Monday, 13 October 2008

The Prophetic Voice of the Orthodox Monk

Eric from Chicago is scandalized. He loudly refuses to read our blog. He says he has just come across it and is not certain who writes it, even if it is written by a genuine Orthodox monk—or even, it seems, by a genuine American citizen. He is not going to read our blog because of the presence of the two Sarah Palin posts.

Eric doesn’t tell us anything about himself, but he writes like a man of means who has told a boot-maker on High Street in no uncertain terms that he is not going to give the boot-maker his custom until the boot-maker takes those offensive ‘Palin dancing shoes’ out of the shop window. Well, Eric, humility is a virtue.

We are in the position of a boot-maker who gives his boots away free to all who wish faced with the indignant man of means who loudly refuses his custom until the Palin dancing shoes go from the shop window—even though the boot-maker has never solicited the custom of the man of means ever.

The man of means bustles up and down the boot shop examining the merchandise, perhaps it’s not up to good British par, perhaps it’s been made by some wog. The boot-maker looks up from his last in stunned disbelief, spectacles on the edge of his nose, face weathered, thinning white hair astray.

As for our being an American citizen or not: perhaps our boot factory is located in Beijing. Cheap imports over the Internet.

We don’t know if Eric is sincere; he says he is ‘not sarcastic’.

We would like to justify our temporary excursion into politics.

Eric, there is a long tradition in Christianity of the prophetic voice. That is not to say that we, Orthodox Monk, have charisms: we are not Pentecostalist and by the skin of our teeth we barely manage to scrape by.

However, let us give some examples of the prophetic voice in Christianity. The first example that comes to mind is that of St Savas the Sanctified, who was once refused entry to the Imperial Palace in Constantinople because of the rags he was wearing. The Emperor who was expecting him had to send to tell the guards to let him pass.

Then there is St Basil the Great who faced down a Byzantine Emperor to his face. The Emperor remarked that he had never met a bishop who had acted that way. St Basil replied: ‘That’s because you’ve never met a bishop before.’

St Ambrose of Milan expelled the Emperor Theodosios from the Sanctuary when the Emperor came to receive communion with the priests as was the custom. The Emperor had slaughtered a large number of citizens for misbehaviour.

St John Chrysostom, Patriarch of Constantinople, faced the Empress Eudocia down over a widow’s vineyard that the Empress coveted. For his trouble he was sent into exile and force-marched until he died. When his relics were brought to Constantinople, the descendents of the now-dead Empress were obliged to place a written apology on St John’s reliquary: only then did the knocks and other disturbances stop that were coming from the tomb of the Empress.

St Theodore Studite faced the Byzantine Emperor down over his irregular marriage to the saint’s cousin. He got into a lot of trouble but didn’t back down. He later took a leading role in opposing Imperial policy in the iconoclast controversy. He suffered.

Two other saints were branded with red-hot irons on their faces in the Emperor’s presence for opposing the Imperial iconoclast policy.

St Athanasios of Athos went to Constantinople and told Emperor Nikiphoros Phokas off to his face for violating his vow to become a monk.

St Maximos the Confessor opposed the Imperial monothelite policy—apparently adopted for very serious reasons of state in addition to theological reasons—and for his trouble had his tongue cut out and his arm cut off.

In the time of Tsar Ivan IV (‘The Terrible’), there was a fool for Christ—Blessed Basil of Moscow; it is for him that the beautiful Cathedral of St Basil in Red Square outside the Kremlin is known, not far from McDonald’s—who came into the Tsar’s presence and threw a piece of raw meat dripping blood in front of the Tsar in prophetic testimony against the Tsar’s bloody excess.

In more modern times, let us take the testimony of Pastor Wurmbrand (readers who know the details might send them to us). Pastor Wurmbrand was in a communist prison in Romania. There were a number of prisoners in a very small cell, virtually the one on top of the other. Pastor Wurmbrand, we recall, narrates that he was lying next to a nameless Orthodox Elder. Pastor Wurmbrand says the Elder was so holy that Pastor Wurmbrand made a life confession to him, including sins that he had never told anyone else in his life. This is a sign of the great holiness of the Elder—the ability to elicit such a confession with his mere spiritual presence. What was the Elder doing in the prison?

Then, for those who of our readers who are Protestant, there is the case of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He was hanged with piano wire from a meat hook for his resistance to the Nazi’s.

Then, for the Roman Catholics, there is St Maximilian Kolbe, who was in Auschwitz and offered himself up to death for another prisoner, later being executed by injection of carbolic acid.

Dare we mention St Thomas More? The Servant of God Óscar Romero?

No, Eric, being a monk (and indeed we are a monk) in not merely a matter of counting your beads in peace. It is also a matter of telling the truth.

Monday, 6 October 2008

Sarah Palin 2

We have received a couple of comments on our Sarah Palin post which we haven’t posted. We were somewhat puzzled by them. We couldn’t figure out if the comments were sincere or posted by people who either professionally or personally had internalized Sarah Palin ‘talking points’ to defend her.

The comments were remarkable for errors in logic. We couldn’t tell whether we were dealing with sincere persons who couldn’t think straight or with operatives who were engaging in the sophistic tricks that unscrupulous lawyers use to defend their clients.

These comments are an example of the sort of snow-job that we are getting. There are serious questions about just what Sarah Palin believes about the end-times and what she might construe to be her role as President of the United States in the unfolding of those end-times. She seems to have connections to far-right Christian groups with conscious plans to achieve political influence and/or power (the so-called ‘Dominionists’ among others). These things need to be brought into the light of day before the election. Sniping at minor aspects of criticisms of her past so as to discredit those criticisms distracts from the larger and more serious issues, creating the false impression that the larger issues are irrelevant. This is not something we can afford to be wrong on. Let’s find out what Sarah Palin really believes and with whom she is associated—before the election.

One aspect of Sarah’s performance in the Vice-Presidential debate has left us quite uneasy. She is said to have remarked something to the effect—I am not going to consider myself obliged to answer the questions I am asked by the moderator; I will only answer the questions I want and will otherwise speak directly to the American people without the intermediary of the mass media. Leaving aside for the moment that Sarah’s direct discourse to the American people included explicit winks—something befitting a loose woman, not a devout, chaste Christian—this seems a rather disturbing turn towards Christian demagoguery, as has now been shown by campaign events since the debate.

It is obvious that Sarah said what she did because she had been coached by McCain’s handlers to say it so she could avoid taking questions for which she was unprepared while at the same time making the points she had it on her cue cards to make. This is a matter of her unpreparedness for public life. But rather than admit that, as instructed she ‘bashed’ the media so as to cover her ruse up.

However, even deeper, one of the characteristics of classical fascism is said to be the direct emotional bond, possibly sexually charged, between the ‘leader’ and the individual ‘led’, unmediated by social institutions other than those that depend directly from the ‘leader’ himself. What disturbs us is that those who set Sarah’s tone for the debate seem consciously to want to cultivate such a style. The last time that fascism attained power and military might, the results were not so good. Let’s not have a winking hussy help to bring in an American form of it.

He who winks the eye with cunning gathers sorrows for men; he who rebukes with boldness makes peace (Proverbs 10, 10).

A foolish and lawless man travels ways which are not good; this man winks with the eye, signs with the foot and teaches with gestures of the fingers (Proverbs 6, 12 – 13).

We believe that somewhere St Basil states that a person who winks the eye is not to be trusted.