NOETIC TRUTHS from Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry 

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τὸ πνεῦμα ὅπου θέλει πνεῖ  [ John 3:8 ]

When I first read The Little Prince as a child I found it sad and mawkish, and frankly rather odd. It has a hint of the hot-house unhealthiness of Wilde’s The Happy Prince and Other Tales (1888). Both of which books were birthday gifts to me from a great aunt who was well read in the greats of children’s literature, and who’d buy me “serious” books in the blighted hope of developing my literary tastes. Although his genius is unquestionable and his occasionally beautiful symbolism places Saint-Exupéry firmly in the long tradition of French poètes-philosophes, I confess that I still find his approach rather too arch and self-conscious for my taste. And, at its core, his method of self-discovery is personal and unique and only very vaguely Christocentric. Nevertheless, the Spirit will truly blow where He wills, and there is a sufficient vein of gold in the Little Prince’s asteroid  to justify an occasional re-reading.

Here are a few of the more obvious nuggets :

  •  Le langage est source de malentendus.
    [ Language is the source of misunderstanding. ] 
  • J’ai soif de cette eau là
    [ I am thirsty for this water ]
     
  • Voici mon secret. Il est très simple: on ne voit bien qu’avec le cœur. L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.
    [ Here is my secret. It is very simple: One sees clearly only with the heart. The essential is invisible to the eyes. ]
     
  •  Mais les yeux sont aveugles. Il faut chercher avec le cœur.
    [ But the eyes are blind. One must look with the heart. ] 
  • «Tu te jugeras donc toi-même», lui répondit le roi. «C’est le plus difficile. Il est bien plus difficile de se juger soi-même que de juger autrui. Si tu réussis à bien te juger, c’est que tu es un véritable sage».
    [ “Then you shall judge yourself”, the king answered. “That is the most difficult thing of all. It is much more difficult to judge our self than to judge others. If you succeed in judging yourself rightly, then you are indeed truly wise.” ]
     
  • «Ce qui embellit le désert», dit le petit prince, «c’est qu’il cache un puits quelque part. »
    [ “What makes the desert beautiful”, said the little prince, “is that somewhere it hides a well”. ]
     
  • Dans le désert au crépuscule, on s‘assoit sur une dune, on ne voit rien, n on entend rien et cependant quelque chose rayonne en vous .
    [ In the desert at dusk, we sit on a dune, we see nothing, we hear nothing, and yet something shines in you. ] 
  • Droit devant soi on ne peut pas aller bien loin.
    [Straight ahead, you can’t go very far. ]
     
  • C’est tellement mystérieux, le pays des larmes!
    [ It’s so mysterious, the land of tears! ]
     
  • Il faut bien que je supporte deux ou trois chenilles si je veux connaître les papillons.
    [I must put up with two or three caterpillars if I want to know the butterflies.]
     
  • Il faut exiger de chacun ce que chacun peut donner.
    [ We must demand of each one what everyone can give. ]
     
  • Car, pour les vaniteux, les autres hommes sont des admirateurs.
    [ To the vain, other men are admirers. ]
  • Mais tu n’es pas utile aux étoiles.
    [ But you are no use to the stars.]
  •  C’est véritablement utile puisque c’est joli.
    [ It is truly useful since it is beautiful. ]

 

 

 

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The Heresy of Gender-Neutralism

The removal of its historical shell leads to Christianity’s destruction,
as in the case of Protestantism.
~ Father Pavel Florensky

On the day when the UK press has announced that an Anglican, the Rt Revd Rachel
Treweek, “Bishop of Gloucester”, has said,  ‘I don’t want young girls or young boys to hear us constantly refer to God as he,’ adding that it was important to be ‘mindful of our language’ (Daily Telegraph, 19th Sept. 2018), it is perhaps worth pointing out that those revisionists who, in attempting to overcome the problem of “distance” between some women and God/the text of Holy Scripture, do not repair or re-establish a link by revising holy texts (or revising God Himself) through the replacement of all male pronouns with gender neutrals or female pronounal alternatives, or such like. Instead, they destroy the link altogether and betray God, the text and its writers, and all of us – women included – in the process.

It is the feminist/politically correct paradigm which is faulty here, not the text of Scripture, nor the words of Christ. It is me-centredness which requires the corrective (of prayer and asceticism), not the text.

Revised texts (so called “inclusive language”, et cet.) are no cure but a cause of further – and fatal – dissociation and alienation from God. The ongoing meaning and agency (of transfiguration) of the text (as also dogma and praxis) is altogether lost when it is tampered with. A “revised” text is one which is frozen, trapped in time. The supposed “relevance” of the revision pins it like a dead butterfly to a particular time and to a specific intellectual fad. Time is not opened up to the text, and opened up to eternity, as it should be. What such action does is to ascribe a privileged position to one political point of view; it canonises this point of view, places it on a pedestal, makes an idol of it, and imposes it on the text and on society.

To save us from such gross errors – and from hubris and egotism – requires contextualisation (Holy Scripture understood within, and as product of, Holy Tradition), integrity (approaching the text within the Holy Church, in utter humility), and wholeness (in the Light of the Holy Spirit). Scripture and Church cannot be separated, both are essential and interdependent. Only the Church can correctly understand and reveal Scripture because Holy Scripture is a “product” of the Church, composed with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, which forms a verbal ikon of Jesus Christ.

The rule should be simple: Did you write the holy texts? No. Then perhaps you really should consider not revising them. . .?

However, these revised versions have already been produced and subsequently marketed. Then let them be clearly identified. A Children’s Shakespeare is not passed off as the “real thing” and neither should a version of Holy Scripture which is denuded of essentialities be passed off as having equal validity with the Orthodox text.  Let the reader beware.

On Today’s Holy Gospel (Mark 8:34-9:1)

Taking up my Cross
It is only through the Holy Spirit that we can know who Christ really is. It is easy to pay lip-service to the Truth that Christ is God, very easy – all too easy to say! But to confess it, to truly know it, to demonstrate it – in the way that the koine Greek of the New Testament expresses, is something far greater: to have knowledge of it, is to experience it internally, in a way beyond simply “knowing” it with the head. It is to be wedded to the TRUTH, to see it with non-secular eyes.
In the same way that on the Road to Emmaus the disciples do not recognise Christ when they see Him only with their earthly (secular) eyes. It is in the breaking of Bread, in the Holy Eucharist that the scales drop and they see, and know, the TRUTH.
In the Garden of Gethsemani, Mary Magdaleni does not recognise Our Lord when she looks with her earthly (secular) eyes which are grown dim with tears of mourning. She sees Him as He truly is only in the light of the Holy Spirit.
The same is true on Mount Thavor. Earthly eyes do not see the TRUTH. The ascetical climb (prayer, fasting, enduring trials and tribulations with a joyful heart) is necessary for us all to see and to know Christ. Christ doesn’t change – God is immutable. It is we who must change to meet Him, and to see Him, and to see Him as He intends us to see Him.

The crosses which I bear in this life are a blessing from God. A corrective for my pride and selfishness. They are blessings in disguise. Secular eyes can never see this. And earthly mouths can only complain and whinge about how unfair it all is. But when our hearts are cleansed and the Holy Spirit enlightens us, we shall see all our crosses – illnesses, financial challenges, long working hours, sick and elderly relatives, crying children, difficult work colleagues, troublesome neighbours, persecutions, scoldings – as blessings from God, sent to bring us back onto the Way.
If we reject them, we reject Christ. If we embrace them, Christ transfigures them.

Ashamed of Christ?
Let us all examine the way that we are with other people, with friends & family, school-fellows, work associates, strangers in the street: 
Do I manifest Christ to them?
Do they know who and what I am?
Do they know that I am an Orthodox Christian?
Do my words, actions, choices, way of being, demonstrate Christ-centredness?
Am I slow to anger?
Do I ask forgiveness?
Do I spend more time praying for others than I do criticising them?
Do I rush to forgive others?
Do I always seek reconciliation?
Do I humble myself before others?
Do I accept that I truly am the worst of sinners?

Does my “online presence” demonstrate my love for Christ, His saints, the Holy Church, the clergy and people of God?
Do I manifest secularism to others?
Do I hide light under a bushel?
Do the icons and emojis I adopt, the language I use, all the websites that I visit, and the amount of time I spend online, testify to a life in Christ?

These are highly important questions. God sees everything I do, everything I fail to do, everything I am, and pretend to be. Our Lord tells me quite clearly that if I’m ashamed of Him He’ll be ashamed of me.

“TOUGH LOVE”?

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Today is the Feast of the Universal Exaltation of the Holy Cross. In Christ all things are made new (2 Corinthians 5:17; Apocalypse 21:5), and the tool of torture and death becomes the doorway to everlasting life.

Tender words spoken in love, abound throughout Holy Scripture, but tenderness without substance leads to a mawkish emotionality; and “nice” itself is over-rated. Jesus Christ doesn’t come among us to “be nice”, or to teach us to “be nice to one another”! He does not infantilise us, He’s not cute, not into baby talking. He is far grander and far more loving than that.

The truth that God is love (1 Jn 4:8; 1 Jn 4:16) seems to the secular eye to be incompatible with the “angry God” of the Old Testament. This has become a cliché among rabid atheists. But, equally, the God who is love is seen as contradicted by Christ’s angry words and actions in the Gospels. Here are a few of the actual words and deeds of He whom Charles Wesley libelled as ‘gentle Jesus meek and mild’:

– Get behind me satan  (Matthew 16:23) 

– Unbelieving and perverse generation  (Matthew 17:17)

– you have no life in you. (John 6:53)

– You know neither Me nor My Father. (John 8:19)

– If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. (John 15:6)

– This is an evil generation. It seeks a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah the prophet. (Luke 11:29)

– You wicked and lazy servant,… cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 25:26, 30).

– If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple (Luke 14:26-27)

– Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels...into everlasting punishment (Matthew 25:45,46)

I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! (Luke 12:49)

Do not think that I have come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. (Matthew 10:34)

Then they came to Jerusalem. And He entered the temple and began to drive out those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves; and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. (Mark 11:15-16)

– And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables; and to those who were selling the doves He said, “Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a place of business. (John 2:15-17)

The Holy Apostle Paul, who existed within and shared the same contemporary spiritual-behavioural paradigms as Christ with the other apostles, doesn’t shirk his loving responsibility, he grasps the axiom emphatically. 1 Corinthians 13 is no romantic manifesto for hug-fests, and certainly no contradiction of our Lord’s fiery words and actions (as selected above). On the contrary, together, 1 Corinthians 13 and Matthew 25:26, 30, show dual aspects of one self-emptying whole.  Elsewhere, the Apostle exhorts Timothy: ‘as for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all’ (1 Timothy 5:20); and to: ‘preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort’ (2 Timothy. 4:2). He commands Titus to ‘give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it’ (Titus 1:9), to ‘rebuke them sharply’ (Titus 1:13), and to ‘exhort and rebuke with all authority’ (Titus 2:15). This is not cruelty or tyranny, nor a license for harshness per se, but a love which is willing to risk everything for the sake of the other. The doctor who hacks off a gangrenous limb does not hate her patient, she wants to save him, and is trying desperately to do so; the RSM who screams at new recruits doesn’t want to see them blown to pieces. Hard sayings are understood in this context: they are not an attack on the emotions but a liberation from emotionalism. From the Cross we receive living waters and the divine fruit of the Holy Eucharist, for the Cross is revealed as the Tree of Life.

But, in our huggy-kissy, crybaby times, anger, or even the mildest critical word or even a raised eyebrow or stern look, is liable to be swiftly jumped upon as inappropriate and branded as “coercion”, “bullying”, “patriarchal”, “unloving”, “abusive”…and judged to be entirely out of place within the context of love. Love now seems to be expressed safely only in molly coddling and blind acceptance. And in the process, Jesus Christ is reduced to a loveable pet, a toothless cuddly toy. This may explain why faddish counsellors and anglican lady vicars fill a sentimental niche for those who want “tea and sympathy” but nothing that’s spiritually demanding.

However, true compassion is not anodyne or insipid it is something powerful. Caring for another, sharing with them their pain, descending with them – as does Christ and His priests – into the depths of grief and pain and sin, is not wishy-washy, it may be highly astringent. Empathy is demanding, it is a burning fire. This is precisely why Saint Nikolaos of Myra punches the face of the arch heretic Arios. To everything there is a season.

‘The Lord disciplines the one He loves, and He chastens everyone He accepts as His son’ (Hebrews 12:6) indicates that we are loved and that we are a work in progress– God is working on us, in us, with us,  and has not finished with us or given up on us. Elder Ephraim of Philotheou has said, ‘If everything goes right for a person, I begin to fear God has abandoned him.’ When things are not going our own way it is proof that He has not left us to sink into the mire of our own desires (hedonism, egotism, selfishness and pointlessness).

But in today’s mushy culture, strong words are deemed incompatible with being a “good person” (which, from a politically correct-perspective, is defined as accepting everyone exactly as they are without any necessity of alteration; this is also a standard indicator of how “civilised” we now are).

“Tough love”? No, just one aspect of true love. Christ Himself is both strict and acerbic, and, fully and concomitantly, truly without sin. And in Him, if we can take off our secular goggles for long enough, we’ll see that these are not opposites, not contradictions or polarities, but in His every word and action, in His very self, He is revealing to us hidden essences, the fullness of God and the fullness of love.

The speck in my brother’s eye…

Regarding the faults of others Saint Ignatius Brianchaninov writes that,

It is worth noticing that, after acquiring spiritual understanding, the defects and faults of one’s neighbour begin to seem very slight and insignificant, as redeemed by the Saviour and easily cured by repentance—those very faults and defects which seemed to the carnal understanding so big and serious. Evidently the carnal mind, being itself a plank, gives them this huge significance. The carnal mind sees in others sins that are not there at all.

However, we are still sinners, and in a parish we sometimes must point out actualities, even acerbically. As with everything, without corrective checks and balances things easily can go askew. Thus, from the final canon of the Council in Trulo (AD 692), we read:

It behoves those who have received from God the power to loose and bind, and to consider the quality of the sin and the readiness of the sinner…, and to apply medicine suitable for the disease…in some way or other, either by means of sternness and astringency, or by greater softness and mild medicines, to resist this sickness and to exert himself for the healing of the ulcer, now examining the fruits of repentance and wisely managing the person…

This is done in humility and love, only to cauterize never to punish. Too much preoccupation with anger and criticism of others forces out forgiveness and genuine love, as does picking and re-opening the wound- dwelling on the ways we are sinned against.

“Do you love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind? Do you love your neighbour as yourself?” No. Not if you’re keeping tabs on your neighbour’s faults, dissecting his word and berating your love-ones and friends about his sins. Not if you don’t try to find common ground and coexistence in love. Not if you’re spending more time criticising them than praying for them. Not if you slam the door and walk away. When we reject reconciliation we judge our brother and find him guilty. God alone judges. We must repent and learn to love and accept.

The persecuted is persecutor when he hates his enemy
We are all of us wounded by each other’s words and deeds, and we are subtly wounded when we wound another. It cuts both ways. We say the “wrong thing” and we wound someone, and there’s always someone who’ll jump on us and make us suffer for our mistakes. We must accept this just as we come to expect it.

Obscurantism
A good place to be is in a miniscule part of a small church that nobody’s heard of, with zero cultural influence in the west, and in a tiny parish that is materially poor. This is exactly where I need to be. However, it’s no utopia here in the sticks, no bed of roses. Even in a small rural parish we’re not safe from trials and tribulations. Thank God! 

Developing a humble disposition
In the parish we learn the gift of silence and to place ourselves below our brother. Certainly, we are nothing, we bear no ill will, and we shan’t defend ourselves against judgments, other than to say that we are always in a very large company: no parish, no priest – and certainly no parishioner – is perfect. We have learned this from long and hard experience.

Bring it on, all of it
But, for everything, including the criticisms levelled against our own very real failings – and even for the failings themselves, we joyfully offer all thanks and glory to God! This knowledge provides clarity: perfection is of God alone. 

A poor shepherd
Truly, I am in grave danger when I am craning my neck to look over the fence at my neighbour’s poor flock and weedy meadows just so that I can justify my perception of him as a bad/lazy/inhumane/incompetent shepherd (delete, apply as appropriate). Actually, by doing this I place my neck in a noose and commit both spiritual murder and suicide.

Blessed are you when men revile you…
It is preferable to be the recipient of criticism who agrees with the critic, or even the recipient of an unjustifiable onslaught than to be a critic who lacks the capacity for self-judgment and self-condemnation. We ought to be grateful for judgments against us as these might just enable us to view our own failings (mine are large, and I have many!) with greater clarity.

Love your enemy

We must remain deeply committed to the critic-attacker, concerned for his/her future, and welcome him/her back with open arms and an ever-open heart. In any case, the attacker is often our closest spiritual friend even when they hate us.

What can we take away of any practical application…?

Pot calling the kettle black: “Keep it zipped!”
It is all too easily to become a “politically correct” member of the “thought police”. When we are “offended” we must ensure that we are not becoming “offensive”. This is challenging!

Reconciliation: Making up
Maintain communion. Never refuse an olive branch. Don’t sulk. Find common ground. Offer and ask forgiveness as quickly as you’re able. This is challenging!

Commitment: “I’m not going anywhere!”
Commit to a parish, to the sweat and hard graft of service to others, and to the rough and tumble of the Christian struggle. This is challenging!

Family life: “Better off together!”
No-one is perfect. The parish – and ours I love with all my heart – is a family, with a father, godparents, godbrothers, sisters, children.  In our family we’ve occasionally squabbled. Yes, we speak our mind and sometimes it stings, but we work things out, we put up with each other’s brokenness and crankiness and selfish cruelties. This is challenging!

Love: “I love you!”
We tolerate and learn to love each other, warts and all, not in spite of our faults, but because of them. God demands this of us. We learn that everyone is trying to survive and that sometimes the stresses make us wobble or even crack. This is challenging!

Confession: “Forgive me, the sinner!”
Certainly we should be open in word and deed, confessing regularly, fully and with radical self-honesty, especially when the toxicity levels are rising. Deal swiftly with anger before it masters us, and our obsessive thoughts become corrosive. This is challenging!

Humility  “not my will but yours”
Sometimes we might just be graced to discover that we’re wrong- that the outward ugliness of another disguises deeper more beautiful realities; that the slippery rocky paths are sometimes preferable to smooth tarmac; that the apparently rotten fruit we’re offered may be the best available (and certainly the best that we “deserve”). Even Christ Himself drinks vinegar, which as Bishop Paul of Tracheia points out, is ‘fruit turned sour’; fruit which ‘Adam’s hands had plucked from the tree’.

Tolerance: “turn the other cheek”
Sometimes we’ve even been granted a little tolerance: to not run away from love-ones, not find anyone unbearable, to not send them away, to not bark or snap at them or lash out in the first place. Perhaps, rather than exposing and dwelling on the failings of others, we’d all do well to adhere to the word of the Holy King David: “Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered” (Psalm 31:1) – however personally egregious to us they might be. But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, (Matthew 5:44). This is challenging!

The reward of patience
Let’s be frank: some people are really hard work!!! But they are an especial gift from God. The ugly, the hate-filled, the sanctimonious know-all, the whiner, the criticiser, the nit-picker…we need them all, we are deficient without them. And vice versa: they are deficient without us, which is why we must never desert them or reject them or run away from them. It boils down to this: I am going to love this person whether I want to or not, because this is what the Lord commands me to do. Through the faults of others we discover our own failings (we too are the hater, the know-all), and together – through God’s grace –  we are remade in God’s likeness. Together we’re saved. Alone we’re just lost.

I’ll leave the final word to a far wiser pastor than I (Fr. Richard D. Andrews of St. George’s Church, St. Paul, MN):

We live in a fallen world in which Jesus has consigned the devil and his angels to operate and be active until the Second Coming. And because the dark forces of evil have not yet been finally eliminated, serious spiritual warfare continues. Whether we like it or not, we are all drawn into this battle. There are no neutral parties. Either we stand with God or we stand with Satan.

The stakes are high in this war. Our eternal salvation is in peril. And what we do, how we act, the words we say, even what we think, all of these can affect our relationship with God, with the evil one and with each other. We are not saved alone. It’s not just me and “sweet Jesus”! My salvation is wrapped up together with my neighbour’s.

May God have mercy on us all.

In XC,
the useless sinner and most unworthy presbyter, Father Jakob

ON CHRISTIAN LOVE

Love is an ikonisation of the Holy Trinity. Love does not coerce someone into action, love has no need to do so– it invites us into a new instance created by the compulsion to give and to serve and to be attentive to the loved one. Love does not take, it is not forced, love does not require evaluation. Love is an opening up to possibilities, an active and creative encounter and engagement with the hearts of others. Love makes things happen:  Elder Sophrony of Essex said, “From the Holy Spirit gushes out love, and without it no one is able to know God ‘as He must be known’”. And Archimandrite Zacharias of Essex writes:

If we are to cultivate the soil of our hearts we will first need a plough, and our plough must be the Cross of Christ. This will lead us into obedience to His word and we will take up our own cross. No one can carry the Cross of Christ. […] We bear our small personal cross in obedience to Christ’s commandment. This cross is the pain and sacrifice involved in freeing the heart from dispassionate attachments and secret deceits, that it may run freely after its beloved God and call upon Him. It will have room for nothing but a yearning for God by which to invoke His Name. The one desire of the heart is to be one with Him Who joined Himself to our nature, bringing into it all His divine virtues so that we might become ‘partakers of the divine nature.’ Thus, by taking up our small cross, we inherit the life hidden in His great Cross.

Love for God and for our fellow man are instinctive, not something to be willed, or examined, or pondered on, but a way of life which transcends the limiting boundary of the biological self. The deep heart is a doorway. Selfless, Christ-like, love is a necessary bruising of the ego. Father Deacon Stephen Muse writes:

Thankfully, what disturbs our paltry “self-esteem” is also what opens the door to the Great Mystery where the journey begins. It is a path that can only be walked by those who have discovered they are paralysed by complacency and surfeit, can only be seen by those who have discovered they are blind to the uncreated world, can only be heard by those who are deaf to counterfeit worldly ways, can only be begun by those willing to leave behind attachment to what is past at the first hint of invitation from the One to whom the path leads in the present moment.

We must move beyond the limitations of ‘I’, beyond what the behavioural scientist Candice Hershman has labelled “my little skull and skin encapsulated world”.

Letting go of our narcissistic self-defence and prescriptive certainties requires an embracing of humility and child-like trust and wonder. The exposure of our vulnerabilities and acknowledgement of our limitations brings us closer to Christ our God and to one another. To paraphrase the philosopher-hasidist, Martin Buber: “all real loving is meeting”. In this way, selfless love is nothing less than an encounter with the Risen Lord on the Road to Emmaus.

HAPPY FEAST!

Beloved in Christ,

Today, one week into the new Church Year, and we have the first of 12 Great Feasts. Today is the Nativity according to the Flesh of the All-Holy Immaculate Most Blessed and Glorified Lady, the Mother of God and Ever Virgin, Mary. She, whom we hymn as the Chosen of Israel, the Throne of God, the Holy Tabernacle, sanctified temple and rational paradise,  the rich butter-mountain, more honourable than the Cheruvim and more Glorious than the Seraphim, the Mistress of Creation whom all generations call blessed. 

In the Megalynarion of today’s feast, we hear:

Truly, virginity, O Theotokos, is impossible for a mother, as birth-giving is impossible for virgins. Yet in You has the dispensation of both been accomplished. Wherefore, all we families of the earth do ceaselessly bless You!

This is an acknowledgement from within the liturgical praxis of the Church of the oxymoronic illogicality of the “virgin-birth”, and in that it is a nod to the awesome enormity of the transfigurative endeavour. For us Orthodox Christians, our salvation is an ongoing process, not a single moment. It is not a moment identifiable solely with the Crucifixion, but with the whole economy of God’s incarnation and breaking into history, His redeeming creation from within, which begins with the Holy Conception, made possible by the Holy Spirit and the acquiescent co-working of the Holy Virgin. 

Today, is born She who is the agent of our salvation, and in whose womb dwelt the Son of God:

From You, God was incarnate and became a child, our God before the ages. He made your body into a throne, and your womb He made more spacious than the heavens. All of creation rejoices in You, O Full of Grace! Glory to You!

May God, through His illimitable mercy, grant us all a very blessed and Happy Feast!

Through the prayers of Your Most Pure Mother, and of All the Saints, Lord Jesus Christ our God have mercy on us and save us.
Amen.

Father Jakob

 

PATRISTIC INTERPRETATIONS OF THE PARABLE OF THE VINEYARD (Matthew 21:33-42; 13th Sunday of Saint Matthew)

Re. Old Covenant (The Jews):

The vineyard – – is the House of Israel in its widest sense: ‘this vine which [God’s] right hand did plant’ (Ps. 79:15).
The master – – is God Himself, He it is Who performs all the preparation and construction, God is not abroad in the sense that he is not here but only in so far as he is absent from the hearts of those who neglect him;
The hedge – – is the Law.
The tower – – is the temple.
The vine-growers – – are the corrupt religious leaders of the Jews.
The slaves – – are the prophets killed by the Jews.
The Son, whom the Jews kill and try illegitimately to replace – – is Christ who is crucified outside the vineyard – – that is, outside the city of Jerusalem.
The winepress – – is the altar where the blood of sacrifice is poured out.
The vineyard is not owned by the Jews, but let out, leased to them – – that is, only for a period of time; καιρὸς τῶν καρπῶν, the season of fruits is the time or ripening, it is not quite yet ‘the time of harvest […] come’ as the King James Version incorrectly renders it. This is a not unimportant point, for the time of harvest is the Second Coming, which – certainly from my (earthly) perspective – remains a future event.
The corner, or the cornerstone – – is Christ uniting Jew and Gentile into a new man in Himself as one body and one blood (cf. Eph. 2:15).

Saint John Chrysostom tells us that the Jews, because of their behaviour towards Christ and His Holy Church, have betrayed God and should be thrown out of the vineyard. It is in this sense that we understand the Church as the new Israel, as the vineyard based not on race but on faith in Christ God. The Pharisees and high priests react badly to this parable for they understand exactly what it means! In a wider sense we should also understand the parable – as we should understand all Holy Scripture – as having a personal relevance and apply its message accordingly. So, another patristic – personally-relevant – reading:

Re. New Covenant (we, us, you, me):

The vineyard – – signifies the Church.
The vines – – are us, called to bear fruit, grafted on to the Cross, the Tree of Life.
The fruit – – is prayer.
The winepress – – is the kardia, the human heart, in which selfish desire and the passions are crushed so that we may become a temple of the Spirit. The heart is not simply the biological organ nor even the feelings and emotions but, according to the patristic anthropology, the very centre of our being and the place of our potential recovery of wholeness and of our salvation.
The tower – – is nepsis, vigilance, the guarding of the heart against heresy and all evil.
The tending and working – – is askesis, the ascetical labour which is essential for all Christians to bring forth the good fruit, and not ‘bitterness or thorns’ (Is. 5:2).

If we examine the parallel text in the Gospel according to Mark, we discover a very curious thing. There is an admission of guilt by the Jews that is present in the Greek (official) 1904 edition of the Gospels as used by the Church, but which has been silently expunged from the King James text and from other heterodox western Bibles. At Mk. 12:7a, it reads: ‘Having seen him coming’. That is, the Jews having known from the prophecies that the messiah would come, and that Christ is the messiah, they kill Him any way. So, in spite of the Covenant and the many centuries of sacrifice, preparation and faith, and the voices of the prophets, when the moment came to choose life in Christ the rulers of the Jews instead chose self-interest, power, and for themselves and their people: death.  This is true of all Christ-deniers.
Let us hope and pray that we do not join those who hate Christ in making the same suicidal mistakes, but that we are able, as the Apostle encourages us to ‘Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong. Let all that you do be done with love.’
Amen!

TULIP – 5 Points of Nonsense

In response to your question, I will offer by way of repudiation some very brief notes. I offer no ‘in depth’ analysis or argument – I know such things are unnecessary; and in any case arguing on the heretical field (which is always slanted towards the enemy’s goal mouth) is a waste of time and effort (Mt. 7:6, 10:14).

I am not delusional: I understand that someone locked into Calvinism will find my dismissal unconvincing.

The prot paradigm is divergent from Apostolic-Orthodox Tradition. Salvation is not a juridical-ransoming, but a relational process of Love, cooperation between God and man. Calvinism and other man-made philosophies and heresies demonstrate that ‘individual interpretations’ of Holy Scripture (contra which, vide: 2 Pet. 1:20) and ‘cherry picking’ verses from Holy Scripture are dangerous praxes as they inexorably lead us anywhere (i.e., nowhere – the anti-place = hell). Instead we must do as the Holy Fathers teach us: read Holy Scripture holistically.
If we want to know if some thing (belief, dogma, praxis , etc.) is ‘orthodox’ we can see if it is utilised (believed, expounded, practised, etc.), by/within the Holy Church. If it is not, then it probably isn’t ‘orthodox’.
That unfragrant bloom: Cavin’s TULIP

Total Depravity is easy to dismiss. Man is never totally (entirely) depraved. He is made in the eikon (image) and omoiosis (assimilation/likeness) of God. Despite the Fall, man retains – and we are not told otherwise – the image and the propensity for growing into the likeness (assimilation) of God. These things are not lost, although they are diminished (sometimes severely). Man has a potential for depravity but his depravity is not total nor universal- such a hateful idea reduces man to less than an animal. The Theotokos was not depraved in any way.

Unconditional Election is irreconcilable with a God Who is Love. It is based upon a faulty reading of He chooses the elect according to the kind intention of His will (Eph. 1:4-8; Rom. 9:11), claiming that He does so without any consideration of merit within the individual. This hateful idea (irreconcilable with Holy Scripture, e.g. 1 Tim. 4:10, and the patristic consensus) supposes that man has no autonomy of will or belief but is merely a puppet at the disposal of a tyrant. If we also cherry-pick, setting verse against verse, we see this notion contradicted by Mt.7:21.

Limited Atonement (also known as Particular Atonement). The idea that ‘Jesus died only for the elect’ is abhorrent to Christians of true belief. This implies that God is (mostly) a devouring monster, who was so angry that only the bloody death of His own Son could assuage His anger (‘atonement’), and Who, even now, allows people to be born only to then eventually kill them eternally.

Irresistible Grace is a pointless notion. The idea that ‘when God calls his elect into salvation, they cannot resist’ is nonsensical, it is no more than a prop which upholds the other parts of the TULIP. There is no sound reason (barring schizophrenia) to suppose that a person who – of their own will – becomes a co-worker with God would want to resist.

Perseverance of the Saints. The idea that ‘you cannot lose your salvation’ is another point to bolster the TULIP. It is correct that ‘once saved always saved’, but the Calvinist argument implies that salvation is static (a moment) rather than energetic (an ongoing process), with no development (through time) or material aspect (saints, sacramental Mysteries, rituals, etc.). The true ‘guarantee’ (if you will) of salvation comes at the end of (or during ) the earthly life of the saint. It may even be seen as the ‘reward’ for a life lived in Christ (corporately not individually), battling one’s passions. But it is not something dished out at the moment of conversion or confession of Christ as “personal saviour” (an entirely unscriptural/untraditional term), a point from which every protestant inevitably falls back into sin.

FALL versus DESCENT

Before the Fall, man lived in as state of innocence and sinlessness. With Adam and Eve’s disobedience, death comes into the world; their wilfulness and apostasy disfigures man and all creation: “They lost the priceless gift of the grace of the Holy Spirit” (Saint Seraphim of Sarov, Little Russian Philokalia, p.100.). And with this loss comes a fixation on the worldly:

With the opening of their eyes through the transgression, Adam and Eve have already lost the life of Paradise […]. From now on their eyes will be open to the lower things of this earth, and they will see only with difficulty the higher things of God. (Fr. Seraphim Rose)

The Fall is a descent which is an ontological deformation of man and of his relationship with God, a deformation of the entire cosmos. It is disobedience: a loss of knowledge (of God) through the acquisition of forbidden knowledge.

Humility and obedience are the means by which we descend (from our egoistic pedestal) and simultaneously, with God’s grace, we ascend to Him. This going down which is a going up is one of the many paradoxes of true Christianity.
The true knowledge of the first-created world and Adam is accessible only through God’s revelation to the human heart and the divine wisdom of the Saints. Serge Bolshakoff writes:

To attain Paradise men and women [have] to have a clear vision of the otherworld, which [is] to begin here and now. From this [comes] the sanctification of everything earthly, the blessing of all living beings, the struggle to overcome everything fallen, ugly and lacking of the Good. (Elder Melchizedek Hermit of the Roslavl Forest, p.10.)

Prayer-ascetical labours-kenosis are the means of a radical reordering, by which we place our self below our brother and even below the animals. Saint Basil the Great says:

O God, enlarge within us the sense of fellowship with all living things, our little brothers to whom You have given this earth as their home in common with us. May we realise that they live not for us alone, but for themselves and for You, and that they love the sweetness of life even as we, and serve You better in their place than we in ours.

When we become vehicles and manifestations of ἀγάπη (agapē), unconditional Christ-like Love, we descend. This going down is an extrication from the grip of the evil-one, he cannot follow us, he is incapable of doing so. satan is enhypostatized only in our going up, our raising of ourselves in pride (disobedience and wilfulness). Elder Basil [Kishkin] of White Bluff Monastery, like all the holy fathers, understood well the glory of descent and the massive effort required:

Work well, brothers, God so values the sweat of obedience that He counts it as the blood of martyrs. (Zhizneopisanie Otechestvenich Podvizhbikon Blogochestie, April 1907, p. 206.)