Archimandrite Zacharias: An Appreciation

Books

An appreciation

I'd like to offer a few words about the books of Archimandrite Zacharias, disciple of St. Sophrony, disciple of St. Silouan, and I would like to tell you about my favorite of his leitmotifs, but there is something more basic I would like to appreciate first.

C.S. Lewis said in his writing that reading George MacDonald's Phantastes had baptized his imagination. Archimandrite Zacharias's books do not aim at imaginative fantasy, or imaginative nonfiction for that matter, but they have helped me to want better and want Orthodox monasticism. They baptized my personal hopes and desires, so to speak.

I have identified with, and wanted to be like, various characters in literature: Charles Wallace Murry and Blajeny in Madeleine l'Engle's A Wind in the Door, Merlin in C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength and in Steven Lawhead's Merlin, and others. I have taken seriously what St. Ignatius's The Arena says that Met. KALLISTOS is so quick to offer embarrassed apologies for: the fact that people, having read a novel, want their life to be like their life in the novel.

I have also had such identification with saints in the Orthodox Church: St. Philaret the Merciful, for instance, and it has been said that when Orthodox faithful take interest in a saint, that saint has taken interest in that faithful. But even beyond St. Philaret, Archimandrite has helped me understand more completely what a monk is (though I may never fully know this side of Heaven), and desire a monk's ascetical feat: identifying with, and representing, "all Adam," the entire human race, before God. The priest (whether married or monastic) has a job of representing God to his flock and his flock to God; in Orthodoxy most monks are not also priests, but there is something equally significant in identifying with, and representing, all Adam before God. All sins are cosmic sins like those of Adam, but if a monk repents, that repentance is of cosmic significance, and monastic and non-monastic saints' repentance sustains the world.

One leitmotif

One leitmotif of Archimandrite Zacharias is that of the "inverted pyramid." Men are arranged into upper and lower classes, and those in power lord it over those without power. Christ represents an inverted pyramid, where he is at the very bottom before the entire weight of the pyramid above him, and above him various ranks of angels sustain Creation, and above them all are the human race.

One specific and practical feature of the inverted pyramid is that if we seek to go down, Satan cannot go with us. Satan wished a throne above God's, and he can go with us whenever we desire more status, more prestige, more human honor. He can go with us if we desire to go above others. But he cannot go with us if we seek to go down, serve others, and serve more like the Servant of all Servants who went even to the depths of Hell to save us.

There is much in these books that is presently over my head, and I want to reread all of Archimandrite Zacharias's books sometime. However, the idea of Christ at the very nadir of the inverted pyramid, and that Satan can never go with us if we go down, is a treasure and a word that has stuck with me. I suffer, like many, from wishing more honor, and not always out of pride. Human honor can serve instrumental purposes that do not amount to pride. But if we seek to go down, if I seek to go down, it is beyond the devil's power to accompany us. He can accompany us well enough when we want honor, but not when we seek to empty ourselves in a participation of Christ's own self-emptying and descending to the depths of Hell to save all Adam.

This is a couple of paragraph's work taken from many profitable volumes of reading, and it cannot but fall short of a worthy account of Archimandrite Zacharias's offering. However, I cannot but thank Archimandrite Zacharias for mediating to me a word that the devil cannot go with us if we go down, and more than that, to baptizing my desires and helping me want to be a monk as much as I have wanted to be like any character in literature.

Thank you, Archimandrite Zacharias.

That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis: A Lens for Our Day

In C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength, there is one computer of sorts that is envisioned, but Lewis does not anticipate a computer that belongs to just one individual, let alone mobile devices. For that matter, the computer, called the Analytical Notice-Board and a Pragmatometer, is envisioned as working on mechanical principles and with human operators, rather than anything electronic, even the relays of the first digital computer. Furthermore, it was posited in a conversation where the person who spoke of it ended up in ridicule.

Nonetheless, it is rather beside the point that N.I.C.E. workmen in all their rudeness do not use a smartphone to deliver a social snub, or even use smartphones to the point of being oblivious to their surroundings. C.S. Lewis is more than prescient, and the overall feel of the text leaves the uncomfortable feeling that Lewis has plagiarized events and trends that occur decades after his passing. The text is powerful in its portrayal of the banality of evil. Moreover, Lewis avoids a syndrome in Faust where the devil comes across as gentlemanly. The villains in the story are total jerks, and the figure Mark Studdock has been described as a character whose only real talent is to get into inner rings of power, and is debauched as he pulls from one inner ring to one that is deeper again and again... but it comes out in the end that the only reason the villains are wasting the time to debauch him is really only so that they can get at his wife and her prophetic dreaming power.

C.S. Lewis wrote That Hideous Strength as an explicit fictional counterpart to his nonfiction The Abolition of Man, and gives a human face to the principles he describes in the latter work in the former. The story is compelling, enough so that to me at least it almost needs pointing out how quaint the technologies of Dystopia were in Lewis's writing. The story is timeless.

But I would underscore "It almost needs pointing out." C.S. Lewis, before technology had made certain intrusions into everyday life, early declares himself "Oxford bred and very fond of Cambridge," and though this may not be intentional, has Mark Studdock debauched mostly one on one, in the image of Oxford's and Cambridge's tutorial system. Today debauchery occurs on a mass scale and includes such things as mobile devices and social media. Possibly we have gone worse than in that picture: but the timeless picture of evil, where "the shadow of that hideous strength, six miles long and more is its length," is poignantly relevant for today. As Lewis openly states, this fairy tale is meant as a setting in fiction the point he attempted to make in The Abolition of Man, and what is going on today is precisely an attempt at the abolition of man, worse today though it already existed in Lewis's day.

Let me digress to make a few comments and predictions regarding my own work, before returning to That Hideous Strength:

  • First, my own work about The Luddite's Guide to Technology will appear dated, at least as much as my second novel, Firestorm 2034 dates itself by my total failure to recognize mobile technologies and their significance to the landscape.

  • Second, we will have things advertised under cyberpunk fiction but we will not be in a Utopia. Think about how much it stinks today to learn to cast a fishing line off a smartphone's accelerometer when one has never had access to a real fishing rod or a body of water that admits fishing. Sensory simulated input from cybernetic implants will stink like bad technology already stinks.

  • Third, if I succeed in my work, it may be relevant as an input to informed decision making notwithstanding my blindness towards things that everybody will know. There will, if I am successful, be certain trajectories in my work that remain relevant despite my placing them in a context of technologies that have, then, gone the way of the horse and buggy.

  • Fourth, we do not live at the end of history, and so my work, geared to technologies and responsible use as of the time of its writing, is a trend in a historic period that will progress to other things. In the future I expect cybernetic implants and an Internet of [Human] Bodies to supersede the Internet of Things. However, I am not trying to future-proof my work except by acknowledging where it will be wrong or at very least incomplete and laying a foundation that will be relevant when future realities are here. I am not treating that the most recently prevalent technologies such as mobile phones are the final technologies in all of our historical processes. Possibly things will develop to a point that it is a quaint concept to watch porn on any kind of external screen.

  • Fifth, I believe that the moralist injunction regarding SecondLife, "Fornicate using your OWN genitals!" will be a precursor to moral injunctions relevant to future technologies.

  • Sixth, I believe that movement towards e.g. increasing cybertechnology will be advertised as bringing Utopia but will turn out to be Dystopian.

    In a Spiritually Speaking Toastmasters meeting, I listened with astonishment when a moral prophet's role was ascribed to e.g. Steve Jobs's public speaking that portrayed a miserable now and a better future. The draw is to covet things ascribed to the future. We have enough now to experience technology as dystopic, with compulsively checking our phone screens a hundred times daily and a technology bad enough that all profitable use of it is necessarily countercultural. The everyday reality of cybernetic implants will make our cell phone use look like a quaint nostalgic yesteryear.

  • Seventh, I do not advise trying to fill out the details of the Book of Revelation, but do not be surprised if parts of Revelation fall into place. It is my understanding that we can get a kind of cybernetic implant... that already exists and is presently available as VIP privilege... that will work everywhere contactless payment is available... and that it will be in the right hand... just... like... the... Mark... of... the... Beast... in... the... Book... of... Revelation. Our world may last centuries or millennia longer, but however murky of a business interpreting prophecy like Revelation may be, and however much I tried to make the point of Revelation and Our Singularity, we are living in a singularity that could open the door to the Antichrist.

I might also briefly digress to say that I don't specifically endorse C.S. Lewis's Arthurian tie-in in That Hideous Strength, which is deeply enough integrated that the story would fall apart if it were subtracted. In my opinion Arthurian legends rank as questionable literature, literature set in a never-never land of long ago and far away when the ink on Arthurian classics was still wet on its pages, delivering escape from reality rather than engagement with it, and after having read thousands of pages of medieval sources I regard it as one of the most damning critiques of the medieval West that its greatest literary legacy is Arthurian legends. However, this is a second digression that I want to put aside, and having stated it clearly, refrain from repeated critiques at every time Arthurian elements appear.

If I may turn and point to a first interesting element of the text itself, I would refer the reader to the discussion of Merlin:

It was rather horrible. I mean even in Merlin’s time (he came at the extreme tail end of it), though you could still use that sort of life in the universe innocently, you couldn’t do it safely. The things weren’t bad in themselves, but they were already bad for us. They sort of withered the man who dealt with them. Not on purpose. They couldn’t help doing it. Merlinus is withered. He’s quite pious and humble and all that, but something has been taken out of him. That quietness of his is just a little deadly, like the quiet of a gutted building. It’s the result of having laid his mind open to something that broadens the environment just a bit too much. Like polygamy. It wasn’t wrong for Abraham, but one can’t help feeling that even he lost something by it.”

The dialogue is one in which more things were allowed in the past while the possibility of even apparent neutrality vanishing while good hardens into more good and evil hardens into more evil. It is furthermore poignant to speak of an extreme tail end of where you could still use certain technologies innocently, but you couldn't use them safely. The technologies we use wither us, and when we don't have our technological mother's breast, our deflated quiet is like that of a gutted building. We have moved from technological beer and wine to technological whisky and Everclear, and on to technologies that surpass weed.

But I think Lewis has things in reverse. Let me give a vignette that you have probably heard before, and if not, you should:

Let us go to the Egyptian desert, and overhear a conversation taking place between a group of monks led by Abba Iscariot. This took place in the third century and the conversation went like this.

Abba Iscariot was asked, "What have we done in our life?"

The Abba replied, "We have done half of what our fathers did."

When asked, "What will the ones who come after us do?"

The Abba replied, "They will do the half of what we are doing now."

And to the question, "What will the Christians of the last days do?"

He replied, "They will not be able to do any spiritual exploits, but to those who keep the faith, they will be glorified more than our fathers who raised the dead."

My advisor, who had been a plenary speaker for Christians for Biblical Equality, and disturbingly a scholar who had plenty of contact with texts from other ancient cultures, asked me if I made allowances for greater ignorance in the past, giving an example of how we have a scientific understanding of atmospheric conditions that could make the moon look red.

I replied, "I do not make allowances for greater ignorance in the past. Allowances for different ignorance in the past are more negotiable."

And I held my tongue from saying that I saw good reason to make allowances for greater ignorance in the present.

Feminism is one studied ignorance in the present. So are our American values we attach as strings to foreign aid in the form of abortion and gay rights. It has been called the spirit of Antichrist that is showing down with Orthodoxy.

The central reason why I am mentioning That Hideous Strength is that it captures something of the nature of good and the nature of evil. Evil is banal; good is interesting. As Lewis states in the preface, the context of a small college is posited because it offers certain conveniences for the sake of fiction. Good and evil are also portrayed in ways that create conveniences for fiction; a blow-by-blow account of one-on-one debauchery of one man is much simpler than a similarly detailed account of the debauchery of a whole society. However, the means of the Progressive Element in the first chapter, "Sale of College Property," shows a manipulation that is of a piece with what a real-life top-notch political speechwriter advocates in Simon Lancaster's Speechwriting: The Expert Guide. The evil "N.I.C.E." does vile biological experiments: and such also appeared in Word War II's Germany and Japan, the latter of which had a medical experimental unit that, for instance, vivisected men experimentally infected with diseases without even anaesthesia. And it is of a piece with the N.I.C.E. that majority usage checks our cellphones easily a hundred times per day. That Hideous Strength was copyright 1945, meaning most likely first drafted before the copyright date, and I'm not sure then that the full scale of Nazi concentration camps was known to Lewis; or the even larger scale of Marxist concentration camps such as continue in China today. Furthermore, even though Lewis never mentions manufacture of everyday property made under inhuman conditions, it is only more of the spirit of the N.I.C.E. to be comfortable by means of the products of Chinese sweatshops. Furthermore, it is difficult to read C.S. Lewis's condemnation of vivisection and knowingly find it innocent to have cheap meat by the raising animals under the inhuman conditions of factory farming. Ms. Hardcastle is a lesbian sadist who is a welcome member of the N.I.C.E. even if she does not think to champion gay rights. The only real aspect of the N.I.C.E. I can think of that is not rampant today is the desire to wipe all organic life off the earth, but there are points of contact at least with transhumanism, which does not regard it as satisfactory to have plain, old-fashioned human minds in plain, old-fashioned human bodies.

On the opposite side, good is presented rightly as interesting, and it is not only Merlin that one is drawn to at St. Anne's. The discussions and comradery among the company at St. Anne's have nothing on the family that is my monastery, and the works of Archimandrite Zacharias. One friend said that when she reads That Hideous Strength she reads the whole book, and then reads the bit about the company at St. Anne's a second time. I am in sympathy here. Not, exactly, that our monastery will save the world; sometime, whether or not you or I live to see it, the Antichrist will rise to power and will be put down by the return of Christ Himself. But there is something cosmic in every sin and every repentance and good, and our monastery is not too different from the celery trenches tended to by MacPhee. The power at an Orthodox monastery is captured in the two words, "Save yourself and ten thousand around you will be saved," and "Make peace with yourself, and Heaven and earth will make peace with you." And, in the meantime, tending to gardens is possibly more important than politicking.

I am not sure the reader will believe me thus far; it takes some believing, all the more because what we think is normal has our lives as a reference point and not the thousands of years civilization has had records or the hundreds of thousands of year we hunter-gatherers have lived as Homo sapiens sapiens. The singularity that is unfolded in the caricatured work Philip Sherrard's The Rape of Man and Nature may continue to unfold into the appearance of the Antichrist before the total victory of Christ. However, some readers may have another question besides "What's next?", and ask, "How should we live then?"

My answer then also looks at and with the lens of That Hideous Strength, and say that Lewis was wise as an author to keep MacPhee working on celery trenches and washing the bear when he could have gotten a lobby politicking by then if he had been allowed to do such. The classic Orthodox perspective, as valid in days of final apostasy as much as anything else, is, "Do what is before you." If you are raising children, raise them as you can. If you are working in a garden, work the garden. If you have have joined a family or started a family, serve that family. If you have not yet done either, do what is before you even if it does not help you be closer to obedience to the mandate to join a family and start a family. And repent. Where politics fails, when guns fail, when regimes fail, personal repentance is a cosmic good. Even, or especially, if what you do seems utterly insignificant in the face of the problems we face.

On to rereading Archimandrite Zacharias, Monasticism: The All-Embracing Gift of the Holy Spirit...

Ignorance

Under current economic conditions, it seems like almost everybody's raising prices.

I'm not. I try to make my best books published through Amazon available on the low end for books of their size, and the titles that are too big to print through Amazon (such as the Classic Orthodox Bible) are on the low end for my publishing solution.

I know that people are raising prices, but I want my books to be cheap. I raise prices when I expand a title, for instance, and Amazon will not sell it at the old price. But in general I want my books to be available.

If you have not explored my books, I invite you to explore titles from about one hundred to over seven hundred page. My cheap books include:

I know that paper books have gone out of style, but I would really like for people to own my titles in paper. My books are also available as free ebooks, but paperback books are a form of wealth that I would like others to have.

Br. C.J.S. Hayward

You Can Choose to Be Happy in the Here and Now

Buy Happiness in an Age of Crisis on Amazon.

There was one LinkedIn conversation that was bigger than what I realized. One man asked a question of how to handle the fact that he was not in a position to advance professionally and had no meaningful freedom.

I suggested something like,

Let's look at a position where you have as little freedom as possible, and ask if there can be any meaningful freedom. You can probably think of some pretty gruesome examples; I would like to look at Nazi concentration camps and ask, "Is there any way to have real freedom in a Nazi concentration camp?"

One person who answered "Yes"to that question was Victor Frankl, Jewish psychiatrist and Nazi concentration camp survivor who wrote Man's Search for Meaning."

If you are not in a position to advance professionally and don't see yourself as having any real freedom, you are in an excellent position to profit from Man's Search for Meaning."

(I've got to read the book directly and not just be going off of other people's summaries!)

That hit a nerve, although my correspondent was in every sense gracious. I was unwittingly corresponding with the Jewish son of a Jewish survivor of Hitler's concentration camps, and seared by the stories. There was nothing academic to him in the example I chose. He was very gentle about his response, and he was appreciative at my suggestion that if he was in the position he said he was in, he had a great deal of meaningful freedom, and perhaps at my pointer to Man's Search for Meaning.

The core point attributed to Frankl is that we do not automatically go from stimulus to response; we go from stimulus to free choice to response, even if we are unaware of our birthright. Such an insight is also at the core of the Philokalia of the Niptic Fathers, with "nipsis" referring to an inner spiritual watchfulness. It is something like the core of what classical Buddhism has to offer as well. My dear Abbot condensed it to one line. He has said and underscored, "Never react. Never resent. Keep inner stillness."

Enjoying the here and now is a choice. Our surroundings may seem like something to escape, but that is a spiritual trap, the core response in the Philokalia being to just keep on praying until the "demon of noonday" has passed. It is a crushing experience, but over time we can learn to crush it.

Most of our surroundings are beautiful, but we can become immune to the beauty of a wooden floor, an off-white wall. But we can choose to be awake to this beauty to which we have fallen asleep. We can choose to be grateful, and by the way positive psychology is squarely on target that we should be grateful for. Mindfulness also helps; it used to be considered "paying attention" and part of politeness to the boomers, and we are seeking mindfulness from the East because we have rejected it in the West. But gratitude and mindfulness are both choices, as is enjoying beauty. A Russian proverb answers the questions by saying, "When is the best time to do things? Who is the most important one? What is the right thing to do?" with, "There is only one important time, and that time is now. The most important one is always the one you are with. And the most important thing is to do good for the One Who is standing at your side." Today this is recognized as profound mindfulness. It is still also manners at their best, and something that goes beyond manners.

There is also what St. John Chrysostom referred to as "healing an eye". Lust, classic Fathers say, has the characteristic of a lion who looks at a deer and sees only meat. And, perhaps I might add, meat that is rarely enough and does not engender any form of permanent satisfaction. It has been called the disenchantment of the entire universe. But a man looking at a woman has a choice to see an integral and beautiful whole: a spirit adorned with a body and a body adorned with clothing. C.S. Lewis, telling an imagined story with the saints in paradise in The Great Divorce, said,

Long after that I saw people coming to meet us. Because they were bright I saw them when they were still very distant, and at first I did not know they were people at all. Mile after mile they grew nearer. The earth shook under their tread as their strong feet sank into the wet turf. A tiny haze and a sweet smell went up where they had crushed the grass and scattered the dew. Some were naked, some robed. But the naked ones did not seem less adorned, and the robes did not disguise in those who wore them the massive grandeur of muscle and the radiant smoothness of flesh.

We are not ready for such things now and C.S. Lewis offered only an imagination. Or, if you prefer Wendy Shalit's A Return to Modesty, we can be "naked and bored." But there is great deal of benefit in seeing an integrated whole, a spirit adorned with a body and a body adorned with clothing.

More broadly though, our healed eyes can sense beauty, and in rough circumstances, bleeding and in an ER, I know one who was able to see the beauty of a hospital curtain and wait in satisfaction.

It is not easy. But counselors tell those fighting various addictions, "You have more power than you think." Nipsis or spiritual watchfulness extinguishes sparks before they become a fire. If your house is on fire you can call the fire department, and they may salvage surprisingly much. If your chair is on fire a fire extinguisher may see that a fire that started on a chair, stays only with that chair. But the best option is to stomp out the first spark before it has set the rug on fire. Or if I may take the bull by the hand to mix metaphors, don't go near the bait; just ignore it and let it pass by.

Never react. Never resent. Keep inner stillness.

Happiness in the here and now is a choice, and we have more power than most of us think. When there is a little spark, dash it against the rock. But the metaphor is strained because the best solution is not to engage it and not give it the fuel of your attention.

Happiness is also a by-product of what positive psychology calls "the meaningful life," and there are other things to being healthy in your heart of hearts and having a good condition. A healthy (such as Paleo) diet / exercise / sleep can also make a big difference. But the biggest difference is always in our heart of hearts. Part of that is that we can savor the here and now and be aware of its beauty.

You can choose to be happy in the here and now.

Will There be a Place for Me?

Buy Happiness in an Age of Crisis on Amazon.

No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. Therefore I say unto you, Do not worry for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Do you think you can add one single hour to your life by worrying? You might as well try to worry your way into being a foot taller!

And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

The Sermon on the Mount (COB)

The year was 2006 and I was studying at Fordham. A doctor made a mistake that let me be stressed to the point of uninterrupted waking nausea for weeks.

Part of my attendance at Cambridge, and then Fordham, was to get a PhD, the unofficial union card to teaching at university level, and the issue was not whether I would have the superhuman honorific of "Dr. Hayward." Or rather that was a secondary issue that did not help, but my fear was of something much worse: "Will there be a place for me?"

Before all of that, another physician had prescribed medications that made for a year of idleness, lying on my bed, staring at my light bulb, and thinking "This is worse than watching television." When the idleness ended, I found that my interests in the humanities came back quickly, computer work came back more slowly and perhaps not quite as well, but my discipline, mathematics, never came back. I had reconnected with math after four months away from math once before, and that was when I was significantly younger.

My study of academic theology was meant as retooling; since the door to mathematics was closed, information technology work had been a square peg in a round hole, and I looked for what next. I inquired about interdisciplinary PhD, and was told to pick a single academic discipline as his department had tremendous difficulties placing "American Studies" PhD's whose skills were divided between American history and literature: history departments wanted to hire a proper history PhD, and literature departments wanted to hire a proper literature PhD. And advised to pick one discipline, I picked the one that mattered to me most: theology.

And when things were turning ugly around Fordham, the question "Will there be a place for me?" was a question of what Providence I would be given. I've made a couple of forays at trying to teach theology without a PhD and without an Orthodox seminary degree, but no one has nibbled, and that may be just as well. But that left me with the square peg, round hole, and strong personalities who consider it disrespectful for a subordinate to be smarter than them. And I was going ahead, flailing.

Part of what I had worried before Fordham was how I would handle the daily grind, but for me a day's worth of daily grind is doable one day at a time. And after my parents explained that they were not going to keep the house indefinitely for me, I was able to retire on disability, and when Section 8 housing would have required injections I am not morally comfortable with, a door had been open and I have been a welcome guest at the little gem of St. Demetrios Skete.

There has always been a place for me. I don't know if I will die in a FEMA camp, but Paradise is wherever the saints are, and I am with (s)aints now. There has always been a place for me, and I believe God always will provide for me if I am faithful. I would recall the Akathist hymn "Glory to God for All Things:"

Glory to God for All Things

ODE 1

Everlasting King, Your will for our salvation is full of power. Your right arm controls the whole course of human life. We give You thanks for all Your mercies, seen and unseen: For eternal life, for the heavenly joys of the Kingdom which is to be. Grant mercy to us who sing Your praises, both now and in the time to come. Glory to You, O God, from age to age.

IKOS 1

I was born a weak, defenseless child, but Your angel spread his wings over my cradle to defend me. From birth until now, Your love has illumined my path, and has wondrously guided me towards the light of eternity. From birth until now the generous gifts of Your Providence have been marvelously showered upon me. I give You thanks, with all who have come to know You, who call upon Your Name:

Glory to You for calling me into being.
Glory to You, showing me the beauty of the universe.
Glory to You, spreading out before me heaven and earth, like the pages in a book of eternal wisdom.
Glory to You for Your eternity in this fleeting world.
Glory to You for Your mercies, seen and unseen.
Glory to You, through every sigh of my sorrow.
Glory to You for every step of my life’s journey,for every moment of glory.
Glory to You, O God, from age to age.

ODE 2

O Lord, how lovely it is to be Your guest. Breeze full of scents — mountains reaching to the skies — waters like a boundless mirror, reflecting the sun’s golden rays and the scudding clouds. All nature murmurs mysteriously, breathing depths of Your tenderness. Birds and beasts of the forest bear the imprint of Your love. Blessed are you, mother earth, in your fleeting loveliness, which wakens our yearning for happiness that will last forever in the land where, amid beauty that grows not old, rings out the cry: Alleluia!

IKOS 2

You have brought me into life as if into an enchanted paradise. We have seen the sky like a chalice of deepest blue, where in the azure heights the birds are singing. We have listened to the soothing murmur of the forest and the melodious music of the streams. We have tasted fruit of fine flavor and the sweet-scented honey. We can live very well on your earth. It is a pleasure to be your guest.

Glory to You for the feast-day of life.
Glory to You for the perfume of lilies and roses.
Glory to You for each different taste of berry and fruit.
Glory to You for the sparkling silver of early morning dew.
Glory to You for the joy of dawn’s awakening.
Glory to You for the new life each day brings.
Glory to You, O God, from age to age.

ODE 3

It is the Holy Spirit Who makes us find joy in each flower–the exquisite scent, the delicate color — the beauty of the Most High in the tiniest of things. Glory and honor to the Spirit, the Giver of Life, Who covers the fields with their carpet of flowers, crowns the harvest with gold, and gives to us the joy of gazing at it with our eyes. O be joyful and sing to Him: Alleluia!

IKOS 3

How glorious You are in the springtime, when every creature awakens to new life and joyfully sings Your praises with a thousand tongues! You are the source of life, the destroyer of death. By the light of the moon, nightingales sing, and the valleys and hills lie like wedding-garments, white as snow. All the earth is Your promised bride awaiting her spotless Husband. If the grass of the field is like this, how gloriously shall we be transfigured in the Second Coming, after the Resurrection! How splendid our bodies, how spotless our souls!

Glory to You for the warmth and tenderness of the world of nature.
Glory to You for the numberless creatures around us.
Glory to you for the depths of Your wisdom–the whole world a living sign of it.
Glory to You: On my knees, I kiss the traces of Your unseen hand.
Glory to You, enlightening us with the clarity of eternal life.
Glory to You for the hope of the unutterable, imperishable beauty of immortality.
Glory to You, O God, from age to age.

ODE 4

How filled with sweetness are those whose thoughts dwell on You: how life-giving Your holy Word. To speak with You is more soothing than anointing with oil, sweeter than the honeycomb. To pray to You lifts the spirit, refreshes the soul. Where You are not, there is only emptiness; hearts are smitten with sadness; nature, and life itself, becomes sorrowful. Where You are, the soul is filled with abundance, and its song resounds like a torrent of life: Alleluia!

IKOS 4

When the sun is setting, when quietness falls, like the peace of eternal sleep, and the silence of the spent day reigns, then in the splendor of its declining rays, filtering through the clouds, I see Your dwelling-place. Fiery and purple, gold and blue, they speak prophet-like of the ineffable beauty of Your presence, and call to us in their majesty. We turn to the Father:

Glory to You at the hushed hour of nightfall.
Glory to You, covering the earth with peace.
Glory to You for the last ray of the sun as it sets.
Glory to You for sleep’s repose that restores us.
Glory to You for Your goodness, even in time of darkness, when all the world is hidden from our eyes.
Glory to You for the prayers offered by a trembling soul.
Glory to You for the pledge of our reawakening on the glorious last day, that day which has no evening.
Glory to You, O God, from age to age.

ODE 5

The dark storm-clouds of life bring no terror to those in whose hearts Your fire is burning brightly. Outside is the darkness of the whirlwind, the terror and howling of the storm, but in the heart, in the presence of Christ, there is light and peace, silence. The heart sings: Alleluia!

IKOS 5

I see Your heavens resplendent with stars. How glorious You are, radiant with light! Eternity watches me by the rays of the distant stars. I am small, insignificant, but the Lord is at my side: Your right arm guides me wherever I go.

Glory to You, ceaselessly watching over me.
Glory to You for the encounters You arrange for me.
Glory to You for the love of parents, for the faithfulness of friends.
Glory to You for the humbleness of animals which serve me.
Glory to You for the unforgettable moments of life.
Glory to You for the heart’s innocent joy.
Glory to You for the joy of living, moving, and being able to return Your love.
Glory to You, O God, from age to age.

ODE 6

How great and how close You are in the powerful track of the storm! How mighty Your right arm in the blinding flash of the lightning! How awesome Your majesty! The voice of the Lord fills the fields, It speaks in the rustling of the trees. The voice of the Lord is in the thunder and the downpour. The voice of the Lord is heard above the waters. Praise be to You in the roar of mountains ablaze. You shake the earth like a garment; You pile up to the sky the waves of the sea. Praise be to You, bringing low the pride of man. You bring from his heart a cry of penitence: Alleluia!

IKOS 6

When the lightning flash has lit up the camp dining hall, how feeble seems the light from the lamp. Thus do You, like the lightning, unexpectedly light up my heart with flashes of intense joy. After Your blinding light, how drab, how colorless, how illusory all else seems.

Glory to You, the highest peak of men’s dreaming.
Glory to You for our unquenchable thirst for communion with God.
Glory to You, making us dissatisfied with earthly things.
Glory to You, turning on us Your healing rays.
Glory to You, subduing the power of the spirits of darkness and dooming to death every evil.
Glory to You for the signs of Your presence, for the joy of hearing Your voice and living in Your love.
Glory to You, O God, from age to age.

ODE 7

In the wondrous blending of sounds, it is Your call we hear. In the harmony of many voices, in the sublime beauty of music, in the glory of the works of great composers, You lead us to the threshold of paradise to come, and to the choirs of angels. All true beauty has the power to draw the soul towards You and make it sing in ecstasy: Alleluia!

IKOS 7

The breath of Your Holy Spirit inspires artists, poets, scientists. The power of Your supreme knowledge makes them prophets and interpreters of Your laws, who reveal the depths of Your creative wisdom. Their works speak unwittingly of You. How great are You in Your creation! How great are You in man!

Glory to You, showing Your unsurpassable power in the laws of the universe.
Glory to You, for all nature is filled with Your laws.
Glory to You for what You have revealed to us in Your mercy.
Glory to You for what you have hidden from us in Your wisdom.
Glory to You for the inventiveness of the human mind.
Glory to You for the dignity of man’s labor.
Glory to You for the tongues of fire that bring inspiration.
Glory to You, O God, from age to age.

ODE 8

How near You are in the day of sickness. You Yourself visit the sick. You Yourself bend over the sufferer’s bed; his heart speaks to You. In the throes of sorrow and suffering, You bring peace; You bring unexpected consolation. You are the Comforter. You are the Love which watches over and heals us. To You we sing the song: Alleluia!

IKOS 8

When in my childhood I called upon You consciously for the first time, You heard my prayer; You filled my heart with the blessing of peace. At that moment I knew Your goodness, knew how blessed are those who turn to You. I started to call upon You, night and day, and even now, I call upon Your Name:

Glory to You, satisfying my desires with good things.
Glory to You, watching over me day and night.
Glory to You, curing affliction and emptiness with the healing flow of time.
Glory to You; no loss is irreparable in You, giver of eternal life to all.
Glory to You, making immortal all that is lofty and good.
Glory to You, promising us the longed-for meeting with our loved ones who have died.
Glory to You, O God, from age to age.

ODE 9

Why is it that on a feast-day the whole of nature mysteriously smiles? Why is it that then a heavenly gladness fills our hearts, a gladness far beyond that of earth, and the very air in church and in the altar becomes luminous? It is the breath of Your gracious love; it is the reflection of the glory of Mount Tabor. Then do heaven and earth sing Your praise: Alleluia!

IKOS 9

When You called me to serve my brothers and filed my soul with humility, one of Your deep-piercing rays shone into my heart; it became luminous, full of light, like iron glowing in the furnace. I have seen Your face, face of mystery and of unapproachable glory.

Glory to You, transfiguring our lives with deeds of love.
Glory to You, making wonderfully sweet the keeping of Your commandments.
Glory to You, making Yourself known where man shows mercy on his neighbor.
Glory to You, sending us failure and misfortune, that we may understand the sorrows of others.
Glory to You, rewarding us so well for the good we do.
Glory to You, welcoming the impulse of our heart’s love.
Glory to You, raising to the heights of heaven every act of love in earth and sky.
Glory to You, O God, from age to age.

ODE 10

No one can put together what has crumbled into dust, but You can restore a conscience turned to ashes; You can restore to its former beauty a soul lost and without hope. With You, there is nothing that cannot be redeemed. You are Love; You are Creator and Redeemer. We praise You, singing: Alleluia!

IKOS 10

Remember, my God, the fall of Lucifer, full of pride; keep me safe with the power of Your grace. Save me from falling away from You; save me from doubt. Incline my heart to call upon You, present in everything.

Glory to You for every happening, every condition Your Providence has put me in.
Glory to You for what you speak to me in my heart.
Glory to You for what you reveal to me, asleep or awake.
Glory to You for scattering our vain imaginations.
Glory to You for raising us from the slough of our passions through suffering.
Glory to You for curing our pride of heart by humiliation.
Glory to You, O God, from age to age.

ODE 11

Across the cold chains of the centuries, I feel the warmth of Your breath; I feel Your blood pulsing in my veins. Part of time has already gone, but now You are the present. I stand by Your cross; I was the cause of it. I cast myself down in the dust before it. Here is the triumph of love, the victory of salvation. Here the centuries themselves cannot remain silent, singing Your praises: Alleluia!

IKOS 11

Blessed are they that will share in the King’s banquet; but already on earth You give me a foretaste of this blessedness. How many times with Your own hand have You held out to me Your Body and Your Blood, and I, though a miserable sinner, have received this Sacrament, and have tasted Your love, so ineffable, so heavenly!

Glory to You for the unquenchable fire of Your grace.
Glory to You, building Your Church, a haven of peace in a tortured world.
Glory to You for the life-giving water of baptism in which we find new birth.
Glory to You, restoring to the penitent purity white as the lily.
Glory to You for the Cup of Salvation and the Bread of eternal joy.
Glory to You for exalting us to the highest heaven.
Glory to You, O God, from age to age.

ODE 12

How oft have I seen the reflection of Your glory in the faces of the dead. How resplendent they were, with beauty and heavenly joy; how ethereal, how translucent their faces; how triumphant over suffering and death, their felicity and peace. Even in the silence they were calling upon You. In the hour of my death, enlighten my soul, too, that it may cry out to You: Alleluia!

IKOS 12

What sort of praise can I give You? I have never heard the song of the cherubim, a joy reserved for the spirits above. But I know the praises that nature sings to You. In winter, I have beheld how silently in the moonlight the whole earth offers You prayer, clad in its white mantle of snow, sparkling like diamonds. I have seen how the rising sun rejoices in You, how the song of the birds is a chorus of praise to You. I have heard the mysterious murmurings of the forests about You, and the winds singing Your praise as they stir the waters. I have understood how the choirs of stars proclaim Your glory as they move forever in the depths of infinite space. What is my poor worship? All nature obeys You, I do not. Yet while I live, I see Your love, I long to thank You, pray to You, and call upon Your Name:

Glory to You, giving us light.
Glory to You, loving us with love so deep, divine, and infinite.
Glory to You, blessing us with light, and with the host of angels and saints.
Glory to You, Father All-Holy, promising us a share in Your Kingdom.
Glory to You, Holy Spirit, Life-giving Sun of the world to come.
Glory to You for all things, holy and most merciful Trinity.
Glory to You, O God, from age to age.

ODE 13 (Repeated three times.)

Life-giving and merciful Trinity, receive my thanksgiving for all Your goodness. Make us worthy of Your blessings, so that, when we have brought to fruit the talents You have entrusted to us, we may enter into the joy of our Lord, forever exulting in the shout of victory: Alleluia!

IKOS 1

I was born a weak, defenseless child, but Your angel spread his wings over my cradle to defend me. From birth until now, Your love has illumined my path, and has wondrously guided me towards the light of eternity. From birth until now the generous gifts of Your Providence have been marvelously showered upon me. I give You thanks, with all who have come to know You, who call upon Your Name:

Glory to You for calling me into being.
Glory to You, showing me the beauty of the universe.
Glory to You, spreading out before me heaven and earth, like the pages in a book of eternal wisdom.
Glory to You for Your eternity in this fleeting world.
Glory to You for Your mercies, seen and unseen.
Glory to You, through every sigh of my sorrow.
Glory to You for every step of my life’s journey,for every moment of glory.
Glory to You, O God, from age to age.

ODE 1

Everlasting King, Your will for our salvation is full of power. Your right arm controls the whole course of human life. We give You thanks for all Your mercies, seen and unseen: For eternal life, for the heavenly joys of the Kingdom which is to be. Grant mercy to us who sing Your praises, both now and in the time to come. Glory to You, O God, from age to age.

This song was composed by a high-ranking Orthodox bishop, a few days before death, in a concentration camp.

The song and the beauty in Fr. Arseny: Priest, Prisoner, Spiritual Father is paradise, wherever the saints are—even in a concentration camp. And the two most beautiful passages in The Soul's Longing: An Orthodox Christian Perspective on Biblical Interpretation are from concentration camps.

I do not predict that either of us will die in concentration camps, but God's bard said, "If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there." And my delightful monastery has blessings that I hadn't even had before going on; one of the fringe benefits is a sweet cat, who is very outgoing, and astonishingly enough doesn't irritate my allergies. The men at the monastery are like the St. Anne's company in C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength (though, perhaps, without saving the rest of the world, and perhaps without Merlin).

And on a note of "I do not know what tomorrow will bring, but I know Who brings tomorrow," I believe that I have a chance, and have really always had the chance, to complete my life in triumph (or be subtilized by the returning Christ). I have in the mean time every grace that I need, and really quite a few niceties I do not need but are something to be grateful for.

Some people, learning that I have not been worrying, seem to think that I am fundamentally better at having my ducks in a row. I deny the charge. What I have learned, besides that trying to solve a life's problems on a day's research is a ticket to overpowering despair, is how to make peace with a life that will never be under control, or at least not my control. It is a wonderful world that way.

"Will there be a place for me?" is a serious question, but I've had places for me come out of the blue. If we trust God, he has every ability to make a place for us. And trust is possible, and more than that is trust, when we trust what we cannot see.

As St. John Chrysostom said as his very last words, "Glory to God for All Things!"

"Why?" (A Look at Matthieu Pageau, "The Language of Creation: Cosmic Symbolism in Genesis")

Great Expectations

“I am a star at rest, my daughter,” answered Ramandu. “When I set for the last time, decrepit and old beyond all that you can reckon, I was carried to this island. I am not so old now as I was then. Every morning a bird brings me a fire-berry from the valleys in the Sun, and each fire-berry takes away a little of my age. And when I have become as young as the child that was born yesterday, then I shall take my rising again (for we are at earth’s eastern rim) and once more tread the great dance.”

“In our world,” said Eustace, “a star is a huge ball of flaming gas.”

“Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is but only what it is made of.

C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, as quoted in "Physics"

The reader is now thinking about evolution. He is wondering whether Genesis 1 is right, and evolution is simply wrong, or whether evolution is right, and Genesis 1 is a myth that may be inspiring enough but does not actually tell how the world was created.

All of this is because of a culture phenomenally influenced by scientism and science. The theory of evolution is an attempt to map out, in terms appropriate to scientific dialogue, just what organisms occurred, when, and what mechanism led there to be new kinds of organisms that did not exist before. Therefore, nearly all Evangelicals assumed, Genesis 1 must be the Christian substitute for evolution. Its purpose must also be to map out what occurred when, to provide the same sort of mechanism. In short, if Genesis 1 is true, then it must be trying to answer the same question as evolution, only answering it differently.

Darwinian evolution is not a true answer to the question, “Why is there life as we know it?” Evolution is on philosophical grounds not a true answer to that question, because it is not an answer to that question at all. Even if it is true, evolution is only an answer to the question, “How is there life as we know it?” If someone asks, “Why is there this life that we see?” and someone answers, “Evolution,” it is like someone saying, “Why is the kitchen light on?” and someone else answering, “Because the switch is in the on position, thereby closing the electrical circuit and allowing current to flow through the bulb, which grows hot and produces light.”

Where the reader only sees one question, an ancient reader saw at least two other questions that are invisible to the present reader. As well as the question of “How?” that evolution addresses, there is the question of “Why?” and “What function does it serve?” These two questions are very important, and are not even considered when people are only trying to work out the antagonism between creationism and evolutionism.

The Commentary, on Genesis 1

I was enthusiastically introduced to Matthieu Pageau, The Language of Creation: Cosmic Symbolism in Genesis, and enthusiastically looking forward to posting a review saying, "I speak of answering the question, "Why?" as is neglected in science, but in occasional hints and riddles. This is a full and direct treatment of the matter."

The snake in the ointment

I viewed a podcast with the author, and on rational grounds this looks interesting. The best books to me are ones that challenge me enough to cause culture shock, and this did cause culture shock, and was as different and concerned with the question, "Why?" as I respected.

About two thirds of the way through the book, though, I put my finger on something I'd been ignoring to be able to see other things: reading the book was not prayerful. When my abbot loaned me a manuscript he asked feedback for, the most vital feedback I could give him was that when I began it reading was deliberative information processing, but well before the end reading was prayer, and good theology leads you into the presence of God. As a relatively minor symptom, the comments on divination were all secular in character, and though forbidding divination was mentioned at least once, it was never discussed as an evil sin and a shameful error that opens a gateway to demonic possession. The concepts of 'space' and 'time', put in quotes in the text itself to indicate a usage very different from any mainstream usage, brought the kind of interesting culture shock produced by good science fiction and fantasy, a bit like The Dark Tower that C.S. Lewis wisely refrained from publishing. Also somewhat unusual for an author presented as Orthodox is a claim to "carves Eastern Orthodox and other traditional images." And the book freely refers to later parts of the Old Testament, but never the New Testament or the Church as realities shadowed in the Old Law.

A more serious problem is that the book tastes to me too much like Jung, and was recommended to me by a good friend in the process of leaving Jung behind. Carl Jung has been called the greatest threat to the Church since Julian the Apostate, and some people have said that at the beginning of every failed clerical career known to the speaker came finding insights in Jung. I do not object to a portrait of archetypes as such; I trade in archetypes myself and would never want to leave them behind. But whether this is a fruitful engagement... it is a hint and a riddle to point out that the book briefly mentions alchemy as something you'd never guess by studying today's chemistry. It doesn't mention alchemy as offering a shortcut by technique for inner transformation that all of the major world religions are inclined to answer, "Sorry, kid. You need elbow grease." Even if conservative Protestants may be very eager to clarify that they believe you are sanctified by faith alone and not by elbow grease, they are also usually quite clear in a belief that if you have a living and a healthy faith and relevant opportunity, you had better be producing elbow grease. (Possibly Taoism is an exception? The Buddha left an interlocking eightfold path of ways to produce elbow grease.) But Pageau's book never talks about alchemy as a cheap shortcut, and if you are going to declare that alchemy is different from anything you'd guess from looking at chemistry, you would do awfully well to say its techniques for producing spiritual transformation are shallow and flat next to any proper religious tradition.

There was one conversation I had with a famous egalitarian when I mentioned enthusiastically about John Eldredge's Wild at Heart, and he pointed out how the book was Jungian. And that was the hook when I swallowed a bait of quasi-traditional teaching about men and women at a time when live proponents of the position were few and far between.

I don't want to repeat that error here, and I speak no words of ill-will if my friends fell for something I fell for hook, line, and sinker. But the book pulls off a reconceptualization big enough to provoke culture shock, and a many-layered understanding of symbol, but for all that it I found very little, if anything, that constituted a specifically patristic way of opening up the Old Testament to unhide the New, and while the book mentions details like alchemy and Tarot, I searched and failed to find mention of "Jesus," "Christ," "Church," and so on.

I deem this book a failure, but I would really like to read another book that would succeed where it had failed.

Could We Pursue a Profoundly Gifted Humility?

Cover for Profoundly Gifted Survival Guide

Could we pursue profoundly gifted humility?

The gay community's emphasis on pride is a matter of applying poison to a wound. But I want to take a long, and I hope fruitful, detour.

Revisiting the Philokalia

I have generally found efforts to improve a backwards Philokalia of themselves backwards, not to mention a bit stupid and arrogant. The Seven Deadly Sins are what became in the West of the Philokalia's eight demons, and I have read an official from my own theology department frankly ridicule the Seven Deadly Sins because it does not explicitly list hypocrisy. But in the Philokalia at least, the eight demons are the eight gateway sins, eight gateway drugs to other sins, and hypocrisy falls at least partly under the heading of pride, unreservedly condemned as the worst of the lot. The list of eight sins is not an attempt to catalogue each and every sins; another passage of the Philokalia attempts a catalogue and the list weighs in at over 100 named sins. However, this exercise is exceedingly rare compared to the efforts to warn us of gateway sins, of which a few the reader is warned about repeatedly. People who consider themselves to know better than the Philokalia have my suspicion and ordinarily seem to never have really gotten their feet wet in what is quite arguably the #1 Orthodox written treasure after the Bible.

I was surprised when my abbot (at least for now, and I hope it doesn't just last for now and evaporate), Metropolitan JONAH of St. Demetrios Monastery, proposed an update as part of his Reflections on a Spiritual Journey. However unstintingly poor classic monasticism may have insisted on being (one passage gives a short list of allowed items and beyond them "not even a needle"), those who became monastics came from privileges that not only included a great deal of wealth and being born into the Old Boy's Club, but could assume loving and healthy extended families. And maybe the spoiled rich could and should have regarded forms of pride as the nadir of human defilement, and perhaps such it is. In both East and West, in for example St. Seraphim of Sarov or G.K. Chesterton, fornication and drunkenness are considered the sins of men, and pride and rebellion are considered the sins of devils. And the little future St. Seraphim did not need to be cleansed from all human sin, but he absolutely needed to overcome the sin of devils.

However, Metropolitan JONAH points to certain differences today. The extended family has not stayed together but disintegrated into isolated nuclear families, and nuclear families have had a meltdown too. And so many people today have grown up with a broken childhood, with a whole array of situations that were abusive even if squeaky-clean legal (like Mom and Dad outsourcing most of their parenting to a series of daycare centers so they can both bring home the bacon), and the effect of suchlike abuse is a profound shame, a shame that people discover can be anaesthetized, at least temporarily, by engaging in various sins. Addictions, and things like addictions such as various sexual sins, anaesthetize a shame that says, "You're worthless. There's nothing left to love. You are horrible through and through." And so my beloved Metropolitan, whom I am positive understands the Philokalia profoundly, has offered the first update to the Philokalia that I have found to even make sense—and it is a lot of sense that it makes.

A visit to Fr. John

Fr. John Whiteford, whom I have had the privilege of taking two classes with, is another figure I respect profoundly. He is something like a bulldog for Orthodoxy, with topics such as "The anus is not designed for the penis," and he defends Orthodoxy in something like the fashion of previous bulldogs like G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis. (While he writes well, I don't know if he is as epically good as a writer, but I have no hesitation in making the comparison in outlining the type of work by which he serves.) And he called to point an Orthodox Matushka ("Mommy"), meaning a priest's or deacon's wife (which in Orthodoxy is a real office), for saying that the cure for shame is empathy without whispering a word about repentance. And I have shouted a great many words about repentance as Heaven's best-kept secret, but while the Mommy may have left out something important, she also kept in something important.

What was she right about?

There is an absolutely ancient image that has been repeated across centuries for the image of God in us, an image that cannot be damaged or destroyed. Our heart of hearts is like a mirror at the base of a fountain. The waters may be dirty; they may cloud or hide the mirror at the bottom, but there is a real and authentic mirror, and it will shine if the water is cleared up.

John Calvin is perhaps a most extreme example of Western abandonment of this understanding. His successor's formulation of the essentials of Calvinist Christianity opens with a 'T' for "total depravity," that we are profoundly corrupt all the way down to our very core. And Orthodoxy says no to this: in our very hearts is the image of God which is absolutely incapable of being deformed, dissolved, or destroyed. And to pull one example, St. Maximus the Confessor briefly speaks of adding to "the natural good of image" with "the voluntary good of likeness." The term "human nature" as I encountered it as an Evangelical was always seen as something fallen; to admit "human nature" is to admit weakness, fallenness, sin. But the nature of human race was never created as fallen, and the natural good of image is incorruptible. It is not a spark of God, as in Origenism and Hinduism, but it is something created which is incorruptibly good, and thinking it is a spark of God may represent an understandable confusion. It is an image, a symbol, in which the whole God himself is indelibly present. Not even in Hell can this be undone: "Hell," said Fr. Seraphim of Plantina, "is immersion in the love of God."

Now the dirt in the water may hide the mirror to a profound degree. St. Maximus's counterbalance to "the natural good of image" is "the voluntary good of likeness," and the voluntary good of likeness is of water that is limpid, pure, and allows the mirror to shine gloriously. It is a life's work to clear the water, and the clearer the water becomes, the more sharply people become aware of how much muck is still in the water, and the purest consider themselves the most defiled. But nonetheless even their defilement rests exclusively in the water above the mirror. The mirror remains as undefiled as the mirror that shone from Lord Adam in Paradise.

And where does gay pride fit into this? Or disability? Or, for that matter, topless?

The essential draw to all these spiritual diseases is that they self-medicate, and provide some degree of respite to the shame of being utterly worthless and having nothing good in you. And when the effect wears thin, it is possible that the sins of men can't sear away the pain as strongly as devils' sin.

And what about the profoundly gifted? What do we have to be humble about?

Let me bring one rabbit trail before getting on to my real point. If, in history, something goes wrong that leaves over a million murder victims, it is the fruit of profoundly gifted effort. Like Hitler, for instance, or the gospel of "St. Marx." The whole singularity in which the whole world is sinking has the achievements of the profoundly gifted as instrumental. No intellectually disabled individual in history has created a black mirror. It is Steve Jobs who does it. Profoundly gifted can and do things with such good intentions as pave the road to Hell and lead legions down with them. There is something in this that we should be very humble about.

But let me talk about humility for an instant.

G.K. Chesterton says, "It takes humility to enjoy anything—even pride."

Humility is the spiritual wine that opens the eyes to the beauty of the universe, and humility is the spiritual wine that can let profoundly gifted look at IQ normals and see the glory of the image of God at work.

"In humility consider others better than yourself" (Phil 2:3) has got to be one of the least palatable texts in the Bible (or at least unpopular for us to apply it to ourselves), but "In humility consider others better than yourself" is another way of saying, "In humility be surrounded by other people who fascinate you, whom you admire, respect, and enjoy." The Biblical text is more than that, but it really is an opening of the eyes to the glory of the precious other people in your life.

I do not know how to say enough about humility, besides saying in shorthand, "Read the Philokalia" as a shorthand quote. Humility ranks high on the Ladder; it is with discernment one of the two great virtues the Fathers in the Philokalia simply cannot stop talking about or praising enough. Humility is a powerful contributor to God-shaped love, a mother to joy, and it is a Heaven on earth. Heaven is where the saints are, and Heaven is where the humble are.

I don't wish to condemn too strongly people who reach for devil's sin when the sins of men cease to sufficiently anaesthetize pain. But really, even if we allow queers (or whatever they are called this week) to try to feel good on a lasting basis for pride, we might be able to think far enough the box to pursue humility.

And oh, by the way, people are less hostile if we are genuinely humble.

Could we pursue a profoundly gifted humility?

Read more of Profoundly Gifted Survival Guide on Amazon!

Avoiding Needless Liabilities: "Crank Magnetism" for Orthodox

The militant Rational Wiki's article on crank magnetism isn't pretty. It shows a singular lack of sympathy for fellow human beings and one gets the impression that camps the authors don't agree with are classified as cranks. For instance, its preppers link sounds like people making preparations for a political meltdown are complete crackpots for doing so. The more our present singularity unfold, the less plausible it seems to me that survivalists or preppers are complete kooks. The more things unfold, the more it looks like preppers were right the whole time.

Nonetheless, while I believe some beliefs tarred and featured in that article are right, including intelligent design (thus qualifying myself as an IDiot), and suspicion regarding how much vaccines and post-vaccine genetic therapy really help us, I was dismayed at seeing Young Earth Creationism 2.0 at an otherwise wonderful monastery where Fr. Seraphim of Plantina is held in high esteem, but entirely without the emotional toxicity I tried to document in The Seraphinians: "Blessed Seraphim Rose" and His Axe-Wielding Western Converts. These people, some of which are converts, are none the less emphatically not "Axe-Wielding," and have a profound respect for other human beings. None the less, I was sad when I realized that people living in Fr. Seraphim's wake are embracing flat-earth theory as a method of virtue signalling. (Thus, perhaps, qualifying myself as a stopped clock, allowed to be right twice a day, but the term is still extremely pejorative.)

I do not say that one should necessarily disqualify a perspective or political or religious opinion on the grounds that it is tarred as "crank." However, I regard crank theories as a liability, and the sort of thing one should prefer to avoid, and not try to seek out. Enough truth is labelled as crank that we need not scrape the barrel of theories that are labelled as "crank" that are just ridiculous. As far as flat earth theory goes, please, no. As far as the moon hoax theory goes, please, no. I do not trust the government and I can readily believe the U.S. government could and would have hoaxed a moon landing if a bona fide genuine man on the moon was not in reach or for some reason less politically expedient than going to all the trouble to make a real moon landing. I don't trust the U.S. government, but in this case I trust the U.S.S.R. government to have every technical competency and obvious vested interest to expose a hoax. It would have been a coup for them to catch the U.S. with its pants down. As things stand, no matter how mainstream belief in a moon landing hoax may presently be in Russia, the U.S.S.R.'s silence about any unmasked hoax in the U.S. praising itself for landing a man on the moon is really quite deafening.

As far as intelligent design issues go, I'm unhappy with the new Protestant Creationism, but as someone with an M.S. in math, evolutionists approaching me apologetically to try to convince me of the truth of "evolution" repel me. I use the term "evolution" in scare quotes because Darwin's theory of evolution, of a slow and gradual change over time, has not been live in the academy for ages; you're not in the conversation now unless you believe, as my University Biology teacher at IMSA said, "Evolution is like baseball. There are long periods of boredom interrupted by brief periods of intense excitement." Meaning that "evolution" is not an evolution in any older or non-biological use of the term, and "evolutionists" believe, along with old-school and new-school Protestant Creationists, that major new kinds of organisms appear abruptly and without preserved intermediate forms among the fossil record. The assertion of such evolutionists as I have encountered entails that it is statistically easy for a breeding pool to acquire and sustain a large number of beneficial mutations in a geological eyeblink, and I have met as an argument for this a claim that Indian prostitutes have evolved HIV resistance in a single generation. This is unlabelled crank theory in fifteen feet high blinking letters, but no one on the "standard model" raises a whimper about it.

And C.S. Lewis was over the time aghast about people failing to see how the assertion of evolution was self-referentially incoherent [though C.S. Lewis might not have put in these terms, it gets failing marks from the Retortion Principle. Romantic love is explained away as a biochemical state produced by evolution, but this explanation does not only neuter romantic love; the explanation explains away all explanation, including evolution. Evolution can explain why we should have good enough brains to find food, avoid being food, procreate, and other things animals with brains seem to be able to do. It does not in any sense explain, however, why we should have brains good enough to formulate a true theory of evolution. It has been suggested that there is survival value in brains that could find truths, but if that is true, very, very few people have the kind of brains that evolution selects for. (Less than 1% of people who have ever lived have ever seen a printed word, and far less than that have even had even the chance to believe Darwinian evolution. Most of them have believed that life is spiritual in some form, rather than a by-product of mindless forces that did not have any life form in mind in any sense.)

There is also the other intelligent design argument, an argument not addressing biology but physics. I've met evolutionary apologetics who denied that any information needed to be, so to speak, "injected" for the formation of new life forms. I have never met a physicist to deny the physics intelligent design claim that the physical constants have been unimaginably tightly fine-tuned just to allow our life forms to be possible. The more time has passed, the more we recognize the fine-tuning, and we have long passed the time when we realized that the fine-tuning is much more closely tailored just to allow us to exist than, for instance, shooting a particle of light from somewhere around one end of the universe and having it hit the dead center of an atom somewhere around the other side of the universe. The only other way I can state in non-technical terms how low the odds that randomly generated physical constants would let us live are to winning a fair multi-million dollar lottery prize by buying just one ticket at a time many, many times in a row. (It's almost as bad as evolving a new life form by having a breeding population acquire and sustain enough beneficial mutations to make a new life form.)

I will not shy away from truth just because it is tarred as crank. However, I would say that each crank theory you embrace, and there are some I believe you should, is a liability in dealing with people on the "standard model" and you should believe them despite the fact that they are labelled out as crank.

Virtue signalling by seeking out additional crank theories represents serious philosophical and theological confusion. Defining oneself as different by seeking out crank theories represents serious philosophical and theological confusion. Counterculture for the sake of just rebelling against the common culture represents confusion. And both crank beliefs and counterculture represent a liability: one that should not be eliminated, but perhaps treated with some economy and recognizing that you are coming across as crank if you embrace crank beliefs.

And crank beliefs that are genuinely true should be treated with mystagogy: they should not be pushed on people not dislodged from the "standard model." "I will not speak of Thy mystery to Thine enemies:" if you know a truth, and you know that another person will reject that truth if you say it, you do not say it. This is standard Orthodox mystagogy. Come Judgment Day, it will be better for that person not to be judged for hearing the truth and rejecting it: and it will be better for you, too, because you did not set that brother human being up for a greater degree of condemnation.

An adaptation of scientism's much-loved "Ockham's razor" may be helpful. Ockham's razor, "Do not needlessly multiply [explanations]," is however sharp a tool intended to create better explanations by virtue of having fewer explanations. The same might apply to using crank theories to truth and edification.

Think about it. And maybe scale back on crank theories that are inessential.

Why I'm Glad I'm Living Now, at This Place, at This Time, in This World

Four flags of a United States in distress.

Buy Happiness in an Age of Crisis on Amazon.

First Things, in a column by Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, muses,

The clock is ticking, and many in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee are counting the days, the hours, and even the minutes before Archbishop Rembert Weakland has to submit his resignation at twelve noon on his seventy-fifth birthday. I am told that the champagne bottles will be popped at 12:01 p.m. upon receiving the fax from Rome that the resignation is accepted. Truth to tell, I’ve always had something of a soft spot for the Archbishop. He’s liberally daffy but more amusingly candid than most of that persuasion. Of course he has a very high opinion of himself, but he’s never tried to hide it. I particularly liked his public statement that he would have made a great Bishop of Salzburg in the time of Mozart but ended up as Bishop of Milwaukee in the time of rock and roll. There’s something perversely refreshing about a bishop who doesn’t mind saying that he’s too good for the people he’s called to serve.

If I had been meant to live in Salzburg at Mozart's time, God would have done that. If I had been meant to live in the Middle Ages, in the desire that underpinned my second novel, God would have done that. And if I if I had been made to live in the age of many Church Fathers, God would have done that too. As it is, God's providence has placed me here and now... and God may make of me a Church Father anyway, without a time machine. To nostalgic Romans, it may be a sadness that the door to the Middle Ages is closed, but to Orthodox living at the corner of east and now, the door to being patristic remains ever open, and I may die (or be subtilized by the returning Christ) a Church Father anyway. As things are, God has given me a whole lot of being in the right place in the right time, and put me in the days of... myself! I got onto the web by accident (or rather by providence that I did not see as significant) and I have multiple major websites and a big bookshelf on Amazon.

As I write, incidentally, the majority of U.S. flags I've seen are black and white with a strip of color, the old "Don't tread on me" rattlesnake flag is seen not infrequently, and when I popped in to LinkedIn turned up a friend reflecting on a news item that grandmas are buying shotguns. I did not expect that, but I am not in the least surprised.

And one other thing: I can't meaningfully prep apart from measures I have taken that have been unfruitful. I am on maintenance medications, and if I stop taking them, I'll die within days. And as I write I seem to have COVID.

And in all this, I am grateful. St. John Chrysostom's final words were, "Glory be to God for all things!" and I echo them. I have food, shelter, clothing, medicine, and really quite a lot of things that I do not need and I am not entitled to. I only need to be faithful today with what I have today. God will bring tomorrow, and not knowing what tomorrow may bring i s much less important if you know Who will bring tomorrow.

And my death is, basically, non-negotiable. God, in his great mercy, does not let us know ahead of time when we die, because we would put off repentance and be incorrigible sinners in the hour of death. A few saints know ahead when they will die. They are so secure spiritually that they will not be less faithful for knowing. For the rest of us, it is mercy that we do not know. I could, possibly, die within days. I could for that matter die sooner: when I got my first COVID injection, a blood clot formed in my leg and dislodged to make trouble in my lungs, and the doctor said I was lucky I got to the hospital when I did, because it could have killed me. I think COVID injections are the greatest breakthrough in human health since DDT, but I digress. I could die an old man, like my grandfather who lived to be 95. I could live to see the returning Christ. And which of these, or other possibilities, hold, is not my concern. Each day has enough trouble of its own—and I have found solving a life's problems on a day's resources to be an entirely preventable ticket to despair.

Some people think that this life is only a preparatory life and is therefore unimportant St. Nikolai, in Prayers by the Lake, talked (I forget exactly where) about how birth and death are only an inch apart, and the ticker tape goes on forever.

This makes what we choose in this life incredibly important. We can only "save for retirement" between birth and death. We can only repent between birth and death. After death, improving the lot we have eternally chosen in this life will be impossible. I wish to live in repentance for the rest of my life, but I have not gotten to monasticism yet, but if death cuts short my attempts, that matters less than you might think. God treats an active intent as if the person had done what is intended; I do not see I can rightly stop seeking monastic repentance, but if I am faithful and fail, I am in the same position as martyrs said to be "baptized in their own blood" because they were martyred before they could even reach baptism.

And, to borrow from a childhood favorite, A Wind in the Door (my esteem is much less for it now), the heroine "felt as though fingers were gentle fingers pushing her down," I sought to stay when I visited Mount Athos and was told that the conditions for being made a saint are in America, and implicitly reminded that monastic "white martyrdom" is an artificial surrogate to the "red martyrdom" of the Church in a hostile world.

I would like to quote a unicorn in C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle, though I'm not sure it applies to our world:

He said that the Sons and Daughters of Adam and Eve were brought out of their own strange world only at times Narnia was upset, but she mustn't think that things were always like that. In between their visits there were hundreds and thousands of years when peaceful king followed peaceful king till you could hardly remember their names or count their numbers, and there was really hardly anything to put in the History Books.

As to the question of why God did not create Narnia and bring me to it, I reply that every excellence is incomparably excelled in what "eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor any heart imagined what God has prepared for those who love him." I can't get to a real Narnia, but I'm trying to get to a real "better than Narnia," a "better than Narnia that begins on earth, as I discuss in A Pilgrimage from Narnia:

A Pilgrimage from Narnia

Wardrobe of fur coats and fir trees:
Sword and armor, castle and throne,
Talking beast and Cair Paravel:
From there began a journey,
From thence began a trek,
Further up and further in!

The mystic kiss of the Holy Mysteries,
A many-hued spectrum of saints,
Where the holiness of the One God unfurls,

Holy icons and holy relics:
Tales of magic reach for such things and miss,
Sincerely erecting an altar, "To an unknown god,"
Enchantment but the shadow whilst these are realities:
Whilst to us is bidden enjoy Reality Himself.
Further up and further in!

A journey of the heart, barely begun,
Anointed with chrism, like as prophet, priest, king,
A slow road of pain and loss,
Giving up straw to receive gold:
Further up and further in!

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner,
Silence without, building silence within:
The prayer of the mind in the heart,
Prayer without mind's images and eye before holy icons,
A simple Way, a life's work of simplicity,
Further up and further in!

A camel may pass through the eye of a needle,
Only by shedding every possession and kneeling humbly,
Book-learning and technological power as well as possessions,
Prestige and things that are yours— Even all that goes without saying:
To grow in this world one becomes more and more;
To grow in the Way one becomes less and less:
Further up and further in!

God and the Son of God became Man and the Son of Man,
That men and the sons of men might become gods and the sons of God:
The chief end of mankind,
Is to glorify God and become him forever.
The mysticism in the ordinary,
Not some faroff exotic place,
But here and now,
Living where God has placed us,
Lifting where we are up into Heaven:
Paradise is wherever holy men are found.
Escape is not possible:
Yet escape is not needed,
But our active engagement with the here and now,
And in this here and now we move,
Further up and further in!

We are summoned to war against dragons,
Sins, passions, demons:
Unseen warfare beyond that of fantasy:
For the combat of knights and armor is but a shadow:
Even this world is a shadow,
Compared to the eternal spoils of the victor in warfare unseen,
Compared to the eternal spoils of the man whose heart is purified,
Compared to the eternal spoils of the one who rejects activism:
Fighting real dragons in right order,
Slaying the dragons in his own heart,
And not chasing (real or imagined) snakelets in the world around:
Starting to remove the log from his own eye,
And not starting by removing the speck from his brother's eye:

Further up and further in!

Spake a man who suffered sorely:
For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time,
Are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us,
and:
Know ye not that we shall judge angels?
For the way of humility and tribulation we are beckoned to walk,
Is the path of greatest glory.
We do not live in the best of all possible worlds,
But we have the best of all possible Gods,
And live in a world ruled by the him,
And the most painful of his commands,
Are the very means to greatest glory,
Exercise to the utmost is a preparation,
To strengthen us for an Olympic gold medal,
An instant of earthly apprenticeship,
To a life of Heaven that already begins on earth:
He saved others, himself he cannot save,
Remains no longer a taunt filled with blasphemy:
But a definition of the Kingdom of God,
Turned to gold,
And God sees his sons as more precious than gold:
Beauty is forged in the eye of the Beholder:
Further up and further in!

When I became a man, I put away childish things:
Married or monastic, I must grow out of self-serving life:
For if I have self-serving life in me,
What room is there for the divine life?
If I hold straw with a death grip,
How will God give me living gold?
Further up and further in!

Verily, verily, I say to thee,
When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself,
And walkedst whither thou wouldest:
But when thou shalt be old,
Thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee,
And carry thee whither thou wouldest not.

This is victory:
Further up and further in!

And for our world, I would quote C.S. Lewis in saying that "humanity has always been on a precipice." Such study as I have had of Byzantine history leads me not to wonder that Constantinople fell, but that over a millennium after Constantine, after many times the Empire should have resolved, it took modern cannons to break through Constantinople's walls and subdue the great city. "Humanity has always been on a precipice"--and it seems to be increasingly more of a precipice.

It is believed by some Orthodox that Hinduism has room for the demonic and OrthoChristian.com describes Orthodox mission in India as “Perpetual Embers,” but do not speak ill to a Hindu of Krishna and the milk-maids. However, it is not provocative to call Kali demonic: a goddess of death who wears a necklace of skulls and bestows madness as her special blessing. Or at least I don’t see why it need offend a Hindu.

I have what I would call an "unintendedly kept loan" in that I was loaned a copy of the Bhagavad-Gita ("Song of God") by an Indian woman, and then lost all contact and don't see how to return it. Nor was the loan small; the Bhagavad-Gita was accompanied by commentary, as is Hindu tradition to unpack their greatest classic, in a beautiful two-volume boxed set. And the front matter talked about our being in the "Kali-yuga," or age of Kali. I don't know or understand what exactly a Hindu would mean by the Kali-yuga, but I can take a guess. And I have had some contact with the movement called "Traditionalists," which find certain underlying themes in many world religions that are threatened in the modern way of life and are sympathetic to Hindus who would see a Kali-yuga:

There is a singularity which has developed over past centuries, was present in decisive breaks made in the scientific revolution that paved the way to hard science as we know it, and has been unfolding and accelerating, and now crassly has vomited TV's and cellphones on Africa, the poorest continent. One obvious question is, "Do you mean the Book of Revelation?" and my answer is an emphatic "Yes... and No..." There are certain things which I believe we have been told will pass as Revelation is fulfilled. These include great tribulation, the coming of the Antichrist, and the return of Christ in glory to judge the living and the dead, and the glorious resurrection. But trying to pin down Biblical prophecy down in detail is essentially an attempt to get a crystal clear view into deep waters that are impregnably and unfathomably murky. Don't, at least not before the prophecies have been fulfilled.

However, while I have extreme suspicion for detailed point-for-point pinpointing the events in Revelation, I think it is a much more possible and profitable measure to study the singularity we are in as a singularity, a point I explore with some video in Revelation and Our Singularity.

A student of World War II may be able to pinpoint a linchpin in German manufacturing. There was a single point of failure in a ball bearing factory. If that factory had been taken out, it would all but destroyed Nazi Germany's capability to produce cars, trucks, tanks, and airplanes. Now let me ask: where is the linchpin in our technological society? Trick question! There are so many that no one knows how many there are. One of the most Luddite statements I've read is from a computer programmer: "If builders built buildings the way computer programmers write programs, the first woodpecker that came along would destroy civilization."

At Honey Rock, there was a delightful place called "the Web" that used World War II cargo netting to make a great amusement for kids. It, after several decades, fell beyond safe use, and the camp's people tried hard to find replacements. There were none to be found, came the conclusion from their research. Furthermore, it is now a respectable number of decades since technological museum curators have computer media that they believe to likely be intact but which they have no idea how to interpret. Cryptanalysis can break all sorts of very well-engineered codes. However, storage media produced with neither the desire nor attempt towards secrecy cannot straightforwardly read media that was intended to be straightforward to read.

To put things in miniature, like almost any at least half-serious website I have switched from sending unencrypted HTTP to confidential HTTPS. This was a right decision, I believe. However, to do that I need to get a stream of certificates, and if someone by any means shut down my ability to obtain certificates, my website would practically be dead in the water. Search engines would now be linking to security error pages; even bookmarks wouldn't work. I might be able to get the word out that my website was served via HTTP, if I wasn't blocked from social media by that time, but my use of the recommended practice of serving webpages confidentially via HTTPS introduces one more single point of failure. (That's why I'm revamping and roughly doubling my "Complete Works" collections in paperback. Amazon believes it has a total right to delete anything from a Kindle any time.) We are going from fragile to more and more and more fragile, to an effect like that in The Damned Backswing.

In a homily a few weeks back, my priest said,

Let us go to the Egyptian desert, and overhear a conversation taking place between a group of monks led by Abba Iscariot. This took place in the third century and the conversation went like this.

Abba Iscariot was asked, "What have we done in our life?"

The Abba replied, "We have done half of what our fathers did."

When asked, "What will the ones who come after us do?"

The Abba replied, "They are doing the half of what we are doing now."

And to the question, "What will the Christians of the last days do?"

He replied, "They will not be able to do any spiritual exploits, but those who keep the faith, they will be glorified more than our fathers who raised the dead.

We live in an exciting time.

My spiritual director said, "We think we are not on Plan A any more, not on Plan B, not on Plan C, and so on down the alphabet, but God is always on Plan A.

If you wonder how that could possibly be, I invite you to read God the Spiritual Father.

Branding is the New Root of All Evil

Cover for The Luddite's Guide to Technology

I would like to talk about something I am grateful to my parents for. From a very young age, my parents tried to free me from advertising's allure and the sacramental shopping of buying into brands. This did not, at least immediately, stop me from telling my parents I needed to have shoes or whatnot for which I had seen a really well-done ad, but it did take root, enough so that I was unpleasantly surprised when reading in a high school science class how in recording duplicable detail for a science experiment, the brand and model of all scientific equipment should be recorded among other details to try to give a scientific reader the ability to reproduce the experiment.

This may have been an overshot, and I don't think my parents would have failed to see a legitimate exception if they had been posed the question, but my parents gave me a head start on something I would carry for life.

Where did branding come from, anyway?

Before there was really a brand economy, at least some cattle owners would brand animals with a hot branding iron to make a mark that would make it clear whose property a given bovine was. However, this is not at least in its form what we know as branding. There is an unsexy practice today that carries on branding cattle: in the business world, it is seen as due diligence to attach a label to equipment saying "Property of ABC Corporation," and maybe add a serial number, and maybe add that there is a permanent, indelible mark under the sticker that police could trace. And perhaps corporate legal counsel would see this designation of property to be desirable as a matter of course, but this "brand" is not branding in the sense of today's advertisements; the brand (in today's sense) would be Apple, HP, or whoever else made a corporate asset. Perhaps no one really needs to put an equipment tag so it covers the manufacturer's logo and says "I'm hiding who made this, to better claim it as OUR company's property now." And perhaps no marketer's counsel was sought in the design of these branding asset tags; their job is to keep and maintain the company's brand, or a product's or the line of product, consistently presented and sold to the general public. Marketers do not normally need to make corporate property asset tags tell their company's brand story so customers can better relate, any more than they normally feel the need to make markerboard markers or pads of paper tell their company's brand story.

And what is wrong with branding, anyway?

I once told an economist that he didn't understand money.

I was not much older than 20 at the time, so right time to be brash and arrogant, but I maintain my position.

What I stated then was that economics was a well-developed answer to the wrong question. The wrong question it addresses is, "How can a culture be manipulated so as to maximize economic endeavors?" when the question it should be asking is, "How can an economy best support a beneficial culture?" He answered, "We take people's desires for granted."

That response was a party line, was almost certainly entirely sincere, and was almost certainly entirely wrong. Somewhere in there I adapted a famous question: "Was economic wealth created for man, or man for economic wealth?"

The entire enterprise of marketing and a brand economy tacitly acknowledges that people's natural greed will not stimulate enough purchases to meet the economy's needs. Advertising isn't reining in the horse of love of money and things. It isn't even laying the reins on the horse's neck. It's kicking the horse in the side with your spurs as hard as you can kick.

I remember a later conversation where a professor echoed back what he heard me saying, and said, "So you're an anti-capitalist?" and I winced. Usual objections to capitalism are Marxist in character and critique capitalism from the left. There is also a conservative vein of anti-capitalism, the perspective that motivated Dorothy Sayers to write "The Other Six Deadly Sins," in which Sayers complains, "A man may be greedy and selfish; spiteful, cruel, jealous, and unjust; violent and brutal; grasping, unscrupulous, and a liar; stubborn and arrogant; stupid, morose, and dead to every noble instinct—and still we are ready to say of him that he is not an immoral man." I quote at length what she wrote in the context of a rationed World War II England, because copies of titles with the essay are rare on Amazon:

Let us seize this breathing space [about gluttony in its crassest form], while we are out of temptation, to look at one very remarkable aspect of the sin of [gluttony]. We have all become aware lately of something very disquieting about what we call our economic system. An odd change has come over us since the arrival of the machine age. Whereas formerly it was considered a virtue to be thrifty and content with one's lot, it is now considered to be the mark of a progressive nation that it is filled with hustling, go-getting citizens, intent on raising their standard of living. And this is not interpreted to mean merely that a decent sufficiency of food, clothes, and shelter is attainable by all citizens. It means much more and much less than this. It means that every citizen is encouraged to consider more, and more complicated, luxuries necessary to his well-being. The gluttonous consumption of manufactured goods had become, before [World War II], the prime civic virtue. And why? Because machines can produce cheaply only if they produce in vast quantities; because unless the machines can produce cheaply nobody can afford to keep them running; and because, unless they are kept running, millions of citizens will be thrown out of employment, and the community will starve.

We need not stop now to go round and round the vicious circle of production and consumption. We need not remind ourselves of the furious barrage of advertisements by which people are flattered and frightened out of a reasonable contentment into a greedy hankering after goods that they do not really need; nor point out for the thousandth time how every evil passion—snobbery, laziness, vanity, concupiscence, ignorance, greed—is appealed to in these campaigns. Nor how unassuming communities (described as backward countries) have these desires ruthlessly forced on them by their neighbors to find an outlet for goods whose market is saturated. And we must not take up too much time in pointing out how, as the necessity to sell goods in quantity becomes more desperate, the people's appreciation of quality is violently discouraged and oppressed. You must not buy goods that will last too long, for production cannot be kept going unless the goods wear out, or fall out of fashion, and so can be thrown away and replaced with others.

If a man invents anything that would give lasting satisfaction, his invention must be bought up by the manufacturer so it may never see the light of day. Nor must the worker be encouraged to take too much interest in the thing he makes; if he did, he might desire to make as well as it can be made, and that would not pay. It is better that he should work in a soulless indifference, even though such treatment should break his spirit and cause him to hate his work. The difference between the factory hand is that the craftsman lives to do the work he loves; but the factory hand lives by doing the work he despises. We know about all this and must not discuss it now, but I will ask you to remember it.

The point I want to make now is this: that whether or not it is desirable to keep up this fearful whirligig of industrial finance based on gluttonous consumption, it could not be kept up for a single moment without the cooperating gluttony of the consumer. Legislation, the control of wages and profits, the balancing of exports and imports, elaborate schemes for the distribution of surplus commodities, the state ownership of enterprise, complicated systems of social credit, and finally wars and revolutions are all invoked in the hope of breaking down the thing known as the present economic system. Now it may well be that its breakdown would be a terrific disaster and produce a worse chaos than that which went before—we need not argue about it. The point is that, without any legislation whatsoever, the whole system would come crashing down if every consumer were voluntarily to restrict purchases to the things really needed. "The fact is," said a workingman the other day at a meeting, "that when we fall for these advertisements we're being had for mugs." So we are. The sin of gluttony, of greed, of overmuch stuffing ourselves, is the sin that has delivered us into the power of the machine.

In the evil days between [World War I and World War II], we were confronted with some ugly contrasts between plenty and poverty. Those contrasts should be, and must be, reduced. But let us say frankly that they are not likely to be reduced so long as the poor admire the rich for the indulgence in precisely that gluttonous way of living that rivets on the world the chain of the present economic system, and do their best to imitate rich men's worst vices. To do that is to play in the hands of those whose interest is to keep the system going. You will notice, that under a war economy, the contrast is being flattened out; we are being forced to reduce and regulate our personal consumption of commodities and revise our whole notion of what constitutes good citizenship in the financial sense. This is the judgment of this world; when we will not amend ourselves by grace, we are compelled under the yoke of law. You will notice also that we are learning certain things. There seems, for example, to be no noticeable diminution in our health and spirits due to the fact that we have only the choice of say, half a dozen dishes in a restaurant instead of forty.

In the matter of clothing, we are beginning to regain our respect for stuffs that will wear well; we can no longer be led away by the specious argument that it is smarter and more hygienic to wear underlinen and stockings once and then throw them away than to buy things that will serve us for years. We are having to learn, painfully, to save food and material and salvage waste products; and in learning do to these things we have found a curious and stimulating sense of adventure. For it is the great curse of gluttony that it ends by destroying all sense of the precious, the unique, the irreplacable.

But what will happen to us when the war machine to consume our surplus products for us? Shall we hold fast to our rediscovered sense of real values and our adventurous attitude of life? If so, we shall revolutionize world economy without any political revolution. Or shall we again allow our gluttony to become the instrument of an economic system that is satisfactory to nobody? That system as we know it thrives on waste and rubbish heaps. At present the waste (that is, sheer gluttonous consumption) is being done for us in the field of war. In peace, if we do not revise our ideas, we shall ourselves become its instruments. The rubbish heap will again be piled on our doorsteps, on our own backs, in our own bellies. Instead of the wasteful consumption of trucks and tanks, metal and explosives, we shall have back the wasteful consumption of wireless sets and silk stockings, drugs and paper, cheap pottery and cosmetics—all of the slop and swill that will pour down the sewers over which the palace of gluttony is built...

It was left for the present age to endow covetousness with glamor on a big scale and give it a title that it could carry like a flag. It occurred to somebody to call it enterprise. From the moment of that happy inspiration, covetousness has gone forward and never looked back. It has become a swaggering, swash-buckling, piratical sin, going about with its had cocked over its eye, and pistols tucked into the tops of its jackboots. Its war cries are "Business Efficiency!" "Free Competition!" "Get Our or Get Under!" and "There's Always Room at the Top! It no longer works and saves; it launches out into new enterprises; it gambles and speculates; it thinks in a big way; it takes risks. It can no longer be troubled to deal in real wealth and so remain attached to work and the soil. It has set money free from all hampering ties; it has interests in every continent; it is impossible to pin it down to any one place or any concrete commodity—it is an adventure, a roving, rollicking free lance. It looks so jolly and jovial and has such a twinkle in its cunning eye that nobody can believe that its heart is as cold and calculating as ever.

Sayers's critique, in this passage, has aged extremely well. The chief differences I would note today are:

  1. The factories are not first world factories in front of us but third world sweatshops whose workers could only drool over the conditions of first world factories, and:
  2. Everything in The Damned Backswing is true and we are being stripped of even moderate consumption as the damned backswing plays out past decades' gluttonous consumption that continues today.
  3. So far as I can discern, Sayers does not open or foresee the Pandora's box of branding.

This is, I would underscore, a conservative critique of capitalism. It touches on Marxist critique, or Marxism rather touches on this line of critique, when contrasting the craftsman and the factory hand; but even a stopped clock is right twice a day, including Marxism.

It is an essentially conservative outlook in Robert Grootazaard's Aid for the Overdeveloped West, which makes at least one point I hadn't thought of but almost instantly agreed with once I saw it. As a Christian economist, he studied the Mosaic Law and saw a blueprint for paradise, including both gleaning for the poor and an environment where it was very "difficult to get rich." And his work can be taken as a brief, for a book, commentary on the premise that economic wealth is made for mankind and not mankind for economic wealth.

St. Paul wrote, "Love of money is the root of all evil," (I Tim 6:10, KJV), and he did not do so in the context of our ecosystem of brands. He took up the task of taming the horse and reining it in; perhaps he has almost never been completely obeyed, but most of the Bible's advice for a good life has almost never been completely obeyed. The verse has been softened in some translations to say, "Love of money is a root of all kinds of evil," (NIV), but no other sin receives the same indictment from St. Paul, and it is characteristic of the theology of the east that avarice or the love of money is not only named among the eight demons that would become the West's seven deadly sins, but it is one of the top three "gateway sins" that opens the door to all others.

One lunch with Bruce Winter, the head of Tyndale House, commented on what advertising now sees as a sort of dark age before advertising would essentially get its act together. Before that, an ad advertising (for instance) fur coats, would show a fur coat, maybe with someone in it or maybe not, and the word "SALE" once or maybe repeated several times. (It strikes me as a stroke of brilliant wit that one nearby antiques dealer has, out front, a letter sign with the words "ANTIQUES! ANTIQUES! ANTIQUES!" That kind of nostalgic advertising might work for nothing else, it is perfect for communicating antique goods that in some cases would fit how some antiques were originally advertised.) Bruce mentioned the older school, and said that it comes from before advertisers understood what motivates people. Now, he commented, car ads sell on the premise that they are "mysterious, sensual, and intimate:" as I would later observe, one glitzy car ad ended with a woman's low voice saying, "When you turn your car on... does it return the favor?" Bruce Winter was, I might underscore, not someone who would raise an objection to having something be "mysterious, sensual, and intimate" as such, and he spoke of it with awe. He was merely suggesting that we seek something "mysterious, sensual, and intimate" in the setting where we can enjoy it best.

(Australia is a bit of a special case as far as advertising goes. Advertising is legal as such, but advertisers have to sell their wares on the grounds of what their product actually provides; presenting that a product as making you magically irresistible to the opposite sex is off the agenda.)

One of many features of a favor that favors consumption has to do with fashion. In the Middle Ages, clothing styles subtly changed, perhaps once in a generation. It is not clear to me how long a garment would last, but clothing was not casually discarded. Today, fashion provides a social mechanism for frequent purchase of clothing, and the one truly good piece of advice I found in Tiptionary was to go for classic clothing rather than what is currently in vogue. Clothing is not built to last, and even if it would last, we have a social mandate that keeps selling us (mostly sweatshop) clothes. (One way to reduce one's patronage of sweatshops is to keep clothing until it becomes genuinely unserviceable.)

Another change in habits has to do with why an appliance repair shop in my hometown closed down, having lost their lease. When an appliance breaks down, most people don't want a fix that will restore the status quo. Most people prefer to find an occasion to upgrade. For another example, a senior I know has cookware made in the 1940's or 1950's. His cookware has plenty of use remaining before it will eventually decay. Its expected life, over a half century after when it was first made, is longer than brand new cookware because new cookware is specifically not built to last. Planned obsolescence is another form of life that keeps factory wheels turning. It's not enough to have a darling brand in cars, phones, etc.; people feel an almost entirely unnecessary need to have the latest model.

Sacramental shopping

I have been aware in my own life of a practice that I call "sacramental shopping." Another term is "retail therapy," and perhaps today the lexicon includes "Amazon therapy." It is shopping that functions as an ersatz sacrament, and it may the chief sacrament in the ersatz religion of brand economy.

I might comment briefly, in a book that I've persisted in trying to track down, an analysis which says that brands do the work of spiritual disciplines for many today. The author commented that in one class he asked college students, "Imagine your future successful self. With which brands do you imagine yourself associating?" Not only could all of the students answer the question and furnish a list of brands, but he didn't see any puzzled looks, a signal that would have blipped loud and clear on his radar as a teacher.

I believe that an example from my own life could be instructive.

When I was getting ready to study theology, in 2002 I purchased a computer that would see me through my studies up through 2007. It was an IBM ThinkPad, a brand and line that were respected and for good reason, and I purchased a computer with ample screen real estate, a 1GhZ processor that was probably overkill for my needs, and maxed-out 1G RAM. And after I did my research and set my heart on a particular purchase, and my conscience held me back. I ran from my conscience and then faced up to it, a conscience saying, "No." And I let go of buying it altogether, and as soon as that my conscience gave me an instantaneous green light.

There were a couple of issues going on here. One of them was the purchase of a practical computer all but necessary for my studies. But the other part was that I was drooling over a major purchase in sacramental shopping, and the way things unfolded was an unfolding grace that let me buy a practical and useful computer but not making a purchase of sacramental shopping.

Now some of you may be wondering why I named and endorsed a brand of computer; my response is that I was not acting on a mystique, but on rational analysis of a brand's track record. Though a Ford was not my first choice, I drive a Ford now, as a brand that creates physically sturdy vehicles that hold up well in a collision. One accident, in which I was hit from behind when I stopped, left me hitting the Honda Accord in front of me, and... um... I saw very directly why people refer to a Honda Accord as a "Honda Accordion." The Accordion suffered severe damage in its trunk. I suffered a bent front license plate. When I went computer shopping, I wanted a good computer that would last, and several years after purchasing it I gave it to my brother in working order. The specs were carefully chosen, and the five or so years I used it vindicated my purchase.

Nonetheless, I believe that moment was permitted me so I could acquire the computer without it being an act of sacramental shopping, which is something quite significant. It has been my experience that when my conscience says, "Let it go, all the way," sometimes I am freed from XYZ forever, and sometimes the instant I fully let go is the instant I get an unexpected green light. After years of struggle about posting from my story at Fordham, at all, ever, I let go... and my conscience gave me a surprisingly sudden green light, the only condition being that I not name individual figures. So I posted Orthodox at Fordham.

It is a great gift to be able to stop drooling before you buy something, or maybe instead of buying something. It is a price of inner spiritual freedom—and a doorway to contentment, for it is the characteristic of items purchased in sacramental shopping to lose their allure surprisingly quickly.

Advertising promotes a spirit of perennial discontent and a failure to be able to enjoy the things one already has. By rejecting sacramental shopping, perhaps, I was able to enjoy the ongoing use of that one laptop for several years.

Do I have a personal brand? Should I?

I don't think we should buy into personal brands, no matter how many people exhort us to do.

The front matter to Seven Habits of Highly Effective People notes a fall that had occurred, from a character ethic to a personality ethic with characteristic exhortations to believe in yourself. Now we have had a second fall, from genuine (if shallow) personality with glimpses of character, to recommended best practices being to post stuff to Twitter that's about 70% professional and 30% personal, giving a persona and an illusion of personality but not giving people even your real personality when the rubber hits the sky.

I do not speak highly of personal branding, but I would like first to field an objection that may occur to some of my readers: do I, great critic of brands as I am, am unusually gifted, an Orthodox author who writes in the fashion of some of the great English-language apologists, see things from a different angle, and so on; and, also, I have a distinctive look to my favorites among the books I have written. It would make sense to say, "If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, isn't it a personal brand?"

My response, beyond saying that the objection is entirely understandable, is to talk about what some figures have called a "canon within the Canon." Now this is a perspective that isn't particularly Orthodox and I usually only invoke it with good reason, but there is a tendency for authors in theology to disproportionately quote certain areas in the canon. I imagine if you were to tally Scriptural references in my own writing, you would find heavy reference to the Sermon on the Mount, and the Pauline letters. Now I have no reticence about a debt to the Sermon on the Mount. However, one professor talked about St. Paul as "the Apostle to the heretics," because heretics of many stripes pay disproportionate attention to the letters of St. Paul. So, while I might say "I hope to live up to it" if I am asked how I relate to the Sermon on the Mount, I am more inclined to regard my primary heavy citations of St. Paul as a liability, a holdover from when I was Protestant, and a way I have failed to live up to the Bible's grandeur.

So, if you are to ask, "Do you have a canon within the Canon?" I would answer, "Yes, and I'm not proud of it."

However, this is an "after the fact" canon within the Canon. I never set out to focus on the Sermon on the Mount and the letters of St. Paul, they were what came to mind when I was recalling from a lifetime of reading Scripture. I never decided to privilege the letters of St. Paul; I just gravitated a certain and imperfect way.

Some considerable distortion, and perhaps a practice that does little to warm Orthodox hearts to the whole concept of canon within the Canon, is in academic theologians who make step one of an article being to identify the canon within the Canon. Honestly, no. That doesn't cut it. An author's "after the fact" canon within the Canon may be to some extent unavoidable, but the idea that you start by taking a scissors to the Bible goes beyond putting the cart before the horse. It is trying to unload the cart at its destination before packing it at its source.

I may well enough have an "after the fact" personal brand. (Also, my brief popping in and out of social media when I have something to announce is not intended as the message I want my brand to portray; it is because I feel a need to sharply reduce and limit my time in these unsavory neighborhoods.) And as branding is identified and explained, your brand is the one thing that is essentially you. Besides the points mentioned above about what may be my personal brand, I have had a profound interest in social and religious aspects of technology, and it may well be that my lasting contribution to the conversation will be The Luddite's Guide to Technology and not my general-purpose collection of theological favorites in The Best of Jonathan's Corner. Social implications of theology are a central and guiding emphasis, but not in any way that engenders an exclusive fidelity. I hardly see The Angelic Letters or the even more exalted Doxology as peripheral to my "after the fact" marketing proposition, even if I do not recall either saying much about technology and even if my autobiography is titled Orthodox Theology and Technology.

However, out of all this there have been few things intended to address concerns of branding. My website has a distinctive and beautiful appearance and background image; and that visual identity flows onto book covers. And in a case of "Seek first the Kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added unto you," from (appropriately enough) that Sermon, I have been told that my work is largely known and often endorsed among conservative converts to Orthodoxy, and I've even been told that my name has trilettered on Facebook to CSH (meaning C.S. Hayward) which caught me off guard. And I would briefly like to address one question some people have: why am I happy to have fame among conservative converts to Orthodoxy? Why not write for all Orthodox? My answer, I believe, lies in communication style. Any Orthodox Christian, along with other intersested parties, is welcome to read my writing. However, the way I write is shaped by English language apologists, as is probably a shared experience with many more converts than people who grew up in the Church, and writing style may be a barrier. There have been some times I have tried to write with a more patristic style, such as The Arena, Apprentice gods, and Technonomicon, but it is a liability and a limitation to my stature as an Orthodox writer that people raised in the Orthodox Church might not as easily connect with my writing.

And in any case, I have not made a marketing decision to specifically target conservative converts to Orthodoxy. I have instead attempted to write works of wonder and beauty such as I am able to and have not found already written. I judge my readership to be a case of "Man proposes, God disposes." And I regard the fact that I have an audience at all is to me astounding. I have prayed for God to guide, help, and support me as I write. I have never prayed to be a household name among certain people.

The human cost of a brand economy: a decoy answer

Vincent J. Miller, in Consuming Religion (a Marxist text which I checked out because I confused it with Tom Beaudouin, Consuming Faith, which I read at Fordham), writes in his introduction, in reference to voluntary simplicity:

[Marketers] want to know where the nerves are so they can position their products to hit them. A stroll through the supermarket illustrates this marketing strategy. Foodstuffs and personal care products are packaged as plain, simple, and honest. The color schemes of labels as well as the products themselves are muted. Beige, lavender, and pale green provide the palette for iced tea and shampoo, risotto mixes, and aroma therapy candles. At the checking, we encounter this color scheme again, this time on the cover of a magazine that includes articles on getting organized, simplifying family life, and making Campari-grapefruit compote. It is full of glossy photo spreads of food, interiors, and clothing. A soft, minimalist aesthetic dominates these images—a hybrid of Martha Stewart and Zen Buddhism. The target audience of this magazine is professional women with incomes above $65,000 a year. Its title? Real Simple. Examples could be multiplied.

Before the point where I dropped reading the title, it also talked about how marketers made a real extravaganza of the 150th anniversary of the printing of the Communist Manifesto.

I mention this as an example of a distraction I would like to clear out. I had people say I wasn't sure what I was doing at a jobhunter's group where I balked at creating a personal brand to serve my jobhunt. However, I do not want to gaze endlessly down this chasm.

Albert Einstein is popularly quoted (or misquoted—for the moment I only care about the words) as saying, "The problems we face cannot be solved by the kind of thinking that created them." And here I would say, while I honestly do not know and honestly do not care whether I am representing Einstein, that level of analysis and critique is valid up to a point but we need to move beyond them if we are to reach higher ground.

An inflection point towards the real answer

The Orthodox Church in America saints page has, for Great and Holy Thursday, words from Fr. Alexander Schmemann about a love that is pure, and also about a love that is destructive:

Two events shape the liturgy of Great and Holy Thursday: the Last Supper of Christ with His disciples, and the betrayal of Judas. The meaning of both is in love. The Last Supper is the ultimate revelation of God’s redeeming love for man, of love as the very essence of salvation. And the betrayal of Judas reveals that sin, death and self-destruction are also due to love, but to deviated and distorted love, love directed at that which does not deserve love. Here is the mystery of this unique day, and its liturgy, where light and darkness, joy and sorrow are so strangely mixed, challenges us with the choice on which depends the eternal destiny of each one of us. “Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour was come... having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end...” (John 13:1). To understand the meaning of the Last Supper we must see it as the very end of the great movement of Divine Love which began with the creation of the world and is now to be consummated in the death and resurrection of Christ.

God is Love (1 John 4:8). And the first gift of Love was life. The meaning, the content of life was communion. To be alive man was to eat and to drink, to partake of the world. The world was thus Divine love made food, made Body of man. And being alive, i.e. partaking of the world, man was to be in communion with God, to have God as the meaning, the content and the end of his life. Communion with the God-given world was indeed communion with God. Man received his food from God and making it his body and his life, he offered the whole world to God, transformed it into life in God and with God. The love of God gave life to man, the love of man for God transformed this life into communion with God. This was paradise. Life in it was, indeed, eucharistic. Through man and his love for God the whole creation was to be sanctified and transformed into one all-embracing sacrament of Divine Presence and man was the priest of this sacrament.

But in sin man lost this eucharistic life. He lost it because he ceased to see the world as a means of Communion with God and his life as eucharist, as adoration and thanksgiving. . . He loves himself and the world for their own sake; he made himself the content and the end of his life. He thought that his hunger and thirst, i.e. his dependence of his life on the world—can be satisfied by the world as such, by food as such. But world and food, once they are deprived of their initial sacramental meaning—as means of communion with God, once they are not received for God’s sake and filled with hunger and thirst for God, once, in other words, God is no longer their real “content,” can give no life, satisfy no hunger, for they have no life in themselves... And thus by putting his love in them, man deviated his love from the only object of all love, of all hunger, of all desires. And he died. For death is the inescapable “decomposition” of life cut from its only source and content. Man thought to find life in the world and in food, but he found death. His life became communion with death, for instead of transforming the world by faith, love, and adoration into communion with God, he submitted himself entirely to the world, he ceased to be its priest and became its slave. And by his sin the whole world was made a cemetery, where people condemned to death partook of death and “sat in the region and shadow of death” (Matt. 4:16).

But if man betrayed, God remained faithful to man. He did not “turn Himself away forever from His creature whom He had made, neither did He forget the works of His hands, but He visited him in diverse manners, through the tender compassion of His mercy” (Liturgy of Saint Basil). A new Divine work began, that of redemption and salvation. And it was fulfilled in Christ, the Son of God Who in order to restore man to his pristine beauty and to restore life as communion with God, became Man, took upon Himself our nature, with its thirst and hunger, with its desire for and love of, life. And in Him life was revealed, given, accepted and fulfilled as total and perfect Eucharist, as total and perfect communion with God. He rejected the basic human temptation: to live “by bread alone”; He revealed that God and His kingdom are the real food, the real life of man. And this perfect eucharistic Life, filled with God, and, therefore Divine and immortal, He gave to all those who would believe in Him, i,e. find in Him the meaning and the content of their lives. Such is the wonderful meaning of the Last Supper. He offered Himself as the true food of man, because the Life revealed in Him is the true Life. And thus the movement of Divine Love which began in paradise with a Divine “take, eat. ..” (for eating is life for man) comes now “unto the end” with the Divine “take, eat, this is My Body...” (for God is life of man). The Last Supper is the restoration of the paradise of bliss, of life as Eucharist and Communion.

But this hour of ultimate love is also that of the ultimate betrayal. Judas leaves the light of the Upper Room and goes into darkness. “And it was night” (John 13:30). Why does he leave? Because he loves, answers the Gospel, and his fateful love is stressed again and again in the hymns of Holy Thursday. It does not matter indeed, that he loves the “silver.” Money stands here for all the deviated and distorted love which leads man into betraying God. It is, indeed, love stolen from God and Judas, therefore, is the Thief. When he does not love God and in God, man still loves and desires, for he was created to love and love is his nature, but it is then a dark and self-destroying passion and death is at its end. And each year, as we immerse ourselves into the unfathomable light and depth of Holy Thursday, the same decisive question is addressed to each one of us: do I respond to Christ’s love and accept it as my life, do I follow Judas into the darkness of his night?

The human cost of a brand economy is that it draws us into the love of Judas Iscariot.

Fr. Alexander, in this passage, is extremely clear that Judas is not dead to love: he loves what should not be loved, and he loves in the wrong way. He loves "silver:" one could just as well say "even worse, brands." And the love we love when we covet brands—and it is love—is love of what is unworthy and the same destructive love by which Judas renounced his Lord to obtain a pittance of silver, the price of a slave and nothing more.

We can do one of two things. We can love God and our neighbor, or we can attend to brands, but we cannot do both.

Conclusion

This takes us to the doorstep of all things great and wonderful, and all things beautiful and small, the Tradition has to offer. It takes us to St. Paul's hymn to charity and St. John's first epistle on loving one another, to the Philokalia and the Divine Liturgy, to morning and evening prayers and The Way of the Pilgrim. The right thing to do is to simply step beyond brands and enter one of these doors of love, and love God, including loving God in our neighbor.