Wisdom’s Warnings I

The Proverbs of Solomon in the Old Testament of the Holy Scriptures received by Christians and Jews alike contain abundant wisdom for those willing to search them out. In the Orthodox Church, the Proverbs are read through at weekday Vespers during the course of Great Lent to put before the faithful a standard of good and evil, of righteousness and unrighteousness, of wisdom and folly, by which they may examine their own lives, correct what is amiss, and learn wisdom as they seek the Divine Wisdom of God. All who read with a desire for wisdom may profit from the Proverbs; Christians in particular do well to read them regularly that they may be guided by the wisdom of God expressed by His servant rather than the wisdom of this world. A profitable practice is to read the chapter of Proverbs corresponding to the day of the month each month.

The following words from Proverbs have imprinted themselves on my mind since I read them two weeks ago (Dec 17):

“Whoso rewardeth evil for good, evil shall not depart from his house.” (Proverbs of Solomon 17:13; KJV)

We have all known people for whom life never seems to go well. Always there is some misfortune, some loss, some unexpected hardship, some injustice suffered at the hands of others. It seems that others go out of their way to mistreat them and take advantage of them. Very often these suffering souls  whine at great length about how unfair it all is. Often even the simplest things that work out for most people don’t work out for these, and anyone with a bit of compassion, or, at least, curiosity, has to wonder: why?

Why indeed? When people ask, “Why does everything go wrong for me?” or “Why do I always have such bad luck?” or “Why is everyone out to get me?”, this word from the Proverbs of Solomon could well serve as the place to begin to diagnose the problem. To ask oneself, “Have I done wrong to those who have done good to me?”, “Have I mistreated those who have treated me well?” and to find one must answer “yes”, is to have found with high probability the primary reason for one’s woes.

Solomon says evil “will not depart from his house.” In other words, for returning evil for good, perhaps even just once, he will be dogged, pursued, hunted by evil–until he makes right what he did wrong. By doing evil to those who do good, a basic law of human relations is violated, and it seems that the perpetrator receives due recompense either directly from God in His justice or, having opened himself to evil through his violation, he becomes the plaything of demons. In either case, he is dogged by bad things happening to him In either case, the goal of divine Justice is that he come to his senses, sees the evil he has done, repents, and mends his ways. What a powerful disincentive this should be to anyone tempted to return evil for good, to be ungrateful and forgetful of benefits rendered by others, to be disrespectful to parents, to take advantage of the weak in their weakness and the naive in their simplicity!

Conversely, the Gospel of Jesus Christ calls Christians and those who would know the Living God to “love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you that ye may be the children of your Father in heaven…” (Matthew 5:44-45, KJV) St. Paul, elaborating both on Christ’s words and Solomon’s, writes, “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. Dearly  beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine: I will repay, saith the Lord.’ Therefore, if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:18-21, KJV; Paul cites both Proverbs 25:21 and Deuteronomy 32:35).

“Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.” The foolish and wicked man does evil to those who do good to him, while the Christian is called to overcome evil with good and do good to those that hate him. The contrast could not be starker in action or in outcome. To return evil for good invites persistent evil into one’s life; to return good for evil makes one a child of the Heavenly Father.

Published in: on Thursday, 31 December, 2009 at 13:54  Leave a Comment  
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“You Can’t Legislate Morality”?

In response to Christian attempts to preserve the moral order of our society, those opposed to the natural law and the law of God often retort, “You can’t legislate morality.” Legislation informed by God’s revealed law is portrayed as being contrary to freedom and to a free country, and unjustified imposition of religion on people who want none of it. And so, in response to every attempt by Christians and others who acknowledge the existence of a moral order given by God to have that order reflected in the law of the land is met with the dismissive words “You can’t legislate morality.”

To say that you cannot legislate morality is true in a trivial way, but it is false in the most significant way. It is true only in that people will not become good and moral simply through legislation. Outlawing adultery does not keep people from committing adultery. (It does, however, help undermine the pernicious concept of a ‘no-fault’ divorce, provides some measure of protection for the injured parties, and expresses the norm of virtue to which a society aspires.) Though law in itself does not render citizens virtuous, when enforced it serves to restrain evildoers and to protect the innocent. Though pointing to the good, it can’t make people good. Thus, in the sense that by passing laws you cannot make people good, the slogan is true.

Apart from the foregoing, the claim that you can’t legislate morality is false. After all, what is law? It is the legal standard which defines what is considered to be bad, unacceptable behavior in a particular civil society. Hence, the law is always legislated morality—it is always reflects someone’s standard of right and wrong. When it is said in these United States that “you can’t legislate morality,” what is usually meant is that the one making the statement does not want Christian morality reflected in the law. But keeping Christian morality out of the law does not keep us from legislating morality; it only means that some other morality can and will be legislated.

Make no mistake: all law is legislated morality, a legal definition of right and wrong for a society. In the Soviet Union, law was based on Communist morality and the revolutionary consciousness of those who overturned the old order. In Nazi Germany, law was based on Nazi morality. Given the principles of Social Darwinism (survival of the fittest) and the superiority of the Teutonic race, it was good and right to exterminate lesser peoples, much as men kill vermin such as rats and cockroaches, to protect the long-term viability of the human race. Every ideology provides a ‘moral’ way of looking at the world; in power, every ideology naturally will attempt to construct a social order based on that vision of the world.

Though the prevailing notion today is that right and wrong (morality) are relative, Christians hold that God has created a moral universe, a moral natural order. He has designed us to live and interact in certain ways; other ways in which we can act are contrary to the way He made us—contrary to nature. The goal of the Christian and past Christian societies is to conform to nature, to God’s moral order to God’s will, and to have that order reflected in the social order. The Christian recognizes God as the higher legislative power, the Lawgiver and King, to whom he must ever strive to submit himself and conform himself to His will. In this view, God’s law trumps human legislation and human notions of right and wrong, good and evil.

So why in these largely Christian United States Christian attempts to influence legislation should be effectively dismissed with this slogan is not at all evident. In a Christian land, should not the law  largely reflect Christian notions of right and wrong, just as in a Muslim land, Islamic notions of right and wrong prevail? In a Communist country, notions of right and wrong determined by the theories of Marx, Engels, Lenin, are enshrined in law. The prevailing world-view in a society generally provides the norms of right and wrong to be enshrined in law.

Our problem in these once-Christian United States is manifold is that we are no longer  consistently Christian in our thinking. Much of our thinking in the civil realm is guided more by the anti-Christian slogans and animus of the so-called “Enlightenment” than it is by the Gospel. The fruit of the Enlightenment may readily be seen in the French Revolution (1789-99) in which the revolutionaries sought to recreate French society from the foundation up even to the point of rejecting the Church, the seven-day week (because it is grounded in the Biblical account of creation), instituting a new civil religion of their own making and a new calendar with 1792 as year one, ten-day weeks, and new names for the months. The Revolution sought to reject decisively the Christian heritage of the French people and replace it with a new one based on Reason (as they perceived reason, in any case). It failed (by 1806, the old calendar was back), but its anti-Christian principles are alive and well in our midst to this day.

Those who say morality cannot be legislated are being duplicitous. They seek to replace the prevailing moral system with a new one more to their own taste. If in the past, Christian norms were privileged in law because our land was consciously Christian, today other norms are privileged among our elites and opinion makers and Christian norms are marginalized or excluded altogether because to incorporate them would be to violate the mythical ‘wall of separation between church and state’ and to ‘legislate morality’, a most intolerant thing to do. Though rejecting Christian morality as the basis for legislation, these same people promote another morality, another non-Christian standard of good and evil, as the basis for legislation (without calling it morality, of course).

The day is evil when man loses the moral compass with which God created him. When he says that “good is evil” and “evil is good”, when he arrogates to himself the right of defining right and wrong, he has been deluded by our great enemy, the destroyer of souls. Unfortunately, not only those who actively promote the “new” anti-Christian morality are harmed; many souls passively take it in (primarily through our media and educational system) and are set up for destruction.

We can no more give the despisers of Christianity and Christian morality a free pass to dismiss our moral vision of the world with the words “you can’t legislate morality”. Let it at least be seen by all that our choice in legislation is between competing moralities to enshrine in our laws, not between Christian morality and some sort of secular, rational, enlightened legislation–a mythical creature which does not exist.


Published in: on Friday, 27 November, 2009 at 18:34  Comments (2)  

Plants in Paradise

Showing someone my herb and vegetable garden the other day, I was struck by how quickly and prolifically weeds grow. Give the ground, which appears to be full of seeds for their species, a little water and a little time, and a profusion of green erupts from the brown soil with no effort on my part.

How great is the contrast with raising ‘useful’ plants. Why do my vegetables not grow like that? Why is it that weeds grow fast and crowd out  my vegetables instead of it being the other way around? Why are ‘useful’ plants comparatively fragile and need great care and attention to produce well?

Rereading C.S. Lewis’s “Space Trilogy” (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, That Hideous Strength), I noted that his description of the paradasiacal state on Venus (Perelandra) contrasts sharply with our experience. There, the food-producing plants flourish on their own without man’s help. He eats when he has need of food, food is always at hand, and it is always “the best” he has ever tasted. He is at peace with the animals. Indeed, the resources of the planet are marshalled to serve the newly-made man.

What must Paradise have been like for our race! Yet we know nothing of it. Our lives are lived in a world made much less hospitable, even hostile to us, a world from which we must wrest our living with great effort, a world which readily produces ‘thorns and thistles’ and weeds in abundance. But I long for a world where the vegetables will crowd out the weeds…

Published in: on Wednesday, 27 May, 2009 at 08:27  Comments (1)  
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Leavetaking of Pascha

Today we say farewell to the Feast of Pascha until next year: we stop greeting one another with “Christ is risen”, we stop singing the Paschal Troparion “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death…”, we celebrate Christ’s Ascension and look forward to Pentecost.

Some people wonder why we say “Christ is risen” for forty days after Pascha. Is it not overkill? Too much of a good thing? Yet there is no more important proclamation we can make to the world, for this is the heart of our Christian Faith. The eternal Son of God becoming man, tasting of death for us and conquering it, changes everything for man. Death is not the final word spoken by the universe to man. Through Christ’s resurrection, eternal life is imparted to every man: all will be raised from the grave, souls and bodies reunited, to stand before Christ’s dread judgment seat to be judged for how we have used the gift of life in this world, for the revelation of what the sum of our choices in this life has made us.

The greeting “Christ is risen” proclaims the falsity of the philosophy “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” In our world, this proclamation is needed all year, not just for forty days, for the world largely lives by this false philosophy of life. Too often, we who call ourselves by the name of Christ, despite our professed beliefs, live according to this philosophy as well, treating life in this world as an end in itself rather than seeing it as preparation for eternity.

Though today marks the end of the paschal greeting until next Pascha, we must continue to live according to the Truth it proclaims.

Published in: on Wednesday, 27 May, 2009 at 07:37  Leave a Comment  

Even since I encountered it in youth, I have  loved this poem written by Sir Walter Raleigh the night before he was executed. It offers a dose of sobriety to us easily intoxicated by life’s promise.

Even such is Time which takes in trust
Our youth, our joys, and all we have,
and pays us but with age and dust;
Who in the dark and silent grave
When we have wandered all our ways
Shuts up the story of our days.
And from which earth and grave and dust
The Lord shall raise me up I trust.

As I get older, the opening lines hit ever harder; I begin to feel how time begins to take things from me, things I once thought were mine forever. Children come, bringing joy, but also work and worry. They get older, and the charming, innocent, simple child grows into someone else; what the child was before, while not entirely lost, is still unrecoverably past. Eventually the dependent child becomes an independent adult and leaves the parental home, leaving parents to ponder ‘how quickly they grow up!’ Friends and the circumstances that gave rise to friendship come and go. No matter how hard we try, we cannot grasp life, hold it, compel it to stand still where we might wish.

A great sorrow shadows every earthly joy. The flow of time cannot be stopped; what we and others are today cannot be captured and kept as in a snapshot. Time keeps flowing, we keep changing for better or worse, and our circumstances change also. Man’s beauty flowers forth in youth, matures, and withers quickly in old age, consumed by voracious Time. This is flux, what Heraclitus perceived and expressed in his famous words, “You cannot step into the same river twice, for fresh waters are ever flowing in upon you.” It is what the Church Fathers and St. Paul refer to as “corruption”, the instability and inconstancy of man who constantly changes along with the rest of the world in contrast with the incorruptible God.

In the face of flux, man can choose one of two approaches. “Carpe diem”, seize the day–time passes quickly, youth and strength quickly fade, opportunity may not present itself again, so do it now or live with regret–St. Paul summarizes this philosophy as “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” In the face of constant change leading to inescapable death, this makes sense, and many live in accordance with it.

But St. Paul with the Christian Church have a different approach to the problem. Life is short, yes. But it is preliminary to eternity and decisive as to how we shall spend that eternity. Christ’s resurrection promises resurrection to the whole human race  that we may stand in the body before the Judgment Seat of Christ to be judged for the deeds we did in the body–in other words, to be judged for how we used the time and resources that were given us. All the flux, the change, the joys that can’t be held, the sense of loss–all this is perceived differently in the light of the resurrection and calls us to make a decisive break with the philosophy of “eat, drink, and be merry.”

Though Time blights our promise, limits our accomplishment, deprives us of what we thought was ours, it is transcended by the day without end in which all the good beginnings made in Time blossom forth into eternal beauty and fulfillment.

Published in: on Friday, 27 March, 2009 at 13:43  Leave a Comment  
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“If They Want Children”

We attended the wedding of a young relative this past weekend at a mainline Protestant church. The service was dignified and largely followed the traditional text of the Western marriage service, which probably made it exceptional by today’s standards. I was struck by the conditional clause of one petition offered to God for the couple, something like: “If they want children, please grant them children.”

“If they want children…” Discussing this with a parishioner more recently departed Protestantism than I, I was told that the mention of children at all in a wedding service is exceptional. This person had attended many weddings in the past ten years or so and never heard children mentioned as part of the service.

So let me give credit where credit is due: at least this wedding acknowledged the connection of marriage with children. That connection is more often than not acknowledged or even denied today. Thanks in part to contraception and the casual acceptance thereof of  most Christians coupled with the prevailing conception of marriage as something joining two ‘soul mates’ for fulfillment and bliss. Children are an option in this sort of marriage as modern contraception gives a couple the power to choose whether children fit their notion of the fulfilled life.

The divorce rate gives the lie to this vision of marriage, but our culture continues to embrace it. Indeed, this vision of marriage contributes to the divorce rate: for when a couple marries and “falls out of love” or find they are not really ‘soul mates’ (whatever that is supposed to mean), then they consider they have made a mistake are are justified in seeking the fulfillment of their desires in another marriage or relationship without marriage.

In contrast to last weekend’s service, in the Orthodox Christian wedding service, we pray at the Betrothal “that they may be granted children for the continuation of the race…” Then in the Great Litany at the Crowning, we ask God “to grant them chastity and of the fruit of the womb as is expedient for them”, that God “will make them glad with the sight of sons and daughter”, that “He will grant to them enjoyment of the blessing of children”. Later in the first prayer for the couple, we ask God to grant them “long-lived offspring, gratitude from their children” and “that they may see their children’s children.” In the second prayer, we petition: “Grant them the fruit of their bodies, fair children” and “offspring in number like unto full ears of grain.” We ask again that they may see their children’s children. Then in the third of the three wedding prayers we request for them again “the fruit of the body and the procreation of fair children.”

All this goes to show that marriage and children are linked in the traditional Christian mind (and in the Jewish; it doesn’t take a deep reading of the Scriptures or history to see the link); they naturally go together. Children are not properly contemplated outside of marriage. Within marriage, they are the natural and expected result of the union (until now, that is, when we are in the process of redefining marriage to mean any self-chosen domestic arrangement).

Not every marriage, of course, produces children. Notice that we ask God “to grant them chastity and of the fruit of the womb as is expedient for them”. Children are not expedient for everyone, but that decision is best left to God’s providence and our faith in His goodness, not to our selfish, unenlightened whims.

Hence the conditional clause “if they want children” strikes against the essence of marriage. It would make man’s whim and desire sovereign over the Lord’s good pleasure and providence for man’s good. Rejection of children for selfish pleasure and convenience is in effect a rejection of marriage and of God’s intent for it. Ultimately, this is a rejection of God: a denial of His goodness, His wisdom, and His providential care as He seeks to reconcile us to Himself and bring us into His Kingdom. This vision of marriage is limited to this world and cannot deliver what it promises; the Christian view of marriage opens the door to the next and better world.

Published in: on Monday, 16 March, 2009 at 11:21  Comments (1)  

Spin and Propoganda

Good humor can provide the spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down, whether most delightfully or not.

After his death, Stalin was greeted at the gates of Heaven and taken on a tour by St. Peter. Stalin found the quiet and pious life of the people there disagreeable, and requested permission to go to Hell. Complying with his wish, St. Peter took him to the gates of Hell and handed him over to Lucifer. Stalin was led to a noisy bar, where there was much revelry and dancing going on. “This is for me,” declared Stalin, but Lucifer’s reply was to lead him into the kitchen where he was popped into a kettle of boiling oil. Stalin protested and asked to be returned to the bar. “Brother,” replied Lucifer, “that was just propaganda!”

Satan and his minions are masters at public relations, spin, and propoganda. They effectively make the worst, most distasteful, painful, and destructive things to appear irresistibly necessary to life. The anecdote well expresses what our mortal foe is about when he tempts us. Agreeing with the temptation and acting upon it never delivers what the temptation promises; rather it brings pain, disappointment, shame, and spiritual darkening. We should have learned from our experience.

Someone has defined ‘insanity’ as trying the same thing over and over while expecting a different result. We listen to the same old lines, accept the same tired old tempting thoughts, and expect somehow to avoid sin or have a different outcome. In fact, sin is insanity; it is not being in our right mind. And it is to this insanity that our enemy would lead us. Witness the man possessed of the legion of demons in the Gospel and how Christ cast them out and restored to him his right mind.

A fellow priest who once led a workshop on preaching for the priests of our diocese likened temptation to a chocolate-covered dung ball. It looks good, it smells good, it even tastes good when you first put it in your mouth. But the chocolate cannot compensate for the vileness it encompasses. How many chocolate-covered dung balls have we eaten? And how many more will we attempt to consume? May God grant us more discriminating taste!

Published in: on Sunday, 15 March, 2009 at 21:22  Comments (2)  

Today on National Public Radio (NPR) was broadcast an interview with Donovan Campbell, a lieutenant and platoon commander in the Marines, a Princeton and Harvard Business School graduate, who served in Iraq in 2004 and has written a book, Joker One, about his experiences.

Something the lieutenant said about how he learned to cope with the constrant threat of wounds and death and the weight of responsibility he bore for the members of his unit struck me. What eventually kept him from being paralyzed by fear of constantly-threatened death was the thought experience taught him to embrace: that he would not be going home, that sooner or later, before his tour in Iraq ended, he would buy the farm. His acceptance of the inevitability of his death in the line of duty did not deaden him, as his interviewer suggested, but rather liberated him. It liberated him to focus on his daily duty and not worry about the future. It freed him from fear to function as his men’s commander and do his best by them to get them through their tour of duty alive and in one piece.

The acceptance of death freed Lieutenant Campbell. It also freed another officer in another service, Captain Solzhenitsyn of the Red Army. Arrested in 1945 for incautious remarks about the Great Leader in a private letter, he was interrogated and imprisoned for eight years. Years later in his Gulag Archipelago, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn reflected on his own experience and that of many others he had interviewed of the Soviet interrogation system, which was designed to extract a confession from you whether you were guilty or not and to get you to implicate other innocent people as well in the hope of saving yourself and your family. How can one stand up and maintain one’s honesty and integrity in the face of a relentless, pitiless process of sleep deprivation, starvation, and torture brought to bear against one to compel the bearing of false witness against oneself and others? The answer is that of Donovan Campbell.

So what is the answer?  How can you stand your ground when you are weak and sensitive to pain, when people you love are still alive, when you are unprepared?
What do you need to make you stronger than the interrogator and the whole trap?
From the moment you go to prison you must put your cozy past firmly behind you.  At the very threshold, you must say to yourself, “My life is over, a little early to be sure, but there’s nothing to be done about it.  I shall never return to freedom.  I am condemned to die – now or a little later.  But later on, in truth, it will be even harder, and so the sooner the better.  I no longer have any property whatsoever.  For me those I love have died, and for them I have died.  From today on, my body is useless and alien to me.  Only my spirit and conscience remain precious and important to me.”
Confronted by such a prisoner, the interrogation will tremble.
Only the man who has renounced everything can win that victory. [A.I. Solzhenitsyn, Gulag Archipelago, Vol. 2, “The Soul & Barbed Wire”; chapter, “The Ascent”]

Christian life in the world is properly governed by the same attitude. St. Paul says “I die daily.” St. Antony the Great comments on St. Paul’s words in his advice to his disciples:

‘Wherefore, children, let us hold fast our discipline [askesis, ascetic discipline, life of self-denial], and let us not be careless. For in it the Lord is our fellow-worker, as it is written, “to all that choose the good, God worketh with them for good.” But to avoid being heedless, it is good to consider the word of the Apostle, “I die daily.” For if we too live as though dying daily, we shall not sin. And the meaning of that saying is, that as we rise day by day we should think that we shall not abide till evening; and again, when about to lie down to sleep, we should think that we shall not rise up. For our life is naturally uncertain, and Providence allots it to us daily. But thus ordering our daily life, we shall neither fall into sin, nor have a lust for anything, nor cherish wrath against any, nor shall we heap up treasure upon earth. But, as though under the daily expectation of death, we shall be without wealth, and shall forgive all things to all men, nor shall we retain at all the desire of women or of any other foul pleasure. But we shall turn from it as past and gone, ever striving and looking forward to the day of Judgment. For the greater dread and danger of torment ever destroys the ease of pleasure, and sets up the soul if it is like to fall. [St. Athanasius the Great, Life of Antony, 19]

The man who lacks this perspective will cling to life by any means, compromising any principle, ducking any duty just to survive. Christ speaks of the man who ‘gains the whole world but loses his soul’–and this is indeed the cost of clinging to life and the things of this world above all else. At some prices, to live is a luxury we can’t afford.

Patrick Henry asked, “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?” For many, chains and slavery and worse are worth it to prolong their existence under the sun just a bit longer. But a true man, a Christian man, an honorable man understands that there are some things worse than death [a major theme in the Harry Potter series].  A man’s clinging to life is sometimes the only leverage his enemies have against him; embracing death is liberation. And as death will come for us all, we must embrace it and not delude ourselves that we shall escape it. Sooner or later, it will come for us. May it not find us craven before it in that meeting.

Published in: on Thursday, 5 March, 2009 at 22:45  Comments (1)  

Marcus Aurelius for Today

The Meditations of the Stoic Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, although founded on a pagan worldview and the way of life consequent to it, offers much benefit to our time for those seeking a more thoughtful way of life in accordance with man’s nature.

Given our current economic and geo-political uncertainty, these words provide some context for us, if not comfort.

Consider the past; such great changes of political supremacies. Thou mayest foresee also the things which will be. For they will certainly be of like form, and it is not possible that they should deviate from the order of the things which take place now: accordingly to have contemplated human life for forty years is the same as to have contemplated  it for ten thousand years. For what more wilt thou see? vii.49

As Solomon said three millennia ago, “There is nothing new under the sun.” Unless human nature has changed, we can expect more of what has been. Modern man caught of in the notion of progress (towards what end? we do well to ask) tends to think that man’s nature has changed, has evolved, and so that what we face now is new and unprecedented.  The increase in the sophistication of man’s tools and the comfort of his life does provide support to an argument that man’s nature has changed, and one asks for evidence of a ‘new man.’ We saw the Soviet attempt to create a “new Soviet man” founder on the rock of the same old fallen human nature.

Christians believe the Christ has come to restore to man fullness of human nature, to heal it, so that man does not remain caught in an endless cycle of repetition, but it is far from evident that the bulk of the human race is entering the fullness of  life in Christ. Man has an escape, but refuses to use it.

It is encouraging to think that given the length of human history and the multitude of books documenting it, that one could contemplate human life for forty  years and get a grasp on the whole. One need not read all that has been written to gain wisdom.

This is also why an elder who has lived forty years or more in a monastery has much deeper insight into man and the world than those who live in the world: the elder has keenly observed and experienced the depths of human thought and motivation and seen how thought translates into action. Although observing life in a limited theatre, what he learns readily illumines action in the world at large, even though he is not reading the newspaper or the most recent scholarly study.

I shall not venture any predictions for the future, but I will venture to say that we should not assume we are exempt from the hardships of the past.

Published in: on Friday, 20 February, 2009 at 11:03  Leave a Comment  

The Creator as Child

To hold one’s recently-born babe in one’s arms and consider his new life and his dependence on his parents is deeply moving, especially with one’s first child. One looks and marvels at this new life, so much of it yet only potential and so little kinetically realized, but real nonetheless, beautiful, and brimming with possibilities. What sort of person does this body and soul contain? Who will emerge as he grows and develops? After one has two or three children, one realizes that though infants look much the same (despite the crowd who are ready to declare that he looks just like uncle Joe), entirely different persons quickly emerge. It will take eighteen full years to present this infant to the world as an adult capable of living on his own (at least it should take but eighteen years; we seem to think taking twice that is normal now).

Today the Church celebrates the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the temple, when Joseph and Jesus’s mother Mary bring him into the temple on the fortieth day after his birth to offer the sacrifices required by the Law on His behalf. The righeous elder Simeon, full of the Holy Spirit and waiting for a glimpse of God’s promised salvation, sees them and discerns that this is the One. He takes the infant Jesus in his arms and contemplates Him: here, contained in this helpless infant forty days old is the uncontainable God and Creator of all made man; the One who holds the universe in His hand is held in the hands of the elder. It must have been a profound moment for Simeon to see God made man in such a humble form. Seeing it, he declared himself ready to depart this life in peace, having seen with his own eyes God’s salvation.

While I may not be able to hold the infant God-man in my arms and contemplate His face knowing what His frail frame contains, every year at the Feast the Church offers us this opportunity as we hear the hymns and gaze on the icon of Simeon holding Christ in his arms while His mother and Joseph watch. O glorious wonder to see the eternal God made a helpless child out of His deep love for us!

The Theotokos Mary carried in her arms
Him who is borne aloft upon the chariot of the cherubim
and praised in song by the seraphim,
who was made flesh of her without her knowing wedlock,
the Giver of the Law who fulfilleth the commandment of the Law.
She gave Him into the arms of the priest and Elder;
and holding the Life, he asked to be released from life,
saying: “Now, O Master, let me depart to declare to Adam
that I have seen the pre-eternal God and the Savior of the world
made a babe without undergoing change. Vespers of the Feast of the Presentation

Published in: on Monday, 2 February, 2009 at 14:31  Leave a Comment  
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