The Theological Importance of the Color White

A fantastic paragraph from G. K. Chesterton’s essay “A Piece of Chalk”.

But as I sat scrawling these silly figures on the brown paper, it began to dawn on me, to my great disgust, that I had left one chalk, and that a most exquisite and essential chalk, behind. I searched all of my pockets, but I could not find any white chalk. Now, those who are acquainted with philosophy (nay, religion) which is typified in the art of drawing on brown paper, know that white is positive and essential. I cannot avoid remarking here on a moral significance. One of the wise and awful truths which this brown-paper art reveals, is this, that white is a color. It is not a mere absence of color; it is a shining and affirmative thing, as fierce as red, as definite as black. When, so to speak, your pencil grows red-hot, it draws roses; when it grows white-hot, it draws stars. And one of the two or three defiant verities of the best religious morality, of real Christianity, for example, is exactly this same thing; the chief assertion of religious morality is that white is a color. Virtue is not the absence of vices or the avoidance of moral dangers; virtue is a vivid and separate thing, like pain or a particular smell. Mercy does not mean not being cruel or sparing people revenge or punishment; it means a plain and positive thing like the sun, which one has either seen or not seen. Chastity does not mean abstention from sexual wrong; it means something flaming, like Joan of Arc. In a word, God paints in many colors; but He never paints so gorgeously, I had almost said so gaudily, as when He paints in white. In a sense our age has realized this fact, and expressed it in our sullen costume. For if it were really true that white was a blank and colorless thing, negative and non-committal, then white would be used instead of black and grey for the funeral of this pessimistic period. We should see city gentlemen in frock coats of spotless silver linen, with top hats as white as wonderful arum lilies. Which is not the case.

Meanwhile, I could not find my chalk


Achbp. Rowan Williams to Speak at St. Vladimir’s Seminary

As I wrote in Orthodoxy Today, it’s not just internal forces tearing the Anglican communion asunder — it’s outside forces too.  While most see Pope Benedict’s recent establishment of “Ordinaries” to help facilitate Anglican’s move towards Rome as a slyly hostile move, the invitations “home” from the Orthodox have taken on a much more hospitable and friendly tone.

This is evidenced by the head of the worldwide Anglican communion, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, speaking in January at St. Vladimir’s seminary. This is another move made by serious Anglicans in aligning themselves with the Orthodox Church rather than the RCC.  To be sure, Archbp. Williams has contributed a great deal to the “West” about Orthodoxy, but one wonders to what extent this has ceased being about politics and become one of fraternity.

So Rome is beckoning, and the Orthodox Church as well; who is offering the Calvinist-leaning Anglicans shelter from the storm?  Do not expect such an invitation from the Reformed Episcopal Church, an organization that has very little of “Reformed” identity officially tied to it or its hierarchy. Just try to find Calvin or Luther on their website.  Their concerns are of staying faithful to the teaching and practice of the Apostles, not of the Reformers.  An REC friend of mine recently told me that Metropolitan JONAH’s address to the ACNA in Bedford this summer was welcomed heartily by the REC delegates.  The same could not be said of the rest of the ACNA, many of whom took strong exception to his refusal to consider the ordination of women and his denouncement of Calvinism.

I’ve been predicting a dramatic restructuring of the Protestant denominations during the next two decades, and it looks like it is coming even sooner than that. Anglicanism is fractured, but many of the remnants will find home elsewhere.  The Presbyterians, Baptists, and Methodists share the Anglican’s “diversity” in respect to liberal and conservative constituents; and soon, I think, they will share their fate.

Manhattan Declaration Draws Fire

The “clarion call” of the Manhattan Declaration that has united conservative Christians from various denominational affiliations has begun to draw fire from gay activist groups.  The Declaration which voices concern over three main issues: religious freedom, sanctity of life, and “the dignity of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife” was signed by prominent members of the Christian community.

The Philadelphia Bulletin cites posts from gay blogs calling for letters to be written, and the willful disruption of services:

“It is time we let Bishop Cordileone know there are consequences for his actions,” the blogger states. “Is anyone up for a rally in front of the Oakland Diocese or a disruption of services? Let me know and I’m happy to help organize.”

After listing an address where people could write to the bishop, the blogger goes on to say: “By the way, here are the other Catholic cardinals and bishops who signed the Manhattan Declaration.” Listed are the names of the 17 bishops who signed the Declaration to date.

The blogger goes on to cite Fred Karger of Californians Against Hate who refers to the 152 framers of the document as “zealots” who “drafted, approved and signed their Declaration of War on full civil rights for gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender (LGBT) Americans last week. They threw in some other societal beefs, just to try and mask the overriding issue, their fervent opposition to same-sex marriage.”

I’m not surprised by this.  Is anyone?  Time to go on over and add your name to the Manhattan Declaration.

On Fr. Daniel Sysoyev the New Martyr

My didaskalos Dr. John Mark Reynolds makes some political points on the recent murder of the Russian priest Daniel Sysoyev by putting it in comparison to the Swiss minaret controversy. From his post on the Washington Post site:

There is a double standard and the Swiss voters knew it. The martyrdom of Christians in the Sudan, the work camps for Christians in China, the yearly martyrdom of Christians in North Korea, and the destruction of Coptic Christianity in Egypt is hardly a topic for polite conversation let alone passionate condemnation. Islamic radicals can kill Christians, the “secular” Turkish government can inhibit their freedom of religion, and Communist states can massacre them, and too little will be said.

Let Swiss voters ban minarets and we will rally to do something. Two wrongs do not of course make a right, but in a world of wrongs some are worth more outrage than others.

Father Sysoyev is dead in Moscow, but by all means let us condemn the Swiss voters loudly enough that we cannot hear his blood cry out for justice. If we look into it too hard, it might complicate the European energy picture.

If a good priest was killed for his opinions about Islam, it is far worse than a bad-zoning decision by fearful Swiss voters. If a good priest was killed for his opposition to the corruption in the Putin government, then this is far worse than banning minarets.

When we look at the future of religious freedom in the states, we need only to look to Europe.  Our crowns may be just around the corner.

While the ruthless murder of Fr. Daniel is a travesty and worthy of outrage, it is also something beautiful too.  If this is the future for Christians in then US, Glory to God! Read the letter written by Fr. Daniel’s wife:

Dear brothers and sisters, thank you for your support and prayers. This is the pain which cannot be expressed in words. This is the pain experienced by those who stood at the Cross of the Saviour. This is the joy which cannot be expressed in words, this is the joy experienced by those who came to the empty Tomb.O death, where is thy sting?

Fr Daniel had already foreseen his death several years before it happened. He had always wanted to be worthy of a martyr’s crown. Those who shot him wanted, as usual, to spit in the face of the Church, as once before they spat in the face of Christ. They have not achieved their goal, because it is impossible to spit in the face of the Church. FrDaniel went up to his Golgotha in the very church which he had built, the church to which he gave up all his time and all his strength. They killed him like the prophet of old – between the temple and the altar and he was indeed found worthy of a martyr’s calling. He died for Christ, Whom he served with all his strength.

Very often he would say to me that he was frightened of not having enough time, time to do everything. He was in a hurry. Sometimes, as a human-being he exaggerated, he got things wrong, he tripped up and made mistakes, but he made no mistake about the main thing, his life was entirely dedicated to HIM.

I did not understand why he was in a hurry. The last three years he was busy serving, never taking days off or taking holidays. I moaned, just now and again I wanted simple happiness, that my husband and my children’s father would be with my children and me. But another path had been prepared for him.

He used to say that they would kill him. I would ask him who would look after us. Me and the three children. He would answer that he would put us in safe hands. ‘I‘ll give you to the Mother of God. She’ll take care of you’.

These words were forgotten too soon. He told us which vestments to bury him in. Then I joked that there was no need to speak about that, we still did not know who would bury who. He said that I would bury him. Once our conversation turned to funerals, I don’t remember the details but I did say that I had never been to a priest’s funeral. And he answered that it did not matter because I would be at his funeral.

Now I remember many words which have gained a meaning. Now my doubts have dissolved, the misunderstandings have gone.

We did not say goodbye in this life, we did not ask each other forgiveness, we did not embrace one another. It was just another day: in the morning he went to the liturgy and I did not see him again. Why didn’t I go to the church that day to meet him? I had thought of it, but I decided I had better get the evening meal ready and put the children to bed. It was because of the children that I did not go there. There was a hand that did not let me go. But the evening before I had gone to the church and met him. I had felt as if dark clouds were gathering over us. And in the last few days I had tried to spend more time with him. Over the last week I had thought only about death and about life after death. I couldn’t get my head around either the first or the second. That day my head was spinning with the words: ‘Death is standing right behind you’. The last week everything was so hard, as if a huge load had been emptied out on top of me. I am not broken. He is supporting me, I feel as if he is standing by me. Then we said so many affectionate words, which we had never said to each other in our whole life before. Only now do I understand how much we loved each other.

The memorial service for the forty days of Fr Daniel takes place on the eve of his namesday and the patronal feast of the future church, 29 December, and 30 December is the feast of the holy prophetDaniel. According to the prophecy of an elder, the church would be built but Fr Daniel would not serve in it. The second part of the prophecy has already been fulfilled.

Matushka Julia Sysoieva

Translated by Fr. Andrew Phillips