Archive for December 18th, 2006

The Christmas Tree

December 18, 2006

This is my last comment on Christmas trees this year. Having just drug the 31st tree of my married life into the house and placed it in its stand (involving a drill and not a little work) I believe that whatever the origin of the Christmas tree, it was a curse placed on us by earlier pagans. I will continue to put up trees, but will remember the years of difficulty – the year the tree fell over at least three times, frequently aided by the cat (a questionable creature). Tonight, my son and I have managed to place it in its spot, to be joined later by the ladies of the house who will supervise its decoration. God gave us the Christmas tree in order to create humility at this time of year.

Giving Offense in the Time of Peace and Goodwill

December 18, 2006

I have (undeserved or not) a general reputation as a kind priest, and merciful, and hope that my postings on this blog will maintain that reputation. God help me if I don’t.

It interests me, that making comments about paganism drew not only an unusual number of views for the weekend (that tells me that lots of pagans use the internet). I also found that the simple title “Mother of God” draws quick comment from Protestants who have failed to honor her in accordance with tradition and have lots of the same reasons I’ve heard for years (certainly nothing new) in defending themselves.

I do not need to hear what I’ve heard so many times (particularly when it was wrong the first time it was stated). Both Martin Luther and John Calvin believed that Mary was Ever-Virgin, that is, that she never had children by St. Joseph. To misread Scripture in this manner (that is to see the brothers and sisters of Jesus as literal flesh-and-blood brothers and sisters) runs counter to virtually the unanimous tradition of the Church and even of the first Reformers.

The descendents of these second-generation reformers sought to destroy stained-glass, outlawed Christmas in England, murdered monastics, stole property from the Church, and participated in a bloodbath that would have made the Roman Catholic attrocities of the inquisition look mild. I do not care to sit idly by, while their offspring, many centuries since think to verbally abuse the tradition as if they do not have the blood of generations on their hands. Read some Church history, for heaven’s sake!

If you have to attack Rome, then go visit a Roman Catholic site, they exist in plenty. I cannot and will not defend Rome, I’m Orthodox.

But as a new comer to the blogosphere I’m learning. Certain buzzwords draw readers like flies.

 I will remind others of our general rules around here. If you want to argue, you’ve come to the wrong site. I don’t like to argue. If you disagree, that is fine. Ask questions. I’ll treat all questions with respect. Attacks will simply be deleted. Don’t waste your energy.

May God bless all of you and give you joy, because no matter what you think, He loved you enough to become one of us, and even to enter into Hell to get us out. Can’t get better than that.

As someone on the rescue list I welcome any who will join me.

Peace on earth and goodwill toward men!

The Mother of God

December 18, 2006

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One aspect of Christmas (including Protestant Christmas) that I always enjoyed was the increasing attention given to the Mother of Jesus. Christmas cards feature her; hymns of “Mary, meek and mild” are sung. And even though such popular treatments will fall far short of the theological fullness of the one who gave birth to God the Word, it has always, nevertheless, been comforting to hear her get at least some public mention.

In the Orthodox world public mention is the least of the matter. There is a recognition of the radical implications contained in the phrase, “Behold, the handmaiden of the Lord, be done unto me according to Thy word.” These implications grew in the Church – they are already there in Scripture for those who had the eyes to see – finally to a point where they spilled over into the prayers and praises of the people of God. At some point, at least by the early 4th century, she was being hymned as the “Theotokos,” the “one who gave birth to God.” It was the only fitting title, if Christ was who the Church said He was, fully God and fully man. There was no lack of subtlety in the Church’s understanding. Anyone capable of writing on the exact nature of the hypostatic union is also capable of being quite precise about the meaning and limits of the word “Theotokos.”

But a clear understanding developed: there could be no incarnate Word of God that was not accompanied by the Mother of the Word. No incarnation is possible without the “yes” of Mary. And this yes is significant and not accidental.

Fathers of the Church, studying Scripture saw not only what was said in the New Testament, but saw as well what was “almost said” in the Old Testament. That the Word would become Man and dwell among us is largely hidden in figure and allusion in the Old Testament. Its meaning never becomes clear until it is reread in the light of Christ Jesus. So, the language of Mary would not be clear until read in that same light.

If He was the Light of the World, she was the Lampstand (as in the Temple). Indeed if He is God among us, she is the Temple. She was the Bush who was on fire and yet not burned – in that she was the Virgin who gave birth and yet remained a virgin. She was the Ark of the Covenant containing not the tablets of the law, but the Law of God incarnate.

And the figures go on. Orthodoxy does not worship Mary. She is not God, she is not such as can be worshipped. But among all of God’s created order there is nothing, no one, like her. Her obedience and humility are a fitting throne for God. Her devotion at the Cross was what the devotion of the brave disciples should have been. This woman, was “bone of His bone and flesh of His flesh” or rather, “He was bone of her bone and flesh of her flesh.

In some small ways our culture will acknowledge her this year. They are small ways because without the fullness of dogma she cannot be properly extolled.

But every week, every day in the year, she is remembered in the Orthodox Church with the ancient hymn, Axion Estin.

It is truly meet to bless you, Theotokos,

Ever blessed and most pure and the mother of our God.

More honorable than the cherubim,

More glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim,

Without corruption you gave birth to God the Word,

True Theotokos, we magnify you!

How Do We See Our Neighbor?

December 18, 2006

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This is a short excerpt from the book, The Monk of Mount Athos, by Fr. Sophrony on the life of St. Silouan of Mt. Athos. It says much about how we see one another, and how the transformation of the world has to begin with our own selves.

We see in others that which our own spiritual experience has shown us about ourselves, and so a man’s attitude to his fellow is a sure sign of the degree of self-knowledge he has attained. Whoever has experienced the deep and intense suffering of the human spirit when excluded from the light of true being, and, on the other hand, knows what it is to be in God, has no doubt that every human being is a permanent eternal value, more precious than all the rest of the world. He is conscious of man’s worth, conscious that ‘the least of these my brethren’ is dear in God’s sight, and so he will never think of murdering, harming or even giving offense to his neighbor.

The man who merely ‘believes’, the man with only a moderate personal experience of grace and a still vague sense of the reality of eternal life, will in the measure of his love for God keep himself from sin; but his love will be far from perfect and may not prevent him from hurting his brother.

But the man who pitilessly, for his own benefit and interest, harms another, who plots or commits bloodshed, has either become like a wild animal and acknowledges in his depths that he is a brute being – which means that he does not believe in eternal life – or has set his feet on the path of demoniac spirituality.

His vision of Christ gave the Staretz [St. Silouan] to experience man’s godlike state. He hailed all men as bearers of the Holy Spirit, of that Light of Truth which to some degree inhabits and enlightens every man. The man who knows this Light beholds it in others.