he was trying to, and the nurses told us he had opened them for one moment in the morning. 

His hand began to explore the tube going into his throat.  I said, "You can feel that, but do not remove it, because that's what's helping you to breathe."  He seemed to understand and did not try to pull it out.  He just wrapped his hand around it. 

Commending aloud his exertion of willpower, we prepared to leave, and Nick, in parting, said, "We'll have to get you a piano when you get out of here," whereupon David once more began "playing the piano" with his good hand.  Sense of humor!  At least it seemed that way to us.  Or else perhaps it was signifying the hope he will get out. 

We took our leave, and I asked, "Can you wave goodbye?" and he did.

All this of course means there is someone at home in this seemingly vegetative body. His condition is still "very grave" and anything could still happen  He could still die, but right now, we feel we're looking at a miracle. 

Of course, even if David does live, we have no idea what his condition will be, so please pray for him.

Also, please pray for my fellow wildlife rehabber and mentor and friend, Chris, who is in the hospital with heart issues.  One of which is atrial fibrillation; they tried Friday to shock her heart back into rhythm and it didn't work.  That's the only time I've seen her cry, though; she is facing this with all her legendary courage.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Miracle of the Holy Fire...

...which is repeated every year in Jerusalem at the Resurrection Service.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Words to Bring Tears of Joy

h/t Logismoi

A Sermon of St. Epiphanios of Cyprus

Something strange is happening—there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and Hell trembles with fear. He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, He who is both God and the Son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the Cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone, ‘My Lord be with you all.’ Christ answered him: ‘And with your spirit.’ He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: ‘Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.

‘I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in Hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in Me and I in you; together we form one person and cannot be separated.

‘For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, Whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.

‘See on My Face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On My back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See My hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.

‘I slept on the Cross and a sword pierced My side for you who slept in Paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in Hell. The sword that pierced Me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.

‘Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly Paradise. I will not restore you to that Paradise, but will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The Bridal Chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The Kingdom of Heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.’

Lamentations Before the Epitaphion, Stasis 3

I was hoping to share with you the beautiful first two parts as well, but couldn't find a decent recording.  Next year, God willing! 

(It's a catafalque, half-size.) 

Lamentations, Stasis 3

Every generation offers Thee its hymn of
praise at Thy burial, O Christ.

The Arimathean took Thee down from the
tree and laid Thee in a tomb
The myrrh-bearing women, with foresight
brought sweet spices and drew near to Thee,
O Christ.

Come, all creation, sing a hymn to honor
the Creator’s Burial.

Let us, with the myrrh-bearers, anoint as
dead the Living One with the Myrrh of True

O thrice blessed Joseph, bury now the
body of Christ the Giver of Life.

Joseph and Nicodemus bury the Creator
with honors fitting for the dead.

The All-Pure Virgin wept with a mother’s
grief, O Word, when she saw You lying dead.

The hosts of angels tremble at the strange
and fearful sight of Your burial, O Maker of

Early in the morning the myrrh-bearing
women came to You and sprinkled myrrh on
Your tomb.

By Your resurrection grant peace to Your
Church and salvation to Your people.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to
the Holy Spirit.

O God in Trinity, Father, Son, and Spirit,
grant Your mercy to the world.

Both now and ever, and unto ages of ages.

Grant us your servants to behold, O Virgin,
the Resurrection of your Son.

About Sin

Be perfect, therefore, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.  (Jesus, Matthew 5:48)

In the Western world, we usually, but inaccurately, think of sin as the breaking of God’s law. We also usually mean something repugnant, blame-worthy, immoral. Here are some typical definitions:

From Merriam-Webster Online:

1 a: an offense against religious or moral law
b : an action that is or is felt to be highly reprehensible
c : an often serious shortcoming : fault
2 a : transgression of the law of God
b : a vitiated state of human nature in which the self is estranged from God
From the Bing Dictionary:
1. transgression of theological principles: an act, thought, or way of behaving that goes against the law or teachings of a religion, especially when the person who commits it is aware of this
2. shameful offense: something that offends a moral or ethical principle
3. estrangement from God: in Christian theology, the condition of being denied God's grace because of a sin or sins committed
From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

1849 Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. It has been defined as "an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law."121 St. Augustine, Contra Faustum 22:PL 42,418; St. Thomas Aquinas, STh I-II,71,6.

The word “sin” in the New Testament Greek literally means to “miss the mark”. And what is the mark?  It isn't merely a commandment or a moral principle, or even a whole set or system of these.  The mark, the standard, is nothing less than Perfection!  And Perfection, in Christianity, is Jesus Christ. 

It's another example of how, in Christianity, Jesus Christ is always the beginning and the end of everything. What is love? Love is Christ. What is Truth? Truth is Christ. What is the Church? The Church is Christ. What is the way to live? In Christ. Who revealed the Holy Trinity? Jesus Christ. How do we interpret the Old Testament? Through “the Jesus window”, as my Anglican friends in Ormskirk like to put it. What is our destiny?  Our destiny is Christ.  What is Perfection? Perfection is Jesus Christ.  In Him, Perfection is both revealed and made concrete. He Himself is the mark, the standard, the definition and personification of Perfection.

What is sin?  Sin is anything short of Perfection, meaning anything that deviates from Jesus Christ or is incompatible with Him. Sin is thinking, willing, saying, or doing, anything Jesus wouldn’t if it were He acting in us, as is meant to be the case. More fundamentally than that, sin is being anyone Jesus is not. 

Sin is anything that diverges from Christ, for any reason.  Even if we don’t know it is sinful.  Even if our sin is involuntary. Yes, even if we have been forced to choose the lesser evil.  Even, in other words, if a juridical system wouldn’t, couldn’t, hold us culpable.  It’s still sin because the main point isn’t whether or not we are guilty; the main point is whether or not we fit together with God.  This is because communion with Him, sharing in His Life, His Love, His holiness, is the destiny for which God has created us; and anything that blocks us from this glorious destiny, meaning anything irreconcilable with Christ, is still sin.   Whether it is a culpable offense or not, we still need to confess it, turn away from it, grow out of it, struggle against it all our lives long, for the sake of fuller communion in Him.  Hence we pray for the remission of all our sins, known and unknown, voluntary or involuntary. 

A noteworthy thing about sin is that it is "self-punishing."  In fact, that is the very reason God doesn't want us to do it.  It's harmful, and He Who loves us beyond measure does not want us harmed.  His precepts are not merely expressions of His unfathomable Self, as some would have it, but more specifically, expressions of His Love.  He prohibits this or that, and commands this or that, because in His infinite wisdom, He knows what is ultimately bad or good for us. And notice especially that sin, all by itself, brings such misery upon the human race that even if God were a retaliatory, vindictive sort, He would have no need whatever to add any further wretchedness to our condition.  His purpose, rather, is to save us from it. 

Another characteristic of sin is that it is not so much an individual affair as a communal one.  Some unhappy boy goes into a school and starts shooting, and the press describes him as "a loner".  Well, who left that child alone?  A man murders his wife, and you think how disgusting and terrible, and then you remember what you revealed to him about her.  You share in the responsibility.  How often do we tell ourselves, "She's beyond help," as if God did not exist, or, "He's so weird!" and we pass them by instead of being Good Samaritans.  When we fail to comfort someone, or fail to listen to anyone, or we speak evil against him, or exclude him, or insult him or embarrass him, then in addition to the accountability for what we did, we share in the responsibility for whatever evil he does.  These examples perhaps make the truth obvious, but even when it isn't obvious at all, the truth remains: everything you and I do, don't do, or can't do affects everyone else.  Sin is a communal thing; we're all in it together.  We've all contributed at least our fair share to the brokenness of this world and this human race.  (This is one more reason it is so arrogant, so deluded, so ridiculous for us to condemn anyone.)

How ought we to react to sin?  When we see sin in ourselves, the right responses are: sorrow, repentance, confession, and making amends where possible.  Note, sorrow, not guilt.  Guilt is the cry of wounded pride (plus fear of punishment); sorrow is the cry of wounded love.   Note, repentance, not remorse.  Kicking yourself is futile (except that it may bring a temporary and mistaken sense of release from guilt).  Repentance is what is needed;  that is, throwing off the chains of sin, freeing ourselves from the shackles of our smallness, to blossom in the land of newness and hope.  And we need confession, together with the advice of a holy father, to help us grow better and avoid future pitfalls as much as possible.  As for amends, if we do not make them where possible and appropriate, we have not really repented.

And when we see sin in others?  Well, theoretically, we aren't supposed to!  I know of a woman whose daughter-in-law spoke very rudely to her.  When her daughters protested, "How is it you let her speak to you that way?"  her reply was, "What?  I didn't hear anything."  We are supposed to keep our eyes focussed on our own failings.  But sometimes other people's shortfalls obtrude themselves upon our notice, and when they do, the right responses always include: compassion, not disgust (and still less, condemnation); redirecting our attention to our own sins; forgiveness if the sin was against us; remembering we also always bear responsibility for the each other's sins. And because of that last, once again we need sorrow, repentance, confession, and appropriate amends.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Filioque Controversy, Part 4

Yet another warning:  if you are seriouosly going to get into this Filioque controversy, you may like to read the three previous posts on Basic Trinitarian Theology first.

Having set forth the Orthodox objections to the Filioque, St. Photios, in his Mystagogy, next sets out to rebut the arguments of his opponents. Here they are.

1.) Scripture calls the Holy Spirit, “the Spirit of the Son”; this implies that the Spirit proceeds eternally from the Son as well as from the Father.

But it does not. The phrase is referring, above all, to the consubstantiality of the Holy Spirit with the Son, the fact that They have in common the divine Essence.

There are also other senses, says St. Photios, in which the phrase, "Spirit of the Son" is perfectly appropriate, none having to do with the Holy Spirit’s origin. For example:

The Spirit remains in the Son.
The Spirit is of the same nature, divinity, glory, and virtue as the Son.
The Spirit overshadowed the Virgin and caused her Child  to be conceived.
The Spirit is of the Son in the sense that He also sends Christ: (Luke 4:18)

Another sense in which the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christ is that Christ is the Anointed one (indeed, “Anointed One” is the very meaning of the title, “Christ”.) He is anointed with and by the Holy Spirit. But He is anointed by the Holy Spirit as Savior of the World; in other words, as to His Humanity. Does the Holy Spirit proceed from His Humanity, St. Photios asks? Or is The Son’s Humanity pre-existent from before all ages?

Now St. Photios tackles the grammatical construction of the phrase. Christ is the “Light of the World”, which does not mean begotten by the world. “The Father of the Son” doesn’t mean the Father is caused by the Son.

In holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit is also called :
the Spirit of wisdom (Isaiah 11:2),
the Spirit of understanding (Isaiah 11:2),
the Spirit of knowledge (Isaiah 11:2),
the Spirit of love (2 Timothy 1:7),
the Spirit of a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7),
the Spirit of power (2 Timothy 1:7)
the Spirit of adoption unto Sonship (Romans 8:15),
the Spirit of faith (2 Corinthians 4:13),
the Spirit of prophecy (Revelation 19:10),
the Spirit of counsel and might, (Isaiah 11:2),
the Spirit of godliness (I Timothy 3:16),
the Spirit of meekness. (Galatians 6:1), (1 Corinthians 4:21)
the Spirit of judgment and fire, (Isaiah 4:4).

“Why do you frown at these things: at the very gifts which He supplies and bestows?” asks St. Photios. “Is it because you would fight against a procession of the All-Holy Spirit from each of these as well?” (57)

In other words, as in the examples above, “of” does not mean originated by. The grammatical construction “[Spirit] of the Son” is a simple genitive of description and not an ablative of origin.

2.) Jesus said to His disciples, “He will glorify Me, for He shall receive of Mine and shall announce it to you. All things which the Father has are Mine. That is why I said He shall receive of Mine and shall announce it to you.” (John 16:14-15) “All things” must include breathing forth the Holy Spirit. “He shall receive of Mine” must mean the Son contributes something of His own to the Holy Spirit.

We must remember, when reading this passage, that the one thing the Father cannot give the Son (because the very idea is a contradiction in terms) is His Fatherhood. Fatherhood is not something the Father has, but is, namely the Origin of the Holy Trinity. To suppose the Father gives the Son a share in the procession of the Spirit is to suppose He makes the Son co-Origin of the Holy Trinity, a co-Father. The distinction between the Father and the Son blurs.

As a reading of the whole passage in John’s Gospel makes perfectly clear, Jesus means the Holy Spirit will tell the disciples all the rest of the things He (Jesus) has to say to them, but cannot now, “For you cannot bear them now.” (John 16:12)

“Never, not ever,” says St. Photios, "can we "infer that receiving from someone for the sake of another necessity is identical with receiving existence by procession.” (21)

Furthermore, Jesus said “He shall receive from Mine,” but not “from Me.” Rather, from the Father, with whom Jesus in this passage is claiming equality. The Holy Spirit is receiving these things from the Father, but the Father's things are also Mine, He means.

3.) All the Western Fathers taught the Filioque. We must hold to it to be faithful to our tradition.

St. Photios deals with this assertion at great length, in paragraphs 66-84 of his treatise.

First, he excoriates the Filioquists for leveling this charge at their fathers. He tells them none of their Fathers wished to affirm anything contrary to what Jesus taught. He says that if their Fathers had been rebuked and corrected, they would humbly have accepted the correction. To suppose otherwise is to slander them. As it happens, due to historical circumstances, the Western Fathers never had “your advantages [of being corrected]”. Therefore we can say that if, although “in other things they are the equals of the best [Fathers] they did fall into some error …by some negligence or oversight — for such is the human condition — “ at least it is not the case that when they were corrected they either contradicted the Church or were obstinately disobedient; so why should you do this? St. Photios tells the proponents of the Filioque he does “not admit that what you assert was so plainly taught by those blessed men.” But if is was, their spiritual children ought to “imitate the sons of Noah” and cover their fathers’ shame. Instead, he tells them, ”you publish abroad the shame of those whom you call your Fathers.” (70)

Next, St. Photios lists numerous Western Fathers who clearly did not teach the Filioque, some of whom even contended against it, including some popes of Rome. In fact, the popes resisted the Filioque for centuries, and it wasn’t until the year 1014 that it appeared in Rome with papal sanction. The occasion was the crowning of Henry II. When he arrived in Rome for the event, he noticed that, per the Roman custom, the Creed was not included in the Roman mass. He made a special request for it, in the form to which he was accustomed. Henry regarded the Emperor (himself) as supreme even over Church affairs. The pope, who already believed in the doctrine of Filioque anyway, was very weak and needed the Emperor’s military support. He granted the request.

4.) It was necessary in the West to add the Filioque to the Creed to counter the Arian heresy, which taught that the Son was not God, but a creature.

The East had to contend with Arianism every bit as much as the West. In fact, the Councils at Nicaea and Constantinople, which forged the Creed, met for the very purpose of combating Arianism, and Arianism was the impetus for writing the Creed – without any Filioque.

5.) The Filioque simply clarifies what the Fathers meant. They did not say the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father alone, nor did they intend to teach it. THAT in fact is the new doctrine.

The Fathers of the Councils pondered and vigorously debated every single word they wrote. It is inconceivable they meant anything other than what they affirmed not once but repeatedly, over centuries.

This is all the more so, since immediately after the phrase “proceeds from the Father,” they added, “Who together with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified…” If they did not forget “and the Son” in the second phrase, neither did they forget it in the first.

6.) Eastern Fathers said, “through the Son” and that is another way of saying what the Filioque means.

Eastern Fathers also said the Holy Spirit was sent by the Son. But through the Son and by the Son both mean other things entirely.

“By the Son” refers not to the Holy Spirit’s eternal procession, but to the fact that Christ sends the Holy Spirit to us in history. Jesus said, “But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, [even] the Spirit of truth, which proceeds from the Father, He shall testify of me…” (John 15:26)

“Through the Son” usually refers to the entirely different doctrine of Perichoresis. Perichoresis has nothing to do with the doctrine that the Holy Spirit owes His Being in some way, in any way, in whole or in part, to the Son.

It is quite possible that some Eastern Fathers got it wrong; it isn't as though certain of the Western Fathers had any monopoly on error.  We have a saying, whose origin I do not know, that about 80% of the Fathers got it right about 80% of the time.  But in general, it is safe to say the phrase "through the Son" was not being used to mean anything like the Filioque.

7.) The whole controversy is only a semantic difference; we all mean the same thing, but one has to add the Filioque to the Latin to make it mean the same thing the Greek means without it.

If this were true, the solution to the controversy would be blindingly obvious: let them change their semantics, who think it all means the same thing.  Let them delete the Filioque. Or if the Latin really is incurable without the Filioque, use the Greek. Of course that hasn’t happened. Moreover, the few voices among the Filioquists in favor of dropping the word still insist on retaining the teaching, this demand itself contradicting the assertion that the Creed means the same thing with or without the Filioque.

With the Filioque, God (in our minds) becomes a tri-partite Essence, an abstract, impersonal product of philosophy. Note carefully:  Our salvation is completely undone if it means union with God and God turns out to be an abstraction.

Viewed from a certain perspective, however, there is one very desirable thing about the Filioque. Take the doctrine that the Holy Spirit proceeds also from the Son and combine it with the title, “Vicar of Christ” (the Son’s regent on earth), and it enhances that title immeasurably, as any bearer of it readily appreciates.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Filioque Controversy, Part 3

Another warning: This stuff will be a huge bore to you unless you are interested in theology and apologetics in particular.

In the previous part of this series, we examined two broad categories into which the Orthodox objections to the Filioque fall. Here are the remaining two.

3.) The Filioque insults at least one and potentially all three divine Persons.

For “what does the Spirit gain which He did not already possess in His procession from the Father?” If He gained anything from the alleged procession from the Son, then the procession from the Father was imperfect! To assert that the Father does anything imperfectly insults Him.

If we say the Holy Spirit was in need of something from the Son, we are saying the Holy Spirit would have been imperfect without receiving it. He was imperfect by receiving it, as well, because whatever “extra” the Holy Spirit gained from the Son would again violate the principle of divine simplicity. It would also render the Spirit imperfect by making Him subordinate to the Son. Thus the Filioque insults the Holy Spirit either way.

“But if the Spirit received no increment, what is the purpose of the procession [from the Son] which is unable to add anything?” It insults the Son to suppose Him involved in some meaningless and sterile activity.

4.) The Filioque confuses the Hypostases with each other and/or with the divine Essence and/or with the divine attributes, blurring or destroying the distinctions among them.

This is the most basic objection, to which the others can also be reduced.

An Hypostasis (each with His own specific character) is by definition the only thing not shared by the whole Trinity. The Hypostases are the only differentiation within the Holy Trinity. In direct proportion as we begin to blur the distinctions between them, we blur or remove the Threeness; that is, the Trinity itself. There are several ways in which the Filioque causes this to happen.

• The Filioque at least partially transfers to the Son the Father’s sole distinction: being the Origin or Cause. The result is, “that either the Son takes over the Father's role and title or the Father's Hypostasis is imperfect, lacking completion, and that the Son supplements the Hypostasis of the Father. Since [in either case] the Son is made a part of the Father, this truncates the awesome mystery of the Trinity to a mere dyad.” (16)

• The Father causes the procession of the Holy Spirit; that is to say, the First Hypostasis causes it. But if you assert that the procession comes from His Essence instead, then the procession of the Holy Spirit cannot be attributed to either the Father or the Son. They are not essences. They are Hypostases. Worse, if causation is a property of the divine Essence and if the divine Essence is something each possesses, then all Three, to be God, must cause other hypostases (or they wouldn't be God), and these further hypostases must in turn cause more, and so forth.

• The consubstantiality of the Holy Trinity is due to the Father’s being the Sole Cause and conferring His Substance (Essence) upon the Whole. To attribute cause to the Son implies a compromise of the consubstantiality. In other words, it implies the Holy Spirit is receiving two essences, since to receive only one essence from both Father and Son would be superfluous.

• In place of the proper distinctions of the Hypostases, namely Their relations of origin, we are now offered relations of opposition: In this corner, the Father; in that corner, the Son; and connecting the two, the Synthesis, the Holy Spirit. This was St. Augustine’s model when he proposed the Father as Lover, the Son as Beloved, and the Holy Spirit as their mutual gift of love to each other. If we accept this model, then the Holy Spirit becomes the new principle of unity in the Trinity, instead of the Father (which is correct) or the Essence (which isn't).

• Even worse (if that were possible), this Filioque model sees the Holy Spirit as an attribute the Father and the Son have in common. But the Holy Spirit is not an attribute. He is a Person or an Hypostasis, and Hypostasis is precisely the only thing Father, Son, and Spirit do not have in common. Thus, the Filioque confuses Essence, hypostases, and attributes, and the distinction between them all has entirely broken down.

Are you thoroughly confused yet? Yes, that's the point.

In the final part of this series, we shall have a look at the most common defenses proposed for the Filioque, and why they will not work.

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Filioque Controversy, Part 2

Another Warning:  Heavy theological sledding ahead!  Skip this post if you are not into theology.

Why we Reject the Filioque

Most of the objections to the Filioque fall into four broad categories. Here, we shall summarize the first two of them. For more detail, consult the treatise Mystagogy of the Holy Spirit by St. Photios the Great.  All the quotes in this post are from it, and the numbers in parentheses following a quotation indicate the appropriate section of the Treatise.

1.) The Filioque destroys the equality of rank and honor among the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity .

This happens in two ways.

One is that the Filioque places the Holy Spirit a degree further from the Father than the Son is. The Son differs from the Father by only one distinction, while the Holy Spirit differs from the Father by two, “…and the Spirit's equal dignity will be blasphemed as being inferior to the Son with regard to consubstantial kinship with the Father.” (32)

The other way the Filioque violates the Holy Spirit’s equal rank is by leaving Him as the only hypostasis lacking the honor of giving rise to another hypostasis .

St. Photios, in The Mystagogy, has much indignant fun with the problem of equality of rank and dignity posed by the Filioque, suggesting various ridiculous ways his opponents could remedy the problem – for remedied it must be:

If you admit any other Cause of the Holy Trinity than the Father, says St. Photios, why not say the Holy Spirit also produces the Son?  But this confuses “each hypostasis ' unique property with the others” and mutilates them all.

Or why not assert that the three Hypostases all cause one Another? Then, of course, the Spirit would “participate in His own procession…” (6)

Or why not say the Holy Spirit, like the Father and the Son, also produces an hypostasis , making a 4th hypostasis, which would also have to be granted this honor, making a 5th, and so on ad infinitum. “Otherwise," if you keep the Filioque but do not do any of these ridiculous things to restore the Holy Spirit to equality, "you degrade Him who is worthy of equal honor.” (8)

In practice, the Holy Spirit in most denominations receives very little attention compared with the Father or the Son.  Most people who count themselves Christians do not appear to know Him, have theological work-arounds that carefully eliminate reliance upon Him, and do not know what to do with Him or why He is very important, compared with the Father and the Son.

2.) The Filioque unavoidably attributes a double cause to the Holy Spirit.

Yes, it is unavoidable.  One cannot escape this difficulty simply by asserting that it isn’t so, as when one says The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son “as from one principle”.  The Holy Spirit does not proceed from any principle, but from a Person.  The Father and the Son are not principles (let alone one principle) but  two Hypostases; two Persons.  They are one as to their common Essence, but the Holy Spirit does not flow from an Essence.  He proceeds from a Person.  An essence does not cause anything.  Nothing is begotten of an essence, nor proceeds from an essence.  An essence does nothing other than simply to be whatever it is. That is what “essence” means.

A double cause of the Holy Spirit, in turn, means “the lordly perfection of the Spirit is destroyed because it will either be ... divided in two, or it will be a composite.” (42) The Holy Spirit, in fact, is absolutely simple, absolutely and ineffably One, just like and no less than the other Hypostases of the Holy Trinity.

If one is going to wreak havoc upon the principle of the divine simplicity, then why, St. Photios asks (again indulging in much indignant fun),  “…on the basis of the same reasoning, should not a third cause [of the Persons ] appear?” (12) Or why say the Holy Spirit is the only one with two origins? Why not suppose the Others have multiple origins as well? Or, “…how is it that this godless doctrine does not make the Spirit a grandson and thus drive away the tremendous mysteries of theology with protracted nonsense?” (61)

(And if the answer to any of these “why not” questions should happen to be, “Because it isn’t scriptural,” we can only guess with what scorn St. Photios might point out the holy Scripture has already been left behind.)

There is an alternative error to this one, but if one professes the Filioque, one is forced into one error or the other.  Vladimir Lossky points out that one must either "destroy the unity by acknowledging two principles of Godhead, or one must ground the unity primarily on the common nature."  As we pointed out in an earlier post, it is the Father Who is the principle of unity within the Holy Trinity, not the Nature, aka, Essence.   It is the Father, as common Origin of the other Two, conferring His Essence upon the Son and the Holy Spirit.  If we suppose the Essence is the principle of unity in the Holy Trinity, then that Essence "overshadows the persons and transforms them into relations within the unity of the essence.” (Lossky, Vladimir, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, Crestwood, New York, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1976, p. 58.)

To imagine relations instead of Persons is obviously to imagine an impersonal and abstract God. This is not the Father of Jesus Christ, not the God revealed to us. This is a philosophical concept.

The next post of this series will examine two more of the reasons we object to the Filioque.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Repentance is not Something Morbid!

By my beloved friend, Catherine

This is one of those "oh-so-true" essays that hits us where we live and helps us get real. Too many of us suffer from the idea that repentance is distasteful, shameful, miserable.

Repentance. I must admit, when I hear this word there’s something in me that almost shudders – or even better – freezes. There’s a ‘heaviness’ to it that is almost unbearable. I guess you could say, ‘repentance is heavy; it’s serious and there’s nothing light about it.’ That would be true, but I would have to explain myself a bit more for you to see where my error lies, since – as far as I can see – this ‘heaviness’ that I feel has nothing to do with real repentance at all; even worse, it’s just an imposter, a false repentance – mixing me up. I’ll explain a bit, and hopefully you’ll see through my ridiculousness.

For example, hearing that ten-letter-word my mind rushes to images of the harsh ascetic labours that such Repentant Ones did, and still do: the deprivations, the sighs, the exile and loneliness, the severe fasting, never ending prostrations, the flight from this world, and finally the terrible tortures, and horrific deaths – all due to their great repentance. Unable to identify in the least bit with such actions, such feats, I feel a crushing weight set into my bones. That’s when I’d sigh. And that’s when my mind despairs of my weakness – of my lack of love. And then the distance sets in – the utter separation. I am not good enough. With Christ having such good friends, I have no chance.

My thinking this way, it seems to me, is utter poison. I am wrong to identify these deeds – these actions – with the state of repentance.

Read the rest here.

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Filioque Controversy, Part 1

Warning:  Another recent outbreak of verbal wrangling over this subject in the blogosphere has prompted these posts on the Filioque Controversy.  However, if you are not into theology and apologetics, this is definitely going to bore you to tears.  If you have never heard of the subject before, it is still very likely to bore you to tears.  Even if you are an inquirer into the holy Orthodox Christian faith, you probably have more pressing matters on your agenda.  This is a purely "intra-mural" issue between Orthodoxy and other traditions.

* * *


But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, [even] the Spirit of truth, which proceeds from the Father, He shall testify of me…” (John 15:26)

In the year 325, the Church met at Nicea, in what is known as the First Ecumenical Council (not counting the Council of Jerusalem, see Acts 15), to resolve several issues, especially the Arian Heresy. The Fathers of Nicea hammered out a creed. The section of the Creed dealing with the Holy Spirit read, simply: “And [we believe] in the Holy Spirit.”

The Creed was revised, especially the section on the Holy Spirit, at the Second Ecumenical Council held in Constantinople in 381. That Council wrote the words we say today: “And [we believe] in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of life, who proceeds from the Father, who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, who spoke by the prophets.”

In the words of St. Photios, “the second of the seven Holy and Ecumenical Synods directly dogmatized that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father. The third received it by tradition; the fourth confirmed it; the fifth supported the same doctrine; the sixth sealed it; the seventh sealed it in splendor with contests.” (St. Photios the Great, Mystagogy of the Holy Spirit, 5)

In fact, the Second Ecumenical Council (Constantinople I, Canon I) declared, “The profession of faith of the holy fathers who gathered in Nicaea in Bithynia is not to be abrogated, but it is to remain in force.”

The Third Council even imposed penalties on anyone who would “produce or write or compose any other creed…” The penalties were that a “bishop clearly is to be stripped of his bishopric and deposed, a cleric to be deposed from the clergy, and a lay person is to be anathematized.” Definition of the faith at Nicaea, Council of Ephesus, 6th session 22 July 431)

The Fourth Council, at Chalcedon, decreed, “This wise and saving creed, the gift of divine grace, was sufficient for a perfect understanding and establishment of religion. For its teaching about the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit is complete...” (Definition of the Faith, Council of Chalcedon)

In 589, in Toledo, Spain (Sometimes the date 447 is given, as there were several local/regional councils at Toledo.), a change did however appear in the Creed, in apparent ignorance of basic Trinitarian principles. The phrase, “And [we believe] in the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father,” became, “And [we believe] in the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.” In Latin, “and the Son” is Filioque.

One might not suppose that such a small and seemingly innocuous change could have provoked so many centuries of stormy controversy, and even have played a major part in the Great Schism between Rome and Constantinople, which has never been healed.

Yet, because the Filioque contradicts basic Trinitarian dogma in several key points, it remains unacceptable in Orthodoxy. In fact, the sum of all our objections to it is that it both presupposes and defines a different god, an abstract god, not the God we have encountered.

I'll begin the explanation of why in the next post of this series.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Basic Trinitarian Theology, Part 3 of 3

The doctrine of perichoresis (“perry-CORE-ee-sis”) or “circumincession” in Latin, says that each Hypostasis in the Holy Trinity eternally lives and dwells within the Others. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit each, so to speak, occupy the same space. They co-inhere by virtue of each possessing the same Substance. St. John of Damascus (Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith 1.14) explains:

The subsistences [i.e., the three Persons] dwell and are established firmly in one another. For they are inseparable and cannot part from one another, but keep to their separate courses within one another, without coalescing or mingling, but cleaving to each other. For the Son is in the Father and the Spirit: and the Spirit in the Father and the Son: and the Father in the Son and the Spirit, but there is no coalescence or commingling or confusion. And there is one and the same motion: for there is one impulse and one motion of the three subsistences, which is not to be observed in any created nature.
The main basis for the doctrine of perichoresis is Jesus’ saying, "I am in my Father, and my Father is in me" (John 14:10) as well as His prayer in John 17, which is, in part:

I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.

Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father! The world has not known You, but I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me. And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them. (John 17:20-26)

Perichoresis means Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit eternally pour Themselves out, Each to the other Two, in total, self-donating Love. It means that God always loved, without need of creating anything to be loved by Him. Each Hypostasis is a fountain of overflowing love; the Trinity is a constant movement and communion of Love.

As a Communion of Love, the Holy Trinity is the very archetype of personhood. To be a human person, to fulfill ones humanity, is to live in a communion of love with every other and with God, such that we all live within one another (Romans 12:5) and God.

Salvation means for human beings to be drawn into God’s own perichoresis, to participate in His dance of love.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Basic Trinitarian Theology, Part 2 of 3

One in Essence

The other pole of the Church’s experience is that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, mysteriously and paradoxically, are not three gods, but a single God. The Church theologized upon this experience by saying that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit all share the same “substance,” or “essence.” By “essence,” we mean: that without which a thing would not be what it is; or in fact would not be, period.

We can have no idea what God has or is, such that if He did not have It or be It, He would not be God, would not even be. But whatever that is, we call It His Essence. “The Nature of Divinity,” we might also say. ( “Essence”, “substance”, and “nature” are often used by theologians interchangeably.) Whatever it is, all Three of His hypostases alike have it. Each has, so to speak, all of it, not merely a share in it. That is, each is fully God, not a third of God. The Father confers all of His own “substance” upon the Son as He is begotten and upon the Holy Spirit as He proceeds. We could say, loosely speaking, that the Father makes them to have His own kind of Being. (More strictly speaking, God is neither a Being nor has being, but is the Creator of being.)

(This is a little easier for our minds to grasp if we consider that each human person is a unique hypostasis of one nature, namely, human nature, which is the same in every one of us – although we divide human nature among us, each having, so to speak a piece of the reality, whereas the Persons of the Holy Trinity each have the Divine Essence in its entirety.)

St. Photios the Great (Mystagogy of the Holy Spirit, 46) explains how it is that the Hypostases are not confused and the Essence is not divisible:

…each hypostasis of the consubstantial and divine Trinity is ineffably united to each other in an inseparable communion of nature, but each maintains His specific and unique characteristic properties by distinction of the hypostases. This distinction allows no room for confusion … because the communion of nature does not permit any severance or division, nor are the properties which distinguish each of the three permitted to be mingled into any fusion.

The Son and the Holy Spirit are of one Essence (are “consubstantial”) with the Father because They originate from the Father, Who confers His own Essence upon the Them. It is very important that the Father causes the Holy Trinity, and not the divine Essence. Essences do not cause or act; they simply are. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit act. The Father, not the divine Essence, both causes the Hypostases and is the principle of their unity.

Because they all are of one Essence (or “Substance”), the Three Hypostases are equal in dignity, in majesty, in rank, and are worshipped equally as one and inseparable.

The inseparability of the Three is as important as their Threeness. To theologize in a way that separates any Hypostasis from another is to give up monotheism. There is no such thing as one having a will contrary to that of another’s, or of one acting against another, or of one having a different disposition or attitude than another. There is no opposition of any kind within the Holy Trinity. Whatever the Three are, they are it together as One. Whatever they have, they have in common; whatever we say they think or say or do, we must say they think or say or do jointly. Otherwise, we end up with three gods. Further, we end up, in practice, loving one of the three gods more than another, even though in Christianity this is a theoretical impossibility. Many people go around saying how much they love Jesus. How few exclaim how much they love the Father! And many people don’t even seem to know what to do with the Holy Spirit.

It is important, as always, that our theologizing begins with and is based upon our experience as Church, which is another way of saying, upon God’s self-revelation to us in history. In theologizing about the Holy Trinity, we begin by saying that in the real world, we have encountered Three who nevertheless, because of having all the same powers and energies, disclose Themselves as One. (We insist that God reveals Himself to us as He really is. He really is, in Himself, Three yet One; this is no mere appearance.)

Our concrete experience is not the other way around! That is, we have not, in the real world, encountered some nebulous philosophical entity called a “Oneness” or an “Essence” which, nevertheless (for what reason?) requires some threefold explanation. The latter approach changes theology from prayerful reflection upon Christian experience into philosophizing about impersonal abstractions (for what else is “Oneness” or “Essence”?). Such philosophizing leaves us with concepts only, divorced from our concrete reality. Religion thereby becomes a system of thought, an artifact of the human mind, an idol of our intellect, rather than real, heavenly yet down-to-earth, Life in Christ. That is how “Christian” religion, because of being abstracted from our concrete experience, eventually becomes irrelevant and breaks down altogether, collapsing into the materialism, secularism and meaninglessness which, in turn, in Europe and elsewhere, are not so gradually being replaced by Islam.

It is most emphatically not an Essence or a Nature we worship, or anything else impersonal; neither is the subject of our study or theologizing some ethereal Substance. Our God is the Son who came among us in flesh and blood, the Father He preached, of whom He is the exact Icon, and the Holy Spirit He sent: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Trinity, one in Essence, undivided and indivisible. God is intensely personal.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Basic Trinitarian Theology, Part 1 of 3

Disclaimer: This topic, being difficult, ought to be discussed only with fear and trembling.  It is one about which I can claim no special knowledge, let alone expertise. Therefore, wherever I may state the mind of the Church incorrectly or clumsily, I beg my brothers and sisters in Christ to correct me.

Why this Subject is Important

WHO CARES, and why, about all the theoretical ins and outs of the Trinity, and how the Church may have formulated them? Isn’t it all rather abstruse, obscure, and remote from my life?

Actually, Trinitarian dogma has everything to do with our lives. It is only abstruse and obscure and abstract when it is, well, abstracted from our real life and considered academically instead of expressing something we have experienced. That's to say, when it is misunderstood.

The first reason this theology is important is that the Holy Trinity IS the Christian God, the God we worship. Hence, we cannot properly preach or teach without having some basic knowledge of what we're talking about when we say, "Holy Trinity".

The precious dogma of the Holy Trinity also reflects the deepest truths about us, and so has very concrete and personal application. This is because mankind was created in the image of the Holy Trinity.  (Genesis 1:26-27) Thus, a second reason the dogma of the Holy Trinity is so important to us is that it and it alone reveals to mankind the true meaning of personhood, and of how to be an authentic person.

A third reason is that our human destiny, if we will accept it, is actually to participate, actively, in the divine Life of the Holy Trinity.

Fourthly, a correct understanding of basic Trinitarian theology will avoid many controversies. The infamous Filioque controversy, for example, could have been avoided altogether, had these foundational dogmas of the Church been properly understood (and applied) all around.

God is Three, Yet One
There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all (Ephesians 4:4-6)
As with everything in Christianity, Trinitarian theology begins and ends with Jesus Christ. We do not speak philosophy (per se); we do not invent fables, but we set forth what we have experienced.

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life - Life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us - that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have communion with us; and truly our communion is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:1-3)

Christian experience of God, then, is threefold. The divine Son, Jesus of Nazareth, appeared among us and healed all our diseases and forgave all our sins and after we had crucified Him, showed Himself alive again in our midst, and to summarize, revealed Himself as Divine. He also preached and demonstrated the invisible Father, saying, "Whoever has seen Me has seen the Father." (John 10:30) And afterwards He sent to the Church the Holy Spirit.

Yet the Church has also inherited the clear understanding that God is One. “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One!” (Deuteronomy 6:4) Indeed, the Church, mysteriously enough, also experiences these Three as one and the same God. Jesus taught us, "I and the Father are one." (John 14:9) and the Holy Spirit in the Church testifies to the same oneness.

In the early Church, although the concrete experience was already clear, the way to state it was not. After all, we are dealing with deep mysteries here. Often, the best we can do is say what the mystery we experience is not, rather than what it is.

Various attempts were made and deemed inadequate to the experience or even contrary to it and to the biblical testimony, and therefore heretical. At length, in the face of raging controversy, the Church in her councils set forth the great Trinitarian dogmas.

The rest of this post will try to look at God's threeness.

Three "Hypostases"

The Godhead, said the Church, has three hypostases . “Hypostasis” is one of those Greek words almost impossible to render in another language. It means “existence,” but not in the sense of pure being, which would be formless and therefore unknowable. It means existence of a particular kind, or having a certain character. For example, in Hebrews 11:1 we read the famous dictum, “Faith is the hypostasis of things hoped for, the obviousness of things unseen.” It means that when the things hoped for materialize, they will have an existence; but here and now, they already have another existence, and we call their present existence, “faith.” Faith is the things hoped for already present to us; we already possess them. Thus, the things hoped for have two hypostases, a future one in paradise, but also one here and now.

In Christian experience, the same God, one Being, has three existences or three ways of existing or three facets to His existence, which Three we call “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

By “Father” we indicate the beginningless source or eternal cause of both the Son and the Holy Spirit. Unoriginate Himself, He is the eternal (timeless) Origin of both the other two Hypostases; for "Father” does not designate a relationship He has only with the Son. He is also called the “Monarch,” which literally means "Sole Ruler" but also, just as literally, "Only Source". The Father is the fountain from which the Son and Holy Spirit eternally spring.  The Father, and He alone, is also the principle of unity among the three.

The “Son” is the “Word,” or Articulation, of the Father. As Muslims believe Allah articulates himself in the Koran, so Christians believe God eternally articulates Himself in, or rather as, His Son. For this reason, the Son is called the Logos, which means, roughly, God's thinking, His "logic", His Knowledge and Wisdom.The Son differs from the Father only and precisely by being the Son; that is, by having His timeless origin in the Father. It was He who, for our sakes, took flesh and became Man, but (in a way we cannot begin to comprehend, because we are not God) without compromise to His Divinity (or His Humanity) and without mingling His Divinity with anything else.

The Holy Spirit is the One we call, "Heavenly King, Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, present in all places and filling all things, Treasury of Goodness..."  The Holy Spirit, too, is distinguished from the Father only in that He has an Origin, and His eternal origin is the Father. He is distinguished from the Son only in the manner in which He comes from the Father. Whereas the Son is “begotten”, the Holy Spirit “proceeds” from the Father. So what is the difference?  Nobody knows!  Nobody even pretends to know what the difference is between “begotten” and “proceeds” in this context. These words only intend to indicate that there is some difference; the Son and the Holy Spirit come from the Father each in His own, unique, and mysterious way.

It is important to emphasize that the way in which any one Hypostasis is distinguishable from the Others is only and precisely by His relationships to the other Two. These are specifically relationships of origin. (This is important because many heresies assign to the Holy Trinity different sorts of relationships.)  The Father is distinguished only by being the Origin; the Son, only by being eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Spirit, only by proceeding eternally from the Father. Without these distinctions, we cannot speak of Trinity; with any distinctions more than these, we have polytheism. To tamper with the proper distinctions will fail to express, and end up destroying, the Church’s experience of God in Christ, ultimately producing, in people’s minds, a god different from the one we have known.

Nevertheless, we must be very careful to observe that “Father”, “Son”, and “Holy Spirit” are not names we give to mere relationships. That would be gross reductionism. Although their relationships of origin alone distinguish the three, they do not define them. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are Persons, not relationships -much less abstractions, or things. They are not, for example, Lover, Beloved, and Love or Mother, Child, and Womb. They are God, God, and God.

In the next (shorter) post, we will try to say a few things about God's Oneness.