30 September 2009

Yannaras's Orthodoxy & the West Reviewed

In his book Orthodoxy and the West: Hellenic Self-Identity in the Modern Age, trans. Fr Peter Chamberas and Norman Russell (Brookline, MA: Holy Cross, 2006), the Greek philosopher and theologian Chrestos* Yannaras is discussing the impact on Greek theology in the 1960s of Russian émigré theologians newly translated into Greek, when he comments, ‘Florovsky’s book in particular, Ways of Russian Theology, analyzed the Westernization of Russian Orthodoxy, stimulating awareness of the equivalent alienation of Orthodox thought and life in Greece’ (p. 292). The observation is significant. As the central focus of Orthodoxy and the West is precisely just that ‘equivalent alienation’, we are on solid ground in considering it as a kind of Ways of Greek Theology, but unlike Fr Florovsky’s book, giving ‘life’ nearly as equal a share of consideration as ‘thought’.

Yannaras begins documenting Greece’s ‘Western captivity’ earlier than many might expect: 1354, ‘when Demetrios Kydones, at the invitation of the Emperor John Kantakouzenos, translated into Greek the Summa contra Gentiles of Thomas Aquinas’ (p. 3). He then carefully and masterfully traces the course of that captivity throughout all of the succeeding centuries. It is, for the most part, a frustrating and tragic tale, and, like Fr Florovsky’s book, may prove rather disillusioning for many Orthodox readers. Yannaras finds a few bright spots amid all of the sell-outs and xenomaniacs: Patriarch Jeremias II, St Cosmas of Aetolia, St Macarius of Corinth, General Makriyannis, and Alexander Papadiamandis are the main figures he names as the ‘signposts . . . pointing to the real Hellenism, the historical embodiment of the Church’s Gospel’, and ‘the surprising exceptions to the story of decline now reaching the end of its cycle’ (p. 308).

It should also be pointed out that the last two chapters, ‘XVIII. Papadiamantis and His School’ and ‘XIX. The 1960s’, are devoted in general to positive figures and developments. Apart from those already named, as well as Kontoglou and several of the authors of the SVS ‘Contemporary Greek Theologians’ series, it was interesting to read Yannaras’s evaluation specifically of the often controversial figure of Fr John Romanides. The author lauds The Ancestral Sin unreservedly, crediting it with establishing ‘for the first time in Greek’ that the Western legalistic framework constituted a serious distortion of ‘the Church’s Gospel’ (pp. 275, 276). He is not so sanguine however about Fr Romanides’s more historically and culturally oriented works, calling them ‘too polemical’ and lamenting the ‘emphasis on intrigues and conspiracies’ (p. 277). Yannaras concludes by stating, ‘Before resigning his university chair in 1982, he taught a peculiar kind of neo-moralism, identifying the priesthood solely with a spiritual state leading to the vision of God, and disputing the ecclesiological validity of the contemporary Orthodox Church’ (p. 277). This is one of the few critical comments in a chapter full of praise for contemporary theologians.

But despite ‘the surprising exceptions’ and the promising writers described in these two chapters, the book is dominated by such figures as Kydones, who formally converted to Roman Catholicism in 1364 (p. 45), Patriarch Meletios (Pegas) of Alexandria (1550-1601), who fought ‘papal propaganda’ only to replace it with the Protestantism he had learned at Augsburg (p. 75), Theophilos Korydalleus (1570-1645), who replaced theology with scholasticism at the Patriarchal Academy in Constantinople (pp. 63-4), Adamantios Korais (1748-1833), an admirer of Voltaire who ‘attempted to reform Greek “religion” in accordance with his particular Enlightenment sensibilities’ (p. 148), Konstantinos Kontogonis (1812-1878), a product of Munich and Leipzig who singlehandedly taught every course at Greece’s only theological school from 1838 to 1852 (p. 196), Chrestos Androutsos (1869-1935), who rejected the essence/energies distinction (p. 203) and accepted ‘Anselm’s juristic interpretation of Christ’s crucifixion’ (p. 205), and Panagiotes Trembelas (1886-1977), whose hugely influential Dogmatics is ‘a non-Orthodox treatise compiled from Orthodox materials’ (p. 210) and who, as a member of the ‘Zoe’ Brotherhood, helped to disseminate an almost fascistic Protestant pietism that dominated Greek religious life in the mid-twentieth century.

Apart from the specific figures themselves, the Orthodox reader is dismayed to read of the invitations by Orthodox bishops to Jesuit missionaries and the founding of various Jesuit schools in Greece—even on Mt Athos—in the 17th century (pp. 59-62), of the destruction of seventy-two Byzantine or later churches to build the ‘neoclassical’ cathedral of Athens, designed by Theophil Hansen, built by Frederic Boulanger, and painted in the naturalistic Western style by the German artist, Alexander Maximilian Seitz (p. 167), or of the activities of the ‘Zoe’ Brotherhood mentioned above, which preached, catechised, opened schools, translated Protestant literature, and organised home Bible studies and discussion groups focusing on the Zoe magazine, called ‘Friendly Circles’, which met ‘not just in every neighborhood but virtually in every block’ (p. 231)—all on the basis of a blatantly Protestant and pietistic conception of Christianity.

It is a dreary tale, not just because it is so disheartening, but because it often seems like an endless parade of names, dates, and faulty ideas. Even at the book’s most difficult moments, however, one is acutely aware that one is getting much-needed, useful information. Yannaras has performed an invaluable service in documenting all of this, and Fr Chamberas and Norman Russel have done another in translating it for the Anglophone Orthodox world. Because Orthodox theology in the West has been so dominated by the Russian émigrés, Yannaras’s tale will be largely unfamiliar to many Orthodox readers. For one thing, it constitutes wonderful background for reading the St Vladimir’s Seminary Press’s ‘Contemporary Greek Theologians’ series, all of whom are mentioned by name in the last chapter—‘The 1960s’—in connection with the return of Greek theology to the path laid out by the Fathers, and particularly by St Gregory Palamas. But the book is also a good general introduction to the various historical problems of Orthodoxy in Greece. Indeed, I daresay it is an indispensable addition to the Orthodox theological library in English.

Yet Orthodoxy and the West is not entirely without defects, I fear. In another post, I have already touched on one of the more problematic passages of the book—Yannaras’s attack on St Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain (pp. 131-7). But having now read the entire book, I am afraid this attack is only a symptom of a deeper problem. In his response to Yannaras’s comments on St Nicodemus (‘Introduction’, Exomologetarion: A Manual of Confession, by St Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain, trans. Fr George Dokos [Thessalonica: Uncut Mountain, 2006], pp. 33-60), Fr George Metallinos refers to an ‘attempt to overstate the admittedly pernicious spirit of Pietism’, which ‘little helps those who ardently apply their anti-Pietistic criteria to approach the work of St Nikodemos with purely Orthodox ecclesiological criteria’ (Fr Metallinos, p. 42). That Fr Metallinos holds Yannaras’s anti-Pietism in some regard is illustrated by the fact that on ‘the essence of Pietism’, he refers the reader to Yannaras’s Freedom of Morality, pointing out, ‘In theological terms, the author quite rightly calls Pietism a heresy in the realm of ecclesiology’ (Fr Metallinos, p. 42, n. 38). But it is clear from the subsequent citations of Orthodoxy and the West that Fr Metallinos considers the latter book an example of ‘the attempt to overstate the . . . spirit of Pietism’.

Unfortunately, because, like many Western readers, my knowledge of many of the figures and works under consideration in Orthodoxy and the West is scanty if not altogether non-existent, it is difficult to say to what extent overstated anti-Pietistic criteria have effected Yannaras’s evaluation of others besides St Nicodemus. It is true that as I read, I occasionally questioned whether a quoted passage really suggested the complete capitulation of a given personality to Western notions, and it began to strike me that there could be a sort of subjectivity to the charge of ‘pietism’.

Furthermore, there is one other major figure of whom I had previously had a favourable impression, only to find Yannaras criticising him in no uncertain terms: Metropolitan Augoustinos (Kantiotes) of Florina (pp. 240-1). One of my favourite books, The Place of Blessed Augustine in the Orthodox Church, by Fr Seraphim (Rose) (Platina, CA: St Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1996), is dedicated to Met. Augoustinos, ‘a confessing Orthodox hierarch of the latter times, a zealous inspirer of the faithful, and a true shepherd who stands guard against the wolves, giving his life for his flock, in the footssteps of Christ, the chief Shepherd’ (Fr Seraphim, p. 9). In his ‘Preface’ to The Precious Pearl: The Lives of Saints Barlaam and Ioasaph, by St John Damascene, trans. Fr Asterios Gerostergios, et al. (Belmont, MA: Institute for Byzantine & Modern Greek Studies, ), Fr Gerostergios refers to him as ‘the renowned Metropolitan of Florina’ (Fr Gerostergio, p. v), and enthusiastically translates his notes and comments on the text. In his biography of his son, the missionary monk Fr Cosmas of Gregoriou, Demetrios Aslanidis writes warmly of Fr Cosmas’s ten years working with the Metropolitan (for part of that time an archimandrite), and quotes Fr Cosmas as having said, ‘I’ll remain a few years with Fr Avgoustinos, to strengthen myself spiritually [for foreign missionary work], because he’s the best I’ve come across in spiritual matters . . .’ (Demetrios Aslanidis and Monk Damascene Grigoriatis, Apostle to Zaire: The Life and Legacy of Blessed Father Cosmas of Grigoriou, trans. Fr Peter Alban Heers [Thessalonica: Uncut Mountain, 2001], p. 42). After all of this, it is dismaying to find Yannaras accusing him of pietism (p. 240), and, even worse, of ‘spiritual terrorism’ (p. 241) for his outspoken denunciations of ‘the bishops, the government, the palace and state officials’ (p. 240), as well as of various ecclesiastics and theologians, who ‘feared the unrestrained vituperation which he could heap on them with impunity’ (p. 241).

It is in part this zealous anti-Pietism and the suspicion that, as Fr Metallinos says, it hinders Yannaras from approaching these matters ‘with purely Orthodox ecclesiological criteria’, that also gives me pause over the third chapter, ‘The Ecclesial Framework’ (pp. 23-32). Here Yannaras expounds what he refers to throughout the book as ‘the Church’s Gospel’, in contrast that is with the ‘Gospel’ of the Roman Catholic or Protestant churches. Certainly, it would be difficult to find anything here that is simply not Orthodox. But it is on the basis of this exposition, with its particular formulas and emphases and with no direct quotation from the Scriptures or the Fathers, that Yannaras mounts much of his critique in the later chapters.

In this regard, a comparison with Fr Florovsky strikes me as fruitful, for I think a key difference is revealed. Ways of Russian Theology, Part One in particular, is an historical description throughout. True, Fr Florovsky does not hesitate to say, for instance, that ‘Skovoroda’s wandering led him away from the church’ or that ‘His return to nature is a variety of pietist Rousseauism’ (Ways of Russian Theology, Part One, by Fr Georges Florovsky, trans. Robert L. Nichols, Vol. 5 in The Collected Works of Georges Florovsky [Belmont, MA: Nordland, 1979], pp. 154-5). But this is very different to Yannaras’s chapter-long exposition of ‘the Church’s Gospel’ and repeated and explicit charges that various figures have distorted that Gospel as he has described it. Many, I feel, will prefer the more strictly historical-descriptive approach over the more decidedly theological-polemical one, and insofar as Yannaras gives us the former, I think his study is at its most valuable.

A word on the translation: although there seemed to be a few minor errors—mostly, I thought, toward the end—this is on the whole an exemplary translation of a modern Greek theological work, and it is interesting that in the ‘Translator’s Note’ we are given an idea of why: ‘Readers familiar with the 1992 Greek edition will notice a number of differences: the luxuriant prose of the Greek original has been pruned to adapt it to current English style . . .’ (p. xi). Let this be a lesson to future translators—do not give us slavish or literal renderings of modern Greek theological and spiritual writings. Such translations are insensitive to the English language and not only negatively impact the reading pleasure of a work but can also create a negative impression of Orthodoxy generally. Orthodox translations and publications need to be completely professional.

*I try consistently to spell the name with an ‘e’ to retain in English the difference between the name Χρήστος (Yannaras’s baptismal name) and Χριστός (our Lord’s Messianic title).

29 September 2009

'O Godly Boast of Cumberland'—St Ninian of Whithorn

Today, 16 September on the Church’s calendar, we celebrate the memory of St Ninian (Nynia), Bishop of Whithorn, in Scotland. It is uncertain when he lived, but it may have been the fifth or sixth century. The earliest reference to St Ninian, of whom Aelred of Rievaulx writes that ‘the sanctity of his ways and his distinguished miracles commend to us’, is a brief passage in the Venerable Bede’s Ecclesiastical History III.4. After stating that St Columba went to Britain to preach to the northern Picts, St Bede writes (The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, trans. Bertram Colgrave, ed. Judith McClure and Roger Collins [Oxford: Oxford U, 1994], p. 114-5):

The southern Picts who live on this side of the mountains had, so it is said, long ago given up the errors of idolatry and received the true faith through the preaching of the Word by that reverend and holy man Bishop Ninian, a Briton who had received orthodox instruction at Rome in the faith and the mysteries of the truth. His episcopal see is celebrated for its church, dedicated to St Martin where his body rests, together with those of many other saints. The see is now under English rule. This place which is in the kingdom of Bernicia is commonly called Whithorn, the White House [Candida Casa], because Ninian built a church of stone there, using a method unusual among the Britons.

Fortunately, however, there is a fuller account of St Ninian’s life (available here) which Aelred of Rievaulx, the 12th-c. English Cistercian abbot, claims to have taken from a ‘barbarous’ original. According to Aelred’s Vita Sancti Niniani, St Ninian was born in the region near the Solway Firth, near the borders of Scotland and England, and his father was a Christian king of that region. The young boy assiduously preserved the grace of his baptism, did what was pleasing to God, and delighted ‘in the law of the Lord day and night, who like a tree planted by the water-side brought forth his fruit in due season, seeing that in the vigour of manhood he strenuously fulfilled that which he had learnt with the greatest devotion.’ The Vita (Chapt. I) continues:

He was sparing in food, reticent in speech, assiduous in study, agreeable in manners, averse from jesting, and in everything subjecting the flesh to the spirit. Wherefore bending his mind to the sacred Scriptures, when he had learnt according to their way the rules of the faith from the more learned of his race, the young man came by the exercise of his penetrating genius to see, what by the divine inspiration he had gathered from the Scriptures, that much was wanting to their perfection. . . . His heart was hot within him, and at last in meditation the fire kindled. ‘And what,’ said he, ‘shall I do? I have sought in mine own land Him whom my soul loveth. I sought Him, but I have found Him not. I will arise now, and I will compass sea and land. I will seek the truth which my soul loveth. Surely needeth it such toil as this. Was it not said to Peter, “Thou art Peter, and on this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it?” Therefore in the faith of Peter there is naught inferior, naught obscure, naught imperfect, naught gainst which false doctrine and perverse opinions, like the gates of hell, can prevail. And where is the faith of Peter but in the See of Peter? Thither certainly, thither I must betake me, that, going forth from my land and from my kinsfolk, and from the house of my father, I may be deemed meet in the land of vision to behold the fair beauty of the Lord, and to visit His temple. The false prosperity of the age smileth on me, the vanity of the world allureth me, the love of earthly relationship softeneth my soul, toil and the weariness of the flesh deter me, but the Lord hath said, “He that loveth father or mother more than me is unworthy of me, and he that taketh not up his cross and followeth me is unworthy of me.” I have learnt moreover that they who despise the royal court shall attain to the heavenly kingdom.’

So, the Vita tells us, St Ninian went on pilgrimage to Rome, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. There, he venerated the relics of the Apostles and presented himself to the Pope, explaining the purpose of his journey. Then we read in Chapt. II:

Presently [the latter] handed him over to the teachers of truth to be imbued with the disciplines of faith and the sound meanings of Scripture. . . . Therefore with the greatest eagerness, with enlarged mouth, receiving the word of God, like a bee he formed for himself the honeycombs of wisdom by arguments from the different opinions of doctors, as of various kinds of flowers. And hiding them within his inmost heart, he preserved them to be inwardly digested and brought forward for the refreshment of his inward man and for the consolation of many others. . . . Wherefore, after living in a praiseworthy manner for many years in the city and having been sufficiently instructed in the sacred Scripture he attained to the height of virtue, and, sustained on the wings of love, he rose to the contemplation of spiritual things.

The Pope himself took notice of St Ninian’s virtues and learning in the Holy Scriptures, and for this reason consecrated him a bishop and sent him back to Britain. On the way, the holy man stopped to visit St Martin of Tours, and to ask him to send with him some masons for the building of churches. The Vita continues, ‘so, satiated with mutual conversations as with heavenly feasts, after embraces, kisses, and tears shed by both, they parted, holy Martin remaining in his own See, and Ninian hastening forth under the guidance of Christ to the work whereunto the Holy Ghost had called him.’ He was received as a Prophet in Britain, and immediately set to work fulfilling his apostolic calling—‘Having purged the minds of the faithful from all their errors, he began to lay in them the foundations of faith unfeigned; building thereon the gold of wisdom, the silver of knowledge, and the stones of good works: and all the things to be done by the faithful he both taught by word and illustrated by example, confirming it by many and great signs following.’ Even amidst all of the cares and troubles of his apostolic work, the Vita speaks in Chapter 9 of ‘the most blessed Ninian, . . . whose repose no crowd disturbed, whose meditation no journey hindered, whose prayer never grew lukewarm through fatigue. For whithersoever he went forth he raised his soul to heavenly things, either by prayer or by contemplation.’

St Ninian put the masons to work near the southwestern tip of Scotland on what was traditionally held to be the first stone church in Britain, called Candida Casa—‘White [or Shining] House’, or, today, ‘Whithorn’. Having learned that St Martin had meanwhile reposed, ‘he was careful to dedicate the church itself in his honour.’ Of course, we mustn’t pass over the mission to the southern Picts, which St Bede mentioned. Aelred’s Vita relates St Ninian’s activities among them in starkly biblical, spiritual terms. It speaks of the holy bishop putting on the full ‘armour of God’ to fight the evil one, and then:

Fortified by such arms, and surrounded by the society of his holy brethren as by a heavenly host, he invaded the empire of the strong man armed, with the purpose or rescuing from his power innumerable victims of his captivity: wherefore, attacking the Southern Picts, whom still the Gentile error which clung to them induced to reverence and worship deaf and dumb idols, he taught them the truth of the Gospel and the purity of the Christian faith, God working with him, and confirming the word with signs following. The blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, those oppressed of the devil are set free. A door is opened for the Word of God by the grace of the Holy Spirit: the faith is received, error renounced, temples cast down, churches erected.

The Vita also specifically relates St Ninian’s many known miracles. Of these, I will include just two here, from Chapters 7 and 8. In 7, we are told that on one occasion, St Ninian noticed there were no vegetables prepared for supper, and asking the gardener the reason for this, was told that all of the edible vegetables had been used up. ‘Then said the saint, “Go, and whatsoever thy hand findeth, gather andbring to me.” Wondering, he stood trembling, hesitating what to do; but knowing that Ninian could order nothing in vain, he slowly entered the garden.’ There the gardener was astonished to find leeks and other herbs ‘not only grown, but bearing seed’. When he served them up joyfully, realising the great virtue of the bishop, ‘The guests looked at each other, and with heart and voice magnified God working in his saints; and so retired much better refreshed in mind than in body.’

In Chapter 8, we learn that St Ninian kept flocks and herds of animals ‘which he had gathered together for the use of the brethren, the poor and the pilgrims’. He used to bless them, commending them to God’s protection, and on one occasion, he used his staff to draw a circle around a herd of cattle, praying that all within would be kept safe. That night, a band of cattle-rustlers came, and seeing no fence or any guard, crossed the boundary drawn by the Saint.

But the Divine power was present resisting the ungodly, nay, casting them down, using against those, who, as brute beasts, minded their bellies and not their reason, the instrumentality of an irrational animal. For the bull of the herd rushed upon the men in fury, and striking at the leader of the thieves, threw him down, pierced his belly with his horns, sending forth his life and his entrails together. Then tearing up the earth with his hoofs, he smote with mighty strength a stone which happened to be under his foot, and in a wonderful way, in testimony of the miracle, the foot sunk into it as if into soft wax, leaving a footmark in the rock, and by the footmark giving a name to the place. For to this day the place in the English tongue is named Farres Last, that is, the Footprint of the Bull.

Soon, the holy bishop, having finished his prayers, returned to find the dead man laying on the ground, and the other thieves rushing around in a demonic frenzy. St Ninian, however, had compassion upon them, and besought God to give them another chance. Thus, the dead man was resurrected! ‘For, verily, the power of Christ, for the merit of the saint, smote him and healed him, killed and restored him to life, cast him down to hell and raised him again.’ The others, when they saw the Saint, fell at his feet imploring forgiveness. ‘And he, benignantly chiding them and impressing upon them the fear of God and the judgement prepared for the rapacious, giving them his benediction, granted them permission to depart.’

But eventually the holy bishop came to the end of his days.

Wherefore blessed Ninian, perfect in life and full of years, passed from this world in happiness, and was carried into heaven, accompanied by the angelic spirits, to receive an eternal reward, where, associated with the company of the apostles, joined to the ranks of the martyrs, enlisted in the hosts of the holy confessors, adorned also with the flowers of the virgins, he faileth not to succour those who hope in him, who cry to him, who praise him.

Accompanied by ‘celestial hymns’, he was buried in the Church of St Martin he had founded at Whithorn, in a stone sarcophagus near the altar. There many pilgrims used to journey to venerate his holy relics and to receive healing. Among others, the Vita tells of a young girl named Deisuit who had gone blind as a result of a painful disease. As the physicians could do nothing for her, she was led to the tomb of St Ninian.

Therefore to that girl before mentioned the grace which she sought appeared; the door of pity at which she knocked was opened; the health which she sought was vouchsafed; for the darkness was taken away and light was restored. All pain disappeared, and she who had come, led by another to the sacred tomb, returned home guided by her own sight, with great joy of her parents.

The Vita concludes, ‘But now this is the end of this book, though not the end of the miracles of S. Ninian, which do not cease to shine forth even unto our own times to the laud and glory of our Lord Jesus Christ, who with the Father and the Holy Ghost liveth and reigneth for ever and ever. Amen.’

Here are the Troparion and Kontakion for St Ninian from The Great Horologion or Book of Hours, trans. HTM (Boston: HTM, 1997), pp. 252-3:

Dismissal Hymn of the Hierarch
Third Tone. Thy confession

As the equal of the Lord’s Apostles, thou didst bring the grace of the good tidings to the lands of the Scots, O wise Ninian. Thou art a lamp to our feet, who enlightenest our souls to walk in the path of our God’s commandments. Hence, we honour thee and cry unto thee with fervent faith: Entreat Christ God to grant great mercy unto us.

Kontakion of the Hierarch. Plagal of Fourth Tone
To thee, the Champion Leader

To thee, our father, guide, and teacher in the Christian Faith, do we now offer fitting hymns of praise and gratitude, and, O godly boast of Cumberland, we extol thee. But since thou hast grace and boldness at the throne of God, do thou shelter and protect all who acclaim thy name, for we cry to thee: Rejoice, O Father Ninian.

28 September 2009

A History of Chalcedonian Christology

A brief trip to Half-Price Books today yielded an extraordinary find. Just when I had made up my mind finally to purchase The Cambridge Companion to Plato and Eric Havelock’s Preface to Plato, I chanced to look in the Religion section. It seems when I spend half an hour browsing it intently, I find nothing, but when I just take a quick look with no real expectations, something turns up. So today. Two hefty hardcover tomes in dust-jackets by Aloys Grillmeier, SJ, were sitting there waiting for me to use some of the last of my birthday money on them: Christ in Christian Tradition, Vol. II, Part 1: From Chalcedon to Justinian I, trans. Pauline Allen & John Cawte (Atlanta: John Knox, 1987), and, with Theresia Hainthaler, Christ in Christian Tradition, Vol. II, Part 2: The Church of Constantinople in the Sixth Century, trans. Pauline Allen & John Cawte (London: Mowbray, 1995).

I’m sorry to say I had never heard of these books, and I’m still a bit confused by the divisions in content and textual history of the series. For instance, I fear that there may have been an expansion of the contents of V2.P1 with the aid of the same Theresia Hainthaler who assisted with V2.P2 and that the edition I have purchased may therefore be dated. I’m not too concerned about this however. Looking through the contents of both volumes has convinced me of the invaluability of these books just as they are. Section 3 of Part One of V2.P1 (pp. 20-89), for instance, consists of an enormous and detailed ‘Formengeschichte of the Chalcedonian and post-Chalcedonian sources of christology up to John Damascene’, which, besides giving notes on the sources also provides bibliographic information on available editions.

Part Two of V2.P1 however is the ‘Exposition’ (pp. 93-337). Among other fascinating bits, after the long examination of the more important primary sources on Chalcedonian Christology, Grillmeier considers some interesting sources on the reception of the Synod. In Chapter Three, VI.2 of that Part he looks at a homily of St Diadochus of Photike for the Ascension that specifically discusses the debate over the ‘one-nature or two-natures formula’, unlike the important Codex encyclius, ‘in such a way that shows that the Chalcedonian terminology has already penetrated the minds of his hearers’ (p. 233). ‘Yet,’ adds Grillmeier, ‘he still remains completely in the kerygmatic style which draws its proofs from the biblical language of the Old Testament, but makes full use of them for the doctrine of Chalcedon’ (p. 233). Here is the passage Grillmeier cites:

The prophets have thus proclaimed one and the same Lord and they have in no way mingled, as some are introducing, the form of his incarnation (τῆς δὲ σαρκώσεως ἀυτοῦ τὸ σχῆμα; cf. Phil 2, 7b) in one nature. Rather they have brought out wonderfully the characteristics which befit his divinity, while what belongs to the body they have expressed in human fashion to teach us clearly that the one ascending or the Lord raised above the heavens—the former exists with what he is from the Father, the latter came from the Virgin, remains man, being one in form and in hypostasis (εἷς ὢν ἐν εἴδει καὶ εἷς ἐν ὑποστάσει). For the unbodily, having given himself a visible form in the assumption of the flesh, in this form ascends visibly to the place whence invisibly he descended and assumed flesh . . . Thus let no one suppose, brothers, that the tangible human nature which the holy Logos of God really appropriated for himself and is known by (ἐγνώρισται) is altered because of the rays of his divine and sublime essence, as far as the undivided truth of each of the two natures in him is concerned (PG 65, 1145BC [§§V and VI]). (pp. 233-4)

V2.P2 is an even longer book divided into four parts: ‘Part One: The Anti-Chalcedonian Pole—The Christology of Patriarch Severus of Antioch’, ‘Part Two: Retrospective Theological Consideration of Chalcedon’, ‘Part Three: The Theological Actions Undertaken by Justinian I (518-527 and 527-565)’, and ‘Part Four: The End of the Justinianic Era and an Appraisal of the Sixth Century’. Much of Part Two of V2.P2 is concerned with Leontius of Byzantium, whom Grillmeier names in the first chapter of this part ‘The Crown Witness of Chalcedonian Christology’. Unfortunately, as Grillmeier ‘presupposes’ (p. 186), this Leontius is the same Leontius of Byzantium whom Cyril of Scythopolis tells us was expelled from the Mar Saba monastery by St Sabas the Sanctified himself for ‘embracing the doctrines of Origen’ (The Lives of the Monks of Palestine, trans. R.M. Price [Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian, 1991], p. 185). Grillmeier argues briefly against an Origenist interpretation of Leontius’s Christology (p. 190), but whatever other arguments might have been marshalled against him, then or now, it seems that as a defender of Chalcedon he was a valuable ally of the Orthodox, if not himself entirely Orthodox in other respects.

I am also especially excited to see Chapter Two, II, of Part Four of V2.P2, ‘Concrete christology: the mysteries of the life of Jesus in Romanos Melodos’ (pp. 513-23). Here Grillmeier writes an interesting summary:

Without a doubt Romanos Melodos offers an impressive supplement to the reflective christology of the theologians and Justinian’s politico-religious decrees. He is the mediator between on the one side the more critical theological discussion based on concepts and formulas, and the celebration of the Church and its people in the Byzantine liturgy on the other, which had its centre in the Hagia Sophia; but he is also the great comforter of all levels of the Imperial City in their great trials, especially since the Nika revolt of 532. Romanos supports a sacralization of everyday life and offers texts for all occasions. Daily life has a series of liturgical acts which accompany the individual hours of the day. The great feasts of the church’s year were centred on Christ’s person and his work of redemption.

. . .

Poetry and music in the liturgy filled the eyes and ears of the Christian with a ‘physical radiance’ (Glanville Downey, Constantinople in the Age of Justinian [Norman, OK: U of Oklahoma, 1980], p. 121); to this Romanos Melodos made a significant contribution. The fine arts, which in the Hagia Sophia had created their greatest work to venerate Christ, the divine Wisdom, became in Constantinople the splendid expression of the content of faith. . . . (pp. 522-3)

I must admit that unless I suddenly become very interested in historical theology, I probably will not be reading these books through. But as references, I can foresee much pleasurable as well as useful ‘dipping into’ them.

27 September 2009

'Does Anyone Speak English, Or Even Ancient Greek?'

My daughter attends a Christian classical school here in town, and in a recent discussion with the fellow in charge of the secondary school curriculum development, I was asked to put in writings some thoughts I expressed about the direction I felt a prospective course in Greek ought to take. As this little essay was intended merely for informal circulation among those at the school who would be involved in such things, I did not document the quotations I used, but I’d be happy to track them down for any interested readers.

For the Christian considering the study of the Greek language, the greatest possible benefit is, naturally, the possibility of studying the New Testament in its original language. As St Maximus the Confessor has written, ‘The divine reading of the sacred Books reveals the counsels of the most holy God.’ The Scriptures are the ‘Great Book’ of the Church, and in the words of the great Presbyterian scholar, John Gresham Machen, ‘Every scientific student of the New Testament without exception knows that Greek is really necessary to his work.’

As central as they are, however, the Scriptures are not of course the sole object of education. Though we constantly return to them in our various fields of inquiry, it is the aim of a proper education to acquaint us with a broad range of thought and literature. In the West, this has traditionally begun with the Greeks. Homer in particular was long the sine qua non of a liberal education, and along with the great philosophers, Plato and Aristotle, he could fairly be said to constitute the foundation of Western man’s understanding of himself. Nearly all of the important writers through the twenty-three or so subsequent centuries presuppose some knowledge of these three.

Even the New Testament itself, long believed to be philologically sui generis, is coming increasingly to be seen within the full context of Greek language and culture. Although St Paul’s quotations from Empedocles and Menander are well known, my point goes much deeper than this. Consider, for instance, the extensive use by the NT writers of the Septuagint. C.H. Dodd, among others, has done extensive work on the LXX vocabulary in relation to previous Greek culture going all the way back to Homer. The LXX translators, who were working after all in the center of Hellenistic learning, Alexandria, chose Greek words to represent Hebrew theological categories in full cognisance of their use in the older writers. Even the choice of Theos to refer to the one, true God of the Jews can be seen to have been anticipated as it were by Homer.

Thus, if we are properly to understand the NT itself, much less the rest of the Greek corpus, pagan or Christian, we must start with Homeric Greek. The renowned evangelical scholar of the LXX, Moisés Silva, has observed, ‘Ideally, students learning biblical Greek should do so only within the context of learning Hellenistic Greek generally (with at least a smattering of the late classical period).’ Similarly, in his essay, ‘Homer and the Study of Greek’, Clyde Pharr has written a classic apology for this approach to the language, arguing:

It is generally recognized that for the best results in the study of the New Testament, students should read a considerable amount of other Greek first. In the whole circle of Greek literature the two authors most important for the student of the New Testament are Homer and Plato.

But there are strong reasons for going even further than Silva cautiously suggests. A great deal of Pharr’s argument of course rests on the point that Homer prepares the student for the study of the Attic writers and for the NT, while the reverse is not true. The student of Koine who then turns to Plato or Homer is apt to find himself somewhat dismayed. In the first place, the grammar is a good deal more difficult, even if one has mastered the Koine grammar. In the second place, the student of Koine is unlikely to have mastered even that grammar so well as he believes. The great likelihood of familiarity with the NT in translation gives the student a false sense of confidence when he turns to the Greek text. A smattering of basic vocabulary is enough to make it clear to him that, for instance, the passage before him is Christ’s parable of the vineyard, or the list of the deeds of the OT saints in Hebrews, and he feels that he has ‘read the Greek,’ however poor his grammar may in fact be. Confronting the classical authors will make clear to him exactly how well or how poorly he has learned the grammar.

But Homer is to be preferred as a starting point even to the Atticists, of whom the first to be encountered has long been Xenophon, through the Anabasis. As I have said, Homer is a propaideutic to them, both linguistically and and in a literary and philosophical sense, and they assume familiarity with him all the time. Pharr notes that—

Homer and the ideas he represents are infinitely more important for the student of the NT and of the early church than is Xenophon; and if one can study not more than a year or so of Greek before taking up the NT, he should by all means have some Homer followed by Plato.

Furthermore, Homer is more capable than Xenophon of inspiring the beginning student, and the younger the latter is, the more true this becomes. For some time now, Homer has not been opened until after the student has been made to trudge through a writer whose works, in Pharr’s words, ‘are all too often found to be tedious and dreary,’ and ‘are not of a nature to fire the imagination and stir the hearts in the breasts of our youth, as can be, and is, done by the great masterpieces of Hellas such as the Iliad and the Odyssey.’

It is my belief that a classical school is in a unique and wonderful position to prepare students for college to a degree and by a standard otherwise unknown in our day. Greek was once a ubiquitous feature of secondary education. Today it is rarely studied, even in college. Those students who find themselves as undergraduates suddenly interested in pursuing the Classics and ancient history on the one hand, and Biblical studies, Church history, and patristics on the other, end up having to do a good deal of remedial study in the necessary ancient languages, not to mention any modern languages that may be needed for scholarly research. Think of what an advantage, even an inspiration, it would be to potential philologists to already have been given the basics in this respect! But of course, even those who do not go on to do such specialized work will find themselves in possession of enormous advantages over their peers even in the core curriculum of the standard liberal arts college or university.

Fortunately, I have already received the helpful comments of Esteban Vázquez on this essay, and thus I append them here:

The only thing I would have added if it had been my position paper to write would have been the obvious pedagogical advantage of starting with Homeric Greek, inasmuch as the students are blissfully unaware of its ‘difficulty’ when compared to, say, Plato. (Of course, this difficulty is only a perception on the part of students that have become accustomed to the niceties of Attic composition.) Further, moving from Homer to Plato (or, God forbid, Xenophon) could illustrate well to students the organic development of languages, especially if from the beginning they have learned a living pronunciation of Greek [Which I have not mentioned above, but certainly advocate for any class in ancient Greek!—Aaron].

One thing I would caution you about is the emphasis on Homer’s ability to stir the imagination of students. After all, your audience is likely to have read St Augustine’s comments on the matter in his Confessions, and therefore also likely to object that it is no better to weep for Dido than it is to weep for fallen Troy.

26 September 2009

Defining Logismoi—From Evagrius to Brad Pitt

In the second post I did here at Logismoi (here), I spoke briefly about the title of the blog and its meaning, quoting St Hesychius the Presbyter on the struggle to attain to a prayer free of logismoi. Think of it as a ‘dictionary definition’ of logismoi. But a few months ago or so, I noticed on StatCounter that I’d had a visitor from Newport News, VA, who arrived here through a Google search for the keywords ‘encyclopedia definition of logismoi’. Although I noted in the earlier post that logismoi was ‘the Greek word for “thoughts”, but it also carries the connotation of “temptations”’, I thought something a bit more like an ‘encyclopeia definition’ might be welcome, for myself and other readers as much as for my no doubt disappointed Virginian reader.

Fortunately, in his article, ‘Asceticism’, for the Encyclopedia of Christian Theology, Vol. 1: A-F, ed. Jean-Yves Lacoste (London: Routledge, 2004), Fr Andrew Louth has given something very like this. Summarising the seminal ascetic theology of Evagrius Ponticus, Fr Louth writes:

At this stage, Evagrius introduces a much more elaborate understanding of the temptations and propensities of the human person. Temptations play on the natural reactions, called in Greek pathè, or ‘passions’. These passions are brought into play by thoughts or images, which Evagrius calls logismoi: perhaps not so much ‘thoughts’ as ‘series of thoughts’. (p. 98)

Again though, it is perhaps a bit succinct. Columba Stewart has a paper called, ‘Evagrius Ponticus and the “Eight Generic Logismoi”’, in the volume In the Garden of Evil: The Vices and Culture in the Middle Ages, ed. Richard Newhauser (Toronto: PIMS, 2005), where he elabourates somewhat on the information provided by Fr Louth:

Because the praktike is the groundwork for contemplative possibility, Evagrius devotes considerable attention to the logismoi and their management. The term logismos carried some negative connotations because it was used by Origen and in the Life of Antony to refer to evil thoughts. Though Evagrius typically used logismos as they did, the term was not necessarily pejorative and was certainly less judgmental than ‘sin’ or ‘vice’. Evagrius sought a certain diagnostic detachment, and using logismos as a technical term allowed him to distinguish between the source of a thought, which was often beyond human control, and its reception, which required human cooperation. Although bad thoughts are an inevitable part of human experience, the passions—understood to mean the irrational faculties of epithumia and thumos—need not engage them. Cultivating the virtues was essential for defending oneself against the unavoidable assaults by the thoughts. Evagrius maintained that despite their inevitability, demonic suggestions can be resisted, though the instability of the human mind makes prolonged dalliance with such logismoi highly dangerous. (p. 17)

But still, it seems to me worthwhile to give briefly Evagrius’s list of the logismoi themselves, quoting his initial statements about each of them. From The Praktikos & Chapters on Prayer, trans. John Eudes Bamberger, OCSO (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian, 1981), pp. 16-20:

6. There are eight general and basic categories of thoughts in which are included every thought. First as that of gluttony, then impurity, avarice, sadness, anger, acedia, vainglory, and last of all, pride. It is not in our power to determine whether we are disturbed by these thoughts, but it is up to us to decide if they are to linger within us or not and whether or not they are to stir up our passions.

7. The thought of gluttony suggests to the monk that he give up his ascetic efforts in short order. It brings to his mind concern for his stomach, for his liver and spleen, the thought of a long illness, scarcity of the commodities of life and finally of his edematous body and the lack of care by the physicians. . . .

8. The demon of impurity impels one to lust after bodies. . . . This demon has a way of bowing the soul down to practices of an impure kind, defilint it, and causing it to speak and hear certain words almost as if the reality were actually present to be seen.

9. Avarice suggests to the mind a lengthy old age, inability to perform manual labor (at some future date), famines that are sure to come, sickness that will visit us, the pinch of poverty, the great shame that comes from accepting the necessities of life from others.

10. Sadness tends to come up at times because of the deprivations of one’s desires. On other occasions it accompanies anger. . . .

11. The most fierce passion is anger. In fact it is defined as a boiling and stirring up of wrath against one who has given injury—or is thought to have done so. . . .

12. The demon of acedia—also called the noonday demon—is the one that causes the most serious trouble of all. . . . [This one requires an explanation too long to fit here! See this later post.]

13. The spirit of vainglory is most subtle and it readily grows up in the souls of those who practice virtue. It leads them to desire to make their struggles known publicly, to hunt after the praise of men. . . .

14. The demon of pride is the cause of the most damaging fall for the soul. For it induces the monk to deny that God is his helper and to consider that he himself is the cause of virtuous actions. Further, he gets a big head in regard to the brethren, considering them stupid because they do not all have this same opinion of him. . . .

Of course Evagrius’s illustrious disciple, St John Cassian, even follows his master’s order—except for switching sadness and anger—when he devotes a book to each of the logismoi (Books 5-12) in The Institutes, trans. Boniface Ramsey (NY: Newman, 2000), pp. 113-279 (with the exception of the prudishly omitted Book VI ‘On the Spirit of Fornication’, the entire thing is available online here in an older translation). St Cassian refers to them as ‘the eight principle vices’, and helpfully defines acedia for us as ‘anxiety or weariness of heart’ (Inst. V.1; p. 117)—indeed, Ramsey calls St Cassian’s description of the latter in Inst. X.2 (pp. 219-20) perhaps ‘the most familiar passage in The Institutes—and, indeed, in all of Cassian’s writings’, and a ‘justly renowned chapter’ which ‘shows Cassian at his best’ (pp. 6-7). Along with a portion of the Conferences, this part of the Institutes was translated into Greek in an abbreviated form and included in the Philokalia, the only Latin works to be so honoured.

In his Moralia in Job (XXXI.lxv.87), St Gregory the Great was to take St Cassian’s ‘eight principle vices’ and revise them into a list of seven, all springing from pride—‘For pride [superbia] is the root of all evil, of which it is said, as Scripture bears witness; Pride is the beginning of all sin. But seven principle vices, as its first progeny, spring doubtless from this poisonous root, namely, vain glory [vanagloria], envy [invidia], anger [ira], melancholy [acedia], avarice [avaritia], gluttony [gula], lust [luxuria]’ (Morals on the Book of Job, Vol. 3, Pt. 2, trans. J. Bliss [Oxford: John Henry Parker, 1850], p. 490). Although, as one can see, St Gregory calls these ‘seven principle [capital] vices’, following St Cassian’s terminology, it seems that later ‘capital’ was interpreted in the sense of ‘deserving of death’. Thus, with the absorption of vainglory into pride, the change of acedia to socordia, or ‘sloth’, and the restriction of the sense of luxuria to ‘lust’, St Gregory’s list became the ‘Seven Deadly Sins’, famed in art, song, and verse, from the seven cornices of Dante’s Mt Purgatory (diagrammatically arranged here), to the movie Se7en and the Iron Maiden lyrics, ‘Seven deadly sins / seven ways to win’, and even a suggestion of correspondence between the Sins and the seven Chronicles of Narnia (see other examples listed here or on the Wikipedia page). In the Middle Ages they were often listed in a slightly modified order to yield the Latin mnemonic device, SALIGIA. Of course, as Barbara Rosenwein points out, ‘When they appear—in the Moralia in Job—they are not singled out for historical stardom; they are simply invoked to illustrate, as Gregory often did, the “thoughts”—that is, in Stoic terms, the “emotions”—that assail people’ (Emotional communities in the early Middle Ages [Ithaca, NY: Cornell, 2006], p. 81).

As for the term logismoi itself, apparently forgotten in the Western tradition of vices, and more especially, of ‘deadly sins’, it has gained a new lease on life among English-speaking Orthodox Christians, largely it seems as a result of Kyriacos Markides’s The Mountain of Silence: A Search for Orthodox Spirituality (NY: Image, 2002). The teaching on the logismoi of ‘Father Maximos’ in chapter 9, especially on pp. 118-30, can be found referred to frequently on the Internet. As helpful as that teaching is, however, I thought it desireable, for a change, to go back to some of the earliest sources on the subject.

25 September 2009

New Book Review Blog

In the combox on this post, the Ochlophobist suggested that he, Christopher Orr, and I start an anonymous book review blog. I thought it was a nice idea, but unfortunately I’ve been very busy lately. It seems however that the blog—entitled Unmercenary Readers—has nevertheless gotten underway somehow or other, and I have duly added it to my blog roll. There are some rules for contributors to adhere to, but reviews with or without real names are being accepted by the editors. Indeed, one has already been posted—a thorough ripping of Fr Demetrios Constantelos’s Marriage, Sexuality & Celibacy: A Greek Orthodox Perspective (Minneapolis: Light & Life, 1975). Per the Ochlophobist’s original suggestion, plans are also in the works for a ‘book review symposium’ of Norman Russell’s Fellow Workers with God: Orthodox Thinking on Theosis (see this post), with postings of the reviews to commence 16 November.

As I have literally just finished, at long last, Chrestos Yannaras’s Orthodoxy and the West: Hellenic Self-Identity in the Modern Age, trans. Fr Peter Chamberas and Norman Russell (Brookline, MA: Holy Cross, 2006), I will try to write a review in the next several days to be posted here at Logismoi as well as, hopefully, cross-posted at the new Unmercenary Readers blog, pending the editors’ approval.

24 September 2009

'The Splendour of God Is a Man Fully Alive'—St Silouan the Athonite

Today, 11 September on the Church’s calendar, we celebrate the memory of St Silouan the Athonite (1866-1938), one of the great Saints of the twentieth century. As the Synaxarion from Matins in the Akolouthia for the Saint proclaims, in obvious reference to our Lord’s famous words to the Saint, ‘Keep thy mind in hell, and despair not’:

On this day we celebrate the memory of our venerable Father Silouan the Athonite.
Having followed Christ Whom he kept in his heart,
Silouan the Athonite carried the victory.
He was raised on the twenty-fourth to celestial
By Him Who preserves all men from despair.

In his Preface to an early French translation of St Silouan’s Life, Fr Georges Florovsky writes, ‘Père Silouane était un homme humble.’ Thus, the Saint’s greatest disciple and biographer, Archimandrite Sophrony (Sakharov) of Essex, quotes the Register of St Panteleimon Monastery, Mt Athos (St Silouan the Athonite, trans. Rosemary Edmonds [Crestwood, NY: SVS, 1999], p. 9):

Schema-monk Father SILOUAN. Name ‘in the world’—Simeon Ivanovich Antonov. Peasant from the province of Tambov, district of Lebedinsk, village of Shovsk. Born 1866. Arrived Athos 1892. Professed 1896. Schema 1911. Performed his duties of obedience at the mill, at Kalomar, at Old Russikon, and as steward. Died 11//24 September 1938.

But as Elder Sophrony goes on to write at the end of his monumental book on his own Elder, ‘[H]owever simple a human being Staretz Silouan was, his life was an exceptionally noble one and a great tension of love towards God’ (p. 257), a fact belied by the complete uneventfulness of that life. Indeed, Elder Sophrony credits St Silouan as God’s tool for bringing him out of ‘darkness’: ‘But He did not leave me altogether in darkness—He brought me to the feet of Blessed Saint Silouan, and I saw that all my previous experience had prepared me to fathom his teachings’ (p. 18). Stepping back a bit from the intimacy of this particular relationship, Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) summarises St Silouan’s place in modern Orthodoxy (Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church, new ed. [London: Penguin, 1997], p. 130):

In a hidden and unostentatious way, the Mountain went on nurturing saints, ascetics and men of prayer formed in the classic traditions of Orthodoxy. One such was St Silouan (1866-1938; proclaimed a saint in 1988), at the Russian monastery of St Panteleimon: of peasant background, a simple and humble man, his life was outwardly uneventful, but he left behind him some deeply moving meditations, poetic in style and profound in their theological vision, which have been edited by his disciple Archimandrite Sophrony (1896-1993) and published in many languages.

This last observation, about the publication of St Silouan in ‘many languages’, is eloquent testimony to the international appeal and pan-Orthodox charactre of this Saint, who lived of course in a great centre of Orthodoxy for all nations—the Holy Mountain. Glorified among the Saints by the Œcumenical Patriarchate, he is venerated by all of the traditionally Orthodox peoples, as well as converts in such countries as France, the United Kingdom, and the United States (in this post, I mention attending services at a convert-led mission of the Russian Church Abroad in Washington dedicated to St Silouan).

In his Foreword to one English edition of St Silouan’s Life, Metropolitan Anthony (Bloom) of Sourozh writes (Foreword, The Monk of Mount Athos: Staretz Silouan 1866-1938, by Archimandrite Sophrony, trans. Rosemary Edmonds [London: Mowbrays, 1973], p. 5):

‘The splendour of God is a man fully alive.’ (St Irenaeus) Staretz Silouan was such a Man—truly, simply a Man in whom the Image of God, so badly distorted in most of us, appeared in strong relief, with great purity. A man who fulfilled his human calling in the strict, uncompromising way of Orthodox monasticism. . . . To meet a Man is the greatest experience one can have. Reading Archimandrite Sophrony’s book one can have this rare privilege. In our day when the words ‘spirit’ and ‘charisma’ are so badly misused, it is challenging to stand face to face with Staretz Silouan in whom the Spirit of God lived, moulding, teaching and enlightening him with all the sobriety, the reserve and shyness, but also the warm, outgoing love of God Himself.

To illustrate the words of these various important figures of 20th-c. Orthodoxy, I shall give four passages—two from the Life of the Saint, and two from his writings:

On the eve of a certain saint’s day Simeon set out with three other young guardsmen of his company to spend the evening in town. They went into one of the big, brightly-lit taverns of the capital where a band was playing noisily. Sitting down, they ordered food and drink, and a lively conversation sprung up in which Simeon, however, took little part. He was so silent that one of his companions turned to him and said,

‘You’re not very chatty, Simeon. A penny for your thoughts!’

‘I’m thinking that here we sit in a tavern, eating, drinking vodka, listening to the band and enjoying ourselves, while at this very hour on Mt Athos they are in church for vespers and will be at prayer all night. And I’m wondering which of us will put up the best defence before God’s Judgment-Seat—them or us?’

Simeon’s friend exclaimed,

‘What a fellow Simeon is! We sit listening to music and enjoying ourselves, while he is on Mt Athos and at the Last Judgment!’

And the guardsman’s suggestion that Simeon was ‘on Mt Athos and at the Last Judgment’ was true, not only of that particular moment when they were sitting in the tavern but of the whole period of his military service. (p. 19)

Among the stewards [of St Panteleimon Monastery] was a certain monk, Father P., who was outstandingly capable, yet somehow always unlucky—his initiatives usually met with no sympathy among the fathers, and his undertakings often ended in failure. One day, after such an enterprise had resulted in disaster, he was subjected to sharp criticism at the stewards’ table. Father Silouan was present with the others but took no part in the ‘prosecution’. Then one of the stewards, Father M., turned to him and said:

‘You are silent, Father Silouan. That means you side with Father P. and don’t care about the interests of the Monastery . . . You don’t care about the damage he has caused the community.’

Father Silouan said nothing, quickly finished eating and then went up to Father M., who by that time had also left the table, and said to him,

‘Father M.—how many years have you been in the Monastery?’


‘Have you ever heard me criticise anyone?’

‘No, never.’

‘Then why do you want me to begin on Father P.?’

Disconcerted, Father M. replied shamefaced:

‘Forgive me.’

‘God will forgive you.’ (p. 61)

It is interesting that in both of these stories, St Silouan keeps silent until pressed about his thoughts. When he speaks, what he says only reveals further the depths of his humility, but also the lofty spiritual plane on which he moved. According to Harry Boosalis’s study of the Saint, ‘In the writings of St Silouan the theme of humility is of primary importance’ (Orthodox Spiritual Life According to St Silouan the Athonite [South Canaan, PA: St Tikhon’s Seminary, 2000], p. 100). It is no wonder, however, that this is so, for as St Silouan himself writes:

If all the world knew the force of Christ’s words, ‘Learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart’ (Mt 11:29), then the whole world, the whole universe, would abandon all other knowledge for to study this heavenly science.

Men are ignorant of the power of Christ’s humility, and that is why they aspire to the things of this earth; but without the Holy Spirit they cannot know the force of these words of Christ. But he who has learned will never relinquish his knowledge, even were he to be offered all the kingdoms of the world. (p. 278)

And a bit further on, he writes:

Were we simple like children, the Lord would show us His paradise, and we would behold Him in the glory of the Cherubim and Seraphim, and of all the heavenly host, and the Saints, but we are not humble, and therefore we torment ourselves and those we live among. (p. 282)

This site has many wonderful links on St Silouan and Elder Sophrony. Among others, Theodouli Karambatakis, a dear friend of ours in Thessaloniki, and Fr Seraphim Bell, the pastor of the St Silouan parish I mentioned above, have co-translated a Greek Paraklesis for St Silouan from Simonopetra Monastery on the Holy Mountain, which is available here. But there is also the full Akolouthia translated from the French, from which I offer the final sticheron in Tone 4 before the Glory at Lauds:

O holy Father Silouan, thou hast been a tree growing in the vast sylvan abodes of all the monks of the Holy Mountain, and thou hast bowed under the breath of the Holy Spirit which filled thy life with knowledge and love of Christ our God. Intercede before Him that He may grant to our souls the radiant grace of His Spirit, and that He may have mercy on those who sing to thee.

23 September 2009

The Allestree Library, 'Fragrant With Age, Beatitudes, & Old Leather'

There is a wonderful book about the city of Oxford by a—brace yourselves—transsexual named Jan Morris, called Oxford, rev. ed. (Oxford: Oxford U, 1988), which I have already mentioned here. The information, stories, and sundry materials that make up the content are grouped roughly into themes: ‘Town and Country’, ‘College Spirit’, ‘Fauna and Flora’, and ‘Vineyard of the Lord’ are a few examples. It is a delightful book, fascinating and hilarious. One of the more interesting gems I came across when I first read it a few years ago is in the chapter called ‘Learning’, where Morris discusses the libraries of Oxford. I shall give the relevant passage in full:

My own favourite college collection is the Allestree library at Christ Church. This was bequeathed by a seventeenth-century canon to be used in perpetuity by the Regius Professors of Divinity, and it remains unaltered to this day—the complete theological collection of a Restoration scholar. It is kept in a cold bare chamber above the cloisters, into which there has been inserted a washbasin for the use of the man in the rooms next door—his shaving brush stands beside the mirror, and on the window-sill he keeps, apparently to read while he washes, a file of the University Gazette. Everything else is just as Dr Allestree left it. The books are fragrant with age, beatitudes and old leather, there is a little rickety table for writing sermons at, and through the windows you may look down into the cloisters beneath, watch the chaplains hastening into the south door of the cathedral, or project seventeenth-century injunctions upon passing heretics. For years the Regius Professor was the only man allowed to enter this magically evocative little room: now, I suspect, nobody uses Dr Allestree’s books from one ecumenical council to the next, unless the man with the washbasin, tiring of his lecture lists, reaches out a spare hand to thumb through an ordinal, or remind himself about the codicils to the Decrees of Trent. (p. 149)

Wow! In a book of which every other page has something to capture my imagination, this single paragraph still manages to stand out. A theological library essentially untouched since the seventeenth-century? I had to find out more, and with a little help from my Orthodox librarian friend, I did.

There is an article that is all about this library: Mark Purcell, ‘“Useful Weapons for the Defence of That Cause”: Richard Allestree, John Fell and the Foundation of the Allestree Library’, The Library 21.2 (1999): pp. 124-147. While it is not, of course, written in the romanticising, journalistic style of Morris’s book (a style that reminds me somewhat of the writers mentioned in another post of mine), it presents all of the concrete detail that is only suggested by Morris’s account. Purcell’s study was published 11 years after the last date on the edition notice of my copy of Oxford, and he tells us that the library ‘is now in the process of being re-catalogued’ (p. 124), since at the time he is writing, ‘the only catalogue of the Allestree Library is a hand-written card catalogue created by W.G. Hiscock, successively assistant and deputy librarian of Christ Church from 1928 to 1962; it contains no details of printers or publishers, and there is no provenance index’ (p. 139, n. 77).

Richard Allestree (1619-81), apart from being Oxford’s Regius Professor of Divinity and an avid bibliophile, was Provost of Eton College, a (literally) militant royalist, a high churchman, and, anonymously, a best-selling author (p. 125). His The Whole Duty of Man is thought to have been owned by ‘one in ten late-seventeenth-century households’ in England, and was considered—

an indispensable work for all devout Anglicans, the sort of book that was provided in prison cells and that condemned men read on their way to the gallows. It was divided into seventeen chapters, one of which was to be read each Sunday, making it possible to read the whole book through three times each year, and it was promoted and encouraged by the restored Anglican hierarchy. (p. 128)

Purcell points out that although obscure now (and perhaps in his day too), Allestree exercised an enormous influence over Restoration England, first as a best-selling author, and second, ‘as a dominant personality at Oxford at a time when the University was intimately linked with the Stuart regime, and when it was the chief civil and ecclesiastical nursery of an Anglican confessional state’ (p. 128). He was also the first cousin of an important London bookseller and publisher near St Paul’s named James Allestree, ‘one of the major figures of the Restoration book trade’ (p. 129).

As a polemicist of the Church of England, who with ‘an equal steadfastness . . . asserted the Gospel truth, against the usurpations of Rome, the innovations of Geneva, the blasphemies of Cracow, and the monsters of our own Malmsbury’ (p. 136), Allestree in large part saw the rôle of Oxford divinity professors as the use of knowledge, and thus books, to fight error and heresy. Thus, according to Allestree’s friend and biographer, one Henry Hammond left his books to Allestree ‘knowing that in his hands they would be useful weapons for the defence of that cause he had during life so vigorously asserted’, that is ‘the fundamental grounds of controversy between the Church of England, and the most formidable opponents thereof’ (p. 136). For this cause, and due to the great inconveniences of the Bodleian (which was badly catalogued and poorly arranged) and various college libraries at the time (Christ Church’s own had no heating or artificial light, and had found it necessary several times to remove birds and bees), Allestree assembled and bequeathed a library for the exclusive use ‘of the said Richard Allestrees Successors forever those that shall be Kings Professor of Divinity in the Said University of Oxford’ (p. 135). It is now the only professorial library surviving intact. Purcell writes:

The Allestree library is a time capsule; the books have not been systematically repaired or rebound, and have never been systematically weeded. The contents have received little more than a few lines in print, and few readers have disturbed them in the last century and a half. Together, its curious legal status, institutional apathy, and the fact that few people can ever have known of its existence, have preserved it from meddling. (p. 135)

The Allestree, already described in 1849 as ‘an ancient Theological library’ (p. 137), is situated in the ‘cloister chamber’ at Christ Church College, the former Priory of St Frideswide, a house of Augustinian canons. Purcell tells us that it houses between 2500 and 3000 volumes (an impressive number by 17th-c. standards), at least three (late) Mediæval manuscripts (p. 139), ‘large numbers of binding fragments, both manuscript and printed’ still in the books (p. 140), eight incunabula, 900 to 1000 books printed before 1641, and the rest between 1641 and Allestree’s death in 1681 (p. 141). Most of them are in rather plain seventeenth-century bindings, and most are Latin and English, with French, Italian, Greek, and Hebrew as well. Purcell mentions, ‘There is even a book in Serbian recension Church Slavonic: a translation of [the Jesuit] St Peter Canisius’s catechism printed in Rome by Domenico Basa in 1583 (J.8.9)’ (p. 141). Although there is a lot of theology, the books cover many different subjects, for according to John Fell, the contemporary bishop of Oxford, few of Allestree’s coevals ‘had either a greater compass, or a deeper insight into all the parts of learning, the modern and learned languages, rhetoric, philosophy, mathematics, history, antiquity, moral and polemical divinity’ (qtd. in Purcell, p. 141). The books are well-used and extensively annotated: ‘In the nearby Christ Church Library, perhaps one sixteenth- or seventeenth-century scholarly book in five is annotated; in the Allestree Library it is more like one in two’ (p. 142).

Many of the books are second-hand, including a number obtained from the Bodleian when it weeded out duplicates (‘interpreting the word duplicate very liberally’ [p. 132]). Purcell cites as an example a 1498 copy of a book called Stellarium coronae beatae Virginis Mariae by Pelbartus de Themeswar (p. 143), and then adds, ‘It is an odd coincidence, if coincidence it is, that the next book along—Th. 4° L. 70—was (and still is) Allestree’s [work] The Divine Authority and Usefulness of the Holy Scripture Asserted (Oxford, 1673)’ (p. 144). Most, however, were relatively new when they were bought or added to the library, and many probably originated with Allestree’s bookseller cousin, James Allestree. But there are a good number that were probably acquired abroad as well. Purcell notes:

The best available evidence is a rather curious letter from Elias Ashmole to Allestree, in which Ashmole asks Allestree to look out for ‘an old decayed Booke of Paracelsus about Coena Domini’ last seen in 1603 ‘in an old ruined chapell’ in the Tyrol. Ashmole’s request is an odd one, suggesting that Allestree shared his uncle’s interest in judicial astrology and arcane knowledge, but more importantly for a study of the Allestree Library it shows that Ashmole either knew or took for granted that Allestree would be looking out for unusual books during his travels. (p. 145)

Sadly, Purcell notes that Allestree obviously ‘assumed that his books would be extremely useful to his successors’, but the evidence suggests that their usefulness wore out quickly. There are very few published after 1681, and scarcely any of the annotations are later than 1700. According to Purcell:

There was, of course, a significant flaw in Allestree’s plan to attach a library to the Regius Chair of Divinity. Neither he nor John Fell nor anyone else provided money to maintain the library: nothing to catalogue or clean books, and nothing to buy new books to keep it in line with contemporary scholarly interests. . . . Within fifty years of its foundation the purposes for which Richard Allestree established the Allestree Library must have seemed quite remote to his successors, and the books redundant. (pp. 145-6)

The only exception to the neglect was William Jacobson (Regius Professor, 1848-65), who produced ‘a rather feeble hand-written catalogue’ and used the volumes in his lectures as specimens of old religious books, like a museum exhibit (p. 146). Purcell points out that bibliographic expert Strickland Gibson commented in 1914 on the ‘dusty desolation and unbroken peace’ of the Allestree, and in the 1940’s, the library was nearly broken up (p. 146). It is now considered an annex of Christ Church Library, but is still legally unique. Purcell concludes:

Allestree’s aim was to leave an outstanding intellectual legacy to the University, and he succeeded in this, though not in the way that he intended. The Allestree Library has survived as a time capsule precisely because it quickly became irrelevant to its original purpose of defending the Church of England against Popery, Atheism and Dissent. Today it remains much as it was when Allestree died in 1681: the only intact and separately housed Oxford professorial library, and the forgotten private library of one of the most influential figures of the seventeenth-century Church. (p. 147)

21 September 2009

Orthodox Friends, the Pacific Northwest, & Books

Well, I apologise, dear readers, for the lengthy delay in returning to Logismoi. I had intended to at least do something over the weekend, but as it turned out there just wasn’t any time. A very good friend of mine from my days in Thessaloniki, the former Deacon Jesse Philo of Walla Walla, Washington (pictured circling the altar before his ordination), was ordained to the holy priesthood Saturday morning by His Eminence, Archbishop Kyrill of San Francisco (ROCOR). Fr Jesse’s fun-loving Matushka, Elizabeth, had the wonderful idea of flying me out to Washington to surprise him. So with only my wife’s plane ticket to pay for (we had to leave the children behind), we left for Portland, Oregon last Wednesday. I would of course have notified Logismoi readers of my whereabouts except that I didn’t want to spoil the surprise.

We spent the night Wednesday in The Dalles, OR, with Fr Luke Hartung and his family (also Thessaloniki friends) and received a tour of their business, Uncut Mountain Supply. We were picked up by Matushka Elizabeth Thursday afternoon, who drove us to Walla Walla. That evening we surprised Fr Jesse and spent a relaxing time with his family, seeing Walla Walla, and attending the Divine Services at their parish, St Silouan the Athonite Orthodox Church (ROCOR). While there, we had the pleasure of meeting and drinking with Reader Patrick Barnes (whose back is to the camera in the above photo) of Orthodox Information Center fame (check out the pdf and MP3 of his response to Peter Bouteneff’s recent AFR podcast on ecumenism), and Daniel Mackay, an English professor and expert on Walt Whitman (Daniel’s work on Whitman, of which I read a good sample, is quite disturbing in its implications!) who is being ordained to the diaconate in Eugene, OR, this weekend. We also reunited with another Thessaloniki friend, John Garner, who is currently trying to complete his dissertation with Demetrios Tselengides on the epistemology of modern philosophy of science (exemplified by Karl Popper) compared and contrasted with that of St Gregory Palamas.

Saturday evening we returned to The Dalles and attended some lovely services Sunday morning at the Dormition Orthodox Church, the small Serbian mission under Fr Hartung. After lunch with the parish, Patrick drove us to Goldendale, WA, where we saw the St John the Forerunner Monastery for women (GOA) and met some old friends, including John Garner’s wife, Lucia, and one of the nuns whom we’d met in her kosmiki days (when Lucia's daughter produced a violin, my wife entertained us all with some impromptu fiddling). From there, a young engaged couple drove us back to Portland. We spent the night with a wonderful old priest and his wife, Fr Nicholas and Matushka Barbara Letten, before leaving this morning for OKC.

I have returned heavy-laden with books and icons, many of them gifts from our friends. I bought two at a charming old used bookshop in Walla Walla called Earthlight Books: C.K. Barrett, The New Testament Background: Selected Documents (NY: Harper, 1961), and T.S. Eliot, Selected Essays (London: Faber, 1949), the latter being one I had long wanted. I bought two others, with birthday money, at the monastery in Goldendale: Saint Herman of Alaska: His Life and Service, by the St Herman of Alaska Brotherhood (Platina, CA: St Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 2009), and Constantine Cavarnos, trans., The Philokalia (Belmont: Institute for Byzantine & Modern Greek Studies, 2008). The latter includes Cavarnos’s translation of St Nicodemus’s Proem and texts by St Anthony the Great, St Isaiah the Anchorite, Evagrius the Monk, St John Cassian, and St Mark the Ascetic, along with St Nicodemus’s biographical notes on all of these authors.

I was generously given, however, copies of St John of Kronstadt, Counsels on the Christian Priesthood: Selected Passages from My Life in Christ, ed. W. Jardine Grisbrooke (Crestwood, NY: SVS, 1994), Elder Ephraim of Arizona, Counsels from the Holy Mountain: Selected from the Letters and Homilies of Elder Ephraim (Florence, AZ: St Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery, 1999), Sisters of the Holy Convent of Chrysopigi, ed., Wounded by Love: The Life and Wisdom of Elder Porphyrios (Limni, Greece: Denise Harvey, 2005), as well as volumes 2 through 6—several of which I’d read previously—of the Optina Elders series published by the St Herman Brotherhood: Elders Anthony, Macarius, Ambrose, Nektary, and Sebastian. I also received spare copies of The Boundless Garden, Elder Cleopa’s The Truth of Our Faith, I and II, and Divine Ascent 1:3/4 (Entry of the Most-Holy Theotokos, 1998), one of my favourite issues of the latter journal.

It was a fun trip, reuniting with many old friends and making many new ones, but it’s good to be back. Hopefully now I can make up for my absence a bit! Oh, and to Fr Jesse, who wisely avoids my blog: Axios, Axios, Axios!

Addendum: It's occurred to me that I should have used this post as an opportunity to say thank you to those who hosted us—the Hartungs, the Philos, & the Lettens—and to those who drove us around—Fr Luke, Matushka Elizabeth, John (whose last name I don't know), Patrick, Brian (I think!), and Fr Nicholas. We are very grateful for your kindness and Christian love. Not that any of these people—except, occasionally it seems, Fr Jesse, and now perhaps Patrick—ever reads this blog. But there it is!

16 September 2009

This Aaron's Not Quite 'Drest'

Unfortunately, it appears there will likely be another gap of some days in the posts here at Logismoi. This is especially tragic since tomorrow is my nameday, the feast of the Holy High Priest Aaron and his brother, the Prophet Moses the God-seer. I promise that I will work on a proper post for St Aaron as soon as I have the chance and will put it up, however belatedly, but hopefully not too belatedly. Ditto for Part II of the St Symeon the Stylite post.

As for St Aaron, in the meantime I recommend that those who have not yet done so read my two original posts ‘On Being Named for the Prophet Aaron’, Parts I and II (Part II discusses St Aaron’s burial place), as well as this post, containing the beautiful poem ‘Aaron’ by George Herbert, and this one, on the lecture of Fr Justin of Sinai on Rephidim, where St Aaron and the Prophet Or (Hur) held up the Prophet Moses’s arms in the form of a cross so that the Israelites could defeat the Amalekites.

14 September 2009

'Thy Pillar Became a Chariot of Fire for Thee'—St Symeon the Stylite

This may have to be a two-part post. I was planning to discuss a few features of today’s Saint in terms of modern perceptions of his particular ascesis, but I’m afraid I won’t have time if I want to get something up today. So for now, here is a rather bare-bones post, with just a few comments about the Stylite’s unique podvig.

Today, 1 September on the Church’s calendar, we celebrate the memory of the Holy Symeon the Stylite, the Elder (†459). St Symeon is one of the greatest ascetics the Church has ever known. Theodoret of Cyrrhus begins his account of St Symeon, Historia Religiosa 26, with the following words, ‘The famous Symeon, the great wonder of the world, is known of by all the subjects of the Roman empire and has also been heard of by the Persians, the Medes, the Ethiopians; and the rapid spread of his fame as far as the nomadic Scythians has taught his love of labor and his philosophy’ (A History of the Monks of Syria, trans. R.M. Price [Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian, 1985], p. 160). Here is the account of St Symeon’s life in the Prologue (St Nicholas [Velimirović], The Prologue from Ochrid, Vol. 3, trans. Mother Maria [Birmingham: Lazarica, 1986], pp. 275-6):

Born in Syria of peasant parents, he fled from them at the age of eighteen and became a monk. He gave himself to the strictest asceticism, sometimes fasting for forty days. After that, he followed a particular ascesis, until then unknown: standing day and night on a pillar in unceasing prayer. His pillar was at first three metres high, then one of six metres was built for him, then eleven, eighteen and finally twenty. His mother, Martha, came to see him twice, but he would not receive her, saying to her from his pillar: ‘Don’t disturb me now, Mother dear, if we are to be worthy to meet in the next world.’ St Simeon endured innumerable assaults from demons, overcoming them all by prayer. He worked great miracles, healing the sick by his prayers and his words. People from all sides gathered around his pillar: rich and poor, kings and slaves. He helped them all, restoring bodily health to some, giving comfort and instruction to others and denouncing some for their heretical faith. The Empress Eudocia was thus turned from the Euthychian heresy back to Orthodoxy. Simeon lived in asceticism during the reigns of the Emperors Theodosius the Younger, Marcian and Leo the Great. This first Christian stylite and great wonderworker, St Simeon, lived for seventy years, and entered into rest in the Lord on September 1st, 459. His relics were taken to Antioch, to the church dedicated to his name.

In her wonderful Foreword to the English translation of the three primary hagiographies of St Symeon, Susan Ashbrook Harvey notes, ‘Whatever one may think of Simeon’s asceticism, one thing is clear: his contributions to society were concretely constructive, and belie the apparent ‘uselessness’ of a life of self-mortification’ (Foreword, The Lives of Simeon Stylites, trans. Robert Doran [Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian, ], p. 9). As evidence, Harvey cites the Syriac Life 77:

How many oppressed were delivered from their oppressors at his word. How many bonds were torn up through the efforts of the saint. How many afflicted were relieved from their coercers. How many slaves were freed and their documents torn up before the saint. How many orphans and widows, by our Lord’s design, were brought up and nourished through the saint’s stance only his Lord knows. (Doran, p. 159)

In this, of course, St Symeon was only acting on the basis of a commission he had been given by the Prophet Elijah:

42. After this as he was standing and praying in the middle of the day, he saw a wondrous and fearsome vision. When he saw it he was afraid, trembled and was terror-struck. He hid his face in his garment from fear. For he saw a fiery chariot with flaming horses and blazing wheels, its deck aflame and flashes of blazing rays. On it rode a man who came and stood before the victorious Mar Simeon on that chariot and said to him, ‘Do not fear or be afraid, but be strong and act bravely, play the man and succeed. Do not fear mortal man, but more than anything be concerned about the poor and oppressed. Rebuke the oppressors and the rich because of their possessions and their injustices. For the Lord is your helper and there is no one who can humble or harm you. Your name is written in the book of life, and a crown and a glorious garment are prepared for you among the patriarchs and your brothers the Apostles. For I am Elijah the prophet who in my zeal shut up the heavens and gave Ahab and Jezebel as food to the dogs and killed the priests of Baal.’ After saying this Mar Elijah disappeared and ascended with the chariot. (Doran, p. 126)

But Harvey reminds us that St Symeon ‘left home to seek the religious life, not to change other people’s lives. Those who saw Simeon attest that he sought first and foremost to live a life of prayer, of worship’ (Doran, p. 10). In his Introduction, Doran observes, ‘The attempt to stand constantly is the attempt to pray always (Mk 11:25; Lk 18:1; Azariah at LXX Dn 3:25), to resemble those who stand before God, as Elijah had (I Kgs 17:1; 18:15), as Joshua is described in Sir 46:3, and as the tribe of Levi had been set aside to stand before the Lord to minister to him and to bless his name (Dt 10:8; 18:5.7)’ (p. 32). Hopefully I’ll have the chance to say more about the nature of St Symeon’s ascesis, including a reference to Tennyson’s poem on the Saint, in Part II of this post.

Here are the Troparion and Kontakion for St Symeon, in the 1st and 2nd Tones respectively (The Great Horologion, trans. Holy Transfiguration Monastery [Boston: HTM, 1997], pp. 239, 240):

Thou becamest a pillar of patience and didst emulate the Forefathers, O righteous one: Job in his sufferings, Joseph in temptations, and the life of the bodiless while in the body. O Symeon, our righteous Father, intercede with Christ God that our souls be saved.

Thou soughtest the heights, though parted not from things below; thy pillar became a chariot of fire for thee. Thou becamest thereby a true companion of the angelic host; and together with them, O Saint, thou ceaselessly prayest Christ God for us all.

In conclusion, I offer the ‘Hymn of Praise’ for St Symeon from the Prologue:

Simeon the Stylite, the first of the pillar-dwellers,
An illuminated elder, with the radiance of an immortal,
Bound himself to the pillar as a willing sacrifice;
He was fully alive to heaven, and dead to the earth.
Fasting and prayer and all-night vigils—
By this hard path he sought salvation.
Early one morning, his mother came by:
‘O Son, come down and let your mother see you!’
Thus she spoke, but Simeon was silent.
The mother repeated her plea again and again….
Simeon at last replied to his mother:
‘I am in the service of the Heavenly King.
This life is a struggle and a preparation.
There is no time for empty conversation here.
But go, Mother, and choose the pure path—
Take care for your soul and live according to Christ!
After the present struggle is the next world;
If Christ finds us worthy,
You will see your son there, Mother,
And your son will delight in his mother's face.’

13 September 2009

The Unfortunate Dan Brown & the Simonopetra Monastery

This morning I received some disturbing intelligence (HT Athos-Agion Oros): the most overrated writer of our day, the unfortunate Dan Brown, has suggested through a photo on Twitter that his new book may have something to do with the Holy Mountain, Mount Athos. Although the novel, entitled The Lost Symbol, is said to be set during a 12-hour period in Washington, DC, a photo intended as a teaser for fans clearly shows the Monastery of Simonopetra (it can be viewed at the Athos blog—please don’t add traffic to the Twitter page!). The prominent Masonic symbol on the cover of the book leads one to wonder if perhaps the Patriarchs Meletios (Metaxakis) or Athenagoras (Spyrou) of Constantinople, both reported Masons, may figure in to the plot somehow! More information can be found in this article, courtesy of the Telegraph.

Considering Brown’s clumsy handling of history, art, and architecture, and his particular delight in distorting Church history and attacking any kind of traditional Christian faith, this is an ominous development. Despite his frequent claims to do intense research for his books, I myself have pointed out one of the author’s many gross errors (perhaps mixed with outright lies) in this post. I’m afraid there is only more to come. Furthermore, while Brown has obviously spread a tangled web of seriously mistaken beliefs about the early Church, in the past it has been the Roman Catholics that have borne the brunt of his campaign of misinformation. It is troubling to see that we Orthodox may be explicitly dragged into it as well.

Update: I am relieved to note that Bishop Savas of Troas has informed me that there appear to be no references to the Holy Mountain in The Lost Symbol. The question of why Brown or his publisher would post a photo of an Athonite monastery remains unanswered however. Perhaps it was merely a deliberate red herring!

'Luminary of Carthage, God-inspired Adornment of Confessors'—St Cyprian of Carthage

Today, 31 August on the Church’s calendar, we celebrate the memory of the Hieromartyr Cyprian of Carthage (c. 200-258). Fr John McGuckin calls St Cyprian ‘one of the most important of the early Latin theologian-bishops’ (‘Cyprian of Carthage’, The SCM Press A-Z of Patristic Theology, by Fr John A. McGuckin [London: SCM, 2005], p. 92). Fr Georges Florovsky writes, ‘The historical influence of St Cyprian was continuous and powerful’ (‘The Boundaries of the Church’, Ecumenism I: A Doctrinal Approach, Vol. 13 in The Collected Works of George Florovsky [Vaduz: Büchervertriebsanstalt, 1989], p. 36). Charles Williams calls him the ‘incarnation of . . . common sense’ in his ecclesiastical response to problems of discipline, and quotes Charles Cruttwell as crediting St Cyprian with the ‘laying of the ecclesiastical framework’ of ‘the idea of Order as the basis of the universe’ (The Descent of the Dove: A Short History of the Holy Spirit in the Church [Vancouver: Regent, 2002], pp. 41, 98). Here is the account of St Cyprian’s life in Fr Jerome Sanderson’s paper, ‘African Pillars of the Church’ (An Unbroken Circle: Linking Ancient African Christianity to the African-American Experience, ed. Fr Paisius Altschul [St Louis, MO: Brotherhood of St Moses the Black, 2007], p. 18):

At about this time there was a great leader in Carthage, named Cyprian. He had studied rhetoric and philosophy in school and become a well-known teacher of these subjects. In his forty-sixth year, after his conversion by a priest named Caelilius, he became a Christian. His zeal was so great that within a few years he was made bishop of Carthage. During his bishopric, St Cyprian guided the African church through the ravages of a deadly plague that took a great toll on the Roman Empire. He also strengthened and supported his flock during the Valerian persecutions. He was a prolific writer, with a very melodic and sweet style. In 258 AD, the persecution of the Church gained great momentum. Cyprian formed what was called the ‘Underground Church’—the Catacomb Church in Carthage. The Roman authorities ceaselessly persecuted and hunted him. Constantly in flight, he ministered to his flock wherever he could. At one point, when asksed why he didn’t simply give himself up, he replied, ‘The white rose of labor can be as sweet as the red rose of martyrdom.’ When he was finally caught and condemned to execution by beheading, St Cyprian’s only words were ‘Thank you, Father.’ He was possessed of such a noble spirit that he gave the executioner twenty-five pieces of gold and then joyfully placed his head on the block for beheading.

St Nicholas (Velimirović) writes that when he was baptised, St Cyprian ‘gave himself to an unceasing study of the Holy Scriptures and the perfecting of his character’, adding that he was ordained priest and consecrated bishop for his ‘rare virtues’ (The Prologue from Ochrid, Vol. 3, trans. Mother Maria [Birmingham: Lazarica, 1986], p. 262). He adds, ‘He wrote a number of learned books, guided by the Spirit of God, writing especially strongly against idolatry, Judaism and the Novatian heresy. His writings on virginity, martyrdom, alms, patience, prayer to God and so forth are beautiful and gentle’ (Prologue, p. 262). According to Fr McGuckin:

His theology was learned on the job and demonstrates a lively mind seeking to acquaint himself with the full character of his new religion. So, apart from some works of general apologia for Christianity (To Donatus and To Demetrian), we have specific treatises: The Lord’s Prayer, Works and Almsgiving, The Dress of Virgins, and To Quirinius, which is a collection of Scripture passages (using ancient traditional formularies) that can be used to demonstrate various points in preaching. His bitter experiences of disunity led him to write to very influential volumes, The Lapsed and The Unity of the Catholic Church. The latter work would become a classic in the constuction of a catholic theology of the church (or ecclesiology). His letters are priceless historical resources for understanding church life in the early third century. (Fr McGuckin, p. 93)

Here is a passage from St Cyprian’s 1st Epistle, ‘To Donatus’ (from the ANF series, here):

5. But if you keep the way of innocence, the way of righteousness, if you walk with a firm and steady step, if, depending on God with your whole strength and with your whole heart, you only be what you have begun to be, liberty and power to do is given you in proportion to the increase of your spiritual grace. For there is not, as is the case with earthly benefits, any measure or stint in the dispensing of the heavenly gift. The Spirit freely flowing forth is restrained by no limits, is checked by no closed barriers within certain bounded spaces; it flows perpetually, it is exuberant in its affluence. Let our heart only be athirst, and be ready to receive: in the degree in which we bring to it a capacious faith, in that measure we draw from it an overflowing grace. Thence is given power, with modest chastity, with a sound mind, with a simple voice, with unblemished virtue, that is able to quench the virus of poisons for the healing of the sick, to purge out the stains of foolish souls by restored health, to bid peace to those that are at enmity, repose to the violent, gentleness to the unruly,—by startling threats to force to avow themselves the impure and vagrant spirits that have betaken themselves into the bodies of men whom they purpose to destroy, to drive them with heavy blows to come out of them, to stretch them out struggling, howling, groaning with increase of constantly renewing pain, to beat them with scourges, to roast them with fire: the matter is carried on there, but is not seen; the strokes inflicted are hidden, but the penalty is manifest. Thus, in respect of what we have already begun to be, the Spirit that we have received possesses its own liberty of action; while in that we have not yet changed our body and members, the carnal view is still darkened by the clouds of this world. How great is this empire of the mind, and what a power it has, not alone that itself is withdrawn from the mischievous associations of the world, as one who is purged and pure can suffer no stain of a hostile irruption, but that it becomes still greater and stronger in its might, so that it can rule over all the imperious host of the attacking adversary with its sway!

Here are the Troparion and Kontakion for St Cyprian, in the 8th and 1st Tones, respectively (The Great Horologion, trans. Holy Transfiguration Monastery [Boston: HTM, 1997], pp. 594, 95):

Guide of Orthodoxy, teacher of piety and holiness, luminary of Carthage, God-inspired adornment of confessors, O wise Cyprian, by thy teachings thou hast enlightened all, O harp of the Spirit. Intercede with Christ God that our souls be saved.

We honour thee, O Cyprian, as a true shepherd who with thy sacred words and divinely-wise doctrines hast shown us the bound’ry-stones marking out the one Church of Christ. Even unto death didst thou bear witness with courage; wherefore, we extol thee as a hierarch and Martyr. Entreat that we all be saved.

In conclusion, here is the ‘Hymn of Praise’ for St Cyprian in the Prologue:

Adornment of the Church, pride of Carthage,
Before and after the death of Cyprian the priest,
In word and deed, the faithful, he instructed
The pure and chaste ones, especially praising:
Chastity, says he, is the sanctity of the organs,
From the chains of passions, it is freedom
And the source of purity; the adornment of morality.
The dignity of the body and the cord of modesty,
The peace of a home, chastity is the crown of harmony,
Chastity is silence, the absence of anxiety.
When from the body, the spirit of man withdraws,
And into the realm of its own, it enters,
And of the inner world, perceives the luxury,
Then, the body to interfere, it does not allow
With insane passions, with various desires,
From worries deprived with empty luxury,
Luxury to us, an adorned woman does not proclaim
Rather an impure soul and its sinfulness.
O golden freedom, from desires of vanity,
Precious treasure of only a saint!
Chastity is freedom, chastity is silence,
From the Son of God both are gifts.
O Son of God O Good Lord
Grant us the glory of chastity and freedom.