Twelve Quotes on Orthodoxy, Ecumenism, and Catholicism

  1. Ecumenism: Invented by Protestants. Adapted by Catholics. Foisted on Orthodox. Won’t you agree it smells fishy?
  2. Many Protestants see Catholics generously, looking at them as basically equivalent to a Protestant. Catholics extend the same spirit of generosity to see Orthodox as essentially Catholic. But the differences are fundamentally deeper.
  3. What Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant share is genuinely significant. There is really a lot in common. But there is also remarkably much in common between Christian, Hindu, and classical Taoist, even if there is less in common than what Christians hold in common. The commonalities are significant, but beyond the differences also being significant, Orthodox communion makes a profound difference. Looking at theological similarities and ignoring the point of communion is a way to strain out a gnat and swallow a camel.
  4. The Church must breathe with both lungs. (And the sooner she starts breathing with the Western lung, the better.)
  5. I’ve seen the shirts that say, “Orthodox Christian in communion with Rome” and wished to make, among other things, a shirt that says “Catholic Christian in communion with the Archdruid of Canterbury.” Trying to be Orthodox without being in communion with the Orthodox Church is like trying to be married without a spouse.
  6. The Orthodox Church shares common ground. It has common ground in one dimension with Catholics and Protestants, and it has common ground in another dimension with Hindus and Buddhists, and you are missing the point if you say, “Yes, but other Christians share the true common ground.” For all of this, the Orthodox Church is capable of sharing common ground and recognizing differences that exist. And there is a way for Catholics and Protestants, and Hindus and Buddhists as well, to receive full communion with Orthodoxy: they can become Orthodox.
  7. In matters of ecumenism and especially intercommunion, Rome is Orthodox in her dealings with Protestants, and Protestant in her dealings with Orthodox. If you want to know why Orthodoxy refuses intercommunion with Rome, you might find a hint of the answer in why Rome refuses Protestant intercommunion. And if your immediate reaction is, “But our theology is equivalent,” ponder this: that is also what ecumenist Protestants say to you. (And they say it in perfectly good faith.)
  8. It would be strange for every pope from here on to be like Pope Benedict XVI and not Pope John XXIII. And under Pope John XXIII, the question, “Is the Pope Catholic?” might have best been answered, “Well, from a certain point of view…”
  9. In the history that is common to Catholics and Orthodox, every time someone proposed a solution like ecumenism, the Church soundly rejected it. If we have reached a state where we can reject the ancient wisdom in these decisions, this is another reason why we have departed from Orthodoxy and another reason Orthodoxy should spurn our advances.
  10. Christ prayed that we all may be one. But hearing “ecumenism” in that prayer is a bit like hearing a prayer that a room may be cleaned and pushing all the clutter under a bed. Christ’s prayer that his disciples may be one transcends the mere whitewash that ecumenism can only offer. (Christ’s prayer that we may all be one is solid gold. Ecumenism is a rich vein, but only of fool’s gold.)
  11. In Catholic ecumenical advances, I have never heard anyone mention any of the concerns about things Rome has done that may be obstacles to restoring comminuon. What kind of healthy advance bowls over and ignores the other’s reservations?
  12. Good fences make good neighbors. Ecumenism tramples down fences and invites itself into others’ homes. Orthodox can be good neighbors, but when they reject ecumenical advances, it is part of keeping good fences for good neighbors.


A prayer of freedom

Save me from forging false gods, O Lord, and deliver me from the chains of passion I have entangled me in. Do thou raise mine eyes to Heaven, with my neck ever bowed to thee, and my hands open to thy grace and open to my neighbor. I have fallen: do thou raise me up, that I may praise and glorify thy name. Amen.

A prayer of providence

O Lord who hast created me, do thou provide for me and trust that in your heart’s plans will my highest good be real. Do thou grant me humility and faith, and obedience: all things needful for me to forsake plans of my own imagining and accept what from your hand is better than mine heart could devise. Every prodigality from this trust I have entertained; do thou forgive me, for if thou wert to only look after those that trust thee rightly, O Lord, who could stand before thee? But immeasurable is thy mercy, and incomparable is thy providence: do thou O Christ bless me, with the Father, and thine all-holy, lifegiving, and all-present Spirit, both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

A prayer of the Trinity

O Lord God and Father, Light of the ages, do thou illumine my soul with thy Holy Spirit, and ever impress on me the image of thy Son. Make me ever worshipful towards thee, and do thou grant me an image of repentance, and an image of compassion, and an image of prayer. I thank thee, O Lord, that thou hast not avenged thyself of my many sins, sins known and unknown to me, but hast reached to shape me with thy two hands of thy Son and Spirit. Do thou fill me with worship to thee, one God in Trinity, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

A prayer of mercy

O Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. O Lord who hast created me, by thy salvation make me whole, and by thy mercy show lovingkindness. For as thy giving is infinite, so also is thy forgiving, and although I am wounded in sin, yet may I become wounded with love for thee. I stand before thee a sinner, having practiced and invented evil, and I ask thee to heal the wounds and bruises of my soul, take away the burden of my sins, and restore me to life eternal. Great are my sins, and I cannot worthily lament them in grief, yet they are as nothing in the ocean of thy lovingkindnesses and mercies: for thy mercy is lovingkindness and thy lovingkindness is mercy. Do thou have mercy on me, a sinner. Amen.

A prayer of fire’s desctruction

O Lord, grant me watchfulness of soul: when there is a smouldering of sin, an unnoticeable flame the size of a fingertip, let it be extinguished then and there. Let me be ever watchful, and never wait for the fire to spread and grow larger before I seek to extinguish it. For thou, O Christ, canst extinguish even a fire that devoureth half of my house, and my goods with it: but let me learn watchfulness of fire, and extinguish fires when they are but a candle flame, but a smouldering wick: for why should I only put out fires when they have already devoured my substance? But do, thou O Lord, share with me out of thy substance, and let me return to thee as a prodigal if an inferno is raging, and let me return to thee as a prodigal if I play with a smouldering wick. Lord, save me from my lack of vigilant watchfulness when it seems enticing to play with the beginnings of Hellfire. O Lord, save me, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

A prayer for eyes on Heaven

O Lord, however much I struggle in ascesis, let contemplation be my goal. Let me seek first the Kingdom of God, and your perfect righteousness, and trust that all the other things that tempt me to seek them first will be given to me as well. Save me, O Lord, from activism: save me, O Lord, for contemplation. Save me, O Lord, from being too earthly minded to be of any earthly good, for living to transform the world by a secular plan: save me, O Lord, from this hydra which ever groweth new heads even when we would avoid it as spiritual poison. Help me, O Lord, to ever return my gaze to Heaven: if I cast my eyes down to undertake earthly plans seven times, let me return my gaze to higher things eight times: if I lower my gaze a thousand times, let me raise it up a thousand and once. Do thou protect and save me, and show me the path of life. Amen.

A prayer of noise

O Lord, deliver me from this intravenous drip of spiritual noise, this intravenous drip of noise that I need as little and as much as a drunkard needs one more drink. Deliver me from this drip that wears away even stone, this water torture that I will not live without. Deliver me from this spiritual din that keeps me from discovering spiritual silence: a treasure hidden in a field, that holds the joy of spiritual sobriety. Do thou grant me the silence of Heaven, and stillness in prayer. Christ God still my heart, with thine unoriginate Father and thy all-holy and life-giving Spirit.

A prayer in all things

Blessed art Thou, O God of our Fathers, and praised and glorified is thy name forever. I thank thee for all the good things thou hast given me in my life even unto this day, blessings of life and health, of food and drink, and things wherein I have no need and yet still have been blessed. Do thou have mercy on me, a sinner, and restore unto me the joy of thy salvation, and grant unto me an image of repentance and grace wherewith to worthily bear the cross Thou hast placed upon my shoulders and charged me. God, be merciful to me, a sinner.

A prayer of suffering

O Christ God, who without change became man, in whose holy and pure and lifegiving and passionless passion thou triumphedst and art become the firstborn of the dead: Grant to us, amidst our change and suffering to be changeless and without suffering, immovable in thy grace. Do thou grant us illumination in every darkness. Grant unto us, unworthy thou we be, thy whole salvation, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

A prayer of dust

O Lord, who hast created me from dust, make me ever mindful that to dust I shall return. Grant thou me humility in all things: humility towards thyself, that I may not tell thee, “No, Lord,” humility towards other men and the world that I may not impose my wishes of what they may be over what God allows them to be, and humility towards that which is mine own that I may recognize that all mine are given by thee and not one thing that is mine is mine but that thou gavedst it me. Help me make peace with things I would not have chosen, that even when I return to the ashes from which I was taken I shall accept from thy hand the cup thou givest me and return to thee in joy. Amen.

A prayer for protection

Deliver me, O Christ God, for I walk through the midst of many snares. For demons beset me, and I bear the stench of passion in my soul. But do thou grant me penitence from sin, deliverance from passion, and faithfulness in trust and obedience that the feeble audacity of the demons may be set at naught through the might of thine outstretched arm. Fence me about with the power of thy Cross by which thou triumphest over the hollow victory of darkness. Do thou watch my steps and keep mine eyes ever transfixed on thee. Amen.

A prayer of life

Give me thy Life, O Lord, and enlighten me with thy divine energies. Let my life be whole in all ways, and let me see thy Light. Have mercy on me in my sins, and rescue me from a world fallen twice: once as all men have fallen, and once again into a life moulded of plastic. Yea here and now let me live thy Life, and not some time I imagine in future circumstances; shew me thy glory and transfigure me. Lofty visions are beyond me: but in prayer and love for my neighbor allow me to participate in thy glory, thine eternal radiant splendor. In the name of the Father of Lights, and the Son who was transfigured, and the Holy Spirit who illuminest, amen.

A prayer for contentment

Lord, I beseech thee, teach me content. Teach me to be content with less; teach me that victory and trimph and wholeness come to those who take up their emptying cross even as Christ emptied himself, became man, then a servant, then emptied himself even unto death. Do thou work with me, not as I will, but as thou wilt. Amen.

A prayer for salvation from sin

O Lord and God and King, as thy mercy is immeasurable and thy forgiveness unsearchable, receive thou me, the chief of sinners. Pour out thy lovingkindness on my soul, and restore me unto thy righteousness, that the multitude of my sins and transgressions may be annihilated by thy holy mercy which be vast without measure, my wounds be healed, and the stench of my passions banished in thy fragrance forevermore. For thou art a merciful God, the God of sinners and penitent, and there is no sin that conquereth thy love to all men, nor is there found any sin which compareth to thine immeasurable lovingkindness, of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, both now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

A prayer for help

Lord, help me! For evildoers surround me, and I am beset with snares round about. O Lord who hast created me, and hast summoned me to thee every day of my life even unto this day, look neither on my sluggishness nor procrastination, but receive this day as I turn to thee, and do thou grant me strength and humility to rely on whatever aid it beseemeth thee to send me, who turn to serve thee at the eleventh hour. Amen.

A prayer in loss

O Lord, who hast said, I am the Vine, and my Father is the Vinedresser: every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away, and every branch that beareth fruit he purgeth that it may bear even more fruit: Do thou purge me; help thou my unwillingness, for I know not the sovereign love wherein thou prunest away such things as I seek. Do thou comfort me even as I am purged, and grant me to trust thy faithfulness. Amen.

A prayer for a forgiving heart

O Lord, grant unto me an image of repentance and of forgiveness, and not to hold on to the memory of wrongs done to me. O Christ, who prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” pray that we might repay evil with good and pray for all who betray us, even as they know full well what they do in treachery and betrayal. Do thou help me, for I am small in heart and not wise in the ways of a forgiving heart. Help me, with thy Father and thy Holy Spirit. Amen.

A prayer of the most excellent way

O Lord, who dost grant to mankind out of thy bounty food and drink, and more than this penitence, prayer, and perseverance: let us ascend higher still to the vertues deiform and Heavenly. Beyond all prophecy and knowledge, let us grasp unto faith, hope, and love, each one a disposition of Heaven abiding in our hearts. O Lord Christ who hast shewen the most excellent way, with the Father and the Spirit of Love, do thou instill in our hearts faith, hope, and love. Amen.

The Powered Access Bible

The Powered Access Bible is a tool to allow free and effective access to the Bible. The Powered Access Bible is especially good at finding which verses contain a given word, and then easily reading those verses in their full context. (The Powered Access Bible is a tool to find what the Bible says about something, and read it in context.) This includes Old Testament, New Testament, and Apocrypha/Deuterocanonical books.

A view of the Powered Access Bible

Read the Powered Access Bible online!

There is also a package available for download and use on Unix-like servers:

If you’re not sure which version to download, I suggest the highest-numbered version.

License: Everything but the Bible versions is available to you under hour choice of the Artistic, GPL, and MIT licenses; the Bible translations are licensed as documented in the distribution. If you like this software, you are invited to consider linking


Version Unix/Linux tar.bz2 Unix/Linux tar.gz RedHat RPM
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Modus Tollens: Meandering Reflections on Life, Faith, and Politics

(P→Q)∧¬Q ⇒ ¬P

“‘P implies Q’ and not Q” implies not P

Modus Tollens in Propositional Logic

In the pursuit of knowledge,
Every day something is added.
In the practice of the Tao,
Every day something is dropped.

The Tao Te Ching, 48

Ἐγώ εἰμι ἡ ἄμπελος ἡ ἀληθινή, καὶ ὁ πατήρ μου ὁ γεωργός ἐστιν· πᾶν κλῆμα ἐν ἐμοὶ μὴ φέρον καρπὸν αἴρει αὐτό, καὶ πᾶν τὸ καρπὸν φέρον καθαίρει αὐτὸ ἵνα καρπὸν πλείονα φέρῃ.

I am the true Vine, and my Father is the Vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit, He takes away, and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.

John 15:2

Tolle, lege.

Take, read.

A child, to the Blessed Augustine

In the steps of logic, interestingly claimed by both the disciplines of mathematics and philosophically (or perhaps, disowned by both disciplines), the proof of any great theorem has something paradoxical. Step by step, you go from one statement to another that is more general and asserts less, until at the end you reach a significant and quite specific conclusion at the end. At each step of the way, there is something you lose and something you give up. But when all the blocks are in places, you have a conclusion that is far more substantial than any of the losses ensued.

Modus tollens, for which this piece is named, is one of two prominent “inference rules” in logic. Modus ponens, the way of adding, powers such syllogisms as, “If all men are mortal and Socrates is a man, then Socrates is mortal.” Modus tollens, by contrast, is the way of taking away, and it powers such syllogisms as, “If all men are mortal and the Archangel Michael is not mortal, then the Archangel Michael is not a man.” Now symbolic logic does not deal too much in concrete syllogisms; it is often concerned with more abstract pursuits, but these provide at least slightly concrete of an illustration of two of the major workhorses in symbolic logic. And they are not mutually exclusive to use; I may take modus tollens as my point of departure for this work, but please understand that it would be absurd to say that a logician who agrees with me would stop using modus ponens in proofs and argument.

Blinding light

When I was young I enjoyed night and darkness, and the beauty that things have once your eyes are accustomed to the night. When driving at night, I loathed headlights: I used them in full accordance with the law, and I was glad that other drivers would see me, but I was painfully aware of something I am much less aware of now: headlights effectively limit my vision to where they are pointing; if I want to look to the side of the road, I see far less than my eyes can see when they are accustomed to darkness. I wrote in my cynical dictionary,

Flashlight, n. An instrument of imperception which obscures vision by producing a concentrated glare at one point which is sufficiently intense to prevent the user from seeing anything else. Environmentalists have brought the cleverness of this device one step further by producing the solar powered flashlight.

It was much later that I would learn that as far as core insight goes, I had reinvented a basic building block of ninjutsu. Ninjutsu recognizes that we see optimally in the dark when we have not seen strong light, such as that produced by cars and flashlights, for at least 20-30 minutes (some would prefer longer). The optimal condition from a ninja’s perspective is to retain such night-optimized vision, while any opponents would see bright lights enough to lose that vision. And there are many layers of insight in that basic perspective: a flashlight is not simply, as a naive user would expect, something that lets us see where we could not see. It works in a way that shuts down our natural night vision, the vision that not only ninjas but a million years of our human race had as the only, and best, way to see in the night. If I may put it in these terms, the ninja preference for “natural night vision” should not be seen as a distinguishing feature that sets ninjas apart from other people today, but a retained continuity with the only game in town for well over 99% of the times humans have walked the earth. I don’t want to downplay or diminish the achievement represented by the whole suite of ninja stealth skills, but trying to retain one’s natural night vision is not so much a matter of “Wow, what insight and skill!” as “They have a clue!”

A supreme instance of a universal law

In the Arthurian Torso, C.S. Lewis makes a point about vicarious salvation: “He saved others, himself he cannot save,” the wicked barb of sarcasm unleashed as Christ hung on the Cross with nails through his wrists and labored breaths piercing his lung, is a definition of the Kingdom. All salvation, everywhere and in every place, is vicarious. Every man may paddle his neighbor’s canoe but not his own. And as regards Anselm, who argued that the race of men owed a debt that could only be paid by a man and simultaneously could only be paid by God, so only God made man in Christ could pay the debt, did not describe a fundamental exception that is irrelevant to the workings of the universe, but the supreme instance of a universal law. “He saved others, himself he cannot save” is written lightly in small letters in our lives and deeply engraved on the most monumental scale in Christ, but we participate in what Christ has offered.

I have referenced Western symbolic logic, the Tao Te Ching, and ninjutsu in connection with “Every branch that bears fruit, [the Vinedresser] prunes that it may bear more fruit.” But the intent is not syncretistic. It is to point to the supreme instance of a universal law. A ninja instructor teaching stealth, I would imagine, might tell someone eager to use a flashlight, “Let me show you what things look like if you put that flashlight away for 20 or 30 minutes.” Robb Wolf, in advocating a neo-Paleo human diet that consists of the same sort of things people ate for a million years before the extremely recent agricultural revolution, says, “Put down that donut. For that matter, put down that organic whole wheat bread, even if it’s not modern wheat but spelt. Would you please try eating just the fuel the human body is made to run on?” But this is not with an intent of syncretism to write some hymn that begins praising Christ and melts into praise of Krishna. The universal law is a law that plays out in many places and is recognized in many ways outside of the Church. For that matter, quite a lot of the Church’s wealth is to be found outside of its proper boundaries; at one place Chesterton defends the Church against things it is charged with simply by calling on The Witness of the Heretics. The boundaries of the Church may rightly be retained, but the Church found Christians before Christ among the pagans as well as among Israel. And pruning is at one stroke a treasure of God in the Church and something forever to be found across the realms of men, who are in any case made in the image of God.

The age of the damned backswing and modus tollens

The Damned Backswing is a real phenomenon, but it need not be the last word; every thing that is taken away can be a cutting of the Vinedresser.

Since ninjutsu decided that it is better for a ninja to have real night vision, artificial light, even of fire, was treated as something that would quench natural night vision. But in our time the pure organic light of incandescent bulbs has been progressively phased out in favor of the plastic light of fluorescent bulbs, whose buzzing is a nuisance even to the blind. There are further steps away from the organic white of incandescent bulbs; LED lights offer a lunar white which is not helpful if you wish to pick out an outfit where the colors fit with each other instead of clashing; lunar white looks white but it provides a greyscale vision with colors barely discernible. (And is there a hint of the future in that lunar white light bulbs have no mercury and take a fraction of a CFL’s power draw?) Once conservatives balked at the brightness of new (incandescent) light bulbs, offering vision comparable to sunlight at any time and any place. But the stern hand of a government that believes it knows better than us may be wielded by one who knows better than government. This One who knows better than government might use the pest of the fluorescent light to draw people to use the day as day and the night as the night. And that may be gain and not loss. We may lose the organic light of incandescent light sources to gain the Organic light of the Sun.

The many ages of modus ponens

Reading, on a doctor’s advice, The Paleo Solution rumbled with a few implications. Probably the biggest change in perspective was that I viewed the New Testament as incredibly ancient, and the Old Testament as even more ancient. The Paleo Solution suggests that the most profound change in the time humans have been around has been the agricultural revolution, which took place after 99.5% of the time people have been around. While Genesis may place nomads alongside builders of cities, Exodus fairly clearly assumes the agricultural revolution has taken place. And even on purely secular grounds the New Testament exists in a closer-to-modern era. Historians may note that people in the U.S. made a very conscious technological decision to have roads connecting places. In the time of the New Testament, there were Roman roads which vastly outstrip any transportation technology in the Old Testament, and the spread of the New Testament, which includes letters to diverse cities, was partly affected by the Roman roads.

And all of that is to look without enlightenment at the Old and New Testaments as well-preserved signposts to where we are technologically today. But let us continue without enlightenment for a moment.

Plastic for breakfast, lunch, snack, or dinner

The book It’s Getting Better All the Time could helpfully be placed alongside Nourishing Traditions. The “Publisher comments” on It’s Getting Better All the Time states:

Publisher Comments:

There has been more material progress in the United States in the 20th Century than in the entire world in all previous centuries combined.

Book News Annotation:

This work by economist Julian L. Simon (d. 1998) was left unfinished at his death but was completed and prepared for publication by his colleague, Stephen Moore. The title states the bias, which is further explicated in the introduction: “…there has been more improvement in the human condition in the past 100 years than in all of the previous centuries combined since man first appeared on the earth.” In support, 100 trends pertaining to the health and welfare of, mainly, US inhabitants are presented in graphs, with interpretive text that maintains the “getting better” thrust (and the conservative orientation of the author and the publisher). Interestingly, Simon’s wife injects an alternate view in a brief foreword in which she discusses her reservations about describing the 20th century in the positive terms used in the book, and she tells of her conversations with her husband on the subject. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (


There has been more material progress in the United States in the 20th century than in the entire world in all previous centuries combined. Almost every measure of health, wealth, safety, nutrition, affordability and availability of consumer goods and services, environmental quality, and social conditions indicates rapid improvement. With over 100 four-color figures and tables, this book shatters the myths about progress that are often perpetuated by doomsayers in the media and academia.

Nourishing Traditions takes the agricultural revolution as a healthy starting point, but it offers something, even to someone following the Paleo diet, that The Paleo Solution does not. It discusses progress that has been made, and what comes clear is that this is progress from a corporation’s perspective, not progress from a human health perspective. Factory farmed milk, for instance, is not the natural health food it is presented to be. Never mind the question of whether milk represents a part of the Paleo diet. Factory farmed milk has such substances as pus mixed in with the milk from the unnatural condition the cows are under, and 2% milk has its skim portion mixed in from powdered skim milk, and on this point Nourishing Traditions effectively says, “Cholesterol is your friend. Oxidizedcholesterol, such as that produced in powdered skim milk, is your enemy.” I remember one time taking the claim that organic food tastes better as one more marketing ploy to justify Whole Paycheck’s heavy costs. Then, after a time of eating only organic strawberries when I ate strawberries—out of a dutiful sense that it was better for me—I ate a conventionally farmed strawberry and wondered, “What is this that I have bitten into?” My concern here is only incidentally about pleasure, which really does not help us as much as we think. It is something deeper. If you want a rough, unscientific but accurate gauge of how nourishing fruit is, taste how sweet it is. It’s that simple. The taste is not simply a pleasure delivery system; it is also a signal about how nourishing things are for you. And I remember commenting to one parent who was concerned about his children’s sweet tooth, “That sweet tooth is a God-given aid. It should be rewarded, not with candy, but with sweet fruit.” And candy is as bad as nutritionists say it is, but you’d be amazed how sweet the best organic fruit tastes.

I remember picking up a bottle of Aldi’s “Fit and Active” French dressing to read the ingredient list, and stopping at the first ingredient because the first ingredient was corn syrup. This may be progress from a corporation’s perspective, to sell a product consisting large of corn syrup as a health food; it is not progress from a health-oriented savvy consumer perspective.

What has happened with all foods where I live, unless you specifically know what you are doing and are looking for exceptions and are willing to pay noticeably more, is that food is manipulated by chemical wizardry much like a plastic replica. It may be obvious to the discerning that “cherry flavored XYZ” does not exactly has the taste of cherries. The reason why this is the case is that if anything is produced on a mass scale, the engineering process for food finds out what the chemicals are that combine to give a cherry its flavor, and then the cheapest way is found to add these chemicals so that there is a cherry-like taste, but one that heralds none of the health benefits of eating cherries.

And this is, if anything, the subtle objection to It’s Getting Better All the Time. It is the objection that moving from something flavored with cherries to something engineered to taste like it was flavored with cherries is a negative amount of progress. The more obvious objection is not to point to plastic-like engineered foods—or plastic-like engineered pop culture—but to say that we are in an unmistakable global financial crisis, and none of the upward trends discussed in the book are enough to take away the quite bleak economic picture in the U.S., which less than twenty years into the third millenium, is quite drastically failing to retain the prosperity and security of the twentieth century heralded in It’s Getting Better All the Time. If the twentieth century brought more change than anything before, it may be the change that precedes the damned backswing. I know that there are people who like to put a positive face on things, especially with the current president Barack Obama, but I have yet to see a journalist say that the present employment picture and number of people out of work is better than in the 50’s and 80’s. As far as journalists go, I have seen the shift from a war in Afghanistan under Bush that was something we should never have gotten into, to one Nobel Peace Prize later, a war in Afghanistan under Obama with vile enemies who cut off the nose and ears of a woman portrayed on the cover of Time Magazine, because she ran away from an abusive husband. Now I have little doubt that the Taliban did all that and worse, but it was doing all that and worse when the war in Afghanistan was Bush’s war. And with the shift from Bush to Obama, significant progress has been made in reduced jobless statistics, with perhaps the exception of your family and those people you know who are trying to find a job. Not that this is all Obama’s responsibility, regardless of the charge some people make that he wants to make America into a third world nation. The U.S. economy would presumably also be in hard times if McCain had won the election, and it was really quite nasty before Obama took office. ButIt’s Getting Better All the Time champions “change,” and President Obama champions “change,” and both seem to invite multiple aspects of the damned backswing.

In my early work The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, I wrote a story, not of a Grinch trying to kill Christmas by stealing presents, but of a Grinch trying to kill Christmas by overwhelming it with more presents than people would imagine. It tells a story of taking away by giving, and the real story of the twentieth century may not be the logician’s proof that gives away more and more until something substantial is proven, but the opposite story of receiving more and more until true poverty comes, both on a spiritual and on a material level.

Embracing modus tollens

There are many layers to things; there is at least one material layer to the U.S.’s economic condition, and at least one spiritual layer, and the best picture is one that recognizes what is going on materially but recognizes that the outer shell has an inner sanctum and in this struggle we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Politics is important, but even with the best candidates in high political positions the struggle is not about flesh and blood, or about logistics and voting trends. On that score I would quote an Orthodox priest who said, “Whatever happens, I will vote and go to confession.”

And in an age of modus tollens, Satan is nothing more than a hammer in the hand of God. There are layers to events, but not only a material and a physical layer. St. Joseph’s words to his brothers, As for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. has more than one dimension, and one dimension is that what Satan means for evil, God means for good. That is the entire point of God the Spiritual Father and God the Game Changer.

We tend to think of God’s Providence in terms of what he gives, but the same Divine Providence that gives also takes away. St. Job lost all of his possessions and then rid himself of the one outward possession the Devil could still take from him, and said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return; the LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” He lost massive wealth, but the story in its end is not of the Devil’s victory, but of God’s victory in St. Job. Perhaps St. Job never on earth knew what we are told from the beginning, that Satan, the Accuser, the Slanderer who stands before God slandering his saints day and night, found no one he considered worthy of temptation and God allowed his property and his health to be taken away, not as punishment for his sins, but as a champion who held fast to worshiping God no matter what happened to him. By the end of the book, the Devil is made ridiculous and is all but pushed out of the picture; his slanders against St. Job were just that, slander. God changes the game in speaking out of the whirlwind, but the St. Job who lost everything is the St. Job who gained a place standing before the throne of God in glory. God wins, and God wins in and through St. Job.

St. Paul writes of “want” or lacking things, Not that I complain of want; for I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content. I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound; in any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and want. I can do all things in him who strengthens me. The Providence of God is not only in what we think we need; it also comes with modus tollens, when God takes away what we think we need. St. Paul elsewhere says, There is great gain in godliness with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world; but if we have food and clothing, with these we shall be content. That’s a much shorter list of what we consider essentials even for the poor; those who give of their own to care for the poor would generally like to see the poor have housing, for instance, with heating and air conditioning. The general list of things one may have around the poverty line are much longer than “but if we have food and clothing, with these we shall be content.” And some of our luxuries are less edifying than they may seem to us; in some sense the Providence of modus tollens may be God taking away a bottle of wine and saying, “You’ve had enough.”

The prophetic word

In Malaysia, one cartoon portrayed Americans at a lavish banquet with half-eaten plates of food set aside casually, while a television showed an emaciated child holding out a hand to give. And where America stands now is a place which the prophetic voice has much to speak to. (Note that by saying this I am not claiming to be a prophet; merely restating what the prophets would have said based on what is on the public record.) We encourage, foster, and nourish narcissism, with each generation more proud than the last. We use our money for ourselves when we could give much more to the poor. We have a number of abortions that exceeds the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust, not to mention embryonic stem cell research. We have the Internet as a porn delivery service, so that a basic household utility now includes unsolicited pornography. We have accepted sodomy as normal, as an alternate lifestyle that others rarely speak out against. It is considered normal for a Christian to practice (Hindu-derived) yoga, and such things as alchemy (celebrated in a patchwork quilt at the American Medical Association headquarters) and Freemasonry increasingly come out, too. Any one of these things would be grave enough; taken together they represent a fall off a moral cliff. And it is old news at best that we patronize sweatshops and otherwise enjoy comfort at the expense of preventable human misery. And God does not let such things slide forever; he gives opportunities to repent, perhaps, and then judgment so that under an iron hand people may learn what they refused to learn by the law of grace. Perhaps, or perhaps not, “[E]ven if these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they would deliver but their own lives by their righteousness, says the Lord GOD… Even if Noah, Daniel, and Job were in it, as I live, says the Lord GOD, they would deliver neither son nor daughter; they would deliver but their own lives by their righteousness.” applies to our situation. The righteous may be saved by their faith in any case. “The righteous shall live by faith” is originally a quote from the Old Testament when God’s judgment was about to be unleashed.

In any case, after we have gone apostate under modus ponens, it looks as if we shall experience the refining fire of modus tollens, of God providing as he chastises. Not that Barack Obama is devoted to doing the Lord’s will; Buckley’s quote, “I would rather be governed by the first two thousand people in the Boston telephone directory than by the two thousand people on the factory at Harvard University,” applies in full force, and if you say that it seems an extremely uncharitable reading, and unreal, to say that Barack Obama wishes to make the U.S. a third world nation, I would say that you do not understand Harvard Ph.D.’s. Wishing the U.S. were a third world nation is nothing strange for a graduate of Harvard. When he announced that health plans could no longer discriminate on the basis of pre-existing conditions, my first thought was, “He is banking on the premise that Americans can’t do basic math.” Speaking as someone who has worked briefly in the insurance industry, one of the basic rules if you are going to run a profitable insurance business is that you exclude bad risks: if you are an auto insurer, you want people who have few accidents, if any, on their record, and not daredevils with a stream of one accident after another. And you charge less for people with a squeaky-clean driving record than you do to someone who you’re willing to take on but has a few accidents. It may be a wonderful thing in the short term for people with pre-existing conditions to now be able to get coverage, but unless insurance is going to cost vastly more, it cuts away the ability of non-government insurers to do business—as has already started to happen. Fewer businesses are offering health insurance plans.

But this is almost a side point, a distraction. Let us assume the worst, that the President holds no love for America and is re-elected at the next election. The same rules apply.

Tools of God

C.S. Lewis said that all do the will of God, Satan and Judas as instruments, Peter and John as sons. And it is a fundamental mistake to think that Barack Obama is too bad to be an instrument of the Lord’s action. No one, not Satan, is too bad to do the will of God. I’m not sure how to put this delicately, but it is not at all clear to me that it is to the U.S.’s edifying benefit to be a first world nation. Some have said that across history powerful nations have played the role of gangsters and weaker nations have played the role of prostitutes. In The Last Battle, enemies push true Narnians to a stable said to be devoted to the demon-god Tash, and we read:

“I feel in my bones,” said Poggin, “that we shall all, one by one, pass through that door before morn. I can think of a hundred deaths I would rather have died.”

“It is indeed a grim door,” said Tirian. “It is more like a mouth.”

“Oh, can’t we do anything to stop it?” said Jill in a shaken voice.

“Nay, fair friend,” said Jewel, nosing her gently. “It may be for us the door to Aslan’s country and we shall sup at his table tonight.”

Jewel spoke only a guess, but none the less spoke words of truth. It is through that door they meet Heaven, and God’s providence will not be thwarted by leaders who are questionable in their pursuit of goodness. God’s providence is not just for when we have good presidents; it is equally true if we have not-so-good presidents. It has been twice or thrice that modern medicine saved my life, first-world medicine that I doubt I could afford if the present economy worsens and worsens and worsens. But this will not be responsible for my death: all of us die, save one or two like Elijah; mortality is total in every generation. My death may be sooner if good medicine is denied me, but it is inevitable by some means, and as one Orthodox priest said, “There’s nothing that goes wrong in Orthodoxy that a funeral cannot solve.” We will be judged by how we live with the hands we have been dealt, not whether we could have been dealt a better hand, or rather a hand that was more to our liking.

Everything that happens is either a blessing from God, or a temptation that has been allowed for our strengthening

Still God reigns sovereign. Still he rules. Persecutions may come, but only if God allows it, and only the degree that he allows. Persecutions have been one of many ways God has strengthened the Church, and the normal condition of Orthodoxy is to live under hardship, with such things as fasting and voluntary self-deprivation existing as surrogate hardships. And if God’s Providence comes by taking away one thing we think we need, this is not a failure of his Providence but as much a success of his Providence as when he answers our prayers. We may lose artificial light and find our true night vision. All of this is a Providence that whispers in the way of adding, modus ponens, and shouts in the way of taking away, modus tollens.

It has been said, “Whatever you focus on, that is your God.” We are not to focus our attention on the demons; the ?Ladder? says that the proper use of arrogance is towards the demons. Focus on God, and the demons themselves will be ministers of trials and temptations that make you stronger in the sight of God. And while I intend to vote, in one of the most monumental elections in U.S. history, it is a mistake to believe that God will only provide if the election goes as I would wish it to; God’s providential love is not so fragile, nor near to being so fragile.

God the Spiritual Father ever provides, is ever loving, ever Light.

An Author’s Musing Memoirs: Retrospective Reflections, Retracings, and Retractions

Cover for The Best of Jonathan's Corner

Taking a second look at some of what I wrote

Dear Reader,

Years back, when I was a math grad student, I wrote a short essay entitled, Why Study Mathematics? The basic thought was connected with the general education math class I was taking, and it is not really an article for why to specialize in mathematics through intensive study, but why a more basic knowledge of math can be a valuable part of liberal arts education. Much like how I taught my class, I did not speak favorably of memorizing formulas—pejoratively called “mindless symbol manipulation” by mathematicians—but spoke of the beauty of the abstractions, the joy of puzzles and problem solving, and even spoke of mathematics as a form of weight lifting for the mind: if you can do math, I said, you can do almost anything. I was sincere in these words, and I believe my obscure little piece captures something that a lot of math students and faculty sensed even if they did not explain their assumption. Since then, there are some things I would say differently. Not exactly that I was incorrect in what I said, but I worked hard to climb a ladder that was leaning against the wrong building.

One famous author in software development, who wrote a big book about “software engineering”, had said, “What gets measured gets improved,” and began to express second thoughts about his gung-ho enthusiasm for measurement. He didn’t exactly take back his words of, “What gets measured gets improved,” but he said that the most important things to understand are rarely things that are easy or obvious to measure: the mantra “What gets measured gets improved,” is a mantra to ruthlessly optimize things that often are less important than you might think. His second thoughts went further: the words “software” and “engineering” have been joined at the hip, but however hard software developers have tried to claim to be engineers, what they do is very different from engineering: it’s an apples and oranges comparison.

I would pretty well stand by the statement that if you can deal with the abstraction in math, you can deal with the abstraction in anything: whether chemistry, analytic philosophy, engineering, or sales, there isn’t much out there that will call for more abstract thinking than you learn in math. But to pick sales, for instance, not many people fail in sales because they can’t handle the deep abstraction. Sales calls for social graces, the ability to handle rejection, and real persistence, and while you may really and truly learn persistence in math, I sincerely doubt that mathematical training is a sort of industrial strength preparation for social graces and dealing with rejection. And even in engineering, social graces matter more than you might think; it’s been said that being good at math gets you in the door, but social influence and effectiveness are what make a real superstar. I would still stand by a statement that if you can handle the abstraction in math, you can probably handle the abstraction in anything else. But I’m somewhat more wary of implying that if you have a mathematical mind, you just have an advantage for everything life may throw at you. That’s simply not true.

There are some things I have written that I would like to take back, at least in part, but even where my works are flawed I don’t believe mass deletions are the best response. I would rather write what might be called “Retractions and retracings” and leave them available with the original works. Why study Mathematics?, whatever its flaws, gives a real glimpse into the beauty that draws mathematicians to mathematics. I may be concerned with flaws here, but they are not the whole truth. However, there are some things I would like to comment on, some flaws to point out. In many cases, I don’t believe that what I said is mainly wrong, but I believe it is possible to raise one’s eyes higher.


Mathematics may be seen as a skill, but it can also be how a person is oriented: jokes may offer a caricature, but a caricature of something that’s there. One joke tells of a mathematician who finds something at a bookstore, is delighted to walk home with a thick volume entitled HOW to HUG, and then, at home, is dismayed to learn he purchased volume 11 of an encyclopædia. And I mention this as a then-mathematician who wrote A Treatise on Touch, which may be seen as interesting, may be seen as deep, and may have something in common with the mathematician purchasing a book so he could know how to hug.

Part of what I have been working on is how, very slowly, to become more human. This struggle is reflected in Yonder, which is at its most literal a struggle of philosophers to reach what is human. There is an outer story of disembodied minds set in a dark science fiction world, who are the philosophers, and there is a story within a story, an inner story, of the tragic beauty of human life. When I showed it to a science fiction guru, he suggested that I cut the philosophical dialogues down by quite a bit. The suggestion had a lot of sense, and quite possibility a traditional publisher would want to greatly abbreviate the sections that he suggested I curtail. But I did not follow his advice, and I don’t think this was just author stubbornness. When literature builds up to a success, usually the path to success is filled with struggles and littered with failures. This is true of good heroic literature, and for that matter a lot of terrible heroic literature as well. (Just watch a bad adventure movie sometime.) Yonder is a story that is replete with struggles and failures, only the failures of the disembodied minds have nothing to do with physical journeys or combat. They begin stuck in philosophy, mere philosophy, and their clumsy efforts to break out provide the failures, and therefore to greatly abridge the philosophical discussion would be to strip away the struggle and failure by which they reach success: a vision of the grandeur of being human. Like much good and bad literature, the broad sweep was inspired by The Divine Comedy, opening with a vision of Hell and building up to a view of our painful life as a taste of Heaven, and you don’t tell The Divine Comedy faithfully if you replace the Inferno with a brief summary stating that there are some gruesome images and a few politically incorrect ideas about sin. The dark science fiction world and its mere philosophy provides the vision of Hell that prepares the reader to see the humanness of Heaven and the Heaven of humanness. The inner story can be told by itself; it is for that matter told independently in A Wonderful Life. But there is something in Yonder, as it paints the stark, dark, disturbing silhouette of the radiant, luminous splendor and beauty of human life.

While I was a math undergrad, I read and was deeply influenced by the Tao Te Ching; something of its influence may be seen in The Way of the Way. That work has its flaws, and I may have drunk too deeply of Taoism, but there was a seed planted that I would later recognize in fuller forms in the Orthodox Way. I had in full my goals of studying and thinking, but I realized by the way that there was some value to be had in stillness. Later I would come to be taught that stillness is not an ornament to put on top of a tree; it is the soil from which the tree of life grows.

After I completed my studies in math, and having trouble connecting with the business world, I took stock, and decided that the most important knowledge of all was theology. I had earlier planned to follow the established route of being a mathematician until I was no longer any good for mathematics and then turning out second rate theology. My plans shifted and I wanted to put my goal up front and, I told my pastor, “I want to think about theology in community.” (If you are wincing at this, good.) So, in this spirit, I applied to several schools and began the study of academic theology. If you are an astute reader, I will forgive you if you ask, “But isn’t this still a mathematician looking for a book on how to hug?” The goal I had, to teach at a university or even better train Orthodox priests at a seminary, was a laudable enough goal, and perhaps God will bless me with that in the future. Perhaps he wants the same thing, but perhaps God first wants to free me from the chain of being too much like a mathematician wanting to learn how to hug by reading a book.

During my time studying theology at Cambridge, I was received into the Orthodox Church. I am grateful to God for both a spiritual father whose lenience offered a corrective to my legalistic tendencies, and for a godfather who was fond of reading Orthodox loose cannons and who helped me see a great many things that were invisible to me at the time. For instance, I asked him for help on some aspect of getting my worldview worked out correctly, and I was caught off guard when he explained, “You aren’t being invited to work out the Orthodox worldview. You’re being invited to worship in the right glory of Orthodoxy, and you are being invited to walk the Orthodox way.” In that sense Orthodoxy is not really a system of ideas to work out correctly that, say, a martial art: there may be good books connected to martial arts, but you learn a martial art by practicing it, and you learn Orthodoxy by practicing it. And in that response, my godfather helped me take one step further away from being a mathematician trying to find a book that will teach him how to hug. (He also gave me repeated corrections when I persisted in the project of trying to improve Orthodox practices by historical reconstruction. And eventually he got through to me on that point.)

Becoming Orthodox for me has been a matter of becoming really and truly human, or at least beginning to. There is a saying that has rumbled down through the ages in different forms: in the second century, St. Irenaeus wrote, “For it was for this end that the Word of God was made man, and He who was the Son of God became the Son of man, that man, having been taken into the Word, and receiving the adoption, might become the son of God.” I have not read this in much earlier sources, but I have read many later phrasings: “God and the Son of God became Man and the Son of Man that man and the sons of man might become gods and the sons of God.” “The divine became human that the human might become divine.” “The Son of God became a man that men might become the sons of God.” And one real variation on this has been quoted, “Christ did not just become man so that I might become divine. He also became man that I might become a man.

If Christ became man that I might become human, this is manifest in a million ways in the Orthodox Church. Let me give one way. When I was preparing to be received into the Orthodox Church, I asked my godfather some question about how to best straighten out my worldview. He told me that the Western project of worldview construction was not part of the Orthodox Way: I had been invited to walk the Orthodox Way but not work out the Orthodox worldview. If there is in fact an Orthodox worldview, it does not come from worldviewish endeavors: it arises out of the practices and life of the Orthodox Church, much in line with, “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and his perfect righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” Not just corrections, but being caught off-guard by effectively being told, “Here are some of many rules; there is no need for you to know all of them. They are important, and you need to strive for strict excellence, but you are not treating them in the right spirit if you hold them rigidly and legalistically. (Work out with your priest how you will best bend them.)” The Orthodox Church’s nature as essentially an oral tradition has helped cure me of silly things like meticulously studying ancient texts to put my mind to an antiquarian reconstruction and answer the question, “How should we live?” (The Orthodox Church is ancient, but it is not really infected with antiquarian reconstruction efforts.) The rhythm of the liturgy and its appointed seasons, the spiritual housecleaning involved with preparing for confession, the profoundly important community of the faithful: all of these are part of how it works out in the Orthodox Church that God became man not only so that I might become divine, but also so that I might become more truly man.

Part of this becoming human on my part also has to do with silence, or as Orthodox call it, hesychasm. Part of the disorder of life as we know it is that our minds are scattered about: worrying about this, remembering that pain, and in general not gathered into the heart. Mathematical training is a training in drawing the mind out of the heart and into abstract thinking. The word “abstract” itself comes from the Latin abstrahere, meaning to pull back (from concrete things), and if you train yourself in the habit of abstraction you pull yourself back from silence and from what is good about the Tao Te Ching.

In Silence: Organic food for the soul, I all but closed with the words, “Be in your mind a garden locked and a fountain sealed,” which speaks about having a mind that is gathered together and is in the fullest sense mind: which is not when abstract thinking is its bread and butter. Perhaps some of the saints’ wisdom is abstract, but it does not come from building an edifice of abstractions.

The terms intellect and mind mean something very different in Orthodox classics than they do in today’s English. The difference is as great as the difference between using web to mean a physical object woven out of spider’s silk and web to mean interconnected documents and media available over the internet. Today you might say, “The intellect is what an IQ test measures.” An Orthodox saint who had been asked might have said, “The intellect is where you meet God.” The mind is an altar, and its proper thought flows out of its being an altar: in Within the Steel Orb, a visitor from our world steps into a trap:

“And your computer science is pretty advanced, right? Much more advanced than ours?”

“We know things that the trajectory of computer science in your world will never reach because it is not pointed in the right direction.” Oinos tapped the wall and arcs of pale blue light spun out.

“Then you should be well beyond the point of making artificial intelligence.”

“Why on a million, million worlds should we ever be able to do that? Or even think that is something we could accomplish?”

“Well, if I can be obvious, the brain is a computer, and the mind is its software.”

“Is it?”

“What else could the mind be?”

“What else could the mind be? What about an altar at which to worship? A workshop? A bridge between Heaven and earth, a meeting place where eternity meets time? A treasury in which to gather riches? A spark of divine fire? A line in a strong grid? A river, ever flowing, ever full? A tree reaching to Heaven while its roots grasp the earth? A mountain made immovable for the greatest storm? A home in which to live and a ship by which to sail? A constellation of stars? A temple that sanctifies the earth? A force to draw things in? A captain directing a starship or a voyager who can travel without? A diamond forged over aeons from of old? A perpetual motion machine that is simply impossible but functions anyway? A faithful manuscript by which an ancient book passes on? A showcase of holy icons? A mirror, clear or clouded? A wind which can never be pinned down? A haunting moment? A home with which to welcome others, and a mouth with which to kiss? A strand of a web? An acrobat balancing for his whole life long on a slender crystalline prism between two chasms? A protecting veil and a concealing mist? An eye to glimpse the uncreated Light as the world moves on its way? A rift yawning into the depths of the earth? A kairometer, both primeval and young? A—”

“All right, all right! I get the idea, and that’s some pretty lovely poetry. (What’s a kairometer?) These are all very beautiful metaphors for the mind, but I am interested in what the mind is literally.”

“Then it might interest you to hear that your world’s computer is also a metaphor for the mind. A good and poetic metaphor, perhaps, but a metaphor, and one that is better to balance with other complementary metaphors. It is the habit of some in your world to understand the human mind through the metaphor of the latest technology for you to be infatuated with. Today, the mind is a computer, or something like that. Before you had the computer, ‘You’re just wired that way’ because the brain or the mind or whatever is a wired-up telephone exchange, the telephone exchange being your previous object of technological infatuation, before the computer. Admittedly, ‘the mind is a computer’ is an attractive metaphor. But there is some fundamental confusion in taking that metaphor literally and assuming that, since the mind is a computer, all you have to do is make some more progress with technology and research and you can give a computer an intelligent mind.”

That litany of metaphors summarizes much of my second master’s thesis. Which is not really the point; but my point here is that on an Orthodox understanding, intellect is not something you measure by an IQ test and a mind is not the spitting image of a computer. The mind, rightly understood, finds its home in prayer and simple silence. The intellect is where one meets God, and its knowing flows out of its contact with God and with spiritual reality. And, in the metaphors of the Song of Songs, the mind as it is meant to be is “a garden locked, a fountain sealed”, not spilled out promiscuously into worry, or grudges, or plans for the future that never satisfy. And this gathering together of the mind, this prayer of the mind in the heart, is one that was not proposed to me by my mathematical training.

Now I should mention that I have a lot to be grateful for as far as math goes. There are a lot of people who gave of themselves in my training; there are a lot of people who gave of themselves in the various math contests I was involved in. And, not to put too fine a point of it, I have a computer job now which is a blessing from God and in which I build on a strong mathematical foundation. It would be silly for me to say, “I am not grateful for this” as God has provided me many blessings through math. But I need to place things like “I have a lot of math awards” alongside what a monk said to a maid and to me: she was fortunate in the job she had, as manual labor that allowed her mind to pray as she was working in inner stillness, while I as a computer person was less fortunate because my job basically required me to be doing things with my mind that don’t invite mental stillness. My job may be a profound blessing and something not to take for granted. But he was pointing out that the best jobs for spiritual growth may not be the ones higher on the pecking order.

A streak of escapism

There is a streak of escapism in much of my work. If you read Within the Steel Orb, I believe you will find insight expressed with wonder, and I would not take back any of that. But the wisdom, which is wisdom from here and now, is expressed as the alien wisdom of an alien world that panders to a certain escapism. Wisdom and wonder can be expressed without escapism; Hymn to the Creator of Heaven and Earth and Doxology both express wisdom and wonder in a way that does not need to escape from a disdained here and now. But there is a thread of escapism in much of my work, even as I have sought to reject it.

During or shortly after I was in high school, I wrote a note in an online forum arguing that Terminator 2 had shot itself in the foot. The movie had a scene with two little boys angrily playing with toy guns and the voiceover complained about how tragic this was, and at the end the message was made even more explicit: “If a machine, a terminator, can learn the value of human life, maybe we can too.” But the movie was an action-adventure movie, meaning a movie whose attraction was built on glorified violence with guns blazing. In terms of a movie that would speak out against violence, contrast it with a movie idea I had, for a movie that would rush along at an action-adventure clip for the first few minutes and then slow down like a European art film; from Lesser Icons: Reflections on Faith, Icons, and Art:

What I did do was to outline a film idea for a film that would start out indistinguishably from an action-adventure movie. It would have one of the hero’s friends held captive by some cardboard-cutout villains. There is a big operation to sneak in and deftly rescue him, and when that fails, all Hell breaks loose and there is a terrific action-adventure style firefight. There is a dramatic buildup to the hero getting in the helicopter, and as they are leaving, one of the villain’s henchmen comes running with a shotgun. Before he can aim, the hero blasts away his knee with a hollow-nosed .45.

The camera surprisingly does not follow the helicopter in its rush to glory, but instead focuses on the henchman for five or ten excruciating minutes as he curses and writhes in agony. Then the film slows down to explore what that one single gunshot means to the henchman for the remaining forty years of his life, as he nursed a spiritual wound of lust for vengeance that was infinitely more tragic than his devastating physical wound.

By contrast, it may be clearer what might be called shooting yourself in the foot in the Terminator 2 syndrome, and as far as escapism goes, I have a couple of pieces that shoot themselves in the foot with something like a Terminator 2 syndrome. In The Voyage, the miserable young Jason is an escapist and, when he meets an old man, asks the old man’s help in an escape he doesn’t believe is possible. The old man deftly opens Jason’s eyes to the beauty of this world, the beauty of the here and now, that are simply invisible to him. I stand by everything I wrote in that regard. But the closing line, when thanks to the old man Jason triumphs over escapism, is, “And Jason entered another world.” Which is to say that the story shot itself in the foot, like Terminator 2.

There may be a paradoxical link between escapism and self-absorption. Self-absorption is like being locked in your room and sensing that it is constricting, and so you wish that you could be teleported up to a spaceship and explore the final frontier, or maybe wish for a portal to open up that would take you to the Middle Ages or some fantasy world. And maybe you can get a bit of solace by decorating your room like someplace else and imagining that your room is that other place, and maybe you can pretend and do mind games, but they don’t really satisfy. What you miss is what you really need: to unlock the door, walk out, visit a friend, go shopping, and do some volunteering. It may not be what you could arrange if you were controlling everything, but that’s almost exactly the point. It may not what you want, but it is what you need, and it satisfies in a way that a quest to become a knight, at least in your imagination, cannot. And my own concerns to escape self-absorption and escapism play out in my writing: The Spectacles is more successful than The Voyage in telling of an escape from the Hell of self-absorption and escapism; I’ve been told it’s my best short story. But it still has the imprint of self-absorption even as it tells of someone finding way out of self-absorbed escapism. And something of that imprint affects my writing: there are some good things about my fiction, but I have been told that my characters are too similar and are only superficially different. I do not think I will ever receive the kind of compliment given to Charles Dickens, that he envisions a complete universe of different characters. People may say that my satire like Hayward’s Unabridged Dictionary shows a brilliant wit and is bitingly funny, but you can be pretty full of yourself and still write good satire. By contrast, it takes humble empathy to make a universe of characters worthy of Dickens.

A door slammed shut:

God’s severe mercy

I earned a master’s in theology, and entered into a doctoral program. I thought for a long while about how to say something appropriate about that program, and I think the best I can do is this:

I’ve been through chemotherapy, and that was an experience: overall, it was not as bad as I feared, and I enjoyed life when I was going through chemotherapy. I still cherish The Spectacles, the first piece written after a long dry spell because I was drained by illness. I’m not sure it is a nice thing to have powerful cytotoxins injected into your body, and the rough spots included the worst hour of (purely physical) pain in my life, but on the whole, a lot of progress has been made in making chemotherapy not as bad as it used to be, and I had good people to care for me.

And then there are experiences that, to put it politely, put chemotherapy into perspective. My entering this doctoral program and trying to please the people there was one of those experiences into perspective: during that time, I contacted a dean and wrote, “I found chemotherapy easier than dealing with [a professor I believed was harassing me],” and received no response beyond a secretary’s brush-off. After this ordeal, my grades were just below the cutoff to continue, and that school is not in any way going to give me nice letters of reference to let me finish up somewhere else. I suppose I could answer spam emails and get a diploma mill Ph.D., but I don’t see how I am in a position to get the Ph.D. that I wanted badly enough to endure these ordeals.

And if I ask where God was in all this, the answer is probably, “I was with you, teaching you all the time.” When I was in middle school, I ranked 7th in the nation in the 1989 MathCounts competition, and I found it obvious then that this was because God wanted me to be a mathematician. For that matter, I didn’t go through the usual undergraduate panic about “What will I major in?” Now I find it obvious that God had something else in mind, something greater: discipleship, or sonship, which may pass through being a mathematician, or may not. Not straying too far from this, I wanted a Ph.D., and I thought that this would be the best way to honor him with my abilities. Again I was thinking too narrowly; I was still too much of the mathematician looking for a book to teach him how to hug; again the answer seemed to be, “That’s not the issue. Aim higher and be my servant.” As it turns out, I have four years’ graduate work in theology; that has some use in my writings, and even if it didn’t, the issue is not whether I am a good enough achiever, but whether I am faithful.

During this time I read quite a lot of medieval versions of the legends of King Arthur. There were a couple of things that drew me to them, both of them rather sad. The first was pride, both pride at thinking I was going to be an Arthurian author, and pride at sometimes reading medieval legends in the original.

But the second reason I kept reading them was that compared to what I was covering in theology class, reading the legends almost seemed like I was actually studying theology. (At least by comparison.) Whether a course in theological foundations that assumed, “We need to work from the common ground that is shared by all the world’s religious traditions, and that universal common ground is Western analytic philosophy,” or reading that theologians are scientists and they are every bit as much scientists as people in the so-called “hard sciences” like physics, or a course in “philosophy and contemporary theology” that was largely about queer matters and such topics as ambiguous genitalia, the whole experience was like “Monty Python teaches Christian theology.” And it would be a funny, if tasteless joke, but it was really something much more tragic than a Monty Python riff on theology. And in all this the Arthurian legends, which are really quite pale if they are held next to the grandeur of Christian theology, none the less seemed to give respite for me to study.

In the light of all this, there are three basic things that I wrote. The first is the Arthurian book I wanted to write out of all the medieval books I was reading:

The second thing is a group of pieces that were written largely as rebuttals to things I ran into there. (The university was a “Catholic” university, so they were generous to us Orthodox and treated us like liberal Catholics.) I’ve had enough contact with Catholics outside that university; those pieces are not written just in response to being at a “Catholic” university.

I believe there is some merit in these pieces, but not that much: if they say something that needs to be said, they are limited to winning an argument. Theology can win an argument and some of the best theology is meant to win an argument, but the purpose of real theological writing is to draw people into the presence of God. These pieces may say something valuable, but they do not really do the job of theology: beckon the reader to worship before the throne of God.

But that leaves the third group of pieces written in the wake of that un-theological theology program, and that is precisely pieces which are written to draw the reader to bask in the glory of God. The ones I would pick as best are:

So where does this leave me now?

I think I’ve made real progress but I still have a lot in common with that mathematian who bought a book so he could learn how to hug. Be that as it may, I have a lot to be thankful for.

I had my heart set on completing my program, but in 2005 I started a Ph.D. program that was estimated to take eight years to complete. And since then, the economy tanked. And in this, a gracious and merciful God didn’t give me what I wanted, but what I needed. Actually, more than that. In the aftermath of the program, I took some anthropology and linguistics coursework which on the one hand confirmed that I was already good at learning languages (the woman who scored the MLAT for me said, “I’ve scored this test for thirty years and I’ve never seen a score this high,”) and on the other hand, paradoxically provided good remedial understanding of things I just didn’t get about my own culture. And there’s something I’d like to point out about that. God provided academic coursework to teach me some things that most people just pick up as they grow, and perhaps studying academic theology was what God provided to help me get on to something that is at once more basic, greater, and more human: entering the Orthodox Church, and entering real, human theology.

But back to after the anthropology courses. Then the economy took a turn for the worse, and I found a good job. Then the economy got worse than that, and my job ended, and I had my fast job hunt yet and found an even better than that. There’s no way I’m entitled to this; it is God’s gracious providence at work. These are blessings covered in the divine fingerprints.

I still have failings to face: rather spectacular failings which I’d rather not detail. And it God’s grace that I am still learning of my clumsiness and my sin, and realize I really need to face ways I don’t measure up. But that is really not the issue.

Does God work with flawed people?

Who else does he have to work with?

He has glorious, majestic, awesome, terrifying holy angels. But there is another glory when God works in and through flawed people.

Even the sort of mathematician who would read a book on how to hug (or maybe write one). The worst of our flaws is like an ember thrown into the ocean of God’s transforming power.

And the same God wills to work in you, whatever your flaws may be.

Much love,
Christos Jonathan Seth Hayward

Game Review: Meatspace

Game: Meatspace

Score:  ✯  ✯  ✯  ✯  ✯  ✯  ✯  (7 out of 5 possible!)

Category: First Person Immersive / Puzzle / Real Life Adventure

meatspace: /meet’spays/, n.
The physical world, where the meat lives — as opposed to cyberspace. Hackers are actually more willing to use this term than ‘cyberspace’, because it’s not speculative — we already have a running meatspace implementation (the universe). Compare RL.
The New Hacker’s Dictionary, “meatspace

I am faced with the daunting task of reviewing Meatspace. The temptation is to say, “This is stunning! It makes [insert name of classic] look like a bad Pong clone! I want to play it again and again!” It’s a temptation, not because the game doesn’t live up to that praise, but because discerning readers read reviews like that and their defenses go up against a reviewer who is, to put it delicately, getting slightly carried away.

So I’ll let go of the obvious temptation, and talk about how Meatspace handles physics. There’s another game we all know where player slang for a smoke grenade is “lag bomb”, because the physics of the smoke is so taxing that it slows the other player’s computer to a crawl: a smoke grenade, aka lag bomb, is a cheap way to half-paralyze other players. Maybe that’s an extreme example, but haven’t we all dealt with games where things get choppy (maybe just a little) when there’s a lot going on?

That doesn’t happen in Meatspace. End of discussion. Period. For one example, one of a million little effects done perfectly is a squirrel running across your path. It’s a throwaway effect, really: the game would appear quite convincing without it, but every single detail, from how the furry little body changes shape as it moves to the artificial intelligence controlling its motion to every single perfectly rendered hair, is flawless. Trying to find something that works as a lag bomb simply doesn’t work. Move over, physics engines that have a reasonably convincing rag doll effect. Move over, for that matter, the supercomputers I used at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications. The physics is absolutely stunning.

But to say that and stop there is to paint a deceptive picture. Very deceptive. The physics and the graphics are the best I’ve seen, but there is more to the game than the physics. Many players don’t give the physics a second thought. However well done the physics may be, and however stunningly advanced, the physics is one piece among a million. A beautiful piece, admittedly, but not even one of the biggest. At least to most players; there are some players who play only for the sight and sound aspect, but you can play the game well without those things even being much of a consideration. As impressive as the physics are, and as impressive as every sensory effect is, it would be deceptive at best to say that the game is driven by sight and sound.

In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (the book, but unfortunately not the movie), Zaphod Beeblebrox is drawn towards the Total Perspective Vortex, which we learn is a horrifying death, before learning why it is a horrifying death. The Total Perspective Vortex shows a person’s absolute (in)significance within the universe as an insignificant and forgettable item in a universe that is vast beyond measure. And that is such a horrifying experience that people die from the trauma. Except that Zaphod walks into the Total Perspective Vortex and walks out not only not dead, but contented, happy, proud, and even more full of himself than usual.

What has been happening is that Zaphod has been in an alternate universe, and more specifically an alternate universe that completely revolves around him. He is the most important feature of the universe, and the universe knows it. Had he been thrown into the realuniverse’s Total Perspective Vortex, he would have been destroyed by it.

And in fact with the other computer games I’ve played and written, the player is the center of the universe. And that’s not the end of it. The universe revolves around the player, and in fact nothing is put into the game but things that are for the player. In a room in a first person shooter, there are millions and in fact billions of ways to see the room. But, if there is a player in the room, only one of those perspectives or angles is calculated: the player’s. Everything else is simply ignored. If there isn’t a player in the room, the room might as well not be visible. And the rooms themselves exist for the player. The player is a good deal more than the center of the universe: if it’s not there for the player, it’s not there.

Maybe I’ve been the center of the universe in other games I’ve played. In Meatspace, I am not the center of the universe. Meatspace has such an immense, fathomless universe that you or I could never be its center.

In Meatspace, if I am in a room and I can see, the light goes just as well where I can’t see it as where I can see it. If I leave the light on and walk out of the room, the room is visible—the physics calculations go on—just as well as I am in the room. There are places I could get to, and places I could never get to, and both are developed in full detail—even though there are many more places I couldn’t get to than places I could (conceivably) travel to. When I play the game—or, to be more exact, when I join the game—there are billions of others in the game, the vast, vast majority of whom have no idea that I am there. If I’m the center of a game’s universe, the universe is miserably small. In Meatspace, there is a universe with so many stars that no one inside the game knows exactly how many, and one planet on one of those stars is a rich enough world that no matter how long you played you could never see more than a tiny slice of its treasures.

And AI in the game… To talk about artificial intelligence, I need to draw an analogy with anime. When people watch anime, they are not so imperceptive that they think that the pictures look exactly like people, or cars, or whatever. What they do is cooperate with pictures that most people would never confuse with the real thing, and make believe with some not-very-realistic cartoons, and in their minds give something that isn’t really there. The pictures certainly suggest people, or whatever else they are supposed to represent. But people watching it cooperate and overlook some rather vast differences between the pictures and what people pretend the pictures are.

In games, the artificial intelligence is like this. You can pretend that you’re really having a conversation, or even that the non-player characters move around in a natural way. You can cooperate with the artificial intelligence the way anime enthusiasts cooperate with the cartoon. But you’re being generous.

I didn’t have to pretend the Meatspace people were intelligent. They were intelligent, without my pretending. The game was much more interesting than if the universe, and everybody’s life, revolved around me. People had an infinite wealth of experiences, stories, goals, projects, desires, habits, and I may have been part of the picture, but the picture was far bigger than me. When I talked with people, I was not pretending they were intelligent. There was no need. I was stepping into a larger world. In a fantasy world, characters talk about selling magic items, rumors, joining a party, and other things that revolve around a cramped player. I can’t list all the things people talk about in Meatspace (my hard drive only has 30 gigabytes of free space), but talking with another person is an encounter with a larger world that includes more than your priorities. The way other people appear in Meatspace is something I’ve never seen in another game: an opportunity to step into something deeper and vaster than “Me! Me! Me!”

And this is deceptive, because it generally describes something in a game where nothing is generic—everything is always specific. I’d like to give a slice of specifically what I encountered.

I went through a meandering course that took me through shops with sundry wares, ended up purchasing a few square feet of something very much like leather, and settled down at a place where I could get a food ration. Except “food ration” is a generic and therefore inappropriate term; they did not sell me a “food ration”, but (in this case) a delightfully spiced beef curry with vegetables and rice.

As I was waiting for them to make my food, there were pictures around. There was one picture of a beautiful Asian woman sitting on a low stone wall in front of a French formal garden and chateau, one picture of a beautiful Asian woman sitting on a camel in front of an Egyptian pyramid, and one picture of a beautiful Asian woman sitting against a powerful red sports car. There were other pictures obscured by stacked boxes of soda. The women, as well as being beautiful and wearing flattering Western clothes, had the general build and almost the complexion of a Western ideal of beauty.

I had seen this kind of artwork in previous levels of Meatspace—in one large area, there was simply no other kind of picture you could buy on a calendar—but I’d always been puzzled by it. This time, there was something else I could see. They were almost like religious icons. This is not to say that people specifically believed religious doctrines about them, or that there was some failure of perceivedly due reverence in stacking boxes of soda in front of them, or some other things like that, but it is to say that they aren’t just pictures of what they show. What they show is not only exotic but the emblem of something transcendent that’s shining through. And I can be saddened by some things about them—those pictures can easily slide into the pornographic—but there is something I was saddened by that I am no longer bothered by.

The image of beauty and transcendence is Western much for some of the same reasons that (for a tongue in cheek example) we have a Great White Ninja played by Chris Farley in Beverly Hills Ninja. The West is exotic to the East, and the East is exotic to the West. The pictures are misunderstood if they are not seen as a sort of stained glass window that people look at because they see something shining through it.

There’s probably a lot more to be said. If I spent several more years of play just to investigate the question, I might also be able to tell you why the shops allowed me to purchase about a square yard of an artificial surrogate for leather, and a few yards of cord, for less money than I would earn in an hour. For now, my game play has included little research into how communities can produce or fail to produce wealth. I just know enough to know that a detail like that, like the kind of system where there are poor people who eat meat with every meal, is a balancing act that has never before been managed in two and a half million years of human community, and quite probably a balancing act that will not survive longer than its civilization, any more than a tree can keep growing once its river runs dry.

There is something about the Meatspace levels we find ourselves in that makes it harder to see the gems around us. The medieval and the Arthurian looks a certain way to us after they no longer exist. What do things look like if we look at our placement in Meatspace as it might appear when our technological society is but a memory?

My avatar (but one could take a long time explaining how it is more than an avatar) was just in a place with Gothic lettering on a sign on the ground, saying, “Spaccarelli Meditation Garden.” A pale, almost luminous statue of the Virgin overlooks a waterfall, rocks, plants, and a bench. The garden is small, but in its enclosed space one can be drawn into the quiet of the waterfall’s song, forget about the outside world, even the nearby Gothic buildings—Gothic buildings that did not exist in the Middle Ages but do exist on a level that didn’t exist in the Middle Ages. I have since moved to a building that combines the Gothic with the modern: I can see stonework that evokes the Gothic, and I see it through a glass wall which would have been extremely unlikely at a time when glass cost as much as a precious metal.

Some players entered the game wishing they were set in the future instead of the past—anything but where they are now. What would my life have been like if I were born in the Middle Ages? That’s simple enough. I would have died in infancy, and my mother with me. Usually when I imagine myself in the Middle Ages, I take any number of things for granted.

The Middle Ages—the knights in armor of Arthurian legend, a picture which becomes even more interesting when it is deepened with scholarly resources to include a different way of perceiving time and space, the shadow of Plato, minstrels singing love songs, precursors to scientific method which become all the more interesting if one looks not at what they became but what they came from—all of this makes for a lost world that is all the more haunting because it can only be entered as a memory.

The character I play is studying theology at a university. “University” means a tradition that began in the Middle Ages, and it means living in community with other students and scholars, free to use technology but always connecting face-to-face and meeting as flesh and blood. As well as the older kind of university, the technology in Meatspace has allowed another kind of education which is a new enough possibility that many players remember when it would have been impossible. In the new model, a student may never meet any of his teachers; there is no sense of living together in community and no real sense that a path or way which has defined teaching since before the ancients is necessary. Not everyone in the ancient model understood or even would accepted the idea that a university should be an embodied community. But the only alternative, the older kind of correspondence school, never enjoyed the same prestige. Now there is another model, not so much another kind of community as a way to substitute for community and embodied presence, and it is gaining a massive ground in a short time. It is a real threat to the older university.

Given the rapid ascent of the “bodiless university”, it seems to me quite possible that by the end of my game, I will have seen the old order of a university as an embodied community as it has been since its medieval birth, will have vanished as the horse-drawn carriage vanished after Henry Ford introduced what seemed to simply be another option (besides riding a horse). Perhaps this will never happen, but if you consider how much could vanish, and how much is easy to take for granted, the scholarly community has something as hauntingly beautiful as the knight in shining armor, or perhaps more beautiful, and this is not only because the university is a medieval institution and some universities have Gothic architecture. The roots run much deeper than that. And that is only one slice of the game—a rather small slice, all things considered.

Technology in this area of the game is interesting, and more importantly than just the technology, the cultural forces surrounding technology are interesting. They hold a tragic beauty, in its own way as tragic and as beautiful as the tale of Arthur’s death: two armies stood across from each other, and each had been ordered not to attack unless the other side drew a sword. Then one soldier saw a snake in the grass, drew his sword to protect himself. Then the battle began, and King Arthur was mortally wounded. On the side of technology, the community had achieved technology that opened up possibilities that never existed before partly because it had oriented itself toward technology as no such community had done before. That made for a sorceror’s bargain that made it difficult to perceive other kinds of beauty in other cultures—or for that matter, their own. The full cultural story—were it possible to fully understand—is even deeper in its tragic beauty than the bittersweet hypothesis of a disembodied university opening up something new while hurting the older tradition. One cannot seriously examine technology without seeing its power—and even its beauty—yet in this society, it is a minority at best who know what it means, and what the beauty would consist of, for a society ordered around other principles like contemplation.

Yet to say that is silly. It’s like reviewing a chess program by describing the art history behind the pictures representing the pawns. Interesting, perhaps, and perhaps impressive, but it falls short of the mark, as does any serious attempt to review Meatspace. I haven’t discussed 99% of an expanse of pavement stretching as far as the eye can see and then further, nor a room that lets me look out over trees and buildings as if I were suspended in the sky, nor a melting pot which combines the wealth of Africa, indigenous Americans, Europe, and Asia and which is believed to be the birthplace of hip hop, nor indeed what it means to be in an outer borough in the “capital of the world,” nor why some dismiss the Bronx as being not a very nice place to live. I believe I have deeply failed to capture the global spirit of Meatspace because I gave too little attention to the unique local character of my level—and you cannot play Meatspace without encountering such a unique local character. To play Meatspace is to enter a world rich with apples and appearances, books and buttercups, children and cats, drivel and daydreams, electronics and excellence, fables and fairy tales, grandeur and giggles, horses (yes, they still exist!) and houses, igloos and imagination, jumping and justice, kites and katana, languages and laughter, microscopes and megaphones, noses and noise, operas and obverses, porpoises and porcupines, quiet and quickness, roaches and Russia, Swiss Army Knives and spirit, transportation and tummies, understanding and understatements, vowels and vices, water and wisdom, xanthan gum and xylophones, yule logs and youth, zebras and zits. It is far beyond my power to describe them.

The M̶a̶r̶t̶i̶a̶n̶ Human Complete Set of Working Instructions to Happiness

Michael: Robert Heinlein, in Stranger in a Strange Land, wrote, “Happiness is a matter of functioning the way a human being is organized to function… but the words in English are a mere tautology, empty. In Martian they are a complete set of working instructions.” Would that we had such a set of working instructions!

Photios: But such exists, or rather such is not needed.

Michael: How? I’ve read Stranger in a Strange Land and can still only guess at it.

Photios: This reminds me of a forum where a young Asian told of some white guys driving by in a car and making “Chinese-like sounds” at him, and asked, “What about these white suburbanite middle-class…” and one of the more liberal members of the forum said, “Question asked, question answered.”

Michael: Ok, I’ll bite. What’s your point?

Photios: Well it’s hard to talk about Stranger in a Strange Land without discussing sex, and I’d like to start there.

In the real world, outside of the novel, there have been many studies to determine which maverick experiments make for the greatest sexual happiness. And to the dismay of the people running the study, the answer, unless they are willing to lie outright, is that a married couple in the traditional sense, straight, faithful, lifelong, no porn, open to parenting children, experiences far and away the greatest pleasure and overall happiness. And this is a finding of dismay because the assumption is that if you’re really going to have a good time, you’ve got to be breaking rules, and the question “Which rebels against traditional marriage have it best?” meets the one entirely unwelcome answer: “Traditional marriages have it best.”

Heinlein posits one maverick arrangement. Ok, this doesn’t constitute maverick now, but it did when Stranger in a Strange Land first came out, and it was a point Heinlein needed to make with a sledgehammer. He posited free love within a tightly guarded nest. And on that point I would recall a counselor who said that after decades of seeing people in every conceivable living arrangement and some he couldn’t conceive, only underscored more strongly that the traditional rules about sexuality are intended for our benefit and not to keep us away from the good stuff.

You seem to assume that the “complete working manual” would be some super-secret or super-elite document only available to a few, or some super-secret way of reading the Bible or whatnot. But remember the maxim learned by many in the military: “When you assume, you make an ass out of U and me!” There is something as good as a complete working manual, and your assumption is one best dismantled.

Michael: Oof. What about the Paleo diet or lifestyle: what do you think about that?

Photios: I practice a modified form of it, but I don’t preach it much more than I preached about the diet I practiced before then. And to be an un-modified form of the Paleo diet is at least a concession in Orthodoxy.

Michael: So Orthodoxy and its cooking traditions have a scientifically better basis than the Paleo diet?

Traditional Orthodox diets are based on the kinds of food people ate after the agricultural revolution; unless you believe the earth is younger than the agricultural revolution’s dates, no matter where you draw the line for the first humans, the departure from hunter-gatherer living is only an eyeblink compared to the total time people have been around.

Photios: And most Orthodox saints believed in a young earth; I don’t share that belief, let alone the crypto-Protestant “Creation Science” that was popular with Fr. Seraphim (Rose) and unknown to most saints. But that is beside the point.

Michael: Then what is your point? Why is the Paleo diet not scientifically superior?

Photios: I do not hold any other diet to be superior, on scientific grounds, to the Paleo diet. But scientific grounds are not the only grounds to judge by. Never mind that the authors of Proverbs were scientifically illiterate by our standards. The proverb still stands: Better is a dinner of herbs [including bread] than a fatted ox and hatred with it.

Michael: Can’t we allow for greater ignorance in the past?

Photios: We can allow for different ignorance, but not greater ignorance—and what an odd thing for a Paleo devotee to say! And thinking about some things on materialistic terms is a material error.

Michael: Such as?

Photios: Once upon a time surgeons would do surgery with dirty hands, horse spit and all, and Pasteur’s revolution came by and said to be sanitary, which is why to this day the preferred medical practice is for surgery to be done in as sanitary and sanitized conditions as possible.

And over-zealots of Pasteur’s style of sanitization thought that the best way to give an infant a best shot at life is to keep things as sanitary as possible, and for all this “Emperor’s New Clothes” improved sanitary conditions, the infant mortality in hospitals was atrociously high. And then someone had the very unscientific idea of bringing in old women to touch, cuddle, and hold infants for half an hour, or an hour, or two hours or whatever each day. And infant mortality plummeted overnight. With that one change, many more infants survived early hospitalization.

And something of the same error relates to kissing icons. Materialistic-minded people wince at kissing something that other people have kissed—but it is an overall strengthening, not weakening, that comes from paying reverence to icons and relics. And you can push it more forcefully and say that it’s as unsanitary as kissing all those people on the mouth, and for that matter the two or three kisses on the cheek given occasionally in some jurisdictions and frequently in other jurisdictions are a tamer version of kissing on the mouth—in fact, by liturgical implication, the kiss on the cheek by implication is a kiss on the mouth. And in areas of helping infants survive the beginning of life, or kissing icons, or kissing Orthodox Christians, the Pasteurized version is the wrong route.

It’s not just that we are justified in taking a health detriment if we do not practice Pasteur’s idea of sanitation. We actually are better off even in matters of health. With what is known about touch and the beginning of life, it would now be a foolhardy proposition to eliminate touch as far as possible from a baby’s life in order to obtain good sanitation. And with what is known about touch at the beginning of life, it is not considered ethical to explore the effects of reducing touch in infants’ lives. It is, however, ethical to explore the effects of increasing touch in infants’ lives, for instance by placing a newborn infant against its mother’s body for thirty to forty-five minutes before going to business as usual, and the effect of increased touch is not only decreased mortality but greatly improved well-being.

And if I may quote a second snippet from the Bible: Train yourself in godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.

The Paleo Solution says that exercise is important and diet is indispensible. I would rather say that exercise and diet may be important, but godliness is indispensible. Perhaps the past few thousand years have been aberration from the naturally good diet our race has enjoyed, but however adamant we may be that Paleo living is better, keep in mind that the Bible and many of the Fathers lived in cultures where everyone up to the king ate bread as the main food, and it is bread and no other food that is honored in the Eucharist and in prosphora. You may hold if you want that it is seriously damaging to eat even the purest organic whole grain bread, but the Bible got its work done during millenia and cultures where the main staple food was bread, and the Gospel was much deeper than getting back paleo hunterer-gather eating and living. And hospitality trumps fasting in Orthodoxy, hospitality should trump diet as well. And that is the biggest area where I make the most concession against the paleo diet; I gratefully accept hospitality as it is given. If you’re far enough in the paleo diet that breaking its rules actually makes you sick—I’m not—then maybe it is appropriate to explain your dietary needs, but insofar as much as it is possible, let hospitality alike trump fasting and diet.

Michael: None the less, there is something haunting, something I wish to be true, in “Jubal learned that… (f) it was not possible to separate in the Martian tongue the human concepts: ‘religion,’ ‘philosophy,’ and ‘science’…”

Photios: Well said indeed, and you can have something better than a hope such things can be. Instead of hoping for things from another world, you can enjoy, in the legal sense, the things in this real world from whose pierced side they were taken. Religion, philosophy, and science are inseparable in “Physics”, and I encourage reading it.

But let me take a step back, far back. Let’s look at the world of television commercials, or a glitzy animated commercial on the Internet. Whether selling cars or clothing, internet access or movies, they are selling escape from the here and now. It may be a car, almost invariably portrayed as sensual, mysterious, and intimate—which are really not what we would best do to seek in a car—but a car that delivers from the burden of the here and now. Clothing adorns the wearer and relieves the wearer of the necessity of appearing as she appears here and now. Internet access is more than just bandwidth; it is portrayed by people who have escaped the here and now. Or a movie or a video game; you have seen the commercials blanketing people recently and saying everyone has a bit of a soldier in them. What they are selling is escape into another world.

On this point I would like to talk about the predecessor to the present Archdruid of Canterbury, who would have flatly have denied that any escape from reality satisfies, or perhaps that there is anywhere to escape to but reality. And even that way of talking violates his writing; in the ancient world, one said, “_______ said _______,” while in the modern world one says both “_______ said _______,” and “_______ would have said _______.” And this transformation is deep enough that students, trying to understand what a past author wrote, find it natural and not in the least provocative to ask, “What would _______ have said about ________?” when everybody in the room knows that the author never touched on the matter in question.

On this point, Anselm, admittedly after the schism, and for that matter Muslims are right. It is not the case that there are a large number of “possible worlds” and we happen to inhabit one of these fantasy-like worlds; there is a reality that Allah or God has created, and it is fundamental confusion to escape it, even in thought. So Stranger in a Strange Land makes a world where free love within a circle of people is allowed—and after ripping marriage apart re-constructs quite a large chunk of marriage in his free love. A man is not forbidden to seek love outside of his nest, but once inside the nest he is entirely free from desire for anyone outside of the nest. That is a reconstruction of what Heinlein has dismantled in marriage: one might speak of marriage as a nest of two, only a nest where fidelity represents not an inescapable preference but a legitimate and freely given choice. Heinlein divorced repeatedly, but a nest of water brothers is permanent. Stranger in a Strange Land‘s nest of water brothers is drawn from the wounded side of reality, only this time it is not the Lord’s doing. Eve may have been drawn from the wounded side of Adam, and the Church may have been drawn from the wounded side of Christ, pouring out blood and water, but this is a matter of “Satan cannot create, he can only mock”, and having rejected the real cistern: [M]y people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns, that can hold no water. And this is the choice of escape: to forsake the fountain of living water, and draw frorm the wounded side of reality broken cisterns that can hold no water. If you read Within the Steel Orb, it peddles escape and seemingly alien wisdom, but it is a mutilation of reality that is offered: the session about controlling the telescope is in fact based in riflery, but if it were not taken from riflery it would have to be taken from somewhere else. And the session about dropping Einstein’s name and claiming to ponder the deeper implications of relativity could just as well have been written in a story set in this world, or for that matter in actual live discussion.

And the emphatic choice of cannibalism among the book’s features is if anything further proof that there is no other reality out there to draw on. In terms of épater la bourgeoisie, cannibalism delivers shock and presumably offense. But, while Heinlein compares the alien Martian world’s cannibalism to the Eucharist at some point, and indeed it is an obvious comparison, one has to ask, “Where is the profound draw to cannibalism except for allowing something that is forbidden?” It is not clear to me, or to many others, what the advantage is of having one more form of meat available and even in the book the prevalence of cannibalism does not offer clear and sincere benefits like the water brotherhood, or great psychic abilities (or both water brotherhood and great psychic powers) that Heinlein builds up in the book. If you want to eat forbidden food, forbidden at least in American culture (which does not offer the only set of rules around), you can eat animals that are kept as pets and companions: eat dog, cat, or horse. All three of these are edible, and for that matter there are cultures on earth where any or all of these are permitted food. But if the question arises, “What is the benefit of eating these animals beyond the foods permitted in American culture?” I don’t see what the substantive answer would be, except for something related to our emotional reaction at the thought of eating a pet. The Paleo Solution and the call to return to more recent historical diets in Nourishing Traditions might never forbid eating cats, dogs, or horses, but neither one paints a nutritional picture where we are advised to eat the kinds of animals we keep as pets because they provide something we can’t get, or can’t as easily get, from eating animals Americans think of as meat. Come to think of it, neither text suggests that Jews or Muslims are missing out on any needed nutrients if they don’t eat pig or other unclean animals. The Paleo Solution argues that there are essential amino acids and essential fats but no essential carbohydrates: “essential” meaning something we need and our bodies cannot make from other foods. However, there is no suggestion at all that we need to eat more types of meats, let alone cherished dogs, cats, and horses, let alone human flesh, to be properly nourished. Now the Martian culture which was big on cherishing things admitted cannibalism of loved ones was a way of cherishing them, but even then the Wikipedia provides a motive for cannibalism that offers a more serious incentive than having yet another form of meat: “Both types of cannibalism can also be fueled by the belief that eating a person’s flesh or internal organs will endow the cannibal with some of the characteristics of the deceased.” This belief, which would offer some real motivation to desire “Martian” cannibalism, is entirely absent in Stranger in a Strange Land, and friends and killed enemies are both eaten without distinction for “food”.

Michael: Who are you to make such a judgment?

Photios: Let me tell you about one person who decided he was going to be an icefisher, so he purchased a bunch of equipment, walked over on the ice, and started to drill down. He got down two inches before a deep, booming voice said, “There are no fish there!”

He looked around and quietly moved his equipment over 50 feet, and started to drill there. No sooner had he started than a deep booming voice said, “There are no fish there either!”

He picked up his equipment, moved over a hundred feet, looked around before drilling, when the same voice said, “Nor are there any fish there!”

He looked around and said, “Who are you, God?”

The voice said, “No! I’m the arena manager!”

I’m not the arena manager, but I am an arena employee.

Michael: [Pause] So we should all become monks, or something like that? I’ve heard some people say that every Orthodox Christian is called to be a monastic.

Photios: Every Orthodox Christian is called to be an ascetic, and asceticism, or spiritual struggle, is the beating heart of monasticism. And monasticism is higher than life in the world.

Michael: So married life in the world is sort of a “monasticism lite”?

Photios: Erm, kind of.

Michael: Meaning, “No.”

Photios: Meaning, “No.” The monastic who is saved is saved through the struggle of monastic ascesis, and the married man who is saved is saved through the struggle of caring for a family. Monasticism is higher than married life in the world.

Married life in the world is not the highest path, but it is not improved by trying to make it “virtual monasticism.” Maybe a monk requires obedience to a spiritual father, and an intentionally disruptive sleep cycle, and food deliberately cooked to be as bland as it can be. Married couples have another yoke to bear, and it is a sad thing for people to get married and then “try to make up for it” by imitating monasticism. Marriage is not a sin, but holy matrimony. And it brings with it childbearing, if God so wills, so that the couple is no longer living for themselves alone but for their children. You might have heard the saying, “Men love women. Women love children. Children love pets. Life isn’t fair.” But if we return to the Heinlein quote you gave a while back, “Happiness is a matter of functioning the way a human being is organized to function… but the words in English are a mere tautology, empty. In Martian they are a complete set of working instructions.” Happiness in monasticism is functioning the way the monastic ascesis is organized to function, and happiness in married life in the world is functioning the way the married ascesis is organized to function. It may happen that a couple marries, has children, much later live together as brother and sister, and then split off to separate monasteries. In that sense celibacy and marriage are not mutually exclusive, and the couple is still considered to be married even if they have passed the realm of carnal knowledge. But even this is not normative to marriage; it is one of many forms holiness takes.

And here a man is reminded of Confucius’s Analects, and its “ritual”, which the Western mind may have trouble understanding because in the West “ritual,” if not used metaphorically to speak of someone always giving a speech at family reunions, has a religious center of gravity. But in Confucius’s whole realm of thought, “ritual” was something like a graduation ceremony or a town parade, with a civic center of gravity. And on that point someone speaking to Confucius praised someone else for doing ritual very well. And Confucius, answering somewhat indirectly, essentially said, “Ritual dictates that only a monarch may place a gate in front of his door, but he has a gate in front of his door,” and mentioned one or two other areas where the man in question usurped privilege that did not belong to him. The implication is a strong criticism: this man, who is praised for his performance in ritual and who probably worked much harder to do ritual correctly than most, undercuts it in a way that is reminiscent of tithing mint, dill, and cummin, and neglecting justice, mercy, and faith. Performing the details of ritual correctly really didn’t help much for someone who lacked the humility that ritual was designed to foster. At heart, placing a monarch-like gate in front of his door made him less, not more, like a monarch, and in fact placed him further from the monarch than if he did ritual, in a way that was proper to his station, without copying the privileges of people in a higher place.

Michael: Well, at least it’s an obscure phenomenon, limited to people who are trying to be devout in the wrong way.

Photios: Obscure? Obscure? Obscure? The entire question of feminism hinges on a confusion that is the fruit of the same tree.

Michael: How so?

Photios: Let me quote three passages that sometimes you’ll see even conservatives trying to balance out, for instance by comparing what is asked of wives with what is asked of husbands:

But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a woman is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.

I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet woman will be saved through bearing children, if she continues in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.

Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church; however, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

Michael: And what do conservatives have to say for these, besides the fact that they are old and are culturally conditioned?

Photios: Well, they might start with the obvious and say that you are culturally conditioned.

Michael: And then what?

Photios: And then that someone who eats from the million year old paleo diet as the food that is optimal for Homo sapiens should not dismiss a two thousand year old text as just too old to be worth listening to.

Michael: Ouch. And then what?

Photios: Well, in the last and longest quote, compare what is asked of husbands and of wives and who bears the brunt of the pleas. The wife is told to submit to her husband as if to the Lord. And yes, I’ve checked the Greek. “Wives, submit to your husbands as is fitting in the Lord” is a minor mutilation. The text says, “Wives, submit to your husbands as if to the Lord.”

But the burden of the text—incidentally, in the densest passage in the New Testament for references to the Church—falls on husbands. If wives are called to show the Church’s submission to Christ, husbands are to lay down their lives and die for their wives if needed. If wives bear the duty of submitting to their husbands as the Church submits to Christ, husbands are called to lay their lives down for their wives as Christ laid down his life for the Church. Wives are called to give to their husbands what the Church gives to Christ; husbands are called to give wives what Christ gives to the Church. One might say that the sigil of male headship and authority is not a crown of gold, but a crown of thorns. People coming to this text afresh might be staggered at how much more is expected of husbands than of wives. And the same people might be even more staggered that the text is politically incorrect because of the claim it makes on wives.

Michael: So the text evens out to be egalitarian after all.

Photios: What was the venom the Serpent poured into Eve’s ear? Egalitarianism! “You shall be as gods,” meaning “You shall be equal to some greater than you.” And let’s pause for a moment.

There was a time—it happened to be brief, but that is beside the point—when the Serpent had stung Eve but Adam still reigned as mortal. Eve already felt the seed of death growing in her heart, even though it would be long years before the venom grew to the point of killing her completely. And let’s think about what was in her heart. She was mortal; Adam was still immortal. At some point she would die, and then what? God said, “It is not good for man to be alone;” would Adam simply be celibate? Or would rather God not give her another immortal wife, to be his forever? Was there anything Eve could do to prevent Adam reigning immortal as another woman’s husband?

Michael: Ouch.

Photios: It is said in some witchcraft that you knowingly allow a demon to possess you. And when that moment comes, you realize that you have allowed evil into you the same way you know that you are violently ill. You may not repent in the least, but demons are never merciful to those they inhabit. Perhaps they enable magic; but they never give the glow of spiritual health, nor can they.

Eve knew and felt the seed of death growing in her heart, that in her attempt to be like gods, she had lost her godlike ladyship over the whole Creation. And she made her second egalitarian move. The first move was to try to be equal to “gods”, perhaps exalted ranks of seraphim, cherubim, thrones, dominions, powers, authorities, principalities, archangels, and angels. And her second egalitarian move was to make Adam her equal in mortality. And she succeeded; as the Serpent stung Eve, so Eve stung her then-immortal husband who would otherwise outlive her and belong to another woman.

This is the politics of envy. This is the root of the war on educational excellence. This is the radix of Janteloven. This is the vice that moved Saul to seek David’s murder as soon as he heard, “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.” Envy says, in essence, “I don’t care if we’re three feet tall or ten feet tall. All I want is that you not be taller than me.” In conversations that cross denominations and confessions, one can say with Calvinists, “We are totally depraved and stunted in our spiritual growth; we have a spiritual height of about three feet.” Or one can say with Orthodox, “The image of God is present even in the most hardened sinner; the most spiritually astute Orthodox, especially monastics, find much good in the people they see; so we are at a spiritual height of about six feet.” But woe to the unwary soul who says, “Monastics are six feet tall and laity are five feet tall,” or “Clergy are six feet tall and laity are five feet tall,” or, to give a hypersensitive trigger, “Men are six feet tall and women are five feet tall.” That will unleash an explosion that dwarfs any response to Calvinists saying, “We are totally depraved and steeped in sin; we are spiritually three feet tall, if even that.” Better to say that everyone is exactly one foot tall than to say that heights vary somewhere around six feet and on average most men are taller than most women, let alone that men have one role and women another.

And this general point, perhaps more focally dealt with in matters of men and women, has to do with a broader sense of pseudomorphosis affecting all modern life. Are you familiar with the term ‘pseudomorphosis’ in its usual Church usage?

Michael: I’ve heard… things like icons being painted in a more Western fashion, or that figure… what was it… Cyril Lucaris, the bishop whose “profession of faith” really had much more to do with Calvinism than Orthodoxy; there was that book, called Protestant Patriarch, which I suppose I should read. I think there’s more, but I’m forgetting the examples. Wait, there was also something about people thinking theology was philosophy whose subject-matter was God…

Photios: Yes; the term ‘pseudomorphosis’ in Orthodox culture is something like the term ‘Oreo’ in African-American culture, for someone who is black on the outside but too white on the inside, and acts white. The examples you gave of pseudomorphosis are all valid.

Michael: Ok, so we’ve established the meaning of ‘pseudomorphosis.’ What next? Do we need to say anything more to establish that the politics of envy, as you call it, is no ingredient to human happiness?

Photios: We haven’t quite established it, not yet, because I want to use it as a metaphorical springboard to discuss something else.

Michael: What is that something else?

Photios: ‘Pseudomorphosis’ in standard Orthodox usage is a bit of a hydra; it’s not easy to pin down, but in traditional Orthodox unsystematic fashion, it is possible to get a sense of it. As I am using here, it has to do with all sorts of things in modern living. The paleo dietis one attempt to remedy a pseudomorphosis. I will not say if it succeeds or fails, but what it attempts to do is replace “foods” that are an anomaly in the human diet and which our body is not really well served by eating, with foods that are the standard tradition diet of the human race. The book also covers some other things, like what kind of artificially added exercise will best simulate the active lives of our forbears, and here at least I am not so interested in whether it succeeds or fails as the implicit powerful recognition that we are in an iron mask under unnatural conditions. If one were to ask Robb Wolf who he would intend The Paleo Solution to, if economics etc. were no obstacle, I believe he would answer, “Everyone who is not a hunter-gatherer today.”

That is one aspect of pseudomorphosis. Another aspect is how men and women are understood, or misunderstood, and how sex is seen. Another aspect is the politics of envy. Another aspect is how so many of us spend large chunks of time looking at a flickering screen.These are five of maybe a hundred holes that are being drilled down into the ice, and the arena employees’ lungs are sore from shouting, “There are no fish there!

Michael: Then where are the fish?

Photios: Some centuries back, though this may seem hard to imagine now, philosophy was understood differently; in our day philosophy is understood as an academic discipline, as something with arguments you study and respond to, and philosophy has always been that to an extent. But in ancient times philosophy was first a way one walked and secondarily about ideas. And a number of people, all men I think, arrived at the conclusion that the truest way of philosophy was that of monasticism, which kept things alive from Plato, for instance, that do not necessarily live in a philosophy department today.

The observation that monasticism is the height of a certain understanding of philosophy, where like Mike’s Martians’ philosophy, religion, and science are inseparable, is a profitable observation whether or not one is a monk. The Ladder of Divine Ascent, to pick one classic, addresses perhaps two sentences of exhortation to those outside the monastic world, but it has been read, it is said, with utmost spiritual profit to Orthodox in all walks of life. Perhaps the letter in its strict sense should not always be applied to laity. There is still much of benefit, as with the Philokalia the book Orthodox Psychotherapy is essentially a realization that before Freud began positing theories about what can go wrong with us, and how what is tangled in us can be untangled and freed, the Orthodox Philokalia which could be called ‘the science of spiritual struggle,’ takes on that territory and does a better job. And perhaps it would be better to talk with one’s priest about reading selections; reading the Philokalia when one has not been prepared for it can be an exercise in frustration. But this is best done with the consultation of one’s priest.

Michael: So, with all of this said, what can I get that will make me happiest?

Photios: Well, if you’re thinking in terms of dollars, let’s say you get however many million dollars you think would make you happy. Then you will discover that you still have all of your problems and the money doesn’t keep you happy—at least not for long. So you will have the rare opportunity to be wealthy beyond your wildest nightmares, and perhaps after you have one luxury after another lose its glamour, failing to give either lasting satisfaction or happiness, that you will come to a realization worth every penny of your millions of dollars: in seeking happiness from wealth, you might as well have been trying to coax a stone to lay an egg.

Michael: Then is there no hope?

Photios: So faith, hope, love abide, these three. Hope remains; you just have to look for it in the right places. You are assuming that your happiness will come from what you get, but you make a living by what you get and a life by what you give. [T]he Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many, and this is the key to the happiness of functioning as a person is organized to function. Forbes’s survey of the happiest jobs in America found that there was little correlation between job happiness and the amount of money made: and in fact one of the twenty happiest jobs is one of the few Americans feel the need to cover up with euphemisms: no one is a plain old secretary any more; they are all executive assistants, administrators, and the like. But notwithstanding the fact that America thinks being a secretary needs a euphemism, being a secretary ranked as one of the twenty happiest jobs in America, alongside bank tellers who serve clients by helping them with financial nuts and bolts, and some customer service representatives. And there is a very simple reason for that. Among many others, secretaries serve.

And that is, if we may return to Heinlein one of the three keys that unlocks “Happiness is a matter of functioning the way a human being is organized to function… but the words in English are a mere tautology, empty. In Martian they are a complete set of working instructions.” Now Michael Valentine Smith mentions ‘faith’ as belonging among the list of obscene words Jubal told him not to use, and he is emphatic: not faith but climbing the peaks of spiritual discipline. However, the Philokalia in its embrace of faith does climb the peaks of spiritual discipline. And all of these are a preliminary that many people don’t need; human fulfillment is found, not in being served, but in serving. Such was Christ’s act; such was his example.

Not that reading the Philokalia is necessary to salvation. Monks have reached the peaks of mystic contemplation without having any books; among the many notable monastics who never read anything, and in fact did not know how to read, is St. Mary of Egypt. And one minor clergy said, “There are two books you do not read: the Philokalia and the Rudder,” not because they are bad—they are arguably the second and third most important collections to Orthodoxy outside the Bible—but because they have raw industrial strength power that has not been selected, boiled to essentials, and then packaged in a way that will just fit anyone who reads it. The Philokalia is a collection of texts at all various levels of spiritual maturity, and the Rudder is basically a book of rules for bishops to apply with strictness or leniency as is pastorally appropriate to the situation. And the Rudder has some of the most valuable rules the Orthodox Church owns; but it still should not be confused with ordinary devotional materials designed to build up and edify the lay faithful. And one may adapt St. Paul and say, “If I have all manner of knowledge of antiquarian texts and I read the Philokalia and the Rudder, but I do not serve in love, I am nothing.

Michael: So then it’s all we learned in kindergarden?

Photios: There are all sorts of minor insights along the way. There is a Rabbinic tradition of having a kelal, a nutshell that for its brevity none the less concentrates the distilled essence of Scripture; such as, He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?, and what I am going to quote is not a kelal; it’s from the rest of the Scripture and has something of a character of a footnote. But Ecclesiasticus tells us, Honor the physician with the honor due him, according to your need of him, for the Lord created him; for healing comes from the Most High, and he will receive a gift from the king. And there is a place for exercise; there is a place for diet. There may be also a place for “Let the buyer beware”, because fads come and go; the author of The Paleo Solution all but killed himself trying to eat healthily by being a vegetarian; the paleo diet is posed to be the next fad diet and that is reason to view it carefully. The medical community, like many others, has its fads and changes its conclusions much more quickly than developments in research would warrant. Still I wouldn’t make these things the center. “Honor the physician…” is not a kelal at all, let alone one that should be the rudder of your life.

Michael: If I may ask, what is the greatest kelal?

Photios: It’s one endorsed by a rabbi you’ve heard of.

Michael: Sorry, but I’m really not up to par on all things Jewish. Could you quote it for me?

Photios: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

Public Portions of the Divine Liturgy, in Russian and in English

This is an educational tool that I really made for my own use, to better understand the public portions of the Divine Liturgy in the Russian Orthodox Church. I used and anglicized Russian spellings from the Sluzhebnik. Any errors (and there are probably many) are quite probably my own.

To use this educational tool, mouse over a Russian phrase, such as when the Deacon opens, “Blagoslavie, Vladyko!” (this is what “Deacon: Blagoslavie, Vladyko!” literally means). When you mouse over, you should see the English text for what the Deacon says: “Bless, Master!”

It takes a moment to figure out how to use it, which is probably not a good sign for user-friendliness, but I have found that having the computer hide a phrase until you mouse over it works well in the long run. For the original text, with Russian letters, see the edition of the Sluzhebnik that I used.

Deacon: Blagoslavie, Vladyko!

Priest: Blagoslovenno tsarsvo Otsa i Sina, i Svatago Duha, nine e presno, i vo beki vekov.

Clergy: Christos voskrese iz mertvih, smertyio smert poprav, i sushim vo grodekh zhevot darovav!

Deacon: Mirom Gospodi pomolimsa!

People: Gospodi, pomilui!

Deacon: O svishnem mire i spasenii dush nashih Gospodu pomolimsa.

People: Gospodi, pomilui!

Deacon: O mire vsego mira, blagostoaniy svatrikh boshiekh tserkrei i soedinenii vsekh Gospodi pomolimsa.

People: Gospodi, pomilui!

Deacon: I svatem khrame sem i s veroio, blagogoveniem i strakhom bozhiem vhodashih v on Gospodu pomolimsa.

People: Gospodi, pomilui!

Deacon: O pravoslavnom episkopstve Tserkve Rossiskia, o gospodine nashem visokopreosvashennei shem Metropolotite N., Pervoierarse Russkia Zarybezhnia Tserkve, o gospodene nashem preosvashenneishem Episkope N., o chestem presveterstve, o ezhe vo Christe diakonstve, o vsem pretche i liodekh Gospodi pomolimsa.

People: Gospodi, pomilui!

Deacon: O strane sei i vlastekh i voenstve ea Gospodu pomolimsa.

People: Gospodi, pomilui!

Deacon: O Grade sem, vsakom grade, strane i veroio zhibushikh v nikh Gospodu pomolimsa

People: Gospodi, pomilui!

Deacon: O blagorastvorenyi bozhdov, 0 izobuliy plodob zemhlikh i vremenekh mernikh Gospodu pomolimsa.

People: Gospodi, pomilui!

Deacon: O plavaioshekh, puteshestvuioshikh, nedruioshikh, strazhdushikh, plenennikh i o spaseiy ikh Gospodu pomolimsa.

People: Gospodi, pomilui!

Deacon: O izbavitisa nam ot vsakia skorbi, gneba i nuzhdi Gospodu pomolimsa.

People: Gospodi, pomilui!

Deacon: Zastupe, spasi, pomilui i sokhrane nas, Bozhe, Tvoeio blagodatyio.

People: Gospodi, pomilui!

Deacon: Presvatuio, prechestuio, preblagoslovennuio, slavnuio Bladichitsu nashu Bogoroditsu i Prisnodebu Mariyo, so vsemi svatimi pomanuvshe, samn sebe i drug druga i ves zivot nas Christu Bogu predadim.

People: Tebe, Gospodi

Priest: Ako podobaet Tebe vsakaaslava, chest i poklonenie, Otsu i Sinu, i Svatomu Dukhu, nine i presno, i vo veki vekov.

People: Amin.

Deacon: Paki i paki mirom Gospodu pomolimsa.

People: Gospodi, pomilui!

Deacon: Zastupi, spasi, pomelui i sokhrankh nas, Bozhe, tvoeio, blagodateio.

Deacon: Presvatuio, prechistuio, preblagoslovennuio, slavnuio, Bladichitsu nashu Bogorodetsu i Presnodevu Mario, so vsemi svatimi pomanuvshe, same sebe, i drug druga, i ves zhevot nash Christu bogu predadim.

People: Tebe, Gospodi.

Priest: Ako Tvoa derzhava, i tvie est Tsarstvo, i sila, i slava, Otsa i Sina, i Svetogo Dukha, nine i presno, i vo vevi vekov.

People: Amin.

Priest: Ako blag i chelovekoliobets Bog esi, i Tebe slavu bozsilaem, Otsu i Sinu, i Svatomo Dukhu, nine i presno, i vo veki vekov.

Deacon: Premudrost, prosti!

Priest: Ako svat esi, Bozhe nash, i Tebe slavu bozsilaem, Otsu i Sinu, i Svatomu Dukhu, nine i presno i vo veki vekov.

People: Amin.

People: Svatiy Bozhe, Svatiy krepkiy, Svatiu bessmertniy, pomilui nas.

Deacon: Vonmem.

Priest: Mir vcem.

Reader: I Dukhovi tvoemy.

Deacon: Premudrost!

Deacon: Vonmem.

Priest: Mir Ti.

Reader: I Dukhovi tvoemy.

Deacon: Premudrost.

Deacon: Blagoslovi, bladiko, blagovesteteka, svatago apostola i evangelista N.

Priest: Bog moletvami svatago slavnago i vsehvalnogo apostola i evangelista N. da dast te glagol blagovectvuioshemu siloio mnokoio vo ispolnenie evangelia vozliobennago Sina Svoego, Gospoda nashero Iesusa Christa.

Deacon: Amin.

Priest: Premudrost, prosti, uslishim svatago Evangelia. Mir vsem.

Deacon: Ot N. svatago evangelia chtenie.

People: Slava Tebe, Bozhe nash, slava Tebe.

Deacon: Vonmem.

Priest: Mir ti blagovestruioshemy.

Deacon: Rtsem vse ot vsea dushi, i ot vsego pomishlenia nashego rtsem.

People: Gospodi, pomilui!

Deacon: Gospode Vsederzhitelio, Bozhe otets nasheh, molim Ti sa, uslishi i pomilui.

People: Gospodi, pomilui!

Deacon: Pomilui nas, Bozhe, po belitsei milosti Tvoei, molim Ti sa, uslishi i pomilui.

People: Gospodi, pomilui!

Deacon: Eshe molimsaa – pravoslavnom episkopstve Tserkve Rossiiskia, o gospodine nashem bisokopreosvashennei shem Metropolite n., pervoierarse Russkia Zarybezhnia Tserkbe, o gospodine nashem Preosvashennishem Episcope N., i o vsei vo Christe bratee nashei.

People: Gospodi, pomilui!

Deacon: Eshe molimsa o strane sei i blastekh i boenstve ea.

People: Gospodi, pomilui!

Deacon: Eshe molimsa o brateakh nashekh svashennitseh, svashennomonasekh i o vsem vo Christe bratstve nashem.

People: Gospodi, pomilui!

Deacon: Eshe molimsa o blazhennikh i presnopamaatnikh svateishikh, i blagochestevikh tsaristakh, i sozdatelekh svatogo khrama sero, i o bsekh prezhde pochivshih otseh lezhashikh i povsiodu pravoslavnikh.

People: Gospodi, pomilui!

Deacon: Eshe molimsa 0 plodonosashikh i dobrodeioshikh bo svatem i vsechestnem khrame sem, truzhdaioshikhsa, poioshikh i predstoashikh liodekh, okhedaioshekh ot teba velikia i bogatia milosti.

People: Gospodi, pomilui, Gospodi, pomilui, Gospodi, pomului!

Priest: Ako melostiv i Chelobekoliobets Bog esi, i Tebe slavu bozsilaem, Otsu i Sinu, i Svetomu Dukhu, nino i presno i va veki vekov.

People: Amin.

Deacon: Gospodi pomolumsa.

People: Gospodi pomilui.

Priest: Gospode Iesuse Christe, Bozhe nash Priimi ot nas nedostoenikh rabov Tvoih userdnoe molekhne sie i, prostiv nam vsa sogreshenia nasha, pomrni vseh bragov nashim, nenavidashikh i obidashikh nas, i ne bozdazhd im po delom ikh: nebernikh ko pravoverio i blagochestio, vernikh zhe vo ezhe uklonititsa ot zla i tvoiti blaglo.

Priest: Nas zhe vsekh i tserkov Tvoio svatuio vsesilnoio Tvoeio Kewpostio ot vsakogo zlago obbstoania mklostvno izbavi. Strazdutsuio zemlio russkuio ot liotikh bezbozhnik i blasti ih svobodi, i voskresi svatuio praboslavnuio Rus, vernikh zhe pabov Tvoikh, v skorbe i pechali der i noch bopioshikh k Tebe, mnogoboleznenniy bopl uslishe, mnogomilostive Bozhe nash, i izvedi iz istlenia zebot ikh. Podazhd mir i tishinu, liobov i utverzhdenie i skorow primirenie liodem Tvonm, ikh zhe chestnoio Tebe i Tebe ne ishushim ablen budi, vo ezhe ne edinomislii i v heprestannoi liobvi proslavat prechestnoe ima Tvoe, Terpelibodushe, nezlobivi Gospodi, vo vevi vekov.

People: Amin.

Deacon: Pomilui nas, Bozhe, po velitsei miloste Tvoei, molem ti sa, uslishi i pomilui.

People: Gospodi, pomilui, Gospodi, pomilui, Gospodi, pomului!

Deacon: Eshe molimsa o upokoenii dush ucopshikh rabov bozhiikh, i o ezhe prostitisa im vsakomu prepeshenio, volnomu zhe i nebolnomu.

People: Gospodi, pomilui, Gospodi, pomilui, Gospodi, pomului!

Deacon: Ako da Gospod Bog uchinit dushi ikh, idezhe pravednii upokoriotaa.

People: Gospodi, pomilui, Gospodi, pomilui, Gospodi, pomului!

Deacon: Meloste Bozhia, tsarsva nebeshnago, i ostavlenia grekhov ikh, y Christa Bezcertnago Tzara i Boga nashera Prosim.

People; Podai, Gospodi

Priest: Ako Ti esi voskresenie i zevot i pokoe usopshikh rab tvoh, Christe Bozhe nash, i Tebe slavu vozsilaem, so beznachalnim, so Otsem, i Presvatim i Blagim I Zhevotorashim Tvoem Duhom, nine i presno i vo veki vekov.

People: Amen.

Deacon: Pomolitesa, oglashennii, Gospodebi

People: Gospodi, pomilui!

Deacon: Venii, o oglasennikh pomolimsa, da Gospod pomilute ikh.

People: Gospodi, pomilui!

Deacon: Oglasit ikh slovom isteni.

People: Gospodi, pomilui!

Deacon: Otkriet im Evangelio pravdi.

People: Gospodi, pomilui!

Deacon: Soedinit ih svatei Svoei sobornei i Apostolskoe Tserkvi.

People: Gospodi, pomilui!

Deacon: Spasi, pomilui, zastupi i sokhrani ih, Bozhe, Tvpeio blagodatio.

People: Gospodi, pomilui!

Deacon: Oglashennii, grabi vashi Gospodevi preklonite.

People: Gospodi, pomilui!

Da i tii s nami slavat prechestnoe i belikolepoe ema Tvoe, Osta i Sina i Svatogo Dukha, nine i presno, i vo veke vekov.

People: Amin.

Deacon: Elitsi Oglashenii izidite. Oglashenii izidite. Elntsi Oglashenii izidite. Da nikto iz Oglashennih, elitsi vernii, pake i pake merom Gospody pomolimca.

People: Gospodi, pomilui!

Deacon: Zastupi, spasi, pomilui i sokhrani nas, Bozhe, tvoieo blagodatio.

People: Gospodi, pomilui!

Deacon: Premudrost!

Priest: Ako podovaet tebe vsakaa slava, chest i poklononie, Otsu i Sinu, I Svatomu Dukhu, nine i presno, i vo veki vekov.

People: Amin.

Deacon: Paki i paki merom Gospodu pomolimca.

People: Gospodi, pomilui!

Deacon: Zastupi, spasi, pomilui i sokhrani nas, Bozhe, Tvoeio blagodatio.

People: Gospodi, pomilui!

Deacon: Premudrost!

Priest: Ako da pod derzhavio Tvoeio vserda khranimi, Tebe slavu bozsilaem, Otsu i Sinu i Svatomu Dukhu, nine i presno, i vo veki vekov.

People: Amin.

Priest: Izhe herubimi taino obrazuioshe, e zhebotborashei Troitse Trisvatyio pesn prepevaioshe, vsakoe nine ziteiskoe otlozhim popechenie.

Deacon: Ako da tsara vseh podimem, angelskimi nevidimi gorenosima chinmi. Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.

Deacon: Gospodina nashego bisokopeosbasheisher o N., metropoleta Bostochto-amerikanskogo i Nio-Iorkskogo, perboierarkha Russkia Zarubezhnia Tserkve, I gospodina nashero preosbashenneishego monachestvo i ves svashennicheskii chin, da pomanet Gospod Bog vi Tzarstvii Cvoem vsegda nine i prisno i vo veki vekov. Amen.

Priest: Strazhduioshuio stranu nashu Rosiiskyio i pravoslavnikh liodei ea vo otechestve i rasseanii sushikh, stanu sio, pravitelei i boinstvo ea da pomanet Gospod Bog vo Tsarstvii Svoem vserda nine i presno i vo veki vekov. Amen.

Priest: Sozdatelei i blagotvoretelei, ktmtora, sestrichestvo, poiosheh h prehozhan svatago khrama sero, bas i vsekh pravoslavnih svatago khrama sego, vas i vsekh pravoslavnih Christian da pomanet Gospod Bog vo Tsarstvii Svoem, Vserda, nine e presno e vo veki vekov.

People: Amen. Ako da Tsara vsekh podimem, angelskimi nebidimo dprinoshma chinmi. Alliluia, Alliluia, Alliluia.

Deacon: Ispolnim molitvu nashu Gospodevi.

People: Gospodi, pomilui!

Deacon: O Predlozhennikh chestnikh Darekh Gospodu pomolimsa.

People: Gospodi, pomilui!

Deacon: O svatem khrame sem i s beroio, blagogoveniem i strakhom bozhiim vkhodashikh v on Gospody pomolimsa.

People: Gospodi, pomilui!

O izbavitisa nam ot vsakna skorbi, gneva i nuzhdi Gospodu pomolimsa.

People: Gospodi, pomilui!

Deacon: Zastupi, spa/i, pomilui i sokhfani nas, Bozhe, Tvoeio blagodatio.

People: Gospodi, pomilui!

Deacon: Dne vsego sovershenna, svata, mirna i bezgreshna y Gospoda prosim.

People: Gospodi, pomilui!

Deacon: Angela mirna, verna nastavnika, hranetela dush i teles nashikh y Gospoda prosim.

People: Podai, Gospodi!

Deacon: Proshenia i ostavlenia grekhov i pregresshenii nashikh u Gospoda prosem.

People: Podai, Gospodi!

Deacon: Dobrikh i poleznikh dusham nashim i mira mirovi y Gospoda prosim.

People: Podai, Gospodi!

Deacon: Prochee brema zhevota nashero v mire i pokaanii skonchati y Gospoda prosim.

People: Podai, Gospodi!

Deacon: Presvatuio, prechestuio, preblagoslovennuio, slavnuio Blagichitsu nashu Bogotodutsu i Presnodevy Mario, so vsema svatimi pomanuvshe, sami sebe i drug druga, i vese zhevot nash Christu Bogu predadim.

People: Tebe, Gospodi.

Priest: Shedrotami Ednorodnogo Sina Tvoego, s Nim zhe blagosloven esi, so presvatim i blagim i zhevotvorashim Tvoim Dukhom, nine i prisno, i vo veki vekov.

People: Amin.

Priest: Mir vsem!

People: I dukhovi tvoemy.

Deacon: Bozliobim drug druga, da edinomisliem ispovemi.

People: Otsa y Sina i Svatogo Dukha, Troitsu Edenosushnuio y nerazdelnuio.

Deacon: Dveri, dveri! Premudrostio vonmem.

The Creed: Veruio vo edinago Boga Otsa, Vsederzhitela, Tvortsa nebu y zemli, bidimim zhe vsem i nevidimim. I bo edinago Gospoda Iesusa Christa, Sina Boshia, Edinorodnago, Izhe ot Otsa rozhdennago preshde vsekh bek. Sveta ot Sveta, Boga istinna ot Boga istinna, rozhdenna, nesotvoerenna, edino-susha Otsu, Im zhe vsa bisha. Nas radi chelovek i nashero radi spasenia shedshago s nebes i voplotivshagosa ot Dukha Svata y Marii Devi, i voshelovechshass. Raslatago zhe za ni pri Pontiistem Pilate, i stradavsha, i pogrebenna. I voskreshago v tretii der, no Pisanirm. I bozshedshago na nebesa, i sedasha odesnuio Otsa. I pake gradeshago so slavoio sudete zhevim i mertvim, Ego zhe Tsarstvio ne budet kontsa. I b Dukha Svatago, Gospoda, zhevotvorashago, Izhe ot Otsa ishodashago, izhe so Ootsem i Sinom Spoklanaema i sslavima, glavolabshago proroki. Vo edinu svatuio, sovornuio i Apostolshuio Tserkov. Iepoveduio edeno kreshenie vo ostavleniu grehov. Chaii voskresenia metrvih kh zhezni budushago veka. Amen.

Deacon: Stanem dobre, stanem so strahom, vonmem, svartoe boznosheniu i mire prenositi.

People: Melost Mira, zhertvu khralenia.

Priest: Blagodat Gospoda nashero Iesusa Christa, i liobi Boga i Osta, i prechastni Svatago Dukha budi so vsemi vami.

People: I Dukhovi tvoemu.

Priest: Gore imeem serdtsa.

People: Imami ko Gospodu.

Priest; Blagodarim Gospoda!

People: Dostoino i pravedno est poklonatisa Otsu i Sinu, i Svatomu Dukhu, Troiste edinosuthnei i nerazdelnei.

Priest: Pobednuio pesn poioshe, bopeioshe, veibaioshe i glagolioshe:

People: Svat, Svat, Svat Gospod Sabaof: ispoln nebo i zemla slavi Tvoia. Osanna b bishnikh, blagospoben gradiy vo ema Gospode. Osanna v vishnikh.

Priest: Priimite, adite, sie est telo Moe, ezhe za bi lomnoe vo ostavlenie grehov.

People: Amen.

Priest: Piite ot nea vsi, sia est krob Moa Novago Zameta, ashe za bi za mnogie islivaemaa vo ostablenie grehov.

Priest: Tvoa ot Tvoi Tebe prinosashe o vsekh i za vsa.

People: Tebe poem, Tebe blagoslovim, Tebe blagodarim, Gospodi, i molimmtisa, Bozhe nash.

Priest: Izradno o presvatei, prechistei, preblagoslovennei, slavnei Bladichitse nashei bogoroditse i Presnodeve Marii.

People: Dostoino est, ako voistinu, blazhiti Ta Bogorodiiu, presnoblazhennuio i preneporochnuio i Mater Boga nasego, Chesteishuio kherubim i slavneishuio bez sravnenia serafim, bez istlenia Boga Slova rozhdshuio, Sushui Bogorodiiu Ta beliichaem.

Priest: V pervikh, pomani, Gospodi, pravoslavnoe episkoptstvo Tserkve Rossiiskia i Gospoda nashero, bisokopreosvashennei shago metropolita N., pervoierarkha Russkoe Zarubezhnoi Perkve i gospodina nashero preosvashenneishego N., ikh zhe darui svatim Tvoim tserkbam, b mere, tserikh, chestnikh, zdrabikh, dolgodenstvuioshikh pravo pravashikh slovo Tvoea istini.

People: I bseh i vsa.

Priest: I dazhd nam epinemi usti i edinem serdthem slaviti i vospebati prechestnow i belikolepoe ima Tvoe, Otsa i Sina i Evatago Dukha, nine i presno, i vo veki vekov.

People: Amin.

Priest: I da budut milosti belikogo Boga i Spasa nashero Iesusa Christa so vsemi bami.

Deacon: Vsa svatia pomanuvshe, pake i paki mirom Gospody Pomolumsa.

People: Gospodi, pomilui!

Deacon: O prenesennikh i osvashenniu chestnikh Darekh, Gospodu pomolimsa.

People: Gospodi, pomilui!

Deacon: Ako da chelovekoliobets Bog nash, priem a vo svatiy i prenebesniy i mislennie Svoe zhertvennik, v vonio blagoukhania dukhovnogo, boznisposlet nam Bozhestvennuio blagodat i dar Svatogo Dukha, pomolimsa.

People: Gospodi, pomilui!

Deacon: O izbavetesa nam ot vsakie skorbi, gneva i nyzhdi, Gospodu pomolemsa.

People: Gospodi, pomilui!

Deacon: Sastupi, spasi, pomo; io i sokhrani nas, Bozhe, Tvosio blagodatio.

People: Gospodi, pomilui!

Zne vsego sovershenna, svata, mirna i bezgreshna y Gospoda prosim.

People: Podai, Gospodi!

Deacon: Angela mira, verna nastavnika, khranitela dush i teles nashikh y Gospoda prosee.

People: Podai, Gospodi!

Proshenia i ostablenia grekhov y prereshenii nashikh u Gospoda Prosim.

People: Podai, Gospodi!

Dobrikh i poleznikh dusham nashim i mira morovi u Gospoda prosem.

People: Podai, Gospodi!

Prochee vrema zhemota nashego b mirei pokaanii skonchath u Gospoda prosim.

People: Podai, Gospodi!

Deacon: Hristianskia konchini zhebota nashago, bezboleznenni, nepostidni, merni i Dobrogo otveta na strashnom sudishi Hrestove prosem.

People: Podai, Gospodi!

Soedinene beri i prechastie Svatago Dukha isposivshe, sami sebe i drug druga i ves zhebot nash Christu Bogu predadim.

People: Tebe, Gospodi.

Priest: I spodobkh nas, Vladiko, so derznoveniem, neosuzhdenno smeti prezivati Tebe, Nebesnogo Boga Otsa i glagolate:

All: Oche nash, izhi esi na nebesekh! Da svatetsa ima Tvoe, da priidet Tsarsctie Tvoe. Da budet vola Tvoa, ako na nebesi i na zemli. Hlev nash nasushniy dazd nam dnes. I ostav nam dolgi nasha, akoshe i mi ostavlaem dolzhnikom nashim. I ne vvedo mas vo iskushenia, no nzbavi nas ot lukavago.

Priest: Ako Tvoe est tsarstvo, i sila, i slava, Otsa y Sina, i Svetago Dukha, nine i presno, i vo veke vekov.

Priest: Mir vsem.

People: I dukhovi tvoemy.

Deacon: Glavi vasha Gospodevi Preklonite.

People: Tebe, Gospodi.

Priest: Blagodatio i shedrotami i chelobekoluibnem edinorodnogo Tvoego Sina, s Nim zhe presvatim i blagim i zhevotvorashim Tvonm Dukhom, nine i presno, i vo veki vekov.

People: Amin.

Deacon: Vonmem!

Priest: Svataa svatim.

People: Eden svat, eden Gospod, Iisus Christos, bo slavy Boga Otsa. Amin.

Khvalite Gospoda s nebes, Khvalite Ego b bishnih. Alliluia, alliluia, alliluia.

Deacon: So strahom Boziim y veroio [i liobovio] prestupete.

People: Blagosloven Gridiy va ima Gospodne: Bog Gospod i avesa nam.

People: Telo khrestovo priimite, estochnika bezsmerthago bkusite (khor pobtoraet etot stuh, poka prechashaiotsa). Alliluia, Alliluia, Alliluia.

People: Alliluia, Alliluia, Alliluia.

Priest: Spasi, Bozhe, liode Tvoa i blagoslovi dostoania Tvoe.

Vserda, nine i presno, y vo veki vekov.

People: Amin. Da ispolnatsa usta nasha khralemoa Tvoego, Gospodi, ako da poem slavu Tvoio, ako spodobil esi nas prechastitisa svatim tvoem, bozhestvennim, bezsmertnim i zhevotvorashim tainam: sobliodi nas vo Tvoei Svatoni, ves den pouchatsa pravde Tvoei. Alliluia, Alliluia, Alliluia.

Deacon: Proste preimshe bozhestvennikh, svatrikh, prechistikh, bessmertnikh, strashnikh, Christobikh Tain, gostoino blagodarim Gospoda.

People: Gospodi, pomilui!

Deacon: Zastupi, spasi, pomilui i sokhrani nas, Bozhe, tvoeio blagodatio.

People: Gospodi, pomilui!

Deacon: Den ves sobershen svat, miren i bezgreshen isprocivshe, samn sebe i drug druga i ves zhevot nash Christu Bogu predadim.

People: Tebe, Gospodi.

Priest: Aki ti esi osvashenie nashe, i Tebe slavy bozsilaem, Otsu i Siny, u Svatomu Dukhu, i Cvatomu Dukhu, nine e presno i vo veki vekov.

People: Amin.

Priest: S mirom izidem.

People: O imeni Gospodni.

Deacon: Gospody pomolimsa.

People: Gospodi, pomilui!

Priest: Blagoslovlaa, Gospodi, i osvashari na ta upobaioshia! Spasi liode Tvoa i blagoslovi dostoane Tvoe, ispolenenio Tserke Tvoea sokhrani, osvati liobashie blagopenie Domu Tvoego: To tekh vosposlavi bozhestvennoio Tboeio soloio, i no ostavi nas, tserkvam tvoim, svashennikam, i vsem liodam Tvonm. Ako vsako darie blago, i vsak dar sobershen svishe est, shodari ot Tebe Otsa evetov: i Tebe slavi, i blagodarenia, i poklonenie bozsilaem, otsu i sinu, i svatomu Dukhu nine e presno, i vo veki vekov.

Priest: Blagoslovenie Gospodne na vas, Togo blagodatio i chelovekoliobmem, vserda, nine i presno i vo veki vekov.

Priest: Slava Tebe, Christe Bozhe, upovanie nashe, slava Tebe.

The Angelic Letters

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My dearly beloved son Eukairos;

I am writing to you concerning the inestimable responsibility and priceless charge who has been entrusted to you. You have been appointed guardian angel to one Mark.

Who is Mark, whose patron is St. Mark of Ephesus? A man. What then is man? Microcosm and mediator, the midpoint of Creation, and the fulcrum for its sanctification. Created in the image of God; created to be prophet, priest, and king. It is toxic for man to know too much of his beauty at once, but it is also toxic for man to know too much of his sin at once. For he is mired in sin and passion, and in prayer and deed offer what help you can for the snares all about him. Keep a watchful eye out for his physical situation, urge great persistence in the liturgical and the sacramental life of the Church that he gives such godly participation, and watch for his ascesis with every eye you have. Rightly, when we understand what injures a man, nothing can injure the man who does not injure himself: but it is treacherously easy for a man to injure himself. Do watch over him and offer what help you can.

With Eternal Light and Love,
Your Fellow-Servant and Angel

My dear son Eukairos;

I would see it fitting to offer a word about medicating experience and medicating existence. There is a thread of escape that men reach for when they cannot tolerate silence.

When one of the race of men medicates experience by means of wine, that is called drunkenness. When by means of the pleasures of the palate, that is called gluttony. When by means of other pleasures, it is called lust. When by means of possessions and getting things, it is called avarice. Escapism is an ancient vice and a root of all manner of evils: ancient Christians were warned strongly against attempting to escape this world by medicating experience.

Not that pleasure is the only way; medicating experience by mental gymnastics is called metaphysics in the occult sense, and medicating experience by means of technology is a serious danger.

Not all technologies, and perhaps not any technology, is automatically a problem to use. But when technologies become a drone they are a problem. Turning on a radio for traffic and weather news, and then turning it off, is not a drone. Listening to the radio at a particular time to devote your attention to a concert is not a drone. Turning on a radio in the background while you work is a drone; even Zen and the Art of the Motorcycle Maintenance discusses what is wrong with mechanics having the radio on in the background. And texting to get specific information or coordinate with someone is not a drone, but a stream of text messages that is always on is a drone. Technology has its uses, but when technology is a drone, noise in the background that prevents silence from getting too uncomfortable, then it is a spiritual problem, a tool to medicate experience. And there are some technologies, like video games, that exist to medicate experience.

(Of course, technologies are not the only drone; when Mark buckles down to prayer he discovers that his mind is a drone with a stream of thoughts that are a life’s work to quiet.)

More could be said about technologies, but my point here is to point out one of the dangers Mark faces. Not the only one, by any means, but he has at his disposal some very powerful tools for doing things that are detrimental. It’s not just a steady stream of X-rated spam that puts temptation at his fingertips. He has all the old ways to medicate experience, and quite a few powerful technologies that can help him medicate his experience as well. And for that he needs prayer.

But what is to be done? The ways of medicating experience may be in some measure more than many saints have contended with; the answer is the same. Don’t find another way to medicate experience, or escape the conditions God has placed you in, trying to escape to Paradise. Don’t ask for an easier load, but tougher muscles. Instead of escaping the silence, engage it. Prayerfully engage it. If your dear Mark does this, after repenting and despairing of finding a way to escape and create Paradise, he will find that escape is not needed, and Paradise, like the absent-minded Professor’s lost spectacles, were not in any of the strange places he looked but on his nose the whole time.

A man does not usually wean himself of drones in one fell swoop, but pray and draw your precious charge to cut back, to let go of another way of medicating experience even if it is very small, and to seek not a lighter load but a stronger back. If he weans himself of noise that medicates uncomfortable silence, he might find that silence is not what he fears.

Watch after Mark, and hold him in prayer.

Your Dearly Loving Elder,
Your Fellow-Servant,
But a Wind and a Flame of Fire

My dear, dear Eukairos;

When fingers that are numb from icy cold come into a warm, warm house, it stings.

You say that the precious treasure entrusted to you prayed, in an uncomfortable silence, not for a lighter load but for a stronger back, and that he was fearful and almost despairing in his prayer. And you wonder why he looks down on himself for that. Do not deprive him of his treasure, by showing him how much good he is done.

He has awakened a little, and I would have you do all in your power to show him the silence of Heaven, however little he can receive it yet. You know some theologians speak of a river of fire, where in one image among others, the Light of Heaven and the fire of Hell are the same thing: not because good and evil are one, but because God can only give himself, the uncreated Light, in love to his creatures, and those in Hell are twisted through the rejection of Christ so that the Light of Heaven is to them the fire of Hell. The silence of Heaven is something like this; silence is of Heaven and there is nothing to replace it, but to those not yet able to bear joy, the silence is an uncomfortable silence. It is a bit like the Light of Heaven as it is experienced by those who reject it.

Help Mark in any way you can to taste the silence of Heaven as joy. Help him to hear the silence that is echoed in the Church’s chanting: when he seeks a stronger back to bear silence, strengthen his back, and help him to taste the silence not as bitter but sweet. Where noise and drones would anaesthetize his pain, pull him through his pain to health, wholeness, and joy.

The Physician is at work!

With Eternal Light and Love,
Your Fellow-Servant and Angel

Dear blessed Eukairos;

Your charge has had a fall. Do your best that this not be the last word: help him get up. Right now he believes the things of God are not for those like him.

The details of the fall I will not treat here, but suffice it to say that when someone begins to wake up, the devils are furious. They are often given permission to test the awakening man, and often he falls. And you know how the devils are: before a fall, they say that God is easy-going and forgiving, and after a fall, that God is inexorable. Do your best to aid a person being seduced with the lie that God is inexorable.

Mark believes himself unfit for the service of the Kingdom. Very well, and in fact he is, but it is the special delight of the King to work in and through men who have made themselves unfit for his service. Don’t brush away a mite of his humility as one fallen, but show him what he cannot believe, that God wishes to work through him now as much as ever And that God wishes for him prayer, liturgy, sacrament..

And open his eyes now, a hint here, a moment of joy there: open them that eternity is now: eternal life is not something that begins after he dies, but that takes root now, and takes root even (or rather, especially) in those who repent. He considers himself unworthy of both Heaven and earth, and he is; therefore, in God’s grace, give him both Heaven and earth. Open up earth as an icon, a window to Heaven, and draw him to share in the uncreated Light and Life.

Open up his repentance; it is a window to Heaven.

In Light and Life and Love,
Your Brother Angel

My dear fellow-ministering angel;

I would make a few remarks on those windows of Heaven called icons.

To Mark, depending on the sense of the word ‘window’, a ‘window’ is an opening in a wall with a glass divider, or alternately the ‘window’ is the glass divider separating inside from outside. But this is not the exact understanding when Orthodox say an icon is a window of Heaven; it is more like what he would understand by an open window, where wind blows, and inside and outside meet. (In most of human history, a window fitted with glass was the exception, not the rule.) If an icon is a window of Heaven, it is an opening to Heaven, or an opening between Heaven and earth.

Now Mark does not understand this, and while you may draw him to begin to sense this, that is not the point. In The Way of the Pilgrim, a man speaks who was given the sacred Gospels in an old, hard-to-understand book, and was told by the priest, “Never mind if you do not understand what you are reading. The devils will understand it.” Perhaps, to Mark, icons are still somewhat odd pictures with strange postures and proportions. You may, if you want, help him see that there is perspective in the icons, but instead of the usual perspective of people in their own world, it is reverse perspective whose vanishing point lies behind him because Mark is in the picture. But instead of focusing on correcting his understanding, and certainly correcting his understanding all at once, draw him to venerate and look at these openings of Heaven. Never mind if he does not fully grasp the icons he venerates. The devils will understand.

And that is true of a great many things in life; draw Mark to participate in faith and obedience. He expects to understand first and participate second, but he needs to come to a point of participating first and understanding second. Many things need to start on the outside and work inwards.

Serving Christ,
Whose Incarnation Unfurls in Holy Icons,
Your Fellow

Dear cherished, luminous son;

Your charge is reading a good many books. Most of them are good, but I urge you to spur him to higher things.

It is a seemingly natural expression of love to try to know as much about possible about Orthodoxy. But mature Orthodox usually spend less time trying to understand Orthodoxy through books. And this is not because they have learned everything there is to learn. (That would be impossible.) Rather, it is because they’ve found a deeper place to dig.

God does not want Mark to be educated and have an educated mind. He wants him to have an enlightened mind. The Orthodox man is not supposed to have good thoughts in prayer, but to have no thoughts. The Orthodox settled on the path have a clear mind that is enlightened in hesychastic silence. And it is better to sit in the silence of Heaven than read the Gospel as something to analyze.

Books have a place. Homilies have a place. But they are one shadow of the silence of Heaven. And there are more important things in the faith, such as fasting and almsgiving, repentance and confession, and prayer, the crowning jewel of all ascesis. Give Mark all of these gems.

With Deep Affection,
Your Brother Angel

My dearly beloved, cherished fellow angel Eukairos;

Your charge Mark has been robbed.

Your priceless charge Mark has been robbed, and I am concerned.

He is also concerned about a great many things: his fear now, which is understandable, and his concerns about where money may come from, and his loss of an expensive smartphone and a beautiful pocketwatch with sentimental as well as financial value to him, and his inconvenience while waiting on new credit cards.

There are more concerns where those came from, but I am concerned because he is concerned about the wrong things. He has well over a week’s food in his fridge and he believes that God failed to provide. Mark does not understand that everything that happens to a man is either a temptation God allowed for his strengthening, or a blessing from God. I am concerned that after God has allowed this, among other reasons so Mark can get his priorities straight, he is doing everything but seeking in this an opportunity for spiritual growth to greater maturity.

If you were a human employee, this would be the time for you to be punching in lots of overtime. Never mind that he thinks unconsciously that you and God have both deserted him; your strengthening hand has been invisible to him. I do not condemn you for any of this, but this time has been appointed for him to have opportunities for growth and for you to be working with him, and the fact that he does not seek growth in this trial is only reason for you to work all the harder. That he is seeking to get things back the way they were, and suffering anger and fear, is only reason for you to exercise more diligent care. God is working with him now as much as ever, and I would advise you for now to work to the point of him seeking his spiritual good in this situation, however short he falls of right use of adversity for now.

Your name, “Eukairos,” comes from “eu”, meaning “good”, and “kairos”, an almost inexhaustible word which means, among other things, “appointed time” and “decisive moment.” You and Mark are alike called to dance the great dance, and though Mark may not see it now, you are God’s agent and son supporting him in a great and ordered dance where everything is arranged in God’s providence. Right now Mark sees none of this, but as his guardian angel you are charged to work with him in the dance, a dance where God incorporates his being robbed and will incorporate his spiritual struggles and, yes, provide when Mark fails to see that the righteous will never be forsaken.

A good goal would be for Mark to pray for those that robbed him, and through those prayers honestly desire their good, or come to that point. But a more immediate goal is his understanding of the struggle he faces. Right now he sees his struggle in terms of money, inconveniences, and the like. Raise his eyes higher so he can see that it is a spiritual struggle, that God’s providence is not overrulled by this tribulation, and that if he seeks first the Kingdom of God, God himself knows Mark’s material needs and will show deepest care for him.

Your Fellow-Servant in Prayer,
But an Angel Who Cannot Struggle Mark’s Struggle on his Behalf

My dear, esteemed son and fellow-angel Eukairos;

That was a deft move on your part, and I thank you for what you have helped foster in Mark’s thoughts.

Mark began to console himself with the deep pit of porn, that poison that is so easily found in his time and place. And he began to pray, on his priest’s advice, “Holy Father John, pray to God for me,” and “Holy Mother Mary, pray to God for me,” Saint John the Much-Suffering and Saint Mary of Egypt being saints to remember when fighting that poison. And you helped him for a moment to see how he was turned in on himself and away from others, and he prayed for help caring about others.

At 10:30 PM that night on the dot, one of his friends was walking in the dark, in torrential rains, and fell in the street, and a car ran over his legs. This friend was someone with tremendous love for others, the kind of person you cannot help but appreciate, and now that he had two broken legs, the flow of love reversed. And Mark unwittingly found himself in an excellent situation to care about something other than himself. He quite forgot about his money worries; and he barely noticed a windfall from an unexpected source. He kept company and ran errands for his friend.

What was once only a smouldering ember is now a fire burning brightly. Work as you can to billow it into a blaze.

With an Eternal Love,
Your Respectful Brother Angel

My dear, scintillating son Eukairos;

I would recall to you the chief end of mankind. “To glorify God and enjoy him forever” is not a bad answer; the chief end of mankind is to contemplate God. No matter what you do, Mark will never reach the strictest sense of contemplation such as monastic saints enjoy in their prayer, but that is neither here nor there. He can have a life ordered to contemplation even if he will never reach the spiritual quiet from which strict contemplation is rightly approached. He may never reach beyond the struggle of ascesis, but his purpose, on earth as well as in Heaven, is to contemplate God, and to be deified. The point of human life is to become by grace what Christ is by nature.

Mark is right in one way and wrong in another to realize that he has only seen the beginning of deification. He has started, and only started, the chief end of human life, and he is right to pray, go to confession, and see himself as a beginner. But what he is wrong about is imagining that the proof of his fledgling status is that his wishes are not fulfilled in the circumstances of his life: his unconscious and unstated assumption is that if he had real faith like saints who worked miracles, his wishes would be fulfilled and his life would be easier. Those saints had less wishes fulfilled, not more, and much harder lives than him.

(And this is beside the point that Mark is not called to perform miracles; he is called to something greater, the most excellent way: love.)

Mark imagines you, as his guardian angel, to be sent by God to see that at least some of his wishes happen, but the truth is closer to saying that you are sent by God to see that some of his wishes do not happen so that in the cutting off of self-will he may grow in ways that would be impossible if he always had his wishes. There is a French saying, «On trouve souvent sa destiné par les chemins que l’on prend pour l’éviter.»: “One often finds his destiny on the paths one takes to avoid it.” Destiny is not an especially Christian idea, but there is a grain of truth here: Men often find God’s providence in the situations they hoped his providence would keep them out of.

This cutting off of self-will is part of the self-transcendence that makes deification; it is foundational to monks and the office of spiritual father, but it is not a “monks-only” treasure. Not by half. God answers “No” to prayers to say “Yes” to something greater. But the “Yes” only comes through the “No.”

As Mark has heard, “We pray because we want God to change our circumstances. God wants to use our circumstances to change us.”

Mark has had losses, and he will have more to come, but what he does not understand is that the path of God’s sanctification is precisely through the loss of what Mark thinks he needs. God is at work allowing Mark to be robbed. God is at work allowing Mark to use “his” “free” time to serve his friend. And God is at work in the latest challenge you wrote to me about.

Mark has lost his car. A drunk and uninsured driver slammed into it when it was parked; the driver was saved by his airbag, but Mark’s car was destroyed, and Mark has no resources to get another car, not even a beater for now. And Mark imagines this as something that pushes him outside of the Lord’s providence, not understanding that it is by God’s good will that he is now being transported by friendship and generosity, that he is less independent now.

Right now Mark is not ready either to thank God for his circumstances or to forgive the driver. But do open his eyes to the good of friendship and generosity that now transports him. Even if he sees the loss of his car as an example of God failing to provide for him, help him to see the good of his being transported by the love and generosity of his friends. Help him to see God’s providence in circumstances he would not choose.

Your Fellow-Servant in the Service of Man,
A Brother Angel

My dear son Eukairos;

Your precious charge, in perfectly good faith, believes strongly in bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ. His devotion in trying to bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ is really quite impressive, but he is fundamentally confused about what that means, and he is not the only one.

Mark would never say that you can reason your way into Heaven, but he is trying to straighten out his worldview, and he thinks that straightening out one’s ideas is what this verse is talking about. And he holds an assumption that if you’re reasoning things out, or trying to reason things out, you’re probably on the right path.

Trying to reason things out does not really help as much as one might think. Arius, the father of all heretics, was one of many to try to reason things out; people who devise heresies often try harder to reason things out than the Orthodox. And Mark has inherited a greatly overstated emphasis on how important or helpful logical reasoning is.

Mark would be surprised to hear this; his natural question might be, “If bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ is not what you do when you straighten out your worldview, then what on earth is?

A little bit more of the text discusses unseen warfare and inner purity: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ; and having in a readiness to revenge all disobedience, when your obedience is fulfilled.

Men’s thoughts are not just abstract reasoning; they are all sorts of things, some entangled with sinful desire, that are around all the time to a mind that has not learned hesychastic silence. Thoughts that need to be taken captive include thoughts of money entangled with greed, thoughts of imagined success entangled with pride, thoughts of wrongs suffered entangled with anger, thoughts of food compounded with gluttony, thoughts of desired persons compounded with lust, thoughts of imagined future difficulties entangled with worry and doubt about the Lord’s good providence. Such thoughts as these need to be addressed, and not by tinkering with one’s worldview: these thoughts remain a battleground in spiritual warfare even if one’s worldview condemns greed, pride, anger, gluttony, lust, worry, and doubt.

Work with Mark. Guide him and strengthen him in the unseen warfare that includes learning to cut off such thoughts as soon as possible: a fire that is spreading through a house is hard to put out, and what Mark needs to learn is to notice the smoke that goes before fire and extinguish the smouldering that is beginning and not waiting for leaping flames to make doomed efforts to fight it. Help him to see that his thoughts are not only abstract ideas, and help him to be watchful, aware of his inner state. Unseen warfare in thoughts is of inestimable importance, and do what you can to help him see a smouldering smoke when it has not become a raging fire, and to be watchful.

Do what you can to draw him to repeat the Jesus Prayer, to let it grow to a rhythm in him. If the question is, “What should I start thinking when I catch myself?”, the answer is, “The Jesus prayer.”

Keep working with Mark, and offer what support you can. And keep him in your prayers.

With Deepest Affection,
Another Member of the Angel Choirs

Dear fellow-warrior, defender, and son Eukairos;

I wish to write to you concerning devils.

Mark has the wrong picture with a scientific worldview in which temptations are more or less random events that occur as a side effect of how the world works. Temptations are intelligently coordinated attacks by devils. They are part of unseen warfare such as Mark faces, part of an evil attack, but none the less on a leash. No man could be saved if the devils could give trials and temptations as much as they wished, but the devils are allowed to bring trials and temptations as much as God allows for the strengthening, and the discipleship, of his servants.

Some street drugs are gateway drugs, and some temptations are temptations to gateway sins. Gluttony, greed, and vanity are among the “gateway sins”, although it is the nature of a sin to give way to other sins as well. Gluttony, for instance, opens the door to lust, and it is harder by far to fight lust for a man whose belly is stuffed overfull. (A man who would fare better fighting against lust would do well to eat less and fast more.) In sin, and also in virtue, he who is faithful in little is faithful in much, and he who is unfaithful in little is also unfaithful in much. You do not need to give Mark what he expects now, help in some great, heroic act of virtue. He needs your help in little, humble, everyday virtues, obedience when obedience doesn’t seem worth the bother.

The liturgy speaks of “the feeble audacity of the demons”, and Mark needs to know that that is true, and true specifically in his case. What trials God allows are up to God, and the demons are an instrument in the hand of a God who would use even the devils’ rebellion to strengthen his sons. The only way Mark can fall into the demons’ hands is by yielding to temptation: nothing can injure the man who does not injure himself. The trials Mark faces are intended for his glory, and more basically for God’s glory in him—but God chooses glory for himself that glorifies his saints. Doubtless this will conflict with Mark’s plans and perceptions of what he needs, but God knows better, and loves Mark better than to give Mark everything he thinks he needs.

Do your best to strengthen Mark, especially as regards forgiveness to those who have wronged him and in the whole science of unseen warfare. Where he cannot see himself that events are led by an invisible hand, help him to at least have faith, a faith that may someday be able to discern.

And do help him to see that he is in the hands of God, that the words in the Sermon on the Mount about providence are not for the inhabitants of another, perfect world, but intended for him personally as well as others. He has rough things he will have to deal with; help him to trust that he receives providence at the hands of a merciful God who is ever working all things to good for his children.

With Love as Your Fellow-Warrior and Mark’s,
Your Fellow-Warrior in the War Unseen

My dear, watchful son Eukairos;

Mark has lost his job, and though he has food before him and a roof over his head, he thinks God’s providence has run short.

Yet in all of this, he is showing a sign of growth: even though he does not believe God has provided, there is a deep peace, interrupted at times by worry, and his practice of the virtues allows such peace to enter even though he assumes that God can only provide through paychecks.

Work on him in this peace. Work on him in the joy of friendship. Even if he does not realize that he has food for today and clothing for today, and that this is the providence he is set to ask for, help him to enjoy what he has, and give thanks to God for everything he has been given.

And hold him in your prayers.

As One Who Possesses Nothing,
One Who Receives All He Needs From God

My prayerful, prayerful Eukairos;

Prayer is what Mark needs now more than ever.

Prayer is the silent life of angels, and it is a feast men are bidden to join. At the beginning it is words; in the middle it is desire; at the end it is silence and love. For men it is the outflow of sacrament, and its full depths are in the sacraments. There are said to be seven sacraments, but what men of Mark’s day do not grasp is that seven is the number of perfection, and it would do as well to say that there are ten thousand sacraments, all bearing God’s grace.

Help Mark to pray. Pray to forgive others, pray for the well-being of others, pray by being in silence before God. Help him to pray when he is attacked by passion; help him to pray when he is tempted and when he confesses in his heart that he has sinned: O Lord, forgive me for doing this and help me to do better next time, for the glory of thy holy name and for the salvation of my soul.

Work with Mark so that his life is a prayer, not only with the act-prayer of receiving a sacrament, but so that looking at his neighbor with chaste eyes he may pray out of the Lord’s love. Work with Mark so that ordinary activity and work are not an interruption to a life of prayer, but simply a part of it. And where there is noise, help him to be straightened out in silence through his prayer.

And if this is a journey of a thousand miles that Mark will never reach on earth, bid him to take a step, and then a step more. For a man to take one step into this journey is still something: the Thief crucified with Christ could only take on step, and he took that one step, and now stands before God in Paradise.

Ever draw Mark into deeper prayer.

With You Before God’s Heart that Hears Prayers,
A Praying Angel

My dearly beloved, cherished, esteemed son; My holy angel who sees the face of Christ God; My dear chorister who sings before the eteral throne of God; My angel divine; My fellow-minister;

Your charge has passed through his apprenticeship successfully.

He went to church, and several gunmen entered. One of them pointed a gun at a visitor, and Mark stepped in front of her. He was ordered to move, and he stood firm. He wasn’t thinking of being heroic; he wasn’t even thinking of showing due respect to a woman. He only thought vaguely of appropriate treatment of a visitor and fear never deterred him from this vague sense of appropriate care for a visitor.

And so death claimed him to its defeat. O Death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory? Death claimed saintly Mark to its defeat.

Mark is no longer your charge.

It is my solemn, profound, and grave pleasure to now introduce you to Mark, no longer as the charge under your care, but as a fellow-chorister with angels who will eternally stand with you before the throne of God in Heaven.

Go in peace.

Your Fellow-Minister,
םיכאל • ΜΙΧΑΗΛ • MICHAEL • Who Is Like God?

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