Friday, 16 September 2016

More on the Married Man Becoming a Monk

We received a comment on our post Can a Divorced Man Become an Orthodox Monk? from N.  F. Perry. Ordinarily we anonymize the identity of inquirers but Mr Perry has used his own personal identity in the comment posing his question and we cannot anonymize it. Moreover Mr Perry is something of a public figure. Mr Perry’s comment is this:
Seems good and clear advice. My own question is: if my marriage (recognized under civil law of UK) in church has not been registered with any diocese, can I become a monk without obtaining a civil divorce but with the consent of my wife? Would appreciate very much your observation on this situation from the point of view of Orthodox canon law.
This is a somewhat perplexing question. Mr Perry is originally from the UK. That suggests to us that his marriage was originally in the Anglican Church. However, he seems to be saying, his marriage, although recognized under the civil laws of the UK—so that under UK law Mr Perry and his wife are married—has not been registered with any (Anglican?) diocese despite the fact of having taken place in a church (presumably Anglican). Under these circumstances, Mr Perry wishes to know, can he become a monk without getting a divorce, merely with the consent of his wife?
First of all we, Orthodox Monk, are not Orthodox canon lawyers or in any way experts in Orthodox canon law. Moreover we are not a secular lawyer anywhere. We can only speculate.
Next, we assume that Mr Perry wishes to become a monk in the Orthodox Church. His biography says that he lived for a time in a monastery in Crete; such a monastery would ordinarily be Orthodox, Crete being an island that is part of Greece, where Orthodoxy is the state religion. Mr Perry has also published a novel about Mt Athos but we have no idea how much time Mr Perry spent on Mt Athos and the state of his relations with the monks of Mt Athos.
Mr Perry lives, or has been living, on a property in Chile. We have no idea if the Orthodox Church is represented in Chile. Chile is a country where the dominant religion would be Roman Catholicism, although we imagine that there is a certain amount of religious pluralism and even outright atheism. Moreover we have absolutely no idea of Chilean law. So the issue arises of the disposal of the property in Chile—and any other property in any other country—in the context of Mr Perry’s entry into a monastery.
We assume that Mr Perry is still a citizen of the UK. We have no idea of Mr Perry’s status in Chile. Has he become a citizen? Is he a legal resident of Chile? How does the Chilean state view his status under Chilean law and especially the status of the property he is living on in Chile? How will Chilean law view a legal separation between Mr Perry and his wife executed in the UK (see below)? We don’t know.
Let’s make some basic observations. You can’t become a monk in the Orthodox Church unless you are Orthodox. Somewhere along the line Mr Perry has converted to the Orthodox Church or will convert to the Orthodox Church. If Mr Perry has not converted and does not intend to convert to the Orthodox Church we can say nothing since only a member of the Orthodox Church can become an Orthodox monk. If as a non-member of the Orthodox Church he wished to take up his abode in an Orthodox monastery that would depend on the discretion of the Abbot and the local bishop; however the situation would be unusual because a non-member of the Orthodox Church could not receive the sacraments of the Orthodox Church, including monastic tonsure.
Next, the question arises of the status of Mr Perry’s marriage in the Anglican Church. Is it recognized as a marriage by the Anglican Church? Mr Perry says that he was married in church but the marriage was not registered with any diocese. Mr Perry would have to ask an Anglican canon lawyer or bishop whether he is married in the eyes of the Anglican Church. We have no idea. This is outside the realm of our expertise.
Next, let’s suppose that Mr Perry has converted or is going to convert to the Orthodox Church. The place where he converts would have an approach to his Anglican marriage, whether the Orthodox Church recognized that marriage or not. On this question Mr Perry would have to ask the people who were receiving him formally into the Orthodox Church, or if he has been Orthodox for some time, the monastery where he wished to become a monk. This is a matter that has to be analyzed concretely in the context of specific places and specific people where Mr Perry is going to become a member of the Orthodox Church and/or an Orthodox monk.
In the Orthodox Church you have to become a monk somewhere. There must be a specific monastery that you become a monk in. That means that there are specific people—the Abbot, the Council of Elders, the local Orthodox Bishop—who must be persuaded that they want to make you a monk in their monastery. Now it is possible that Mr Perry could become a monk in a monastery in Crete and be sent back to his property in Chile to live while still depending ecclesiastically on the monastery where he became a monk, but that is something the monastic authorities enumerated above would have to agree to.
While we understand that Orthodox canon law views monastic tonsure as dissolving the marriage and while we think that in Greece in the Church of Greece or even in a monastery on Mt Athos a signed consent of the wife to the husband becoming a monk would be sufficient for the ecclesiastical authorities if the parties to the marriage were both Greek and Orthodox, we think that the ecclesiastical authorities would still want some formal disposition of the property involved in the marriage. However, the situation is far more complicated in the case of Mr Perry as we have discussed above.
With the above caveats, therefore, we think that the approach would or should be this. Mr Perry has to go with his wife to a lawyer in the UK to arrange a legally binding agreement with his wife that they will be permanently separated until death. This agreement will stipulate that Mr Perry intends to become a monk in an Orthodox monastery and that Mr Perry’s wife agrees with that decision. We are taking the view that a mere written consent of the wife to Mr Perry becoming an Orthodox monk would be too weak given all the complications enumerated above. The concrete Orthodox ecclesiastical authorities with whom Mr Perry was working might disagree and accept a simple written consent of the wife. We would stand corrected. The UK legal agreement would stipulate the terms of the permanent separation with regard to any legal issue that might exist especially concerning the disposition of any property belonging to one or the other party to the marriage and any property held in common.
The UK lawyer would have to establish that the agreement would be recognized to the extent necessary under Chilean law. If for some reason the Chilean state did not recognize the UK separation agreement, then something would have to be worked out under Chilean law for the disposition of property in Chile—and we suppose for the separation itself. Conceivably the property in Chile would have to be sold and Mr Perry might have to leave Chile because of legal issues, we don’t know.
At the same time that Mr Perry and his wife are working on a legal separation in the UK, Mr Perry would be discussing with the concrete Orthodox authorities in the place where he intends to become a member of the Orthodox Church and/or an Orthodox monk how those Orthodox ecclesiastical authorities will view his UK separation agreement with his wife. We would think that if the Orthodox ecclesiastical authorities were confident that the UK separation agreement was valid in law both in the UK and in their own legal jurisdiction then they would be satisfied that Mr Perry could become a monk in the Orthodox Church, assuming that all other issues had been taken care of.

Monday, 25 April 2016

The Obligations of the Monastic to their Parents

We have received an email from someone who poses the question of the responsibility of the monastic towards their parents in the light of Mark, 7, 9 – 13. This person—let us call her Euthymia, after St Euthymius the Great—poses her question in the context of our post Is a Rasophore a Monk or a Novice? We received Euthymia’s permission to quote her email and discuss it. Here it is:
Dear Orthodox Monk,
I ask for your blessings and prayers. Thank you for maintaining such an interesting blog.
My question has to do with the penultimate paragraph of the post:
Rasophore monk Seraphim raises the issue of possible legitimate reasons to return to the world—aged parents and so on. These things are pretexts since on the one hand they would have been discussed with the Abbot before the tonsure and directions given; and, on the other hand, the monk has no obligations to those in the world such as Rasophore Monk Seraphim describes. For example, when a married man becomes a monk, under canon law the marriage is automatically dissolved. So the monk is free of such worldly obligations; indeed they must be seen as temptations of the Devil to return him to the world.”
The Lord's teaching in Mark 7,9 – 13, in the situation of a monk or nun whose parents are in need, seems to imply that the monk or nun in question is required to do whatever is necessary to care for the parents. This principle might be stretched to cover other situations. How can one offer one's life as a sacrifice to the Lord via a sinful means—by neglecting love and responsibility to one’s family? I am curious to know how the Orthodox interpret such passages. Say, for the sake of argument, that the parents of the monk or nun fell into unforeseen need after their child was already tonsured. Is it true that “the monk has no obligations to those in the world” in such a case?
For the sake of disclosure, I am not dealing with such a situation; I’m just curious. This passage has always been fascinating and challenging to me.
In Christ,
Let us start with the passage in question:
And he said to them: Well you displace the commandment of God so as to keep your tradition. For Moses said, “Honour your father and your mother;” and “He who speaks ill to father or mother, let him die by execution.” But you say, “If a man say to father or mother, that of mine which would benefit you is ‘Corban’ (which is to say ‘gift’),” then you no longer allow him to do anything for his father or mother, invalidating the word of God by your tradition which you have transmitted; and many other such things do you do. (Mark 7, 9 – 13).
Let us clarify the basic meaning of the passage. The Pharisees maintained certain oral traditions in addition to the Mosaic Law. In the case at hand, the Pharisees have complained to the Lord that his disciples have eaten with unwashed hands, something according to the Pharisee’s tradition the disciples should not have done. The Lord replies by commenting on a particular tradition of the Pharisees. That tradition is that if someone says that some property or possession of his is dedicated to God (this is the meaning of ‘Corban’) then that person’s parents no longer have the right to be benefited by that property or possession in accordance with the commandment of Moses.
Euthymia’s question is how this passage bears on our remark to Seraphim that the Orthodox monastic leaves his parents behind. Let us turn to some basics on the monastic vocation.
First of all, a monastic vocation is a call from God. It is not human. It is not something I decide to do because I don’t want to get married, because I want to dissolve a marriage, because I want to evade my responsibilities in the world. The most basic passage concerning the monastic vocation is Matthew 19, 10 – 19:
But I say to you that he who dismisses his wife, except on the grounds of adultery, and marries another, commits adultery. And if she who has been dismissed marries, she commits adultery. His disciples said to him, If such is the cause of a man with his wife, it is not profitable to marry. But he said to them, Not all can contain this word but only those to whom it is given; and there are eunuchs who were born thus from their mother’s womb and there are eunuchs who were castrated by men and there are eunuchs who have castrated themselves for the Kingdom of the Heavens. He who is able to contain this word, let him contain it.
We discuss the monastic vocation in greater detail in Questions about Orthodox Monasticism and The Monastic Vocation and we would recommend that Euthymia read those two posts before continuing.
Now there are other passages in the Gospel that discuss the relation of Jesus’ disciple to the disciple’s parents. In Luke, 18, 20 – 21, Jesus says that his mother and brothers are those that hear the word of God and do it. In Matthew 10, 37 – 38, Jesus says that he who loves father or mother more than him is not worthy of him and he who does not take up his cross and follow Jesus is not worthy of Jesus.
Part of the monastic calling is the renunciation of the world, including the family. In other words, in its classic form, monasticism is a radical renunciation in order to respond to Jesus’ call to love Jesus and him only, the monastic taking up their cross and following Jesus to the exclusion of all else. It is in this context that the Church has understood Matthew 19, 16 – 22 where Jesus counsels the rich young man, if he wishes to be perfect (and not just to be saved), to sell all that he has and give to the poor, and to come follow Jesus.
What can be inferred is that if someone has a divine calling to the monastic state, then that calling supersedes love of parents. This can be seen in the historical record. In the Pachomian monasteries, St Theodore the Sanctified refuses to see his mother who has come with a letter from the bishop. There are many other such cases.
In the Ladder of Divine Ascent, St John of Sinai discusses the temptation to the postulant arising from their love for (or attachment to) their family. John is clear that a fundamental part of the monastic vocation is renunciation of family. (In this, we would suggest that Euthymia read Steps 1 and 2 of the Ladder in the Lazarus Moore translation, published by Holy Transfiguration Monastery.)
While Sinaite monasticism is not strictly the same as Egyptian monasticism, on this point the two traditions agree. This is important since to a very great extent Egyptian monasticism became the dominant form of monasticism in the Orthodox Church.
However, we would also suggest that Euthymia read all of the ascetical works of St Basil the Great, which constitute a somewhat different tradition in the Orthodox Church. We would think that the relations between the monastic and the monastic’s parents would have a somewhat different treatment in Basil’s ascetical works, especially the Short Rules.
Next, depending on the tradition within which Euthymia is situated ecclesiastically, there will have been different historical evolutions of these basic ascetical traditions. By which we mean that if Euthymia were to enter say a Russian monastery whether in Russia or outside Russia she would encounter a somewhat different attitude to renunciation of one’s family than in say a strict Greek monastery. In this regard it behooves Euthymia to study the historical evolution of monasticism in the jurisdiction in which she is situated. Two good ways to do this are the monastic typika (plural of typikon; the monastic typikon is not the liturgical rule but the organizational rule of the monastery) in her tradition and the lives of the saints in her tradition. Euthymia should consider, for the Byzantine tradition, looking at the complete collection of translated monastic typika in the Byzantine tradition published free online by Dumbarton Oaks. She should also seek out the best translations of the best texts of the lives of the saints—preferably those written by an immediate disciple. Dumbarton Oaks publishes online a free set of 10 lives of woman saints in the Byzantine Tradition and also free the very important life of St Lazaros of Mt Galesion. Also relevant would be the Sayings of the Desert Fathers but the offerings in English are minimal, the best work having been done by French Catholic scholars and published in Latin or Greek with French translation in Sources Chr├ętiennes.
We would also suggest that Euthymia spend some time in a good woman’s monastery in the home country of her jurisdiction in order to discuss these matters with the nuns and perhaps the Abbess, so that Euthymia can understand how her jurisdiction at its best understands these issues. In this regard we might remark that monasticism in the Orthodox diaspora is not always in its ideal condition.

Friday, 19 February 2016

Clarifying Remarks on a Post

Abcd Efgh” has posted a comment on “Love as a Spiritual Lens Through Which to View the Gospelwhich reads:
Why is a person who leaves the family, having been brought up badly, wrong? I don't get it, isn't it better for the person to leave? (signed Abcd Efgh)
Here is the passage that “Abcd Efgh” is commenting on:
Let us take another example. A young person has been brought up badly. They have left school and family and are living on their own. This is not an ideal Christian life. They have made an effort to resume their education but spiritually they are among lost ones. Perhaps, however, less lost than many still in school. They have spiritual interests. However, the first obstacle to their conversion is the notion of sin.
Will they find someone with love in their heart to guide them to Christ? For let us look at such a young person’s encounter with the notion of personal sin. A young person sins—in this day and age, who knows how? But they have spiritual interests. In some way God is calling to them, to their heart. God is calling them to Life. But the first thing they hear is, “Repent!” In the hands of the unloving preacher this is the road to an authoritarian judgmental Christianity; in the hands of the loving Elder or confessor, this is the beginning of a conversion to an Orthodoxy that is not formalist but a mystagogy of Life and Truth.
What “Abcd Efgh” thinks we mean is not what we mean. In saying that the person in question has left school and family and is living on their own and that this is not an ideal Christian life, we are not saying the person was wrong to leave. We are being descriptive. We do not know why the person left.
What we meant is that for a young person to leave school and family and live on their own is not ideal. It’s not the best situation for someone to be in. An analogy might make this clear. Someone has gangrene—let’s say they were caught in a blizzard and got frostbite. So the doctor cuts their leg off and gives them a motorized wheelchair. This is not an ideal personal situation. People should have two legs and walk around like everyone else.
Similarly in the ideal situation a young person needs their family, needs school. Circumstances may have been such that the person really had no choice but to leave—we are not judging—but the new situation is not ideal from a Christian or even from a psychological perspective. Indeed if you look at traditional cultures, not only is it the norm that the child stays with the parents until fairly old, but that child is even inserted within the extended family (grandparents, aunts, uncles and so on). Now sometimes this leads to intolerable situations—in Indian Hindu culture the bride goes to live with her husband who remains in the family home, where bride’s mother-in-law is often harsh with the bride—but it has to be recognized that although adolescence is a time of breaking away and establishing one’s own identity, it is also a time when the child needs emotional support, and in the case at hand, schooling to be able to take up a role in society. Moreover, as a practical matter for an adolescent to be living on their own is certainly opening them to sin.
Now as we pointed out, the person has spiritual interests and might even be in better shape than many still in school.
The person is where they are. God knows why they left and how intolerable the situation was. We don’t. But everyone on the face of the earth sometime has to turn to God. God meets us where we are.

Friday, 25 December 2015

Reply to a Comment

A reader has posted a comment on our post, Comments on the Vows of the Tonsure to the Great Schema. We tried to reply with a comment but for some reason it doesn’t work. Here’s our reply:
A married man can become a monk but by becoming a monk he dissolves the marriage in the eyes of the Church. However, the secular authorities would probably not recognize his action as dissolving the marriage. He would therefore at the least be liable for whatever actions and penalties under the secular law someone who had abandoned his wife and children would be liable to. However he himself would be bound to celibacy for the rest of his life.
In Greece in the 19th Century, the Government under the Bavarian King's Protestant advisors attacked Greek Orthodox monasticism forcing many monks and nuns to marry—but this was a persecution of the Church.
The only instance of married monks is in Japan where in the 19th Century, if we remember correctly, the Meiji Dynasty forced Buddhist monks to be married by law. This of course is a contradiction in terms for a Buddhist monk. There are even today married Buddhist monks, and even married Buddhist Abbots, in Japan. We have no information on how they live with their wives.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Some Questions on the Jesus Prayer

We have received a very charming email from a woman we will call Janice Gaines. She is considering becoming Orthodox and has some questions. Here is the anonymized email, slightly edited for style:
Dear Orthodox Monk:
Providence has been indeed Divine these past few months.
Long, super long, very long story short: Orthodox Christianity has this born and raised Roman Catholic, though lapsed for decades, seriously interested and in consideration of conversion.
My journey has been fortuitous as it has led me to on-line places and videos rich with information, tradition, music, and serenity.
Finding your blog, quite by accident, earlier this evening had me reading page after page after page and finding a treasure trove of answers, further reading materials, meticulous writing (style), and a sense of humour I very much appreciate.
I am considering you, and of course, your blog, my blessing for the day.
Dear Orthodox Monk, I do have a question regarding the Jesus Prayer: In my on-line travels, logging thousands of pages already, I recall an older, mentor monk speaking about the Jesus Prayer being ‘dangerous’ for a novice (monk).
How can a prayer, especially one so tender, offered by a sinner to the Lord Jesus Christ, and begging His mercy, be considered dangerous?
If the Prayer is ‘dangerous’ on the lips of a novice, am I ‘safe’ in its recitation?
My Russian pronunciation is improving by leaps and bounds and I have found the greatest comfort in chanting the Jesus Prayer along with the Valaam Monastery Choir's twenty-one minute video (YouTube)—switching the last syllable to the feminine of course.
Too, in the pages of your blog, a young man remarked that in Greek Orthodoxy, the Jesus Prayer, at least to him, was considered a great ‘secret’ he feared would become trademarked if the true power of the Prayer were known.
I am confounded, dear Orthodox Monk, and I hope you will illuminate.
With sincere appreciation for your learned responses and the time and effort you expend on your blog, I thank you for considering my question for a reply.
God bless you.
Let us take the questions about the Jesus Prayer first. There are a number of stages in the practice of the Jesus Prayer, from simple group recitation perhaps with a YouTube video 20 minutes once or twice a day, to 24-hour a day, 7-day a week recitation in solitude a cave. At the latter stage the recitation is automatic even in sleep; the Prayer is repeated with the mind in the heart; the practitioner may be practising breath control. It should be clear to Janice that this advanced form of the Jesus Prayer is dangerous for the novice monk—and perhaps even for the advanced monk. So there is a spectrum of practice of the Jesus Prayer and cautions have to be understood in the context of where on the spectrum of practice the cautioner is positioning the practitioner. Moreover, no one can say where precisely on the spectrum the Jesus Prayer ceases to be safe and becomes dangerous. Many factors concerning the person praying enter into question—their personal history, their ecclesiastical situation, their medical health, whether they have a guide, whether they are leading a moral life, whether they go regularly to confession and communion, their family and work and economic situation and so on. For a healthy individual, there is much less danger repeating the Jesus Prayer 20 minutes a day than repeating it all the time in solitude. Similarly, risk in practising the Jesus Prayer is reduced for a member of the Orthodox Church without mental health problems who is leading a moral life. Similarly for someone who is getting along with their family, has a job they like, is economically self-sufficient and is generally not under stress.
We might make some remarks on factors that enter into the question of dangers of the repetition of the Jesus Prayer. However, we can only issue general guidelines; Janice needs a personal guide if she wants personal guidance.
There are several reasons why the Jesus Prayer might become dangerous. First of all, it is the repetition of a short sentence. The repetition itself necessarily stresses the brain. If there are genetically-based mental illnesses involved that stress might precipitate a crisis. This should be clear. But risk is increased if the person is under stress. This should also be clear.
Moreover, the formula of the Jesus Prayer is a formula which in Roman Catholic parlance is an act of repentance or contrition. In the healthy individual, no problem. But in a person with emotional problems, such an emphasis on repentance and contrition might provoke an emotional crisis—or, more likely, exacerbate an existing emotional crisis or condition.
Next, the Jesus Prayer is a prayer that arises out of Orthodox Egypt in the 4th Century. It is very heavily contextualized by that fact in its historical development. Decontextualizing the Jesus Prayer—say by treating it one form among many of yoga—is fraught with spiritual and emotional and intellectual danger. It behoves Janice to make an effort to understand the Jesus Prayer from an Orthodox point of view, so that she prays it in an Orthodox way. This is indeed a general caution for all those practitioners, such as Eastern-Rite Catholics, Western-Rite Catholics, Protestants and others, who practise the Jesus Prayer ‘without the Orthodox mumbo-jumbo.’
And here we might remark on the trademarking of the Jesus Prayer that Janice alludes to. We don’t recall the passage in the blog she is referring to but the problem is that in America everyone wants the ‘quick fix,’ the easily used and marketed product. That seems to be what the person was referring to. However, the problem is that because of the contextualization of the Jesus Prayer in Orthodox tradition such a packaging is necessarily going to bastardize the practice of the Prayer. On the one hand, the purchaser gets watered-down adulterated goods; on the other hand the adulterated goods might be (spiritually) dangerous or even poisonous.
In this regard we might make a remark in passing that one ordinarily prays the Jesus Prayer in their native tongue. While we laud Janice on her studies of Russian and on her repeating the Jesus Prayer in Russian (necessary if she is going to be repeating it along with a video from Valaam Monastery), she should understand that in Elder Sophrony (Sakharov’s) monastery in Essex (Monastery of St John the Baptist, Tolleshunt Knights), the Prayer is repeated in a group setting in English even though Elder Sophrony was Russian, Athonite and a disciple of St Silouan the Athonite, also Russian.
Next, ultimately the practitioner of the Jesus Prayer is entering into conflict with the powers of darkness in a battle over their own soul. This is not the sort of language that is popular but it is the Orthodox tradition. Elder Sophrony’s book St Silouan the Athonite is good on this. The problem here is that the foolhardy practitioner might out of pride or conceit enter into battle without the support of the Great General, the Holy Spirit. Another metaphor might be that until you know how to swim, don’t jump in the deep end. So this is a caution saying that if you head for the more advanced end of the spectrum of practice before you are ready, you are in great danger: the downside risk is losing the battle and being possessed by a demon.
Next, because the advanced practitioner is entering into spiritual battle, their free will necessarily comes into play. An advanced practitioner of the Jesus Prayer is continually making choices as they deal with their ongoing thought processes in a conscious psychological state where they are faced with accepting or rejecting thoughts that come to them. They might make a mistake. Hence, before they enter into such an intense interior battle, they have to have their judgement trained.
Finally, advanced practitioners of the Jesus Prayer have visions. They might be real. So far so good. But they might be temptations. If the practitioner accepts the temptation, disaster. Again, St Silouan the Athonite is good on this. After an authentic vision of the risen Christ, St Silouan was over the years twice deceived by false visions while praying the Jesus Prayer in an advanced way.
Now let us turn to the broader issue of Janice’s possible conversion to Orthodoxy. First of all, a rule of thumb is that if she decides to remain Roman Catholic then she should practice a Roman Catholic form of spirituality. It simply doesn’t work to transplant an Orthodox tradition into Catholicism.
We would certainly encourage Janice to become Orthodox, but we would like to make the following remark. Orthodoxy, unless the person is drawn by the Holy Spirit, is a closed book. Even pious members of non-Orthodox Christian denominations can’t get past the surface of Orthodoxy, the ritual. They don’t see anything there beyond the ritual. Only from the inside of Orthodoxy is the mystagogy that is embedded in the ritual alive. And ultimately that is what Janice wants.
However, to make a genuine conversion to Orthodoxy, Janice must find Orthodoxy. This is not as easy as it might seem, there being in the United States a plethora of jurisdictions with all kinds of different issues—from rampant secularism to conservative ritualism and formalism. Janice has to pray for God to guide her steps.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Getting New Blog Posts

Someone has written to us. They are a University instructor. We point this out because apart from complimenting the blog they state that they can only make comments on the blog if they open a Google account but they want to see how many years they can go without opening one. So what we are saying to this person is, there is already enough about you on the Internet that we know where and what you teach: is having a perhaps anonymous Google account going to be more revealing of you? Be that as it may, in answer to your question about receiving new blog posts without a Google account, if you look on the right hand margin of the blog below (after) ‘Topics’ you should see this:
If you click on ‘Posts,’ you should see this:

Click on ‘Atom’ and follow the instructions. This will generate an automatically updated bookmark in your Browser.

Also, in ancient times we found that allowing anonymous comments created problems so we selected the option that requires you to have a perhaps anonymous account in one of a few places.  We don't see how we could change this. 

Love as a Spiritual Lens Through Which to View the Gospel

We have been thinking about the role of love in the interpretation of the Gospel. It seems to us that the experience of love in the heart acts as a lens through which we perceive the lived experience of being Orthodox. Let us look carefully at this love. Diadochos of Photiki speaks of an intermediate stage where one has not attained to perfect love but one has an increase in love. This is a love given by the Holy Spirit. It is not a love of the flesh nor a natural (sentimental) love, although it may implicate elements of both.
Also, we are habitually praying with the mind in the heart, so this love is encountered in the heart consciously. So what we encounter is the experience of a partial love in a partially opened heart. Nothing is perfect. Much suffering has gone into the opening of the heart; there is no other way for the heart to open and without the heart being open this love cannot be lived. So we can consciously experience this love for others and for Christ. This experience acts as a spiritual lens through which we see the elements of the Gospel.
Let us look at some practical examples. Let us take the fundamental message of the Gospel: “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” We all know the story. Adam and Eve in Paradise were created perfect but spiritually infant-like. Eve was tempted and fell; she gave the fruit to Adam; he accepted and fell. Original Sin. Guilt. “All fall short of the Glory of God.” This is very much an element of the Protestant, especially Calvinist, interpretation of the Bible. We are to acknowledge our sinfulness before God; he will save us.
Now the issue is not the core of the Gospel; it is what it is. The issue is how we understand the core of the Gospel. With the love we spoke of—or without. For viewing the Gospel through the lens of this love in the heart, we understand that God’s primary motivation is that he loves us and wants us to be happy. So yes it is true; we have sinned in Adam and by ourselves. But God’s ultimate intention in telling us this is not to punish us but to save us. It’s just a spiritual fact that we cannot be saved unless we confess our sins.
It is very very hard for a man to acknowledge his sins and in the hands of an unloving preacher a man can be destroyed at this point. The unloving preacher might turn the sinner into twice as much an authoritarian hater of man as himself. However, if a man have love in his heart then he recognizes that the confession of sins from the heart, from the inner core of one’s being, is not self-destruction but the door to life. And he also recognizes that the only possible way that he can receive the forgiveness of sins is if he himself forgives those who have sinned against him. So as we have said, it is not the core message of the Gospel that has changed but how that message is perceived and lived: with love or without.
Let us take another example. Someone is celebrating the Divine Liturgy. As everyone knows, the Orthodox liturgy is complex. Someone without love can see it as a set of external rigid rules to be obeyed and argued about. They might even think that the heart of Orthodoxy is the flawless external performance of the Liturgy. However, a celebrant with love in his heart sees the typikon as the structure of an encounter with God in love. He knows which mistakes in the performance of the liturgy are important and which can be overlooked and perhaps corrected at another time.
A priest or Elder is hearing confessions. Here of course the confessor or Elder with and without love is well known by his fruits. The priest or Elder with love in his heart is easily approachable and non-condemnatory—although again he knows what is an important part of the Gospel that must be obeyed and what is secondary; he knows the intentions of the heart. We are not in the least suggesting that this love in the heart relatives or “modernizes” Christianity so that what was sin is no longer sin. But again, the confessor knows that God’s intention is to save the wayward sheep in the wilderness not to kill and eat it.
In some respects this love in the heart changes our perception of the Gospel in the way that a performer changes the feel of a musical melody. The melody is the same but the interpretation of love gives a different feel to the music.
Let us take another example. A young person has been brought up badly. They have left school and family and are living on their own. This is not an ideal Christian life. They have made an effort to resume their education but spiritually they are among lost ones. Perhaps, however, less lost than many still in school. They have spiritual interests. However, the first obstacle to their conversion is the notion of sin.
Will they find someone with love in their heart to guide them to Christ? For let us look at such a young person’s encounter with the notion of personal sin. A young person sins—in this day and age, who knows how? But they have spiritual interests. In some way God is calling to them, to their heart. God is calling them to Life. But the first thing they hear is, “Repent!” In the hands of the unloving preacher this is the road to an authoritarian judgmental Christianity; in the hands of the loving Elder or confessor, this is the beginning of a conversion to an Orthodoxy that is not formalist but a mystagogy of Life and Truth.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Received a Comment, Need Verification

We have just received a comment from someone purporting to be the father of a well-known person.  We have no way of communicating with this commenter.  To this commenter, we wish to say that it will be necessary before we even READ your comment that you contact us by email.  We will then discuss the verification of your identity.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Return to the Blog

We just wanted to let our readers know that having finished our project we are back on the blog.

Someone has submitted a comment to Medical Aspects of the Monastic Vocation. We do not wish to publish it in full. In part it reads:

The late … in … suffered from bi-polar disorder. Much of her … [work was] produced during her manic periods, because she either did not or could not take the proper medication. And don't forget St. Pimen the Sickly of the Kievan Caves, a bed-bound invalid, who was miraculously tonsured by the Holy Angels themselves. The State Church of Greece, unless I am mistaken, has provision for women to be tonsured as nuns and maintain their own residences and livings. …

We will comment on this in a separate post.

In addition we would like to ask how many of our readers would be interested in a full, formatted print-out of the blog. Please let us know in a comment.

Orthodox Monk

Friday, 12 September 2014

The Mission of the Church

The mission of the Church. We all know that Christ sent the Apostles to preach to all nations, baptizing in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit:
All authority in Heaven and on earth has been given to me. Going, make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to keep all that I have commanded you. And behold I am with you (plural) all the days up to the consummation of the Age. Amen. (Mat. 28, 18–20.)
Of course the history of Christianity is intimately connected to the missionary activity of the various Christian denominations. What we would like to reflect on, however, is the nature of this mission of the Church.
Let us suppose that the Church is inserted into a city in the modern West the population of which is in part de-churched and in part dispersed among the various Protestant, largely, churches but also the Roman Catholic church. What is the mission of the Orthodox Church?
To a large extent, the various jurisdictions of the Orthodox Church view their mission as a ministry to the members of their ‘ethnic group of origin’. If it’s the Greeks, then they worry about the Greeks; if it’s the Russians, they worry about the Russians. If you’re not part of the ‘ethnic group of origin’ then we’re not interested. And to a large extent the mission is seen in ethnic terms: the Church is seen as a bearer of ethnic identity, even ethnic political identity. The church can even be seen as the bearer of a nationalist political ideal. Of course there are two major exceptions: the Orthodox Church in America and the Church of Antioch both have a consciously missionary orientation, largely Protestant influenced.
The Roman Catholic church on the other hand largely views itself in universalistic, transnational terms—although it is certainly not above getting mixed up in national or nationalist politics. It largely sees its missionary work in terms of developing an educational and/or health system that will bring unchurched locals into contact with the Catholic church in a positive way. In this model of evangelization, the long view is taken: the culture is to be Catholicized by the interaction of locals with the Roman Catholic services provided: the children who attend the Catholic school grow up with, hopefully, a positive view of the Roman Catholic church so that while those children might not themselves convert, the Roman Catholic church establishes a presence in the local society and eventually begins to make converts.
So far we have said nothing new, although some people might dispute our characterization of one or another Christian group’s practices.
What we would like to reflect on here, however, is the substance of St Paul’s remark in 2 Corinthians 5, 17-21:
If one is in Christ he is a new creation. The ancient things have passed; behold all things have become new. All things are from God who has reconciled us to himself through Jesus Christ, giving us the ministry of reconciliation. So that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not reckoning to them their sins and establishing in us the word of reconciliation. Therefore we speak on behalf of Christ, as interceding with God on your behalf. We beseech on behalf of Christ: be reconciled to God. For he made him who did not know sin to be sin on our behalf so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.
It is perhaps not accidental that this message is at the core of those Protestant denominations that preach a born-again experience. And it is also true that as we have occasionally remarked that this Protestant born-again Christianity can be quite authoritarian, doing psychological violence to its converts.
It seems to us that the ministry of reconciliation of the Orthodox Church, which includes both its mission ad extra and its mission ad intra, is one of love. And the key to this love is not a sentimental love—a love which passes away—but the love given by the Holy Spirit. How is this love given? First of all this love is encountered as the presence of the Holy Spirit in the person preaching the Gospel. In the Orthodox Church, the transforming effect of the staretz or Elder is well known and well attested. In the West St Seraphim of Sarov is perhaps the best-known such staretz, although Elder Paisios of more recent times was very well known for the transforming effect of his love on his interlocutor. Although such startsy or Elders may perform miracles, it is their love which captivates and transforms the sinner, a love which is not judgemental nor of the flesh—a love which Elder Paisios himself called a Gospel love. This Gospel love is clearly the operation of the Holy Spirit in the staretz or Elder.
Now how do we appropriate that love for ourselves? Through Baptism. As we have been taught by the Fathers, it is baptism which grants us the forgiveness of sins, cleanses our soul and puts into our soul the Holy Spirit so that we are transformed. It is Baptism which makes us a new creation. It is baptism which reconciles us to God. However, as we have been taught, while Baptism grants us the forgiveness of sins, the restoration of the image of God in us and the pledge of the Holy Spirit, it is up to us to put into practice the word of the Gospel that the Kingdom of God is taken by violence: after baptism we must make an effort to restore our likeness to God by an essentially ascetical endeavour. This is true for all Orthodox Christians, not only monastics.
Moreover, since we are human and fallible, there is the ministry of reconciliation after our baptism through repentance, tears and the priest.
Although most Christian denominations maintain the same structure of belief as outlined here (except among Protestants concerning personal ascetical endeavour after Baptism), there is a quite different ‘flavour’ among various Christian groups as regards how this structure is actualized. The Roman Catholic church has historically been very rationalistic and legalistic; the various Protestant groups can be very sentimental or authoritarian. Here we want to emphasize the role of spiritual love in the Orthodox Church. Since this love is an operation of the Holy Spirit, it is not emotional but spiritual. Moreover, in the Orthodox Church, the encounter with Truth is neither humanly rationalistic nor humanly emotional. It is the encounter of the person with the Holy Spirit within. It is the Holy Spirit within us which bears witness to the truth of Orthodoxy, not the rational arguments of the Roman Catholic nor the emotional or authoritarian fixations of the born-again Protestant. Although love can perhaps be over-emphasized—sometimes the sinner should be reminded of the Judgement—in a healthy conversion or repentance it is ultimately the warmth of spiritual love which converts the sinner to Christ. For Christ is calling the sinner not to an authoritarian, emotionally violent and conflicted life but to participation in the inner life of the Holy Trinity through the Holy Spirit. Ultimately God is a God of love. It is for love that we were created. Our reconciliation to God is a reconciliation of the sinner to the love of God, to the love of the Father, so that the reconciled sinner loves God in return. And this love is a love to the Ages. A little earlier in 2 Corinthians 5, St Paul writes:
For we know that if our earthly dwelling of the tent [i.e. body] is dissolved we have a building from God, an eternal dwelling in the Heavens not made with hands. And for that reason we sigh in this dwelling, greatly desiring to be clothed with our dwelling which is from Heaven; and if clothed then we will not be found naked. And we who are in the body sigh, weighed down since we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed, so that what is mortal be swallowed up by Life. God is he who works us to this very thing, he who has also given us the pledge of the Spirit. Therefore seeing that sojourning in the body we are absent from the Lord we always take courage. For we walk by faith not by sight. But we take courage and rather look forward to departing from the body to sojourn with the Lord. And so whether sojourning or departing we act with a sense of honour so as to be pleasing to him. For we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, each to obtain that which is appropriate to what he has done, whether good or bad.