NARRATIVES OF FAITH Wisdom and Creativity
The Gospel in Story and Liturgy Tales of Pilgrimage
ISSUE 2 | SUMMER 2015
ISSUE 2 | SUMMER 2015 2
Innovation and Tradition: An Orthodox Perspective Christophe d’Aloisio
The Sophiology of Father Sergius Bulgakov and the Living Tradition Andrew Louth
Christianity as Poetics Timothy Clark
Saved by Divine Compassion Susan Arida
The Pilgrim’s Distress Patricia Fann Bouteneff
A Hapless Priest: A Pontic Tale
FROM THE ARCHIVES
Talks on the Beatitudes:
Autumn Evening: God’s House tarnation Jane E. Brown
Discussion between Shorena Shaverdashvili and Robert Arida
LIFE IN WORSHIP
Liturgy as Communion in Theory and Practice Andriy Dudchenko
STATE OF AFFAIRS
Orthodoxy and Public Discourse Haralambos Ventis
Witness Christian Wiman
THE LIVING TRADITION
Blessed Are the Meek Blessed Are Those Who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness Alexander Schmemann
© 2015 The Wheel. All rights reserved. ISSN 2379 - 8262 (print) ISSN 2379 - 8270 (online) May be reproduced and distributed for noncommercial use.
Editorial Board Inga Leonova Michael Berrigan Clark Timothy Scott Clark Joseph Clarke John Congdon Advisory Board Archpriest Robert M. Arida Sergei Chapnin Archimandrite Cyril Hovorun Pantelis Kalaitzidis Archpriest Andrew Louth Gayle E. Woloschak Designer Anastasia Semash Visit us at www.wheeljournal.com or contact us at email@example.com
Cover: Antonio Tempesta (1555–1630), A Seated Saint; Scribe (St. Matthew), from the Gospel Book of Archbishop Ebbo of Reims, c. 816–35.
To Our Readers The collective weaving of Orthodoxy’s cultural fabric is an important theme of this second issue of The Wheel. Articles in this volume consider how the richness of our faith is deepened through shared narratives and communal expressions of creativity and how these practices contribute to every aspect of Christian life, from our ethical frameworks to our liturgical life. As we explore the literary and cultural deposits of the Church, it is revealed to us how change, mercy, and vulnerability are all central to the fulfillment the promise of God. Too often, Orthodoxy is confused with static rigorism. Many of the following articles underscore how change and cultural diversity, rather than being in opposition to the tradition of the Church, are instead essential to its revelation and fulfillment. Similarly, the transgression of socially accepted boundaries may in fact be a means toward reconstituting a covenant with God that has been broken by human sinfulness and ossification, insofar as such transgression often reveals hidden mercies that lie in the cracks made in otherwise rigid systems. The personal and spiritual vulnerabilities that get uncovered by change, diversity, and boundary transgression, while often uncomfortable and unnerving, are critically necessary for creating an openness to God. Such an openness is revealed most completely in the liturgical life of the Church, which offers the faithful a communal experience of transcendence that bridges the gulf between heaven and earth, endeavoring a passage that forges God’s community of saints. This community exists as a living and authentic reality in the rich heterogeneity of its past and in the vibrant multiplicity of its present, while being open to the unexpected possibilities of its future. Accordingly, in exploring the complex and vital reality of Orthodox tradition, the present issue of The Wheel looks forward to the ways in which the Church, in all of its great variety, may continue to build itself as the Body of Christ.
The Wheel 2 | Summer 2015
THE LIVING TRADITION
Innovation and Tradition: An Orthodox Perspective Christophe d’Aloisio Translated by Michael Berrigan Clark Note: The following article originally appeared in the French language journal Études: revue de culture contemporaine as the third part of a discussion on tradition and innovation in major Christian communions. The first two parts, a Protestant and a Roman Catholic perspective, are not reproduced here. Sergei Bulgakov, L’Orthodoxie, trans. Constantin Andronikof (Lausanne: L’Âge d’Homme, 1980), 40.
One of the major theologians of the 20th century, Sergius Bulgakov, wrote the following with respect to the Orthodox Church and its relationship to tradition: Nothing is more erroneous than the image, widespread in the West, of an Eastern Church, a Traditional Church, fixed in the motionlessness of exterior ritualism and traditionalism. Although one might observe such an attitude here and there, it shouldn’t be considered anything more than a partial failing, a local weakness; it would not express what is essential about Tradition, which consists precisely in an inexhaustible stream of ecclesial life and which becomes known through its own creation. And so it is that Tradition must be creative. And it could not be otherwise, for, through the creativity of its life, Tradition takes on life in our very selves with its power and depth. This creative work is not at all individualist or arbitrary, rather it is the ecclesial, catholic witness that the Spirit dwelling in the Church gives of itself.1 Indeed, the epithet “orthodox” often carries a negative connotation; sometimes it is interpreted as a synonym for conservative, at other times as unchangeable—even fundamentalist—or, more trivially, as narrow. It must be recognized that even today, for some
portion of Orthodox Christians, this formalist interpretation constitutes grounds for pride, running counter to the teaching of theologians such as Bulgakov. In fact, when it is defined theologically, Orthodox Christianity is far removed from budgetary “orthodoxy” or “orthodox” Marxism, which both represent rigorous and precise forms of the objects in question. It is well justified to conceive of the Orthodox Church as a space of openness to critical propositions and to free theological discourse. In the same manner as the question of orthodoxy, the notion of tradition, as the ecclesial theologies conceive of it, constitutes a philosophical challenge for the contemporary world: Does the aspiration to liberty not render crippling any reference to tradition, to that which has been transmitted and passively received? How is the autonomy claimed by the human person compatible with a dogmatic teaching one is obligated to obey? One aspect of this question inevitably sends one back to an existential debate inherent in the life of every human being, whether a religious believer or not: the articulation of obedience and liberty. In theological terms (contrary to ordinary portrayals), obedience cannot be reduced to
a spirit of servitude; rather it is a way of actively listening, a fact of the relationship between persons animated by love. One of the keys to understanding the resolution of the dialectic between individual autonomy and heteronomy is found in ecclesiology: the relationship with God is never lived independently of the relationship to our brothers and sisters in humanity. According to Bulgakov, God “teaches us to address Him saying ‘Our Father’ and not ‘My Father,’ which by that very fact brings every human ‘me’ into the catholicity of ‘us.’” Tradition regains, from that moment forward, a communitarian dimension to the experience of faith, a dimension that cannot be exhausted by the experience of an individual alone. Rather than approaching the problem philosophically only, it is more pertinent to approach the question historically as well. Two constituent parts of the idea of tradition can be distinguished. The history of Christian communities shows the constant character of certain elements across The Wheel 2 | Summer 2015
ages and cultures, but also the more contingent character of certain secondary traditions. John Meyendorff, another Orthodox theologian of the last century, on the basis of several patristic authorities, writes: “One cannot grasp the real sense of Tradition without keeping in mind the condemnation of ‘human traditions’ by the Lord himself. One must not indeed confuse the one holy Tradition, which constitutes the identity of the Church through the centuries and which is the organic and visible expression of the life of the Spirit in the Church, with the accumulation of human traditions in the historic Church; the latter are inevitable, often creative and positive, sometimes sinful, but always relative.”2 Meyendorff illustrates his point by referring to Photius the Great, who preached with vigor on the virtue of the multiplicity of secondary practices and doctrines and their connection to the catholic teaching of the ecclesial faith. The ordination of married men, the wearing of the beard by priests, fasting on Saturdays, all these arise, according to Photius, from local traditions. “The reasonable man respects the practices and the laws of others; he considers that it is neither erroneous to observe them nor illicit to violate them,” Meyendorff cites.
2 Jean Meyendorff, “Le sens de la tradition,” La Tradition: La Pensée orthodoxe, ed. Constantin Andronikof (Lausanne: l’Âge d’Homme, 1992), 157.
Indeed, the principal characteristic of the ecclesial tradition in relation to other human traditions is tied to the Church’s dogmatic function. This function allows the Church, which takes its life from the divine-humanity of Christ, to assume all of history while transcending the historical contingencies of space and time. Although in communion with the resurrected Christ, the Church is no less earthbound and in possession 3
of its own mission in the history of the world: its historical path must assume the temporal dimension. Ecclesial discourse must accept the test of time and questioning from the world in which that discourse resounds. However, more than the objective content of tradition, which is not easily defined, it is the ethical posture in which the faithful find themselves that appears as the principal factor of innovation in the Church. Indeed, tradition is the gift of the Holy Spirit to each generation: by receiving the gift from preceding generations, the faithful find themselves in a truly eucharistic position. One is not the owner of what one receives, but rather the repository, with the idea that one is to make it bear fruit. The seed of the Word that falls on good soil bears fruit; it is not intended for preservation in order to be handed back to the one who gave it. As a eucharistic process, therefore, tradition manifests a fundamental eschatological aspect of the Church: its roots plunge deep into the eschaton. They are oriented toward the future. It is the eschatological fulfillment of the Church, and not its past, which should determine its present. Tradition appears, from that perspective, as the source of that eschatological dimension that makes Christianity
something other than a religion of the book, even if it incorporates the Book. One can take an analogy from the realm of education. The term of an apprenticeship is reached when the apprentice surpasses his master; so, in the ecclesial tradition, it is appropriate to conceive of this potential to surpass preceding generations in an analogous way. Thus, contrary to the logic of natural causality which insists that the past determine the present, as illustrated, for example, by the Indian faith in karma, the Churchâ€™s theological understanding of tradition upends everything: it makes the body of the Church into an inverted tree, with its roots planted firmly in the heavens. To return to the original question, we can then understand in what manner the ecclesial notion of tradition transcends the philosophical dialectic between the autonomy and heteronomy of the thinking subject: conceived not as normative historical baggage, loaded with doctrinal, ethical, or hermeneutical models extrinsic to the faithful, tradition constitutes an historical deposit of inspiring examples, virtually meta-historical, filtered by the communal wisdom of the ecclesial body which, by the faith, hope, and love that animate it, is able to discern Tradition and the traditions.
Fr. Christophe dâ€™Aloisio is an Orthodox priest, rector of Holy Trinity and Saints Cosmas and Damian parish, and director of the St. John the Theologian Institute in Brussels, Belgium. ÂŠ 2015 The Wheel. May be distributed for noncommercial use. www.wheeljournal.com
THE LIVING TRADITION
The Sophiology of Father Sergius Bulgakov and the Living Tradition Andrew Louth The first place, I think, where Fr. Sergius Bulgakov talks about Sophia is in his work, Philosophy of Economy, published in 1912. By this time, Fr. Sergius had already returned to his ancestral faith, though he was still searching, and indeed continued to search. Philosophy of Economy is a final repudiation of Marxist economics, and is indeed, as Rowan Williams has said, “emphatically not an essay in orthodox economics.”1 Nevertheless it still engages with economics. The Russian word for economics, khoziaistvo, as the English translator remarks somewhere, is very directly related to words that suggest being a proprietor (khozaïn, in fact derived from the German Hausherr, which is probably why this group of words seems rather isolated in Russian), or engaged in managing a household (khoziainichat’), and so suggests an activity, a process, even more than the Greek word on which it, and our word, economics, is based—oikonomia—which is derived from words for house and law. It is this aspect of home-making, or making oneself at home, in a potentially inhospitable world, that leads Bulgakov to think in terms of Sophia, the Divine WisThe Wheel 2 | Summer 2015
Note: This paper is the English original of a paper given in French at a conference in Paris at the Collège des Bernardins on “Père Serge Boulgakov, un père de l’Église modern” in Paris, June 28, 2014. Translated by the author. Rowan Williams, Sergii Bulgakov: Towards a Russian Political Theology (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1999), 23, n. 1.
dom. Although in the chapter on the “Sophic Economy,” he rehearses all the more usual antecedents of sophiology—Western esoteric mysticism (he quotes Angelus Silesius a couple of times), Friedrich Schelling, Vladimir Solov’ev (specifically mentioning his Tri svidaniia)—what is important, it seems to me, is what way in which Sophia is involved in the process that follows on from, or rather complements, creation: the shaping or molding of creation, the 5
making of creation a world to live in. He remarks:
Sergei Bulgakov, Philosophy of Economy: The World as Household, trans. Catherine Evtuhov (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2000), 153.
Proverbs 8: 22–4, 27, 30–1.
The purpose of economic activity is to defend and to spread the seeds of life, to resurrect nature. This is the action of Sophia on the universe in an effort to restore it to being in Truth. Sophia acts through the medium of historical humanity, and it is Sophia that determines the teleology of the historical process. The world as Sophia, though it has fallen into a false and hence mortal condition, must regain being in Truth through labor, or through the economic process. If selfness in man could only be vanquished through self-improvement or religious dedication, selfness in nature is vanquished through labor and in the historical process. Economic activity overcomes the divisions in nature, and its ultimate goal—outside of economics proper—is to return the world to life in Sophia.2 The roots of this notion of Sophia are ultimately biblical:
in the world is the work of Sophia. The realm of Sophia is therefore the realm of arts and crafts, from basic activities such as cooking and making clothes, building houses and towns, to more developed forms of art—poetry, music-making, painting, sculpting. It is doing something with something; it is not creative in the way that God is creative, when he calls beings into existence from nothing; but it is a kind of creation or fashioning. It re-creates the created order, making it a home for man: it is, as Bulgakov puts it, a “re-creative” activity. There is, however, a danger here, for this refashioning of creation, making it something in which we human beings are at home, could disguise creation, make it all too much an “environment” for men; it can also exploit the natural order, as we have become very well aware today.
The Lord created me as the beginning of his ways, for the sake of his works… Before the present age he founded me, in the beginning. Before he made the earth and before he made the depths . . . When he prepared the sky, I was present to him . . . I was beside him, fitting together, it is I who was the one in whom he took delight. And each day I was glad in his presence at every moment, When he rejoiced after he had completed the world, and rejoiced among the sons of men. 3
Bulgakov had felt this danger, and it was his sense of this danger that gradually led him from the Marxism he had espoused as a young man back to the faith of his fathers. Marxist economics could not see nature as God’s creation, and tended to regard nature as material for human consumption and use. Bulgakov’s sense of the fundamental wrongness of such an attitude to nature came to him as an experience about which he wrote in his Autobiographical Sketches, passages from which he—significantly, I think—included in the early pages of Unfading Light. Let me quote a few passages:
Wisdom, Sophia, is God’s companion in the work of creation, fitting it together, completing it, and so the human task of making men at home
Evening was falling. We were travelling along the southern steppe, covered with the fragrance of honey-coloured
grass and hay, gilded with the crimson of a sublime sunset. In the distance the fast-approaching Caucasus Mountains appeared blue. I was seeing them for the first time . . . My soul had become accustomed long ago to see with a dull silent pain only a dead wasteland in nature beneath the veil of beauty, as under a deceptive mask; without being aware of it, my soul was not reconciled with a nature without God. And suddenly in that hour my soul became agitated, started to rejoice and began to shiver: but what if . . . if it is not wasteland, not a lie, not a mask, not death but him, the blessed and loving Father, his raiment, his love? . . . God was knocking quietly in my heart and it heard that knocking, it wavered but did not open . . . And God departed.4 But it didn’t end there. Bulgakov goes on to speak of renewed experiences: [B]efore me the first day of creation blazed. All was clear, all became reconciled, replete with ringing joy . . . And that moment of meeting did not die in my soul; this was her apocalypse, her wedding feast, the first encounter with Sophia . . . 5 In the light of these experiences, Bulgakov’s soul could not be reconciled with “nature without God.” The revelation of Sophia led him to belief in God and thereby enabled him to accept the transcendent beauty of nature, rather than seeing it as a utilitarian wasteland. There is, it seems to me, something parallel to the way in which Bulgakov comes to grasp the significance of nature in the distinction Heidegger makes, for instance in his essay, “The Origin of the Work of Art,” between Welt and Erde, “world” and “earth.”6 The world is what man has made of his environment, and it is the purpose of The Wheel 2 | Summer 2015
art to recall to man that this world is made from the earth, that it is not simply to be reduced to a human environment. Heidegger’s fear was that technology has enabled men to fashion a hergestellte Welt, a world confected for human purposes; the way the earth erupted into the world through the work of art was to prevent man from being deceived by his technological power.7 I am suggesting that Bulgakov’s sophiology, whatever its intellectual antecedents, grew out of his pondering on what man achieves through his re-creative activity, and his realization that he could only make sense of his experience of the beauty of nature by accepting its sophianic foundation, which entailed accepting the reality of God. From this realization, we can, I think, begin to understand the fundamental role of sophiology in Bulgakov’s theology. It is, and this is not incidental, related to the way his theology is rooted in the Liturgy. This was something that Fr. Alexander Schmemann saw, even though he was somewhat averse to Bulgakov’s theology. In an article called “Trois Images,” he speaks of Bulgakov celebrating the Divine Liturgy: My third memory of Fr. Sergius, the third image, is . . . of Fr. Sergius before the altar, celebrating the liturgy . . . He was not accomplishing a well-established rite, traditional in all its details. He delved down to the very depths, and one had the impression that the Liturgy was being celebrated for the first time, that it had fallen down from heaven and been set up on the earth at the dawn of time. The bread and the chalice on the altar, the flame of the candles, the smoke of the incense, the hands
Unfading Light, trans. Thomas Allen Smith (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012), 8.
Unfading Light, 9
Martin Heidegger, “The Origin of the Work of Art” in Poetry, Language, Thought, trans. Albert Hofstadter (New York: Harper & Row, 1971), 15–86. See original in Martin Heidegger, Holzwege (Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann, 1950), 7–68.
There is a wonderful evocation of Heidegger’s notion of Erde in Michel Haar, Le chant de la terre (Paris: L’Herne, 1985).
Alexander Schmemann, “Trois Images”, Le Messager Orthodoxe 57 (1972), 13–14.
For a longer account of my approach to Bulgakov’s doctrine of Sophia, see “Wisdom and the Russians: The Sophiology of Fr. Sergei Bulgakov,” in Where Shall Wisdom Be Found? Wisdom in the Bible, the Church and the Contemporary World, ed. Stephen C. Barton (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1999), 169–81
10 See my “Pagans and Christians on Providence,” in Texts and Culture in Late Antiquity: Inheritance, Authority, and Change, ed. J.H.D. Scourfield (Swansea: Classical Press of Wales, 2007), 279–97.
raised to the heavens: all this was not simply an “office.” There was accomplished here something involving the whole created world, something of the preeternal, the cosmic—the “terrible and the glorious” [strashnoe i slavnoe], in the sense these liturgical words have in Slavonic. It seemed to me that it is not by chance that the writings of Fr. Sergius are very often laden—so it seems—with liturgical Slavisms, that they themselves so often resonate with liturgical praise. It is not just a matter of style. For the theology of Fr. Sergius, at its most profound, is precisely and above all liturgical. 8 The Liturgy, like Sophia, negotiates an “in-between,” relating man to God. The fundamental intuition of sophiology is relatively easy to enunciate; it is that the gulf between the uncreated God and creation, brought into being out of nothing, does not put creation in opposition to God, rather Wisdom constitutes a kind of μεταξύ, “between,” between God and man/ creation, for Wisdom is that through which God created the universe, and it is equally through wisdom that the human quest for God finds fulfilment.9 Wisdom, one might say, is the face that God turns toward his creation, and the face that creation, in humankind, turns toward God. Creation is not abandoned by God, it is not godless, for apart from God it would not be at all; it is not deprived of grace, for it owes its existence to grace. Rather creation is graced, it is holy; in creation God may be encountered. Bulgakov’s account of the events that led to his own conversion, which we have already mentioned, and his magnificent account of standing beneath the dome of the Church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople in January 1923, make clear
how important this intuition was to him. It also lay at the heart of what he perceived to be wrong with the Roman Catholicism he encountered in the West as an exile: the idea of an ungraced “pure nature” seemed to him fundamentally false (as it was soon to seem to Henri de Lubac). Moreover, the relationship between God and the world, constituted by Wisdom, cannot be an arbitrary relationship, nor can it be a necessary one. Uncreated Wisdom and created Wisdom differ only in their being uncreated or created. Why? Because if they differed in any other way, then God would be severed from creation and creation from God. This line of thought indicates a further step involved in sophiology, which raises the issue: what must creation be, if this is true? What is creation like, if God indeed created it (through Wisdom)? As we ask these questions, we find ourselves asking questions that have exercised Christians for centuries, and perhaps most acutely at the beginning, when, in the second century, Christianity faced the manifold challenges of Greek philosophy and Gnosticism. Christianity was not consonant with just any view of the universe. Christians agreed with the Platonists over the existence of a transcendent divine, divine providence and human free will, and adopted Platonist arguments against other Greek philosophers—Aristotelians, Stoics and Epicureans—who rejected one or other of these positions.10 They completely rejected the view, held by most of those whom scholars now call Gnostics, that the universe was the product of a god or gods who were either malevolent or negligent. At one point Irenaeus defends the Christian view of a universe, created out of nothing
by a good God who rules it through his providence, by appealing to the Christian Liturgy: How . . . can they say that flesh is destined for corruption, the flesh that has been nourished by the body and blood of the Lord? Either they must change their opinion, or cease to offer him what they have said they do. Our opinion is consonant with the Eucharist, and the Eucharist confirms our faith. We offer him what belongs to him, harmoniously proclaiming the communion and union of flesh and spirit. For taking from the earth bread, after the invocation of the Lord it is no longer common bread, but Eucharist, joining together two realities, the earthly and the heavenly, so that our bodies, receiving the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible, but possess the hope of eternal resurrection. We make an offering to him, not because he needs anything, but to give thanks for his gifts and to sanctify the creation. 11 For Irenaeus, to take bread and wine, to offer them to God and in-
voke the Holy Spirit to transform them into the Body and Blood of Christ, entails a certain view of creation: that it is good, that the one to whom we offer the Eucharist is the Creator. In the same way, for Bulgakov, to celebrate the Eucharist entails that creation belongs to God, that it is not alien to him, that to be a creature is already to be graced, something that Fr. Schmemann’s “third image” seems to suggest: Bulgakov’s celebration of the Divine Mysteries seemed to him something autochthonous, something rooted in the very being of creation. It is this intuition that lay at the heart of his sophiology. It is as we pursue such reflections as these that we find ourselves entering into the arcanum of Bulgakov’s theology. It is a theology that invites the human spirit on a fascinating quest after the nature of things, but it is rooted in the simple turning of the creature toward God in joy and gratitude.
The V. Rev. Dr. Andrew Louth is Professor Emeritus of Patristic and Byzantine Theology, University of Durham, and from 2010–2014 was the first Visiting Professor of Eastern Orthodox Theology at the Amsterdam Centre for Eastern Orthodox Theology in the Free University, Amsterdam. His latest book, Modern Orthodox Thinkers: From the Philokalia to the Present, is due to be published this summer (SPCK in the UK; IVA in the USA). The Wheel 2 | Summer 2015
Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses IV:18, 5–6.
© 2015 The Wheel. May be distributed for noncommercial use. www.wheeljournal.com
Golden Gate: The east gate of the temple complex in Jerusalem, associated in tradition with the east gate of Ezekiel’s eschatological temple vision, and a important geographical location for expanded biblical traditions and mystical interpretation in both Judaism and Christianity.
Christianity as Poetics: Constructing the Gospel in Story and Liturgy Timothy Clark When I was in elementary school, I had a favorite illustrated book of stories from around the world, which I spent a couple of years of my youth reading the cover off of. Most of the yarns in it were what you would expect from such a children’s collection: various fantastical narratives about quests that pitted the heroes against sorcerers, monsters, great natural challenges, etc., with a few myths of gods, goddesses, and creation stories interspersed with them. 10
But one particular tale (I think the book’s editors attributed it to Spain) compelled some special attention from me. It related the story of a man who is visited in his house by Jesus and twelve very hungry disciples. Although he has little to eat, he offers to share with them all that he has in his larder, which, in a very loaves-and-fishes kind of way, he is surprised to find miraculously stuffed full of bread, butter, and meats to serve his guests. As
Jesus departs, his disciples encourage the man to go and petition Jesus to grant him three wishes. To the shock and dismay of the disciples— who thought that the man should perhaps request something more obviously useful or noble—he asks that no one who sits in the chair by his fireplace, or who climbs into the cherry tree in the back of his house, should be able to leave them without his permission, and also that he should never lose at card games. The man’s wishes go unused until the end of his life, when Death (personified, of course) comes to call, and the man asks him to sit in the fireplace chair while he prepares to go with him; the price he exacts from Death for allowing him to get up again is three hundred more years of life. Naturally, when Death returns centuries later, he climbs into the man’s tree to eat some ripe cherries and is forced to grant him another three hundred years of life before he can go about collecting more souls. When the man finally goes away with Death at the end of this time (since at last Death has learned not to enter the man’s house at all), he passes by the gates of Hell on his way to see St. Peter and challenges the Devil to a game of cards, staking his soul against one of the souls in Hell. After winning so many games that he has nearly emptied Hell (the Devil, apparently, has a gambling problem), he proceeds to Heaven, leading his new congregation of souls. When they arrive, Peter tells the man that he is free to enter, but that Heaven cannot accept all of these other souls that were previously denied admission. Undeterred, the man rebukes Peter, reminding him that, when the hungry apostles had visited him in life, he had freely The Wheel 2 | Summer 2015
offered them everything he had to give, with no expectation of reward; thus he cannot now abandon the ones who, because of Jesus’s gifts to him, are now in his care. Trapped by the man’s words, Peter has no choice but to open the gates of Paradise to him and all of his charges. While I remember few of the details of the other stories in this book (I doubt that I have read any of them again since I was eight or nine), after thirty years I still have a detailed recollection of this one tale. (I’ve actually had to significantly condense my memory of it so as not to test my readers’ attention more than I already have.) Perhaps I was so enamored of it because it was the only place that I had ever encountered biblical characters in a nonbiblical story, so it had a special resonance. (I was not raised in anything resembling a biblical fundamentalist tradition, but still, in my world, one didn’t simply make up stuff about biblical people, and especially Jesus, in this way.) It was only as I became more aware of the deeper Christian tradition that I understood that, far from being a simple fairy tale, this story was powerfully re-presenting many of the basic elements that make up the Christian narrative. A person who freely offers what he has is unexpectedly rewarded with great material abundance. Simple, apparently foolish gifts—gifts that even Jesus’s disciples cannot understand—allow the man to overcome Death. The Devil, expecting another easy victim, is instead defeated, and Hell ransacked, by the inscrutable power of a man who stakes his own life in return for others’. (Of course, in this story, that man is not divine, but he is using divinely granted powers. And the fact 11
that the epic contest against the Devil is waged with such mundane and even disreputable means—cards, really?—adds another delicious twist to the tale.) A great multitude is freed from the depths of Hell and then admitted to Heaven, not by any deed of their own, but through the mercy (and stubbornness) of another who takes pity on them. The Christian Mythos This light story offers its readers and hearers an appropriation and representation of the basic Christian mythos. On the one hand, it is a simple fairy tale that has managed to delight at least one child over the course of its (hopefully many) tellings. On the other, it inculcates and investigates nuances of the Gospel’s claims and its essential mythic structure for a community that then retells that story in its own environment, with reference to its own literary and cultural impulses. Being able to explore and understand this mythos through textual engagement and artistic representations that expand the foundational story—from this brief children’s story to church art and architecture and continuing through contemporary extra-ecclesial cultural phenomena such as the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter juggernauts—is a truly vital task, as it is this poetic investigation that ensures a continual active engagement with the depth, mystery, and paradox of the Christian Gospel. As the history and nuances of the concept of mythos are too involved to explore fully here, I will simply note that it is not, as is commonly assumed in regular parlance today, a description of nonhistorical, fic12
tional, unreal items, as contrasted to quantifiable, documented, tangible things. The mythos itself is the powerful organizing statement that organizes and subsumes the “factual” information of the world into a comprehensible pattern. Conceptualizing the Gospel as mythos allows one to understand the claims made for Jesus Christ not as a recounting of historical verities that are themselves subject to shifting standards of evidence and proof, but rather as a statement about reality that is able to adapt to and assimilate all manner of human cultural changes. This statement bears an authority that is selfcontained, since it relies only on its own self-referential nature for verification. Because the argument makes its claims on the basis of the postulates of a preexisting literary foundation, it need present its case only on that basis. It may highlight some elements of the tradition, downplay others, and weave together its evidence in order to create an authoritative statement about the meaning of the literary deposit on which it is built. The result may not be the only possible argument that one could make from the source materials, but that is not at issue here; all that is required is that the argument be coherently made from the available evidence. In light of this process, we can see that the Jesus Christ who is celebrated and worshipped in the Church is a product not of a rigorous fact-check, but of the creative interpretation and organization that results from poetics. Christ is “according to Scripture,” as the formulation goes, but only insofar as Christians have selected and organized the scriptural characteristics that they apply to him, and
then have integrated and applied these characteristics to respond to their own cultural understandings. The categories that are thereby created are not predetermined; Jesus is not identified as the Christ because he checks a list of self-evident boxes that were simply waiting around to be marked by the first person who could fulfill all of the requirements. Just as the children’s story above represents the Gospel by appropriating and rearranging an already extant deposit of literature and tradition (while at the same time making no pretense that the story itself is actually “true”), the Christian tradition itself has discerned its central figure and theological concept through a continuing sifting of the textual and cultural traditions available to it. This idea that Jesus Christ, and the Gospel that describes and reveals him, proceed only from such a profoundly subjective discernment and
sorting of the scriptural tradition is difficult to grasp. It might seem easier to place at the center of worship someone who is more historically solid, who can be (or could have been) touched and handled and objectively evaluated, and who can be clinically compared to a set of objective criteria. Constructing Christ from such a human discernment of the scriptural tradition seems to make the resulting figure a product of human imagination—a significant concern particularly in an era when rapid cultural change and global awareness makes ever more evident how temporally fleeting and geographically local Christian practices and conceptions can be. Recognizing the sorting of the tradition that is involved in constructing Christ might make it seem that he is simply another deity created in humanity’s own image, rather than the ultimate and unshakable source of salvation. Yet this overlooks the importance of
Palm Sunday procession at the Orthodox Church of the Dormition in the village of Abud in the West Bank.
The Wheel 2 | Summer 2015
Jesus Christ not as a god or system who is externally imposed on humanity, but who arrives in its midst, functioning among us at all times and in all places. That is why it is necessary that this Jesus Christ should be a product of communal engagement with the scriptures, of our collective attempts to understand—from the scriptural sources, melded with previous traditions and integrated with specific cultural knowledge—what God looks like. The real touchstone of this discernment is in liturgical engagement, liturgy being the only occasion when the congregation as a congregation formally encounters the Word of God and is confronted with the implications of that encounter (pithily summed up in the communicant’s prayer that participation in the Eucharistic meal may be “neither for judgment nor condemnation, but for the healing of soul and body”). The congregational encounter, because it is a communal and public event, requires the engagement of all of the faculties that humans possess; it is not an accident that, certainly in the Orthodox Church, the space that contains the liturgical ritual is designed to interact with all five senses. Furthermore, because it is in this place that the congregation gathers, as the Body of Christ and in order to receive the same, it is also here that the truth of the Gospel can be both ritually distilled into its utter simplicity and also greatly expanded upon in order to explore its most profound implications Liturgy is the place in which the Christian mythos achieves its most powerful qualities, where it transcends for the congregation the possibility of being just another debatable statement 14
and becomes a concrete res for its adherents. And it is this communal engagement—the artistry of the ritual proceeding from an application of texts that then leads to the literal interpenetration of the congregation with the Word of God in the Eucharistic mystery—that most clearly exemplifies the expression of Christianity as poetics. The New Israel: Communally and Poetically The heart of Orthodox liturgical experience lies, of course, in the Eucharistic celebration proper. It is not simply metaphorical to claim that the congregation is constituted—fully brought into being—in the course of the Eucharistic mystery, through the mechanism of its communal engagement with the liturgical texts that define it; it is a long-established trope that Christ may be fully recognized only in the gathered community. The Christian congregation that discerns the qualities of Christ “according to Scripture” also discerns its own qualities as the New Israel—and the Body of Christ—and does so also “according to Scripture.” In categories ranging from the orders of the ecclesial hierarchy to the structure of the liturgical year to the architectural and artistic appearance of physical church structures, Christian churches refract, through their very organization and appearance and in the texts that they create and replicate in their worship, their comprehension of the Gospel, and they also telegraph to themselves how they believe themselves to fit into it. One of the most significant ways in which Christianity—and the biblical Israelite community on which it ty-
pologically models itself—has constituted itself is through the festal cycle. The expansion of these feasts is a classic example of the poetics at work within the evolving Christian mythos. The feasts of the Orthodox Christian tradition expand the conception of the Christian community well beyond its biblical foundations, while simultaneously ensuring that the theological insights that they transmit are nevertheless infused with the scriptural impulses that first gave rise to them. They showcase the ongoing discourse of the community with its textual traditions as part of a process that fashions both texts and community into conversation partners that continue a colloquy that spans many generations. The biblical texts themselves offer a witness to the flowering of festal models and examples of the commentary that they provide on their own tradition. It is clear in the earlier-composed biblical texts that the entire festival calendar is based on the simple three-feast agricultural cycle of Palestine (marking the major harvest periods), a system that was expanded upon and modified to incorporate notions of the New Year festivals encountered by Judahite exiles in Babylon after Nebuchadnezzar’s destruction of Jerusalem and its temple. Just as the biblical feasts celebrated by biblical Israel multiplied and then fused various traditions in order to encompass the congregation in a theologically comprehensive journey through the year, Orthodox Church feasts have also expanded beyond strict biblical confines in order to embrace and comment on the deepening insights of its theological tradition. The great feasts of the Orthodox liturgical calendar The Wheel 2 | Summer 2015
serve to enlarge the conception of the Christian universe beyond the textual universe of the Bible, but in a way that not only retains theological fidelity to it, but that also sharpens and further expounds its theological insights. The feasts demonstrate how the implications of the central Gospel proclamation may (and even must) be expanded to encompass a wide variety of scenarios. This is especially and most obviously evident in Marian feasts, which are clearly designed not to celebrate important scriptural moments (especially since three of the feasts involving Mary do not involve biblical events at all), but to encompass the congregation in a comprehensive Christian cosmology. Mary’s role in the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament is generally limited; certainly these documents evince no interest at all in her history prior to Gabriel’s announcement of her conception of Jesus or after Jesus’s ascension. Yet from a relatively early period, as evidenced by apocryphal texts such as the Protoevangelium of James, Mary’s expanded biography was of interest to at least some audiences. Such speculation blossomed and became more formally incorporated into the Church’s liturgical structure as her theological role in relation to Jesus became a prominent topic of discussion in the early fifth century and as the popular devotion centered on her person continued to increase. These twin developments led to the inclusion of expanded traditions about Mary directly into the Church’s liturgical celebrations, and the liturgical recalibration of canonical scriptural texts that were fashioned to comment on the theological significance of this inclusion. 15
The Old Testament readings for the Marian feasts in particular show the vast possibilities of rereading scriptural documents against subsequent traditions, and the evolution of new glosses on ancient traditions that nevertheless demonstrate fidelity to their original intentions. Ezekiel 43:27–44:4, the only Old Testament reading that is common to all three of the nonbiblical Marian feasts, is mainly just an architectural rendering of the east gate of Ezekiel’s eschatological temple and an ordering of the people who gather there, outlining its role as the mediating point between the divine and human worlds (a role played elsewhere in Old Testament temple literature by the curtain dividing the Holy of Holies from the rest of the sanctuary). But reassessed in the context of the festival, it becomes an entry into a cosmology that has both transformed architectural realities into incarnate human ones, and also recategorized the role of human characters who function very differently than in their original textual environment. The enactment of the Old Testament, New Testament, and noncanonical Marian texts with each other in a liturgical context creates a new theological structure that would not be possible on the basis
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of any one original tradition. Yet this new reading, experienced in a liturgical setting, proffers a method of comprehending the Christian theological mystery and the role of the congregation as worshippers around God’s holy place that none of its antecedents were able to provide on their own. Much like the tale of Jesus’s encounter with the poor but generous host in the tale I recounted above, the nonbiblical stories of Mary’s early life and death recapitulate important elements of Christian theology through alternate means. They take seriously a specifically Marian piety that is not generally evident in canonical biblical texts while simultaneously directing that impulse toward elucidating central theological precepts in a way would not be possible simply on the basis of considering the biblical documents alone. In so doing, they demonstrate the distillation of theology not through a series of dry, logical propositions, but by a necessary engagement with poetics. The depths of the Christian mystery are plumbed, and new avenues for exploration are opened, by examining disparate traditions through the synoptic liturgical experience.
Timothy Clark taught Old Testament and biblical languages at St. Vladimir’s Seminary from 2005– 2012, and received his Ph.D. in Hebrew Bible from Emory University in 2014. He is currently a contributing editor to the religion blog Under the Sun (underthesunblog.com) and a freelance writer in Brookline, Massachusetts.
Saved by Divine Compassion: The Mystery and Complexity of Human Relationships Susan Arida I The multiplicity of male – female relationships that make up the fabric of our lives begin out of a desire to be in touch, to have someone close to our heart. Relationships require us to open up to that touch, and in opening ourselves, we become vulnerable. Vulnerability is something we seek and fear: it enriches our lives and causes us pain. In our relationships, vulnerability enables us to love, enables us to give up ourselves to the other. At the same time we are careful to protect ourselves, thereby creating periods of doubt and moments of certainty. In his book The Sacrament of Love, Paul Evdokimov suggests that we continuously dishonor our relationships with lies and hypocrisy, we continually hide from our desire for love, because it is the deepest search for truth, the very voice of being.1 In reflecting on my relationships, I recognize that it is easy to take the ones I love for granted. It is easy to rely on roles and customs that are believed to span generations. But research in a variety of fields, ranging from biblical scholarship to the natural sciences, suggests that ongoing The Wheel 2 | Summer 2015
dialogue may be required. The multiplicity and complexity of our relationships make it impossible to rely on clichés or to fit this topic into neat definitions. While we no longer live in a time and place in which women are considered undeveloped males—a view sugges- ted in the writings of some Church fathers—or identified as property and denied basic civil rights, remnants of these ideas still impact relationships both here and abroad.2 And yet in looking at biblical accounts, we find rich narratives that challenge our assumptions. As one biblical scholar reminds us, the Bible “is not only contradictory but complex”, in revea- ling conflicting definitions of male – female relationships.3
Note: Presented at the conference “Divine Compassion and Women of the Church: Theological Perspectives” at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, June 21st, 2014. Paul Evdokimov, The Sacrament of Love (Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2001), 31.
In Genesis, we are reassured that relationships are created by God and exist to bring us back to God. In the beginning, God created man and woman through an act of love, a gift, a mystery of “pure grace and gratuity.”4 Woman created from the side of man shares the same human nature and destiny. Alone each is incomplete. The description of God 17
For example, see Gregory of Nyssa, “On the Making of Man,” trans. Henry Austin Wilson, in Select Writings and Letters of Gregory, Bishop of Nyssa, vol. 5 of A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace (New York: The Christian Literature Company, 1893), 387–427. Peter Brown discusses the influence of Galen’s description of women as “failed males” in The Body and Society: Men, Women, and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988), 10. Paul Evdokimov cites Aristotle, who sees the male as the measure of all things and the female as a defective male, in Sacrament, 23.
For a well-documented discussion of the complexities and contradictions of biblical texts describing male – female relationships, see Jennifer Wright Knust, Unprotected Texts: The Bible’s Surprising Contradictions About Sex and Desire (New York: HarperCollins, 2011), 10.
acting through one creature to generate another affirms that the male – female relationship as God intended is balanced and equal. In his fifteenth homily on Genesis, St. John Chrysostom writes that woman is, “of the same kind, of the same properties, of equal esteem and in no way inferior . . . They are interdependent with equal control over creation.”5 What is more often remembered, however, is the Genesis description of woman’s cooperation with sin. For most of my adult life, I have pushed back the tendency to blame Eve in order to justify institutionalized imbalance in male – female relationships. But Genesis is quite clear in stating that Eve is the target of the first lie, even though it must be said that both Adam and Eve were free to choose. Eve was unable to stand up to something that was beyond her imagination.6 Paradoxically, her very vulnerability—which should have drawn her closer to God—led to a catastrophic turning point in the way her relationship was experienced. In the beginning, male and female were together and were not ashamed. But starting with that first encounter with evil, the human ability to perceive and experience love and intimacy with God and the other has been shrouded by shame and fear and by the creature’s overwhelming desire for self-preservation. Yet in his divine compassion, God does not abandon us to the lies and hypocrisy Evdokimov mentions, even as he preserves our vulnerability. This gives us the possibility to be open to the other, so that we might have an intimation of the divine life that is intact in each person. We can be optimistic, knowing that God’s divine compassion en-
ables us to manifest his love uniquely in every relationship we form. In ways unknown to us, we are participants in God’s saving plan. Every life is unique and every relationship is extraordinary. Relationships are not formed by passive players devoid of personality and free will. To love is to take a risk that we frequently try to avoid. It requires courage that may go unrewarded. It requires initiative that may be thwarted. But as much as we might try, we cannot entirely avoid taking a chance with each other. It inevitably leads to a crisis in our understanding of who we are. But the Gospel states—and experience confirms—that while there are no guarantees, and while evil continues to wreak havoc among us, from time to time we must nevertheless find the courage to risk removing the thick skin that keeps us from experiencing the vulnerability, openness, and transparency that make relationships possible. II Among the many accounts of relationships in our tradition, the stories of the women referenced in St. Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus Christ (Matt. 1:1-17) offer a particularly exquisite portrayal of divine compassion and healing. This gospel passage, which traces the generation of the descendants from Abraham to Joseph, is read every year on the Sunday before the Nativity of Our Lord. While it should be obvious that women were needed to produce each successive generation mentioned in the genealogy, women are nevertheless largely ignored. Only four are acknowledged by name. Their sur-
prising acknowledgement suggests that they hold special significance. Even more surprising is how their stories in the Old Testament exemplify in remarkable ways the mystery of divine compassion. Drawn into dangerous situations that lead to unconventional relationships, these women participate in the fulfillment of the prophecies that foretell the coming Messiah and the new creation. All four of these women are bound up in situations that expose them to extreme peril. Yet in spite of—or because of—their vulnerability, they exhibit courage, initiative, and perseverance, which open their hearts. As we look at their stories, we will try to discern what makes them recipients of divine compassion and genuine forerunners of the fifth woman mentioned in the genealogy: the young woman, Mary, who is to become the Mother of God. The four Old Testament women listed in the genealogy are Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba. There is no explicit reason for their presThe Wheel 2 | Summer 2015
ence. All are outsiders and come from backgrounds that challenge our moral sensibilities. Three are widows who engage in questionable—even scandalous—relationships, and one is a prostitute. Scholars have offered several interpretations for St. Matthew’s selections. Raymond Brown first considers the possibility that these four women are listed because they “were regarded as sinners and their inclusion . . . foreshadowed the role of Jesus as the savior of sinful men.” But it seems odd that these four women would be included for that reason alone, since all men and women are sinners. Another interpretation suggests that by including “foreign” women in the genealogy, Matthew shows God’s saving promise extending to all, but I find it unlikely that the mere naming of four women would have that kind of impact. A third interpretation, according to Brown, is that there is something extraordinary in the union these women have with their partners, which gives them a prominent role in salvation history. This is not exactly true for all the women: Rahab’s story, for example, is quite separate from her role in the genealogy.7
Tamar disguises herself as Judah passes by. Marc Chagall, 1960.
André Louf uses “grace and gratuity” to describe God’s love for Mary, the mother of our Lord. In describing the inexplicable qualities of her love, he makes clear that God in his divine compassion has not denied men and women the same inexplicable gift. André Louf, Mercy in Weakness: Meditations on the Word, trans. John Vriend (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1998), 60.
5 John Chrysostom, Homilies on Genesis: 1–17, trans. Robert C. Hill, vol. 74 of The Fathers of the Church: A New Translation (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1986), Homily 15, 197.
On the illusion of sin and women’s role in the history of grace, see Jean Daniélou, In the Beginning…: Genesis I-III (Baltimore: Helicon Press, 1965).
III Going beyond these interpretations, it seems to me that, in their own distinctive ways, Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba challenge our ideas about God and divine compassion. They prepare us for something new and surprising, even shocking. To paraphrase Evdokimov, these four women give us infinitely more than a biological continuation of the race.8 In confronting dangerous choices, they not only take initiative; they
7 In his humorously titled chapter “Why Bring on the Ladies,” Brown agrees that these women deserve special attention because their presence breaks the formulaic genealogy, citing St. Jerome, Martin Luther, and others. Raymond Brown, The Birth of the Messiah: A Commentary on the Infancy Narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke (New York: Image Books, 1979), 71–74. 8 Evdokimov discusses Eve as the mother of all living, suggesting that our biological conformity reflects our spiritual conformity to eternal life. Paul Evdokimov, Woman and the Salvation of the World (Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1994), 155.
display courage which opens them up to divine compassion. In this way, they are worthy precursors of the Mother of God, whose extraordinary courage leads ultimately to the healing of male–female relationships in the new creation.
after shearing his sheep. Moreover, he seems to have spent all his money, so even though he is interested in this woman, he realizes he cannot pay her. Not wanting to pass up the opportunity, however, he offers the would-be prostitute a goat.
Let us begin with the story of Tamar. In Genesis 38, we learn about her relationship with her father-in-law, Judah, one of the twelve patriarchs and the fourth son of Jacob. Tamar is probably a Canaanite, and we know from the story of the Canaanite woman in Matthew’s gospel that Canaanites are lower than dogs. Yet, surprisingly, the oldest son of Judah marries Tamar. But he dies, and so, according to the Levirate law, Judah’s second son is to take Tamar in marriage. When the second son also dies, Judah prevents his third son from marrying Tamar, thus breaching the law and making her a childless widow. In the community, she becomes a nameless woman—cut off, abandoned, and disgraced. She is the property of Judah and according to the law, her only opportunity for having a life is with his family, but she is essentially disowned by him and sent back to her own people.
Not a harlot, Tamar is not interested in payment. She engages in this charade hoping to reenter Judah’s family and the broader community. Yet she knows she will need proof to protect her child if one is conceived and to counter inevitable accusations of promiscuity, which would lead to a death sentence. She must prove that Judah, who is legally responsible for her, is the father of her child. To protect herself and the child that might come from this union, Tamar asks Judah for his ring, cord, and staff—all signs of Judah’s legal identity and pledges of surety. Later, when it is reported that Tamar is pregnant, Judah calls for Tamar to be burned. Tamar, facing the horror of this sentence, produces the three items that identify Judah as the father. His own sin exposed, Judah offers an extraordinary response. He expresses compassion and remorse for his unwillingness to take care of Tamar. With prophetic insight, Judah says, “She is more righteous than I” (Gen. 38:26), and Tamar is saved and restored to Judah’s household. Eventually, she gives birth to the twins Perez and Zerah, with Perez being the link to the family of Joseph the husband of Mary.
Tamar sees an opportunity to regain her life after she learns that Judah’s wife has died. Since he has not allowed his third son to marry Tamar, she disguises herself as a prostitute and waits along the side of the road for Judah to pass by after sheepshearing. For Tamar, seducing Judah is the only way to make him fulfill his lawful obligation to her. We don’t know how long she waits, alone and unprotected. When Judah appears, he apparently does not recognize Tamar, making the reader wonder how he might have been celebrating
The story of Rahab is recorded in Joshua 2–6, as part of the account of the destruction of Jericho. Rahab seems to be a well-known Canaanite businesswoman, who provides lodging and is identified as a harlot. Providing lodging was a sideline of
prostitution—the only business a woman could operate. This is evidently the way Rahab supports her large family. Prominent clientele, including the King of Jericho, seem to know her, and spies working on behalf of Joshua and his army also turn up at her door. When agents of the King come to Rahab for information about the Hebrews, whom they suspect have infiltrated the city, she hides Joshua’s agents on her roof and denies knowing their specific whereabouts. The soldiers of Jericho must be familiar with Rahab already, because they accept her word and go on to pursue the spies elsewhere. Caught between her own people and the Hebrew spies, Rahab faces a tough choice. What is remarkable is that, despite coming from a polytheistic and idol-worshipping Canaanite culture, she discerns the reality of the God of Israel. Aware of the story of the Exodus, she professes her faith, saying, “The Lord your God is He who is God in heaven above and on earth below.” This is a striking statement coming from a woman of Jericho, an enemy of the Israelites caught in an extremely dangerous situation. Why should she be believed? Surprisingly, the Hebrew spies promise to “deal kindly and faithfully” with Rahab and her family. The sign of their promise to spare her is a scarlet cord, to be hung from Rahab’s window—a bloodless reminder of the Hebrews’ sacrifice before Passover. Still: what must it have been like for Rahab once the city walls started to fall, trapped inside and surrounded by sounds of death and destruction? Nevertheless, out of all the inhabitants of Jericho, Rahab and her family alone are saved, and subsequently join the community of IsThe Wheel 2 | Summer 2015
Meeting of Ruth and Boaz. Marc Chagall, 1960.
rael (Josh. 6:25). Rahab is eventually joined to Salmon, a Hebrew man, and becomes the mother of Boaz (1 Chron. 2:11). Through her initiative and her courage, she is a recipient of divine compassion, known as one whose faith saved her from perishing (Heb. 11:31). Through Boaz, Rahab’s story intersects with that of Ruth, the third woman in the genealogy and a great lady, said to have been of greater worth than seven sons. Ruth is a Moabite, however, and her people were despised by the Hebrews because they descended from Moab, the unfortunate offspring of an incestuous relationship between Lot and his daughter. When a severe famine threatens the Israelites’ survival, some relocate to the land of Moab and intermarry. Among the immigrants are Naomi, Elimelech, and their two sons—the latter of whom marry two Moabite sisters, Ruth and Orpah. Within ten years, however, all three women are widowed and without support. Bereft of means, Naomi 21
David and Bathsheba. Marc Chagall, 1956
decides to leave Moab and return to her people, advising her daughters-inlaw to remain. Ruth, who is devoted to her mother-in-law, resists her advice. Showing extraordinary resolve, Ruth begs Naomi, “Entreat me not to leave you . . . . Where you go, I will go . . . . your people shall be my people and your God my God” (Ruth 1:16).
her to glean in his fields only, guarantees her water to drink, and promises that she will not be molested. Ruth, aware of her inferior status, is overwhelmed by this kindness. Then, even more surprising, Boaz invites Ruth to lunch and makes sure that she has access to an ample supply of grain before she leaves.
At around harvest time, they return together to Bethlehem, where an indigent Naomi hopes to find support with her husband’s family. Ruth offers to go to the fields to glean the bits of grain left behind by the harvesters. Every day, the courageous Ruth—a beggar, a foreign outcast from Moab, and a prime target for assault—works hard in the hot, dry, dusty fields, hoping to collect enough grain to feed Naomi and herself. After some time, the reapers come to the field of Boaz, and Ruth follows. Boaz is a wealthy man and a relative of Naomi’s husband. Ruth, who is reported to have been working nonstop from early morning, is soon noticed by Boaz as she follows after the reapers. Addressing her, he instructs
When the harvest is complete, Naomi strategizes with Ruth to get the attention of Boaz once again. Like Tamar, Naomi seizes on the Levirate law to justify enticing Boaz into marrying Ruth. Even though Ruth is tied to her dead father-in-law’s property, it is nevertheless a high-risk move for a Moabite widow to presume having a relationship with a prominent Israelite. With what must have taken great courage, Ruth—under the guidance of Naomi—prepares to entice Boaz. While Boaz is celebrating the harvest, Ruth waits to lie beside him on the threshing floor. When Boaz awakens, he is surprised to find Ruth at his feet, but Ruth boldly asks him to spread his cloak over her indicating a sign of intimacy. Boaz does not turn from her but asks her to stay and promises to do all that she asks. In the end, Boaz honors the Levirate law and makes Ruth his wife. They have a son, Obed, who is the grandfather of King David. The final relationship referenced in the genealogy is between David and Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah. Their affair (described in 2 Sam. 11–12) is more troubling than the other stories, yet confirms that the unexpected— and in this case sinful—behavior of men and women can be used by God to further his divine plan. Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, although a Hittite, is highly placed in King David’s army. When David sees Bath-
sheba bathing on her roof, he desires her and sends for her.9 We do not know whether she is intentionally seeking his attention or is unaware of him, but either way, going to the king places her in a high-risk situation. By complying with the king’s wishes, she finds herself pregnant with his child. In a panic, David tries to cover his tracks by bringing her husband back from the war, hoping that he will sleep with his wife so that the paternity of the child will not be questioned. Uriah, however, does not go to his wife, refusing to spend time with her while his men are engaged in battle. Probably enraged by Uriah’s steadfastness, David issues orders that ensure Bathsheba’s husband will be killed on the front lines. Young and pregnant by the king, Bathsheba learns that her husband has been killed. We know that she mourns her loss, but is then brought to David to become his seventh wife and another member of his harem. Married to the king, Bathsheba has his son, but suffers another loss when the son dies in infancy. Even if Bathsheba as she is popularly portrayed sought the king’s attention to satisfy her ambitions, the death of a husband and a son must have brought deep pain and suffering. Bathsheba and David subsequently have another son, Solomon, who, amid palace intrigue, succeeds David as king and becomes another link in Christ’s genealogy.
IV If there is anything we can say about these four women, it is that their stories confirm that the Bible presents surprising, complex, and even conflicting illustrations of male – female relationships. And if there is anything more we can say about male – female relationships today, it is that all relationships bring with them great risks and no guarantees—but also that, in spite of ourselves, our many flaws and sins, we are recipients of divine compassion. In their own distinctive ways, Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba display the courage needed to face the unexpected and ultimately to be recipients and agents of divine compassion. Who would think of them as saving us?—and yet their vulnerability enabled them to do just that. They are worthy precursors of the young girl, Mary, who took an incredible risk when she said yes and exhibited extraordinary courage in opening herself to being the mother of God. Through God’s infinite wisdom and grace, we are ultimately given the opportunity to open ourselves to others, so that we might know healing through her Son, whose divine compassion is reflected on the Cross, which is where we find our deepest search for truth and the very voice of being.
Bathsheba’s story recalls that of Susannah, another Old Testament figure who is desired by a man other than her husband and faces danger in trying to resist his advances. She has no credibility alongside the word of a man: resisting and complying could both result in a death sentence.
Susan K. Arida is a founding member of Saint Catherine’s Vision and director of Boston’s YMCA International Learning Center. She is a member of Holy Trinity Orthodox Cathedral in Boston, and attended Saint Vladimir’s Seminary. © 2015 The Wheel. May be distributed for noncommercial use. www.wheeljournal.com
The Wheel 2 | Summer 2015
View of medieval Jerusalem, based on a manuscript illumination housed at Lambeth Palace.
CONSTRUCTING NARRATIVES See http://www. orthodoxhawaii.org/ icons.html.
Jill Dubisch, In a Different Place: Pilgrimage, Gender, and Politics at a Greek Island Shrine (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995), 35.
Quoted in Ken Butigan, Pilgrimage through a Burning World: Spiritual Practice and Nonviolent Protest at the Nevada Test Site (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2003), 148.
The Pilgrim’s Distress: Narrating the Perils of the Journey to the Holy Land Patricia Fann Bouteneff
4 Linda Kay Davidson and David Martin Gitlitz. “Hazards of Pilgrimage,” in Pilgrimage: From the Ganges to Graceland (2 vols.; Santa Barbara, California: ABCCLIO, 2002), 1:231. A good, Kierkegaardian analysis of pilgrimage and the pilgrims who undertake it can be found in David Lodge’s novel Therapy (Penguin: London, 1995), 304-305.
Illustrations by Elizabeth Bouteneff.
The idea behind pilgrimages is a simple one: certain places are more spiritually powerful than others, and people benefit from going to them. The power of the place may be centered in a physical structure (such as the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem or Hagia Sophia in Istanbul), or the site may have attracted attention because a miracle happened there (anywhere that has a miracle-working icon qualifies, as the recent occurrence of myrrh-streaming icons in Hawaii demonstrates).1 Like any voyage, a pilgrimage involves moving through time and space. A pilgrimage, however, is a ritualized “doubled” mission that pairs a real world journey with a symbolic one, at the end of which the traveler anticipates spiritual and/or social transformation.2 The physical and spiritual hardships inherent to the journey are key to its transformative potential. As Dorothy
Day writes, “Voluntary vulnerability and suffering bring us closer to God. Our precarity brings us to God.”3 Travelers are vulnerable to extremes of weather, disease, vehicle crashes or malfunction, bad food or water, and wild animals. They may meet with unscrupulous innkeepers, bandits, pirates, pickpockets, opportunistic guides, rapists, kidnappers, or political unrest. Crowded conditions at pilgrimage sites invite the outbreak of disease and fires in living quarters, as does simply the crush of crowds at particularly popular sites. There are other, less obvious risks, too. “The arduous journey, the substantial period of absence from home with its character-defining environment, the atmosphere of solitude conducive to introspection, and the intoxicating sense of freedom and adventure almost inevitably mean that the returning pilgrim is unlike the one who left to
go on pilgrimage. Some, in fact, never go home at all.”4 It can also have serious consequences for those who are left behind. To look more closely at what pilgrimage can mean, we might consider the way it fit in to the conceptual world of the Pontic Greeks, an ethnic group that once inhabited the eastern half of the Black Sea coast of what is now Turkey. Pilgrimage was a common venture in their lives, as it was for many of those of their fellow ethnic groups in the Ottoman Empire. This ritualized journey was an expensive and hazardous venture, especially in times before there was a reliable network of safe roads (the roads in the Pontos were regularly infested with bandits and other hazards). In the Pontos, as in the Ottoman Balkans generally, pilgrimage to Jerusalem was a way not only for Christians to achieve a religious goal, but also to raise their social standing, which they marked by adding the honorific title “Hadji” to their names.5 (Using pilgrimage in this way was likely borrowed by Christians from their Muslim neighbors, who added “Hadji” as a permanent fixture to their names after a journey taken for religious reasons to Mecca, Haj.) The Pontic Greeks were exiled from their homeland in 1923 and now live in diaspora communities around the globe, but chiefly in Greece. In order to get a sense of how pilgrimage was regarded among these Greeks, however, we need to take an indirect approach, as we don’t have written accounts of journeys by Pontic pilgrims. What we do have is a corpus of around five hundred folktales collected over more than a century, starting in the 1870s. They reside in several archival collections in The Wheel 2 | Summer 2015
Athens and Thessaloniki, and some three percent of them engage with pilgrimage as a motif. Although the Pontos had its own pilgrimage site— the monastery of Panagia Soumela,6 located in the mountains south of Trebizond—the orientation in the folktales was always to Jerusalem. In the folktales, as in real life, the usual pattern was for a man to take his wife and his sons with him. (Daughters were usually left at home so that their social status would not be raised too high for them to find marriage partners.)7 Although virtually all Pontic folktale heroes—and many heroines—have to leave the village for the open road in the course of their adventures, the protagonists of pilgrimage tales come across as vulnerable in more ways than those undergoing more normal travel, where common villains—ogres (drakoi, dev’), witches (maisses), hairless men (kioses), or bandits—attack only the body. Most folktale protagonists have little interior life; pilgrims are an exception. Being on pilgrimage and thereby having an interior life redoubles a protagonist’s vulnerability. The simplest example of vulnerability caused by pilgrimage in the Pontic repertoire occurs in a type of tale in which all the characters are animals. One of the most frequently collected of all Pontic folktales, it is known as “Animals on Pilgrimage”8; the eleven variants come from Sourmena, Oinoe, and Kromni, among other locations.9 Each version involves a number of farmyard animals—explicitly or implicitly on a ritual journey—putting their trust in someone who appears to be a spiritual elder (usually a wolf or fox) whom they met on the road. Having ushered them into his den, he
5 For excellent analyses of pilgrimage among Ottoman Christians, see two articles by Valentina Izmirlieva: “The Title Hajji and the Ottoman Vocabulary of Pilgrimage,” Modern Greek Studies Yearbook 28/29 (2012/2013), and “Christian Hajjis—the Other Orthodox Pilgrims to Jerusalem,” Slavic Review 73, no. 2 (2014). 6 It is said that a pilgrim who made the journey to Panagia Soumela seven times could claim the “Hadji” honorific. The site was abandoned in 1923 during the Greek-Turkish exchange of populations. Since the monks on their departure were forbidden from taking any property with them, they buried their famous icon under the floor of the monastery’s St. Barbara chapel. As of 2012, the Turkish government is funding restoration work, and the monastery is enjoying a revival in pilgrimage from Greece and Russia. 7 Izmirlieva, personal communication. 8 ATU 20D, found throughout Europe and the Middle East. Hans-Jörg Uther, The Types of International Folktales (Helsinki: Academia Scientiarum Fennica, 2004).
See http://www. cyberpontos.com/ PHP/Folktales.
Pontic Greek girl at window of her house.
See http://www. cyberpontos.com/ PHP/Folktales, or R. M. Dawkins in Modern Greek Folktales (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1953), 384ff. 10
See http://www. cyberpontos.com/ PHP/Folktales.
insists that they confess their sins to him. He judges each one guilty and devours them instead of granting absolution. (The final “sinner,” often a hen, escapes by asking the “holy one” to close his eyes in prayer for her.) The very fact that these are animal fables is a hint that the animals will be double-crossed in the course of the story. One of the chief characteristics of Pontic animal tales is that the trust that one kind of animal puts into another kind is inevitably betrayed, whatever the pact they may have made with each other. This characteristic may reflect the challenges of living in an ethnically and religiously diverse region. Although the domestic animals are virtuous in that they seek absolution for their sins, all versions of this tale illustrate the peril of falling in with a charismatic stranger; in effect they allow their virtue to make them vulnerable. “Spiritual intoxication,” a less common pilgrimage-related ill, appears in a story that was collected only once, from the city of Kerasunta. Called the story of “Giannitson,”10 its plot begins with a rich man’s son asking his mother for a Gospel book (his parents have one lavishly covered in gold). When a monk comes to town, Giannitson arranges to go to the Holy Mountain with him. To get passage money, he takes the funds his parents have given him for entertaining his friends. Once on Mount Athos, he becomes a monk despite his young age. After three years he is so homesick that the abbot sends him back. He trades his clothes for an old man’s rags and begs at his father’s door. His father builds the “beggar” a little hut, which Giannitson inhabits without revealing his identity. When his death approaches, he sends his Gospel to his mother. Moments after his
parents confirm his identity, he dies. His mother is struck dumb when she tries to shroud him in cloth of gold; once she dresses his body in his old rags, her voice returns. In “Alexios the Man of God,” the saint’s life on which this story is based, the main character takes to the road to escape an undesired marriage; in the folktale, the boy flees his parents’ life of luxury. Giannitson’s pilgrimage to Mount Athos fulfills his deepest spiritual desire; the hardships of the journey, of taking on the rigors of monasticism, and of the privations of begging are freedom compared to living in wealth. He returns home in such a way that he can’t be recognized until it is too late for him to be pressured into resuming his old life. But the vulnerability associated with pilgrimage affects not only the pilgrim, but also the people he leaves behind; Giannitson’s spiritual intoxication leaves his parents grief-stricken from the moment he boards the ship. This susceptibility to danger of those left at home is not something often heard about in discussions of pilgrimage, but it is a clear theme in these traditional narratives. There is one type of folktale, known broadly as “The Innocent Slandered Maiden” (ATU 883A), in which it threatens the pilgrim’s ability to return home fully, a man’s honor, and a woman’s very life.11 “The Innocent Slandered Maiden” was a tale type told
throughout Greece and Greek-speaking Asia Minor. Five Pontic versions have been collected, from Sourmena, Imera, Stavrin, Ordu, and Kars.12 The merchant father of the Innocent Slandered Maiden believes that he has mitigated the risk to his family’s honor and his daughter’s safety by leaving her at home in the care of a trusted attendant (a family steward, a loyal servant, an uncle, or an imam). A typical version of the story comes from Kotyora; it is known in Pontic Greek as “Hadji-Velis” (which translates as “Devout Pilgrim”) and looks like this: A wealthy landowner decides to take his wife and son with him on a three-year journey to the Holy Land and to leave his beautiful daughter to guard the estate. Her uncle begins to desire her, but she refuses to let him in the house. He tricks her into coming to a bathhouse, where he propositions her. She escapes by throwing soap in his face and hitting his head with a stone. Once he recovers, he writes to Hadji-Velis accusing the daughter of scandalous behavior in the streets with young men. Hadji-Velis sends his son home to deal with the situation. The girl persuades him to leave her on the mountain to take her chances instead of killing her. (In some versions of the story, her “guardian” ransacks the house at this point.) A prince discovers her and marries her, and they have three children. After some time, they decide to visit her parents, but the prince is called home along the way, leaving her to be attacked by his aide-de-camp, who kills her children in trying to rape her. She escapes him through a trick and makes her way to her parents’ house disguised as a beggar. They hire her as a houseboy. When the prince comes to visit with his entourage, she is persuaded to The Wheel 2 | Summer 2015
tell her story, and the uncle and the aide-de-camp are executed. An unusual stress on feelings is characteristic of these pilgrimage tales. Emotions are rarely made explicit in traditional folktales, which makes their emphasis all the more noteworthy here. Throughout “The Innocent Slandered Maiden,” the family’s emotional troubles are given even more weight than their physical ones. The girl is so traumatized by her uncle’s actions that she refuses to let even her brother enter the house; she is so zealous of her virtue that she allows her children to be killed to protect it, yet she still finds herself falsely accused of promiscuity by her uncle and of murder by the aide-de-camp. The son is distressed by the order to kill his beloved sister. The father discovers that the house has fallen—metaphorically through scandal and literally through the loss of his possessions—despite his precautions. (The potential for rights and property to be usurped in a pilgrim’s absence also appears in a humorous tale from Trebizond called “Don’t Get Too Thin or Your Middle Will Break.”)
ATU 883A was found throughout Turkey, in Yemen, Iraq, Morocco, Afghanistan, as well as in Europe, French- and Spanishspeaking parts of the Americas, and in India. Hasan El-Shamy, in his studies of Arab tale-telling, finds that these stories are told primarily by women and reflect their sense of physical and reputational vulnerability when left inadequately protected. 12
Pilgrimage to the Holy Land forms a significant motif in a subset of Pontic folktales, and—true to life—its effects are recognizably different from those of other kinds of journeys. The differences have to do with the unique emotional and physical perils of the endeavor. The danger for men in most Pontic folktales is physical. In these pilgrimage tales, however, the danger they undergo is psychic. Giannitson suffers from conflicting desires to fulfill either his spiritual or filial needs. His journey, in fact, is more psychic than physical: little attention is paid to 27
his movement through space, while much more is paid to the feeling that cause him twice to board the ship. Hadji-Velis feels his honor impugned by the daughter he left behind. The women, on the other hand, suffer because their most secure haven—the house—is left vulnerable to invasion by the departure of their menfolk. Whether at home or forced out onto the open road, the daughter of Hadji-Velis is doubly vulnerable— in body and reputation. Giannitson’s mother is struck by a double load of grief, first at the presumed death of her son, and then by his actual demise.
Sailing the Black Sea.
A further factor distinguishes pilgrimage folktales from others: no one gets rewarded as they would in conventional tales. Reacting to the rumor of a daughter’s dishonorable behavior, a father kills the victim rather than the villain. Giannitson’s mother rejects the “beggar” who will be revealed as her long-lost son. The animals are not rewarded, even though they are traveling “safely” in a group and searching for wisdom. Hadji-Velis’s daughter does everything a virtuous girl should throughout the course of her adventures, yet until the very end, she receives far more injustice than reward. The hen merely escapes with her life, Giannitson is buried in the shadow of his parents’ home, and Hadji-Velis’s daughter is avenged. Spiritual rewards go unmentioned; social rewards are nearly nonexistent. The pilgrimage tales violate one of the rules of magical adventure folktales, which end with the hero or heroine in a revised and elevated version of his or her original state. Nobody gets what would normally be expected; rules/norms are upended.
Postscript In real life, a pilgrimage is a double journey of body and soul. Pilgrimage folktales are true to that reality, by presenting characters who have physical and interior lives, both of which are at risk from the dangers they encounter. Pilgrimages take people outside not only their comfort zones, but outside of the karmic rules of life, and the pilgrim—and his family—may pay a heavy price for the spiritual grace and prestige that he might acquire. Even though such journeys can be as fraught in reality as they were in the folk imagination, people, including Pontic Greeks, continue to make them. While there is no way to know how many Pontic Greeks are among those who flood Jerusalem year by year, they have been returning to visit the ruins of the great monastery of Panagia Soumela for religious and ethnic reasons since 1933. In that same year, the Turkish government permitted the monastery’s miracle-working icon to be unearthed by a monk named Ambrosios, who removed it to the Benaki Museum in Athens. By 1952, the Pontic Greeks had acquired land in the Macedonian village of Kastinia, between Kozani and Veria. The church they built there now houses the icon, which to this day is visited by pilgrims who arrive to venerate it and attend the liturgy, ethnic festival, and icon procession with full military honors that take place every August 15.
A Hapless Priest: A Pontic Tale
Translated by Patricia Fann Bouteneff
Lent arrived. There was a priest in one village who did not know how to calculate how many days there were until Easter, so he took an empty gourd and put forty-eight seeds inside it. Every day he would take one of the seeds out, intending to celebrate Easter when he ran out of seeds. One of his neighbors realized what he was doing, however, so he started putting a seed back into the gourd every day. So forty-eight days passed, then fifty, sixty, eighty, but the number of seeds just kept increasing and never decreasing. The poor villagers started to complain, and asked the priest, “So when are we going to have Easter? When are we going to have Easter?” After a good while longer, the priest also could be heard complaining, “According to my gourd calendar, we won’t be having Easter this year at all!”
Patricia Fann Bouteneff, a former academic and corporate chief of staff, is an independent scholar who specializes in folklore and Pontic Greek studies. You can find her translations and studies of folktales at cyberpontos.com. Baptized at a metochi of Simonopetra in Thessaloniki, she has been active in church communities in Greece, England, Switzerland, and the United States, and at present sits on the parish council of Holy Trinity Orthodox Church in Yonkers, New York. The Wheel 2 | Summer 2015
© 2015 The Wheel. May be distributed for noncommercial use. www.wheeljournal.com
Illustration by Elizabeth Bouteneff.
FROM THE ARCHIVES
Talks on the Beatitudes Alexander Schmemann Translated by Inga Leonova dogmas—can only be understood from the inside, i.e., in how it relates to something that is the foremost, ultimate vision of life.
“Blessed are the meek” Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth (Matt. 5:5)—This is the third Beatitude. The Beatitudes, as we have already discussed in previous talks, constitute the very core of Christ’s teaching about man and his life, and therefore the core of Christian morality. To understand them means to enter into the inner world of Christian faith, and that is precisely what the official anti-religious propaganda refuses to do, consciously and maliciously. It always talks about faith, religion, Christianity as if from the outside, whereas everything external in religion—organization, rituals and even 30
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth—again we have before us words that may seem unclear, mysterious. First of all, why is meekness chosen among the many moral and spiritual human qualities? We are not told “blessed are the humble,” or “blessed are the loving,” or “the compassionate,” although we know that love, humility, and compassion are central to Christian teaching. And secondly, what does it mean to inherit the earth? It is best to respond to these questions by looking at the opposite: what is contrary to meekness. I have already mentioned that the Beatitudes, the way they are recorded in the Gospels, are not simply enumerating various virtues as independent and absolute values by themselves. They paint the concrete, living image of a human person, presenting not a program, but an inner inspiration for his life; not a moral code of rules and regulations, but life as it is lived, or at least wants be lived by one who follows Christ. In a certain ultimate and profound way it is the description, the revealing of the inner world of Christ himself. And since Christian faith be-
gins with Christ, with being inspired by his image, his person, and consists of following Christ, so the Beatitudes turn out to be, in a way, his self-revelation. In another part of the Gospel Christ says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly of heart, and you will find peace for your souls.” (cf. Matt. 11:28–29). Thus meekness becomes the primary self-definition of Christ Himself. How is it expressed in his life, then, and what does it oppose? We know from the Gospel that throughout his life, throughout his brief ministry in the world, Christ encountered malice, misunderstanding, indifference; that he spent his time among people who passionately demanded something from him or just as passionately hated and persecuted him. And in this light perhaps the most amazing thing in Christ’s life, in his words, in his relationship to the whirlwind of passions surrounding him at all times is that he remained free of this whirlwind, that he never submitted to it inwardly, never said or did anything in what is known as “the spirit of the moment.” And if today, almost two thousand years later, we read the Gospel with the same joy, and it always sounds new to us, always contemporary, always speaks to us and for us, isn’t that a sign that it opens to us the eternal meaning and eternal truth? And yet there is nothing abstract in the Gospel. It is not a philosophy, it is not a systematic exposition of moral foundations, principles, norms—it is the story of one man, of his daily meetings and conversations with people who, according to the GosThe Wheel 2 | Summer 2015
pel, “pressed round him” (cf. Luke 8:42). So isn’t meekness, first and foremost, an inner freedom from passions, from the complete submerging into the moment, and yet a freedom that does not stem from indifference or from a sense of one’s superiority, since Christ, unlike other teachers and philosophers, does not call for abandoning all this bustle and crowdedness, for the giving up of all human toils and submerging oneself in solitary meditation. There are thousands of teachings that call for inner peace through the complete abandonment of everything—thousands—but this is not the teaching of Christ: he is always with people, always involved in their affairs, their cares and needs, their joy and grief, but at the same time he is always and everywhere the center of the world, and his very presence brings light. This is what meekness is, for the word meekness has no meaning outside of aliving and concrete relationship with others. One cannot be meek in solitude, because meekness is a way and mode of reaction to the behavior of the other, and not some independent quality. If we ponder our life, we shall see how much it is determined from the outside—by the way other people relate to us: their words, their behavior, even their appearance. Another step, and we shall see that we live in a kind of a vicious circle where we depend on each other, but depend externally, meaning not so much that we live and communicate as we react to each other instead of meeting at some deep level. But we don’t meet there precisely because nothing of what is the best and the most important reaches us, and our entire life becomes a perpetual reaction. Yet blessed are the 31
meek means that blessed are those who are capable of living not by reaction, but by a deep, free, loving relationship with the other, seeing in him not the manifestation of his person, but the person himself, seeking not to overpower him, not to defend oneself from him, but to commune with him. Blessed are those who, knowing this and seeking this, are prepared to bear the external, accidental, transient for the sake of the essential, for the sake of the eternal in man. It is they, by the word of Christ, who inherit the earth, having overcome in themselves all things temporary, transient. The meaning of the third Beatitude is that he who lives life fully, who truly possesses it and therefore inherits it is the one who does not react to life but puts his entire faith, love, and hope into life. Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven (Matt. 5:3) – this is the beatitude of the freedom and openness of a human being. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted (Matt. 5:4) – this is the commandment that compels us to not be satisfied by anything in the world except the most pure, the most genuine, the most heavenly. Blessed are the meek . . . —blessed are those who approach all of life deeply, with love and patience.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” The fourth Beatitude is: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.” (Matt. 5:6) Here, just as in the first three Beatitudes, the most fundamental, supremely important Chris32
tian teaching on man is revealed to us. All of the Beatitudes speak of man in his constant yearning for the greater. But in none of them is this yearning expressed with such clarity as in this one: blessed, for it is primeval in man, is the thirst and hunger for the truth. Let us ponder these remarkable words from the point of view of their content and substance as well as from the point of view of how Christian teaching and Christian morality are interpreted by the enemies of Christianity. There is nothing more readily apparent in a man than hunger and thirst. He can be defined as a hungry being, and it is not accidental to habitually speak of “daily bread” as the main subject of human concerns. Yet unlike materialism, Christianity in its approach to man does not stop at physical bread, understanding hunger and thirst as incomparably broader, as the manifestation of our innermost essence. To thirst and hunger means to yearn for that most essential thing without which it is impossible to live. Man dies without material food, but Christianity says that he still possesses the hunger for the highest, the spiritual. Just as he cannot live without food and it is in his nature to desire it with his entire being, so he cannot live without the truth, and therefore the thirst and hunger for the truth define him just as much as his physical thirst and hunger do. Thus let us remember that man, according to the Christian teaching about him, is a creature thirsting for the truth. What, then, is this truth without which, as without bread, authentic human life does not and cannot exist? When speaking of “truth,” the
Russian language distinguishes the notions of istina and pravda which are often conflated in other languages.1 When speaking of istina people usually mean the knowledge of the ultimate essence of things and phenomena. Seeking istina is one of the highest callings of men, and it is directly commanded by Christianity. “Seek, and you shall find” (Matt. 7:7; Lk 11:9), says Christ, and also, “You will know the truth [istina], and the truth will make you free”(John 8:32). Yet the knowledge of istina alone is insufficient just as faith alone is insufficient, since the Apostle says, “Even the demons believe—and shudder” (James 2:19). Istina, like faith, needs to become life itself, it needs, in other words, to become pravda. Pravda is istina which is alive and incarnate in human life. The search for istina must by necessity lead to the search for pravda, and this recalls the gallery of images that we are familiar with from the great works of Russian literature—all those strange people seeking pravda, dreaming of it, living by its bright and joyful vision. “Many of us wander the world, looking for pravda,” says Turgenev’s “Kassian from Krasivaya Mecha,” and he is not alone. This faith in pravda embodied, pravda of life in love and spiritual freedom is present in the works of nearly all Russian writers; it shines from their pages and has long been one of the principal qualities of Russian literature. Pravda is always more than just the law and morality. The word pravda is of the same root as pravednost’ (righteousness), and righteousness, in its turn, presupposes immeasurably more than adherence to the law and moral rules. Righteousness is the embodiment in life of the bright ideal of The Wheel 2 | Summer 2015
humanity, of love and compassion, of a humble readiness for a sacrifice. All of this is inexpressible in judicial and moral categories since it presupposes not a formal correctness of life but its fullness as communion in God. To live by the truth, to live righteously, is the eternal dream of man. This truth is opposed by untruth, that is, the basic lie about man that distorts his internal vision and relationships with his human brothers and sisters. And so Christianity says that the yearning for truth contains the principal quality of man—that thirst, that hunger that make him truly, completely human. How far removed this is from the caricature of Christianity that is offered to us by the official antireligious propaganda! It maintains that Christianity calls for making peace with the untruth, that in its teaching on endurance and reward beyond the grave it supposedly teaches us to indifferently accept evil, injustice, and the cruelty of earthly life. But this caricature, this malicious lie, can’t stand up against the fourth Beatitude—the eternal expression of Christian maximalism which brought into the world, into history, into human conscience that vision of truth, that hunger and thirst which never again died in men. And even in the times when the majority of Christians in their complacency and spiritual self-conceit were forgot it, this Beatitude was always giving birth to the “madmen”—prophets, fools for Christ, or such inconspicuous righteous men as Turgenev’s “Kassian from Krasivaya Mecha,” who have turned their entire lives into a ceaseless pursuit of truth.
In English, both words are translated as “truth.” However, in Russian the distinction is fundamental. In dictionary terms, istina expresses objective reality and pravda becomes its subjective manifestation.
The Christian teaching, like any other, should be judged by the intent, by 33
“But according to his promise we wait for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.” (2 Peter 3:13)
© 2015 The Wheel. May be distributed for noncommercial use. www.wheeljournal.com
the ideal that it brings into the world, by the requirement that it places on man. And this requirement is to hunger and thirst after righteousness in all its fullness. “New heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells,” (cf. 2 Peter 3:13) 2 —this is the promise of Christ, and this makes every Christian a responsible bearer and servant of the truth. “Blessed
are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matt. 5:1–5). Thus the true image of man, his true design slowly opens up in the Beatitudes.
The Rt. Rev. Alexander Schmemann was an Orthodox theologian who played a central role in founding the Orthodox Church in America. He was a graduate of St. Sergius Orthodox Theological Institute in Paris. He was Dean of St. Vladimir’s Seminary from 1962 to 1983, and also taught at Columbia University, New York University, and Union Theological Seminary.
Autumn Evening: God’s House Jane E. Brown he thought it was just another of his cast-off nail trimmings got away it turned out to be the moon
Illustrations by Anastasia Semash
tarnation Jane E. Brown futility and too much of it tarnation all creation jerry-rigged one dog sick, the other flea-bit in the pourdown rain with a broken-arm umbrella man comes late something always goes wrong woman slides open the door to the rain-spatter night to hear the owl fluting low in the mist ever a dog-hard time but there be mercy drizzling down cool for the sick addicted poor patched-up sad and mercy it burns in the renegade heart steady and blue for all this refugee creation “What is a merciful heart? It is a heart that burns with love for all creation.” —St. Isaac the Syrian
Jane E. Brown is an accidental poet, currently residing in St. Petersburg, Florida. © 2015 The Wheel. May be distributed for noncommercial use. www.wheeljournal.com
The Wheel 2 | Summer 2015
Discussion Between Shorena Shaverdashvili and Robert Arida The Wheel, Issue #1, Spring 2015
Introduction This conversation started when Fr. Robert asked me for feedback on his essay, “How to Expand the Mission.”1 While he referred specifically to the mission of Orthodox Church in America, I think the questions raised are relevant to Orthodoxy across the globe. In the countries with which I am familiar (the United States, Greece, Russia, and Georgia), the Orthodox Church seems to be confronted by the same fears and dilemmas: how to remain true to the living tradition of Christ and at the same time be open to addressing questions raised by of our times. My main concern here is how to understand and live Orthodoxy while keeping an open mind about legitimate questions posed to the Church. I am not concerned with a theoretical solution
to expanding the heart of the Church, but with the practical matter of how to make our hearts able to receive the spirit and grace of Orthodoxy. To me the big question for expanding the mission is how to overcome our passions, how to learn the spirit of our faith, and how to be truthful to the living tradition not just intellectually but in our lives, through oftentimes lonely suffering and though striving to make more room for God in our hearts. I think this is the essential battleground—a very personal battleground for each of us striving to be Orthodox, but nonetheless the one which may determine the fate of our Church. Fr. Robert’s responses are illuminating, and he concentrates on formulating different approaches to handling these questions. Like him, I oppose confining our faith to the past, idolizing patristic teach-
ings, and building fortresses out of our churches which repulse “the sinners” and those of different of opinions. I hope this conversation will be as useful to your readers as it was for me. I am grateful to Fr. Robert for his time and humility, and for helping me to think this through. —Shorena Shaverdashvili
Dear Father Robert, Thank you for being interested in my feedback on your essay. Needless to say, I am in no way equipped to contribute a theological response, but I can share some sincere reflections, based on the little spiritual experience I have and the readings I have come to love, especially those of St. Ignatius Brianchaninov and Fr. Seraphim Rose. I wholeheartedly sympathize with the difficulty of the subject matter— expanding the Orthodox mission in America—and I share the spirit of your main argument: “If the Church is to have a credible presence in our culture, offering it more than a condemning word couched in the language of love, then it is necessary for the Church to expand its mind and heart.” The question is how we should expand our mind and heart while remaining true to Orthodoxy. I am not sure I agree with the resolution you propose in your last paragraph. “Consequently, Holy Scripture can continue to be interpreted and clarified. Patristic writings can continue to be reassessed and even corrected. Liturgical texts can conThe Wheel 2 | Summer 2015
tinue to be composed while existing texts can be revised.” Revising patristic texts or making corrections to the contemplations of the Holy Fathers, which are saturated with the Holy Spirit and grace, seems like a grave compromise in order somehow to make our lives easier or to lower the standard we should be aiming for with every day of our lives, no matter how difficult or impossible it might seem. To put it more bluntly, are we to “revise” the Holy Spirit in order to make our spiritual dilemmas easier, more in harmony with our contemporary world and cultural struggles? The spirit of Orthodoxy, as far as I can perceive it, has never been in harmony with “the times.” The world has never been any easier or more accommodating for Christians—the difficulty of the choice we have to make between this world and the heavenly realm has not undergone any kind of transformation. We are, as always, destined for Golgotha and the crucifixion of our passions and transgressions, if we want to be part of the resurrection, of life rather than death. In this matter, there is no distinction between the past, the present, and the future. I would be more at ease if your proposed conclusion were a call to learning and dwelling, as deeply and truthfully as possible, without “revision,” in the Scriptures and the well of Patristic texts, in authentic voices of Christianity, in order to fathom the depths of our faith, discover responses to our concerns, and find strength to embark on the narrow path of Orthodoxy. As Fr. Seraphim Rose writes, “The Orthodox rule . . . is not intended to ‘avoid problems of conscience,’ but rather to call be37
lievers to a difficult, inspiring, and humbling standard of Christian life; if they fall short of the standard, then at least they can see how far their life is from the standard, the norm, which always remains the same” (“Towards the ‘Eighth Ecumenical Council,’” The Orthodox World 71). Our creativity, an open mind, and a loving heart should be directed at bringing the Scriptures and the works of our Fathers to contemporary minds, without amending them, with precision and utmost care. Critical analysis will come in handy in trying to carve out the essence of their responses to our most contemporary dilemmas. So my questions to you are: Why should we console ourselves with anything less than the Truth? Can we expand our mind and heart by our own intellectual effort or scholarly exercise? Isn’t there a danger that we are becoming too “worldly”? Shouldn’t we aim to transform ourselves entirely, through zeal for the love of God, through our ascetic efforts, and with reference to the higher standard? The more I understand our faith, the surer I become that there is no Christianity without asceticism, without fasting and prayer, without pain of the heart. Is it possible to come to Orthodoxy theoretically and intellectually, without living it? I know from painful experience that my faith is only superficial, unless I give up my old will and my most internal and beloved passions—and all of us have passions, no matter our sexual orientation or cultural affiliations. Father Robert, I apologize for the long response, but since I found your 38
last paragraph most problematic, I concentrated on that. Looking forward to our conversation, Sincerely, Shorena
Dear Shorena, Thank you for the time and effort you spent in responding to my reflection. I am very grateful to you for wanting to continue the conversation. I apologize for the long response. The question you ask, “How to expand the mind and heart?” is the great challenge for the Orthodox Church as a whole and for each of us who claim to be Orthodox Christians. I believe that there is no exhaustive answer to your question. However, there are two approaches that result in two different and even opposing answers. Ironically, both approaches adhere to the basic premise that there must be fidelity to the living Tradition of the Church—to the Scriptures, Ecumenical Councils, Canons, Patristic writings, and liturgical practice. Using broad brush strokes, I will try to describe the two approaches. The first approach sees expanding the mind and heart of the Church as adherence to what has been said and written in the past. As I tried to point out in my reflection, when the Church is oriented only to the past, it affirms that all questions have been raised and all answers have be given relative to human life, the cosmos and salvation. We can add that all
questions have been raised and answered regarding belief and how this belief is expressed theologically and liturgically. Given this approach, expanding the mind and heart is a matter of knowing and repeating what has already been said and written. Inherent in this approach is the idea that the Holy Spirit acts in the present by drawing our attention to the past. In other terms, the Holy Spirit is perceived as being unable to utilize the cultural, i.e the philosophical, scientific, and artistic material of a particular historical context to further expound upon and proclaim the Gospel. More specifically, the universality of the Holy Spirit who acts in all places and in all times is bound to a particular culture of a particular time, i.e. Byzantium and/ or pre-revolutionary Russia. That the Holy Spirit instills creativity in the mind and heart throughout time and space is muted, if not strangled, with this approach. Fidelity to the past can also imply a deep fear of the present. Certainly, the Church must never capitulate to any ethos except that of the Gospel. The “standard” or “rule” of the Christian life referred to by Fr. Seraphim Rose must never be compromised. Here I would add the words of St. Maximus the Confessor: “Those who apply themselves with a pure heart to divine philosophy [i.e. theology/ the spiritual life] derive the greatest gain from the knowledge it contains. For their will and purpose no longer change with circumstances, but readily and with firm assurance they undertake all that conforms to the standard of holiness” (First Century on Theology, §86) Clearly for St. Maximus and for all the saints the standard of holiness is Jesus Christ. But, The Wheel 2 | Summer 2015
as St. Maximus implies, our holiness is ever moving, ever ascending. Orthodox spirituality stresses that holiness is not a static mode of existence. Christ remains the same “yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8) but we are called to be ever changing. Holiness is dynamic because our relationship with God and our relationship with one another continues to change. Yet, for many Orthodox Christians, when the spiritual life is static due to fear and ignorance, even our Lord can become an idol with no breath—no life—bound to the past. When the past becomes a safe haven from the demands of the present, the Church becomes a fortress. It builds with the brick and mortar of its Tradition un-scalable walls, which protect it from the turbulence of everyday life. A fortress church replaces our relationship with God with the recitation of texts and formulas often used as polemics to attack the prevailing culture(s). In its most extreme manifestation, a fortress church does not require belief but fidelity to an idealized or fictionalized past. The novelist Flannery O’Connor has referred to this as “the Church of Jesus Christ without Jesus Christ” (Wise Blood). Yes, the Church has never been in “harmony with the times”—but this should not mean that the Church is to escape from its historical and cultural context. If the Church becomes an escape from the present, then Christ himself can only speak from the context of the past, unable to communicate in an idiom understood by those of our time. This is certainly the case with the use of so-called “liturgical languages” which are no longer part of the life of the believer. For many Orthodox Christians the Scriptures and the lit39
urgy are proclaimed in an incomprehensible language. Any attempt to change this would be seen by some as an attack on the immutable Tradition of the Church and therefore an attack on the Holy Spirit. You are absolutely right in saying that the Orthodox Church walks the narrow path. Yet we should never equate this path of ascetic ordeal with narrow-mindedness and, by extension, spiritual stagnation. The narrow path is not the sclerotic path that hardens the mind and heart of the Church. On the contrary, the narrow path is the way of the second approach, which recognizes that if the Church is to remain faithful to its living Tradition then it must never cease to expand its mind and heart. The second approach views Christian life as dynamic. It sees the Church in its two-thousand-year history as having undergone change so as to better articulate the Gospel. For example, the Ecumenical Councils were vehicles of the Holy Spirit to clarify and further interpret the Scriptures relative to the Christological and Trinitarian controversies of their time. These Councils, as well as the patristic writings, bear witness to the fact that the Scriptures had to be interpreted. For those who look to the Fathers as the only sources of biblical exegesis, the idea that interpretation is ongoing can be very unsettling. Interpreting the Scriptures is an inexhaustible enterprise, because our relationship with Christ is inexhaustible. St. Maximus the Confessor writes: “Just as God in his essence cannot be the object of man’s spiritual knowledge, so not even his teaching can be fully embraced by our understanding. For though Holy Scripture, being restricted chronologically to the times 40
of the events which it records, is limited where the letter is concerned, yet in spirit it always remains unlimited as regards the contemplation of intelligible realities” (Second Century on Theology,the Divine Economy, Virtue & Vice, §92). This passage helps us to see that interpretation is not merely an intellectual exercise but presupposes being immersed in the ascetic arena where, like the Fathers, we are called to wrestle not only with our passions and sins but also with God and neighbor. Just as the Scriptures require interpretation, so too the Patristic texts that possess their own inner tension i.e. they provide a fundamental stratum for knowing and living the faith and yet they are not collectively infallible. Here I would like to share with you a portion of a letter written by Fr. Georges Florovsky, which is dated December 12, 1963 and addressed to an Anglican priest: Just yesterday the question was put to me in my Patristic seminar, by one of the participants: we enjoy immensely, he said, the reading of the Fathers, but what is their “authority”? Are we supposed to accept from them even that in which they obviously were “situation-conditioned” and probably inaccurate, inadequate, and even wrong? My answer was obviously, No . . . . The “authority” of the Fathers is not a dictatus papae. They are guides and witnesses, no more. Their vision is “of authority,” not necessarily their words. By studying the Fathers we are compelled to face the problems, and then we can follow them but creatively, not in the mood of repetition.... So many in our time are still looking for authoritative answers, even before they have encountered any problem. I am fortunate to have in my seminars students who are
studying Fathers because they are interested in creative theology, and not just in history or archaeology. 1 The process of interpreting is radically different from the process of revising. To revise is to change the text; to interpret, as St. Maximus implies, is to enter more deeply into the reality of the inexhaustible mystery of Christ who is the Word. This movement is simultaneously our Golgotha and Resurrection. It is Golgotha because, like our Lord, we sense a personal loneliness and vulnerability which is derived from leaving what we are familiar with. Our loneliness and vulnerability take us from the comfort and even smugness of thinking our relationship with God is secure so long as we can repeat what was derived from the past. Our Golgotha leads us into the unknown— into the eschaton where we, here and now, begin to experience our Resurrection. Moving into the unknown we deepen our relationship with God. We acquire a freedom in Christ whereby our relationship with God and neighbor is ever renewed and refreshed. Consequently, we no longer fear one another but seek to establish and maintain communion with the other. The one who was the enemy becomes the one we love. Again, thank you Shorena! Father Robert
Father Robert, Thank you very much for your thoughtful response. I am grateful for the opportunity to be able to try to think this through. I was very The Wheel 2 | Summer 2015
interested in what you had to say about our spiritual life being “ever ascending,” and the danger of the ascetic path leading to “narrow-mindedness.” I also liked your final paragraph, about the difference between revision and interpretation. But I am still trying to understand and address the main question—the need to expand the heart and mind of the Church. I feel that my spiritual experience and knowledge are perhaps not enough for this contemplation. I will simply stress one point that I think is the point of diversion and tension between the two approaches you outlined. You quote St. Maximus: “Those who apply themselves with a pure heart to divine philosophy derive the greatest gain from the knowledge it contains.” Purification and healing of the heart and mind, in order be able to experience God, seems to be the main purpose of our living tradition. We are called to the ascetic ordeal by Scriptures and our Holy Fathers exactly for this purpose—to purify our soul and deepen our relationship with God. This can fundamentally transform us, drawing us closer to the heavenly order.
Georges Florovsky to Dobbie Bateman, December 12, 1963, quoted in Anastassy Brandon Gallaher, “Georges Florovsky on Reading the Life of St. Seraphim,” Sobornost, 27:1 (2005): 62.
I can in no way understand this process as an “escape from the present,” or “fear” of dealing with new contexts. On the contrary, the quest for the ascetic ideal requires utmost bravery and dedication, and the concentration of our spiritual efforts toward getting rid of the layers of our old self and the opening of our mind and heart to the truths and depths of Orthodoxy. In my experience, this is the most dynamic, challenging, and fruitful process, free of blind adher41
ence to the dogmatism of the past. In my opinion, Fr. Seraphim and others are not opposed to our active participation—through our lives—in interpreting (as you define it) and living our faith. Rather, they are guarding the ascetic ideal itself, that way of life, stressing that there is no alternative to this if our goal is to purify ourselves and attain the Holy Spirit. As far as I see it, in their view this standard that should not be amended. I do not see narrow mindedness in their lives and preaching, so I do not quite see how this approach can lead to spiritual stagnation. Perhaps I don’t quite understand your argument, so can you share some concrete examples? In addition to aspiring to ascetic standards, “details” like covering our heads with headscarves and strictly observing fasting rules seem important. It is humbling to wear a headscarf: it transforms my attitude towards the liturgy, it helps me distance myself from the world outside the Church and enter the house of Christ with more respect. The same goes for fasting: the more I manage to extricate myself from pleasures, comforts, and tastes of daily food, the better I can pray. From my experience, it is as straightforward and simple as that. More sleep than necessary fogs my mind, as does unnecessary talk, which fills one up with words having no life, no meaning, no transforming power. So many times, keeping the mind in internal silence helps keep my heart in prayer. So perhaps observing these simple and basic rules, as well nourishing our minds through reading, is all we need to expand our mind and heart? You mentioned the incomprehensible language of the Scriptures, 42
and how that can be an obstacle. I can certainly sympathize with that. It is even harder in Old Georgian, Greek, or Slavonic. However, there can be an upside to this as well. By studying these “old language”, we somehow penetrate the body of the text and the times—it gradually begins to come to life, and brings the sense of authenticity, so essential to Orthodoxy. I have witnessed how my ten- and eight-year-old boys begin to hear and appreciate the words from little prayers they read before bedtime, when they are not too lazy! I am not sure we can compensate for our laziness in our duty to learn with anything other than constant warfare with our lifestyle and habits, with the help of our spiritual guides. As you see, I am resisting both simplistic answers to our search and closing doors on differences of opinion. I think we have to live through each of these differences in order to live and not only think our faith. I cannot experience God without communion with others, so how can we fear each other? And no matter how far I drift in my thoughts, I am drawn back to my own vulnerabilities and solitude, as you so beautifully said, and to the truths of our faith. Thank you again for all your time! With Love, Shorena
Dear Shorena, I am very grateful that we continue to have our conversation. It might help to further clarify what I mean
by “expanding the mind and heart” of the Church if I point out the extremes that can develop from the two approaches I tried to describe. The first extreme is idolatry, i.e when Christ stifles intellectual and spiritual growth. This can be seen in how the Tradition of the Church is often abused, particularly when it comes to reading and interpreting the Scriptures and the Fathers. A case in point is the misuse of the bible and patristic literature as scientific texts. The idolization of these texts, which makes them scientifically infallible, has not allowed for the much-needed dialogue between theology and modern science. Because there is no official dialogue, fundamentalists within the Church forge ahead to relegate the science and biblical research of our time to that of the ancient world. For example, if we ignore the textual research and archaeological discoveries of the past century or the wonders revealed to us through neuroscience, astrophysics and quantum physics, then expanding and improving biblical interpretation, as well as clarifying and, if necessary, correcting the Fathers remains an impossibility. Consequently, there is no room to discuss a range of issues that threaten the worldview of those fundamentalists who call themselves Orthodox Christians. Matters of anthropology (e.g. human sexuality, particularly homosexuality); the place of women in the ecclesial, familial, and social context; the sacrament of marriage as being more than the means for procreation; the theory of evolution; the concept of infinity relative to the ongoing expansion of the universe; and the responsibility placed upon every human being to care for and protect the creation—these are some The Wheel 2 | Summer 2015
of the taboo issues for those who are making the living Tradition a dead idol. Tragically, the synthesis of biblical research, scientific discoveries and Patristic insights is prevented. Equally tragic and quite frightening, is how this idolization of the Tradition is being used to promote political agendas. The second extreme is iconoclasm, i.e. when intellectual and spiritual growth are in constant flux leaving little or no room for Christ as the permanent standard. Ultimately, iconoclasm does not acknowledge the need to maintain continuity with the past. Paradoxically, both idolatry and iconoclasm advocate a desire for God. Yet, what St. Paul writes to the Romans about Israel and the Gospel his preaching applies to these two approaches: “I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but it is not enlightened. For, being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.” (10:2–3) When speaking of idolatry, it needs to be stressed that the ascetic ordeal can work toward destroying the mind and heart of a particular person as well as that of the Church. Perhaps the best examples I can cite come from Christ himself. During the preparatory Sundays leading to Great Lent we are confronted with two disturbing parables. The first is the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee (Luke 18). I like to point out to my parishioners that the Pharisee is a model for those Orthodox Christians who, among other things, are bound to the form of piety but tragically have no living relationship with God or their neighbor. In the 43
John Chrysostom, On the Incomprehensibility of the Divine Nature, Homily no. 5.
context of the Pharisee’s prayer there is no place for the mournful Publican who calls out for God’s mercy. As you remember, the Pharisee does all the right things—all those things that identify him as an observant and believing Jew. He prays, he fasts, he keeps the commandments, and he is charitable. Yet, Christ says that this man is not justified before God. Doing all the correct things keeps this tragic person from going outside of himself: his prayer is a monologue that focuses on himself. The genius of this parable lies in its irony, which is brilliantly expressed by St. John Chrysostom, who compares the Publican and Pharisee with two charioteers: This discourse shows us two men driving their chariots in the arena. The one driver is inclined towards righteousness united to pride, the other is inclined to sin united to humility. But he who is inclined to sin overtakes the one inclined to righteousness, not by his own power and authority but by the virtue of humility which runs with him; the other is defeated not through the fault of righteousness but because of the weight and mass of pride. 2 The second parable is that of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15). Careful reading of this parable shows that there are in fact two prodigals. The first and more obvious is the younger son who leaves his father’s house after he has liquidated his inheritance. The second prodigal is the older son who remains with his father and who ostensibly shows love, respect, and fidelity to his father. This older son lives, works, prays, and eats with his father. And yet his hardness of heart is revealed when his younger and repentant brother returns home and is embraced by his father—the
father who, for all intents and purposes, was treated as if he were dead. The father forgives his younger son and restores him to his former place within the household. The older son, who remained out of a sense of duty or obligation and not because of his love for his father, stands apart. Duty and obligation prevent the older brother from being in communion with his father. Doing all the right things relative to living and working with his father prevent him from truly knowing his father. Sadly, the older son squanders his relationship with his father. All that he does is done for himself. All that he does is empty of joy—the joy of being with his father (and his brother). The ascetic ordeal is, as you point out, the way toward deepening our relationship with God. But it is first and foremost a personal response to God’s love for us. Asceticism is a life of love, a life in which we overcome the world, not to reject it or to flee from it, but to be re-joined and reintegrated with it. We struggle in the ascetic arena as an expression of our love for God who has loved us first: “We love, because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). We struggle to maintain the ascetic ideal so that the love of Christ that heals all divisions can be extended into the world. I often feel that this social dimension of the ascetical life is lacking. Yes, the ascetic ordeal must be practiced. But it must never become an idol. It must never replace Christ or reduce Christ to an object or weapon that divides oppresses and persecutes. That there are those calling themselves Orthodox Christians who use their faith and the ascetic ordeal as a license to verbally and physically
assault those they perceive as immoral, along with those who would question the status quo of the Church with regard to using the Gospel to promote a realpolitik, is a great hypocrisy. Anton Chekhov sums this up very well when he writes, “purity and virtue scarcely differ from vice, if they’re not free of malice” (“A Boring Story”). The words of the pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus come to mind when I think of the ascetic ordeal and its relationship to iconoclasm: “All things change and nothing remains.” Here iconoclasm uses the ascetic ordeal to advocate, explicitly or implicitly, a Christianity bound to relativism. From this perspective the ascetic ordeal creates a spirituality and corresponding ethos which have no permanent or immutable standard. For the iconoclasts, the Church, if it is to remain relevant, must capitulate to the standards and trends of fluctuating cultures and societies. This kind of relativism stands in opposition to the relativism Fr. Florovsky wrote about, i.e. a relativism that understands our knowledge of the Truth as an act of inexhaustible interpersonal communion which cannot be bound to particular laws or systems. While idolatry presents a distorted face of Christ, iconoclasm presents a faceless Christ. Both extremes ultimately confirm the painful indictment of Nietzsche: “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him” (The Gay Science). It seems to me that, if the two approaches are to be transcended, there must be the acknowledgement and demonstration of the fact that both permanence and change coexist within the living Tradition of the Church. This is the chalThe Wheel 2 | Summer 2015
lenge before us—before the Church. Sadly, it appears that the Church is afraid to meet this challenge. The issues of the day cannot, at this time, be reexamined and, if need be, reevaluated. I look forward to hearing from you when time permits. Father Robert
Dear Father Robert, It was such a pleasure to read your last email. I found no points of disagreement between us. The two parables carry the essence of our faith and I cherish them deeply. The need for the Church to enter substantive dialogue with the science and cultural anthropology of our times seems very obvious to me too. This is especially striking on local levels. Even before coming back to Orthodoxy just a couple of years ago, I felt the need to hold a public conversation with at least the more educated parts of the Georgian Church. Here, the gap between secular intellectuals and the Church had led to grave animosity, mutual aggression, and cynicism. Liberals never miss an opportunity to label the Church as backward, uneducated, fundamentalist, and political, “holding back the progress of the country.” The overwhelming majority of Georgians name the patriarch as the most influential figure in the country. In response, the Georgian hierarchy and clergy publicly demonize their critics as enemies of the “Georgian identity” and our most precious values. It seemed obvious to me that we 45
should have been able to hold a civil and respectful conversation. I had higher expectations from the “defenders” of Orthodoxy. I felt that our liberal publications, i.e. those willing to raise questions relative to human rights vis a vis a one-party political system and powerful Orthodox Church, could serve as platforms for dialogue. But my attempts failed. The Church’s fear and the voices of the critics together seemed too loud and overbearing. Neither side desired dialogue. So, instead of direct confrontation, I thought we could offer the alternative—responding to our problems indirectly, by a positive approach, by preaching Christianity. Fr. M. started
blogging, and we have held interviews with a couple of the more openminded clergy. I cannot say that this has been of no use at all but I think it requires persistence and courage to keep the conversation going. At points along the road, I have thought that this is fruitless, perhaps because I was not ready for the undertaking. Since then I have tried to come back to myself and to my own dilemmas, educating myself before undertaking any other public tasks. This has been my answer so far. But the problems are there, and the gap is not closing, here or elsewhere—quite the contrary. Sincerely, Shorena
Shorena Shaverdashvili is a publisher and former editor-in-chief of an independent print and online political publication in Georgia. Liberali has served as an active platform for both political as well as religious debates, trying to start a conversation between the Orthodox community under the Georgian Church and civil society. Since 2004 Shorena has published three other magazines, and she has been an activist for media and human rights from 2008 to 2012. She has also served on the boards of the Georgian Public Broadcaster and the Media Coalition for Advocacy. She is a graduate of Tufts University in Boston.
The V. Rev. Robert M. Arida is Rector and Dean of Holy Trinity Orthodox Cathedral in Boston, Massachusetts. He is a graduate of St. Vladimir’s Seminary. Some of his published and unpublished articles and essays can be found on the HTOC website at holytrinityorthodox.org. © 2015 The Wheel. May be distributed for noncommercial use. www.wheeljournal.com
Waiting for Communion. The main event of the Liturgy begins behind closed Royal Doors and curtain: clergy is communed in the altar. The interior space of Holy Transfiguration Cathedral is organized to emphasize the centrality of the Eucharist. The nave is focused on the altar, and the semi-circular altar is facing the center of the nave.
LIFE IN WORSHIP
Liturgy as Communion in Theory and Practice Andriy Dudchenko In this article I would like to highlight some questions about Orthodox Liturgy regarding the dissonance experienced between Liturgy as it is fixed in its prayers and rubrics versus its practical celebration. Let us look at how the Liturgy is perceived by parishioners—by the people who attend it with varying degrees of frequency. From my experience as a parish priest in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, it is apparent that that most people perceive the Liturgy as something that takes place “over there,” in the altar. Even so, parishioners standing in the nave “watching” the liturgy, are indeed touching it in some way. But can it be said that they truly contribute to the The Wheel 2 | Summer 2015
celebration of the liturgy? The priest performs the liturgy, with everyone involved in the celebration—as well as deacons, subdeacons, cantors, singers, altar boys, and other ministers—all participate in some obvious way. But how can a regular parishioner, standing there in the nave praying, realize his or her participation in the celebration? The Liturgy includes the involvement of everyone who attends it. The Liturgy is not a show; it should consist only of participants, not observers. Our celebration has unfortunately come to be seen by some as a kind of sacred drama performed before the faithful by clergy, choir, and ministers, and it is no longer the Liturgy
Photos of Holy Transfiguration Cathedral in Kiev by Serge Gadzhilov.
in which everyone takes part. For at least a thousand years we have had liturgical commentaries explaining the Liturgy in an illustrative, “symbolical” way that supports that view. In them the Liturgy is understood as a sacred drama representing the entire history of salvation—from the Incarnation and Nativity of the Lord Jesus Christ to his suffering and Resurrection, so that the celebration reenacts all the stages of sacred history, reducing our role to mere observers of the drama unfolding before us. Fr. Alexander Schmemann sharply criticized this method of interpretation (cf. “Symbols and Symbolism in Byzantine Liturgy” in his book Liturgy and Tradition). This interpretation of Liturgy as sacred drama has been imposed upon us commentators, including some of the holy Fathers, but this view by no means derives from the prayers or rite of the Liturgy itself. In our present usage, common to all Orthodox Churches in general, both of the Greek and Russian traditions, the prayers of the Liturgy are generally said inaudibly, with the exception of a few parishes where the priest recites them aloud. The practice of audible prayers throughout the Liturgy was the general practice for centuries, and is prescribed by Novella 137 of the sixth-century emperor Justinian. Yet today our people cannot hear those prayers. They listen to pleasant singing, look at fine vestments, smell clouds of incense, but this limited, aesthetic experience of Liturgy does not often have an effect on their everyday lives—their families, jobs, their daily routines, and the entire world outside the church building. As a result the church building itself has come to be perceived today as a 48
sacred place isolated from the “profane” world. The study of our Liturgy’s origins reveals that the early Church chose the word leitourgia for their common services for the breaking of bread— the term was free from any notion of sacrality. In ancient Greek leitourgia means “public service” or “public work,” a work in which everyone is involved and for which all bear some responsibility. The ancient leitourgia involved all free citizens of the polis, the city. In our own time we have witnessed a kind of true leitourgia in the Ukrainian Maidan in the winter of 2014. Everyone was involved in it and everyone was fully aware of his or her own responsibility for it. The participants kept vigil, brought food and firewood, provided medicine, collected money, cooked, built barricades, hosted visitors, provided free transportation, and so forth. It was a perfect example of a situation where the small responsibilities of individuals came together to manifest the greater responsibility for a newborn public society. This is an example of Liturgy in the ancient sense of the term: an authentic common service, the common work made up of a diversity of services. It is more than unfortunate that this same notion of leitourgia is not manifested today in our celebration of the Divine Liturgy. We celebrate the same Eucharist as did the ancient Church. New rites and prayers emerged over the centuries, but the core of the Eucharistic celebration remains the same. It is our attitude toward the liturgical celebration that has radically changed. Unfortunately our approach to church services has become extremely individualistic and pietistic: we do not realize our responsibility for what happens during the services in the
church and for what happens when we leave the church building and go into the world. Our liturgical practice takes place in an atmosphere in which we pray as individuals, hardly discerning the prayers, and making no attempt to understand the words. It has turned into a kind of pious meditation. Similarly, these days we perceive the church building as a sacred space, the temple, and sometimes that entails the notion of its radical separation from the outside “mundane” world. But if we consider the buildings the first Christians used for liturgical celebration when they were able to worship freely, we see that the commonest original type of Christian church building was a basilica—a public building, not in any way sacred. And the early Christian communities prior to the official establishment of the Church in A.D. 324 worshipped in ordinary houses. Our Divine Liturgy consists of two parts: the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The central event of the first part is reading of the Holy Scriptures and the explanatory sermon, which is a means of engaging the participants. The second part, the Eucharist, is nothing less than sharing a meal with our Lord and one another. And it is Jesus himself, not the presiding priest, who shares this meal. The reception of the Holy Gifts is not the only purpose of the Eucharist. Its core purpose consists of a number of things relating to the involvement of all gathered. This Eucharistic core does not mean only that, “I receive Holy Communion,” after which my communion is finished. Liturgical participation implies sharing a common responsibility. We intentionally draw a parallel between the Eucharist and the Last The Wheel 2 | Summer 2015
Supper, but furthermore we assert that our participation in the Liturgy, our reception of the precious body and blood of Christ, is not a repetition of the Last Supper but our actual participation in that same event in which Jesus participated with His disciples in the Jerusalem cenacle. Let us consider the Last Supper as it is described in the New Testament. Jesus took twelve of his closest disciples, selectively chosen. They were the people who trusted Jesus and to whom he entrusted himself, despite his knowledge of the one who would betray him. These disciples were chosen neither for their social status nor for other external virtues. They were simply the people who had heard Jesus and who were ready to leave everything and follow him. This was the criterion of discipleship. And then Jesus gathered with these twelve in the cenacle and did some very simple things. We know that the meal included the bread and the cup. Jesus took the bread, said the blessing, broke the bread, and gave it to the disciples. Similarly with the cup: he took it, blessed it, gave thanks, and gave it to the apostles, saying: “Take, eat, this is my body… Drink everyone from it, this is my blood.” The same simple things we say and do in our Liturgy today. But the simple process has become covered with layer after layer of elaborate rites that have evolved throughout the ages, making it difficult for us to discern the essential core under all the Byzantine beauty of hymnody, processions, rites, vestments, and so on. We can barely perceive the unadorned kernel of what is actually taking place. We have ceased to comprehend the plain truths at the core of the liturgical event. Do we iden49
tify ourselves as disciples gathered for Liturgy in the same manner as the apostles at the Last Supper? And that we have assembled not of our own accord, but because it is Jesus who has invited us to gather? We are the people to whom Jesus entrusts himself. We are responsible for our teacher and for all he has taught us. Jesus entrusted the words and the actions over the bread and the cup to the apostles, saying: “Do this in remembrance of me.” And these were the people responsible for the continuation of the Lord’s work. They were responsible not only for themselves but for the work entrusted to them. Now, in the Church, we partake of the same supper. We hear the same words, take part in the same service, share the same meal, receive the same gifts—the body and blood of our Lord—and it is we who are called to continue Jesus’s work that he entrusted to those disciples. We communicants are the people who are responsible for continuing his work. Here a number of secondary matters emerge, including some technical ones, but the primary issue is our attitude toward the Liturgy. We have to explore all possible ways to make our Liturgy more liturgical. The participation of the faithful should be not merely encouraged, it must become the essential feature of the liturgical celebration. First, we should gather together in a church, or we should say as the Church, bringing our simple food: bread and wine (I call it simple because bread and wine are common food for everyone, but it takes a lot of hard work of many people to produce it—and it is truly in the preparation of these gifts that the Liturgy begins—a liturgy before the Liturgy!), and then praying together, 50
giving thanks to God, and taking part in a certain dialogue, and then sharing the Lord’s meal with everyone gathered. I am unable in this short space to outline an exhaustive plan for liturgical reform. We can read prayers aloud, we can restore congregational singing, we can share the greeting of peace, and so on. Certainly we should try to do such things as these and much more. Until there is the perception of common involvement and common responsibility for what takes place in the Liturgy we should not claim that there has been a revival in the Church. The Church consists of small Eucharistic communities. Moreover, according to the work of Fr. Nicholas Afanasiev, each Eucharistic gathering is the Church. The Eucharist is the event in which the Church reveals and completes herself. As we seek appropriate ways to revive Church life, we can look to our Western brothers and scholars, both Orthodox and Catholic, as well as to our common ancient Church legacy for models and experiences of liturgical life. We should study the methods and fruits of the Western liturgical movement and of the Second Vatican Council in their efforts to make the Liturgy more liturgical. We can also gain insight from the experience of the Orthodox Churches in the West. Some of their communities, such as New Skete Monastery and some parishes of the Orthodox Church in America, have attempted to implement significant liturgical reform, with varying degrees of success. It should be noted that in the Western Church, where the liturgical movement arose, the liturgical situation was much worse than in the
Orthodox Church. It was perhaps such dire circumstances that actually helped our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters to rise up and to grow into what they are now in respect to the liturgy. If we compare the present reformed Catholic mass with the Orthodox Liturgy, we immediately notice the identity of structure, and we understand that their services are the same as ours in their basic aspects. Certainly they have varying nuances, but the core and basic elements of the celebrations are very similar or even identical. On the other hand the two differ in that the original structure, visibility, and accessibility of the liturgical core as well as the people’s participation have become much clearer in the reformed Catholic rite. As an Orthodox presbyter, I can affirm that the Catholic Liturgy is actually more liturgical than the one celebrated in most of our Orthodox churches today. Meanwhile, we do have a kind of Liturgy in our parish worship. I am
an eyewitness of a true Liturgy in our Church—as manifested in the akathistos prayer. This prayer form often becomes true Liturgy, because people are really involved in the service of it. First, the language of most akathistoi is much simpler and easier to understand than that of the classic liturgical prayers and hymns. Most of its sentences are short and written in a Slavonicized Russian rather than in Church Slavonic. It is the people who sing its refrains. They participate with understanding and by singing. I have one more reason to describe the akathistos as more liturgical than the Divine Liturgy. On Sunday in my parish the service begins with an akathistos, and when it starts, a priest comes out to hear confessions. During the akathistos, people rarely come forward for confession, as they are afraid of leaving the service. But they are not afraid to request confession during Divine Liturgy! When the Divine Liturgy begins, the “sacred drama” occurs, and then it becomes time for private matters, a confession,
“Let my prayer arise in your sight, as incense...” During the service, not only the icons are censed, but also the people, the images of God.
The Wheel 2 | Summer 2015
Mosaic icon of the Communion of the Apostles.
for example. So people experience their own participation in the akathistos prayer, but they perceive the Liturgy as something taking place on a stage, not something they themselves participate in. We discussed these issues at a recent Kiev Summer Theological Institute. One priest noted that our parishioners participate in the Eucharist as individuals, not as community, and connected this phenomenon to the preparation required to receive the Holy Gifts. As a rule, a parishioner keeps these obligations: reading the prayer rule (three canons and the canon and prayers before Holy Communion), fasting additionally for at least one day or, even better, three (itâ€™s actually not a complete fasting but rather a kind of a vegetarian diet, with no meat, milk and eggs; and with the ordinary fasting days on Wednesday and Friday it became a four days of vegetarian diet before the Sunday Eucharist), and going to confession. Keeping such a rule on a weekly basis, or even twice a month, is quite exhausting, but this tradition became customary not so long ago, in the age of liturgical decay of eighteenth and nineteenth centurues. Traditions, such as this fairly recent burdensome practice of additional fasting etc., can be altered for pas52
toral reasons. If we priests insist on them, we become like Pharisees who weigh men down with burdens too hard to bearâ€”while not burdening ourselves with them. As long as we afflict people with such burdens we have no right to submit other claims regarding the responsibilities of real common participation in the Liturgical celebration. As long as burdens such as the challenging preparation for Holy Communion exist, people come to the Liturgy as individuals, and the entire Liturgy for a parishioner is reduced to receiving the Holy Gifts or, receiving Communion when thereâ€™s no other communion involved beyond the ritual act. The healing of such issues comes with a change of mind. The first aspect of this change of mind is the understanding that participation in the Eucharist such as described above is far from being complete. If we are invited to a wedding feast, the purpose of our participation is not just eating. We share the festal meal, but the meal itself is not the whole purpose. The goal is a deeper communion with each other, and the same is true for the Eucharist, which is also a celebratory meal. Here is a table with the meal served by our Bridegroom, Jesus the Lord, and we presbyters preside over the ceremony and of-
fer people not our own meal but that served for us all by Jesus. The entire Liturgy is a kind of long, detailed, comprehensive toast given to our God before sharing the chalice of life. So what is essential is not merely to partake of the sacred meal, but to participate in the entire Eucharistic prayer of thanksgiving offered by us all: all the supplications, all the gestures, and the entire Liturgy. Finally, as we say, the “liturgy after the Liturgy” occurs when people bring out what they have experienced at the church and share it with their neighbors. But just as necessary is the “liturgy before the Liturgy,” already mentioned above. Otherwise we behave like those Corinthians whom St. Paul criticized for being “consumers”—coming to the Liturgy only for the purpose of taking something from it, not for giving or sharing. But the Liturgy is formed from what we bring to it, not merely the bread and wine, but what we offer from our hearts and minds. The Liturgy is manifested when people practice the Christian life every day. They gather not only to take something, but first and foremost to give and share. A friend of mine once pointed out to me that in the Torah—
the core of the Holy Scriptures—the following verse is repeated three times: You should not come before God with your hands empty (Exodus 23:14, 34:19, Deuteronomy 16:16). The offering could be not only bread and wine, or oil and candles, as in the early Church, but, according to St. Paul, a human heart converted to Christ. Thus, in the Liturgy we say that our offering is the sacrifice of praise. But a worthy sacrifice must be prepared. Do we bother to prepare our own sacrifice of praise as a part of our congregational sacrifice, before we go to church? Understanding is the first stage of maturity. Not all people can gain such an understanding of the Liturgy by themselves, and thus the pastors and preachers are called to teach them. But pastors and preachers must reach this understanding themselves before they can pass it on to the people. I invite all of you to think about the dissonance between the real Liturgy as I’ve described it and the way our Divine Liturgy is currently celebrated and perceived by the faithful. We need to look for appropriate ways to address the problems. Let’s make our Liturgy a true communion.
The V. Rev. Andriy Dudchenko is the editor of the online magazine Kievan Rus and a presbyter of Holy Transfiguration Church in Kiev of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. He is the author of several books about the Orthodox Divine Liturgy and Holy Communion. He is a graduate of Kiev Theological Academy. Some of his articles and essays can be found in his online magazine at kiev-orthodox.org.
The Wheel 2 | Summer 2015
© 2015 The Wheel. May be distributed for noncommercial use. www.wheeljournal.com
STATE OF AFFAIRS
Orthodoxy and Public Discourse: Critical Reflections Haralambos Ventis Recently the Orthodox world has been abuzz with excitement in anticipation of the upcoming Holy and Great Pan-Orthodox Council. While the announcement of such a landmark event may justify some enthusiasm among our faith’s adherents, given Orthodoxy’s characteristic resistance to the idea of change and growth and the Church’s habitual tendency to withdraw from historical affairs, the prospective event also causes concern among the more sober-minded. Doubtlessly the Council will reaffirm the metaphysical and doctrinal statements of the seven Ecumenical Councils regarding the person of Jesus Christ as God Incarnate, and of the Trinity. This is all fine and good. But things are likely to become less clear-cut as soon as the attention shifts from God to the world and to humankind in particular. “Getting it right” with regard to the divinity (to use a term of Richard Rorty) may be, curiously enough, easier than coming up with a fair and accurate assessment of human beings and the cosmos, given the ceaseless amassment of knowledge about both that has occurred in the centuries since a council of this magnitude has occurred. This new knowledge, painstakingly 54
attained by trial and error, simply wasn’t available in previous ages— certainly not at the time of the Great Church Councils nor in the age of the emergence of our Patristic literature. Writing soon after the turn of the new millennium, Met. Kallistos Ware aptly speculated that the twenty-first century would be the time for the Church to begin exploring anthropology and cosmology, following the doctrinal sorting out of theology and ecclesiology that occurred over the course of the preceding millennia. This task is more challenging than first meets the eye, and must be handled with humility, open-mindedness, and caution—above all, in honest dialogue with the respective sciences that deal with the two universes: the external one and the one within us. Is the Orthodox Church aware, and willing to realize, that our current worldview is not in the least similar to that of the Patristic age? Responses to this unsettling question often reiterate (especially when they come from more traditionalist quarters) that the Church simply cannot compromise its normative beliefs so as to accommodate passing trends of a consumerist nature. There
Mars Hill in Athens, the ancient site of public debate.
is truth in this statement, but overall, it constitutes a glib answer to a genuinely large and complex problem concerning the Churchâ€™s openness to reality at large. Here I am focusing not on the content of Christianityâ€™s tacit or explicit anthropological affirmations that may themselves be in need of an update; rather, I am calling attention to the proper attitude and mentality that the institutional Church must assume before attempting to demand a say in the on-going public dialogue nowadays on a range of issues pertinent to Christians as human beings. The development of this attitude is crucial because Christian ontology is not simply neutral or descriptive: there are always moral implications and demands that flow from them, and a skewed ontology, coupled with a wrong attitude characteristic of the blurring of the lines between democracy and theocracy, will push Orthodoxy further into irrelevance. Here are a few personal thoughts that might prove useful to those inThe Wheel 2 | Summer 2015
volved in the upcoming Councilâ€™s preparation, should they seriously intend the event to serve as a meaningful witness to the world. Nowadays more than ever, the institutional Church should keep in mind that in our modern, secular, and pluralistic cultural context, sharp reproaches of heteronomy and legalism are still levelled as a permanent stigma against religious morality and still undermine its claims, as is shown, for example, by two important monographs recently published in Greece, Stalinism: the Fourth Monotheistic Religion and Religion Against Art. The common denominator of both books is the thesis that religious normativity (especially of the monotheistic sort), with all the intolerance it often displays toward alternative value systems, is imperialist and allergic to reconsidering its own motives. In view of this problem, it is proposed by the liberal intelligentsia that citizens, truly free people, not bother to concern themselves with scriptures and holy texts when en55
gaging in ethical issues, but rather to deal exclusively with constitutions. That is because constitutions are, at least potentially, subject to revision, in line with social developments and the newly emerging needs of each era. Sacred texts, on the other hand, seen as non-falsifiable revealed truth “dropped from heaven,” are considered inherently insusceptible to questioning and revision, and so are in principle shielded from contact with empirical reality and the prospect of falsifiability (the breakwater which crashes the obsessions and hardline expectancies of those who persistently ignore that the whole of reality and infinity—the moral sphere included—can be neither codified nor squared). To the extent, therefore, that they resist any attempt at reconsideration, both the sacred texts themselves and their normative moral mandates are still targeted as terminal points barring open-minded inquiries, and as fostering passivity and mental underdevelopment—for each holy text, the cycle of revealed Truth is closed, and what remains is merely a compliance with received wisdom and order, without room for deviation or innovation. This view gains extra momentum coming as it does at a time when morality and ethics, as mentioned above, are inextricably bound up with fallible deliberation and revision, and are almost exclusively justified on the basis of continuous dialogue and public consultation (“apart from everyone else, my mind is hopelessly one-sided,” Aeschylus taught). With this in mind, Christians who confidently believe that public life can be enriched by and profit from religious moral principles 56
must seriously ponder the adequacy of the institutional churches to meet the new challenge with due responsibility. The impulsive and reckless ecclesiastical interventions on major trending ethical controversies could well turn out to be the Waterloo of the Christian world if they continue to add cause to the firm conviction that institutional Christianity does not intend to participate in public discourse as an equal partner but as an immovable catechist; this is all the more so when Christian leaders appear sanguinely indifferent to the modern distinction between the wider society and their flock. Recent socio-political developments in Russia and the cooperative role of the Russian Church in the curtailment of fundamental civil rights do not leave much room for optimism. For not only are they flagrantly indicative of parroting cheap, historically worn out preconceptions that they present as “spirituality”; worse than that, they mirror in perhaps the grossest possible manner the institutional corrosion of national churches, like those of Greece and Russia: embracing Caesar and using the resulting privileges they enjoy to impose their views on society and to criminalize anything of which they do not approve. In view of all these circumstances, I would suggest that the only way for an evangelical morality to recaptivate the world in the post-Christian era we live in is by consistently upholding the most valuable theological landmarks of Orthodox thought, ancient and modern, that are capable of speaking to the mind and heart of the thinking secular citizens today. Among these, one could men-
tion (among many others), the neoPatristic concept of the person and the irreducible diversity of personal otherness—Divine and human—as communion exercised in freedom; the recent repositioning of eschatology at the heart of the Christian worldview, which breaks with historical determinism, leaving the future uncircumscribed and open to fascinating surprises and reversals; and the increasing recent theological attempts toward an urgent (and largely still pending) meeting of Orthodoxy with modernity, an important precursor of which we think was the Gospel itself. None of the above, however, would contribute to the undoing of religious legalism and barrenness as would the ecclesiastical embracing of the poor and downtrodden members of society, indeed of all social outcasts, as being ontologically identical with Christ and his altar, in an extension of the Liturgy before and after its celebration— in which the sacrament of the Eucharist is celebrated by the community in the most inclusive manner, affirmative of all races, nationalities, genders, social classes, ages, and sexual orientations. Crucial for the authenticity of the Christian witness remains, finally, the consistent defense of love without footnotes or preconditions (Luke 6: 32–34) just as the Lord commanded, and the recognition of the priority of human beings and their deepest, innermost needs over against the various versions of the “Sabbath”—in the most open-minded, charitable and personalized manner possible. Here a right understanding of Tradition, complete with an understanding of its background metaphysics, The Wheel 2 | Summer 2015
can aid the cause of offering an existentially meaningful and socially responsible Orthodox witness to the world, provided that Tradition is sufficiently imbued with eschatology. The interpenetration of ontology and eschatology should count as self-evident, for, after all, Christian metaphysics is eschatological throughout: its vision is forward-looking and future-oriented, founded on the resurrection of the second. Adam and based on the promise of a new heaven and a new earth (Rev. 21:1). By sheer virtue of its openness to a largely undetermined, uncircumscribed future (a future fashioned as a gift and not as the inevitable outcome of historical forces), Tradition is appositely endowed to make room for the new and unanticipated. It can thus make fresh and original contributions to anthropology, while still falling back on its own cumulative wisdom, carefully updating it where necessary. Unfortunately, however, as even a cursory look at some of the recently published Orthodox literature indicates, it is not only ultra-conservatives who are keen on bracing our Tradition against even the possibility of growth and revision, but mainstream Orthodox writers as well. In the name of doctrinal and confessional purity, they seem bent on emulating and reviving Protestantism’s old view of Scripture as a self-contained, finished, and unerring body of revelation, now applied to Church Tradition and to the Patristic corpus. Protestantism’s self-restriction to the narrow confines of a sacred text has been recycled and imported into Orthodoxy where it provides a safe reliance on accepted truth. As 57
a result of this practice, Orthodox Christianity has largely lost (forfeited, actually) its prophetic capacity to read the signs of the times and has dwindled into a voice from the past, devoid of the capacity to contribute anything of real substance to the public dialogue beyond making more and more irrelevant and embarrassing noise. Given the popularity of this mindset, one may reasonably expect this predilection for the “dead letter” of Tradition to inform and influence the proceedings and final statements of the upcoming Pan-Orthodox Synod. This is regrettable, not only because the shallow witness that results from this view will likely be presented as Orthodox Christianity’s latest and supposedly most complete statement, but particularly because the true magnitude and depth of Our church’s Tradition will inevitably be obscured and, worse, hidden from the eyes of a world mired in nihilism and thirsty for existential meaning. Platitudes and prefabricated answers are no substitute for the Gospel’s enduring
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message, nor are they indicative of an honest engagement with inquiring people of every age and place, an engagement that doesn’t sweep tough questions under the rug. Hence, it is my suggestion that on the eve of the upcoming Synod, the institutional Church awaken to the dynamic nature of its Tradition and see it in terms of an evolving, on-going body of living Truth instead of the way it is often presented now: as a static, completed product intended for passive consumption. In order for this awakening to occur, institutional Orthodoxy must first realize that its vessel is still afloat and has not yet reached the shores of the Eschata. Understanding that to be the case, the Church must again open up to the unforeseen ways of the Holy Spirit, who ceaselessly refreshes creation by creating new biological and social realities as well as unanticipated and even startling forms of grace—all in line with Christ’s promise that his Kingdom will entail staggering reversals of what we currently (and with pious complacency) assume to be normal and respectable (Matt. 19:30).
Haralambos Ventis has studied philosophy and theology in Greece (Deree College), the United States (Holy Cross Orthodox Seminary and Boston University School of Theology), and Belgium (Catholic University of Leuven). He is the translator of Christos Yannaras’ early work Heidegger and the Areopagite: On the Absence and Ignorance of God, and the author of Eschatology and Otherness (in Greek) and The Reductive Veil: Post-Kantian Non-Representationalism versus Apophatic Realism. He has also published papers in the Greek journals Synaxi and Theologia.
Witness Christian Wiman Typically cryptic, God said three weasels slipping electric over the rocks one current conducting them up the tree by the river in the woods of the country into which I walked away and away and away; and a moon-blued, cloud-strewn night sky like an X-ray with here a mass and there a mass and everywhere a mass; and to the tune of a two-year-old storm of atoms elliptically, electrically aliveâ€” I will love you in the summertime, Daddy. I will love you... in the summertime. Once in the west I lay down dying to see something other than the dying stars so singularly clear, so unassailably there, they made me reach for something other. I said I will not bow down again to the numinous ruins. I said I will not violate my silence with prayer. I said Lord, Lord in the speechless way of things that bear years, and hard weather, and witness.
ÂŠ 20 May b nonco www.
Christian Wiman is the author of several books of poetry and prose. He teaches at the Yale Institute of Sacred Music. His collection Once in the West (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014) may be purchased at http://us.macmillan. com/books/9780374227012.
The Wheel 2 | Summer 2015
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