“before Thy terrible and unwavering throne…”

Just for penitent kicks, here’s psalm 120 from St. Ephraim’s Spiritual Psalter. I cannot help but be moved by his emboldened yet fearful approach to God. That is a picture of trust in God: to be both full of the knowledge of God’s terrible goodness and of your own egregious state, and yet still come into His presence. If only I could find a way to come to my loving God without forgetting my guilt; to see through the debilitating self-truths and still see a Holy and Fearful God, without pretending He is my “homeboy”. To be self-aware of our sin, and not despondent; that is the beginning of repentance.

Grant forgiveness, O Lord, send also strength. Convert me, that I might live in sanctity, according to Thy holy will. Sanctify my heart that has become a den and dwelling-place of demons. Continue reading ““before Thy terrible and unwavering throne…””

The Simple God Simply Put

I’ve been going through St. Gregory of Palamas’ wonderful work The One Hundred and Fifty Chapters, and working on a paper that considers it alongside Thomas Aquinas’ On Being and Essence. Both works deal with metaphysics and physics, but for both men metaphysics is in woven into epistemology, thus giving rise to the point of distinction between the two (and the East and West at large): that is, the action of God and our knowledge of Him. In order to say anything of God we need to say something about His part, since we cannot comprehend His whole; or speak of Him in analogy, which still presupposes Continue reading “The Simple God Simply Put”

The Team to Beat

With the postseason upon us I can no longer keep from writing a bit about baseball.  At the outset of this postseason some fascinating storylines have emerged, headed up by stories of collapse: The Mets, the Brewers, the Padres, the Tigers, and of course the Dodgers. Couple these teams second half performance with the whole season disappointments that were the White Sox and the Cardinals and you have half of the baseball fans in America whimpering their way into the postseason. But the failure of these teams to live up to their expectations has kept us from recognizing what is due to programs like Arizona, Cleavland, and Philly. The media is beginning to realize this about Philadelphia, a team that was generally pegged as a contender at the beginning of the season. But the two teams worst represented by the poor media focus are the Yankees and the Rockies.

The Rockies have remarkable chemistry, and two great leaders in the fading star of Todd Helton and the rising comet that is Matt Holliday. All season long they showed us they could swing the bat, and suddenly we see Josh Fogg outdealing Jake Peavy and Ramon Ortiz doing what Trevor Hoffman cannot, get an out without giving up runs). For whatever reason such feats have been possible for the Rockies, and this makes it a great story and fascinating baseball to watch. But no one in the media thinks they will make it to the big show. Nobody seems to want to see it.

Instead the question has been whether or not A-Rod will collapse. From what I’ve been hearing the general sentiment is that people would love to see him do well and the Yankees lose. Yet people still pick the Yankees to make it to the World Series, clearly forgetting that the postseason is the different from the regular season; and also forgetting that the regular season was one long uphill climb for the Yanks. Has everyone forgotten about what it took to get them here? Is it that taken for granted? Of course it is, because what people don’t often realize about the way that they treat teams is that they institutionalize them. The Yanks are likely to win, at least in people’s minds, because of the Babe, Mantle, Gehrig, and company. The association of the teams with this heritage is part of what makes baseball so great, so lasting, such a part of the American identity. Teams are not just the roster they field that year. At the end of the month this years story may be the Remarkable Rockies, but for lifelong baseball fans, the story will be tied to their teams and the great institutions of baseball.

For this reason it has taken years for A-Rod to be considered a Yankee. For this reason, people who hated the Yankees for trading for him will love to see him do well. His success, coupled with a Yankee series loss, will enable all the Yankee haters to put the blame on the organization and their ancestors. It will salvage A-Rod in their minds, he will not be the one to blame for the Yanks demise, rather it will be Torre, Steinbrenner, Jeter, and their ancestry that will be defeated in the minds of non-Yankee nation. But if A-Rod wins a World Series with the Yanks the man with the great looks and the god-like power will become dead to us all. Till then he, like us and our beloved teams, is a victim to the unstoppable and ruthless machine that is the New York Yankees.

On Devisive Christians II: The Battle of the Hoby Horses

I mentioned earlier that the central issue that tears apart Evangelical leaders and their followers-turned-Orthodox is that of “Tradition”. I do not want to say poorly what others more capable than I have already said regarding the Orthodox understanding of Tradition (and tradition) but rather mention the phenomenon of the transformation of the Evangelical understanding of Tradition. Because I desire to speak of the concept in transition, and of people in transition, I will use the term Tradition to denote the Orthodox understanding of the concept regardless of the degree of agreement or revelation one might have.  How one answers the question of tradition, indeed, even what one means by the word, will determin whether or not they hold the Traditional elements of Orthodoxy are silly, proud, or divisive.

The first mistaken presupposition I had to face as Protestant Inquirer into Orthodoxy was that I had a “hobbiest” attraction to the Church. This is the assumption that what appealed to my wife and I was the more obvious differences in worship. We were supposedly swayed by the incense and icons, the use of the word “thy”, the lack of electric guitar, or some other visceral element. Nothing could have been further from the truth. The fact of the matter was that when I first started visiting an Orthodox Church I wouldn’t have used the word “obvious” to describe these distinctive features: I would have used the word “superficial,” revealing my very Protestant belief that these external vestiges were of absolutely no importance. As it turns out, by the grace of God my ignorance and impiety saved me a great deal of trouble. I found myself at an Orthodox Church because I was looking for the right way to read my Bible, which I assumed was the central if not solitary means of my spiritual development. That was the only thing that really mattered in my mind, and I was not going to be deterred by unimportant preferences regarding music, architecture, little “icon” pictures, etc.

While I was only beginning to process what I was seeing on Sunday mornings people would approach me assuming that my interest in Orthodoxy was founded on an interest for Byzantine art, Russian music, or Early Church history. All of these were things I was beginning to care about and learning to deal with; and often that process was painful and awkward. Yet the standard Protestant assumption (which I too have been guilty of making) is that my hobby led me to a place where it could be indulged, and Orthodoxy provided me just that opportunity. I am afraid that when Protestants began came up to me with these assumptions in hand I just handled them rudely and incredulously.

This assumption, as I have hinted to before, comes very sensibly from a very Protestant idea. That is the position that none of “that minor stuff” is important, rather it should be subservient to the proclamation of the Word and the practical concerns that are therein entailed. We should care more about the clarity of the voice through the speaker and the accessibility of the message to the listeners. I want to call this position the principle of articulation because it is concerned in the practical concerns relating to the clearly and nakedly laying scripture before the masses. There is obvious and plenteous merit to the principle, but by itself this platform will start exchanging questions of should for questions of comfort and preference. The thinking isn’t wrong, but this thinking will lead one astray if it is held in a vacuum, as it is by Protestants. Put such a guiding principle on a platform and its imbalance will tip it over soon enough. What I am trying to point out is that the reason people subscribe completely to the principle of articulation is because of a deprived epistemology. In other words, since we cannot know anything other than the reading and understanding of Scripture is beneficial, the questions regarding how get answered by necessity, preference, or minimalism. One can parse out denominational distinctions from there.

This is illustrated well by a story that happened to a friend of mine. He was contemplating the claims of the Orthodox Church and shared some of his burning questions with his Evangelical teacher and leader. The teacher responded to the questions by saying, “You know I’m very interested in Medieval history and philosophy. I thought that no one at my church would be interested in it, but I found that there were actually other people who were knowledgeable and interested, and it ended up being a great fit for me.” Essentially the teacher here was trying to sell my friend on the idea that his hobby can be indulged at a Protestant church.

But what of my friend’s questions? What about the truth? Are the issues raised by Inquirers merely superficial?

The Inquirers decision to question and /or leave where they are at is in almost every case born from real, sincere, and important questions; and to assume otherwise (as I have said before) is necessarily offensive. Moreover such a response to an Inquirer showcases a fundamental understanding about foundations of Orthodoxy and the relevant questions. I am not trying to be mean or to insult people, merely trying guide Evangelicals away from a pitfall that postpones understanding and distances people. The better the dialog the better, right?

What then would be a proper response? Well, truth be told I think that the response is to come to the Church, but a more realistic thing to expect from the Evangelical Teachers and Leaders to whom I owe so much is twofold: first, I expect them to speak with Inquirers about the real issue of epistemic difference in what guides the Orthodox Church and what guides the Evangelical pluralities. Second (and this is a topic for a later date) I expect them to be honest about their own tradition and not name drop or plunder from the Saints as if they were contemporary Protestants.

I will close with a couple notes about my own epistemic transformation into Orthodoxy. As I said earlier, my impetus towards the Church came by way wanting to know how to interpret my Bible. I started with a minimalistic approach, which was in accordance with my Protestant upbringing. But I soon found out that Scripture did not play in such a confined epistemological space: namely, Christ and the Apostles did not read or write Scripture in a way that fits within the Protestant hermeneutic or epistemological framework. Of this much has been written, suffice it to say that I decided that being part of the Mystical Body of Christ that is His Church enabled me to fulfill the Biblical injunction to hold fast to the tradition of the Apostles, both “of word and epistle” (2nd Thess. 2:15).

Is not this Divine Comedy: that we would want happiness and be given a cross? That we would want forgiveness of sins and be given a spotless Lamb? That we would want guidance and simple Scripture and be given Icons and Incense? This is His way, this is His large and laughing creation, and we are His workmanship. Glory be to God in all things!

Frederica: On Men and Church

For those of you following the male church attendance crisis in the Evangelical circles, and wondering about the strange Orthodoxy phenomenon of mass male conversions here’s an article by the ever-engaging Frederica Matthewes-Green tackling some of the relevant questions. There’s plenty of “oomph” there, so your thoughts and responses are welcome. Here’s an excerpt:

The men who wrote me expressed hearty dislike for what they perceive as a soft Western Jesus. “American Christianity in the last two hundred years has been feminized. It presents Jesus as a friend, a lover, someone who ‘walks with me and talks with me.’ This is fine rapturous imagery for women who need a social life. Or it depicts Jesus whipped, dead on the cross. Neither is the type of Christ the typical male wants much to do with.”

During worship, “men don’t want to pray in the Western fashion with hands clasped, lips pressed together, and a facial expression of forced serenity.” “It’s guys holding hands with other guys and singing campfire songs.” “Lines about ‘reaching out for His embrace,’ ‘wanting to touch His face,’ while being ‘overwhelmed by the power of His love’-those are difficult songs for one man to sing to another Man.”