31 March 2009

'His Word Resounds As Gold'—St Cyril of Jerusalem

Today, 18 March on the Church’s calendar, we celebrate the memory of St Cyril (†386), Archbishop of Jerusalem. Along with a few others, St Cyril is a sort of patron Saint of our family, since on one special day of our lives we looked at the calendar and saw his name. According to the Great Synaxaristes, ‘Zealous for the preservation of the purity of Christian doctrine, the holy Cyril, while archbishop, actively and constantly waged war on the heresies of Arius and Macedonius’ (The Lives of the Saints of the Holy Land and the Sinai Desert, trans. Holy Apostles Convent [Buena Vista, CO: Holy Apostles Convent, 1997], p. 182). For this he was to spend many years in exile, being banished from the Holy City on three separate occasions. Although he was suspected of heresy himself at times, ‘the holy Cyril was returned to Jerusalem [from his final banishment] with honor’ (ibid., p. 186), and was among the 150 Orthodox Fathers at the Second Œcumenical Council at Constantinople in 381 (F.L. Cross, Introduction, Lectures on the Christian Sacraments, by St Cyril of Jerusalem, ed. F.L. Cross, trans. R.W. Church [Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary, 2000], p. xxi). According to Fr Florovsky, ‘the testimony of the fathers at the [complimentary] council of 382 dispels all doubt: “At various times he greatly struggled against Arianism”’ (The Eastern Fathers of the Fourth Century, trans. Catherine Edmunds, Vol. 7 in The Collected Works of Georges Florovsky [Vaduz, Europa: Bchervertriebsanstalt, 1987], pp. 59-60). Cross tells us that this council referred to St Cyril ‘in terms of veneration’ (p. xxi).

In Cross’s words, it is the Catechetical Lectures—a Procatechesis, 18 Catecheses for Candidates for Baptism, and 5 Mystical Catecheses—‘to which alone Cyril owes his fame’ (p. xxi). The entire collection of Catechetical Lectures can be read here. In honour of this Holy Father, I shall excerpt a few passages from Church's translation of the Procatechesis:

4. . . . Seest thou these venerable arrangements of the Church? Viewest thou her order and discipline, the reading of the Scriptures, the presence of the religious [κανονικῶν], the course of teaching? Let then the place affect thee, let the sight sober thee. Depart in good time now, and enter tomorrow in better. If avarice has been the fashion of thy soul, put on another, and then come in: put off what thou hadst, cloke it not over: put off, I pray thee, fornication and uncleanness, and put on the most bright robe of soberness. This charge I give thee, before Jesus the spouse of souls come in, and see their fashion. (St Cyril, p. 42)

6. Look, I beseech thee, how great dignity Jesus presents to thee. Thou wert called a Catechumen, which means, hearing with the ears, hearing hope, and not perceiving; hearing mysteries, yet not understanding: hearing Scriptures, yet not knowing their depth. Thou no longer hearest with the ears, but thou hearest within; for the indwelling Spirit henceforth fashions thy mind [τὴν διάνοιάν σου] into a house of God. When thou shalt hear what is written concerning mysteries, then thou shalt understand, what hitherto thou knewest not. And think not it is a trifle thou receivest. Thou, a wretched man, receivest the Name of God; for hear the words of Paul, ‘God is faithful’ (I Cor. 1:9); and another Scripture, ‘God is faithful and just’ (I John 1:9). This the Psalmist foreseeing, since men were to receive the Name ascribed to God, said in the person of God, ‘I have said, ye are Gods, and are all the children of the Most High’ (Ps. 81:6 LXX). (St Cyril, pp. 43-4)

15. . . . Even now, I beseech you, lift up the eye of your understanding; imagine the angelic choirs, and God the Lord of all sitting, and His Only-Begotten Son sitting with Him on His right hand, and the Spirit with them present, and thrones and dominions doing service, and each man and woman among you receiving salvation. Even now let your ears ring with the sound: long for that glorious sound, which after your salvation, the angels shall chant over you, ‘Blessed are they whose iniquities have been forgiven, and whose sins have been covered’ (Ps. 31:1 LXX); when, like stars of the Church, you shall enter in it, bright in the outward man and radiant in your souls. (St Cyril, p. 50)

16. . . . Have faith indwelling, strong hope, a sandal of power, wherewith to pass the enemy, and enter the presence of thy Lord. Prepare thine own heart to receive doctrine, to have fellowship in the holy mysteries. Pray more often, that God may make thee worthy of the heavenly and immortal mysteries. Let neither day be without its work, nor night, but when sleep fails thine eyes, at once abandon thy thoughts to prayer [ἡ διάνοιά σου εἰς προσευχὴν σχολαζέτω]. And shouldest thou find any shameful, any base imagination rising [λογισμὸν αἰσχρὸν ἀναβάντα εἰς τὴν διάνοιάν σου], reflect upon God’s judgement, to remind thee of salvation; give up thy mind to sacred studies [σχόλασον τὴν διάνοιαν εἰς τὸ μαθεῖν], that it may forget wicked things. (St Cyril, pp. 50-1)

In conclusion, here is the lovely ‘Hymn of Praise’ for St Cyril written by St Nicholas (Velimirović) in the Prologue:

A large sanctuary light glows before the Altar,
And a small sanctuary light with a smaller flame,
But one and the other gives off the same light
And before the same God, they shine with a glow.
Both, great saints and lesser saints
With the same flame of Christ set on fire.
Among the great saints, a large sanctuary lamp,
Holy Church numbers Saint Cyril.
The Faith, he explained and confirmed,
Whatever he said in words, he confirmed by his life.
His word was of the Holy Spirit,
And his life, a reflection of the flame of heaven.
Arius he shamed and Julian he crushed,
And to many ailing souls he was a balm.
From word to word, he believed Christ
Therefore his word resounds as gold;
And continues today, the weak and those of little faith,
He encourages and makes joyful the right-believers in Christ.
That is why the Church glorifies and honors Cyril,
Throughout the centuries, the name of Cyril echoes.

30 March 2009

'Hail, Sacred Shepherd of Ireland'—St Patrick

Today, 17 March on the Church’s calendar, we celebrate the memory of St Patrick (c. 390-461), Enlightener of Ireland. St Patrick is a popular saint among American converts to Orthodoxy, especially as so many of us have some Irish heritage, however slight. So I thought I would post an interesting extract from his Confession (The Confession of Saint Patrick, trans. John Skinner [NY: Image, 1998]), a document that gives us fascinating glimpses of the man himself in his own words.

Part II, 16
But after I had come to Ireland,
it was then that I was made to shepherd the flocks day after day,
and, as I did so, I would pray all the time, right through the day.
More and more the love of God and fear of Him grew strong within me,
and as my faith grew, so the Spirit become more and more active,
so that in a single day I would say as many as a hundred prayers,
and at night only slightly less.
Although I might be staying in a forest or out on a mountainside,
it would be the same;
even before dawn broke, I would be aroused to pray.
In snow, in frost, in rain,
I would hardly notice any discomfort,
and I was never slack but always full of energy.
It is clear to me now, that this was due to the fervour of the Spirit within me. (pp. 38-9)

St Patrick describes the experience of this inner prayer in even more depth in chapter 25 of Part II (pp. 46-7):

And once again, I saw Him praying within my soul;
it seemed as if I was still inside my body,
and then I heard Him above me, that is, over my inner man.
So that there He was, praying with many a groan,
and as all this was happening, I was stunned and kept marveling and wondering
who He might be, who was praying in this wise within me.
But as this prayer was ending, He declared that it was the Spirit.
I am reminded, both by the tone as well as the content, of much of We Shall See Him as He Is, by our own contemporary, Elder Sophrony of Essex. Clearly, merely wearing green and drinking green beer is not an adequate way to celebrate such a man, who worked so hard for the salvation of a people who had kidnapped and enslaved him! If you missed your chance two weeks ago (and after all, the Julian calendar was the one St Patrick himself used), try reading his life and writings now. Here is a link to the Confession, and here are several Lives of St Patrick. There is also some good stuff here, at Fish Eaters. Finally, the title of this post is my translation of the first line of the aposticha from Vespers of the 'Service to Our Father Among the Saints, Patrick the Wonderworker, Bishop of Armagh and Enlightener of Ireland', written in Greek by Protopsaltes Panagiotis Somalis of St John Chrysostom Church in Nicaea.

Incidentally, I’ve taken the dates above from Brendan Lehane’s book, Early Celtic Christianity (London: Constable, 1996), pp. 45-6. Lehane gives an overview of the twentieth-century debate about when St Patrick was born, arrived in Ireland, and died, and at last mentions that in 1966 one R.P.C. Hanson did a reasonable job of meticulously establishing St Patrick’s birth in 390, thus making the other two dates (432 for his arrival, and 461 for his repose), besides according with tradition, look rather plausible. I’m sure there has been further debate since 1966, but I’m just going to go with this.

29 March 2009

Midlent Sunday

Sorry I haven't posted anything this weekend. I've been either busy or worn out in alternating cycles! I still intend to post something about St John Climacus, but in the meantime, here is something posted by Drake Aristibule Adams on Facebook concerning 'Midlent Sunday':

ILE to thee a simnell bring,
'Gainst thou go'st a mothering ;
So that, when she blesseth thee.
Half that blessing thou'lt give me. -
Cavalier poet, Robert Herrick 1648

Tomorrow marks our halfway mark through Lent: the Fourth Sunday in Lent, also known as Midlent Sunday, Dominica media Quadragesimae, or Laetare Sunday from the Sarum Office hymn 'Laetare Jerusalem':

Rejoice, O Jerusalem, and gather together, all ye that love the Lord: rejoice with joy for her, all ye that mourn for her, that ye may rejoice and be satisfied with the breasts of her consolation.

This Sunday in the old British tradition is also the original Mother's Day (before the current popular secular day was invented to sell greeting cards.) It was also the day one returned to their 'Mother Church' (the original Homecoming) - later an important day for household servants who were allowed to return home to see their mothers (and of course, go to Church - the center once of our Western life!) It was a widespread custom - which might go back to Roman times (and ours in local style named after Shrewsbury, noting that this was part of the Roman province that once had the largest Roman settlement in Britain.) In more recent times, one would make this cake - and take it to their mother after Sunday Liturgy to receive her blessing. There is a Shropshire Legend (I think rather a tongue-in-cheek folk etymology) that the custom starting with a Simon and Nell that wanted to make their mother a cake - they could not agree on how to do it, so compromised and thus was made the 'Sim-Nell' cake. Rather, Simnel refers to fine flour (from Old French Simenel, from Latin Similia, and Greek Semidalis.)

It is a fruit cake, with almond icing (in variations we like with apricot preserves in the middle), including 11 marzipan balls on top for the faithful Apostles (Judas Iscariot is excluded.) There are as many different recipes as there are family traditions (and local - as there are also Devizes, Bury, and other styles besides Shrewsbury), and the modern Simnel cake can vary widely (from more 'cakey' to mostly fruit enclosed in dough.) Since there had been variations in fasting practices in Lent, and more recently a great relaxation by the more liberal Western sects (even to the point of abandoning fasting altogether) - many Simnel cake recipes call for egg, butter, even milk. We've done it a few different ways over the years - and noting health concerns as well, that dairy products may be substituted by a variety of 'vegan' options: bananas for eggs, applesauce for eggs or butter (with addition of baking powder to help rise), - and of course rice or almond milk for cow milk.


Here's our try for this year - let me know if anyone finds something that works better.

1 cup fine flourpinch salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup currants
1 cup sultanas
1/2 cup mixed peel
1 cup applesauce
3/4 cup caster sugar
2 bananas
1 cup rice or almond milk to mix
(I'm not sure if it won't need a little oil to keep from sticking - which our rules allow on Sat./Sun.)
1 Jar Apricot preserves.
a few tubes of Marzipan paste

Simple directions: preheat oven to 325 F. Mix dry ingredients, then add in dried fruits. In separate bowl cream bananas and mix in applesauce, sugar, and rice/almond milk. Add mixed dry ingredients to creamed mixture. Spoon into non-stick 9 inch cake tin halfway, add layer of apricot preserves, add the rest of the cake mixture, tap on hard surface to settle ,roll a layer of marzipan and apply to top of cake, and cover with foil to avoid losing moisture. Bake 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until done in the center (check with a toothpick to see if it comes clean from the center.) Let cool on rack, and remove from tin. Roll out marzipan into 9 inch circle and apply as 2nd layer on top, set aside 11 rolled balls of marzipan for decoration. Brown lightly under grill, remove and cool.

Anyone with suggestions to improve the recipe as I've worked it out so far, please let me know - it simply needs to remain vegan as to the ingredients (no animal products), and traditional in being made with fine flour, dried fruit, and marzipan (almond paste) icing.

Enjoy, many thanks and congratulations to all the Mothers out there - if you make a cake, please take pictures and post!

27 March 2009

St Benedict: A Preliminary Post

Today, 14 March on the Church’s calendar, is the feast day of St Benedict of Nursia in the Orthodox Church. As a member of a parish dedicated to St Benedict, as well as one who attempts to read and follow his Rule to some extent, I can hardly ignore him today. But as of last year my parish has received a blessing from our acting bishop, Bishop Peter of Cleveland, to begin celebrating our patronal feast on the day of the translation of St Benedict’s relics, 11 July. Thus, while we shall still have a Liturgy tomorrow (and fish for those who attend!), we no longer have to celebrate our main feast during Lent every year. For this reason, I will be posting my big St Benedict post(s) on that occasion rather than today, when most Orthodox would expect it.

Lest the reader be too disappointed, however, I will point out that I have already mentioned St Benedict at length on more than one occasion on this blog, as can be seen if one clicks on the ‘St Benedict’ label at the bottom of this post. I would also point out:

1) St Gregory the Great’s Life of St Benedict here, at Roger Pearse’s site,

2) an Orthodox America article on the 1500th anniversary of his birth here,

3) Sr Macrina’s recent posts on the Rule here.

In conclusion, here is the ‘Hymn of Praise’ for St Benedict from the Prologue, written by St Nicholas (Velimirović):


Benedict, a mighty-miracle-worker, was he,
A tearful devout person and a companion dear.
Led by the Spirit of God, by faith was correct,
A loving leader, mighty, resolute and humble.
Placid was his novice young;
Once, rising early, to the water Placid, he went,
At that moment holy father [Benedict] prayed to God,
But at once, his spirit perceived in the distance:
Behold, the brook suddenly rose, tumbling stones;
Placid already in death, tosses in the torrent,
The brook seized him and with him was toying,
The saint heard a scream, his own name he heard.
There, faith is necessary, but also pursuit,
Quickly, the Elder, Maurus the monk he sent.
Maurus, with a hurried leap, in the water jumped,
On the water as on a road, to Placid he rushed
And Maurus unaware, that on the water he was walking,
[The] prayers of the saint upheld him on the surface.
When Maurus and Placid to the elder came,
Kissed the elder's hand and Placid sobbed:
I saw you, O elder, above my head,
When my heart was overly-filled with dread
By the hairs you grabbed me and above the water lifted me
Until, in that moment, Maurus to my assistance came!
Through the prayers of Holy Father Benedict,
God, also proclaimed Maurus as a miracle-worker.

26 March 2009

Books from the Monastery!

I realised well after the fact that in my earlier post I missed one of the more Logismoi-relevant aspects of my trip to Holy Archangels last weekend: the three books I acquired! First among these were two of Constantine Cavarnos’s ‘Modern Orthodox Saints’ series, both of which I had previously read but did not yet own. The first was Volume 2, on the famous Kollyvades Father, St Macarius of Corinth, containing inter alia Cavarnos’s translation of selected passages from the introduction to the Greek Philokalia (unwisely omitted by the editors of the English edition). The second was Volume 10, on Saints Raphael, Nicholas, and Irene of Lesvos, which tells the truly incredible story of the supernatural events by which these Saints manifested themselves some sixty years ago. I have long thought that this story more than competes in excitement with any of the hundreds of lame books about ‘ghosts’ that are out there in the ‘paranormal’ and ‘occult’ sections of chain bookstores.

Finally, there was a large red book that I noticed was being given away like hotcakes from the first night we arrived at the monastery. It turns out it is by a Protopresbyter Stephanos K. Anagnostopoulos and is called Experiences During the Divine Liturgy, although on the title page, the title is given as An Interpretation of the Divine Liturgy Based on Actual Events and Experiences of Holy Priests, Monks and Lay People (Piraeus, Greece: G. Gelbesis, 2008). This latter title is actually more suggestive of the organisation of the material inside, as I see from the Table of Contents (unfortunately placed, Greek style, in the back) that the book is quite carefully organised on the basis of the various parts of the Divine Liturgy, with Part I being ‘The Liturgy of the Catechumens’ and Part II being ‘The Liturgy of the Faithful’, and various chapters in each bearing the title of some hymn or litany or portion of the Liturgy. Within this structure, the primary element is the experiences, that is, anecdotal stories that relate to the theme in question and printed in bold type. These are followed by the comments of Fr Anagnostopoulos, explaining the significance of the story for understanding the Liturgy and printed in standard type. Here is an extremely brief example (most are much longer), found in Pt. I, Chapter 4, ‘The Small Entrance’, on p. 129:

57. Once, says St Chrysostom, he met a priest who was deemed worthy to witness a large number of Angels, clothed in bright, robes luminous like the sun. They had gathered around him escorting him to the Small Entrance. And something more awesome: he was deemed worthy to be carried up and to be offered their help to perform the Entrance! Next, he says, he saw them surrounding the Holy Table, bowing their heads with great respect. Then again standing in silence and at times chanting liturgical hymns together with the chanters, escorting them in such melody, to the extent that the priest would literally melt. (Gregory Hieromonk, ‘The Divine Liturgy, commentary’, Domus publications, p. 178)

The Small Entrance accompanied by the Gospel book symbolizes the coming and presence of the Lord to the world. It is a silent revelation; this is why the Holy Gospel book is presented closed.

The gifts of Christ during the Divine Worship are great and inconceivable with the so-called Small Entrance through the Holy Gospel.

Fr Anagnostopoulos is clearly not ignorant of the historical study of the Liturgy, noting in the chapter I have already mentioned, for instance, that until the 7th century the Small Entrance was the beginning of the Liturgy itself (p. 147). But such things are far from his primary concern, which is really the spiritual and mystical significance of what is taking place, and the author clearly draws a great deal upon the various Patristic commentaries in elucidating this significance.

Unfortunately, the book is not without the typographical errors and over-literalisms (bad translations from the Greek) that are all too typical of Greek publications in English. I found, for instance, this sentence: ‘Only in certain verses [of the Old Testament] the Holy Trinity was projecting some of its rays from its three-glow Divinity and thus peoples’ hearts were somewhat enlightened’ (p. 120). But based on a brief glance these do not seem to be overwhelming here. Another complaint is the citations from the Fathers—they are nearly always from Migne and make no reference to common English editions of these works. Finally, there are the size and price of the book: an enormous, forty-dollar paperback. Coupled with the look of the pages, the fonts and layouts and such, it calls to mind nothing so much as a textbook published for a small fundamentalist Bible college. I might never have purchased it myself, but count myself fortunate, along with numerous other pilgrims, to have been given a copy as an evlogia by the abbot.

The connection of the book with Holy Archangels, one of Elder Ephraim’s foundations, is not fortuitous, it turns out. The author is one of the latter’s spiritual children, and the book contains a Preface by the Elder. I conclude with his words:

It is a fact that numerous interpretations of the Divine Liturgy which were mainly based on the enlightenment and Grace of the Holy Spirit, were handed on to us by the Church Fathers. What makes this current analysis of my spiritual child Fr Stephanos Anagnostopoulos, of the Divine Liturgy noteworthy as well as beneficial, is the fact that it is offered through the experiences and revelations of worthy Liturgists of the Most High, older and more recent ones.

I, as well as its author, wish that this book will lead us all to the genuine liturgical conscience and life in order to urge us in a spirited way, as grateful servants to try to rest the heart of His feelings so that He will be comforted, according to the Psalter: ‘. . . and because of His servants shall He be comforted’ (Ps. 134:14). May we sense that which God offered us and thus rejoice in the beauty of His eros. Amen. (p. 11)

25 March 2009

The Prophet Aaron: The Un-Post

I did not, of course, fail to notice that my patron Saint, the Prophet Aaron, the High Priest and brother of the Prophet Moses, was listed for 12 March on my favourite online Orthodox calendar as well as the St Herman calendar, along with St Gregory the Great and others (not the least of whom was St Symeon the New Theologian, about whom I shall have to blog on another day soon). As I have already indicated, however, I myself have elected to celebrate my nameday on 4 September, the feast of the Prophet Moses, since it is close to my birthday. I only recently learned of the Chapel of the Prophet Aaron at Mt Sinai, and I have not yet learned when the fathers there celebrate the feast day of the chapel, or what sort of akolouthia they have for the feast. But if anyone has come to Logismoi today thinking that surely here of all places they will find something on the Prophet Aaron, I apologise. Feel free to read or reread my posts on being named for the Prophet Aaron here and here. Then check back on 4/17 September. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with George Herbert’s beautiful poem, ‘Aaron’ (taken from this lovely site):

HOLINESS on the head,
Light and perfection on the breast,
Harmonious bells below raising the dead
To lead them unto life and rest.
Thus are true Aarons drest.*

Profaneness in my head,
Defects and darkness in my breast,
A noise of passions ringing me for dead
Unto a place where is no rest:
Poor priest! thus am I drest.

Only another head
I have another heart and breast,
Another music, making live, not dead,
Without whom I could have no rest:
In Him I am well drest.

Christ is my only head,
My alone only heart and breast,
My only music, striking me e'en dead;
That to the old man I may rest,
And be in Him new drest.

So holy in my Head,
Perfect and light in my dear Breast,
My doctrine tuned by Christ (who is not dead,
But lives in me while I do rest),
Come, people; Aaron's drest.

* Exodus xxviii. 29-37.

Herbert, George. The Works of George Herbert in Prose and Verse.
New York: John Wurtele Lovell, 1881. 276-277.

'The Ideal Western Man'—St Gregory the Great, Pope of Rome

Today, 12 March on the Church’s calendar, we celebrate the memory of St Gregory the Dialogist (c. 540-604), also known as ‘St Gregory the Great’, Pope of Rome. In Book I, Chapt. 23 of his Ecclesiastical History, the Venerable Bede writes, ‘In the tenth year of his reign [i.e., that of the Emperor Maurice], Gregory, a man eminent in learning and in affairs, was elected pontiff of the apostolic see of Rome; he ruled for thirteen years, six months, and ten days’ (The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, trans. Bertram Colgrave, ed. Judith McClure and Roger Collins [Oxford: Oxford U, 1994], p. 37). Archbishop Chrysostomos of Etna gives the following estimate in his introduction to The Homilies of St Gregory the Great On the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel, trans. Theodosia Gray, ed. Presbytera Juliana Cownie (Etna, CA: Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies, 1990), p. 9:

St Gregory was a man of great culture, known for his gentle nature and distinguished for his courage in confessing the Christian truth. A visionary with deep insight into the mysteries of Scripture, he represents, perhaps, the ideal Western man—steeped in the learning of the Roman society in which he lived and formed by the universal values and supreme wisdom bequeathed to that society by the Greek world.

I personally have a double veneration for St Gregory. First, I esteem him as the wise pastor who sent the first missionaries to the English, so that, as St Bede says—

We can and should by rights call him our apostle, for though he held the most important see in the whole world and was head of Churches which had long been converted to the true faith, yet he made our nation, till then enslaved to idols, into a Church of Christ, so that we may use the apostle’s words about him, ‘If he is not an apostle to others yet at least he is to us, for we are the seal of his apostleship in the Lord.’ (EH II.1, p. 65)

We may in fact attribute the remarkably peaceful conversion of the English to St Gregory’s careful guidance of the mission, which St Bede details in Bk. I, including the texts of several of St Gregory’s letters. This holy Pope had every right to take the credit when he wrote:

Lo, the mouth of Britain, which once only knew how to gnash its barbarous teeth, has long since learned to sing the praises of God with the alleluia of the Hebrews. See how the proud Ocean has become a servant, lying low now before the feet of the saints, and those barbarous motions, which earthly princes could not subdue with the sword, are now, through the fear of God, repressed with a simple word form the lips of priests; and he who, as an unbeliever, did not flinch before troops of warriors, now, as a believer, fears the words of the humble. (qtd. in St Bede, p. 69)

So great was St Gregory’s rôle as the apostle of the English, that he continued to play this rôle after his death. Thus, the righteous King Alfred the Great out of zeal for ‘wisdom and instruction’ translated St Gregory’s Pastoral Care into Old English and sent a copy, along with a fancy bookmark, ‘to every bishopric in my kingdom’ (‘Preface to St Gregory’s Pastoral Care’, The Anglo-Saxon World: An Anthology, trans. and ed. Kevin Crossley-Holland [Oxford: Oxford U, 1984], pp. 218, 220). It is not surprising that the earliest Life of St Gregory was written in England, at St Hilda’s monastery in Whitby.

But, as a sheep in the flock of St Benedict (to whom our parish is dedicated), I also venerate St Gregory as the man who recorded the life of this great Father of Western monasticism, and, it would seem, directly or indirectly encouraged the use of his Rule in monasteries. The first Pope to have been chosen from the monks, St Bede tells us of St Gregory—

He promptly renounced his secular habit and entered a monastery, in which he proceeded to live with such grace and perfection—as he used afterwards to declare with tears—that his soul was then above all transitory things; and that he rose superior to all things subject to change. He used to think nothing but thoughts of heaven, so that, event hough still imprisoned in the body, he was able to pass in contemplation beyond the barriers of the flesh. He loved death, which in the eyes of almost everybody is a punishment, because he held it to be the entrance to life and the reward of his labours. (p. 65)

Leonard von Matt and Dom Stephan Hilpisch mention St Gregory’s efforts as Pope on behalf of monasteries and his encouragement of monasticism, but they add, ‘But his most important work for monachism is his biography of St Benedict, whom he held in the highest esteem and veneration. . . . St Gregory’s biography of St Benedict has been of incalculable benefit to Benedictine monachism. No other Pope has excercised so profound an influence in the spiritual and ascetical sphere as this pontiff’ (Saint Benedict, trans. Dom Ernest Graf [London: Burnes & Oates, 1961], pp. 143, 144). Interestingly, it is for the Dialogues, of which the Life of St Benedict forms the second Book, that St Gregory is primarily known in the East. The complete Dialogues were translated into Greek by Pope St Zachary in the 8th century, and the Pope thus became commonly known in the Byzantine world as ‘St Gregory the Dialogist’. They can be read here, at Roger Pearse’s wondeful site, while his letters are in the NPNF series, available online here.

St Gregory’s monastery of St Andrew, founded at his family’s villa on the Caelian Hill in Rome, is now known as San Gregorio Magno al Celio. It still stands, having undergone many additions and restorations, and is now in the hands of the Camaldolese, an order founded by St Romuald of Ravenna to follow strictly St Benedict’s Rule in both eremitical and a coenobitic life.

St Bede tells us that the following epitaph was inscribed on St Gregory’s tomb:

Earth, take this corse—’tis dust of thine own dust:
When God shall give new life, restore thy trust.
Star-bound his soul: for Death’s writ does not run
Where grave’s but gateway to life new-begun.
A great high-priest this sepulchre inherits,
Who lives for ever by uncounted merits;
Hunger with meat, witner with clothes he ended,
Souls with sound learning from the foe defended;
Whate’er he taught, himself fulfilled in act—
Mystic his words, but his example fact.
Anglia to Christ at piety’s dictation
He turned, won thousands from an unknown nation.
Thus that great shepherd laboured, thus he wrought;
To increase his Master’s flock was all his thought.
Take thy reward in triumph and in joy,
Who in God’s council sit’st eternally! (p. 70)

I shall close with a brief passage from St Gregory’s Homilies on the Prophet Ezekiel (Homily X.21, Ezek. 40:44-47):

But others, free from worldly vices or already safe through long weeping, take fire with the flame of love in tears of compunction, place the rewards of the Heavenly Kingdom before the eyes of their heart, and yearn already to be among the citizens above. The servitude and length of their pilgrimage appear hard to them. They long to see the King in His glory and cease not to weep daily through love for Him. What are they if not the gold altar, they in whose hearts spices are kindled because the virtues glow? (Gray, p. 285)

24 March 2009

'A Life in Accordance With His Name'—St Sophronius of Jerusalem

Today, 11 March on the Church’s calendar, we celebrate the memory of our Holy Father among the Saints, Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem (560-638), and his elder and companion, St John Moschus (c. 550-619), author of the Spiritual Meadow. St Sophronius is the author of the Life of St Mary of Egypt which is read in Orthodox churches on Thursday of the fifth week of Great Lent, of a number of poems written in the classical Anacreontic metre (see these for instance), and of a number of hymns, particularly idiomela (see The Lives of the Saints of the Holy Land and Sinai Desert, trans. Holy Apostles Convent [Buena Vista, CO: Holy Apostles Convent, 1997], p. 178, n. 1). One can read about St Sophronius’s life in the usual places (here, here, and here), but I wanted to focus in on one thing. It occurred to me that a good way to celebrate the memory of St Sophronius would be to look at the meaning of his name. At the beginning of the account of St Sophronius in the Synaxaristes, we read:

From his youth, the blessed Sophronius lived a life in accordance with his name, loving wisdom, both spiritual and secular, and preserving his virginal purity from the very time of his birth. Both of these virtues—spiritual wisdom and virginal purity—are known as chastity. Thus, in the words of the venerable John of the Ladder, chastity is the general term for all the virtues, and the chaste Sophronius assiduously made all of them his own. (Lives, p. 169).

This is of course a reference to that virtue that the Greeks called σωφροσύνη, and which is here translated ‘chastity’, but has also been rendered in Latin as temperantia (thus, ‘temperance’), and is sometimes called ‘moderation’. The reference to St John Climacus is from the Ladder, Step 15 (in The Ladder of Divine Ascent, rev. ed. trans. Archim. Lazarus [Moore], rev. Holy Transfiguration Monastery [Boston: Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 1991], p. 104).

The passage from St Sophronius’s Life gives us some idea of the robust nature of the term in Greek, encompassing both ‘spiritual wisdom and virginal purity’, despite the English ‘chastity’ being generally understood in narrowly sexual terms today (thanks to such things as the perhaps mythical ‘chastity belt’). Josef Pieper, in The Four Cardinal Virtues (Notre Dame, IN: U of Notre Dame, 1966), pp. 145-6, has discussed the similar loss of connotation in translating the Latin temperantia, concluding (on p. 146):

A study of the linguistic meaning of the Greek term, sophrosyne, and of the Latin temperantia reveals a much wider range of significance. The original meaning of the Greek word embraces ‘directing reason’ in the widest sense. And the Latin stays close to this far-ranging significance. In St Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians (12:24-5) we read: Deus temperavit corpus. ‘Thus God has established a harmony in the body, giving special honor to that which needed it most. There was to be no want of unity in the body; all the different parts of it were to make each other’s welfare their common care.’ The primary and essential meaning of temperare, therefore, is this: to dispose various parts into one unified and ordered whole.

St John Chrysostom, in his Homily 27:7 on I Cor. 11, uses the term σωφροσύνη in this way, to refer to the preservation of grace after receiving the Mysteries (from the NPNF series):

But thou before thou hast partaken fastest, that in a certain way thou mayest appear worthy of the Communion: but when thou hast partaken, and thou oughtest to increase thy temperance, thou undoest all. And yet surely it is not the same to fast before this and after it. Since although it is our duty to be temperate at both times, yet most particularly after we have received the Bridegroom.

But, keeping this in mind as well as the passage from St Sophronius’s Life, it seems nevertheless to be the case that the Fathers often use the term σωφροσύνη primarily to mean the control of sexual lust, i.e., ‘chastity’ as we understand it. Despite the obviously broad significance that he gives it in the statement referred to above, in context St John Climacus is certainly talking about chastity (it is connected in Step 15 with ‘purity’).

Furthermore, it is precisely in this sense that St John Cassian makes a strong statement indeed about σωφροσύνη (or so we find his term rendered in the Philokalia), in Institutes VI.vi (The Institutes, trans. Boniface Ramsey [NY: Newman, 2000], p. 155):

For by no virtue do fleshly human beings so nearly approximate and imitate the way of life of the angelic spirits as by the deserts and grace of chastity, whereby those who are still living on earth have, according to the Apostle, ‘their citizenship in the heavens’ (Phil. 3:20) and possess here in their frail flesh what it is promised that the holy ones will have in the world to come once they have laid aside their fleshly corruption.

Finally, the Fathers’ eloquent praise of chastity reminds me, first of all, of C.S. Lewis’s dedication of his Preface to Paradise Lost (NY: Oxford U, 1965), to Charles Williams. On p. v, we read:

There [at Williams’s lectures on Milton’s Comus] we elders heard (among other things) what he had long despaired of hearing—a lecture on Comus which placed its importance where the poet placed it—and watched ‘the yonge fresshe folkes, he or she’, who filled the benches listening first with incredulity, then with toleration, and finally with delight, to something so strange and new in their experience as the praise of chastity. Reviewers, who have not had time to re-read Milton, have failed for the most part to digest your criticism of him; but it is a reasonable hope that of those who heard you in Oxford many will understand henceforward that when the old poets made some virtue their theme they were not teaching but adoring, and that what we take for the didactic is often the enchanted.

Thus guided to Milton, I conclude this discussion of the good name of St Sophronius with a passage from A Mask Presented at Ludlow Castle, 1634 (from John D. Jump, ed., The Complete English Poems of John Milton (NY: Washington Square, 1964), p. 52:

Eld. Bro. . . .
So dear to Heav’n is Saintly chastity,
That when a soul is found sincerely so,
A thousand liveried Angles lacky her,
Driving far off each thing of sin and guilt,
And in cleer dream, and solemn visison
Tell her of things that no gross ear can hear,
Till oft convers with heav’nly habitants
Begin to cast a beam on th’ outward shape,
The unpolluted temple of the mind,
And in turns degrees to the souls essence,
Till all be made immortal: but when lust
By unchaste looks, loose gestures, and foul talk,
But most by leud and lavish act of sin,
Lets in defilement to the inward parts,
The soul grows clotted by contagion,
Imbodies, and imbrutes, till she quite loose
The divine property of her first being.
Such are those thick and gloomy shadows damp
Oft seen in Charnel vaults, and Sepulchers
Lingering, and sitting by a new made grave,
As loath to leave the Body that it lov’d,
And link’t it self by carnal sensuality
To a degenerate and degraded state.

2. Bro. How charming is divine Philosophy!
Not harsh and crabbed as dull fools suppose,
But musical as is Apollo’s lute,
And a perpetual feast of nectar’d sweets,
Where no crude surfet raigns.

For an exciting description of Chastity’s heroic defeat of Lust, see Prudentius’s Psychomachia, in Latin here, where he calls her virgo Pudicitia, and in English here. In her study of the notion of σωφροσύνη, Helen North has identified the Psychomachia as one of the landmarks in the Western understanding of virtues and vices (From Myth to Icon: Reflections of Greek Ethical Doctrine in Literature and Art [Ithaca, NY: Cornell U, 1979], p. 263).

Official End of the Hiatus

Well, I’m happy to say the pilgrimage to Holy Archangels was a success, with the only temptation being the worst interstate traffic I’ve ever seen in my life when we were coming back Sunday. In this way, what should have been an eight and a half-hour trip became a thirteen hour one. But as good Ручьёв has reminded me, ‘Rejoice as you feel the cross upon yourself, for it is a sign that you are following the Lord on the path of salvation which leads to heaven. Endure a bit’ (St Theophan the Recluse).

In other good news, just before I left for the monastery a good thing happened. I found a stash of various articles that had been missing for some months, and which should provide some fodder for future posts. Just a few things I found are: a Greek Life of St Theodosius the Coenobiarch with some info on the history of his coenobium published there in the Holy Land, Solovyov’s ‘Short Story of Antichrist’ in English, and an issue of a wonderful Greek magazine on religion and culture with articles about Elder Iakovos of Evvoia, fairy tales, Fr Dumitru Staniloae, library technology, and Dostoevsky. I’m still hoping to find Kontoglou’s comparison of Western religious art and Orthodox iconography, however.

The icon above is by Lasha Kintsurashvili.

20 March 2009

Holy Archangels Hiatus

This will be my last post, probably until Monday, as I am going with my young son and a couple of friends to stay at Holy Archangels Monastery (GOA) in Kendalia, TX, until Sunday evening. Please pray for me during the trip, dear readers, as my trips to Texas, and particularly to the monastery, seem to be chronically plagued by catastrophe of greater or lesser magnitude. As one of the hieromonks there said, ‘Somebody doesn’t want you visiting this monastery!’

Supreme Commanders of the heavenly hosts, we unworthy ones implore you that by your supplications ye will encircle us with the shelter of the wings of your immaterial glory, and guard us who fall down before you and fervently cry: Deliver us from dangers since ye are the Marshalls of the Hosts on high.

'His Soul Was Perfect Before God'—Holy Abba Paul the Simple

Today, 7 March on the Church’s calendar, we celebrate the memory of Holy Abba Paul the Simple (c. 339), disciple of St Anthony the Great. His story is told in the De Vitis Patrum of Palladius of Helenopolis (translated from a Syriac text by E.A. Wallis Budge in The Paradise of the Holy Fathers, Vol. I [Blanco, TX: New Sarov, 1994], pp. 125-8), as well as the Historia Monachorum in Aegypto (translated by Norman Russell in The Lives of the Desert Fathers [Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian, 1980], p. 115). As the latter account is by far the briefer, I shall quote it in full, merely supplementing it with a few passages from Palladius:

XXIV On Paul

1. There was a disciple of Anthony’s called Paul, who was surnamed ‘the Simple’.

Here, Palladius points out that he ‘was more simple and innocent in nature than are [usually] the children of men’ (Budge, p. 125).

He caught his wife in the very act of adultery, and without saying a word to anyone set off into the desert to find Antony.

Palladius adds that when he finds them, ‘he laughed chastely, and answered and said, “It is good, it is good, truly she is not accounted mine by me. By Jesus, henceforth I will not take her again. Get thee gone, and behold she is thine, she and her children: and as for me, I will go and become a monk”’ (Budge, p. 125).

And falling at his [St Antony’s] knees, he begged him to let him life with him because he wished to be saved. Antony said to him, ‘You can be saved if you have obedience; whatever I tell you, that is what you will do.’ Paul replied, ‘I shall do everything you command.’ 2. To test his inward disposition Antony said to him, ‘Stand on this spot and pray while I go in and fetch some work for you to do.’ He went into the cave and watched Paul through the window. The latter remained motionless on that spot the whole week, roasting in the sun.

3. At the end of the week he came out and said to him, ‘Come and have something to eat.’

At this point, Palladius tells us that St Anthony was worried that St Paul would die, and thus endanger St Anthony’s soul (Budge, p. 126)!

When he had prepared the table and set out the food, he said, ‘Sit down and do not eat until the evening; simply keep watch over the dishes.’ 4. When it was evening and Paul had still not eaten, Antony said to him, ‘Get up and pray and then lie down and sleep.’ Leaving the table, Paul did as he was told. At midnight Antony woke him up for prayer and prolonged the prayers until the ninth hour of the day. He then set the table and again ordered him to eat. 5. As Paul was about to take his third morsel of bread, Antony commanded him to get up without touching any water, and sent him out to wander in the desert, saying to him, ‘Come back after three days.’

The story of the first meal is very much softer (as is St Anthony’s demeanor in general) in Palladius’s account. He tells us that St Anthony, seeing that St Paul ‘was neither angry nor wrathful, and that he made no complaint’, became merciful and offered him some bread (Budge, pp. 126-7). St Paul’s response, ‘As it pleaseth thee, father’, is said to have ‘especially shamed Mâr Anthony’ (Budge, p. 127). Having allowed him a loaf, St Anthony tells him that as he is a monk, one is enough for him, to which St Paul replies, ‘I also have had enough, for I also seek to become a monk’ (Budge, p. 127).

6. After he had returned, some brothers came to visit Antony. Paul watched the father to see what tasks he would set him. Antony said to him, ‘Serve the brethren in silence and do not taste anything until the brethren have resumed their journey.’ 7. When they had stayed a full three weeks without Paul’s haven eaten anything, the brethren asked him why he kept silent. When he did not reply, Antony said to him, ‘Why are you silent? Speak to the brothers.’ And he spoke to them.

8. Another time, when he had brought Antony a jar of honey, the father said, ‘Break the jar and pour out the honey.’ He did so. Then he said to him, ‘Gather up the honey again with a spoon without collecting any dirt with it.’ 9. And again, he ordered him to draw water the whole day. He taught him to weave baskets, and some days later ordered him to undo them all. He unstitched his cloak and ordered him to sew it up again. Again he unstitched it and again Paul sewed it up.

Palladius has a paragraph that I think worthwhile to insert in full here:

And when Anthony saw that the old man was carrying out with gladness a rule of life similar unto his own in every respect, he said unto him, ‘If thou art able to bear every day passed in this wise, then stay with me.’ Paul said unto him, ‘Although I know nothing else, yet the things which I do know I can perform easily’; and on another day Anthony said unto him, ‘Behold, thou hast become a monk.’ And a few months afterward when Anthony saw that his soul was perfect before God, and that he was simple beyond measure, and that Divine Grace was helping him, he built him a cell at a distance of about three or four miles away, and said unto him, ‘Behold, thou art a monk, and henceforth thou must live by thyself so that thou mayest receive the temptation of devils.’ Now when Paul had lived by himself for a year, the gift of healing and of casting out devils was given unto him. (Budge, p. 127)

And now, back to the Historia (Russell, p. 115):

10. And the disciple acquired such absolute obedience that God gave him the grace to drive out demons. Indeed, those demons which Antony was unable to exorcise he sent to Paul, who drove them out instantly.

Finally, Palladius concludes his account with a longish narrative of precisely one such exorcism, which ends as follows:

[St Paul prays, then . . . ] And whilst these words were yet in his mouth the devil cried out by reasson of his tribulation, and said, ‘By Hercules, by whom am I ruled, by Hercules, I am being persecuted with violence, for the simplicity of Paul pursueth me; whither shall I go?’ Paul saith unto him, ‘To the uttermost depths of the abyss’; and straightway the devil went forth from the man, and he transformed himself and became like unto mighty dragon seventy cubits long, and he wriggled along the ground and in this wise went down to the Red Sea, that might be fulfilled that which is written, Perfect faith removeth mountains’ (Matt. 17:20). This is the triumph of Paul, who was called the ‘Simple’ by the whole brotherhood. (Budge, p. 128)

There are two other stories about St Paul the Simple. One is a brief story further illustrating St Paul’s simplicity and obedience, interpolated into Rufinus’s Latin translation of the Historia Monachorum in Aegypto (Russell, p. 155).

The other is the single apophthegm associated with St Paul in the Gerontikon (Benedicta Ward, trans., The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection, rev. ed. [Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian, 1984], pp. 205-7). It tells of St Paul visiting a coenobium and watching the brethren enter the church for the synaxis, ‘for he had received the grace from the Lord of seeing the state of each one’s soul, just as we see their faces’ (Ward, p. 205). While most of the monks seem to have entered in a state of grace, St Paul saw that one of them was dark and surrounded by demons who led him, while his guardian angel followed, in mourning, at a distance. The simple elder left the church and sat weeping outside in sorrow for what he had seen.

But at the end of the synaxis, the holy Abba Paul saw the same brother come out completely transformed, shining with light and with his angel rejoicing. According to the Gerontikon (Ward, p. 206):

Then Paul leaped for joy and began to cry out, blessing God, ‘O the ineffable loving-kindness and goodness of God!’ and he went running up to an elevated place and in a powerful voice he said, ‘Come, see the works of the Lord, how terrible they are and worthy of our wonder! Come and see him who wills that all men should be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth! Come, let us bow down and thorw ourselves at his feet and let us say, “Only You can take sins away!”’

Then all of the other monks gathered round and St Paul insisted that the regenerated brother tell them what had happened to him. He said (Ward, p. 206-7):

Then the man whom Paul pointed out told all that had happened to him in front of everyone, saying, ‘I am a sinful man; I have lived in fornication for a long time, right up to the present moment; when I went into the holy church of God, I heard the holy prophet Isaiah being read, or rather, God speaking through him: “Wash you, make you clean, take away the evil from your hearts, learn to do good before mine eyes. Even though your sins are as scarlet I will make them white like snow. And if you will, and if you listen to me, you shall eat the good things of the earth” (cf. Is. 1:16-19). And I’, he continued, ‘the fornicator, am filled with compunction in my heart because of this word of the prophet and I groan within myself, saying to God, “God, who came into the world to save sinners, that which You now proclaim by the mouth of Your prophet, fulfil in me who am a sinner and an unworthy man.” From now on, I give my word, I affirm and promise in my heart that I will not sin any more, but I renounce all unrighteousness and I will serve You henceforth with a pure conscience. Today, O Master, from this time forward, receive me, as I repent and throw myself at Your feet, desiring in future to abstain from every fault.’ He continued, ‘With these promises, I came out of the church, sure in my soul that I would no longer commit any evil before God.’ At these words they all with one voice cried out to God, ‘How manifold are thy works, Lord, in wisdom hasst thou made them all’ (Ps. 104:24). So, as Christians, having learnt from the holy Scriptures and from holy revelations, let us know the great goodness of God for those who sincerely take refuge in him and who correct their past faults, by repentance, and let us not despair of our salvation. In truth, as it was proclaimed by the prophet Isaiah, God washes those who are dirty with sin, whitens them as wool and as snow and bestows on them the good things of the heavenly Jerusalem on them; just as, in the prophet Ezekiel, God has sworn by an oath, to satisfy us and not to let us be lost. ‘For I have now pleasure in the death of anyone says the Lord God; so turn, and live’ (Ezek. 18:32).

The icon above shows the holy Abba Paul the Simple on the left, with, from left to right, St Barsanuphius of Tver, Ss Guri and German of Kazan, and the Holy Evdokia.

18 March 2009

'Three Enemies'—A Pre-Raphaelite Poem for Lent

I’ve been meaning to post something by one of the Pre-Raphaelites at some point, and I settled on the following poem as one most appropriate for Lent. Unlike her brother, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and several of the other members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Christina Rossetti (1830-1894) did not experiment with painting, but chose to hone her craft as a poet alone. This is her poem, ‘Three Enemies’ (Christina Rossetti, The Complete Poems, ed. R.W. Crump [NY: Penguin, 2001], p. 64):


‘Sweet, thou art pale.’
‘More pale to see,
Christ hung upon the cruel tree
And bore His Father's wrath for me.’

‘Sweet, thou art sad.’
‘Beneath a rod
More heavy, Christ for my sake trod
The winepress of the wrath of God.’

‘Sweet, thou art weary.’
‘Not so Christ:
Whose mighty love of me suffic'd
For Strength, Salvation, Eucharist.’

‘Sweet, thou art footsore.’
‘If I bleed,
His feet have bled; yea in my need
His Heart once bled for mine indeed.’


‘Sweet, thou art young.’
‘So He was young
Who for my sake in silence hung
Upon the Cross with Passion wrung.’

‘Look, thou art fair.’
‘He was more fair
Than men, Who deign'd for me to wear
A visage marr'd beyond compare.’

‘And thou hast riches.’
‘Daily bread:
All else is His: Who, living, dead,
For me lack'd where to lay His Head.’

‘And life is sweet.’
‘It was not so
To Him, Whose Cup did overflow
With mine unutterable woe.’


‘Thou drinkest deep.’
‘When Christ would sup
He drain'd the dregs from out my cup:
So how should I be lifted up?’

‘Thou shalt win Glory.’
‘In the skies,
Lord Jesus, cover up mine eyes
Lest they should look on vanities.’

‘Thou shalt have Knowledge.’
‘Helpless dust!
In Thee, O Lord, I put my trust:
Answer Thou for me, Wise and Just.’

‘And Might.’—
‘Get thee behind me. Lord,
Who hast redeem'd and not abhorr'd
My soul, oh keep it by Thy Word.’

As one can see, ‘Three Enemies’ is a dialogue between an unnamed speaker, another ‘resolved soul’, and ‘the Flesh’, ‘the World’, and ‘the Devil’. It is composed of triplets, the second line of each stanza actually forming a second hemistich of the first line, set apart (it is traditionally indented in addition to starting a new line) so as to visually begin the speaker’s response to the particular ‘enemy’. Each of the speaker’s responses in Rossetti’s poem serve to redirect her attention from the proffered temptations to the love and saving work—particularly, the suffering—of Christ (interestingly, in one of the speaker’s responses to the Flesh a specific reference to the Eucharist is made—see Rossetti, p. 64, ll. 7-8). Thus, the single-minded turning away from the multiform things of the world is an essential characteristic of the Christian’s struggle for Rossetti. Like St Mary the sister of St Lazarus, Rossetti’s speaker τὴν ἀγαθήν μερίδα ἐξελέξατο, that is, ‘the one thing needful’, ἥτις οὐκ ἀφαιρεθήσεται ἀπ᾽ αὐτῆς (Luke 10:42).

More from 'Prayers by the Lake'

From St Nicholas (Velimirović) of Ohrid and Zhicha, Prayers by the Lake, trans. Archimandrite Todor Mika and Fr Stevan Scott (Grayslake, IL: Free Serbian Orthodox Diocese of the USA and Canada, n.d.), pp. 75-7:


People can do me no evil, as long as I have no wounds.

I saw two caves, one of which revealed an echo, while the other had none. And many curious children were visiting the former and were mischievously carrying out shouting matches with the cave. But from the other cave visitors were quickly returning, because it was not answering them with an echo.

If my soul is wounded, every worldly evil will resound within it. And people will laugh at me, and will throng more and more strongly with their shouting.

But truly, evil-speaking people will not harm me, if my tongue has forgotten how to speak evil.

Nor will external malice sadden me, if there is no malice in my heart to resound like a goatskin drum.

Nor shall I be able to respond to ire with ire, if the lair of ire within me has been vacated and there is nothing to be aroused.

Nor will human passions titillate me, if the passions within me have been reduced to ashes.

Nor will the unfaithfulness of friends sadden me, if I have resolved to have You for my friend.

Nor can the injustice of the world crush me, if injustice has been expelled from my thoughts.

Nor will the deceitful spirits of worldly pleasure, honour and power entice me, if my soul is like an immaculate bride, who receives only the Holy Spirit and yearns for Him alone.

People cannot shove anyone into hell, unless that person shoves himself. Nor can people hoist anyone up on their shoulders to the throne of God, unless that person elevates himself.

If my soul has no open windows, no mud can be thrown into it.

Let all nature rise up against me; it can do nothing to me except a single thing—to become the grave of my body more swiftly.

Every worldly crop is covered with fertiliser, so that it will sprout as soon as possible and grow better. If my soul, alas, were to abandon her virginity and receive the seed of this world into herself, then she would also have to accept the manure, which the world throws onto its field.

But I call upon You day and night: come dwell in my soul and close all those places where my enemies can enter. Make the cavern of my soul empty and silent, so that no one from the world will want to enter it.

O my soul, my only concern, be on guard and learn to distinguish between the voices striking your ears. And once you hear the voice of your Lord, abandon your silence and resound with all your strength.

O my soul, cavern of eternity, never permit temporal thieves to enter you and kindle their fire within you. Keep quiet, when they shout to you. Stay still, when they bang on you. And patiently await your Master. For He will truly come.

'A New Chrysostom'—St Nicholas (Velimirović) of Ohrid & Zhicha

Today, 5 March on the Church’s calendar, we celebrate the memory of St Nicholas (Velimirović) of Ohrid and Zhicha (1880-1956). One can read a good longer Life of St Nicholas here and here, as well as a briefer one here and here. St John (Maximovich) the Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco has called him ‘a great saint and Chrysostom of our day [whose] significance for Orthodoxy in our time can be compared only with that of Metropolitan Anthony [Khrapovitsky]. . . . They were both universal teachers of the Orthodox Church’ (qtd. here). St John has also written (qtd. in the same source):

The young Velimirovich, while growing in body, grew all the more in spirit. As a sponge soaks up water, so he absorbed learning. Not only one but many schools had him as their pupil and auditor. Serbia, Russia, England, France and Switzerland [where he wrote a doctoral dissertation on the philosophy of Berkeley!] saw him in their lands as a bee collecting nectar. He not only strove to learn much, he also strove to acquire Truth. Firm in the Orthodox faith, he sought to obtain even with his mind that which faith gives. He did not doubt in the truth of faith; rather, he longed to sanctify his intellect with the Truth, and to serve the Truth with his mind, heart, and will. He developed his mind such that with its fruits he nourished not only himself but others as well. As much as he grew in knowledge, so he grew in spirit. . . . Constantly pondering the ultimate questions, he gathered wisdom from everywhere—from learning, from nature, from the happenings of everyday life. Most of all he enlightened his soul with the Divine light, nourishing it with the Holy Scriptures and prayer.

At seminary, Fr Daniel Rogich tells us in his Serbian Patericon: Saints of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Vol. I: January—April, (Platina, CA: St Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1994), pp. 224, 225:

Besides studying the usual subjects, Nikola began reading the significant texts of the most famous writers of western and eastern European culture: Shakespeare, Voltaire, Nietzsche, Marx, Pushkin, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and others. . . . [Later] He even became knowledgeable in the spiritual and philosophical books of ancient India. This learning made Nikola into a ‘Renaissance man’, whose erudition and profundity of thought were considered by everyone as both a wellspring of knowledge and a unique treasury of wisdom and spirituality.

In the classic 1941 account of her travels in Yugoslavia, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: A Journey Through Yugoslavia (NY: Viking, 1943), pp. 720-1, Dame Rebecca West painted a memorable portrait of a St Nicholas. Describing him in literally 'Jovial' terms (almost reminiscent of The Lion, the Witch, & the Wardrobe!) West writes:

He struck me now, as when I had seen him for the first time in the previous year, as the most remarkable human being I have ever met, not because he was wise or good, for I have still no idea to what degree he is either, but because he was the supreme magician. He had command over the means of making magic, in his great personal beauty, which was of the lion’s kind, and in the thundering murmur of his voice, which by its double quality, grand and yet guttural, suggests that he could speak to gods and men and beasts. He had full knowledge of what comfort men seek in magic, and how they long to learn that defeat is not defeat and that love is serviceable. He had a warm knowledge of how magic can prove this up to the hilt. He had a cold knowledge, which he would not share with any living thing, of the limited avail of magic, and how its victories cannot be won on the material battlefield where man longs to see them. He was so apt for magic that had it not existed he could have invented it. He saw all earth as its expression.

Fortunately, however, we do not have to rely solely on the words of others to catch a glimpse of this great man. He has left us his own voluminous writings, and it is to these that I wish primarily to turn. One of St Nikolai’s most beautiful books is a collection of one hundred prose poems modeled on the Psalms called Prayers by the Lake, trans. Archimandrite Todor Mika and Fr Stevan Scott (Grayslake, IL: Free Serbian Orthodox Diocese of the USA and Canada, n.d.), written at Lake Ohrid in 1921-22. One can read one of the most famous and beloved of these, LXXV, here, and a few others here, here, here, and here. Obviously, there are many treasures in this book, and I intend to post another later, but for now I shall begin with XXIV (from pp. 42-3):

You pour Your holy oil into the stars, O Holy Spirit, and out of senseless conflagrations You make vigil lamps before the Glory of Heaven. Pour Yourself into my soul also, and out of a passionate conflagration make a vigil lamp before the heavens.

You stroll through fields of flowers without being heard, and You sprinkle the flowers with Your grace, so that the blood of the earth may not look through, but the beauty of God. Sprinkle the field of my soul with Your grace also, so that it may not be said that the field of my soul sprouted from the blood of the earth, but that it is adorned with the beauty of God.

You mingle with every heap of ashes and pour in life. Pour life into the ashes of my body also, so that I may live and glorify Your works.

You tame the fire and wind, and out of demons of fury you make servants of the Most High. Tame my pride and make me a servant of the Most High.

You are kind to the animals in the woods. Show kindness to me also, who am animalized by ignorance.

You fertilize every seed of life. You hover in every womb. You sit in the egg of a bird’s nest and masterfully form a new miracle of life. Fertilize, I beseech You, the invisible seed of goodness within me also, and keep watch over it until it reaches maturity.

O Awesome and Almighty Spirit, by Your presence You turn a den of thieves into a haven of Heaven, and a terrifying universe into a temple of God. Descend into me also, I beseech You, and turn a handful of ashes into what You know how to do and can.

Finally, this blog is greatly indebted to St Nicholas for one of the greatest of his many writings, The Prologue from Ochrid, a wonderful compilation of brief Saints’ Lives based on the Holy Tradition of the Orthodox Church, as well as meditations, original ‘hymns’, and homilies (available here, on the website of the Western American Diocese of the Serbian Orthodox Church; there are a few others online here). Here is one of the wonderful homilies (for 25 July) from the Prologue, which I’ve taken from Prologue from Ochrid, Vol. 3, trans. Mother Maria (Birmingham: Lazarica, 1986), pp. 108-9:

—on slaves who preach freedom.

‘...and promise them liberty, while they themselves are the servants of corruption; for of whom a man is overcome, of that same he is brought in bondage’ (II Pet. 2:19).

The Apostle is still speaking of the ‘waterless wells, of ill-repute and self-willed’, reminding the faithful to keep themselves from their enticement of ‘proud and lying words’. He said first about them that they ‘speak against the glory of God’; secondly, that they ‘delude by the uncleanness of fleshly lusts’; and now he speaks of their promise of freedom--a promise that is not only not theirs to make, lacking it themselves, but one that overwhelms by foul passions those that are slaves to their passions, obedient slaves to the most wrathful tyrants of this world. Oh, my brethren, how apt to us today are these apostolic words, written more than nineteen hundred years ago! Look how, everywhere around us, men with foaming mouths declaim about freedom, having no freedom of any sort! Listen to the cries of despairing slaves of the passions and vices, how the deluded delude and the blind preach light! The passions are a net woven by the devil, with which he hunts men. Caught in this net, they call others slaves and themselves free, to the amusement of the devil, who silently gathers in the net and draws it to his shore. Oh, my brethren, keep yourselves from these messengers of despair, who call themselves messengers of freedom, serving their lord the devil day and night. They call their poverty richness, and the richness of others they call poverty, as fools the world over call others fools and themselves wise. So they, the least free, call others enslaved, and they call the service of God and one’s neighbour—this service performed from love—they call this slavery, while calling the service of the devil freedom. They are malicious towards both God and man, as the devil himself is malicious towards both God and man. Whenever you hear someone speak to you of freedom, examine carefully first of all if he is not a slave to some passion or vice. You will know all false teachers of freedom by their impure lives, their ill-repute and their self-will. This is what the Apostle is bringing to your mind.

O Lord, the only Giver of true freedom, keep us from the net of all who are malicious towards Thee and us. To Thee be glory and praise for ever. Amen.

Lol at the JBL

One does not often expect, upon beginning to read through the book reviews in an issue of the Society of Biblical Literature’s quarterly journal, Journal of Biblical Literature, to laugh out loud at some point. Nevertheless, that was precisely my reaction a couple of years ago upon reading Raymond Brown’s review of a 1996 book from Fortress Press (Raymond E. Brown, ‘Review of Judas: Betrayer or Friend of Jesus? by William Klassen’, JBL Vol. 117, No. 1, Spring 1998, pp. 134-6). In the book under review, William Klassen attempts to prove that Judas was in fact a faithful disciple of Jesus who acted upon Christ's orders in turning him over to the Temple authorities but was unfairly reviled as a ‘traitor’ in subsequent Christian tradition. Much of the humour derives from Brown's careful understatement in attempting to give Klassen the benefit of the doubt, as exemplified well by two passages:

1) ‘The Synoptic evangelists portray sequentially the chief priests seeking a way to arrest and kill Jesus . . . , Judas receiving money to give Jesus over, and then his coming at night with others who seize or arrest Jesus. Other interpretations may be possible, but it is quite proper for most commentators to read that sequence as recounting betrayal’ (Brown, p. 135).

2) ‘[It] is perfectly true that Jesus' woe on the one who would give him over...is not technically a curse and could simply foretell misfortune. But following the description of Judas taking money to give Jesus over, the accompanying “better for that man if he had not been born” tilts the surface impression toward Jesus’ foretelling punishment for evil’ (Brown, p. 135).

Finally however, the best line is the parting shot:

Klassen mentions a German law forbidding parents to name their sons Judas. Even without such legal guidance, I doubt that Klassen’s passionate attempt to rehabilitate the Iscariot will persuade any parents to add ‘Judas’ to their lists of appropriate names for offspring. (Brown, p. 136)

Incidentally, the same issue of JBL contains a review written by Moisés Silva, who some have deemed infallible, indeed, solely infallible, though that seems clearly to go a bit far. At any rate, on pp. 155-6, Silva favourably reviews Veronica Koperski's The Knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: The High Christology of Philippians 3:7-11.

17 March 2009

'Shining Like a Star in the Desert'—St Gerasimus of the Jordan

Today, 4 March on the Church’s calendar, we commemorate the Holy Gerasimus of the Jordan (475). Cyril of Scythopolis introduces him in the ‘Life of Euthymius’ 44,20 (The Lives of the Monks of Palestine, trans. R.M. Price [Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian, 1991], p. 41), saying:

At that time there was a great anchorite of Lycian origin, called Gerasimus, who after succeeding in the monastic life in his own homeland and displaying many combats against the spirits of wickedness had recently left his homeland and was practicing the anchoritic life in the desert by the Jordan.

Cyril also describes St Gerasimus as ‘shining like a star and sowing the seeds of piety in the desert of the Jordan’ (p. 104). According to the Great Synaxaristes, ‘The holy one practiced all the virtues, so that he might ingrain his soul with pure things and flee every passion and defilement; thus his thoughts would be able easily to approach the lofty heights of the spirit that sprang forth light in the soul’ (The Lives of the Saints of the Holy Land and Sinai Desert, trans. and comp. Holy Apostles Convent [Buena Vista, CO: Holy Apostles Convent, 1997], p. 161). He founded a Lavra in the Plain of Jordan with a coenobium in the centre for novices, and experienced anchorites living all over the Plain. He was also a friend of St Euthymius the Great, who used to go with him into the inner desert for Lent (Cyril, p. 48; see also D. Chitty’s depiction of this event in The Desert a City [Crestwood, NY: SVS, 1995], p. 90), he had St Sabas the Sanctified in his Lavra at one time (Cyril, p. 104), and St Cyriacus in his coenobium (Cyril, p. 247).

Chitty has pointed out that it is St Gerasimus ‘to whom originally belongs the story of the lion, the donkey, and the camels, which Jerome—Hieronymus—was to filch from him through the ignorance of Latin pilgrims many centuries after they were both dead [since the names could have been easily confused]’ (Chitty, p. 90). Thus, we find this story for the first time in St John Moschos’s Leimonarion 107, the Pratum Spirituale, or Spiritual Meadow, trans. John Wortley (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian, 1992), pp. 86-8. I shall give it in full here:

About a mile from the holy River of Jordan there is a place which is known as the Lavra of the holy Abba Gerasimos. When we were there, the residents told us that this St [Gerasimos] was walking one day by the banks of the holy Jordan when he met a lion, roaring mightily with [pain in] its paw. The point of a reed was deeply embedded in it, causing inflammation and suppuration. When the lion saw the elder, it came to him and showed him the foot, wounded by the point embedded in it, whimpering and begging some healing of him. When the elder saw [the lion] in such distress, he sat down and, taking the paw, he lanced it. The point was removed, and also much puss. He cleansed the wound well, bound it up and dismissed [the beast]. But the healed lion would not leave the elder. It followed him like a noble disciple wherever he went. The elder was amazed at the gentle disposition of the beast and, from then on, he began feeding it, throwing it bread and boiled vegetables.

Now the lavra had an ass which was used to fetch water for the needs of the elders, for they drink the water of the holy Jordan; the river is about a mile from the lavra. The fathers used to hand the ass over to the lion, to pasture it on the banks of the Jordan. One day when the ass was being pastured by the lion, it went away some distance from [its keeper]. Some camel-drivers on their way from Arabia found the ass and took it away to their country. Having lost the ass, the lion came back to the lavra and approached Abba Gerasimos, very downcast and dismayed. The abba thought that the lion had devoured the ass. He said to it: ‘Where is the ass’? The beast stood silent, hanging its head, very much like a man. The elder said to it: ‘Have you eaten it? Blessed be God! From henceforth you are going to perform whatever duties the ass performed’. From that time on, at the elder’s command, the lion used to carry the saddle-pack containing four earthenware vessels and bring water.

One day an officer came to ask the elder for his prayers; and he saw the lion bringing water. When he heard the explanation, he had pity on the beast. He took out three pieces of gold and gave them to the elders, so that they could purchase an ass to ensure their water supply, and that the lion might be relieved of this menial service. Sometime after the release of the lion, the came-driver who had taken the ass came back to the Holy City to sell grain and he had the ass with him. Having crossed the holy Jordan, he chanced to find himself face to face with the lion. When he saw [the beast], he left his camels and took to his heels. Recognising the ass, the lion ran to it, seized its leading rein in its mouth (as it had been accustomed to do) and led away, not only the ass, but also the three camels. It brought them to the elder, rejoicing and roaring at having found the ass which it had lost. The elder had thought the lion had eaten the ass, but now he realised that the lion had been falsely accused. He named the beast Jordanes and it lived with the elder in the lavra, never leaving his side, for five years.

When Abba Gerasimos departed to the Lord and was buried by the fathers, by the providence of God, the lion could nowhere be found in the lavra. A little later, the lion came, and searched for the elder. The elder’s disciple, Abba Sabbatios [the Cilician,] saw it and said to it: ‘Jordanes, our elder has left us orphans, for he has departed to the Lord; but come here, eat something.’ The lion, however, would not eat, but continually turned his eyes this way and that, hoping to see its elder. It roared mightily, unable to tolerate this bereavement. When Abba Sabbatios and the rest of the fathers saw it, they stroked its mane and said to it: ‘The elder has gone away to the Lord and left us’, yet even by saying this they did not succeed in silencing its cries and lamentations. The more they tried to mollify and to comfort it by their words, the more it roared. The louder were its cries by which it expressed its grief; for it showed by its voice, its countenance and by its eyes the sorrow which it felt at not being able to see the elder. Then Abba Sabbatios said to it: ‘Since you do not believe us, come with me and I will show you where our elder lies’. He took [the lion] and led it to where they had buried [the elder]. The spot was about half a mile from the church. Abba Sabbatios stood above the grave of Abba Gerasimos and said to the lion: ‘See, [this is where] our elder is’, and he knelt down. When the lion saw how he prostrated himself, it began beating its head against the ground and roaring, then it promptly died; there, on top of the elder’s grave.

This did not take place because the lion had a rational soul, but because it is the will of God to glorify those who glorify him—and to show how the beasts were in subjection to Adam before he disobeyed the commandment and fell from the comfort of paradise.

The story of the lion is told on pp. 165-7 of the Holy Apostles Lives. See Cyril’s note on the subjection of beasts to holy men—which I have already quoted, in part, here, and in full here—in the ‘Life of Euthymius’ 13, pp. 18-9.

16 March 2009

St Gregory Palamas at Café les Deux Magots

While looking for stuff on St Gregory Palamas, I came across the following comments of Archbishop Basil (Krivochein) translated and posted by Felix Culpa last year over at Ora et Labora:

This study [Fr Meyendorff’s A Study of Gregory Palamas], despite certain imprecisions, presents the most valuable part of the work of Fr J. Meyendorff. Fr Meyendorff lays out the theological views of St Gregory Palamas brilliantly and interestingly, although with insufficient attention to the ascetic-mystical aspect of his teaching. Unfortunately, however, the author, wishing to make the theology of Palamas more accessible to the contemporary reader, ‘modernizes’ his teaching and, pulling him out of his epoch, attempts to express it in terms of the most recent Western European philosophy. Especially irritating in this regard is the stubborn employment by the author through the length of the book of the expressions ‘existential,’ ‘existentialism,’ etc. for characterizing the teaching of St Gregory Palamas. The same, although to a lesser extent, may be said in regard to the application to Barlaam of the terms ‘nominalist,’ and ‘nominalism.’ It would be much more valuable (and, undoubtedly, ‘more scholarly’) had Fr John, instead of such modernism, studied more thoroughly the patristic roots of ‘palamism,’ as well as those of his opponents, in the theological and mystical tradition of Byzantium.

This immediately reminded me of the following little jewel of a footnote in Hieromonk Alexander (Golitzin), ‘Hierarchy versus Anarchy? Dionysius Areopagita, Symeon the New Theologian, Nicetas Stethatos, and their common roots in ascetical tradition’ (St Vladimir's Theological Quarterly 38,2 [1994], p. 153, n. 95), which I have already posted here, and which is available in PDF here:

‘Biblical’ versus ‘Platonist’ echoes altogether too clearly the reaction of Roman Catholic and Orthodox scholars earlier this century to the late nineteenth and early twentieth century thesis of a ‘Hellenized’—and therefore corrupted—Christianity associated in particular with Adolph von Harnack. People such as Jean Cardinal Daniélou, Henri de Lubac, or indeed Vladimir Lossky fought Harnack a little too hard. While we all owe a great debt to these men, among whom Father John [Meyendorff] is certainly to be included, this does not mean that we are obliged to accept distinctions that do less than justice to the texts and thought of the ancients, or—worse—subject them often uncritically to the concerns of philosophies and movements that are quite alien to them. Modern existentialism comes to mind in this context. A Daniélou, for example, might have had an ear cocked to what was being said over the absinthe at Café les Deux Magots, but we need not. It is simply past time to have done with the exploded myth of a pure Hebrew, or ‘Semitic,’ tradition over and against a subversive ‘Hellenism.’

The image above is the cover of Fr Demetrios Koutsoures’s St Gregory Palamas: A Study of His Life and Work, featuring an icon of St Gregory by the hand of Giorgos Kordes.

Ethos & Dogma In St Gregory Palamas

I’ve been meaning to post a passage from the Prologue to the book, Passions and Virtues According to St Gregory Palamas (South Canaan, PA: St Tikhon’s Seminary, 2004), by my advisor, Anestis Keselopoulos, and trans. and ed. by Hieromonk Alexis (Trader) and Harry Michael Boosalis. Kevin Edgecomb made a comment on the last post that finally forced my hand. From p. x:

Orthodox theologians have grown more aware that St Gregory Palamas is not only a ‘dogmatic theologian’ (1), but also a guide who can initiate others into the life in Christ. If Palamas composed so many writings affirming the uncreated character of deifying grace, he did so because he regarded divine grace as man’s only hope for transcending the unnatural life of the Fall, for redemption from slavery to the passions, and for a life of personal communion and participation in God. For this very reason, his teaching is an excellent model for the harmonious blending of dogmatic theology and personal life.

(1) Especially when such a characterization implies an artificial and destructive separation of dogma from ethics.

Fr Andrew Louth has made a similar comment about the Philokalia as a whole—‘[M]uch of the historical importance of the Philokalia lies in the way it has revealed the essential unity of what have come to be called in the West “theology” and “spirituality”, a unity that Orthodoxy, at its best, has preserved’ (‘The Theology of the Philokalia’, Abba: The Tradition of Orthodoxy in the West (Festschrift for Bishop Kallistos [Ware] of Diokleia), ed. Fr John Behr, et al. [Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary, 2003], p. 357).

One can order Keselopoulos’s book at the St Tikhon’s Press site, here.
And just for Christopher Orr, here is my attempt at a literal translation of that first sentence, with the footnote from the brackets properly replaced within the sentence: 'It has become more conscious in Orthodox theology that St Gregory Palamas is not only a "dogmatic theologian", when specifically within this characterisation is understood the destructive any longer for theology separation of dogma and ethos, but also the mystic of the in Christ life' (trans. from Anestis Keselopoulos, Πάθη και Αρετές στη Διδασκαλία του Αγίου Γρηγορίου του Παλαμά [Athens: Domos, 1990], p. 12).