Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Faith of the Fathers - Upon this Rock

Exterior of Baptistery of St. John, Poitiers, France, dating from 4th Cent., photo © 1995 by me

A belief that the Son of God is Son in name only and not in nature, is not the faith of the Gospels and of the Apostles. If this be a mere title, to which adoption is His only claim; if He be not the Son in virtue of having proceeded forth from God, whence, I ask, was it that the blessed Simon Bar-Jona confessed to Him, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God [St. Matt. xvi. 16.] ? Because He shared with all mankind the power of being born as one of the sons of God through the sacrament of regeneration? If Christ be the Son of God only in this titular way, what was the revelation made to Peter, not by flesh and blood, but by the Father in heaven? What praise could he deserve for making a declaration which was universally applicable? What credit was due to Him for stating a fact of general knowledge? If He be Son by adoption, wherein lay the blessedness of Peter’s confession, which offered a tribute to the Son to which, in that case, He had no more title than any member of the company of saints? The Apostle’s faith penetrates into a region closed to human reasoning. He had, no doubt, often heard, He that receiveth you receiveth Me, and He that receiveth Me receiveth Him that sent Me [St. Matt. x. 40. ]. Hence he knew well that Christ had been sent; he had heard Him, Whom he knew to have been sent, making the declaration, All things are delivered unto Me of the Father, and no one knoweth the Son but the Father, neither knoweth any one the Father save the Son [St. Matt. xi. 27.]. What then is this truth, which the Father now reveals to Peter, which receives the praise of a blessed confession? It cannot have been that the names of ‘Father’ and ‘Son’ were novel to him; he had heard them often. Yet he speaks words which the tongue of man had never framed before:—Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. For though Christ, while dwelling in the body, had avowed Himself to be the Son of God, yet now for the first time the Apostle’s faith had recognised in Him the presence of the Divine nature. Peter is praised not merely for his tribute of adoration, but for his recognition of the mysterious truth; for confessing not Christ only, but Christ the Son of God. It would clearly have sufficed for a payment of reverence, had he said, Thou art the Christ, and nothing more. But it would have been a hollow confession, had Peter only hailed Him as Christ, without confessing Him the Son of God. And so his words Thou art [cf. Exodus iii. 14.] declare that what is asserted of Him is strictly and exactly true to His nature. Next, the Father’s utterance, This is My Son, had revealed to Peter that he must confess Thou art the Son of God, for in the words This is, God the Revealer points Him out, and the response, Thou art, is the believer’s welcome to the truth. And this is the rock of confession whereon the Church is built. But the perceptive faculties of flesh and blood cannot attain to the recognition and confession of this truth. It is a mystery, Divinely revealed, that Christ must be not only named, but believed, the Son of God. Was it only the Divine name; was it not rather the Divine nature that was revealed to Peter? If it were the name, he had heard it often from the Lord, proclaiming Himself the Son of God. What honour, then, did he deserve for announcing the name? No; it was not the name; it was the nature, for the name had been repeatedly proclaimed.

This faith it is which is the foundation of the Church; through this faith the gates of hell cannot prevail against her. This is the faith which has the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatsoever this faith shall have loosed or bound on earth shall be loosed or bound in heaven. This faith is the Father’s gift by revelation; even the knowledge that we must not imagine a false Christ, a creature made out of nothing, but must confess Him the Son of God, truly possessed of the Divine nature. What blasphemous madness and pitiful folly is it, that will not heed the venerable age and faith of that blessed martyr, Peter himself, for whom the Father was prayed that his faith might not fail in temptation; who twice repeated the declaration of love for God that was demanded of him, and was grieved that he was tested by a third renewal of the question, as though it were a doubtful and wavering devotion, and then, because this third trial had cleansed him of his infirmities, had the reward of hearing the Lord’s commission, Feed My sheep, a third time repeated; who, when all the Apostles were silent, alone recognised by the Father’s revelation the Son of God, and won the pre-eminence of a glory beyond the reach of human frailty by his confession of his blissful faith! What are the conclusions forced upon us by the study of his words? He confessed that Christ is the Son of God; you, lying bishop of the new apostolate, thrust upon us your modern notion that Christ is a creature, made out of nothing. What violence is this, that so distorts the glorious words? The very reason why he is blessed is that he confessed the Son of God. This is the Father’s revelation, this the foundation of the Church, this the assurance of her permanence. Hence has she the keys of the kingdom of heaven, hence judgment in heaven and judgment on earth. Through revelation Peter learnt the mystery hidden from the beginning of the world, proclaimed the faith, published the Divine nature, confessed the Son of God. He who would deny all this truth and confess Christ a creature, must first deny the apostleship of Peter, his faith, his blessedness, his episcopate, his martyrdom. And when he has done all this, he must learn that he has severed himself from Christ; for it was by confessing Him that Peter won these glories.

Do you think, wretched heretic of today, that Peter would have been the more blessed now, if he had said, ‘Thou art Christ, God’s perfect creature, His handiwork, though excelling all His other works. Thy beginning was from nothing, and through the goodness of God, Who alone is good, the name of Son has been given Thee by adoption, although in fact Thou wast not born from God?’ What answer, think you, would have been given to such words as these, when this same Peter’s reply to the announcement of the Passion, Be it far from Thee, Lord; this shall not be, was rebuked with, Get thee behind Me, Satan, thou art an offence unto Me [St. Matt. xvi. 22, 23.]? Yet Peter could plead his human ignorance in extenuation of his guilt, for as yet the Father had not revealed all the mystery of the Passion; still, mere defect of faith was visited with this stern condemnation. Now, why was it that the Father did not reveal to Peter your true confession, this faith in an adopted creature? I fancy that God must have grudged him the knowledge of the truth; that He wanted to postpone it to a later age, and keep it as a novelty for your modern preachers. Yes; you may have a change of faith, if the keys of heaven are changed. You may have a change of faith, if there is a change in that Church against which the gates of hell shall not prevail. You may have a change of faith, if there shall be a fresh apostolate, binding and loosing in heaven what it has bound and loosed on earth. You may have a change of faith, if another Christ the Son of God, beside the true Christ, shall be preached. But if that faith which confesses Christ as the Son of God, and that faith only, received in Peter’s person every accumulated blessing, then perforce the faith which proclaims Him a creature, made out of nothing, holds not the keys of the Church and is a stranger to the apostolic faith and power. It is neither the Church’s faith, nor is it Christ’s.

St. Hilary of Poitiers (c. 355 AD) [bold emphasis mine].

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


I regret to say that Pentecost this year will likely come and go without me being Chrismated . . . I'll keep readers posted as to when (God willing!) this event for which I yearn will take place.

Thanks to you all for your comments about Saints' names, they are deeply appreciated and will be thought on.



Saturday, May 19, 2007


Fr. Jonathan Tobias continues to hit the raw nerves, in a good way, to our spiritual benefit.


Monday, May 14, 2007

Reader Poll - Still on hiatus, however

Dear readers who are Orthodox Catholic Christians -

Due to some potential circumstances, I may move up chrismation from a rather hazy "sometime next year, maybe Theophany or Pascha" to Pentecost of this year. I've sort of put off the Saint's name decision a bit, but if it IS going to be happening on Pentecost this year, then I've got to sort that out.

Understanding that it is a personal decision, I would like your input nevertheless. You need not remind me that it is my decision in consult with my spiritual father, priest and bishop (thank you very much!). Just your unvarnished opinions.

Here are the candidates, with a few pros and cons, in no particular order:

1. Ephrem or Ephraim - in honor of St. Ephrem of Syria

I need not spill a lot of ink about the pros of this Saint - one of the first icons I acquired other than that of Christ was this Saint's icon. I also have found Bishop Theophan's selections of his writings in A Spiritual Psalter to be a most rewarding devotional again and again for development of compunction and realistic outlook - the pure air of faith. Unfortunately (for me) I gave away my copy to another catechumen and have yet to spring for the $28 to replace it.

On a practical note, Ephrem as a Saints name is close enough to 'Eric' to not cause too much jarring upon hearing it and people could get used to it quickly. On the con sides of practicality are the questions of whether to make it 'official' with the governing folks.

2. Hilarion, Ilarion, Hilarius, Hilary, Hilaire - in honor of St. Hilary of Poitiers.

I've used this as a nom-du-plume in the Latin form for some time now, so I'm sure many of you have gotten used to it. However, as I've joked, I'm not sure what the parishioners would think as I introduce myself as 'Hilarius' to the newcomers. The Greek form of Hilarion/Ilarion is perhaps better, but Hilary was no Greek. The English form 'Hilary' is now relegated to a woman's name in popular usage. All of that said, I am convinced that I wouldn't have found Orthodoxy if I hadn't gone to Poitiers and visited his old see, and viewed the very baptismal chapel where the Saint would have immersed those to be illumined. Moreover, he is a Western Saint, and thus gives us the constant reminder that, despite the schism, Orthodoxy is part of our heritage in the West as well.

3. Procopius - in honor of the German Catholic Procopius who became an Orthodox and the first fool-for-Christ in Russia or in honor of the Holy Great Martyr Procopius, the Roman Soldier who was martyred in 303 in Jerusalem, both celebrated July 8.

Procopius was born in Jerusalem of a father who was a Christian and a mother who was a pagan. At first, his name was Neanias. Following the death of his father, the mother raised her son completely in the spirit of Roman idolatry. When Neanias matured, Emperor Diocletian saw him and, at once, took a liking to him and brought him to his palace for military service. When this nefarious emperor began to persecute Christians, he ordered Neanias to go to Alexandria with a garrison of soldiers and there to exterminate the Christians. But, on the road, something happened to Neanias similar to that which happened to Saul [Paul]. In the third hour of the night there was a strong earthquake and, at that moment, the Lord appeared to him and a voice was heard: "Neanias, where are you going and against whom are you rising up?" In great fear, Neanias asked: "Who are You Lord? I am unable to recognize You." At that moment, a glowing cross as if of crystal appeared in the air and from the cross there came a voice saying: "I am Jesus, the crucified Son of God." And further, the Lord said to him: "By this sign that you saw, conquer your enemies and My peace will be with you." That experience completely turned him around and changed the life of Commander Neanias. He issued an order to make the same kind of cross which he saw and instead of going against the Christians he, with his soldiers, turned against the Agarians who were attacking Jerusalem. He entered Jerusalem as a victor and declared to his mother that he is a Christian. Being brought before the court, Neanias removed his commander's belt and sword and tossed them before the judge thereby showing that he is only a soldier of Christ the King. After great tortures he was cast into prison where the Lord Christ, again, appeared to him, baptized him and gave him the name Procopius. One day twelve women appeared before his prison window and said to him: "We too are the servants of Christ." Accused of this they were thrown into the same prison where St. Procopius taught them the Faith of Christ and particularly about how they will receive the martyr's wreath. For that reason in the marriage ritual of the betrothed, St. Procopius is mentioned along with the God-crowned Emperor Constantine and Empress Helena. After this, those twelve women were brutally tortured. Witnessing their suffering and bravery, the mother of Procopius also believed in Christ and all thirteen were slain. When St. Procopius was led to the scaffold, he raised his hands toward the east and prayed to God for all the poor and misfortunate, orphans and widows and especially for the Holy Church that it may grow and spread and that Orthodoxy shine to the end of time. And to Procopius there was a reply from heaven that his prayers were heard after which he joyfully laid his head under the sword and went to his Lord in eternal joy. St. Procopius honorably suffered in Caesarea in Palestine and was crowned with the glorious wreath of immortality on July 8, 303 A.D.

Saint Procopius was a German Catholic. He was running a merchant business in Novgorod when he became enraptured by the beauty of the Orthodox services. He converted into Orthodoxy, gave his wealth and possessions to the indigent and became a monk at the Saint Varlaam-of-Khutyn monastery outside Novgorod. After some time shunning from fame he left for Ustiug where Procopius chose to accomplish the ordeal of God’s fool pretending to be a fool in order to attain utmost humbleness and humility. Thus he became the first fool-for-Christ-sake in Russia. He had to go through many afflictions accomplishing this hard feat. Carrying three wooden staffs he walked barefoot and poorly dressed all year round. He slept on church porches or simply on the ground. He would take alms from the compassionate simple people, but he would never accept any charity from the rich, whom he considered obtained their possessions by unrighteous ways; even though this would cause him to go hungry for several days.

So - pros and cons - the Saint's day is my birthday; Procopius Fool-for-Christ was a German Catholic; my ancestors were from probably Stadlohn in Westphalia and although we think of them as Dutch, they were probably Low German speakers who became connected to the Dutch through the colonialization of North America and the aftermath of the 30 Years War. Great Martyr Procopius was a soldier who was willing to turn in his belt rather than persecute Christians. Downsides are practical - Procopius is a rather uncommon name to borrow and comes with all the risks of being taken for Uberfromm (a la Ochlophobist's articles on that subject) and simply being taken as 'weird' by the family and friends, perhaps detrimentally. I am (alas) no Fool-for-Christ as yet and perhaps too weak of character to take as patron a Great Martyr such as Procopius the soldier.

4. John - in honor of St. John of Damascus; or possibly St. John the Hutdweller.

At one time I had considered John the Hutdweller, for story of his unrecognized sojourn outside his parents house as a hermit which was only revealed after his death when a gold-bound bible that his parents gave him was discovered on him. I have since leaned for the more well known St. John of Damascus for his greater influence in my Orthodox journey - his Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith I refer to frequently for my own correction, his influence on the hymnology of the Church is unquestioned, and he spent his life in discourse with Arab culture, which I have found to be my lot for the past 2+ decades. Although raised in privilege, he did not lack for humility in the end. As a practical matter, my middle name is John and, if you have visited my side blog you will know that John or Johannes is a very common name among my ancestors in this country over several generations.

As you can see, I'm leaning to this selection . . . however that may be just being overly conservative - and there are a lot of 'Johns' in the world. And I shall have to retire the nom-du-plume, I'm afraid (sorry folks).


Thursday, May 10, 2007

Travel Writing - or about how I'm on hiatus

With great relish I picked up a hard-cover copy of John Lloyd Stephens' Incidents of Travel in Egypt, Arabia Petraea, and the Holy Land from Powell's. You can download a copy of this book for free from Google Books, but there's something great about having such a book for real. He published this book under the pseudonym of George Stephens.

I've read a few segments of this book, and can already tell this will be a great delight. [fn1] Stephens was born in about 1806 in New Jersey and grew up in old Knickerbocker New York. He became a lawyer (actually, his education before the age of 13 was simply breathtaking [fn 2]) and was involved in politics a bit before he had trouble with his voice (some form of Strep, perhaps) and determined on physician's advice that a bit of travel to Europe might do him good.

Thus he launched on some extraordinary travels around 1834-1836 through Eastern Europe (including Greece and Russia), Egypt, and the Holy Lands. Later his travels would take him to the Yucatan where, wandering in the Jungle he would run across the Mayan ruins and report them to the English speaking world in great detail. Even later, he became Vice President and the President of the trans-Panama Railroad.

Thus, Stephens represents an interesting intersection of the passing Dutch colonial influence in America, the rise of industrialism and increased opportunities in commerce, the last throes of the Russian and Ottoman empires and the beginning of the waning of centuries-old ways of life in the Middle East. He comes from American Protestant piety, but crosses paths with Orthodoxy, Catholicism, Islam, and Judaism.

I will report back later on some observations about Stephens in relation to another Middle East travel writer, William Darymple.

Anyway, if you want a summer reading project, and you like travel writing . . . join the fun!

In the meantime, I may post a bit at my companion 'blog, but I'm pretty much on hiatus here.


- H

fn 1: Here is a snippet to whet your appetite: On the afternoon of the ____ December, 1835, after a passage of five days from Malta, I was perched up in the rigging of an English schooner, spyglass in hand, and earnestly looking for the "Land of Egypt." The captain had never been there before; but we had been running several hours along the low coast of Barbary, and the chart and compass told us that we could not be far from the fallen city of Alexander. Night came on, however, without our seeing it. The ancient Pharos, the Lantern of Ptolemy, the eighth wonder of the world, no longer throws its light far of the bosom of the sea to guide the weary mariner. Morning came, and we found ourselves directly opposite the city, the shippping in the outward harbor, and the fleet of the pasha riding at anchor under the walls of the seraglio, carrying me back in imagination to the days of the Macedonian conqueror, of Cleopatra and the Ptolemies . . . In half an hour I was ahore, and the moment I touched it, just as I had found at Constantinople, all the illusion of the distant view was gone.

fn 2: He entered the Classical School in 1815 at the age of 10 to prepare for Columbia College. The headmaster informed his father: "While your son remains here, he will be exercised in Latin and Greek composition; the higher he gets the more he will have of it." The curriculum also included history, analytical arithmetic, mechanics and chemistry, but classics were the heart of it.

He was admitted to Columbia College at 13, as secondary school didn't really exist. Admission was by examination, under the following regulation: "No student shall be admitted into the lowest class of Columbia College unless he be accurately acquainted with the grammar of both the Greek and Latin tongues . . . he is to be examined upon: Caesar's Commentaries, the Orations of Cicero against Catiline, the Oration for the Poet Archias, the Oration for Marcus Marcellus; he is to know the first eight books of Virgil's Aeneid; the first five books of Livy; of the Gospel according to Luke and St John and the Act of the Apostles; of Dalzel's Collectanea Graeca Minora; of the first three books of Xenophon's Cyropaedia and the first three books of Homer's Iliad. He shall also be able to translate English into grammatical Latin, and shall be versed in the first four rules of arithmetic, the rule of three direct and inverse, decimal and vulgar fractions, with Algebra as far as the end of simple equations and with modern geography. The classical examination to be ad aperturam libri [from the opening of the book - e.g., from whatever portion of the text they open the book to]" - Quote from Introduction to Incidents of Travel in Egypt, Arabia Patraea and the Holy Land, introduction by Victor, Wolfgag von Hagen, University of Oklahoma Press 1970 ISBN 0-8061-0886-X

Oh to have such an education by 43 let alone by 13!

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

St. Photini the Samaritan Woman

Saint Photini

Samaritans c. 1900 by Palestine Exploration Fund, 1901-1906 Jewish Encyclopedia

I've been musing on something about Saint Photini, the Samaritan Woman at Jacob's Well (St. John's Gospel, Chapter 4).

Without at all denying the truth of St. Photini's irregular marital status, the fact of the number of 'husbands' and the one living with her who is not a husband is 5 and 1 respectively gives me pause to wonder.

Numerical information like this can often be quite important, indicating a deeper spiritual meaning. I DO NOT CLAIM that this IS the case with the story of St. Photini. But it's possible.

The Samaritans had their own version of the Pentateuch which may represent an earlier (pre-Babylonian captivity) text of the Law. While this bears some more sleuthing (please note that the Wikipedia article is a reprint of the text of a Bible Dictionary . . . there may be more recent scholarship in this area), it is interesting to note that the Samaritan text reportedly follows the Septuagint text in most respects (it notably diverges about the whole Mt. Gerezim/Jerusalem question). A copy of this text was brought west in the 1600s by a Calvinist turned Catholic who ended up rejecting the Masoretic Text the Protestants were adopting in favor of the Septuagint . . . and also rejecting Calvinist viewpoints.

Anyway, 5 husbands, five books of the Law? Last one she has been living with not a husband, could this refer to the Samaritan's capitulation in the Hellenistic period, that they allowed their temple at Mt. Gerezim to be dedicated to Zeus? Or something else? Some commentators have seen in the 5 husbands a connection to the 5 nations, with their gods, that were reputed to be the foundation of the Samaritans, and those commentators suggest that the unmarried one is the LORD.

[Update: But Blessed Augustine says of this

And the Lord said to her, “Thou hast well said, I have not a husband.” How then didst Thou say, “Call thy husband”? Now hear how the Lord knew well that she had not a husband. “He says to her,” etc. In case the woman might suppose that the Lord had said, “Thou hast well said, I have not a husband,” just because He had learned this fact of her, and not because he knew it by His own divinity, hear something which thou hast not said: “For thou hast had five husbands, and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband; this thou hast said truly.”

Once more He urges us to investigate the matter somewhat more exactly concerning these five husbands. Many have in fact understood, not indeed absurdly, nor so far improbably, the five husbands of this woman to mean the five books of Moses. For the Samaritans’ made use of these books, and were under the same law: for it was from it they had circumcision. But since we are hemmed in by what follows, “And he whom thou now hast is not thy husband,” it appears to me that we can more easily take the five senses of the body to be the five former husbands of the soul. For when one is born, before he can make use of the mind and reason, he is ruled only by the senses of the flesh. In a little child, the soul seeks for or shuns what is heard, and seen, and smells, and tastes, and is perceived by the touch. It seeks for whatever soothes, and shuns whatever offends, those five senses. At first, the soul lives according to these five senses, as five husbands; because it is ruled by them. But why are they called husbands? Because they are lawful and right: made indeed by God, and are the gifts of God to the soul. The soul is still weak while ruled by these five husbands, and living under these five husbands; but when she comes to years of exercising reason, if she is taken in hand by the noble discipline and teaching of wisdom, these five men are succeeded in their rule by no other than the true and lawful husband, and one better than they, who both rules better and rules for eternity, who cultivates and instructs her for eternity. For the five senses rule us, not for eternity, but for those temporal things that are to be sought or shunned. But when the understanding, imbued by wisdom, begins to rule the soul, it knows now not only how to avoid a pit, and to walk on even ground—a thing which the eyes show to the soul even in its weakness; nor merely to be charmed with musical voices, and to repel harsh sounds; nor to delight in agreeable scents, and to refuse offensive smells; nor to be captivated by sweetness, and displeased with bitterness; nor to be soothed with what is soft, and hurt with what is rough. For all these things are necessary to the soul in its weakness. Then what rule is made use of by that understanding? Not one to discern between black and white, but between just and unjust, between good and evil, between the profitable and the unprofitable, between chastity and impurity, that it may love the one and avoid the other; between charity and hatred, to be in the one, not to be in the other.

This husband had not yet succeeded to those five husbands in that woman. And where he does not succeed, error sways. For when the soul has begun to be capable of reason, it is ruled either by the wise mind or by error: but yet error does not rule but destroys. Wherefore, after these five senses was that woman still wandering, and error was tossing her to and fro. And this error was not a lawful husband, but a paramour: for that reason the Lord saith to her, “Thou hast well said, I have not a husband. For thou hast had five husbands.” The five senses of the flesh ruled thee at first; thou art come to the age of using reason, and yet thou art not come to wisdom, but art fallen into error. Therefore, after those five husbands, “this whom thou now hast is not thy husband.” And if not a husband, what was he but a paramour? And so, “Call,” not the paramour, but “thy husband,” that thou mayest receive me with the understanding, and not by error have some false notion of me. For the woman was still in error, as she was thinking of that water; whilst the Lord was now speaking of the Holy Ghost. Why was she erring, but because she had a paramour, not a husband? Put away, therefore, that paramour who corrupts thee, and “go, call thy husband.” Call, and come that thou mayest understand me.

“The woman saith unto Him, Sir, I see that thou art a prophet.” The husband begins to come, he is not yet fully come. She accounted the Lord a prophet, and a prophet indeed He was; for it was of Himself He said, that “a prophet is not without honor, save in his own country.” Again, of Him it was said to Moses, “A Prophet will I raise up to them of their brethren, like unto thee.” Like, namely, as to the form of the flesh, but not in the eminence of His majesty. Accordingly we find the Lord Jesus called a Prophet. Hence this woman is now not far wrong. “I see,” she saith, “that thou art a prophet.” She begins to call the husband, and to shut out the paramour; she begins to ask about a matter that is wont to disquiet her.

- From his homilies on the Gospel of St. John

I admit - entirely wild speculation. [Update: but I'm gladdened to find that such ideas were not poo-poohed by Augustine, although he takes a different interpretation]. But there is a great deal going on here - baptismal imagery, trinitarian worship (worship of the Father in Spirit and in Truth [Who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life according to St. John?? That would be the Son]), and so much more.

Eh - anyway - something to muse on.

BTW - Samaritans, which now have dwindled and number perhaps 750 or so, are interesting in that they have retained sacrificial Judaic worship of an extremely ancient type - and apparently they used to send their virgins up on Mt. Gerezim for a time in hopes that a virgin would conceive and bring forth the Restorer [see, e.g., John Lloyd Stephens, Incidents of Travel in Egypt, Arabia Petraea, and the Holy Land, Vol 2, p. 308 available at Google Books] - which says something about the naysayers concerning the understanding of the prophetic texts. So we have in the Samaritans, who did not abandon the sacrifices like Rabbinic Judaism, a sort of remembrance of traditions that have otherwise largely died out in the world.

It would be quite a field trip to do what Stephens did, to sojourn with the Samaritans and observe their worship - talk about living history!

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Tag and Memes and other Blog customs

A few days back Mimi tagged me with a 'thinking blogger' nomination which, I believe, requires me to name 5 nominee blogs that make me think.

Since Mimi did the tagging, it seems that I really can't nominate her yet again as a thinking blogger.

I know probably all of these have been nominated by others, but such is the quality of the blogs that I have to note them here:

1. Scrivener

2. John at Notes from a Commonplace Book

3. Mahmood at Mahmood's Den

4. Fr. Tobias at Second Terrace

5. Fr. Stephen Freeman at Glory to God for All Things

I recognize that nominating priests' blogs is a bit silly - they have far more important things to do than to play such games - all I hope from this is that you will visit their blogs and benefit from them. Mahmood Al Yusif is a blogger and free speech advocate from Bahrain - he takes extraordinarily beautiful photos and has much to say about the mood of moderates in the Middle East. One may not agree with all of his views, but one should listen seriously to him and to those who comment on his 'blog from time-to-time . . . it might dispel your current views of the Middle East and remind you, as it did and does me, that things are often much more complex than we often make them out to be.


John at Notes from a Commonplace Book has also tagged me with the 'four Saints meme' which requires me to list four fave saints [one blessed] with some notes on them, and who I think should be canonized.

1. Hilary of Poitiers - the nom-du-plume is in honor of him, and I credit him with an important role in my arrival at Orthodox Christianity.

2. Saint Photini, the Samaritan Woman at the Well at Sychar - I was received formally into the Catechumenate on the Sunday of the Samaritan Woman last year (after a year of 'unofficial' catechesis including catechesis classes). This is one of the richest texts in the Gospel of John, perhaps in all the Gospels. There are many lessons to be taken out of this Gospel, but I will just mention a couple that I have taken - feel free to slap me down if my thinking is wrong in this:

St. Photini (Equal to the Apostles) was a Samaritan, whose fathers worshipped God by sacrifices at their own mountain rather than at the temple in Jerusalem. She asks Christ about who is right, and he is fairly blut that the Samaritans 'worship what they do not know' but that the Jews worship what they know and that salvation is from the Jews (certainly true in that he is that salvation). In a sense this is an endorsement of what is 'orthodox' and what is not. There is correct worship and correct belief. However, note the movement of the story. The correct worshippers often reject Jesus, but here is the outsider accepting him and becoming a prolific witness, equal to the Apostles, and a martyr for Christ. Note also what Christ does not do: he does not endorse the 'institution' of Samaritan 'church' - but he recognizes individuals who are his own from within that community.

This is how I've come to understand the oft-discussed phrase of Bishop Kallistos: we know where the Church is, but we don't know where fully where She isn't (my paraphrase). This is not to say that institution "X" is possibly "also the Church" qua institution, but rather that individuals who may be in institution "X" may be, like St. Photini, actually one of the Church. Likewise, let us beware that we may find ourselves to be tares that will be separated from the wheat at the end.

3. St. Cyril of Jersusalem - I think his Catechetical Lectures are essential reading, and draw a portrait of early Christianity wherein we can see that modern Orthodoxy, is one faith with that of the Church that brought us the Symbol of Nicea and the canon of the NT.

4. The Blessed and Most Glorious Lady Theotokos - I have a tough relationship to our Lady as a result of my Protestant 'Restoration Movement' upbringing - nevertheless, her importance as the New Eve, as icon of the Church, and exemplar of a humble life in Christ I recognize as crucial and I pray for her intercessions.

Honorable mentions are St. John of Damascus and St. Ephrem the Syrian - and I resoundingly give my 'amen' to John (Terry) Cowan's comments about these Saints - I too have found St. Ephrem's Spiritual Psalter to be sublime and a constant devotional companion. It was hard to leave these two out of the list.

As to who might be canonized . . . I am almost as reticent as John, but if I might really stick my neck out here about someone who is unlikely to be canonized in the near term by the Eastern Orthodox, but who is IMO a true witness to Christ: I'll nominate Fr. Paulos Iskander the Syriac Orthodox Priest who was beheaded in Iraq this past year in retaliation for the Pope's remarks about Islam. He was killed because he was a Christian and was a convenient mark . . . he wasn't even of a community in communion with Rome. I hope that our Lord has received him as a true martyr of the Church and I hold him so - even though he died a member of a communion separated from the Eastern Orthodox. Perhaps one day we shall see the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox, the two great conciliar communions, resolve the issue of how to handle the questions raised at Chalcedon and we shall be restored to complete communion, and perhaps in that day we shall jointly commemorate Fr. Paulos Iskander as a 'New Martyr.'

Finally - I guess I'll tag Mimi with the Saints meme since she seems to not yet have been tagged and I'm interested in her list.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Of Time, Calendars, and the Passage of Years

Note: This is a slightly edited article from my side 'blog Let Us Praise Famous Men

Orthodox Christians, Jews, Muslims, Chinese, and a few others probably have no problem with the general concept of the profusion of possible of dates being the same actual day as a result of the use of different calendars. Our Protestant ancestors were no different, but in our modern United States the calendar is seen as somewhat immutable.

Most of the Christian world operated on the Julian calendar for hundreds of years. Moreover, in early Roman usage New Year commenced on January 1st, but later Christian influences lead to a trend to count the start of the New Year on one of the great feasts - Nativity or Annunciation, or the like. Lady Day, or Annunciation (March 25), became the New Year's Day in Northern Europe during medieval times (in England during the 12th century, earlier on the Continent) and this practice continued in Great Britain until 1752.

Similarly, although the Gregorian Calendar was adopted by the Roman Catholic Church in 1582 and Catholic nations followed Rome within some reasonable time, Protestants didn't necessarily feel compelled to use the New Calendar and some delayed more than others. Obviously such a thing would, at first, smack of 'Popery.' The Old Julian calendar, adopted under Julius Caesar in 46 B.C., calculated the year as 365 1/4 days. This was eleven minutes, fourteen seconds too long, so that by 1582, the calendar and astronomical year were no longer synchronized, and the vernal equinox occurred on March 11. Pope Gregory XIII suppressed ten days to make the equinox fall on March 21. But England and her colonies did not adopt the Gregorian calendar [and change the method of marking the New Year] until September 2, 1752, by which time eleven days had to be deleted.

Thus there is recorded in one of my family's ancestral bibles the following remark:

"1752.--We came over to the new Style,--so that the next 2nd' of Sep'tr, became the 14th' by a Law--"

Many English citizens felt cheated of eleven days' pay by the Royal Decree, and they chanted, "Give us back our eleven days." Ancient British calendar customs were also somewhat unsettled by the revision, and even today Old New Year's and Old May Day are celebrated in some areas. The hawthorn or "may tree," long a fixture of May Day festivities, is now seldom found in bloom on May Day [New Calendar]. Apparently it tends to bloom around Old May Day, May 12. So England and her Thirteen Colonies [and her other possessions] were Old Calendar and Old Style [e.g., Lady Day=New Year's Day] until just a short time before the Revolution.

Because the nations were counting days and years in different ways, and many peoples were to be found in discourse with one another, even in the colonies, we see colonial records in the early 1700s reflecting the effect of differing calendars, such as this will entry:

On the fourth day of February, in the first year of our Sovereign King George of Great Britain, &c., and in the year of our Lord 1714/5 . . .

This is not ambiguous. If you count New Year from Lady Day [Old Style] then February 4 fell in 1714. If you marked the turn of the year from January 1, then it was 1715. Many dates from the early 1700s appear in this manner.

According to one list I've seen, January 1st came to be used again as the start of the year, starting in Venice in 1522. Dates when this change was made in some other countries are:

1544 Germany
1556 Spain, Portugal, Roman Catholic Netherlands
1559 Prussia, Denmark, Sweden
1564 France
1579 Lorraine
1583 Protestant Netherlands
1600 Scotland
1725 Russia
1721 Tuscany
1752 England and colonies

Thus, a Dutch colonial Protestant in English-ruled New Netherland in the late 1600s could be reporting a date according to English custom, or could possibly record according to a different approach without any indication. This can give a historian headaches in trying to establish corroborating information about an event.

Fling in a little Gregorian/Julian confusion and you have a great time.

Finally, take the fact that modern historians may 'interpret' a date and adjust it to New Calendar New Style New Year without annotation and you've got the possibility that more than one reported date is 'correct.'

One mustn't get too wrapped up in this. It's enough to simply note that these issues exist and work with the records as they are - an oddity of history that not everyone looked at the world (for example, the passing of the New Year) in the way we do. I find that delightful.

I also find it delightful to think of New Year being the date of the Annunciation - the breaking forth of the New Creation in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. I think my ancestors had the greater wisdom in this.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Wisdom of the Fathers

In consequence of one of their pastors preaching "heretical doctrines" from the church pulpit, on Sunday, August thirteenth, 1676, "an extraordinary court" was held, and [Deacon] Dirck Wesselse Ten Broeck was one of those to hear the case. They passed judgment in words that carry wisdom to all generations: "Church disagreements should be consumed in the fire of love."

- The Ten Broeck Genealogy: Being the Records and Annals of Dirck Wesselse Ten Broeck of Albany and His Descendants, Compiled by Emma Ten Broeck Runk, New York, De Vinne Press, 1897

[Dirck Wesselse was younger brother to Wessel Wesselse, from whom I descend in a direct line - they were all members of the Dutch Reformed church]