Friday, 29 February 2008


A reader named ‘Juliana’ has sent us two comments on our post ‘Hope’. We don’t know who Juliana is but she seems very pleasant, sincere and serious. Here are her two comments:

1. Dear Brother,

Please tell me where I can read more about the marriage of the soul with Christ.

Three times I said that I would join myself to Christ, and then I affirmed it three more times, but until reading your post I hadn't considered that He was making the same commitment to me.

I sincerely thank you.

Please pray for me,

unworthy blogreader Juliana

2. Oops. I should have written "Dear Father." I'm ignorant. But you knew that. Forgive me.


First of all, lest Juliana be embarrassed by having her name as the title of a blog post, one of the problems that any journalist faces—and blogging is a sort of journalism—is to come up with a title for his column, article or blog post. We find it convenient to use the name of our commenter—who in any event has a very nice name.

Next, we hope that we ourselves do not get hung up on details such as whether someone addresses us as ‘Brother’ or ‘Father’, although the norm in the Orthodox Church is ‘Father’. Also, we are not sure what Juliana thinks we knew (‘But you knew that.’) but we assure all our readers that we are completely lacking in charisms so they shouldn’t worry about what we know. As ‘anonymous’ has demonstrated, we know nothing.

The first book that came to mind as something that Juliana might read is Wounded by Love, a collection of homilies and reminiscences of an Orthodox Elder named Porphyrios (1906 – 1991). If you Google the book title you are sure to find an on-line bookstore that will sell it to you. It is published by Denise Harvey.

The next book that came to mind is the Ladder of Divine Ascent by St John of Sinai. While St John does not use the image of the spiritual marriage—at least not that we remember—he does speak of the soul’s ascent to God. He calls the spiritual marriage in this life ‘dispassion’. We recommend the edition of the late Archimandrite Lazarus Moore, published by Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Boston, MA.

The next book that we would recommend is the Gnostic Chapters of St Diadochos of Photiki, which is to be found in the first volume of the Philokalia. The Philokalia is published in English translation by Palmer, Sherrard and Ware by Faber & Faber, London. If you can read French easily, it would probably be better to get the Sources chrétiennes edition of the Gnostic Chapters (Les Éditions du Cerf, Sources chrétiennes No 5 ter). That also has the critical edition of the original Greek.

St Hesychios’ Pros Theodoulon is also in the first volume of the Philokalia. The translation of Pros Theodoulon by Fr Theophanes (Constantine), with commentary, is probably the best English translation available; the actual text itself is fairly short and can easily be read on-line.

Finally, and here we can begin to get to the substance of Juliana’s comments, St Diadochos in the Gnostic Chapters and St Hesychios in Pros Theodoulon discuss the role of Eros in the spiritual life, especially the Hesychastic life. The image of the spiritual marriage has much to do with the role of Eros in our relationship with God. After all, in common English, ‘erotic love’ refers to marital love, and ‘erotic’ is derived from ‘Eros’. Hence, what is of concern to us here is the role of an ardent love in our relationship to God.

One of the greatest Christian writers to deal with the theme of Eros in our relationship to God is St Ephraim the Syrian, a contemporary of St Basil the Great. Many of St Ephraim’s writings have now been translated into English from the Syriac, although we do not know how good the translations have been. Dr Sebastian Brock has been responsible for much of this.

Another Syrian, St Isaac of Nineveh (commonly known as St Isaac the Syrian), makes Eros a very important part of his mysticism, but his writings are considered advanced. The most complete and comprehensible translation is the one done by Dr Dana Miller, published by Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Boston.

In this reply to a young man, we discussed books that he might read. Juliana might find it useful to read over the series of posts dedicated to this young man: perhaps something will strike her as interesting or useful.

But let us take things from the top.

First of all, the image of the marriage of the soul with God is a very important element of female psychology as concerns both the woman’s relationship to God and her understanding of monasticism. While this image of the marriage to God is not as strongly represented in the Orthodox tradition as it is in the Roman Catholic Church—notably in the Carmelite spirituality of St Theresa of Avila—it is present and is discussed by modern Elders, especially those who have nuns as disciples.

One of the things that Juliana could do is to reread the Gospels, studying all the images—or vignettes—that occur of Jesus’ interaction with women: how the women are portrayed and, most importantly for Juliana, how Jesus is portrayed as responding to these women. We are not suggesting this to Juliana as an academic exercise. Rather, she will thus understand much better Jesus’ attitude towards Juliana. The vignettes we find in the Gospel were put there by the Holy Spirit as models of our own relationship with God in Jesus Christ, who is ‘the same yesterday, today and forever’.

If Juliana reads these Gospel passages with prayer and attention, we hope that Jesus will illuminate her spiritually so as to enter into her heart. Recall that it is said in the Revelation to John 3, 20: “Behold! I have stood at the door and I am knocking. If someone should hear my voice and open the door, both will I enter in to be with him and will I sup with him, and him with me.” This is a clear statement in Scripture that Juliana’s realization is well-founded that Jesus is making the same commitment to her that she is making to him.

Recall also that in the Gospel, God is consistently portrayed as inviting all to the marriage feast of his Son. Here, Juliana should look at the Parable of the Ten Virgins—the five foolish and the five wise virgins—to think about what she is being called to (Matthew 25, 1 – 13). There are many interpretations of this Parable, but in the first instance we generally refer people to St John Chrysostom’s interpretations of Scripture. Volume 10 of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers series has a translation into Victorian English of St John Chrysostom’s commentaries on the Gospel of Matthew. This series is reprinted in hard copy by Zondervan and available on the Internet at CCEL either for download or for reading on-line.

As a gift to Juliana, we have posted a translation of the Parable of the Ten Virgins as our next post.

Next, since Easter is upon us—or, at least, Great Lent—Juliana would do well to attend the services of the Orthodox Church.

Here we have to digress for a moment. We do not know if Juliana is Orthodox, although that seems to be the case.

If we can continue the metaphor of marriage, to be married to God in Jesus his Son, we have to be ‘virtuous maidens’. Now this is not to suggest that sinners are not saved; here we mean something completely different. What we mean is that we have to enter in by the door of the sheepfold, by baptism into the Orthodox Church. We strongly recommend this to Juliana if she is not a baptized member of the Orthodox Church. Baptism makes you a ‘virtuous maiden’ whose spiritual beauty appeals to Jesus Christ so that he will want to take you into his bridal chamber for you to abide with him there.

Baptism is the foundation of our spiritual relationship, our marriage, with God in Jesus Christ, and all the Grace that we receive unto eternity is a consequence of this baptism.

In this regard we must confess to a certain confusion about Juliana’s remark. She says that she has three times said that she would join herself to Jesus Christ and three times affirmed it. What we do not know is how Juliana herself understands this. Does she mean that she has three times given herself over to Jesus Christ in an Evangelical Protestant sort of way so that she might be born again? Or does she mean that as a member of a church that recognizes monasticism she has committed herself to Jesus in a way that a woman who is a member of the Orthodox Church (or the Catholic Church or the high Episcopalian Church) would commit herself to a life consecrated to Jesus Christ, in a way of life that would ordinarily result in a monastic tonsure to the state of being a nun?

In the first case, that of an Evangelical commitment to Jesus to be born again, we would reiterate that the foundation of our spiritual marriage is Orthodox baptism.

In the second case, we would suggest that Juliana read our translation of the Vows to the Tonsure of the Great Schema, along with the commentary that we have referenced there.

As we have pointed out elsewhere, our views on Orthodox monasticism are contained in this blog and anyone interested in them should read this blog from the first post to the last.

Next, and this is very important, Juliana should realize that on the Internet ‘no one knows that you are a dog.’ Part of being a virtuous maiden is being very careful: be careful, Juliana, about the Internet, about what you read there and what you ask; it is very dangerous to trust anyone on the Internet. On the Internet there are many wolves in sheep’s clothing. This is especially true in the case of people labeling themselves as ‘Orthodox’. As Jesus himself says, in that day he will say: ‘Never did I know you. Depart from me you who work iniquity.’ (Matt. 7, 23.)

It is also very important for Juliana to encounter Orthodoxy as it is taught by the Fathers, not by members of the Orthodox Church who have gone out into deep waters, got lost in the jungle, whatever.

If we suppose that you, Juliana, are a member of a Church that recognizes the priesthood, you should be discussing these matters with your priest.

In the case that you are a member of the Orthodox Church, you should be discussing these matters—including this post—with your confessor.

These things having been said, if you wish to continue the dialogue, feel free to leave a comment.

Best wishes
—Orthodox Monk

1 comment:

  1. [not sure it went through first time]

    Dear Father,

    Thank you for your heart-warming response. When I referred to my triple commitment and affirmation, I was alluding to the service for catechumens, which contains the following dialog:

    Priest: Do you unite yourself to Christ?

    Catechumen: I do unite myself to Christ. (This is repeated three times)

    Priest: Have you united yourself to Christ?

    Catechumen: I have united myself to Christ. (This is repeated three times).

    When I was married, I was joined to my husband thrice with a ring and thrice with a crown, but I don't say that I was married six times. Sorry for the confusion.

    I wrote hoping only for a reading list, which you have generously supplied, but I also received personal compliments, a gift of translation, and advice intended to protect (helpless female) me from danger.

    One might ask, Why so much concern for me when all I wanted was some book titles? I think I know.

    I was less than clear about my background, but I will try to respond to these personal offerings with clarity, since I wish to become more transparent.

    First, your unlooked-for gifts inspire me to trust in prayer to the saints, because they must be far more loving than you.

    Second, I am willing to receive your comments in the spirit in which they were offered, and I recognize that the form which love takes from the strong to the weak is the form of protection.

    I learned a little Old English. Our word love comes from leof, which was a form of address meaning dear or beloved. It was how a wife addressed her husband, but more importantly (for that culture) how a warrior addressed his chief. We could choose to believe that the women were oppressed by the insistance on loyalty above romance, or see that the vassal system (in which loyalty in arms was given in return for protection, gifts, and feasting) was built on ties of close affection. When the Venerable Bede caused the Bible to be translated for the people, leof was used for Lord. (As in the prophecy of Hosea 2:16 "You will no longer call me 'master' but 'husband'.") This one word makes more sense to me than most of what I've read about eros. The Anglo-Saxons linguistically took the female perspective as the one that best characterizes everyone's relationship with God and accepted without embarrassment their enjoyment of God's unlooked-for gifts.

    This is all to say that I am gladdened by your efforts to protect me from the wild, wild internet and bring me safely into the feast hall. But look! I returned home (to the Church) and received some chrism for my lamp, and I don't need to go wandering around the internet marketplace looking for something to burn and being sold kerosene or rubbing alcohol. I was just attempting to find out more about the upcoming marriage since you seem to be a friend of the Groom.

    Lastly, I see that I should be very careful when I visit a men's monastery. Maybe I should act mean, deceitful, and silly, and give my name as Hilda. Or at least stick close to my husband.

    Have a fruitful Lent. You'll not hear more from me. I need to limit my electronic reading, and discussing erotic love with monk is definitely not how I should be spending my time. I'll go to all the services I can and see my confessor as soon as possible.

    Thanks again.