Tuesday, December 29, 2009

On the Fifth Day of Christmas - Let it Snow!

We expected freezing rain today, but instead a beautiful snow began to fall this afternoon after a lovely silvery hard frost this morning.

The flakes are huge, and the snow is powdery but packable into lovely snowballs. My children and the dog enjoyed a good snowball fight and romp in the fluffy stuff. Magic!


Monday, December 28, 2009

Four Calling Birds

On this the fourth day of Christmas* I think about what might seem the sheer credulity required to accept our faith. Truly God confounds the Wise and we preach that which is to the Jews a stumbling block, and to the Greeks foolishness.

God takes flesh in the womb of the Virgin and is born a babe in Bethlehem. Wholly man and wholly the Eternal Word. What is a baby Who Is, like? Was he aware of himself? He by Whom all things were made suckles at the breast. Were the courses of the Universe maintained as effortlessly and unconsiously as the breathing of a sleeping child? It is a Mystery.

St. Ephraim the Syrian had this to say about the Mystery:

"Our Savior, Both God and Man" from A Spiritual Psalter by St. Ephraim the Syrian, 4th c.:

We confess one and the same individual as perfect God and perfect man. He is God the Word Which was flesh.

For if He was not flesh, why was Mary chosen? And if He is not God, whom does Gabriel call Lord?

If He was not flesh, who was laid in a manger? And if He is not God, whom did the angels who came down from heaven glorify? If He was not flesh, who was wrapped in swaddling clothes, And if He is not God, in whose honor did the star appear?

If He was not flesh, whom did Simeon hold in his arms? And if He is God, to whom did Simeon say, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace?

If He was not flesh, whom did Joseph take when he fled into Egypt? And if He is not God, who fulfilled the prophecy: Out of Egypt have I called my Son?

If He was not flesh, whom did John baptize? And if He is not God, to whom did the Father say: This is my beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased?

If He was not flesh, who hungered in the desert? And if He is not God, unto whom did the angels come and minister?

If He was not flesh, who was invited to the marriage in Cana of Galilee? And if He is not God, who turned the water into wine?

If He was not flesh, who took the loaves in the desert? And if He is not God, who fed the five thousand men and their women and children with five loaves and two fish?

If He was not flesh, who slept in the ship? And if He is not God, who rebuked the waves and the sea?

If He was not flesh, with whom did Simon the Pharisee sit at meat? And if He is not God, who forgave the sins of the harlot?

If He was not flesh, who wore a man’s garment? And if He is not God, who healed the woman with the issue of blood when she touched His garment?

If He was not flesh, who spat on the ground and made clay? And if He is not God, who gave sight to the eyes of the blind man with the clay?

If He was not flesh, who wept at Lazarus’ grave? And if He is not God, who commanded him to come forth out of the grave four days after his death?

If He was not flesh, whom did the Jews arrest in the garden? And if He is not God, who cast them to the ground with the words: I am He?

If He was not flesh, who was judged before Pilate? And if He is not God, who frightened Pilate’s wife in a dream?

If He was not flesh, whose garments were stripped from Him and parted by the soldiers? And if He is not God, why was the sun darkened upon His crucifixion?

If He was not flesh, who was crucified on the cross? And if He is not God, who shook the foundation of the earth?

If He was not flesh, whose hands and feet were nailed to the cross? And if He is not God, how did it happen that the veil of the temple was rent in twain, the rocks were rent, and the graves were opened?

If He was not flesh, who hung on the cross between the two thieves? And if He is not God, how could He say to the thief: Today thou shalt be with me in paradise?

If He was not flesh, who cried out, and gave up the ghost? And if He is not God, whose cry caused many bodies of the saints which slept to arise?

If He was not flesh, whom did the women see laid in the grave? And if He is not God, about whom did the angel say to them: He is arisen, He is not here?

If He was not flesh, whom did Thomas touch when he put his hands into the prints of the nails? And if He is not God, who entered through the doors that were shut?

If He was not flesh, who ate at the sea of Tiberias? And if He is not God, on whose orders were the nets filled with fishes?

If He was not flesh, whom did the apostles see carried up into heaven? And if He is not God, who ascended to the joyful cries of the angels, and to whom did the Father proclaim: sit at My right hand?

If He is not God and Man then, indeed, our salvation is false, and false are the pronouncements of the prophets.


Credo . . .

I believe . . .

*Some people claim that the Four Calling Birds in the song are the four evangelists, and that the song was a sort of underground catechism for Roman Catholics during some of the anti-Catholic purges in Tudor England.

Friday, December 25, 2009

The Messiah is Born! Glorify Him!

"Today the Virgin giveth birth to the Transcendent in essence; the earth offereth the cave to the unapproachable One; the angels with the shepherds glorify Him; and the Magi with the star travel on their way; for a new child hath been born for our sakes, God before the ages."

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Today the Virgin Comes

Today the Virgin comes to the cave

to give birth to the Eternal Word.

Hear the glad tidings and rejoice, O universe!

Glorify with the Angels and the shepherds,

The Eternal God,

Who is willing to appear as a little child!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Veni Veni Emmanuel

Monday, December 14, 2009

Self - Assessment (With Humour in his eyes and laughter in his heart)

As most of blogging is a sort of queer form of self-aggrandizement [oops, sorry, that's IMO! heh], or some sort of quasi-public introspection, like a reality tv-show in type . . .

I thought it befitting to conduct a brief self-assessment of this blog and recent posts.

1. The last post resulted in a single comment which appears to be an advert from a conservative R.C.C., which incidentally also showed up on the same day on the Ochlophobist's site;

2. Speaking of Ochlophobists, it has gotten so crowded with comments over on some posts at Owen's site that I wonder whether he wished he were somewhere else.

3. I have one regular reader, who is hands-down the kindest Orthodox blogger I know. I appreciate those visits, dear reader, more than you know! I have two "followers" of the which only one is "known" in the sense that I've seen his postings around the Orthodox blogosphere here and there. I have been kindly included on a couple of (otherwise) highly worthy blogrolls.

4. There have been a grand total of 36 comments left since July, 2009. Some blogs seem to get that in less than 36 minutes. The most significant comment day was related to a nice mention from Owen on his blog about my note that I had lost 1/2 my job and was worried about the farm. There were 7 (count em!), 7 whole comments!!

5. Blog posts varied from notes about the agrarian life, comments on the Antiochian struggles, personal reflections on the Christian life and scripture, and miscellaneous poetry and song. There seems to be no correlation between topics I choose to write about and the comments left here.

In conclusion I am either:

a. extremely boring;

b. too conventional in my thinking;

c. far, far from the mainstream, or any stream, of what passes for interesting stuff on the blogscape; or

d. all of the above.

Well - I suspect "d" is the likeliest candidate. And really, that is good news to me. I couldn't stomach dealing with 50 or 100 comments from passersby.

Anyway, I have animals to get into the barn now for the night. And they don't mind boring, so long as food and shelter are regular as rain West of the Cascades.


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Authentic Orthodoxy(tm)

So, I am reading Brothers Karamozov. I withheld reading Russian literature until now (my 40s), feeling, well, inadequate to the task. I have also not read A La Recherche du Temps Perdu (Proust) for the same reasons, and am reluctant to dive in even yet to that work. Maybe when I'm 50.

It so happens that I also came to the Orthodox Christian faith, which is fortunate for I'm afraid much would be lost in not having been exposed to the living Orthodox faith prior to picking up Dostoyevsky's great work.

Being in the midst of this reading, and watching from the sidelines the various skirmishes on the internet about what is, and what is not, appropriately Orthodox (something those of us on the North American continent particularly struggle with, I think, for we have few, if any, inherent Orthodox reference cultures of our own unless brought with us recently from foreign lands; moreover, we tend to be navel gazers like the rest of our society ["and how does that make you feel, Mr. X?"]), I have been thinking about some of the things we North American Orthodox take for granted as "Authentically Orthodox(tm)" that hardly more than a century ago might have been quite open to debate.

In the Bros. K., for example, there is a recurring theme about the then-current debate among monastics and other Russians about the idea of an "Elder" or Staretz even being properly Orthodox:

"Authorities on the subject assert that the institution of 'elders' is of recent date, not more than a hundred years old in our monasteries, though in the [O]rthodox East, especially in Sinai and Athos, it has existed over a thousand years. It is maintained that it existed in ancient times in Russia also, but through the calamaties which overtook Russia--the Tartars, civil war, the interruption of relations with the East after the destruction of Constantinople--this institution fell into oblivion. It was revived among us towards the end of the last century by one of the great 'ascetics,' as they called him, Paissy Velitchkovsky, and his disciples. But to this day it exists in few monasteries only, and has sometimes been almost persecuted as an innovation in Russia.

. . .

"Meantime the elders immediately began to be highly esteemed among the people. Masses of the ignorant people as well as men of distinction flocked, for instance, to the elders of our monastery to confess their doubts, their sins, and their sufferings, and ask for counsel and admonition. Seeing this, the opponents of the elders declared that the sacrament of confession was being arbitrarily and frivolously degraded, though the continual opening of the heart tot he elder by the monk or the layman had nothing of the character of the sacrament."

- Bros. K., in Chapter Entitled: Elders (Garrett Trans.)

". . . several different causes were simultaneously at work, one of which was the deeply rooted hostility to the institution of elders as a pernicious innovation, an antipathy hidden deep in the heart of many of the monks."

- Bros. K., in Chapter Entitled: The Breath of Corruption (Garrett Trans.)

Clearly Dostoyevsky sought to describe life in Russia, and the political and social milieu in approximately his own time, and one could posit that these views on the authenticity of Elders were, in fact, in debate in the mid- to late-1800s in Russia, whatever the provenance in Athos, Antioch, and North Africa.

C.S. Lewis, in his introduction to St. Athanasius' great work On the Incarnation, notes that one of the values of reading history and paying attention to our elders is that (I highly paraphrase here) probably those we tend to agree with and those on whom history has adjudged profoundly evil or wrong, shared certain assumptions and worldview about a great many things that they would simply not debate, for all their differences.

Thus, one might argue that the Orthodox do not take an Augustinian view (modified by scholastics, or not - not germane here) of original sin; but nevertheless, probably all of the Orthodox of Augustine of Hippo's time, and St. Augustine himself, likely shared more common opinion together about most things and would stand on their side of history against a great many things we take for granted now as "established" about both doctrinal, worship and ethical and moral matters in the Church.

[As an aside, this is one reason why I ultimately had to abandon my childhood denomination's views about 'believer's baptism.' If this was such an important issue, surely it would have caused as great a battle as the Arian schism over the use of, essentially, one very carefully worded statement. The fact that there is silence coupled with long-standing practice of baptizing infants suggests that the historic Church never saw this as a particularly troubling issue.]

We now, here in North America, take the role of Elders as "Authentic Orthodoxy(tm)" with almost no questions. Some, particularly in the Slavic traditions, will often opine from sayings of the Elders almost to a point of ignoring the original statements of our Lord in the Gospels or the teachings of the Apostles, early Saints, or Desert Fathers of the first centuries. There is a certain fashionability, I suppose, to quoting the later elders.

I am not challenging the institution of Elders, or their work (a tree shall be known by its fruit). I have a quote by Elder Pasios on the masthead. But what Bros. K. makes me consider is, what other things that we, in North America, take as "Authentically Orthodox(tm)," whether choral styles, or prayers, etc., would be seen by our forebears as potentially dangerous and questionable innovation?

[Another aside on choirs - I have a lovely record (yes folks, real vinyl 33 1/3rd LP!) of the Heirarchical Divine Liturgy recorded in the local Greek Orthodox parish in the 1960s, replete with organ accompaniment. I can attest that the music is VERY different from some more "modern" adoptions of a more "pre-1054 Byzantine chant" such as is in vogue now. What does that say about our pretensions and desire to get more "authentic" over and above the real point of our worship?]

I have no answers - but I think that we need to be careful in this age of rapid change, challenges to traditional life, and the like, that we neither embrace new ideas too quickly, nor rush to announce that we have found a "more authentic" historic way that we should "return to." Either has pitfalls in a society where authenticity is marketed to us as a thing to purchase, and to be desired above all else. We should listen to the collective voice of the Church from the past, and weigh carefully, in love, that which leads us soberly to our Lord, and that which is enthusiastic but misguided change (whether to the "old stuff" or to the "new stuff") that, in fact, leads us into pride and delusion.

Here, I am not speaking of rather straightforward things, such as abortion being wrong, or women's ordinations - these appear so settled in the life of the Church that to start announcing some new changes would (IMO) be a dangerous innovation. I am speaking about things like debates over translations of prayers, and texts, and the ordering of bishops among themselves, or whether we ought to rush to through the pews out of the 1930s church when 60% of the parish grew up that way, simply because it's "less Orthodox."

In the end, there is but One whom we seek, and He is not more authentic or less authentic, neither old nor new, but rather the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the Existing One.

I welcome any thoughts on this - for mine are poor enough.