Monasticism for Protestants

Alice in Wonderland

I was given a copy of Singled Out: Why Celibacy Must Be Reinvented in Today’s Church. I’ve read some but not all of it, and I’ve read the introduction in full. I really have more to say than that the Orthodox tacit response to hearing an Evangelical say, “I’ve been reading the Fathers” when they have only been reading the Blessed Augustine is, “Ouch!” Saint as he may be, the Blessed Augustine is not any kind of legitimate polestar for navigating the Fathers, and when Singled Out deals with a Tertullian who fell into heresy and gave Augustine a singularly bad precedent, the best thing to say to Evangelicals is, “You do not understand monasticism as it exists in the Orthodox Church.” Possibly parts of the book I didn’t get to start to bring in quotes from the Orthodox Church’s Greek Fathers, but I have not found such a passage and it certainly doesn’t set the stage. Alan Perlis said something entirely relevant to Protestants who wish to understand Orthodox monasticism: “The best book about programming for the layman is Alice in Wonderland, but that’s just because the best book about anything for the layman is Alice in Wonderland.” And the best book for Evangelicals on Orthodox monasticism is decidedly Alice in Wonderland.

I wish to state briefly, and without explanation, that the first step in understanding Orthodox monasticism is understanding it is nothing Protestants can project. One routine moment in a conversation with a respected parishioner, informally called “the godfather of us all” within the parish, came when he had said he wanted to understand Orthodoxy and asked an Orthodox Christian what books to read, was told, “You don’t understand Orthodoxy by reading books. You understand Orthodoxy by participating in the services.” And if the Orthodoxy of the parish is not something to analyze, it is all the more confusing to understand monastic Fathers without even being Orthodox. Regarding sexuality, for instance, monasticism knows as well as anything else that sex is a powerful impulse, and it has powerful built-in features intended, ultimately, to transform carnal desire into a desire for God. Part of this is an extreme caution in monks’ dealings with women, but the same caution is present in the (admittedly less numerous) warnings by Mothers for nuns dealing with men. One nineteenth-century Russian monk compared the Christian living in the world to a wildflower, with the monastic (male or female) compared to a flower that needs to be in a “hothouse” (i.e. a heavily curated greenhouse) to flourish. Marriage is a good and honorable thing, but it’s not just marriage where sexuality serves a legitimate purpose. Monasticism does not provide a track where sexual impulses become simply absent or unimportant; it provides a track where sexual impulses are to be one of several areas where the human is transformed according to divine glory.

A theology of failure

My first real point about Singled Out is that is that the introduction does not call for a new theology of celibacy. It calls for an old theology of failure.

Let me take an instance with St. Paul, and for the moment ignore his celibacy completely, which is not my point here. His accomplishments include raising the dead, planting numerous churches, and writing half the volumes of the New Testament. Sometimes people speak of someone having nothing left to prove; on human terms his accomplishments are about as stellar as mortal Christian has achieved. When he wrote 2 Timothy in particular, and knew that his end was near, he had about as much claim as anybody in Christian history to say, “I came. I saw. I conquered.” But what he instead says is “I have fought the good fight. I have run the race.  I have kept the faith.” These words do not bear a whisper of saying, “I achieved.” They say instead, “I was faithful.

Saints on the whole are faithful and are not affected terribly differently by success and failure, and this is normative. If we look at school sports, there is a momentous spiritual edifice of sportsmanship, however imperfectly applied: “It’s not whether you win or lose; it’s how you play the game.” Now teams of athletes who have to give a game their best their best may end up winning remarkably often, but this is not a best strategy of winning. It is a best strategy above winning.

Saints seem to exhibit something like sportsmanship in that they are concerned about being faithful rather than succeeding or failing. This adds a certain tint to the whole moral atmosphere, and saints, which one tries to tell even in a work from the Anabaptist tradition like Martyr’s Mirror, show in the living color of story what a holy life looks like. “Every Christian must bear his cross,” and this applies to successes and failures alike. Marriage is meant to be blessed by as many children as God is generous enough to give, and childlessness is a curse. Some have said that marriage is not an institution for children to grow up in, but an institution for parents to grow up in. To those who are married with children, the children should be a joy, but raising them is the cross by which parents are to be saved. However, God does not always give this blessing, and to parents who want to welcome children but are not able to do so, childlessness is itself a cross by which the parents to be saved. Lastly for now, I would suggest that if there are people who endorse marriage is normal, and want to be married but end up always a bridesmaid but never a bride, lack of marriage is itself a saving cross. Disrespect for marriage is a sin, and the career path of monasticism provides a practical and valuable resource, nost just to monastics themselves, but also to devout Orthodox families who tend to visit monasteries. But if, as described in Singled Out authors grew up hoping for marriage and their dreams did not come true, what is needed is not a new theology of celibacy but an old theology of failure and the crosses by which we are saved. And so far as I can tell, the authors are entirely innocent of contact with Orthodox monasticism.

I am trying to get to Mount Athos and become a member of a respected monastic community (I’m hoping for St. Panteleimon’s monastery; I’ve been devoted to him for years). However, I am not obligated to succeed in connecting with any of the monasteries on the planned pilgrimage. I am furthermore not obligated to succeed in being able to pay for the trip. I am trying, and under the conditions I feel fully obligated to give it my best, but I am not obligated to succeed. (Willing to make a donation?)

Here we are still on the outside porch of Orthodox monasticism, and not on the inside. But I would suggest that the Orthodox understanding of monasticism provides a robust and excellent old theology of celibacy, and also that “every Christian must bear his cross” and the old theology of failure have every relevance to those who seek marriage but do not arrive at it.

Looking at Stranger in a Strange Land as an old Western idol

Robert A. Heinlein’s cult classic Stranger in a Strange Land, a book which was published in 1961, inspired many flower children, and has never gone out of print, is a Western book, and Western in a sense in which most Western Christians legitimately disavow. Early on in the book when Heinlein is loosening up his readers’ boundaries, Heinlein has the hero and heroine basically naked together in the strictest innocence and for entirely legitimate reasons, and the reader is invited to judge the cop who has a dirty mind because of what he reads into them being naked together. When the cop needlessly strikes the heroine, the hero kills him with psychic powers, but only after Heinlein assures us that the cop did not strike her as hard as he used to hit his wife. The episode serves as a sort of gateway drug en route to a Utopianism in which promiscuity is fêted, and for the only time I’ve seen in literature being raped is a helpful and invigorating experience, and while Heinlein grinds the most massive axe against firearms for no explained reason, killing (and cannibalism) become even more casual than promiscuity. Charles Manson, a serial killer who viewed murder as just a habit like smoking a cigarette, denied having read the title at all, although the book’s influence was in some circles ubiquitous, and one of Manson’s own children bore the hero’s first, middle, and last name, “Michael Valentine Smith.” All of this makes for a singular profile even as far as Utopias go.

While Heinlein eagerly rips marriage to shreds, there is a covenant (although not called by that name) of “water brotherhood”, which is some combination of reinventing marriage, only dumber, and reinventing the Church, only dumber. The “Thou art God!” epiphany Michael shares with the fatherly Jubal and the joke about one worm saying to another, “Will you marry me?” and the other saying, “Marry you? I’m your back end!” are reinventing Hinduism, only dumber. While certain aspects of the book show Heinlein has apparently “taken inspiration” from Hinduism, in the sense a web designer might use as a euphemism from outright theft of their intellectual property, Hinduism itself is deeper than a whale can dive. Now I am not endorsing Hinduism but I recall, if nothing else, words which I thought came from G.K. Chesterton but cannot now trace, that if you are considering world religions, you will save yourself a great deal of time by exploring just Christianity and Hinduism: Islam is just a Christian heresy and Buddhism is just a Hindu heresy. And really, it’s not just Hinduism that offers a more interesting theology than Heinlein. Buddhism and Taoism are themselves more interesting than Heinlein’s sporadically cherry-picking bits of Hinduism. (And it might at least be helpful to place, “Thou art nothing!” alongside “Thou art God!”) I recall one class at Fordham where the professor spoke of speaking with a Hindu scholar (I think he mentioned lots of wine having been consumed), and the professor saying that he was perfectly happy with God being incarnate in Christ, but why only one? (The great teachers in the Western understanding, plus perhaps various mythological figures, are held in Hinduism to be Avatars in which God / gods came down in human semblance; there are points of contact with Incarnation, although those interested in theological exactness might note that the conception of an Avatar is not that of Incarnation but of the kind of Docetism which sees Christ as human only in a deceptive appearance, the Divine Nature being incapable of being made man.) But let me return to incarnation in a moment.

And finally on the point of this Utopian novel, what Stranger in a Strange Land offers is a Gospel, but only a Gospel made dumber. One Christian editor, in personal conversation, talked about choosing the name for an article. Editors often do this better than authors, by the way. The title amounted to “Maximum Christology,” which asserted that the findings of the Christological Councils are in every way those of a Maximum Christ: maximally God, maximally human, maximally united, with the divine and human natures maximally distinguished. And some of these heroes are of a sub-maximum Christ figure. As I said in an overly long and complex homily in The Sign of the Grail, the figure of Merlin, if pushed to absolute fullness and depth, becomes the figure of Christ. The same is true of the hero, Michael Valentine Smith. No matter what attacks Heinlein places on Christianity and the morals he falsely assumes to be distinctly Christian (by the way, Christianity is in general much more comfortable about legitimately acceptable touch than Hinduism: if you want touch in Hinduism, Kali’s Child comes highly recommended; Kali is a demon-goddess who wears a necklace of skulls and madness is the special blessing she bestows), Heinlein’s debt to the Gospel is incalculably greater than his debt to Hinduism. Even the hero’s martyrdom owes its debt to Christianity; the Bhagavad-Gita may have Sri Krishna exhorting Arjuna the Conqueror of Sloth to enter a battle and strike those doomed to death; I am out of my depth as far as interpretation of the Bhagavad-Gita goes but martyrdom is celebrated neither on the part of divine charioteer nor human noble, even if some commentators like Gandhi held martyrdom in the most profound respect. There is no sense I get that either charioteer or ruler gave his life as a ransom for many, nor that martyrdom is the noblest death to die, nor, so far as I know, planted a Church that we marked by referring to years as AD and BC in its infinite shadow. The whole story is the Gospel made dumber, a point I tried to argue in Looking at Stranger in a Strange Land as a Modern Christological Heresy.

But there is one point of redeeming virtue. Michael, the hero, says, “Happiness is a matter of functioning the way a human being is organized to function… but the words in English are a mere tautology, empty. In Martian they are a complete set of working instructions.” And in fact we have such a complete working instructions in monasticism. Now I would like to underscore that marriage is a sacrament and the normal choice it is expected that most Orthodox will follow; I will not extol marriage at length but it is worth extolling, as in this beautiful video about Saints Peter and Fevronia (with English subtitles).

Beggars and the divine

There was one point where I was hospitalized with, among others, a woman (a former ballerina, but that’s beside the point), bordering on homelessness. I wondered, “Is there any way I can lighten this cross?” and in fact there was, and I did so when closing out the visit. Part of the difficulty was that she needed to keep track of numerous mostly small items, and that is difficult when homeless. I had an item now not available new, a geeky messenger bag, which was then cheap, easily replaceable, and like nothing else I’ve found anywhere near the price point. And it had both large capacity and multiple compartments. Before I gave it to her our dealings were polite if distant; we never connected interpersonally. And after her warm thanks, our dealings remained polite if distant; while I struck up a friendship with another guy, she and I never clicked as friends, let alone something romantic. And I really think neither of us was obligated to any friendship.

Then why the gift?

To put things in melodramatic terms, none of us goes to sleep knowing we will wake up. Were I to fall asleep that night in time and wake up in eternity, I would have greatly preferred the bag to be in her possession than mine.

If that sounds melodramatic, read to this apocalyptic passage from the Gospel according to St. Matthew:

When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.

Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, ‘Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.’ Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?’ And the King shall answer and say unto them, ‘Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.’

Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, ‘Depart from me, ye who are damned, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.’ Then shall they also answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not serve thee?’ Then shall he answer them, saying, ‘Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.’ And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.”

It is the clear teaching of Westerners I know who care for the poor that giving money to beggars is making a problem worse, and it is the clear teaching of the Orthodox Church to give something. I’ve never really heard any Orthodox authority say you should give a lot; the suggestion, without a number being ever stated that I have heard, is that you should give a small amount that is entirely within your power. If they use that money to buy drugs that is no more your fault than it is God’s fault for giving you free will that you use to commit abominable sins. Furthermore, I have heard even my relatives pronounce the word “beggars” like they are some kind of disgusting vermin. They are not. When we answer before Christ’s throne, we will answer a great deal more for how we have treated homeless beggars than we will for those in our family and our social circles. I personally view beggars as altars by which I may show small kindnesses to Christ.

A monastic living under a vow of poverty may be under a slightly different set of rules. Monastics are said to be “above alms,” and to a visitor of the same sex, the words “Is not a word better than a gift?” apply, the point being that you can meet the dues of hospitality even if there is nothing you could give even if you wanted. But the core principle is this unchanged: beggars, like everyone else, are made in the image of God, and the point of becoming a Christian is neither more nor less to become by grace what Christ is by nature. None of us is divine “without any help,” so to speak, and the Hindu “Namaste” meaning “I recognize that the innermost part of you is a drop of God,” which I have only heard from New Agers (Hindus have treated me with respect enough but they usually greet me with “Hi,” “Hello,” “Good morning,” etc.) is not in the literal sense Orthodox. Christ and Christ alone among mankind is divine by nature. However, Christ’s action is to make men divine by grace, and ultimately rise above the wall which separates God and Creation. And in that sense, while Orthodox Christianity does not have a great collection of avatars who are all divine by nature, it does have a great collection of saints who are genuinely and properly divine by grace. Even among the rest of us, what is most at our core may not be directly and properly a drop of God himself, but it is to be created in the divine image: to be human is to be a symbol of God in an extraordinarily profound sense, a symbol that both represents and embodies, so that every act of kindness or cruelty rendered to our neighbor is by that fact kindness or cruelty rendered to Christ. My response to my teacher about “Why only one avatar?” and the teacher clarifying that he meant only real avatars, was more than technically correct on my part. “Divine by grace” is real. It is perhaps not, in terms of origins, something that came to be with “divine by nature” built in, but that is not the point. Heaven will be filled by people who were and will be even more “partakers of the divine nature”, genuinely and really divine by means of grace, and this is what we were created for in the first place. We were created to come to a place where the very distinction between Uncreated and created is transcended.

Monasticism as supreme privilege within the Orthodox Church

As I wrote on a social network:

There is a saying that virtue is its own reward, epigrammatic enough that Spaceman Spiff / Calvin wants to teach horrid aliens that virtue is its own reward.

Both physically and spiritually, virtue really is its own reward. Though athletes might train for competitions, the advantages of physical health are not mainly looking better in a swimsuit, but having your body function as it was meant to function and your mind clearer as well. For another example, a recovering alcoholic who has been years sober, or perhaps with slips treated as a real problems and stopped as real problems, the main advantage is not removing the expense of heavy alcohol purchases, nor improved nutrition as alcohol is a genuine nutrient that in large quantities can displace alcoholics’ intake of more balanced nutrition, nor the annoyance of other people constantly getting on their case for drinking too much. The chief reward for being years sober is that you have abandoned a suffering you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy: the reward for sobriety is sobriety, including feeling much, much, much better. (I opened with drunkenness in the homily A Pet Owner’s Rules.)

But without contradiction to virtue being its own reward, virtue is also the reward of repentance. The Philokalia says that people hold on to sin because they think it adorns them. My understanding is that Evangelicals have said that repentance is an unconditional surrender, and it is. My godfather talked about it as the most terrifying experience at all. God demands an unconditional surrender of us, not for his sake, but for ours. Once we surrender we realize, “I was holding on to a piece of Hell!” The primary Orthodox metaphor for repentance is awakening, and I’ve been happiest when I’ve repented of something I’ve been in the grips of. In one sense I’m at my happiest when I am writing something new. (And in that sense, I wrote, Repentance, Heaven’s Best-Kept Secret“)

One last point. The terms of monasticism are the terms of the highest privilege the Orthodox Church has to offer. I also expect that it will cut certain sins much shorter, but there is more than a resource I really think I would wiser not decline. Monasticism is spoken of as repentance, and while it is desirable to have tears and the joyful sorrow of compunction, entering monasticism to repent of your sins ideally bears Heaven’s best-kept secret. If you repent, however great the sorrow it straightens out your heart, and commonly straightens out the body somewhere along the line. Monks (actually, all of us) are forbidden ambition to seek any ordination, but seeking to become a bishop, besides being a temptation, is a confused way to drop the real treasure in a perturbed haste to grab a consolation prize. God’s blessing may be on ordained monks who just want to be monks, such as abbots and bishops, but the highest position of privilege is not that of the highest bishop. It is that of a mere monastic whose sights are set much higher than mere ecclesiastical office. And on that note I wrote A Comparison Between the Mere Monk and the Highest Bishop.

I am not seeking misery. I am seeking great privilege, much greater privilege than my educations.

Monasticism as “a complete set of working instructions

The Blue Zones, coming out of a study of where people live the longest, identifies certain hotspots of the map researchers originally marked in blue. There are, according to the Wikipedia entry, nine common themes:

  1. Moderate, regular physical activity.
  2. Life purpose.
  3. Stress reduction.
  4. Moderate calories intake.
  5. Plant-based diet.
  6. Moderate alcohol intake, especially wine.
  7. Engagement in spirituality or religion.
  8. Engagement in family life.
  9. Engagement in social life.

On Mount Athos, the place I hope to go, and God willing repent of my sins into great old age, every single one of these things is present. (I do not know if Athos is an unstudied hotspot; Athos is a bit hard to reach even for Orthodox, and possibly it is a curiosity that was unknown.) Now there is not the usual sense of engagement with family life, but a healthy Orthodox parish, let alone monastery, is in a deep sense family and “family” is not simply one metaphor among others. The fact that there are probably fathers and sons, or brothers, or uncles and nephews, on the holy mountain is beside the point. However, I would like to drill down on the least “spiritual” of them all.

In a monastery (see a video of Holy Cross Hermitage that gives monasticism a concrete face), there is prayer in liturgy and prayer in near-constant work, with no divide between sacred and secular. People, or at least young monks, are kept occupied, but this is primarily for their needs rather than the monastery and there are stories of ancient monks who would rather make an enormous pile of baskets every year and burn them than be idle. Like in the blue zones, large amounts of time are spent in moderate activity. And one of the the things I realized is that “fitness nut” level exercise, with one qualification mentioned below, is really a consolation prize compared to always being engaged in obedience. It’s a bit like saying, “Well, I don’t have leisure in my schedule for a glass of wine with my dinner, so once a week I’ll have 100 grams of Everclear.” The analogy may break down in that alcohol is hardly a need, but the point stands that sipping one glass of wine with dinner is for most of us good, while blasting a throat-parching payload of 100 grams of absolute alcohol all at once is for most of us dubiously helpful.

The one exception I will mention is that there are cases where people push farther, but in the long term moderate exercise is better than world-class exercise. Remember the former ballerina I mentioned? She wasn’t especially old. Top-notch ballerinas don’t retire because audiences don’t like wrinkles; top-notch ballerinas retire because you can only put that heavy a load on your body for so many years, and the number of years is short compared to normal aging. The usual lifespan is short among an African people that run around eighty miles a day hunting deer by running after it until it collapses from exhaustion; these people don’t die old. And I remember one bodybuilder at my high school who looked quite impressive asking if it was healthy to lift weights, and the presentation giver, perhaps insensitively, said that an extra pound of muscle was just as hard on the heart as an extra pound of fat: it may be striking to have incredibly thickly muscled arms and legs, but there’s more than an unofficial consensus among women that ridiculously huge muscles are ugly. The human body as a whole is not at its health when those are its proportions. The human body can be pushed to marathons or triathlons, but there are long-term problems that you don’t get from hours a day of moderate activity. There are many excesses above near-constant moderate activity that can be sustained at least for a time, but the moderate version is optimal.

And there is a further point I would like to mention, which is simply that the Fathers are very clear that when you are doing an obedience, nine tenths of your attention should be on cultivating and maintaining your inner state, and only one tenth on the physical act. This point was underscored with infinite gentleness when I visited one monastery and the Archimandrite stated that he was assigning obediences for the day and asked if anybody wanted to request anything. I asked him for something with vigorous exercise. He assigned me to work with a monastic aspirant on firewood; what this meant practically was that he and I would work together to gather trees that had been cut up with chainsaws but not further dealt with, and load them into the back of a truck and then unload them at the woodpile. The exercise was delightfully invigorating, and I was able to relieve a partner who was exhausted after being asked to move bigger and bigger and bigger wood; on my end, there were moments where I knew that my weight plus the wood block’s weight amounted to well over three hundred pounds, and it was pushing my feet into the ground hard enough that I worried my workboots might come off when I lifted my feet and pulled them out of the mud they were sunk in. But vigorous as that may have been, there was a significant problem: I wasn’t really praying that much. When I mentioned this, the abbot expressed deep gratitude for my work, and apologized for his shortcoming with me, saying he had not served me adequately in what he had asked me to do. The apology was, with infinite politeness and gentleness, correcting me for a basic beginner’s mistake: doing an obedience without sufficient prayer, and the next obedience he assigned me was something else that was manual labor but not nearly as much force. While the work he assigned was useful to the monastery and would help keep them warm at winter, he was far more concerned about whether the obedience was a practical help to my prayer than what external work I accomplished. And the practice of assigning obediences to visitors is not primarily a message of, “You are staying with us and we would like you to pull at least some of your weight,” even if that may also be true, but “We invite you to join us by praying with us in the temple as we sing our prayers, and we would also like to invite you to join us to pray as you engage in prayerful work with us outside the temple.” And the work is not secular; it is sacred even if it could be performed in a secular way.

Let’s look at the three classic vows.

Obedience

I’m a bit of an outsider looking in as far as monastic obedience goes, but I would prefer that my writing, at least in theology, were something I was working with and receiving a blessing, including periodically being expected to submit.

One sliver of a window came from a remark I needed to explain (as well as translate) to my parents. We were at a Mexican family-run restaurant, and as we were almost heading out the door, I said something that positively lit up the restaurant staff. I said, “La comida esta hecha con amor,” possibly making some minor language error; the phrase literally translated was “The food is made with love.” Which needed some explanation about why I would say that and why the staff would light up. There is a belief in Mexican culture that food made with love is delicious, while on the opposite end food made in anger and upset will taste terrible and possibly cause indigestion or other nastiness.

That belief is properly part of Mexican culture, but it is of much earlier vintage. One tidbit from monastic literature has a king or someone from a king’s court asking an abbot why food at the monastery, which was made from the simplest ingredients, tasted so good, while food at the royal court made with the best ingredients available tasted worse. The abbot said that food at the court could easily be made amidst conflict and anger, while at the monastery everything was done after receiving a blessing; under normal circumstances “obedience” includes monks seeking the abbot’s blessing for essentially any action. But this is more than asking permission, or at least more than receiving permission. If an abbot gives a monk a blessing to do something, the monk has not just gotten an OK to move ahead. The abbot has declared the blessing of God, and one result of obedience and submission that asks blessings is that what you do has many more blessings pronounced on it than most non-monastics ever see.

People who are above my pay grade, who know obedience from within, speak of obedience as utter freedom. I’m not in a place to confirm that firsthand, but I believe I’ve identified an obedience-shaped void in my life. In writing related to theology, what I have to say is tapering down, but even more than that I want to write in an asymmetrical collaboration of obedience where I am writing under a blessing if I write, and not writing but asking a blessing upon my person if I am not giving a blessing to write. Furthermore, and more poignantly, I’ve been pretty wrong at certain things, and dangerously wrong at that. Part of monasticism that is most repellent to outsiders is that you don’t just confess your sins, but you make a daily confession of all your thoughts to your abbot. I want that. I want to be in a situation where I may still be wrong, perhaps very wrong, but the “wrong” is stopped quickly by an abbot who may see red flags much sooner than I do. And I see monasticism as a sort of ultimate privilege in terms of cleaning house spiritually.

There was one class I remember the professor voicing an existentialist sentiment: “Total liberty is the very worst of prisons.” On a not entirely unrelated note, Aristotle said, “He who teaches himself has a fool for a master.” Political freedoms may be valuable, but they are nothing compared to freedom from one’s sin and one’s passions. The words “May you have all of the wealth in the world and the health with which to spend it” sound pleasant to begin with but they are pure and simple a curse. Being spiritually in such a state is worse than a physical lack of health, and Orthodoxy tries to develop each person as is best for that specific person. It also, like the lighter-grade analog to older spiritual work found in today’s non-directive counseling, stipulates that the spiritual healer is to have no interest or personal benefit in directing a disciple. Binding myself to discipleship is placing myself in the care of a spiritual father whose job description is to help me grow into the greatest freedom there is. And right now I do not know what true freedom is. I am the prisoner and slave of my sins and passions, and a good spiritual father has the keys to unlock that prison. I do not expect every freedom that is available from an abbot. I only expect the one freedom that matters.

Chastity

The chief benefit of celibacy is enumerated by St. Paul. He gives no decisive commandment, but clearly outlines a spiritual advantage to chastity. The married person needs to have a divided attention split between God and spouse. The celibate person is free to have 100% devotion to God.

I might comment briefly that there are three options that can be acceptable, even if it is possible to fail spiritually in all three. The first is marriage, something that is expected of most of the faithful. The second is monasticism, which essentially offers a full complement of spiritual resources meant to entirely maximize the kind of goodness that can stem from celibacy. The third is celibacy outside of monasticism, which is less than ideal but can be appropriate (especially under a theology of failure). I’ve been in the third option and am presently wishing I had joined monasticism ages ago. But I cannot change the past; I can only influence the present and the future, aiming for monasticism and accepting a possibility of failure.

A few details about sexuality:

While I was researching the the holy kiss, I was assigned, among other texts, to read Foucault’s history of sexuality. That’s one reading recommendation I should have dropped faster than a hot potato. The text may not be in any sense sexy, but it does porn-style spiritual damage well enough. However, I wish to pull one minor point and one major point.

The minor point is that understanding another age’s sexuality is an Alice in Wonderland matter. Meaning that before study you don’t understand another world’s sexuality and you are wrong about assumptions you don’t even have.

In the Greek world, appealed to by those who wish to “re-queer” society, the completion of training might well be a consummation between teacher and pupil. We have dirty jokes about “Confucius say secretary not part of furniture until screwed on desk,” but they are “just” dirty jokes, not automatic expectations for practical action. The usual pagan paterfamilias would rape all slaves (male or female didn’t matter much) as an assertion of absolute authority over slaves.

And having said this much, I would like to put one particular point pulled from those dreary books: one pagan philosopher was asked, “How often should I have sex?” and answered, “As often as you wish to deplete your energy.” This is not an absolute interdiction, nor does it suggest Christian ideas of marriage between a man and a woman, but it provides a profound glimpse into a monasticism in which, on the Holy Mountain, there are no women, nor youths who may look too much like a woman’s beauty, and in monasticism there is an exhortation, almost a leitmotif, of “Refrain from embraces.”

Sexuality does not become unimportant in monasticism. It becomes an infinitely sharper peak, and it is transformed to unending desire for God.

Poverty

Years before I joined the Orthodox Church, there was a Sunday school type class, and I walked in really wincing, expecting a secular investment lesson and knowing that the parishioner who would be giving it was a lawyer. To my astonishment the substance of his lesson, illustrated and underscored with stories from his professional experience, was to say that the book of Proverbs hit the nail on the head in everything it said about wealth. The one sentence I remember from that class was, “Endowments aren’t so great.” He asked what it meant to be “independently wealthy,” and clarified that what that really meant was “independent from God”, and state that seeking God’s providence was far better than chasing after more and more wealth.

In my own time I have become more and more skeptical about how much wealth and property give us. My work The Luddite’s Guide to Technology, which I’m a bit disappointed hasn’t received more attention, has as its premise that individual technologies have both upsides and downsides and that the people selling technologies are a whole lot quicker to sell you on the upsides than on downsides that may be terrible but are often not obvious.

Monasticism is in many ways simply living the Gospel, and the Gospel says, “Do not store up treasures on earth.” Monastics take this as straightforward guidance for optimal living. In addition, though I do not know all of what factors into this conclusion, those above my pay grade spiritually seem as quickly to identify monastic poverty with freedom as they are to identify monastic obedience with freedom.

My mother told a story of a friend visiting one of her friends in Puerto Rico. The visitor looked around and said, “You don’t have any food in your pantry.” The hostess said, “No, I don’t, but I will. And why would I need something now? I wouldn’t need God.”

This may be sharper than monastic communities which look after monastics’ needs, but to my knowledge the monastic embrace of poverty is an embrace of God that seeks everything needed from his providence, rather than make an ersatz providence by providing for oneself financially.

I’ll take an educated guess that some monastics view their poverty as having gotten rid of a great many things to worry about. Almost, if vulgarly, as a man saying, “I lost 235 pounds in one weekend!”

A note on historical background

To put something baldly, I believe that the iconoclasm of the Reformation was significantly less guilty than the iconoclasm that was rejected by the Seventh Ecumenical Council.

I remember one time going through Spink’s Catalogue of British Coins, and watching in horror as the Western understanding of symbol disintegrated across the centuries before my eyes. Originally there were simple figures on coins, but nothing seriously attempting photorealism. Then there was a frenzy of detail that created a “gold penny” (the word “penny” does not automatically mean minimal economic value in the world of those who study coins), and then things settled to such more restrained portraits as adorn coins today.

I saw the same horror and the same story as I visited the Cloisters, New York City’s medieval art museum built from bits of monasteries from Europe, and saw the same disintegration across the centuries from icon proper to stronger and stronger (or, if you prefer, stranger and stranger) attempts to be three dimensional until paintings started to morph into being half-statue. All of this was in late medieval Europe, and the situation was what an Evangelical might call “bankrupt” or “spiritually dead.” Some of this I trace in more detail in Lesser Icons: Reflections on Faith, Icons, and Art.

The icons rejected by iconoclasts in the Byzantine Empire at the time were those of full-blooded Orthodox usage, and iconoclasts then were guilty of rejecting the full force of something good. The icons rejected by iconoclasts in the Reformation were “icons” that had been depleted and dead for hundreds of years. If a Reformation iconoclast were to look at the icons around and say, “All those icons should be burned!” one Orthodox response might almost be, “Ok if I bring matches and kindling?”

Something of the same played out in a disintegration of monasticism into proto-University. The Universities we know were started by monks, if later taken over by Renaissance men; monasteries in the West were great centres of learning. Some people have said that after the Great Schism the West got the head and the East got the heart; I have heard an Orthodox parish priest (incidentally, a parish priest with a doctorate) say, “The longest journey we will take is the journey from our head to our heart.” His point is not uniquely monastic, but Orthodox monasticism is very directly intended to help those of us who are too much in our heads to reach our hearts.

The difference between Eastern and Western monasticism came to a head in the dispute between St. Gregory Palamas and the Renaissance man Barlaam. The conclusion reached by the Church, even without an ecumenical council, was that St. Gregory was defending Orthodoxy in what he held, and Barlaam was importing a heresy. I do not claim that Barlaam spoke for the entire Western fashion, nor do I deny the near-certain presence continuities between Western monastic practice and Eastern hesychastic prayer. However, I do assert that Barlaam represented something that was in the mainstream range of Western monasticism and broader trends.

What did Barlaam teach, some readers may want to know. In a nutshell, it was the Renaissance ideal. The answer I would give is, “Something like the liberal arts ideal today,” the cultured liberal arts ideal in so many Christian-founded colleges whose apostasy from any sense of Christianity is documented in The Dying of the Light, in a pattern that sheds unflattering light on how effective it is to found a Christian university. Barlaam taught, like a good Renaissance man, that the noblest exercise of human dignity was to reason and philosophize about God. St. Gregory taught that the noblest exercise of human dignity was to behold the uncreated Light of God and directly experience God. Barlaam wanted monastics to be educated and cultured. St. Gregory wanted monks to prayerfully contemplate inner stillness; Barlaam gave the pejorative term “navel-gazing” for one specific way some people have taught stillness. St. Gregory wanted monasticism to remain what it had always been; Barlaam wanted monasticism to adapt to features of what was then in vogue in the broader European cultures.

One interstitial note as I have at least hinted at Orthodox wariness towards the Blessed Augustine: he is essentially a Church Father as an Evangelical who would conceive of a Church Father. He reasons philosophically about God, and constantly references Scripture. Evangelicals may object to the Renaissance, but the Renaissance and Reformation are tangled with each other more than one might, and Barlaam’s approach is not irrelevant to Evangelicalism. The Blessed Augustine is an astute philosopher and his analysis has layers of depth, but he doesn’t have St. Gregory’s strengths. That stated, there are also Church Fathers as a Church Father would conceive of a Church Father. St. Maximos Confessor readily comes to mind, although he’s not the easiest author to cut your teeth on. St. John Chrysostom wrote dozens of volumes, too many for most people to really read, but he is an eminently clear communicator.

At this point I am ready to make some comments about Martin Luther that wouldn’t have made much sense earlier. Martin Luther took a vow of celibacy and then had the most prodigious exploits of a man who cannot keep his willy where it belongs. Alongside Reformers destroying icons were Reformers “liberating” monastics, many of whom served Luther’s pleasures. (It has been said that Luther’s doctrine of the “bondage of the will” is not something you get by reading the Bible, but a theological rationalization that absolved Luther of guilt for his exploits.) This much is not in dispute historically; it’s just something his Protestant successors are not eager to divulge. (A study of Luther’s incontinence provides the concluding chapter for Degenerate Moderns.)

The Reformers attacked what remained of holy icons, and what remained of holy monasticism. We don’t quite have 100% conformity here, as there have been (and are) Anglican monastics, the famous Taizé monastery in France, and perhaps others, but there have also been Mennonites who want to have icons. There remain pockets in Protestantism of almost everything the Reformers ever attacked. None the less, monasticism was a healthy bedrock in the east, then started to become shifting sand in the West, and then for entirely understandable reasons, as understandable as initial Protestant iconoclasm, the Reformers saw monasticism as simply not helpful.

My point in mentioning this offensive point is to say that certain things in Orthodoxy are not something that Protestants have weighed in the balance and found wanting but something not encountered in the first place, and furthermore that the oddities of a Roman Church after half a millennium’s separation from Eastern Orthodoxy in fact do not speak for Orthodoxy, no matter how strong the subtle temptation fill in understanding of bottom-up Orthodoxy with top-down Roman assumptions. Monasticism in the Orthodox Church is an Alice in Wonderland matter for Protestants.

Repentance

I wrote, Repentance, Heaven’s Best-Kept Secret, and I almost wish I hadn’t.

Repentance, Heaven’s Best-Kept Secret argues that repentance is often a gateway to a completely unexpected and unsought joy.

However true that may be, the real reward for repentance is not a pleasant mood. The real reward, and the reward one should seek most of all, is then untangling and straightening out of one’s tangled and sinful soul, and being in a better condition spiritually.

(And by the way, there is nothing mercenary whatsoever about repentance out of the hope of being in a better condition spiritually, and gaining more virtue and being cleansed of more sin. Those are right and proper things one should be seeking as rewards for repentance.)

Repentance is foundational to monasticism, enough so that monasticism is spoken of as repentance. In my partially informed opinion, there may be a case to be made that repentance is more basic or essential to monasticism than even the vows of poverty, obedience, and chastity; and that poverty, obedience, and chastity provide a structure or shelter in which the real work of repentance can grow.

And repentance, and live spiritual life after awakenings of repentance, may be the core reality of why monasticism is the supreme condition of privilege within the Orthodox Church. It is a strong medicine for spiritual health, and I believe it may eclipse even poverty, obedience, and chastity, however cardinally important each one may be.

A Utopia that works

I remember one class, years back, where the professor summarized a Utopian ideal that called for (among other things) turning the oceans to sweet lemonade as “a Utopia of spoiled children.” And there seem to be a lot of Utopian visions that end up as Utopias of spoiled children.

I’m not current on Utopian visions from feminists (or, if you would rather put it this way, every feminist author and more that I have read in my studies offers some highly unstable Utopian vision), but Utopian visions by men, without such a restraining hand, call for men to have free and easy access to essentially as many women as they wanted. Not, perhaps, that this is a new feature to the Western form of life of Utopian visions; many pre-Christian giants were polygamists and the Solomon who asked for wisdom and left us three books of the Bible lost his salvation after his prolific efforts in this field. I’ve read, if only in summary form, of a text suggesting that men are capable of great extraneity, summarized some of the people and objects men have used for sexual pleasure, and concludes that a man who reaches a successful marriage does so by a great deal of restraint and discipline, and not by simply laying the reins of male desire on the horse’s neck. And even more offensively, the text suggests that gay men are largely capable of straight marriage, have often tasted heterosexual pleasure, and suggests that the level of discipline for a gay man to have a successful marriage to a woman is really not by leaps and bounds greater than the discipline required of a straight man. (If I recall correctly, the author was not straight. He just chose not to be ruled by base desire.)

Stranger in a Strange Land‘s Utopian vision has a fatherly Jubal and a main hero male readers should identify with who is some sort of superman with a harem of four (or more) women who all worship him and never seem to make real demands or have real needs. (The living situation reminds of one book, by a counselor a good deal to the left of me, who said that as a counselor in California he has seen people in every living situation you could think of and probably some you couldn’t think, and the more he has seen other living situations work out in practice, the more he thinks God’s rules are meant to help us and not to harm us.) And the grounds of Heinlein’s Utopian living situation places his Utopia as a Utopia of spoiled children where boys do not grow into proper men. I would suggest that the Orthodox concept of marriage is fundamentally more interesting. It calls for something the hero never reaches, at least not before provoking martyrdom. It calls for men (and women) to grow up and act as adults. It calls for self-transcendence

The tale of Saints Peter and Fevronia mentioned earlier has one brief segment where Saints Peter and Fevronia are sailing on a boat, and the man handling the boat starts looking at Saint Fevronia and having ideas. Saint Fevronia tells him to take a bowl and dip it in the water by one side of the boat, and taste the water, and then dip it in the water on the other side and taste it. She asks him if the water tastes the same or different as drawn from the two sides. He says that they both taste the same. She says then, “So it is with women,” and asks why he is thinking of her when he has a wife who is just as much a woman. St. John Chrysostom, in decrying a theatre that was largely that day’s version of internet porn, or at least awfully uncensored, constantly spoke of theatre that insulted the shared nature of women. There is a tremendous good that is possible in a man being married to one and only one wife. Is there really more good to obtained from more women? Or do you wish to go to the gas station and spill ten or fifteen gallons of gas on the ground because you keep on pumping twice as much gas as your tank will hold?

Monasticism offers a Utopia for mature adults. Stranger in a Strange land lays the reins on the horse’s neck. Monasticism reins things in further and offers a path that is even more a challenge to grow to adulthood. Not that it is a denial of sexual desire; no monastic literature I’ve read assumes monastics are sexless (most seem to assume monks have plenty of hormones to cope with), and the choice made is to provide a supportive environment to restrain sexual desire and then lead sexual passions, among others, to ultimately be transfigured if it is a successful monastic vocation.

Utopias seem to not work out much as perpetual motion machines do not keep working. Perpetual motion machines are attempted out of confusion about basic physical realities, and Utopias are attempted out of confusion about basic spiritual realities. But monasticism is that odd gem of a Utopia that works.

Becoming a true member of this Utopia, if I succeed, will probably be the hardest thing I ever do, but it is the best choice I can make.

(Want to support me financially?)

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Dastardly Duo Considered Harmful: “Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives” and “Wounded By Love”

A couple of years ago, perhaps, I heard that the pairing of Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives: The Life and Teachings of Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica and Wounded By Love: The Life and Wisdom of Saint Porphyrios were blasting through the ranks, and the last endorsement I heard for Wounded by Love was earlier the month this article was posted.

Both are associated with precious Elders, and neither is appropriate for most Orthodox to read. Let me explain some of why:

Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives:
It’s an occult book!

I’m not really sure how to explain this. Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives is simply the most occultic book I have read from any canonical author. It never advocates any kind of cursing, but with the terrain it covers, it describes just how someone could kill another in a motorcycle accident by a thought, or three examples of how a subconscious curse of envy could shatter another person’s beautiful objet d’art.

The book and its message are extremely subtle, but that is not a good thing. The snake, we read in Genesis, was extremely subtle. Speaking as the author of The Sign of the Grail, I have read Arthurian legends at length, and Merlin is asked to exercise “subtlety,” with meaning including but not limited to magic powers, but only one version I’ve read (T.H. White’s The Once and Future King) gives any sense of how one might go about achieving the kinds of effects you covet from the never-neverland of the Arthurian literary tradition that flourished in the Middle Ages and remains a name people have heard of.

This book offers an occult dimension that I have failed to see in reading half of the collected works of the Ante-Nicene Fathers and Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. One work whose title I forget discusses sorcerors as charlatan illusionists and then gives the equivalent of how explaining how a modern magic trick works. But even then, I have no Orthodox work which so sensitizes the reader to how one may lay a potent curse.

If we look for parallels Western Christianity, I recall a fantasy-novel-loving friend who read mainstream fantasy at length, but put down a Charles Williams novel because of how much more occultic it was than anything in the fantasy literature she was drawn to. (Charles Williams was a member of the Inklings but tried hard to be a Christian without decisively severing ties to the occult and Rosicrucianism.) I’ve read three of Charles Williams’ novels (that’s about three too many on my part). Those three novels show the closest parallel I am aware of to the subtle and occultic character of Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives.

This is not to say that the book is 100% false. Precious few of even the worst books are 100% false, and cultivating inner calm in chaotic circumstances with eyes fixed on God and the Light is a very valuable lesson, but there are better and less occult Orthodox treatments of the matter.

One example of a cleaner source for peaceful thoughts is Fr. Thomas Hopko’s 55 maxims, of which #52 is, “Focus exclusively on God and light, not on sin and darkness.” A slightly longer form is available in an Ancient Faith Radio podcast on Fr. Thomas Hopko’s 55 maxims:

“Focus exclusively on God and light. Never focus on darkness, temptation, and sin. That’s classic teaching. Fill yourself with good things. Don’t be mesmerized by dark things. Don’t meditate on evil things. Meditate on good things, and God will take care of the rest.”

Wounded by “Wounded by Love:”
Monastic TMI!

There is such a thing as Too Much Information (TMI). Perhaps the most common way of violating a listener’s boundaries with TMI is to provide excessively visceral details, and Wounded by Love does not vividly describe carnal temptations or the like, even though we may assume that someone who grew up as an incredibly strong and rugged mountain man presumably faced certain temptations common to men with a decent amount of testosterone.

But that is not the only form of TMI. There is a rather strong rule, violated especially at the end of this title, that monastics do not share their esoteric experiences with laity, period, and even in the book the elders advise the future monastic elder not to speak of at least some spiritual experiences and charisms strictly to them: the demons might hear. But he, or rather the sisters whom he oversaw, placed things in public sight that should never have been leaked outside monastic circles. As I wrote to my spiritual father:

The latter divulges esoteric monastic experiences in ability including an Abbot traveling spiritually without having left his monastery physically for decades, and a kind of limited omniscience where the protagonist could see through anything (late in life and physically blind, he did perhaps chastely the work of a water witch, although it might be better to suggest that the latter is demonic parody of a legitimate aspect of charism).

Christ told people to do their good works in secret, and this applies much more forcefully to monastic spiritual experiences. Monastics normally view the parading of their intimate experience before the public eye to be a great misfortune, and I believe the rule is much more intended for the benefit of laity than for monastics themselves. It is a rule of mystagogy that you do not mock people with realities they are not ready to cope with, and one minor application is the advice that if you know the truth, and you know that another person will reject the truth if told, you do not tell the other person that truth. It’s better for the other person before Christ’s Judgment Throne not to have rejected the truth, and it is better for you not to have pushed the other person into that position. And that is really just the least, most diluted shade of mystagogy as it can and should in Orthodoxy. Molesting the reader with monastic TMI is simply not needed.

Beware of all fashions

Peter Kreeft, one amiably writing Roman apologist, discussed at some point differences between ancient and modern concepts of authorship. The modern concept, especially if we forget the hard work of editors who try to make authors look better in print, tends to say, “If it has your name on it, you are responsible for 100% of its content,” where the ancient conception can admit many hands and classic books are more the work of a school of people sharing the same sympathies than one individual. What is interesting is the remark that follows: Kreeft does not state that the ancient fashion is better, or for that the matter that the modern fashion is better, but advises us to beware of all fashions.

The spiritually questionable character of Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives and Wounded by Love is not really a feature of Orthodoxy; it is a feature of fashion. It applies to the two books that were fashionable five years ago, and it applies to the one or more ebooks that will be fashionable five years in the future. Fashions really exist in Orthodoxy as much as NPR, and they are no more helpful. But this is not any reason to throw up our hands in despair.

One thing I explained to a newly illumined Orthodox about reading recommendations, as another person explained to me when I was myself newly illumined, is that I should have a relationship with a priest who could provide helpful books to read. If you are a bookworm, part of your spiritual father or parish priest’s job description is to recommend good books. And indeed a priest who knows you personally and hears your needs in your confessions may be the best person in the world to give you something better than you could know to ask for. (Now it is entirely possible for a parish priest to recommend an obvious dud, but that is much less serious of a problem than any problem that is seductive in character.) However much parish priests may be wrong about the helpfulness of the occasional dud, they are usually familiar with many books and human spiritual needs, and they are significantly more often right than the rumor mill is.

A dark memorial, and a warning sign

I would suggest that these two books by Orthodox elders be remembered.

There are many strands within Judaism, but 6,000,000 is the first number a Jewish child hears, and the sense is not just, “This happened in the past,” but “This could happen again.” And recent events do nothing to prove this to be groundless paranoia or confusion between what is past and what is future. Dietrich Bonhoeffer watched one professor he admired after another rally behind the swastika. (On a much lesser scale, I’ve watched one theology professor after another sign a petition, older than a certain rainbow-colored Supreme Court judicial legislation, demanding that organizations extend any benefit extended to married couples to same-sex couples even if their religious tradition and conscience simply reject such vindication of others’ inimical demands.) In my mind the question is not why so many theology professors Bonhoeffer admired stood behind the Nazi flag; it is why that one person, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, bucked an overwhelming consensus. Something similar is akin to my puzzlement, not about how innumerable Protestant efforts to reconstruct the ancient Church went awry, but how the one such effort I know well, the Evangelical Orthodox Church which entered canonical Orthodoxy and provided one of my dear past parish priests, got it right.

The Orthodox Church remembers the bloodshed of its members across the centuries, many of whom are commemorated in the saints’ lives, but the Eastern Orthodox Church’s “This could happen again” is not about bloodshed. “This could happen again” is about heresies. One Subdeacon, a little bit lightly, said, “Arius gets it worse in the Liturgy than Judas,” and founders of subsequent heresies such as Nestorius are said to be “taught by Arius.” Arius was not the first heretic by any means, and St. Irenaeus’s long and dull Against Heresies predates Arius by over a century. However, there is reason to call Arius the father of heretics. The Orthodox Presbyterian Church was formed after some vein of Presbyterianism ordained someone who denied that Jesus was the Son of God, and Protestants I know from mailing lists have, without even needing to know post-Biblical Orthodox texts, that Arianism is not just one heresy among others; it is the one heresy that keeps on popping up, possibly comparably to gnosticism. And if the Jewish population is sharply aware that genocide has happened in the past and could happen again, this is not odd; what is odd to me historically is not that a genocide was started, but that a genocide was stopped. But the Orthodox consciousness is not as much of bloodshed, but of heresy and heterodoxy.

And all in this lie two little books that have swept Orthodoxy as a fad, both written by monastic elders. Perhaps they are not front and center as far as problems go. But they show much less about healthy Orthodoxy than healthy fads, and there is a warning about whatever next flourishes in the rumor mill.

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Rules of Engagement

Rules of Engagement, Operation Provide Relief (from Wikipedia)1: Focus exclusively on God and light, and never on darkness, temptation and sin. Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. A vacation, besides taking you somewhere exotic, puts good before your eyes: but you can do that here and now, without even needing anything exotic. Fix your gaze on what is most worthy of your attention.

2: Remember that nothing can injure the man who does not harm himselfSt. Job the Much-Suffering may have suffered terribly, but there was only one thing that could do him final harm: his own sin, and he would have been lost if he yielded to his wife’s temptation, “Curse God and die.” St. Job suffered terribly, and unlike us, the readers of his story, he is never told that he has served as God’s champion. However, everything the Devil did added jewels to St. Job’s royal and Heavenly crown.

3: Know that Satan is on a leash. People of the Lie, in many ways a perceptive book, argues that evil is terribly out of control, and that is understandable for a psychiatrist who faces full force a kind of evil in a profession where the very belief in a Devil is rare enough to be exotic. But God help us if that were the case; none could be saved if we were tempted as much as the devils want. The Philokalia talks about how, if we know what burdens a beast of burden can bear, God knows and cares all the more what we can bear. Everything that happens is either a blessing from God, or a temptation that has allowed for our strengthening; the concept of a temptation, rightly understood, encompasses both things that make sin look attractive, and trials and tribulations, or something where both contribute to a single nasty whole. In medieval theology that I haven’t been able to trace, Satan is called God’s jester, because his foolishness with us is something that God takes up in glory, and a glory that can work in us.

4: Expect not to understand. One author I remember said that Christ’s disciples were not so much sinful as thick-headed. I would be a bit careful about saying that, unless I say that I am thick-headed, too. God said through Isaiah, For my counsels are not as your counsels, nor are my ways as your ways, saith the Lord. But as the heaven is distant from the earth, so is my way distant from your ways, and your thoughts from my mind. One British preacher (this doesn’t work as well as with U.S. pronunciation) said that the name “Isaiah” is basically like saying, “Eyes higher!” And we are called to have our eyes higher, including in Isaiah, which has been called the Fifth Gospel and may be the most Messianic book the Old Testament offers.

To pick one example of what might be called thick-headedness for people who do not understand that “the prophet sees through a glass, darkly, while the archivist sees through a microscope, sharply,” we have in retrospect that Christ gave decisively clear predictions of his death and resurrection. However, St. Mary Magdalene came to Christ’s tomb for one and only one reason: to offer a last, singularly miserable service to a man dear to her, by embalming his body with aromatics. She was shocked at the empty tomb, and the only thing in her mind was disappointment that someone had seemingly stolen Christ’s body and was depriving her even of that last painful service she came to offer Christ. What had actually happened was utterly beyond her reckoning, but the Truth came to her: the grave was empty, defeated, with Christ resurrected beyond all earthly triumph. Much the same is true on the road to Emmaus, when Christ was quickening his disciples all along the way, and when their eyes were finally ready to be open to him, he vanished. Between the Resurrection and Ascension Christ was weaning his faithful to new ways of relating to him, ever beyond their initial reach. And even before then, he was trying to wean people off expectations of a political savior and an earthly king. He came to offer something fundamentally deeper than his disciples (or we) could look for.

I remember one couple who unhappily introduced their three-year-old boy as “an accident”, and complained about how hard it was to live their lives the way they wanted with him in the picture. I wanted to ask them, “Why must you look on the means of your deification as a curse?” Having children, whether we intend what God intends, is an opportunity for self-transcendence, where people who have transcended selfishness enough to love another are now given opportunity to transcend a selfishness of two. We may see a lot of other things that violate rights we think we have, and wonder where God is in all of this, but God is present all along; some have said that he is more visibly present in hard times than times of ease. Even if hard times shock us.

5. Love and respect others. “Blessed is the man who loves all men equally,” said St. Maximus Confessor. We are missing something if we say that some have given themselves to good deeds and some have given themselves to evil: all of us can make an eternal choice between Heaven and Hell because we are made in the image of God, and the most disfigured of us cannot completely exterminate the original beauty. All of us are constituted by the presence of God in the image. There is no shallow obligation to think the best of everyone, let alone whitewash sins. However, even when all sin is taken into account, we are members of the royal race. What sins a person may be rightly judged for are God’s concern, and God has not asked our help judging anyone. What divine image, and room for divine transformation, may exist in the vilest other are ours to respect and pray for.

Children who have been taught to respect adults may be more pleasant for adults to deal with, but the point of teaching children to respect adults really is not for the sake of adults, but for the sake of children to be able to benefit from adults. Ecclesiastical title and robes also don’t really exist for the wearer’s sake. Calling a priest ‘Father’ and the connected respect helps laity towards a position where they can benefit from clergy and their role.

6. Don’t wait on living until you have it all together. You probably never will. Abdicate from being in control of things. If there is a term for being in complete control of your life, it is probably “Hell” or “Gehenna”. The Sermon on the Mount speaks at length about being as the birds of the air or the grass of the field, and we, of the royal race, are of inestimably more value than plants and animals, venerable as they may be. There is only one Life: you’re in Him, or you’re not, and being in self-contained control over your life even if you can achieve it is not just dubiously achievable: it is dubiously desirable because you want to be independent of the one Life. The alternative is to dance the Great Dance, or as the Sermon on the Mount addresses our much more basic interests:

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, Take no thought 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 taking thought? You might as well try by taking thought to work 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, 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.

Christ speaks and assures us of our most basic material needs. There are other and more interesting needs, the need to grow in the divine Life and be freed from domination by our passions. But Christ here highlights things on a more basic level: not only does God wish to lead us in the Great Dance, but he also knows we need food and drink and offers practical care on his terms. The one petition out of the seven petitions in the Our Father, “Give us this day our daily bread”, is exaggeratedly modest, or seems such: “Hallowed be thy name” is an earth-shaking desire, as is “Forgive us our trespasses.” Asking for just enough providence for today is in fact more significant than asking, “Set providence for my whole life before me now.” The smallness of the request is like the Virgin’s womb: it is more spacious than the Heavens because it contained One that the Heavens of Heavens cannot contain.

7. Guard your heart. The Fathers talked about the importance of working, and monastics have worked to support their own needs, or even made baskets that were burned at the end of the year so that they would not be idle. In ancient times, the preferred handicraft for monastics was basketweaving; in modern times, apart from writing icons, one preferred handicraft for monastics is making incense. In both cases, it may be missing the point to say that it is menial work, and monastics humbled themselves to do menial work. Though I have tried my hand at neither craft, the simple repetitive motions involved appear to be deeply meditative, a project of choice to employ the hands while the heart is at prayer. Now monastics can and have chosen the worst that was available to them in their humility, but the constant basketweaving of the Fathers may have been a best known option to occupy the hands while drawing the heart further into prayer.

In any case, and not just for monastics, one tenth of what we do is external action, and nine tenths of the work is guarding a heart at prayer. Today’s respected forms of work like computer programming may present a bigger challenge to do prayerfully than tasks like janitorial work that are looked down on, but people in either line of work should make 9/10ths their effort to be at peace and at prayer, and 1/10th the external deliverable.

Furthermore, we should beware of all temptation, which starts as a spark and end, if not stopped, as a raging fire. Love keeps no record of wrongs, and remembrance of wrong is a self-torment; we make what was painful when we went through it to be present to us all again. In this case it may be helpful to silently pray the Jesus Prayer and attend to that rather than leave things to their course and re-attend painful memories.

8. Expect a road of pain and loss. Fr. Thomas said, “Have no expectations except to be fiercely tempted to your last breath.” Christ’s own comment cuts deeper into why: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.” There can and should be other things beyond temptation and loss; God is good, and it’s meaningless or awfully close to meaningless to say that because God is good any evil that could possibly happen to us is harmless. However, if we “Have no expectations except to be fiercely tempted to your last breath” and “Do the most difficult and painful things first,” and recognize that we have no rights, the very letters will begin to shimmer and change. If we recognize that we do not have rights, instead of seeing rights of ours that are violated we may begin to see graces extended to us that we have no right to expect. If we have no expectations except to be fiercely tempted to our last breath, we may recognize graces contrary to these expectations. The pain and the loss are real, and we may be shocked at times by what painful things God allows us. But the journey is purifying, and the God who prunes us does so that we may bear more fruit, and with it a fuller joy.

9. Observe Orthodox mystagogy, at least on one lesser point. There is such a thing as a book, or a teaching, that is above one’s present pay grade. Maybe it will be in reach later; it is not in reach now. There are classic books that open with exhortations to literary secrecy; far from an author today hoping to reach as broad an audience as possible, they say “Read this but keep it in secret from the many who would not profit from it.”

This is not the same point exactly, but there is a much lesser mystagogy than writing a book and asking that it be given a closed circulation. It is, as explained to me, if you know the truth, and you know that another person will reject the truth if you tell it, you hold your tongue instead of trying to argue the other person into accepting the truth. I’m not saying that we’re all really emotion and arguments do not persuade; arguments can persuade. This piece is in part argument, and it is legitimately meant to persuade by reasoning about the truth. But if you are dealing with a gay rights advocate or someone who is thoroughly convinced that Islam is a religion of peace, or whatever company may join them in the future, you do not try to argue them into a truth you know they will reject. When Judgment Day comes, it will better for the other person because they did not reject the truth. And it will also be better for you because you did not set them up for that sin. This is far from the full extent of Orthodox mystagogy; some people have advocated asking a priest or spiritual father to pick out books from them for a time, or said that they weren’t ready to read a book first but came back after they had grown spiritually and then found immense profit in the book. There is another thread of mystagogy in that monastics do not parade their mystical experiences for all the world or even all the faithful to see. Mystagogy is foundational to Orthodoxy even if it is pitifully observed now, but it still applies now in that you don’t try to use logical arguments to make people accept truths their hearts reject.

There is an alternative to compelling by arguing the truth: compelling by living the Truth. If we embrace a Truth who is ever so much more than right opinion, other people will pick up on it, the same as if we fully respect the image of God in another person, right or wrong. If we grow enough spiritually, people will sense something. Possibly this may create a teachable moment; possibly it won’t, but it will reach people’s hearts as a logical jackhammer cannot. St. Paul advises believing wives to win over unbelieving husbands without a word; but this is not an exception to an argumentative norm so much as an example that is almost supreme in character. The basic phenomenon reaches from one heart to another.

10. Read nourishing books in keeping with the Orthodox Church’s character as an oral tradition. There is a wealth of good books at the hands of the Orthodox Church; the collection of the Fathers over the centuries is like an encyclopedia in its length, and the Bible is indispensible. None the less, the Orthodox Church is at heart an oral tradition, and for most Orthodox Christians, being patristic is not achieved by quasi-academic reading of copious books, but by being in church where the priest mediates Tradition. There is oral tradition implied by the written tradition of the Philokalia, which is less properly a book than a library with different texts at different levels. It’s not meant to be read cover to cover, although that may also be permitted; it’s intended for a spiritual guide to pull selections for someone under guidance. And treat this text, too, as written property of oral tradition; use it (or not) as your priest or spiritual father guides you.

11. Banish two thoughts, and retain two thoughts. Abandon the thoughts, “I am a saint,” and “I will be damned.” Instead, think both “I am a great sinner,” and “God is merciful.” Repentance needs no despair; the worst of earthly sins are like a smouldering ember thrown into the ocean of God’s love.

12. In conjunction with your spiritual father, know your limits and don’t try to be perfect. If someone is harassing you, and both not responding and repeated requests to stop harassment are being answered with harassment, it’s time to involve social media or email authorities, or possibly the police, or just block someone on Facebook much earlier. It may be the case that some superspiritual saint could serenely shine through the worst of the harassment, but that is not the case for you and me. We aren’t there, at least not yet, and your priest or spiritual father may have very practical words about how mountains are moved here on earth.

Doxology

God the Game Changer

God the Spiritual Father

Technonomicon: Technology, Nature, ascesis

Communities of Mount Mathos Release Another Open Letter to Ecumenist Patriarch

Satire / Humor Warning:

As the author, I have been told I have a very subtle sense of humor.

This page is a work of satire, inspired by the likes of The Onion and early incarnations of The Onion Dome.

It is not real news.

Thessaloniki (DP). A monk from one of the communities explained a recent uproar:

During a recent voyage that crossed the U.S., the Ecumenist Patriarch was approached by a beggar, and asked one of the priests with him to “Give him some change.”

The importance of this request simply cannot be overstated. It might perhaps have been appropriate to say, “Give him 37 cents,” or “Give him nothing,” or even “Give him twenty (or a hundred) dollars,” costly as that may be. However, to say to give someone some money, without specifying the amount, is in no way consistent with best practices in accounting. And what is Orthodoxy, if not a training ground for the life of an accountant?

Our reporter said, “Yes, but aren’t there two principles of accounting? Isn’t there room for both strict precision that knows what you have down to the last cent, but also a much smaller area where it isn’t worth the bother to keep tabs. Doesn’t basic accounting have some degree of flexibility for both basic principles, even if the absolute precision bit is the deeper of the two?”

The monk coughed, and shifted his position slightly. “I planned fifteen minutes for this interview. I see that those fifteen minutes have already elapsed.”

Archdruid of Canterbury Visits Orthodox Patriarch

Devotees of Fr. Seraphim (Jones) demand his immediate canonization and full recognition as “Equal to the Heirophants”
Jobs for theologians

Pope makes historic ecumenical bid to woo Eastern Rite Catholics

Browse & search: Kindle & books

TL;DR

The flagship title from this website is unmistakably,
The Best of Jonathan’s Corner (paperback $25, Kindle $3).

A shorter introduction is available in A Small Taste of Jonathan’s Corner (paperback $7, Kindle $1). Some readers will also be interested in the King James Version-style Classic Orthodox Bible (hardcover $100, paperback $25, Kindle $7, on website free).

Anthologies & collections

Odds & ends, curiosities & creative works

CJS HaywardOrthodox books online and moreOrthodox Theology → Odds & ends, curiosities & creative works

Suggested starting points include The Angelic Letters, The Best Things in Life Are Free, The most politically incorrect sermon in history: A commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, and Technonomicon: Technology, Nature,ascesis.

The Angelic Letters (medium)

A collection of letters from a senior angel to guide a guardian angel watching over a man, as envisioned by an Orthodox Christian. Inspired by C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters.

Apprentice gods (short)
A look at this life as an apprenticeship of becoming gods and time as the womb of eternal life.

Apps and mobile websites for the Orthodox Christian smartphone and tablet: Best iPhone, iPad, Droid, Samsung, Android, Kindle, and Blackberry mobile websites and apps (short)
A look at the best that’s available for Orthodox Christian app seekers with iPhone and Android smartphones and tablets.

The Arena (short)

A work of mystical theology that looks at life as a great spiritual arena and training ground.

Athanasius: On Creative Fidelity (short)
Ever hear a broken record talking about how Orthodoxy has always been a matter of creative fidelity and never a matter of parrot-like repetition?

The Best Things in Life Are Free (short)

An exploration, connected with the chalice, of what it means that the best things in life are free.

The most politically incorrect sermon in history: A commentary on the Sermon on the Mount (medium)

A commentary on the Sermon on the Mount intended to unfold just how it appears to be the most politically incorrect sermon ever.

An Orthodox bookshelf (medium)
An Orthodox bookshelf covering The Orthodox* Study Bible, some of the Fathers, Neo-Platonism, and one or two works today.

“Physics” (short)

An Orthodox ‘Physics’, or study of the nature of things, designed to respond to Aristotle’s ‘Physics.’
Prayers (short)
A collection of short prayers for different occasions and purposes, offered to and for the Orthodox Church.

Public Portions of the Divine Liturgy, in Russian and in English
This is not something I’ve written (besides a preface), but something I put together from The Divine Lutirgy to help me understand the public parts of the Russian Liturgy. I offer it in the hope it may help others.

Refutatio omnium hæresium
The Refutation of All Heresies

The royal letters (short)
Three intimate letters from a father to a son about God, kings, and men.

Rules of Engagement
Rules of engagement for spiritual warfare that has always been waged, and is becoming more intense.
From Russia, With Love: A spiritual guide to surviving political and economic disaster (long)
The Russian Orthodox Church has a lot of experience living with hard times. This piece talks about not only survival lessons but the spiritual beauty that can come in political and economic difficulties.

St. John the Much-Suffering

As the text accompanying this beautiful icon begins, “St. John the Much-Suffering is a saint who fought industrial-strength sexual temptation for decades and WON in every sense of the term.”

Technonomicon: Technology, Nature, ascesis (medium)

We are entranced by technology, and yearn for harmony with nature. But there is more to life than getting technology or taking walks in the woods.

Twelve quotes on Orthodoxy, ecumenism, and Catholicism (short)
Twelve quotes to explain in particular why Orthodoxy seems to have such a cold response to Catholic ecumenical advances.

Hymns & poems

CJS HaywardOrthodox books online and moreOrthodox Theology → Hymns and poems

Suggested starting points include Doxology, A pilgrimage from NarniaSilence: Organic food for the soul, and Why This Waste?.

Akathist Hymn to St. Philaret the Merciful (medium)

An akathist hymn celebrating St. Philaret the Merciful of Asia Minor, who was generous and merciful when he had much, and remained no less generous and merciful when he had little or nothing.

The Book of Thanks (medium)

All of us have a great deal to be grateful for. This is one text that looks through thankfulness at the scandal of the particular. It is part of a collection, A Pilgrimage from Narnia, that does not exactly narrate the author’s journey into Orthodoxy, but shows pictures of things that have been seen along the way.

Death (short)

We may have hospitals to hide death from our eyes, but all of us are moving towards death, even if we are in denial as a society. But there is another way; love is stronger than death.

Doxology (short)

A poem to hymn the glory of God.

Glory (short)

We thirst for glory. There is only one way that thirst is rightly slaked.

How Shall I Tell an Alchemist? (short)

A musing prayer about how to open the eyes of an alchemist.

Hymn to the Creator of Heaven and Earth (medium)

A celebration of the resplendent beauty of the natural world.

Maximum Christ, Maximum Ambition, Maximum Repentance(medium)

A meditation on the Maximum Christ we approach and maximum repentance as the true realization of God’s maximum ambition for our lives.

Now (short)
A poem pouring forth mystical theology of eternity, time, and that precious moment we call ‘now’.

Open (short)
A poem about closed fists, open hands, and true joy.

Pilgrim (short)
A prayer and poem about pilgrimage on earth.

A pilgrimage from Narnia (short)

A poem about a pilgrimage that begins with C.S. Lewis’s Narnia and ever presses ‘further up and further in.’

Silence: Organic food for the soul (medium)

A meditation on spiritual discipline and silence as an organic diet for the soul reaching out to the whole person.

Why This Waste? (short)

A poem that opens when a woman opens a priceless jar of perfume and a thief asks a question that was deeper than he knew: “Why this waste?”

A Yoke That Is Easy and a Burden That Is Light (short)
A prayer.

Theology articles

CJS HaywardOrthodox books online and moreOrthodox Theology → Theology articles

Suggested starting points include Creation and Holy Orthodoxy: Fundamentalism Is Not Enough, Exotic golden ages and restoring harmony with nature: Anatomy of a passion, Money, A pet Owner’s rules, and“Religion and Science” Is Not Just Intelligent Design vs. Evolution.

Amazing Providence (short)
One thing I have learned as a Christian is what it means for God to look after you.
That Beautiful Strength (medium)
A look at the hideous strength of C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength, and the beautiful strength that is even stronger.
Can You Smoke Without Inhaling? Martial Arts and the Orthodox Christian(medium)
After ignoring an uneasy conscience, CJS Hayward tried to study a martial art on Orthodoxy-appropriate terms. Here is a retrospective that looks at the broader question of whether we can “smoke, but not inhale.”
A Comparison Between the Mere Monk and the Highest Bishop (short)
Monks are told to beware of the temptation to want something better by being an abbot or even a bishop.

This is a look at why seeking such things is penny wise and pound foolish.

Contemplation (short)
We were made to enjoy contemplation, in more than one sense.

Creation and Holy Orthodoxy: Fundamentalism Is Not Enough(short)

Years back, I wrote a couple of pieces about origins questions. This is a more recent piece that addresses a very specific point about bringing Protestant fundamentalism into Orthodoxy, and it moves away from origins questions towards a more important issue.

You might also read the companion piece, Note to Orthodox evolutionists: Stop trying to retroactively shanghai recruit the Fathers to your camp!.

Our Crown of Thorns (short)
Christ’s crown of thorns has every relevance to our daily lives. Is it something we can have on our own terms?
Dastardly duo considered harmful: “Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives” and “Wounded by Love”
A look at two works that may reveal less about Orthodoxy than fashion.
Desire (short)
A meditation on covetousness, desire, and true happiness.
Dissent: Lessons From Being an Orthodox theology Student at a Catholic University (medium)
When I was studying at Fordham, the question of dissent loomed large. This is an attempt to respond to what was “in the air” at that school.
Does God Suffer? (medium)
A grieving pastor, after the death of his son, wrote that God suffers with his Creation. This is a respectful look at his masterpiece that tries to explain why it is good news that God does not suffer.

Its central points revolve around what is called “theology proper,” or “the doctrine of God.” It responds to a powerful picture, in the masterpiece A Foot in Two Worlds, of a God who can handle creaturely suffering because he suffers with them. And it looks at what it means for God to be so great that he is beyond suffering.

Do We Have Rights? (medium)
We have a lot of rights these days. Or at least we think we do, and the list of our rights is growing longer and longer.

What if I told you that people can get along well without thinking in terms of rights?

The Eighth Sacrament (short)
In Orthodoxy, there are seven sacraments, officially speaking; but there’s a great deal of truth in saying that there is only one sacrament, or that there are a million of them. This is a look at one among many of the “other” sacraments.

Exotic Golden Ages and Restoring Harmony with Nature: Anatomy of a passion (medium)

There is a perennial cry in some quarters to reclaim former glory. We thirst for the exotic, but not always in the best places. Do we appreciate what we have?

Farewell to Gandhi: The Saint and the Activist (medium)

Years back, the author was very attentive to Gandhi’s writing, enough so that his first public speech was formed by that attentiveness. Now, years later, he has some second thoughts, and realizes areas where he was wrong.

God the Game Changer (medium)

A meditation on God as the Game Changer who responds to sin, evil, pain, and death by changing the game.

God the Spiritual Father (medium)

A collection of quotes and reflections on God the Father in light of the spiritual fatherhood in Orthodox monasticism, in its relevance to us today in an economic depression.
Halloween: A solemn farewell (short)
I enjoyed Halloween for many years, but it looks different as I begin to understand Orthodoxy.

C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength: science and magic, spirit and matter, and the figure of Merlin (medium)

A look at a slightly strange strand about science, magic, spirit, matter, Merlin, and other topics woven into the tapistry of C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength.
The Horn of Joy: A meditation on eternity and time, kairos and chronos(medium)
A meditation on eternity and time.
How to find a job: A guide for Orthodox Christians (short)
A concise summary of both the sacred and secular dimensions to an Orthodox Christian’s jobhunt. (Getting a job for Orthodox Christians calls for both.)
How to Survive Hard Times (medium)
Would you like to know how to survive an economic depression? People have survived every kind of disaster from recessions to economic collapses. The way they have survived may have had something to do with spirituality and faith. Do you want to dig deeper into how to survive a depression? You might find some answers here.
On humor (short)
A look at humor (off-color and otherwise) in the light of Orthodox Christian classics.
The Hydra
A look at a hydra whose heads include the covetousness of Romanticism’s Sehnsucht or longing, escapism, fantasy, the occult, and the freedom that comes when one rejects all of these.
Incarnation and deification (short)
An written for the Feast of the Nativity and the Fast before it, about Incarnation that unfurls in deification.
Introduction to the Jesus Prayer (short)
When we pray the Jesus Prayer, God uses it to build silence in our hearts and untangle those things we have knotted inside.
Lesser icons: Reflections on Faith, Icons, and Art (medium)
An Orthodox artist looks at art as a variety of icon.
Modus Tollens: Meandering Reflections on Life, Faith, and Politics (medium)
Loss is a part of life. In fact, loss is a part of Divine Providence: “Every branch that bears fruit, [the Vinedresser] prunes that it may bear more fruit.”

In truth, everything in life is either a blessing from God or a temptation which has been allowed for our strengthening.

Modus Tollens explores this pruning.

Monarchy (short)
A meditation of mystical theology about kings and kingdoms, monarchs and monarchy.

Money (short)

A homily touching on a subject that doesn’t get much treatment for how important it is.

Note to Orthodox evolutionists: Stop trying to retroactivelyshanghai recruit the Fathers to your camp!

Orthodox Christians may believe in evolution, but when Orthodox claim that the Fathers’ overall teaching goes hand in hand with evolution, there is something fishy going on.

You might also read the companion piece, Creation and Holy Orthodoxy: Fundamentalism Is Not Enough.

Oops… Could the Western Rite Please Try Again? (short)
There is something that is not quite right about the Western Rite in the Orthodox Church. (Really? When they are trying so hard to reconstruct the authentic Western Orthodoxy of the first millenium? Yes!)
An Open Letter to Catholics on Orthodoxy and Ecumenism (medium)
An open letter about an elephant in the room that Orthodox are painfully aware of and Catholics seem not to see at all.
Ordinary (short)
Some of us wish, or are tempted to wish, that we lived in the age of the great Christological controversies, or nineteenth century Russia, or perhaps the Middle Ages or the Baroque era.

But God has placed us here and now, and ordained for us our ordinary lives to live out. Has God made a mistake in doing so?

The Orthodox Martial Art Is Living the Sermon on the Mount (long)

One perennial debate is about war and peace, just war and pacifism, violence and nonviolence, soldiers and armies, and figures like Gandhi. Listen to the mystical theology of the Orthodox Christian Church as She listens out of the depths of Her silence.

Our thoughts determine our lives: Beyond The Secret and the Law of Attraction

A look at Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica’s title, Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives, as uncovering a more interesting secret than just Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret‘ and the Law of Attraction, and a secret for inner transformation—and outer!

A pet Owner’s rules (short)

God is like a pet owner who has only two rules.
The Pleasure-Pain Syndrome (medium)
A look at the pleasure-pain syndrome that for an instant crystallizes in the discussion of the Philokalia under a work attributed to St. Maximos the Confessor.

Pride (medium)

A look at the venomous hydra called narcissism and pride, by which Satan fell from being an Archangel in Heaven to being the Devil.

It isn’t good for us, either.

QUICK! What Is Your Opinion About Chemistry?

A look at “religion and science” that takes a slow, careful look at how we should receive patristic attitudes towards what is now considered to be the academic discipline of chemistry. (Note: this has nothing to do with alchemy even if there is a historical relation between modern chemistry and alchemy.)

“Religion and Science” Is Not Just Intelligent Design vs. Evolution (medium)

In my own experience, I started from a very scientific background; I have math awards and letters after my name in the sciences. And this science has been the start of a journey of repentance; it is a starting point of things that would find healing in Orthodoxy. And entering Orthodox theology, mystical theology, has meant unlearning not only the content of my knowing but what it is to know at all. Science is cut from the same cloth, or bedrock to, what it was that I needed healing from the Church as I was reconciled from the kind of background one gets in the sciences.

Repentance, Heaven’s Best-Kept Secret

Virtue is its own reward.

Repentance leads us into the rewards of virtue.

It is Heaven’s best-kept secret.

Science and knowledge: Regenerate science, philosophia naturalis, and human ways of knowing (medium)

C.S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man discusses a science that was born in occult ambiances, and says, “It might be going too far to say that the modern scientific movement was tainted from its birth: but I think it would be true to say that it, was born in an unhealthy neighbourhood and at an inauspicious hour.”

During that discussion of science and the enterprise abolishing Man, there are some very tantalizing remarks about a “regenerate science” that “would not do even to minerals and vegetables what modern science threatens to do to man himself.”

This piece looks at something of a regenerate science that is closer than you might think.

A Shaft of Grace (short)
A description of an everyday religious experience.

“Social Antibodies” Needed: A Request of Orthodox clergy (medium)

An article exploring the social issues surrounding technology and faith and inviting Orthodox clergy to provide pastoral guidance, in other words “social antibodies”, for the internet, iPhones, and other features of the technological nexus that we are in.
The Swiss Army Knife and God (short)
Do Swiss Army Knives offer a lens to see God with?
Take Your Shoes Off Your Feet, for the Place Where You Stand Is Holy Ground (medium)
The Fathers see something in the Lord’s command to Take Your Shoes Off Your Feet, for the Place Where You Stand Is Holy Ground, and it has every relevance to Great Lent.

What do the Fathers see? And what does it have to do with Great Lent?

The transcendent God who approaches us through our neighbor (short)
Everything we say of God is inadequate. Yet this God who is far beyond anything we can say has a vicar on earth: not the Pope, but every person who crosses our path.
Treasure (short)
Calvin and Hobbes said, “There’s treasure everywhere!”

And really, there is.

Treasures in Heaven: The Inner Meaning of “Do Not Store Up Treasures On Earth”
“Do not store up treasures on earth,” in the Sermon on the Mount, may seem to be the ultimate strict standard of sacrificial living.

It is a strict standard, but its plain sense may be the outer shell of an important inner meaning.

Two Decisive Moments (short)

One of the moments is long ago. The other one can be right now.
What Evolutionists Have to Say to the Royal, Divine Image: We’re Missing Something
An article by someone who believes humans genuinely ARE a special flower and royal, on what evolution / revolutionary punk eek has to tell us who believe in the divine image.
What Makes Me Uneasy About Fr. Seraphim (Rose) and His Followers(short)
A look at what exactly about Fr. Seraphim (Rose) and his followers could disturb an Orthodox Christian.
What the Present Debate Won’t Tell You About Headship (short)
Among Christians, there’s a debate about “headship”. And those involved can miss something very important.
Where is the good of women? Feminism is called “The women’s movement.” But is it? (medium)
In the days of Luther, the Roman hegemony was strong enough that even Protestants had difficulties imagining how one could be at odds with the Roman Catholic Church and yet be right with God.

Feminism enjoys a similar position today for women’s interests, but “the women’s movement” is slipping, and there are signs a growing number find that “the women’s movement” is not their movement.

Work-Mystic (medium)

Work offers something of a missed opportunity for many of us: drudgery we endure to get pay, rather than an opportunity to serve and enjoy in a very high sense.

It doesn’t have to be this way, and there is in fact room for a mystical theology that encompasses work, and transforms it.

Your Own, Personal Hell (medium)
It has always been seductively easy to create your own, Personal Hell. The Fathers say that the gates of Hell are bolted and barred from the inside, that Hell is self-chosen, that there are in the end there are two types of people: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God ultimately says, “Thy will be done.” And some have suggested that even the fire of Hell is the Light of Heaven as experienced through the rejection of the only joy we can ultimately have, Christ Himself.

(You might also be interested in material from other sections of this website, such as Stephanos, and An Orthodox Looks at a Calvinist Looking at Orthodoxy.)

Orthodox theology

The Best of Jonathan's Corner: An Anthology of Orthodox Christian Theology
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Go to:   Orthodox theology   Articles  Assorted creations   Journals  Miscellaneous nonfiction   Novels  Orthodox Humor   Satire   Short stories  Socratic dialogue   Technology

You can find works from several Orthodox books here, but this section itself is really one big Orthodox book: an anthology of Orthodox mystical theology.

The works in this collection span many types and genres, but overall they can be gathered into three large categories: theology articles, hymns and poems, and odds and ends, curiosities and creative works, Each of these has author’s picks highlighted; the author is personally partial to hymns and poems.

If you are looking for a place to start in these attempts to share the Orthodox Church’s mystical theology, I suggest Silence: Organic food for the soul or Doxology. Both are taken from the hymns and poems section.

Theology Articles

Suggested starting points include Creation and Holy Orthodoxy: Fundamentalism Is Not Enough, Exotic golden ages and restoring harmony with nature: Anatomy of a passion, Money, A pet Owner’s rules, and“Religion and Science” Is Not Just Intelligent Design vs. Evolution.

Amazing Providence (short)
One thing I have learned as a Christian is what it means for God to look after you.
That Beautiful Strength (medium)
A look at the hideous strength of C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength, and the beautiful strength that is even stronger.
Can You Smoke Without Inhaling? Martial Arts and the Orthodox Christian(medium)
After ignoring an uneasy conscience, CJS Hayward tried to study a martial art on Orthodoxy-appropriate terms. Here is a retrospective that looks at the broader question of whether we can “smoke, but not inhale.”
A Comparison Between the Mere Monk and the Highest Bishop
Monks are told to beware of the temptation to want something better by being an abbot or even a bishop.

This is a look at why such ambition is penny wise and pound foolish.

Contemplation (short)
We were made to enjoy contemplation, in more than one sense.
Dastardly duo considered harmful: “Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives” and “Wounded by Love”
A look at two works that may reveal less about Orthodoxy than fashion.

Creation and Holy Orthodoxy: Fundamentalism Is Not Enough(short)

Years back, I wrote a couple of pieces about origins questions. This is a more recent piece that addresses a very specific point about bringing Protestant fundamentalism into Orthodoxy, and it moves away from origins questions towards a more important issue.

You might also read the companion piece, Note to Orthodox evolutionists: Stop trying to retroactively shanghai recruit the Fathers to your camp!.

Our Crown of Thorns (short)
Christ’s crown of thorns has every relevance to our daily lives. Is it something we can have on our own terms?
Desire (short)
A meditation on covetousness, desire, and true happiness.
Dissent: Lessons From Being an Orthodox theology Student at a Catholic University (medium)
When I was studying at Fordham, the question of dissent loomed large. This is an attempt to respond to what was “in the air” at that school.
Does God Suffer? (medium)
A grieving pastor, after the death of his son, wrote that God suffers with his Creation. This is a respectful look at his masterpiece that tries to explain why it is good news that God does not suffer.

Its central points revolve around what is called “theology proper,” or “the doctrine of God.” It responds to a powerful picture, in the masterpiece A Foot in Two Worlds, of a God who can handle creaturely suffering because he suffers with them. And it looks at what it means for God to be so great that he is beyond suffering.

Do We Have Rights? (medium)
We have a lot of rights these days. Or at least we think we do, and the list of our rights is growing longer and longer.

What if I told you that people can get along well without thinking in terms of rights?

The Eighth Sacrament (short)
In Orthodoxy, there are seven sacraments, officially speaking; but there’s a great deal of truth in saying that there is only one sacrament, or that there are a million of them. This is a look at one among many of the “other” sacraments.

Exotic Golden Ages and Restoring Harmony with Nature: Anatomy of a passion (medium)

There is a perennial cry in some quarters to reclaim former glory. We thirst for the exotic, but not always in the best places. Do we appreciate what we have?

Farewell to Gandhi: The Saint and the Activist (medium)

Years back, the author was very attentive to Gandhi’s writing, enough so that his first public speech was formed by that attentiveness. Now, years later, he has some second thoughts, and realizes areas where he was wrong.

God the Game Changer (medium)

A meditation on God as the Game Changer who responds to sin, evil, pain, and death by changing the game.

God the Spiritual Father (medium)

A collection of quotes and reflections on God the Father in light of the spiritual fatherhood in Orthodox monasticism, in its relevance to us today in an economic depression.
Halloween: A solemn farewell (short)
I enjoyed Halloween for many years, but it looks different as I begin to understand Orthodoxy.

C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength: science and magic, spirit and matter, and the figure of Merlin (medium)

A look at a slightly strange strand about science, magic, spirit, matter, Merlin, and other topics woven into the tapistry of C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength.
The Horn of Joy: A meditation on eternity and time, kairos and chronos(medium)
A meditation on eternity and time.
How to find a job: A guide for Orthodox Christians (short)
A concise summary of both the sacred and secular dimensions to an Orthodox Christian’s jobhunt. (Getting a job for Orthodox Christians calls for both.)
How to Survive Hard Times (medium)
Would you like to know how to survive an economic depression? People have survived every kind of disaster from recessions to economic collapses. The way they have survived may have had something to do with spirituality and faith. Do you want to dig deeper into how to survive a depression? You might find some answers here.
On humor (short)
A look at humor (off-color and otherwise) in the light of Orthodox Christian classics.
The Hydra
A look at a hydra whose heads include the covetousness of Romanticism’s Sehnsucht or longing, escapism, fantasy, the occult, and the freedom that comes when one rejects all of these.
Incarnation and deification (short)
An written for the Feast of the Nativity and the Fast before it, about Incarnation that unfurls in deification.
Introduction to the Jesus Prayer (short)
When we pray the Jesus Prayer, God uses it to build silence in our hearts and untangle those things we have knotted inside.
Lesser icons: Reflections on Faith, Icons, and Art (medium)
An Orthodox artist looks at art as a variety of icon.
Modus Tollens: Meandering Reflections on Life, Faith, and Politics(medium)
Loss is a part of life. In fact, loss is a part of Divine Providence: “Every branch that bears fruit, [the Vinedresser] prunes that it may bear more fruit.”

In truth, everything in life is either a blessing from God or a temptation which has been allowed for our strengthening.

Modus Tollens explores this pruning.

Monarchy (short)
A meditation of mystical theology about kings and kingdoms, monarchs and monarchy.

Money (short)

A homily touching on a subject that doesn’t get much treatment for how important it is.

Note to Orthodox evolutionists: Stop trying to retroactivelyshanghai recruit the Fathers to your camp!

Orthodox Christians may believe in evolution, but when Orthodox claim that the Fathers’ overall teaching goes hand in hand with evolution, there is something fishy going on.

You might also read the companion piece, Creation and Holy Orthodoxy: Fundamentalism Is Not Enough.

Oops… Could the Western Rite Please Try Again? (short)
There is something that is not quite right about the Western Rite in the Orthodox Church. (Really? When they are trying so hard to reconstruct the authentic Western Orthodoxy of the first millenium? Yes!)
An Open Letter to Catholics on Orthodoxy and Ecumenism (medium)
An open letter about an elephant in the room that Orthodox are painfully aware of and Catholics seem not to see at all.
Ordinary (short)
Some of us wish, or are tempted to wish, that we lived in the age of the great Christological controversies, or nineteenth century Russia, or perhaps the Middle Ages or the Baroque era.

But God has placed us here and now, and ordained for us our ordinary lives to live out. Has God made a mistake in doing so?

The Orthodox Martial Art Is Living the Sermon on the Mount (long)

One perennial debate is about war and peace, just war and pacifism, violence and nonviolence, soldiers and armies, and figures like Gandhi. Listen to the mystical theology of the Orthodox Christian Church as She listens out of the depths of Her silence.

Our thoughts determine our lives: Beyond The Secret and the Law of Attraction

A look at Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica’s title, Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives, as uncovering a more interesting secret than just Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret‘ and the Law of Attraction, and a secret for inner transformation—and outer!

A pet Owner’s rules (short)

God is like a pet owner who has only two rules.
The Pleasure-Pain Syndrome (medium)
A look at the pleasure-pain syndrome that for an instant crystallizes in the discussion of the Philokalia under a work attributed to St. Maximos the Confessor.

Pride (medium)

A look at the venomous hydra called narcissism and pride, by which Satan fell from being an Archangel in Heaven to being the Devil.

It isn’t good for us, either.

QUICK! What Is Your Opinion About Chemistry?

A look at “religion and science” that takes a slow, careful look at how we should receive patristic attitudes towards what is now considered to be the academic discipline of chemistry. (Note: this has nothing to do with alchemy even if there is a historical relation between modern chemistry and alchemy.)

“Religion and Science” Is Not Just Intelligent Design vs. Evolution (medium)

In my own experience, I started from a very scientific background; I have math awards and letters after my name in the sciences. And this science has been the start of a journey of repentance; it is a starting point of things that would find healing in Orthodoxy. And entering Orthodox theology, mystical theology, has meant unlearning not only the content of my knowing but what it is to know at all. Science is cut from the same cloth, or bedrock to, what it was that I needed healing from the Church as I was reconciled from the kind of background one gets in the sciences.

Repentance, Heaven’s Best-Kept Secret

Virtue is its own reward.

Repentance leads us into the rewards of virtue.

It is Heaven’s best-kept secret.

Science and knowledge: Regenerate science, philosophia naturalis, and human ways of knowing (medium)

C.S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man discusses a science that was born in occult ambiances, and says, “It might be going too far to say that the modern scientific movement was tainted from its birth: but I think it would be true to say that it, was born in an unhealthy neighbourhood and at an inauspicious hour.”

During that discussion of science and the enterprise abolishing Man, there are some very tantalizing remarks about a “regenerate science” that “would not do even to minerals and vegetables what modern science threatens to do to man himself.”

This piece looks at something of a regenerate science that is closer than you might think.

A Shaft of Grace (short)
A description of an everyday religious experience.

“Social Antibodies” Needed: A Request of Orthodox clergy (medium)

An article exploring the social issues surrounding technology and faith and inviting Orthodox clergy to provide pastoral guidance, in other words “social antibodies”, for the internet, iPhones, and other features of the technological nexus that we are in.
The Swiss Army Knife and God (short)
Do Swiss Army Knives offer a lens to see God with?
Take Your Shoes Off Your Feet, for the Place Where You Stand Is Holy Ground (medium)
The Fathers see something in the Lord’s command to Take Your Shoes Off Your Feet, for the Place Where You Stand Is Holy Ground, and it has every relevance to Great Lent.

What do the Fathers see? And what does it have to do with Great Lent?

The transcendent God who approaches us through our neighbor (short)
Everything we say of God is inadequate. Yet this God who is far beyond anything we can say has a vicar on earth: not the Pope, but every person who crosses our path.
Treasure (short)
Calvin and Hobbes said, “There’s treasure everywhere!”

And really, there is.

Treasures in Heaven: The Inner Meaning of “Do Not Store Up Treasures On Earth”
“Do not store up treasures on earth,” in the Sermon on the Mount, may seem to be the ultimate strict standard of sacrificial living.

It is a strict standard, but its plain sense may be the outer shell of an important inner meaning.

Two Decisive Moments (short)

One of the moments is long ago. The other one can be right now.
What Evolutionists Have to Say to the Royal, Divine Image: We’re Missing Something
An article by someone who believes humans genuinely ARE a special flower and royal, on what evolution / revolutionary punk eek has to tell us who believe in the divine image.
What Makes Me Uneasy About Fr. Seraphim (Rose) and His Followers(short)
A look at what exactly about Fr. Seraphim (Rose) and his followers could disturb an Orthodox Christian.
What the Present Debate Won’t Tell You About Headship (short)
Among Christians, there’s a debate about “headship”. And those involved can miss something very important.
Where is the good of women? Feminism is called “The women’s movement.” But is it? (medium)
In the days of Luther, the Roman hegemony was strong enough that even Protestants had difficulties imagining how one could be at odds with the Roman Catholic Church and yet be right with God.

Feminism enjoys a similar position today for women’s interests, but “the women’s movement” is slipping, and there are signs a growing number find that “the women’s movement” is not their movement.

Work-Mystic (medium)

Work offers something of a missed opportunity for many of us: drudgery we endure to get pay, rather than an opportunity to serve and enjoy in a very high sense.

It doesn’t have to be this way, and there is in fact room for a mystical theology that encompasses work, and transforms it.

Your Own, Personal Hell (medium)
It has always been seductively easy to create your own, Personal Hell. The Fathers say that the gates of Hell are bolted and barred from the inside, that Hell is self-chosen, that there are in the end there are two types of people: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God ultimately says, “Thy will be done.” And some have suggested that even the fire of Hell is the Light of Heaven as experienced through the rejection of the only joy we can ultimately have, Christ Himself.

(You might also be interested in material from other sections of this website, such as Stephanos, and An Orthodox Looks at a Calvinist Looking at Orthodoxy.)

Hymns and poems

Suggested starting points include Doxology, A pilgrimage from Narnia,Silence: Organic food for the soul, and Why This Waste?.

Akathist Hymn to St. Philaret the Merciful (medium)

An akathist hymn celebrating St. Philaret the Merciful of Asia Minor, who was generous and merciful when he had much, and remained no less generous and merciful when he had little or nothing.

The Book of Thanks (medium)

All of us have a great deal to be grateful for. This is one text that looks through thankfulness at the scandal of the particular. It is part of a collection, A Pilgrimage from Narnia, that does not exactly narrate the author’s journey into Orthodoxy, but shows pictures of things that have been seen along the way.

Death (short)

We may have hospitals to hide death from our eyes, but all of us are moving towards death, even if we are in denial as a society. But there is another way; love is stronger than death.

Doxology (short)

A poem to hymn the glory of God.

Glory (short)

We thirst for glory. There is only one way that thirst is rightly slaked.

How Shall I Tell an Alchemist? (short)

A musing prayer about how to open the eyes of an alchemist.

Hymn to the Creator of Heaven and Earth (medium)

A celebration of the resplendent beauty of the natural world.
The Labyrinth (short)
A poem about the labyrinth of technology and other things that we have woven into our society.

Maximum Christ, Maximum Ambition, Maximum Repentance(medium)

A meditation on the Maximum Christ we approach and maximum repentance as the true realization of God’s maximum ambition for our lives.
Now (short)
A poem pouring forth mystical theology of eternity, time, and that precious moment we call ‘now’.
Open (short)
A poem about closed fists, open hands, and true joy.
Pilgrim (short)
A prayer and poem about pilgrimage on earth.

A pilgrimage from Narnia (short)

A poem about a pilgrimage that begins with C.S. Lewis’s Narnia and ever presses ‘further up and further in.’

Psalm picker

This was a tool I made for myself after realizing I wasn’t spending nearly enough time praying through the Psalms. This will pull up different psalms, and there is a a mobile-friendly version too.

Silence: Organic food for the soul (medium)

A meditation on spiritual discipline and silence as an organic diet for the soul reaching out to the whole person.

Why This Waste? (short)

A poem that opens when a woman opens a priceless jar of perfume and a thief asks a question that was deeper than he knew: “Why this waste?”
A Yoke That Is Easy and a Burden That Is Light (short)
A prayer.

Odds and ends, curiosities and creative works

Suggested starting points include The Angelic Letters, The Best Things in Life Are Free, The most politically incorrect sermon in history: A commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, and Technonomicon: Technology, Nature,ascesis.

The Angelic Letters (medium)

A collection of letters from a senior angel to guide a guardian angel watching over a man, as envisioned by an Orthodox Christian. Inspired by C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters.
Apprentice gods (short)
A look at this life as an apprenticeship of becoming gods and time as the womb of eternal life.
Apps and mobile websites for the Orthodox Christian smartphone and tablet: Best iPhone, iPad, Droid, Samsung, Android, Kindle, and Blackberry mobile websites and apps (short)
A look at the best that’s available for Orthodox Christian app seekers with iPhone and Android smartphones and tablets.

The Arena (short)

A work of mystical theology that looks at life as a great spiritual arena and training ground.
Athanasius: On Creative Fidelity (short)
Ever hear a broken record talking about how Orthodoxy has always been a matter of creative fidelity and never a matter of parrot-like repetition?

The Best Things in Life Are Free (short)

An exploration, connected with the chalice, of what it means that the best things in life are free.

The most politically incorrect sermon in history: A commentary on the Sermon on the Mount (medium)

A commentary on the Sermon on the Mount intended to unfold just how it appears to be the most politically incorrect sermon ever.
An Orthodox bookshelf (medium)
An Orthodox bookshelf covering The Orthodox* Study Bible, some of the Fathers, Neo-Platonism, and one or two works today.

“Physics” (short)

An Orthodox ‘Physics’, or study of the nature of things, designed to respond to Aristotle’s ‘Physics.’
Prayers (short)
A collection of short prayers for different occasions and purposes, offered to and for the Orthodox Church.
Public Portions of the Divine Liturgy, in Russian and in English
This is not something I’ve written (besides a preface), but something I put together from The Divine Lutirgy to help me understand the public parts of the Russian Liturgy. I offer it in the hope it may help others.
Refutatio omnium hæresium
The Refutation of All Heresies
The royal letters (short)
Three intimate letters from a father to a son about God, kings, and men.
Rules of Engagement
Rules of engagement for spiritual warfare that has always been waged, and is becoming more intense.
From Russia, With Love: A spiritual guide to surviving political and economic disaster (long)
The Russian Orthodox Church has a lot of experience living with hard times. This piece talks about not only survival lessons but the spiritual beauty that can come in political and economic difficulties.

St. John the Much-Suffering

As the text accompanying this beautiful icon begins, “St. John the Much-Suffering is a saint who fought industrial-strength sexual temptation for decades and WON in every sense of the term.”

Technonomicon: Technology, Nature, ascesis (medium)

We are entranced by technology, and yearn for harmony with nature. But there is more to life than getting technology or taking walks in the woods.
Twelve quotes on Orthodoxy, ecumenism, and Catholicism (short)
Twelve quotes to explain in particular why Orthodoxy seems to have such a cold response to Catholic ecumenical advances.