Saturday, 8 March 2008

Some Remarks on Juliana's Response

We would like to make some remarks on Juliana’s response. They are inset after her own remarks.

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...


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?

This is a common practice on the part of ‘Orthodox Monk’, Juliana.

There are several points we wish to address in this regard.

First, many people blog as a means of social networking: they engage in activities like ‘simultaneous blog topic of the week’; they add links on their blog to friends and to what in olden days would have been called pen pals. This is one step away from social networking in ‘Second Life’. We don’t do social networking, Juliana.

Our goal on this blog is somewhat different, Juliana: when we respond to the comment of one of our readers we are looking to speak ‘to the ages’ just as an essayist would. We are writing for eternity (in several senses, including in the sense that we are cognizant that we will be judged for what we write). Hence, if we choose to respond to Juliana’s comment, we think that there is something there that is spiritually important not only for Juliana but for all of our readers.

More along these lines, when we write we have the thought that it would be nice if this blog were published one day as a book. That hasn’t happened (where are our readers who are involved in publishing?) but it sets the tone and style and orientation of our composition.

Next, it took us an hour to translate and post the Parable of the Ten Virgins. Yes, it was a gift, Juliana, but let’s not get ‘uppity’: it was easy, and, moreover, we want to post as many translations of key theological and religious and biblical texts as we can on this blog. If you will go to the post ‘Apokatastasis’, you will see that in addition to a 1300 word response to a question from an unknown man named ‘Simon’, we posted 6,000 words of translation of Questions 600 – 607 of Sts Barsanuphios and John (here, here and here). For you we posted 200 words of translation in addition to 1800 words of response. Why did we act the way we did with ‘Simon’? Because we wanted to get into the fellow’s pants? No. The issue he raised was interesting and we thought that the texts of Sts Barsanuphios and John were important and worth posting on the Internet by means of this blog. Similarly for your own question, Juliana.

As for the advice intended to protect you, the ‘helpless female’. Since we are not clairvoyant, we do not have an image of you before our mind’s eye; we do not know you. However, your original comments raised in our mind the issue of risk: there is genuine danger, Juliana, on the Internet—let us be so bold as to say: more than you realize. You are not the only person whom we have cautioned about the Internet. We have made pretty much the same remark in about five posts. Notably, someone using a pseudonym asked us what monastery he should become a monk in. We were a little cautious because we were worried that possibly we were being baited—being set up for entrapment by a person who wanted to find a stick to hit us over the head with—but again we cautioned him that he should be discussing his vocation with his confessor, not over the Internet. Similarly with you, Juliana.

When we wrote about Second Life, we made some very strong remarks about the dangers attendant on letting one’s children have access to the Internet in private with a web-cam—this might be relevant to you since you are married.

I think I know.

We don’t 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.

Somewhere we heard the following story: Someone visited the cell of Elder Paisios (1924 – 1994) on Mt Athos, the one where he lived at the end of his life. The monk who now has the cell, a disciple of Elder Paisios, spoke with the visitor. The visitor remarked: I came to see Elder Paisios when he was still alive about a serious problem. It struck me that he was even more concerned than I about solving that problem.

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 a very impressive piece of writing which brings forth two comments, Juliana. First, when people say that they ‘learned a little Old English’, we expect to find out that they are Professors of English. Your writing is polished; you are a professional wordsmith. There is nothing chance about your style, although we did have a quibble with your diction in your third-to-last paragraph (that begins ‘This is all to say that...’).

As for the substance, the heart of our response to your comment was that the female perspective—which perspective is obviously used in Scripture for the relationship of all souls to God and which perspective is found across cultures—is particularly important to the female. After all, the normal female would probably not be too taken by the martial imagery of the ‘soldier of Christ’ that St Paul uses, or his image of the ‘athlete of Christ’; these are things that the male of the species would more relate to.

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.

Here, Juliana, it is important for you to study the Parable of the Ten Virgins. All of the virgins were baptised; in chrismation they had all received the ‘Seal of the Holy Spirit’. But five of the virgins were wise and five were foolish. The problematic that God is advancing in this parable is repeated in the monastic tonsure: ‘You have chosen a good work but only if you bring it to completion.’ The problem with the five foolish virgins—and, as we are sure you realize, the ten virgins represent all souls, both of men and of women—was not that they had not been baptized but that they had not spent their lives accumulating oil in their vessels, so that after they fell asleep (died) and awoke in the General Resurrection and were called to come forth to meet the Groom, they would then have enough oil for their lamps to enter into the marriage feast.

There are a variety of interpretations as to what the oil is that the virgins should have provided themselves with. That is where we sent you to St John Chrysostom.

It is not enough to be baptized. You have to make sure that you accumulate oil in your vessel throughout your lifetime. St Seraphim of Sarov has his own interpretation.

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.

When we first read this last line we didn’t grasp that you had introduced a construction parallel but inverse to our own where we said that you seemed to be ‘very kind, sincere and serious’. Quite a turn, Juliana. Congratulations. But Hilda? At first we thought that Hilda was a generic term for the ‘dark Juliana’, but then the Abbess of Whitby came before our mind. To give your name as Abbess Hilda, however, you would have to be dressed as a nun.

Or at least stick close to my husband.

This seems to suggest that you might be at risk. Here we are somewhat offended. After we read this we looked carefully at our own post. There is nothing in it that would justify this salacious innuendo, Juliana.

Have a fruitful Lent. You'll not hear more from me. I need to limit my electronic reading, and discussing erotic love with a monk is definitely not how I should be spending my time.

Well, yes, that is why you should talk these issues over with your confessor and not over the Internet.

But you are missing a point. While it is certainly not proper for you to discuss with a monk other than your confessor your marital relations, you certainly have to recognize that the issue of Eros in the spiritual life is something that transcends the matrix of domestic connubial life.

That is why we would suggest that you read St Ephraim the Syrian. He is the one who composed the homily read on Holy Wednesday about the woman of the city who goes to the marketplace to buy myrrh to anoint Jesus. We are sure you know it.

I'll go to all the services I can and see my confessor as soon as possible.

Thanks again.


We are indeed impressed, Juliana. You are very intelligent. Our remarks here, however, are designed to justify our continued presence on the Internet: if it were thought that we were acting salaciously, there would be a serious issue with our own conscience and with our confessor.

With best wishes—

Orthodox Monk

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