Saturday, 28 June 2008

Justin (Updated)


A reader with the moniker ‘JustinHesychast’ has submitted this question to us in the form of a comment:

Orthodox Monk,

What is your advice for one who earnestly seeks the monastic life, and has been for a year now (2 years learning about the Church), yet is prevented by parents to be received into the Church, and wishes to pursue the monastic life immediately following high school graduation?

This is a difficult question.

St Seraphim of Sarov once remarked that when he spoke from his own human judgement he often made mistakes: only when he spoke from Divine inspiration was he correct in his discernment of what to do in the various situations.

If St Seraphim of Sarov had that problem, what about us?

In general, these questions are best answered one-on-one. Justin would be well advised to discuss this with a priest.

That having been said, let us look at the matter from a theoretical point of view.

First let us look at the legal issues. We are not a lawyer, however, and for legal advice Justin or any interested readers should consult a properly qualified attorney licensed to practise law in their state.

Once Justin turns 18, he is, we think, an adult in the eyes of the law. We even think that at the age of 16 he has in many if not all jurisdictions the right to leave the family home. In any event, on attaining the age of 18 Justin is legally an adult and responsible for his actions: he cannot be prevented from joining the Orthodox Church and further a monastery, assuming that the monastery wants him. He could join a cult; he could do anything: so long as he is not breaking the law, at the age of 18 he is a free man.

Now, equally, once Justin is 18, his parents are no longer obliged to support him. They can put his things on the sidewalk in front of the family home and tell him that he is no longer welcome there. Legally, they are within their rights. Justin would have to walk.

So once Justin is 18 he can legally join the Orthodox Church and a monastery and his parents can just as legally tell him to get lost.

The only way legally for Justin’s capacity to exercise adult freedom to be taken away from him is for someone to get a court order that Justin is incapable of managing his own affairs—let us suppose that Justin is schizophrenic—and that he needs to have a guardian even though he is legally of age.

Legally, Justin’s parents cannot kidnap him. Legally they cannot brainwash him to free him of his attachment to Christ and the Orthodox Church and monasticism.

Of course, if Justin’s father is a pistol-packing American with a lot of money, he might think that he is above the law. He might kidnap Justin and get a lot of high-priced lawyers to prove that it was in Justin’s best interests and therefore legal. Things happen.

This is the legal context.

Now let us look at the family psychological context.

Justin is at an age where men traditionally go through a rebellious phase where they question their parents’ values. This motif is so common that we think that it is a hard-wired part of the genetic makeup of every young man. Just as traditionally, parents usually don’t respect their son’s freedom in quite the way the law spells out. Moreover, psychologically, a man in Justin’s position still has a great deal of emotional dependence on his parents. In traditional families, what would happen, it seems, is that Justin would get married and set up house with his wife, all the while maintaining relationships of emotional dependence on family elders.

In America, this model has fallen by the wayside. Now there is at best a nuclear family, or even a single-parent family, or even, alas, a family with two parents of the same gender. Hence, in America the transition from dependence to responsibility that a young man of Justin’s age goes through creates far more psychological tension than it does in a more traditional culture: the transition from dependence to responsibility is not smooth in America.

Hence, Justin has to consider that although at the age of 18 he has certain legal rights and responsibilities (being an adult is not only a matter of doing what you feel like but also of accepting the consequences of your actions), he also is emotionally bonded to his parents in such a way that it is psychologically impossible for him simply to walk away from his mother and father never to see them again. He has to consider well just what he is going to encounter emotionally if he exercises his legal rights.

One thing that Justin does not tell ‘Orthodox Monk’ is why his parents are opposed to his joining the Orthodox Church (first issue) and his becoming a monk (second issue). First of all, let us point out that in Orthodox theology, becoming a monk is not necessary for salvation, but a calling given to some but not to all.

It could be that Justin’s parents are devout Evangelicals who think that Orthodoxy is idol worship and heresy. It could be that they are devout Roman Catholics, perhaps even charismatics, who think that the Roman Catholic Church is the true Church. It could be that they are prosperous middle-class academics who don’t believe (the PBS crowd). It could be that they are devout Orthodox Jews. In this case, if Justin joined the Orthodox Church his family would go into formal mourning for him for a week as if he had died and then have nothing further to do with him.

It’s important for Justin to discuss with a psychologist what is motivating his parents in their refusal to countenance his entry into Orthodoxy.

Moreover, there is a complicated psychological and spiritual matter here. We believe in Orthodoxy; we think it’s true. However, that does not mean that everyone who is interested in joining the Orthodox Church has completely pure motives. It is possible—especially given Justin’s age and the tendency at that age to rebellion—that his interest in the truth of Orthodoxy is mixed up with an adolescent arrogant rebellion against his parents’ values. In that case, as part of the process of becoming Orthodox, Justin, before he enters the Church, has to humble himself and purify his motives! It might be that his parents sense this—that he is not as spiritually inclined as he thinks he is—and that they see some aspects of his impure motives. This does not prevent Justin from becoming Orthodox—or even later a monk!—but it does complicate matters and does require that Justin humble himself so as to acquire a deeper appreciation of the weakness of human nature and in particular of the impure aspects of his own interest in Orthodoxy. If Justin is not free of such arrogant tendencies, later there will be a serious problem in his spiritual life and in such a case it is not out of the question that he might later either leave the monastery or, God forbid!, the Church.

Next, there is the issue of Justin’s intellectual capacity as a young man of 18 to understand certain issues. It seems to be a scientific fact that the human nervous system has not finished maturing until about the age of 21. That means that Justin’s hardware is not in its final operating order. In more prosaic, human terms, we all know the story: when I was at the age of 18, my father knew nothing; as I grew older I began to be astonished at how much he had picked up. In other words, 18 is a perfectly normal age for someone to establish his religious identity, but it has to be said that it is not an age where the person is going to be able to understand all the nuances of his own motivations, all the nuances of Orthodox theology and so on. Put yet another way, the beauty of youth is that there is no past; the curse of youth is that there is no future: the idealistic young man is not bound to the failed norms of the previous generation but just as certainly does not have the sense of proportion, nor the wisdom, that comes from age. That is why we can send young men off to Afghanistan: they think they are immortal, that they will always be 18 years of age. There they come of age. Sometimes they come back in boxes, sometimes with their brain turned to porridge, sometimes horrified at what they have seen.

Let us now look at the spiritual issues.

First of all, the Gospel is clear that he who loves father or mother more than Christ is not worthy of Christ. Hence, assuming that Justin’s motives are pure, he will, once he is 18, join the Orthodox Church, recognizing calmly that the result might be that he no longer has a family home or even family.

Here, it must be said that in America, the Orthodox Church is not in the best condition that it might be and that Justin might get himself mixed up with phoney-Orthodox who are using Orthodoxy as sheep’s clothing to cover up the ravening wolf. You have to be careful, Justin, that you get involved with a parish that belongs to a canonical Orthodox Church—one in communion with the Patriarch of Constantinople. Anything else is ‘outer darkness’. That doesn’t mean you have to join the Greek Church, but it does mean that you should join a Church united with the Patriarch.

Moreover, if Justin is ‘cunning as a snake and innocent as a dove’, he will check the history of the group he is involved with. Are they sound? Do they have a history of psychological or moral or theological deviation? We could go on but we think that Justin will get the point. This is a very serious matter, Justin.

Next, as for joining a monastery immediately after high school graduation, we would advise against it.

It is best for a candidate for monasticism, especially a young man in the midst of sorting things out with his parents and who has entered the Orthodox Church over their objections, to spend some time as a layman in the Orthodox Church.

This is for a number of reasons. There is the issue of psychological maturation. Although Elder Porphyrios ran away from his family to Mt Athos at the age of 8, he was the sort of fellow who would lead Elder Paisios later to remark: God sends a saint like Porphyrios into the world once in 350 years. Moreover, as Elder Porphyrios himself remarked, he was physically precocious: he was shaving at the age of 8.

In general, unless we have a direct call from God verified by a Spirit-bearing elder, after entry into the Church it is sounder to mature for a while as a layman. Since monasticism is not necessary for salvation, we have to discern whether we really indeed do have a vocation—things are different after our Orthodox Baptism—and we have to strengthen ourselves. It is wrong to think that the answer to temptation in the world to get involved with women is to join a monastery. As the service of tonsure says, do not think that you have struggled adequately until now, the struggles will increase. Hence, if you cannot keep chastity in the world, you are still going to have a problem in the monastery. It is harder, not easier, in the monastery. If it were easier, given the difficulties of marriage everyone would become a monk or nun.

Let us use this metaphor. If we cut a tree down to use the wood for carpentry, we cannot use that wood immediately. We have to season it. This can take, if we use natural means, 3 to 5 years. If we do not season the wood, then when we use it for flooring or furniture or construction, it is likely to split or warp. This can damage the floor or table or building so much as to make it useless. Better to let the wood sit in the sun and rain for 3 – 5 years. Then the wood will not split or warp. Do you likewise, Justin.

So let us suppose that in the summer after high school, when he is 18, Justin is baptized. Then what?

We don’t know Justin’s intellectual abilities, so we can’t tell him exactly what to do, but we would recommend that he go to university if he can and study what interests him, perhaps being financed otherwise than by his parents. This might be medicine; this might be English literature; this might be physics; this might even be theology. (We would remark that anyone who wants to do Orthodox theology must have a good foundation in Greek philosophy and a good command of ancient Greek or even Russian.)

Of course, if Justin is less intellectually able, he should become a carpenter, a mechanic, a cook or whatever according to his own interests and not in accordance with what he thinks a monastery needs.

In the meantime, Justin should lead a serious Orthodox life in close contact with an Orthodox priest who will guide him and help him discern what his vocation really is. Here, it would be good, if Justin is ‘cunning as a snake and innocent as a dove’, for him not to get mixed up with a confused Orthodox pseudo-monastery that will only increase his pride rather than his humility. There are a lot of mixed up monks with the name of Orthodox monk, Justin, starting with yours truly. They are not going to help you. You have to find a sound guide. Moreover, and this is very important, there should be no sense whatsoever on the part of your guide or on your own part that you are obliged to become a monk. This has to evolve naturally.

Moreover, in this regard, we would caution you against making a promise to God or to the saints that you will become a monk. Such promises are binding and are going to cause trouble even if you do have a vocation. The only promises you should be making are those that are written in the service of tonsure—at the time of the tonsure, not before! If you have made such a promise to God or to the saints, or think you might have, you are going to have to discuss it in detail with your confessor before your reception into the Orthodox Church.

In general we would recommend that you make an effort to lead a normal social life while you are in the world—normal according to the norms of the Orthodox Church.

We would also recommend that you practise sports as much as you are able. This will be necessary so that you have the bodily strength and endurance that you will need all through life, whether or not you do finally become a monk.

Finally, if you have any artistic or musical talent you should spend some time on your talent in an Orthodox way.

With best wishes and may God bless you—

Orthodox Monk

Update 30 June 2008: Justin has posted this comment:

Thank you for the response!

I have one last question, if I may. If someone is gay but seeking the Church, what are they to do? Why is it such a bad thing if it is about love and not lust (which is bad even in heterosexual couples)?

Surely you realize, Justin, that the Orthodox Church rejects homosexuality as a practised lifestyle. The question therefore arises: what exactly are you about? It is hard for us to understand what you are doing. If you are reading books—well anyone can buy a book. If you are actually taking a course of instruction, informal or otherwise, at a canonical Orthodox Church, then surely they have explained the teaching of the Orthodox Church on this matter. Of course, if it is a non-canonical Church that you are involved with then who knows what they might teach. We accept the teachings of the Orthodox Church, not of non-canonical groups that call themselves Orthodox.

In the case of your joining a men’s monastery, if the monastery is in a non-canonical group, then who knows what might happen. If the monastery is a canonically recognized monastery in a canonical Orthodox Church, a postulant’s declared homosexual orientation is a problem. We enter the monastery to repent. We do not enter the monastery with an ideology that we impose on those in the monastery.

If with your questions you are not setting poor old ‘Orthodox Monk’ up for some reason, Justin, then it would seem to us that we could understand why your parents might be opposed to your entry into the Orthodox Church. (Which Orthodox Church, however?) We are not in a position to deny you your civil rights. However, the Orthodox Church has been around a lot longer than that. We join the Orthodox Church to embrace Jesus Christ; we do not join it to solve the problem of our sexual confusion.

As to what you should do: well, if we approach the Orthodox Church for reception, we are catechized. A sincere young man who perceives homosexual tendencies in himself will discuss these with the cleric who is catechizing him. If the young man insists that these tendencies are perfectly normal and to be retained and encouraged in loving relationships, then he will ultimately have to choose between the Orthodox Church and his tendencies. It is inconceivable, further, that a sound Orthodox monastery would accept a postulant who insisted that his homosexual tendencies were perfectly normal and to be retained and encouraged in loving relationships.

This is a complicated matter. The political climate of the United States, and even the legal framework, makes it a crime to bash homosexuals. The only thing we can say is that the Orthodox Church has a clear teaching on this matter. We are members of that Church and accept that teaching. For the rest, it is a matter of loving pastoral attention to the needs of the inquirer into the Orthodox Church. We are not in a position to offer that care, Justin, being the dance of electrons in the blogosphere. You will have to find a real person in the real world who is a cleric in a canonical Orthodox Church, Justin. You will have to trust him and humble yourself to listen. One of the greatest blessings that someone can receive from God is a Spirit-bearing Elder. May you find him. May God bless you.

—Orthodox Monk

Monday, 9 June 2008

Readings in Liturgy

NeoChalcedonian has posted this comment on our last post:

Orthodox Monk,

Could you point me in the direction of works on the development of liturgical traditions, prayers, etc.? I am extremely ignorant on these matters. Knowing the history & meaning of the symbolism helps me appreciate the service more.


Actually, responding is a little difficult. We are not really aware of works in English that interpret symbolically the Divine Liturgy and the Services. There is the work of St Symeon of Thessalonica writing in the 15th Century just before the fall of Thessalonica who does that sort of thing, but we are not sure how much of his work has been translated into English. There is also St Nicholas Cabasilas on the Divine Liturgy.

From an academic point of view, there really is no synoptic work on the development of the Greek Typikon. The best writer is Fr Robert Taft, SJ, who is (the last we heard) at the Gregorian in Rome. He is an American. But we are not aware of a general history of the Byzantine Liturgy.

In brief, there were historically two orders of service in the Byzantine Church, the ‘sung’ or Cathedral Service and the Monastic Service. The ‘sung’ or Cathedral Service was last used in Thessalonica in St Symeon’s day and now only exists as an academic reality.

All the services in the Orthodox Church now follow the Monastic Typikon. That is why they sometimes present difficulties for members of the Orthodox Parish—because the Services were originally designed for a monastery. There is a complicated history to the development of the Monastic Typikon that has it begin in the Monastery of St Savvas in Jerusalem in St Savvas’ day and then get modified in the Monastery of St John the Baptist in Constantinople by the Abbot, St Theodore Studite. It then returns to St Savvas in Jerusalem. St Philotheos Kokkinos (14th Century), the Abbot of the Great Lavra on Mt Athos, establishes the present typikon for the Divine Liturgy while he is at Lavra. He later becomes Patriarch of Constantinople. He is the author of the Life of St Savvas the Fool for Christ. We suspect that he is the one who was responsible for the canonization of St Gregory Palamas, but we are not really sure. It’s very complicated, but that’s the basic story. The Russian Typikon is, we understand, the Greek Monastic Typikon at the time of the Conversion of Russia, as modified by Patriarch Nikon in the 17th Century.

For these sorts of questions, the best thing is to approach an Orthodox Seminary or Theological Faculty, where the Professor of Liturgy will have a reading list. Part of the problem, given that the synoptic literature is meagre, is that many of the studies are in foreign languages. It’s a difficult topic to find literature on in English.

Goodbye to Anonymous Comments

Recently there has been abuse of the anonymous comment facility—nothing that we have posted; it doesn't apply to anything our readers would have seen on the blog.

We have therefore changed, on a provisional basis at least, the blog settings to allow the comments of ‘registered users’ only. This means that to post a comment you have to have a Google ID or else a User ID from another blog host from among a list that Google supports. If you don’t have a Google ID, the comment page automatically gives you a link to Google’s wizard to get one. If you have a User ID from another blog host and want to know whether you can use it, you will see the list that Google supports when you post the comment. This will be a little bit of work for some of our readers but perhaps it will force them to think about their comment a little more deeply. Moreover, comment moderation remains in force, so we will always have vetting rights.

In this regard, three remarks: We have no obligation to post any comment, and then not even in toto. We have complete discretion. Second, we are in general not going to post a comment that contains a link somewhere else. Third, this is a blog not a forum. We view comments as a means to engage in dialogue, not as a venue for gratuitous insult.

With best wishes,

—Orthodox Monk

Friday, 6 June 2008

Gender in the Church

Someone named ‘NeoChalcedonian’ who is very intellectual has asked us to ‘discuss two issues: the theological-historical roots of patriarchalism in the Church and the theological significance of Christ's male sexuality; [a]ny recommended sources on the subject are welcome of course.’

First of all, let us say that these are topics that we have never studied or thought deeply about. The best we can do is share some recent personal reflections. This is not the place to come for an academic discussion of the subject complete with references.

Second, let us parse what the question is. We think that by ‘patriarchalism’ NeoChalcedonian means male dominance in the Church; we don’t think he’s talking about the institutions of the Five Patriarchs and the autocephalous Churches. If he is, he should refer to Professors in a good Orthodox Seminary or Theological Faculty who will discuss Church History with him from an Orthodox viewpoint. We don’t really know much. This is not an academic blog.

We think that the underlying issue that is being raised is gender in the Church. This is a big issue in the generation which came of age in the ’60’s. Among the problems that arose was the priesthood for women, including the episcopacy. This issue somehow broadened to include the issue of same-sex marriage and the ordination of homosexuals who were openly living in a homosexual ‘marriage’. These are the issues that today are tearing the Anglican Communion apart.

We have never studied these issues systematically. It had never occurred to us to discuss these questions on this blog and had NeoChalcedonian not posed the issues we would never have raised them. In fact we even thought of begging off. However, it seems best to us to say the few things that came to mind over the last few days since NeoChalcedonian raised these questions.

To say the least, these are delicate issues and whatever we say we are guaranteed to alienate a few of our readers. To those who are offended, sorry, it’s been nice to have you as readers of the blog. Good luck elsewhere.

There is an underlying cultural issue. It doesn’t take much to realize that in the churches historically recognizing a priesthood the issue of female ordination was never raised until about 50 years ago. Moreover, in the Gospel there really is no discussion of the maleness of Jesus qua maleness. It’s just taken for granted that he’s a man. Similarly, there is no discussion in the Bible why the Father is ‘father’ and not ‘mother’. It’s just not discussed. At least, no passage springs to our mind.

What’s the point we’re trying to make? That these theological issues have arisen in the last 50 years on account of the secular sociological situation of the West.

In our remarks to young Theodor Yahnony Mouse about what he should do, we felt it necessary to point out that when we recommend he find a spiritual father who will love him with an unconditional spiritual love, this has nothing to do with sexual relations. Moreover we remarked that such explicitness on our part was necessary in this day and age where Wikipedia thinks pornography is normal.

Actually the situation in the West is far worse than that.

Wikipedia is interesting because on the one hand it is a free-for-all and because on the other hand there is a core group that sets the standards of what’s correct—yes, Virginia, there is a standard of political correctness on Wikipedia informally but strictly enforced. This standard might or might not be a reflection of the values of the broader community of the United States; we are not in a position to do the necessary sociology. But, and here is the point, if you look at what a young fellow can find on Wikipedia, you will either be appalled or applaud the sexual freedom of the Wikipedians.

So, at the very least, there is today a very strong current in the West of ‘anything goes’ sexual freedom. The only thing that seems to be forbidden is paedophilia. That’s convention. That will change. Not that we are encouraging such a thing: we are just pointing out that things will evolve.

It is in this context that issues of gender in the Church have to be assessed: after all, each member of the various Christian denominations is a member of his or her secular community.

And of course, there is a political correctness that must be adhered to. You’re dead if you don’t, and sometimes even literally.

This situation is unprecedented in the history of Christianity. While the closest thing to the present-day moral situation of the West is the moral situation of the late Roman Empire, for example Alexandria in the Second Century, at least then no one thought that the norms of the late Roman Empire were applicable to the Gospel. It was understood that when you were baptized you left all that behind. Nowadays, people want to fix the Gospel on the basis of the current mores of their own secular community.

So with that introduction guaranteed to alienate half of our readers, let us begin.

Let us start with the ‘male sexuality’ of Jesus Christ. We were not happy with NeoChalcedonian’s formulation for the reason that it seemed to us to suggest that Jesus Christ experienced sexual desire, had an inner fantasy life of a sexual nature, and so on, just like ordinary men and women.

Here we have to look at St Basil the Great: he remarks somewhere that Jesus Christ was ‘divinized’ from the moment of his conception.

Now the concept of ‘divinization’ is difficult for the Western Christian to grasp, but it means something like this. All of us when we are born are born with passions or drives, including the sexual passion. What Freud labelled id drives. When we are divinized we are freed from these passions and return to the state of Adam and Eve in Paradise. ‘They were naked and unashamed’: that is a way of saying that Adam and Eve were free of the sexual passion.

Divinization is what it means when Jesus says: ‘When the Son of Man sets you free you will be free indeed.’

Now what St Basil is saying is that when Jesus Christ was conceived in the womb of Mary, his human nature was divinized from the moment of his conception. At the very instant that the Word of God overshadowed Mary in such a way that an embryo was formed that would be born as Jesus Christ, the human nature of that embryo was free from passion. Hence, Jesus Christ, true Man and true God—our interlocutor calls himself ‘NeoChalcedonian’—never experienced sexual desire.

The Fathers, including St Maximos the Confessor, discuss just what passions Jesus Christ retained—after all he hungered, he thirsted, he grew tired, he wept. But it is easy to see that this anthropology is miles away from the anthropology of Wikipedia.

Now in saying that Jesus was free from the sexual passion—pace those who say he married Mary Magdalene—we and the Fathers do not intend to say that Jesus was asexual or even ambisexual, i.e. that he was not conscious that he was a man and not a woman. He was a man. He was not free of gender. He was a man.

Why was Jesus a man? Well here is where the fun begins. First of all, the Messiah who was expected was a man. There is just no issue in the Bible that the Prophet who was to come might be a woman. Hence, Jesus had to be a man. Otherwise he couldn’t have been the Messiah.

Next, let us consider his statement: ‘I am the Good Shepherd.’ What would happen if the Bible read: ‘I am the Good Shepherdess’? Is this merely cultural conditioning? ‘When the Daughter of Man sets you free you will be free indeed?’

What we are trying to approach is this problematic: how much of gender in our society and Church is culturally conditioned, how much of it is innate; how much of what is happening in our society is against nature and how much of it is a liberation from culturally and not genetically or divinely inspired norms?

We think that in examining the question of Revelation in the determination of gender roles in the Church we have to consider the ‘meta-revelation’ (more precisely, ‘meta-narrative’): the philosophical, sociological and value baggage that the person brings to the study of the Gospel that determines his or her assessment of the degree to which gender roles defined in the Old Testament and persisting in the Gospel are revealed by God or merely culturally conditioned. In other words, the ‘meta-revelation’ or ‘meta-narrative’ is the philosophical framework from within which one is going to assess the degree of divine revelation and the degree of cultural definition in the data of Revelation.

We understand that post-modernism posits that it’s all culturally conditioned, that there is no such thing as ‘natural law’. Hence, the most extreme formulation today would be that the Gospel is formulated in a completely culturally conditioned way and that it really has no normative value whatsoever.

Now, we think that some of our readers would take the more ‘moderate’ view of the liberalism of the Classical Enlightenment that some of what the Gospel proclaims is normative but that on the question of gender it is culturally conditioned, perhaps even on the question of sexual relations between consenting adults of the same sex.

Let us see what we are getting at. When we read the Genesis account of the creation of Man, an account that St Paul depends on in his Epistles, we see that Adam was created first and then, because it was not good for him to be alone, Eve was created from a rib out of his side.

Does this have anything to say to us? St Paul seems to think that it means that the man is head of the woman, that the woman has a subordinate role in the Church. Those in favour of women’s ordination would of course insist that St Paul was speaking in a completely culturally conditioned way.

What we are getting at is this: from the creation of Adam to the Ancient of Days in the Revelation to John, God is male, Jesus is male, the Messiah is male, the priesthood in the Old Testament is male and the High Priest in the New Testament is male. Hence, in the cultural matrix of the Old Testament, persisting into the New, it is inconceivable that the image of God should be a woman. The question is, can this be overturned? Moreover, if we overturn it, how far can we go in replacing this male-oriented, male-dominant understanding with a modernist or post-modernist understanding?

The answer we give depends on our ‘meta-revelation’ or ‘meta-narrative’: the philosophical baggage that we bring to the data of Revelation. If we are coming from a liberal background, we will assess the data in one way; if from a post-modernist background, we will assess the data in another way. We will assign different weights to the elements of cultural conditioning and divine revelation.

So what we are really saying is this: From the time that God called Abram to go out from his people and his land, with few exceptions the election of God has come to men. For those who have experience with traditional Semitic societies, it is inconceivable that it could have been otherwise. NeoChalcedonian, it is clear that the cultural matrix in which the Old Testament is expressed and which persists into the New Testament, requires a male God, a male priesthood and so on. It couldn’t have been otherwise.

Is this, however, merely cultural? Or was it the plan of God?

Now let us look at the Cappadocians who ‘Hellenized’ the Gospel. They didn’t change these things. Although there were female priests among the pagans with whom the Cappadocian Fathers lived, the Cappadocian Fathers didn’t adopt that particular aspect of Greek culture. They seemed to think that it wasn’t something to be emulated. So when Christianity was Hellenized, it accepted certain ‘baggage’ from the Semitic societies within which the Old and New Testaments were defined—which baggage included the ‘patriarchalism’ that you refer to.

The issue that remains is the extent to which this was the will of God.

In both modernism and post-modernism, the notion that God exists is absurd, so that the notion that he willed something is equally absurd. If you approach the Gospel from either of these two ‘meta-revelations’ or ‘meta-narratives’ you will feel free to adjust the Gospel to fit with what you personally find congenial based on the criteria of the ‘meta-revelation’ or ‘meta-narrative’ you adhere to.

If, however, perhaps through an experience of God that convinces you that he does exist, you leave these ‘meta-revelations’ or ‘meta-narratives’ behind, then you will be inclined to consider the possibility that the concrete historical circumstances of the revelation of the Gospel were ordained by God because that is what he wanted. Of course, here you have a ‘consumer choice’ that determines how you are going to ‘read the text’ of the will of God: Evangelical, Roman Catholic or Orthodox—and, we suppose, other choices. We are Orthodox.

A classic American Evangelical would, we think, insist that the Bible was literally word-for-word true, so that it has to be interpreted word for word, although there are clearly different schools in the interpretation of the Bible even among these people.

A Roman Catholic would probably emphasize the ‘magisterium’ (teaching authority) of the Episcopate and of Rome in the assessment of what in Revelation is the baby and what is the bath water that can be thrown out.

We accept the teaching of the Orthodox Church on the nature of Revelation, thus accepting the ‘patriarchalism’ that Orthodox Tradition has bequeathed to us.

Orthodox Monk

Monday, 2 June 2008

Exit Yahnony Mouse Stage Left. Enter NeoChalcedonian Stage Right.

Hey guys, give us a break! You ask the most difficult questions and then you get miffed at our answers. Here’s a comment that NeoChalcedonian has submitted to our post Yahnony Mouse Says Goodbye!:

Hello Orthodox Monk,

I was wondering if you could discuss two issues: the theological-historical roots of patriarchalism in the Church and the theological significance of Christ's male sexuality. Any recommended sources on the subject are welcome of course.



NeoChalcedonian, we’re really pretty stupid. We don’t have five PhD’s. But we’ll try to give you an answer with our limited knowledge and abilities.

—Orthodox Monk

Yahnony Mouse Says Goodbye!

It indeed was cute to pretend I'm a young Romanian (in Romania). No, just joking. Now, overlooking our dialogue, I can say that it evolved in a very weird way. Anyway, thank you for taking the time to answer. I think I will begin by exercising obedience to my parents. And don’t worry, I’m not on self-medication. Actually, I don’t take any drugs at all, nor do I smoke or drink. (By the way, what's the deal with the people from Kansas being idiots?)
Thank you again, and may you have a wonderful life!

Yahnony Mouse
(Please don’t make another blog post, like ‘Yahnony Mouse says goodbye!’ Simply do or don’t approve this comment.)

We did the best we could, Yahnony.

Orthodox Monk Tells Yahnony Mouse What to Do

Although we have been acting a bit tongue-in-cheek in our dialogue with Theodor/Yahnony Mouse, we actually are quite sympathetic.

There is a general problem on the Internet in situations such as this: on the one hand we don’t really have very much information—by saying this we are not asking Yahnony Mouse for more—; on the other hand, it is possible for the blog writer to be spoofed: for all we know, ‘Yahnony Mouse’ is a middle-aged idiot in Kansas who thinks it’s cute to pretend he’s a young Romanian in Romania. Well, let the writer—and the reader!—beware. We really don’t know much. The only thing we can do in situations like this—after all we are not therapists and make no claim to have professional skill—is to present a solution in general terms, one which is applicable both to idiots in Kansas and to troubled young Romanians in Bucharest, a general solution containing a theoretical approximation to the Orthodox Church’s handling of situations such as this when they are genuine.

First of all, there is the problem of the state of the Orthodox Church. This is a very complicated matter. Not many practising Orthodox anywhere make use of the services of a secular psychotherapist. This, we think, is especially true in a place like Romania which on the one hand has a very traditional Romanian idea of Orthodoxy and which on the other hand is recovering from a big ‘Communism’ hang-over. So the tendency there, we think, would be for someone to recommend that a person with problems of adjustment use the ‘traditional’ medicine of the Church, especially recourse to a ‘Spirit-Bearing Elder’.

However, given the historical situation of the post-Communist countries, the Orthodox Church in them does not have the depth that it used to have—so that Yahnony might go on a long journey looking for a ‘Spirit-Bearing Elder’ without finding one. Moreover, he might find a shallow, non-Spirit-Bearing fanaticism on account of the ‘Communism’ hangover. That would do him harm rather than good. Of course, he might find just what he needs, we don’t exclude that possibility; we don’t have an axe to grind with Romanian Orthodoxy.

Next, and this is important, modern Orthodox Elders who are Spirit-Bearing do not exclude recourse to modern medicine when it is applicable.

So let us speak to what Yahnony Mouse has told us. He is a nominal Roman Catholic who does not attend Church on Sundays and who has only gone to confession 3 times in his life. We also gather that he means that he has also received Roman Catholic communion only three times in his life; we imagine that he has attended the Roman Catholic Mass rather more often. Fair prey for proselytization. But we are not very big on proselytization, preferring the soft sell.

So we have these issues: some psychological problems of adjustment, confusion about religious identity and an open issue of what Church to belong to. What to do?

The essential problem in Theodor’s life is to find someone who loves him with an unconditional love. A spiritual love that is not of the flesh. A person who loves Theodor as he is, without for all that letting Theodor rot. Someone who is willing to tell the truth in love, someone who is willing to ‘spank’ Theodor when he is foolish. A spiritual father. May God grant that Theodor find one. Once Theodor finds such a spiritual father, he should be unconditionally obedient. If the spiritual father sends him to a therapist, he should go; if he doesn’t, Theodor should stay home and do what his spiritual father tells him to do.

We are not suggesting that Theodor find a girlfriend or boyfriend, nor that he get mixed up with an older man who is after his body. Nor, when we say that his spiritual father might ‘spank’ him when he is naughty, are we suggesting that he get involved in sexual domination games involving physical spanking, sado-masochism and the suchlike. Normally we are not so blunt, but in this day and age—where Wikipedia thinks pornography is normal—we have to spell things out so that there is no misunderstanding on the part of any of our readers.

It is not clear to us from Theodor’s self-description whether he is already seeing a therapist, and perhaps even on medication; or whether he is engaging in self-diagnosis, perhaps even in self-medication. Diagnosis at a distance over the Internet is a fool’s game; self-diagnosis is even worse. If Theodor is actually seeing a therapist and/or on medication, he should continue. Once he finds a spiritual father, he should discuss his whole situation with his spiritual father. A wise spiritual father will know what to do.

The danger here, of course, is that since Theodor has already evinced a tendency to be tempted to fanaticism, if he gets hooked up with Pentecostals or Evangelical Protestants or fanatical Orthodox, he’s going to get damaged. Cults and all that. This is a serious danger, Yahnony.

In this regard, the five copies of the private revelations that you sent to your friends: simply send them an email telling them that ‘Orthodox Monk’ says that it’s all hooey. Who’s ‘Orthodox Monk’? An idiot on the Internet, say.

One of the salient practical differences between the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church as they are encountered by a troubled young person is that the Roman Catholic Church is far more organized. We imagine that there might even be a Roman Catholic psychotherapy centre in Bucharest. We are guessing. But in regard to this sort of thing, the Roman Catholics are far more organized than we are. There is usually also more of a minimum standard to Roman Catholicism, so that people are brought up more systematically to a minimum standard of ethical conduct and Church attendance and engagement with their faith. The minimum standard in Orthodoxy can be very low, a mere disengaged cultural formalism. It is not this which interests Theodor, however. He senses that there is something more to Orthodoxy. If he can find this something more—the presence of God—then he is blessed.

What we want to say about the difference between Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy is that on the pedestrian level Roman Catholicism has more to offer: a system, let us say, that gets you to Church on time and teaches you how to behave, a Church which historically offers a strong academic and intellectual tradition of schooling for the faithful, a strong tradition of practical social services for the faithful.

But the heights of Orthodoxy leave Roman Catholics breathless. While they may never become Orthodox, they try to fill the gaps in their Roman Catholic pedestrian proper spiritual life with elements of spirituality from their readings in Orthodox saints and elders. We think that they are fooling themselves with this smorgasbord approach. But that is their business.

If you can find the heights of Orthodoxy, you’ve found God, Theodor. But it takes some looking, especially in the conditions of post-Communist Romania.

So on the issue of choosing Orthodoxy, what we would say is this: Theodor, you have a choice to make which only you can make.

We want to add another couple of points. When we say that if Theodor is on medication he should continue, we mean medication from a properly qualified medical doctor, not self-medication. If Theodor is smart, he will cease from any self-medication and any illegal substances he is taking. If he is self-medicating, then the obvious thing for him to do is to go to a proper doctor and have a proper diagnosis done, on the assumption that the doctor will prescribe the proper medication. He will cease at least temporarily from all use of alcohol—unless and until his doctor tells him otherwise. He will use caffeine (coffee, tea, Coca Cola and so on) in moderation—up to three cups a day—unless his doctor tells him otherwise. If he is smoking he will try to smoke as little as possible—we realize that it’s a physical dependency, but the less he has of that stuff in his system, the better. He will also cease from sin. Why? It might be thought that Theodor’s problems have nothing to do with self-medication or illegal substances or smoking, and especially not caffeine. And especially not sin; after all he’s a young man. Well, one of the problems is that we’ve got to get Theodor’s nervous system calmed down. Also, sin, even if you don’t realize it, greatly disturbs the nervous system (read ‘soul’).

Of course, it goes without saying that Theodor should exercise some restraint on the Internet, both in quantity and in quality. We think he realizes this.

Theodor doesn’t mention anything about his family. This is an issue where the spiritual father and/or the therapist will have some guidance.

There is no recipe for these situations, Theodor: you have to meet someone you love and trust and then listen to him. May God help you so that it is a person worthy of your love and trust.

Anything we say here is subject to being overturned by a spiritual father and/or psychotherapist once you have found him.

May God bless you and guide your feet in the paths of your salvation.

—Orthodox Monk

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Yahnony Mouse Changes His Mind, Wants Our Help

Here is our latest communication from Yahnony. We should point out that we have been correcting his spelling and bringing his grammar and punctuation into line with our own. Despite that, Yahnony seems to have a very good command of English. We have omitted some material for Yahnony’s sake.

I've changed my mind (yes, where’s the steadfastness?). I want your help. I know you told me to write you an email, but I prefer writing on your blog (hope you don’t mind). It’s not easy for me to express myself in English, but I will try. Let’s sum my problems up:

I am a former video-game addict with socializing problems (hmm, maybe Internet addicted too). I am still recovering. And as if that wouldn’t be enough, since childhood (I'm 20 now) I've got obsessive-compulsive problems. They were worse before, but they still aren’t gone. Ironically, I'm a psychology student … (I think I went there with the idea of treating myself).

I feel myself attracted towards religion, but I’ve never really practiced it (besides praying). I don’t go Sundays to church and I went to confession only three times in my life (the same goes with the celebrating of the Eucharist); the last time was over a year and a half ago. I once believed in aliens and yoga, was a sci-fi fan. Many things I learned about religion (especially Orthodoxy) come from the Internet (I’ve noticed there is quite a trend).

My main spiritual sickness is pride (but not the only one); I never really listen to the advice of others. One year ago, I had a problem with crazy thoughts. I isolated myself even more because of them. And this isolation, combined with pride, brought me to the brink of madness. It was finally an explosion of rage that woke me up.

I’ve read some let’s say nonsense in my life. Like five days ago, when I stumbled upon that site concerning the Illuminati. I somehow knew that I shouldn’t read it but I still did. And then I thought: ‘Man, this fits so well!’ I know what you mean about the Devil tempting me to think about those and other kinds of matters. I know a bit about how the spiritual battle goes, I’ve read about it. I know, but knowing alone isn’t enough. Why, the Devil KNOWS that God exists, he KNOWS that He is almighty, and he KNOWS that he (the Devil) will spend eternity in hell; but still, he remains cold to the Lord’s love.

Please pray for me –

Theodor (or Yahnony Mouse, if you prefer)


We have published our reply in the next post.