Archive for March, 2008

Of Calendars and Christians

March 21, 2008


This year the Gregorian Calendar and the Julian (and the Revised Julian) differ on the date of Pascha (Easter) by about as much as possible. The story of the calendars, both in the East and West is a very convoluted tale, sometimes requiring a knowledge of math (hence my reluctance to go into the matter). We know that even in the early 2nd century there was a difference on when the Pascha of our Lord was to be kept (apparently St. John the Theologian was a ‘Quartodecian’ which was a calculation that did not win out). Later, missionaries from Rome encountered Celtic Christians in the British Isles and had a small dust-up over the dating of the Feast of Feasts. Many of the Orthodox were more than a little chagrined when a Patriarch of Constantinople, in the 20th century, convened a modest council, and adopted the Revised Julian Calendar, thus shattering the unity of the Orthodox Church in matters of time (with the exception of the date of Pascha and all things that are dated by Pascha).

I do not have an opinion, other than to obey the Bishops of my Church – and I hold that “opinion” as virtually as close as I hold my salvation. But if they told me tomorrow that the Holy Synod had adopted something else, I would lose no sleep. I do pray continually for unity among Orthodox on the Calendar (and secondly with the rest of Christendom). My own family (which counts three priests in its number) has two Calendars. I’d like less complexity in planning an extended family vacation.

But as I drove around Oak Ridge and Knoxville today, doing my priestly chores leading up to our second Sunday of Great Lent, the atmosphere of things around me was clearly different than the usual Friday. Some businesses were closed. People would greet me with “Happy Easter,” which either received a reply in kind, or, time-permitting, a short dissertation on the difference between Orthodox and Western calendars, followed by a “Happy Easter” as well. Would that everybody celebrated our Lord’s crucifixion and resurrection as sacred, holy days.

But it is part of the strangeness of being Orthodox in America, that you are frequently out of sync with the culture (not nearly as much as my Old Calendar Son-in-law and my daughter, his wife). It underlines the differences that exist between East and West and adds the additional problem of the feasting of others surrounding your fast. But the unity of Orthodox Pascha (which includes the dating of Lent) brings a season’s worth of Orthodox unity that reminds me of how things ought to be, and, God willing, shall be.

But for the many readers I have who are Protestant, Anglican or Catholic or keep the Gregorian Calendar for Easter – may God bless you on this holy weekend! May you unite yourself with the crucified Christ and remember His descent into Hades to rescue us all! May you know the joy of His resurrection!

And (as is always appropriate to say) I greet you: Christ is risen!

The Passions and the Reading of Scripture

March 20, 2008


The following comes from Dumitru Staniloae’s Orthodox Spirituality. It underscores the need for the struggle against the passions if we are to read Scripture rightly.

“Man,” says St. Maximus, “has the absolute need for these two things, if he wants to keep the right way to God without error: the spiritual understanding of Scripture and the spiritual contemplation of God in nature.”

In his interpretation of the transfiguration of the Lord, Jesus’ shining face means the law of grace, which the veil no longer hides, while the white and glowing vestments means at the same time the letter of Scripture and nature, which both become transparent in the light of spiritual understanding full of grace. From the human face of the Logos light flows over the old Law and nature.

The spiritual understanding of Scripture is a permanent tradition of Eastern spiritual writing. In this context, St. Maximus also has the sternest words for those who can’t go beyond the literal meaning of Scripture. Ignorance, in other words, Hades, dominates those who understand Scripture in a fleshly (literal) way:

He who doesn’t enter into the divine beauty and glory found in the letter of the Law falls under the power of the passions and becomes the slave of the world, which is subject to corruption… he has no integrity but what is subject to corruption.

The exact understanding of the words of the Spirit, however, are revealed only to those worthy of the Spirit; in other words, only those who by prolonged cultivation of the virtues have cleansed their mind of the soot of the passions receive the knowledge of things divine; it makes an impression and penetrates them at first contact.

So the spiritual understanding of Scripture or the entering into a relationship, by its words, with “the words” of the living meanings and with the deliberate energies of God, requires preparation as well as the knowledge of the logoi or of the living words and present workings of God by things. Those who are full of passions, to the extent that they are glued to the visible surface of things, are also glued to the letter of Scripture and its history; both nature and the letter of Scripture are for them the wall which blocks the road to God, rather than being transparent for them or a guide to Him.

So Scripture and nature too must be considered as a symbol, in the sense already discussed [in a previous chapter], as a medium by which the infinite depths of the spiritual meanings communicated by God as a person, shine through. He who isn’t submerged in them, he who doesn’t have this capacity, but limits himself to the letter on the surface, such a person cuts the ties of Scripture to the depths of God. If it contains the divine thoughts and intentions addressed to us and if these thoughts and intentions are eternally valid, Scripture must have an unending depth and a permanent validity, valid for every age and person. To understand Scripture in this way means to leave the confines of the letter and of the moment in time when a divine word was spoken for the first time and to understand it as referring to me personally, and to my generation, to our time, to our future; it means that when I read the letter I hear God Himself speaking to me and to us today, or about me and us, and about our duties. To understand Scripture in the “spirit” means to see the constant relationship between God and us, and to live it in the way it affects me, at the present moment, because I am living the present moment.

The Lost Tradition

March 19, 2008


Many people think of the loss of various pieces of “Tradition” when they think of the modern, non-Orthodox, churches. Some may think of the loss of liturgical riches or the loss of the canons. Others may see a wholesale change in the spiritual teachings of the Christian faith. When I think of the loss of “Tradition” I think of the loss of fullness – of various truncated versions of Christianity, which, though often true inasmuch as they say (quoting Scripture and the like), nevertheless lack the full context of those Scriptures and vital parts of the Christian faith, without which it is difficult to share correctly or fully the Gospel of Christ.

I am especially struck by this when I consider the Tradition and its teachings on the passions. The spiritual writings of the Orthodox Fathers constitute an unreplaceable treasure of the Christian life. More than “Tradition” in some antiquarian sense, their writings represent the fruit of lives lived in obedience to the Gospel and a roadmap in the struggle against that which is common to us all. I think of the writings of St. Maximus the Confessor and his insights into the actual character and makeup of the passions and why they work as they do – as well as how we may successfully struggle against them.

To this can be added such classics as St. John Climacus’ The Ladder, The Philokalia, and St. Ignatius Brianchaninov’s The Arena. I could add tens of volumes to such writings and only mention these because of their recognized universal value. They transcend the culture of their time and especially, the culture of our time. Without them we lack essential parts of the Christian experience and its testimony. Without them we are like kindergartners trying to make our way in an adult world. We are clueless.

There are great Western Christian classics as well. Even the classic Protestant Pilgrim’s Progress is largely unknown or unused by modern Protestant Christians. At least C.S. Lewis knew the Christian classics – and they made his own writings mature on a level unknown in many modern writers.

Conversations on the passions and our warfare with them should not be some peculiar province of the Orthodox – it should be a common conversation for all who love Christ, His Cross, and our call to be conformed to His image. A common knowledge and language exists in the writings of the Fathers, including those of the first five centuries that are recognized as of particular value by many modern Protestants.

The world is too dangerous and too much in need of a Savior and the truth of the Gospel for such parts of the Tradition to be neglected by any. God forbid that only Orthodox Christians stand and say that the passions are killing us (God help the Orthodox to at least say this much!). But we should have a common voice that speaks to the culture. Slavery to greed, envy, sloth, gluttony, as well as other such passions, is killing us and our children. A common voice should say to everything around us, “Enough!” And to one another, “Join the struggle! Let us follow Christ!”

The Tradition may be resisted by some on ideological grounds. But they do so to their own impoverishment. These treasures are there for all. May God give us grace to know them and use them.

Milestones and Thank You’s

March 19, 2008


These things seem to be happening with increasing frequency. I offer my thanks to my many readers. The blog surpassed 600,000 views yesterday. Thank you for continuing to read and for sharing this site with others.

The Passion to Consume

March 18, 2008


I have mentioned the role that the passions play in our consumer culture. I would like to write in greater depth about that phenomenon. It permeates our culture – and yet, strangely, I do not find it to be a dominant concern of people when they think about their sins or when they think of our culture and its sins. In that sense it reminds me of a study I did several years ago on the subject of envy, a passion which many of the Fathers of the Church thought was the “original sin,” but in my recollection had never been the subject of a sermon that I had ever given or heard. I preached the first of my sermons on the topic following that and have included that passion much more thoroughly in my map of the human heart than I once did. The same should be true of the passions that work in our consumerist culture.

I should say at the first that I am not opposed to shopping, or buying or owning things. I live in a house that I’m buying with furniture and furnishings like most of America. I went through a 2 or 3 year phase of communal living in my early twenties – so that I know what it is to consciously opt out of the consumer culture. But since my marriage in 1975, that has not been my way of living.

To say that I am not opposed to shopping, etc., is also to confess that I am not immune to the passions that come into play in our consumerism. I know what it is to want what I can’t have. I know what it is to abuse a credit card on an impulse purchase. Some years ago (many years ago now, I realize) when I was a “tie-wearing” man (priest in cassocks don’t wear ties), I remember wondering how ties that had once seemed so fashionable (think of the really wide ties of the early 70’s) overnight seemed so terrible (think skinny ties of the 1980’s). The question that came to my mind was, “When did I ever make a decision about how a tie actually looks – how wide it should be, etc.?” The answer, of course, is that I never did make such a decision. Those decisions were made in fashion houses miles from me and in the marketing departments of the fashion industry. What disturbed me then (and now) was that it was clearly the case that “how I saw the world” (at least as measured by ties) had nothing to do with reason, decision, preference, etc. It was “planted in my brain” to quote Paul Simon, and I never noticed the operation.

The question that followed was, “How many other things are there in our world-view, that exist within us through the same process?” The answer, of course, is, “Far more than we know.”

To be fully human does not include becoming a passive receptacle to marketing forces (ideas are as marketable as ties). To be a person of virtue includes not being a slave to any of the passions. Struggling with the passions (greed, envy, lust, gluttony, etc.) is an everyday struggle for Christians and should be part of the agenda of every Christian who intends to be obedient to Scripture.

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you once walked, when you lived in them. But now put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and foul talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old nature with its practices and have put on the new nature, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator (Colossians 3:5).

The list of the passions is not exhausted in St. Paul’s admonition. But we are commanded to join the battle. The passions are inherently strong in every human being. To a degree, some are completely natural and have a proper place within us. Hunger is natural and necessary. Gluttony is hunger in a disordered form. Sexual desire has its proper place as well as its disordered form.

Many human cultures, particularly those in which Christian spiritual teaching had a dominant role, actively sought to discourage the reign of the passions. There are certainly failures and even coercive nightmares to be recounted in that history – but few ages have lived as we do now in which the passions are actively used as a means to maintain the very affluence of the culture.

From time to time the masters of the media will decide to promote something they decide is virtuous. You can hardly watch a children’s show today that is not at the same time a propaganda piece for environmentalism. Perhaps that is a good thing. I make no judgement. Lip-service is paid to “less violence” but it remains. Children are sexualized at earlier and earlier ages.

I recall an event in my family from years ago. Two of my children were watching Saturday morning television. I sat quietly behind them and during one of the more tantalizing commercials I whispered: “All they want is your money.” I thought I was being very subtle and helpful. One child heard my warning and reeled in abhorrence as she saw the truth of it. The other smiled at me and said, “How much?” We’re all wired differently when it comes to the struggle with the passions. But the struggle remains.

We are at a great disadvantage today – for we are all being studied like lab rats. Research groups are wiring us up and testing even the speeches of politicians so that what we are being told about our civic life is itself shaped to our passions. Can freedom survive in such a setting? Or what kind of freedom is it that we have in such a setting? It is little wonder that political passions run as strongly as they do and that we are so divided. That’s just the problem: they are political passions.

Christ has come to set us free and to change us into the likeness of His image – to make us fully human and united to God. Slavery to the passions is not part of the plan. The Church must be a place where this struggle is taught and nurtured. It is the last place where the passions should be manipulated and used for any end.

I add this short technical note on the passions from Dmitru Staniloae’s Orthodox Spirituality:

The objects which the passions look for can’t satisfy them because objects are finite and as such don’t correspond to the unlimited thirst of the passions. Or as St. Maximus puts it, the passionate person finds himself in a continuous preoccupation with nothing; he tries to appease his infinite thirst with the nothingness of his passions, and the objects which is gobbling up become nothing, by their very nature. In fact, a passion by its very nature searches for objects, and it seeks them only because they can be completely under the control of the ego, and at its mercy. But objects by nature are finite, both as sources of satisfaction and in regard to duration; they pass easily into nonexistence, by consumption. Even thwn the passion also needs the human person in order to be satisfied, it likewise, reduces him or her to an object, or sees and uses only the objective side; the unfathomable depths hidden in the subjective side escape him.

Either we believe in a good God who is working good for His world, or we don’t. Either we turn ourselves towards the infinite God who alone can fill the infinite need of our soul or we perish. I am not surprised by the actions of unbelievers. As Dostoevsky said, “If there is no God, all things are permitted.” But if there is a God (and there is), then some things are not permitted. A Christian should know the difference.

Means and Ends

March 17, 2008


St. Seraphim of Sarov is quoted as saying, “You cannot achieve good ends through evil means.” I have taken this to be a given since I first read it. It does not mean that God does not work all things together for good. But it does mean that I must consider carefully how I go about seeking to do a “good” thing. In the history of Christianity there have been many tempatations to use evil means to achieve good. More than one leader of the Church, bishop, pope, General Convention, Synod, etc., has defended a bad decision by the good he or they thought it would achieve. These are tragic moments in the life of Christianity.

One of the great modern tragedies in Christianity has been the mistaken understanding of evangelism. “I have become all things to all men if by any means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22),  is St. Paul’s famous self-description. It has been lifted out of its context for a number of years (as well as similar passages) to justify any number of actions by Christians in order “to save some.” Most particularly in our modern world, some denominations (and “non-denominations”) have themselves become a members of the market, recognizing the unbeliever as a consumerof religion, and itself as a purveyor. God, or salvation, becomes the commodity.

Besides the obvious errors in that calculus, the is the failure to recognize that the nature of the market is that it is governed by the “passions.” Thus, particularly in our modern world of sophisticated advertising, our basest instincts are used to sell anything and everything to us. Whatever works. Sex sells – and thus automobiles somehow become entwined with sex in the eyes of consumers. Young girls are marketed into anorexic neuroses by the manipulation of their passions. Virtually nothing is sold to us that has not made some appeal to our passions.

It is interesting that the early Church generally practiced a three-year catechumenate, the better part of which was spent in spiritual formation (and this prior to Baptism). The entry into the Church was an entry not through the passions, but in spite of the passions.

There is something disordered in the marketing of the gospel by an appeal to a baser instinct (success, happiness, or free candy and bicycles). I might add (stepping on the toes of some of my fellow Orthodox) that there are similar questions to be asked about fund-raising through games of chance and the like. Stewardship is a fundamental Christian virtue and should be taught and inculcated in our members. “Raising money” is, in fact, not the point.

As a side note to any who wonder, my Archbishop practices and teaches the tithe and encourages only this Biblical teaching in the area of stewardship. I follow his lead. 

If we teach that human beings are saved by grace (which is indeed correct), why is it that we believe that the gospel must be marketed as though it were a commodity? Are we saved by the same forces that sell a Chevrolet? This not only demeans the gospel, but, in fact, denies the doctrine of salvation by grace. We cannot achieve good ends through evil means.

When St. Paul said he became “all things to all men,” he did not indicate that he in any way became a sinner in order to save sinners. Instead, he was an “ambassador for Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:20). None of us are called to be anything less. Strangely, it is illegal for American companies to use bribes overseas in order to sell American products. May God give us the grace to believe in grace.

St. Isaac on Humility

March 17, 2008

southwest-trip-172.jpgHumilty is the raiment of the Godhead. The Word who became human clothed himself in it, and he spoke to us in our body. Everyone who has been clothed with humility has truly been made like unto Him who came down from his own exaltedness and hid the splendor of his majesty and concealed his glory with humility, lest creation be utterly consumed by the contemplation of him….Wherefore every man has put on Christ when he is clothed with the raiment wherein the Creator was seen through the body that he put on. For the likeness in which he was seen by his own creation and in which he kept company with it, he willed to put on in his inner man, and to be seen therein by his fellow-servants.

…I should marvel greatly if there were any truly humble man who would venture to supplicate God when he draws nigh to prayer, or to ask to be accounted worthy of prayer, or to make entreaty for any other thing, or who would know what to pray. For the humble man keeps a reign of silence over all his deliberations, and simply awaits mercy and whatever decree should come forth concerning him from the countenance of God’s worshipful majesty….When he bows his head to the earth, and contemplation within his heart is raised to the sublime gate leading to the Holy of Holies wherein is He whose dwelling place is darkness which dims the eyes of the Seraphim and whose brilliance awes the legions of their choirs and sheds silence upon all their orders….Then he dares only to speak and pray thus, ‘May it be unto me according to thy will, O Lord.’

Taken from The Spiritual World of Isaac the Syrian by Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev

The Cross of Conversion

March 15, 2008


I grew up in a culture where religious conversion was frequent as well as often short-lived. Religiously, the only remedy to many of the ills of life was conversion. On the face of things I could hardly argue with that now. However, the deeper problem within that particular religious culture was a very truncated view of conversion. For many, conversion was accompanied by emotion (it should be truly “heart-felt”) as well as decision. But the only action that accompanied conversion was frequently a “rededication” of one’s life to Christ. The heart of Southern evangelicalism, at the time, was to “bring people to Christ,” though that phenomenon was defined in a very narrow manner. Thus I watched numerous individuals who needed much longer and deeper “conversions” fall short and frequently “fall away.”

Today’s religious culture is far more diverse though not necessarily for the better. The range of definition of “the spiritual life” can run anywhere from “successful living” to sainthood (and this is only a description within American Christianity). Conversion today can frequently mean a “change of membership” though conversion is not usually associated with changing churches within Protestant Christianity. Americans frequently “shop” for Church as much as they shop for everything else. Recent sociological studies have shown this to be an almost dominant component of our modern religious landscape. Market forces not only drive our economy but often our ecclesiology as well.

Thus the problem of true conversion becomes yet more complicated – even if only by the plurality of strange voices. I am an Orthodox Christian and I believe that the truth of the Christian faith has not altered since its inception. It has not and cannot alter because it is nothing other than the living communion of God and man in Christ. The difficulty of conversion is to find one’s way through the multitude of voices to hear the one true voice of God.

And this carries us to our own heart. I have had many conversations with those whom I would describe as “religious seekers.” Sometimes the largest question in their mind is one brought on by the many voices they hear. How to choose? How to decide? Having been formed and shaped as a consumer, only a consumer’s heart is left when it is God we seek to find – and God cannot be bought – He is not and never will be a commodity.

Thus, even conversion to the Orthodox faith is not an immediate answer to the question of true conversion – particularly if it is simply a choice among choices – a consumer’s decision based on comparision shopping. For true conversion is also a matter of our true heart and not the heart of a consumer – which is a creation of the delusions of this age.

In a strange, semi-prophetic passage in the Epilogue of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, the author describes the dreams of Raskolnikov as he lay sick and in prison:

In his illness he dreamed that the whole word was doomed to fall victim to some terrible, as yet unknown and unseen pestilence spreading to Europe from the depths of Asia. Everyone was to perish, except for certain, very few, chosen ones. Some new trichinae had appeared, microscopic creatures that lodged themselves in men’s bodies. But these creatures were spirits, endowed with reason and will. Those who received them into themselves immediately became possessed and mad. But never, never had people considered themselves so intelligent and unshakeable in the truth as did these infected ones. Never had they thought their judgements, their scientific conclusions, their moral convictions and beliefs more unshakeable. Entire settlements, entire cities and nations would be infected and go mad. Everyone became anxious, and no one understood anyone else; each thought the truth was contained in himself alone, and suffered looking at others, beat his breast, wept, and wrung his hands. They did not know whom or how to judge, could not agree on what to regard as evil, what as good. They did not know whom to accuse, whom to vindicate….In the cities the bells rang all day long: everyone was being summoned, but no one knew who was summoning them or why, and everyone felt anxious…

It is a strange delirium, one we have seen fulfilled in various ways. “Everyone was being summoned, but no one knew who was summoning them or why…” So here is the crux of the matter – reaching our own true heart. I believe this is a great gift of grace, particularly in a confused and confusing world. Apart from such grace knowledge of our heart would be likely impossible.

But, by God’s grace, having found that true heart, one must not take it lightly. Obedience to the heart in grace is important and a matter of daily struggle. We are commanded to take up the cross and follow Christ, and there may certainly be a moment at which we first obeyed that commandment – but that moment is only a beginning of conversion, the first step on a lifetime’s road of repentance. Golgotha ends in a tomb and then the resurrection. Taking up that Cross daily is also a matter of remaining faithful to one’s true heart, despite all the noise and confusion about us. It is steadfastness and courage as well as a simple tenacity. For the madness of the world is real though we are all called to be among the “few.” Being obedient to one’s true heart is a faithful obedience to Christ who is our own true heart.

I stated earlier that conversion to the Orthodox faith was not an immediate answer to question of true conversion. This is not the fault of the Orthodox faith but the fault of our heart as we approach this treasure God has preserved for us. Once having kissed the Gospel and the Cross, we then have to daily press forward, not trusting in the Church as though it were only another institution to which we have attached ourselves, but trusting in God who is our sure hope and the constant life of the Church in which we live.

The daily pressure of our world is to silence the truth of our heart and turn us again to our consumer mentality. Thus each day we say “no” that we may truly say “yes.”

The Depth of Crime and Punishment

March 13, 2008


I took on myself to re-read Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment for Great Lent, and have made far greater speed than I would have thought. (Little or no television and bedtime reading can sometimes take you far.) It is a book I have loved for years – being the first Dostoevsky I ever read as a teenager. I still recommend it frequently as a means of contemplating forgiveness.

Like all of Dostoevsky (on moreso), the novel is a maddeningly psychological story in which we listen repeatedly to the thoughts of a virtual madman who is also a murderer; a drunk; a consumptive; a prostitute; petty officials and a host of others. At the deepest level of the novel, however, is the human heart and its confrontation with the gospel of Christ. For the main character, the confrontation comes in the story of the raising of Lazarus.

The power of the novel, however, lies in the power of redemptive suffering. The young madman is driven to murder by the incessant logic of a modernist train of thought. Trying to force this train of thought on the young prostitute (who is herself the closest thing to a saint in the novel), asking her to choose between whose life she would save in certain situations (typical of the utilitarian logic of some progressivist thought), she reviles him for asking such an impossible question and for blaspheming the Providence of God.

And there lies the redemption in Dostoevsky – to embrace the Providence of God and to accept bravely the consequences of our sin. When the madman confesses his sin to the prostitute, she tells him that he should immediately rush out to a crossroad, bow to the ground and ask the earth’s forgiveness (for the blood he has spilled) and then bow in all four directions and ask forgiveness of everyone (of course to be followed by turning himself over to the authorities). And she promises not to leave him but to share his hard labor. It is the love of God, calling each sinner to the truth of His sin, to the fearful feat of confession, and to the promise of redemption that will not be our own creation but a companionship with One who loves us.

I treasure Dostoevsky’s writings because they are so profoundly Christian. Not simply that they are permeated with 19th century Russia which seems to have encapsulated the struggle of the modern world, but that it is also permeated with a profound grasp of the Christian faith at its most basic level.

Forgiveness, confession, repentance, and the embracing of voluntary suffering – simply the way of the Cross – is never put so clearly in any other novel of our modern world. I am a priest and I thus carry a responsibility for souls. I have learned over the years that we all have some level of the madman about us – even some level of the prostitute (although her prostitution is actually a means of self-sacrifice). We have a mad complexity about our heart that drives us all to strange behaviors – or at least behaviors we would not want broadcast to the world (some broadcast them anyway – such is our lack of shame). But in Dostoevsky I am reminded of the truth of God and the power of that truth in the human heart. As confused as we may be – saints still rise among us and often in unexpected places.

What should not be unexpected is that in every place – the mercy of God abounds. Everyone can be saved and that part of the Gospel of Christ must remain essential for us all.

The Scripture in Creation

March 12, 2008


One of the many endearing stories of St. Seraphim of Sarov was a small act of devotion he engaged in during his years as a hermit. The area around his hermitage was designated by him with Biblical place-names. Thus one place was Jerusalem, another Bethlehem, etc. Thus did the great saint transform the trees and rocks and every path by taking it up into the Biblical story. His every action outside his hut was thus also an act of pilgrimage, a reminder of the mighty acts of God for our salvation.

He is not the only saint to have engaged in such naming, though I’ll not go into others here. Rather I want to draw my readers’ attention to this holy practice. In my previous post a comment was made asking how we might more fully encounter God in the creation about us, since the notion of a “secular” world is but a modern fiction and a contradiction of the Word of God and the Orthodox faith.

St. Paul gives this instruction:

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, always and for everything giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father (Ephesians 5:18-20).

Filling our heart with the knowledge of Scripture we bring out of the treasure of our heart the remembrance of God and of His blessing of creation. For everything we see we may know a Scripture or a phrase from the liturgy that fittingly describes its place in the kingdom of God. I could make a considerable study and begin to suggest possibilities – though the possibilities are endless.

St. Antony the Great (I believe it was), was once asked by a philosopher why he had no books. The great ascetic replied, “My book, O Philosopher, is the world.” If you knew the Psalter by heart (as St. Antony most certainly would have), you would never be at a loss for words of praise to the Good God for the creation in which you live.

This very practice runs throughout the liturgy of the Church itself. A priest vesting himself, recites passages of Psalms that relate in a meaningful way to each garment he puts on. His every step is surrounded by Scripture. No moment in the liturgy is bereft of the Word of God. Thus in the liturgy the Word of God inhabits the Church and the Church inhabits the Word of God. With our hearts properly trained we will see that the world around us is equally inhabited and that we may, as St. Paul says, “Always and for everything give thanks in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father.”

It is a practice that is not accomplished all at once – but I commend it to you. Memorize verses of Scripture (especially the Psalms) and note their fitness for the world in which you live. The rocks, the trees, the streams, the sky, the clouds, all that we see has its place within those holy hymns. Drawing on the treasure of the heart, we can encounter God at all times, giving thanks for all things.