Thursday, March 29, 2012

A word about polemics.....

I've mentioned before I try to avoid polemics on this blog, and I've given a few reasons why that is (I'm new in the faith, not fit to teach, etc.). I also firmly believe it is not good to tell someone else what they believe.  In the few occasions I have delved into compare/contrast posts, I have tried for that reason to concentrate on what we believe versus what the other party believes.  While it is sometimes necessary to define the belief of another so we can discuss our disagreement with it, we ought to be very, very careful doing so and only do so with the greatest humility.  To do less is to risk doing harm to our neighbor.

Having said that, it occurs to me that there is a much greater reason to avoid polemics for the vast majority of us -- it is simply bad for our own souls. I can easily tell you what I believe with love in my heart.  But when you tell me why I'm wrong (or worse, when I tell you why you are wrong), the temptations are too great for most people.  I don't believe that's an exaggeration -- most people are simply not fit to do polemics.  Not because we are harming the other person involved, but because we are harming ourselves. Polemics invite us to judge our neighbor, to be uncharitable, to be focused on "winning" rather than the truth, much less He Who is Truth.  Polemics encourage conflict rather than concord.  Polemics in the wrong hands is the antithesis of humility, patience and love.

This is not to say there is never a place for polemical discussions.  We can and must speak the truth in love.  My experience is that the "in love" part is where most of us get hung up.  Me chief among "us."  So while I am appreciative of others who are able to engage in polemical theology without falling prey to these temptations, I am not among them and I have observed in my limited experience that most others aren't, either.

It is with this in mind that I close this post with St. Efraim's prayer.  May it ever be on our lips and in our hearts.

O Lord and Master of my life,take from me the spirit of sloth, meddling, lust of power and idle talk.

But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love to Thy servant.

Yea O Lord and King, grant me to see my own sin and not to judge my brother, for thou art blessed unto ages of ages.  Amen.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

St. John Climacus

Our venerable and God-bearing Father John Climacus (ca. 579 - 649), also known as John of the Ladder, John Scholasticus, and John Sinaites, was a seventh century monk at St. Catherine's monastery at the base of Mount Sinai. In Greek, his epithet is Κλιμακος (Klimakos). The Orthodox Church celebrates his feast day on March 30.

He came to the monastery and became a novice when he was about 16 years old, and when he died in 649 he was the monastery's abbot. He wrote a number of instructive books, the most famous of which is The Ladder of Divine Ascent. (It is because of this book that John is known as "Climacus," which means "of the ladder".) It describes how to raise one's soul to God, as if on a ladder. This book is one of the most widely read among Eastern Orthodox Christians, especially during the season of Great Lent which immediately precedes Pascha, and on the fourth Sunday of Great Lent he is especially commemorated.

"Nothing equals or excels God's mercies. Therefore, he who despairs is committing suicide. A sign of true repentance is the acknowledgment that we deserve all the afflictions, visible and invisible, that come upon us, and ever greater ones. Moses, after seeing God in the bush, returned again to Egypt, that is, to darkness and to the brick-making of Pharaoh, who was symbolical of the spiritual Pharaoh. But he went back again to the bush, and not only to the bush, but also up the mountain. Whoever has known divine vision will never despair of himself. Job became a beggar, but he became twice as rich again."

Troparion (Tone 8)
By a flood of tears you made the desert fertile
And by your longing for God you brought forth fruits in abundance.
By the radiance of miracles you illuminated the whole universe.
O our holy Father John Climacus, pray to Christ our God to save our souls.
Kontakion (Tone 1)
You offered us your teachings as fruits of everlasting freshness,
To sweeten the hearts of those who receive them with attention.
O blessed and wise John, they are the rungs of a ladder,
Leading the souls of those who honor you from earth to Eternal glory in Heaven! 

Monday, March 19, 2012

Sunday of the Holy Cross

"Before Thy Cross we bow down in worship, O Master, and Thy holy Resurrection we glorify."

Troparion (Tone 4)

O Lord, save Your people,
And bless Your inheritance.
Grant victories to the Orthodox Christians, over their adversaries.
And by virtue of Your Cross
Preserve Your habitation!

Kontakion (Tone 7)

Now the flaming sword no longer guards the gates of Eden;
It has mysteriously been quenched by the wood of the Cross!
The sting of death and the victory of hell have been vanquished;
For You, O my Savior, have come and cried to those in hell:
Enter again into paradise."

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Saint Gregory Palamas

Today, the Second Sunday in Great Lent, we commemorate Saint Gregory Palamas.  Saint Gregory gets a bit of a bad rap in Western Christendom (perhaps more so in Protestantism than in the Roman Church, though certainly to a degree in both).  He is perhaps best known for articulating the Patristic understanding that there is a distinction between knowing God in His essence and knowing God in His energies.  The former is utterly transcendent and unknowable, whereas the latter is precisely how God reveals Himself to mankind.  However, I appreciate Saint Gregory most for his thoughts on the human person being one in body and soul, which was a great help to me in understanding the importance of asceticism in Orthodoxy. 

Saint Gregory, pray for us.

Troparion (Tone 8) [1]
O light of Orthodoxy, teacher of the Church, its confirmation,
O ideal of monks and invincible champion of theologians,
O wonder working Gregory, glory of Thessalonica and preacher of grace,
always intercede before the Lord that our souls may be saved.
Kontakion (Tone 8) [2]
Holy and divine instrument of wisdom,
joyful trumpet of theology,
together we sing your praises, O God-inspired Gregory.
Since you now stand before the Original Mind, guide our minds to Him, O Father,
so that we may sing to you: "Rejoice, preacher of grace."

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

From my friend Subdeacon Benjamin Harju.....

.....comes this awesome series reviewing the book "A Lutheran Looks at ... Eastern Orthodoxy," by Pastor Robert J. Koester.  The first three posts in the series are presented below, and I will try to endeavor to post the rest here.  Subdeacon Harju is doing a great job articulating where the author gets us right and where he gets us wrong.  I recommend this series to anyone wishing to know more about Eastern Orthodoxy, and specifically any Lutherans or Orthodox who want to know more about the differences in our respective traditions.

I'll add this as a side note -- I've said many times that one ought to allow another's beliefs to be defined by the other.  It is rarely a good idea to learn about another tradition by reading a book authored by a member of your own.  Reading this review, and reading other Protestant critiques of the Orthodox Christian Church, has reinforced this belief over the last few years.  It is extremely hard to articulate Orthodox belief and practice correctly from within the Church.  After all, we have 2000 years of history to deal with, and there is a lot of material to cover.  It is twice as hard to do so from outside our tradition.  Which is to say, if I want to know what Lutherans believe, I'll read Lutheran authors.  If Lutherans want to know what we believe, I'd recommend they read our authors.

With that, here are the links: