Saturday, July 19, 2008

Ecclesial Being

I just finished the book Ecclesial Being: Contributions to Theological Dialogue by Constantine Scouteris. Professor Christopher Veniamin has done a wonderful job in collecting and editing some of Professor Scouteris’ finest work, both old and new, concerning the nature and purpose of the Church. Prof. Scouteris has a remarkable ability to define Orthodox ecclesiology not only as it is in itself, but also as it is in relation to other Christian faith-groups, with wisdom and graciousness. In the chapter “The Church, ‘Filled with the Holy Trinity,’” Prof. Scouteris writes:

. . . the Church is not some closed religious corporation, a closed isolated religious community, but rather an open embrace, since God is the “Saviour of all men” (1 Tim. 4:10) and “will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4). Often, in Christian circles there seems to be a sense of caution and introversion. Perhaps this is from the suddenness of rapid social transformation, maybe even today from some inclination towards self-defence in the face of the manifold provocations brought about by secularization and globalization on a material basis. It is an unjustifiable feeling of self-complacency, and a contraction and lessening of the Church. Thus, an insurmountable wall is raised, which isolates the Church and alienates it from its universal dimension. (30)

Whether he is writing about the ground of unity in the Church, the necessity of theological language based on worship rather than speculation, the role of the Church in justification, the importance of the priesthood, the significance of icons as a witness to the reality of the Incarnation, or more touchy subjects like the Orthodox approach to the World Council of Churches or common prayer, Professor Scouteris’ words are worth reading.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Like the First Day of the World

by Thomas Wolfe, from A Stone, a Leaf, a Door

And he cried, "Glory! Glory!"
And we rode all through the night,
And round and round the park,
And then dawn came,
And all of the birds began to sing.

And now the bird-song broke in the first light,
And suddenly I heard each sound the bird-song made.
It came to me like music I had always heard,
It came to me like music I had always known,
The sounds of which I never yet had spoken,
And now I heard the music of each sound
As clear and bright as gold,
And the music of each sound was this:

At first it rose above me like a flight of shot,
And then I heard the sharp, fast skaps of sound the bird-song made.
And now with chittering bicker and fast-fluttering skirrs of sound
The palmy, honied bird-cries came.
And now the bird-tree sang,
All filled with lutings in bright air;
The thrum, the lark's wing, and tongue-trilling chirrs arose.
With liquorous, liquefied lutings,
WIth lirruping chirp, plumbellied smoothness, sweet lucidity.
And now I heard the rapid
Kweet-kweet-kweet-kweet-kweet of homely birds,
And then their pwee-pwee-pwee:
Others had thin metallic tongues,
A sharp cricketing stitch, and high shrews' caws,
With eery rasp, with harsh, far calls--
These were the sounds the bird-cries made.

All the birds that are
Awoke in the park's woodland tangles;
And above them passed the whirr of hidden wings,
The strange lost cry of the unknown birds
In full light now in the park,
The sweet confusion of their cries was mingled.

"Sweet is the breath of morn,
Her rising sweet with charm of earliest birds,"
And it was just like that.
And the sun came up,
And it was like the first day of the world.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


Today while listening to NPR's show All Things Considered I heard a very entertaining clip from a woman who has embarked on a remarkable journey--she has determined to live the entire year as a follower of all of the advice given by Oprah Winfrey. When the interviewer asked her how she felt after a half-year of following her course, she replied, "Exhausted." Ha ha. Though she insisted the experiment was not meant to poke fun of the Industry of Oprah (though poking fun certainly seems to play its part!), it does highlight something I have been known to criticize: the tendency of people to unthinkingly accept the lifestyles/philosophies/opinions of their favorite celebrities, just because they happen to be famous. Anyway, if you need a good laugh today check out the site here.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Memory Eternal

July 13th marks the fifth anniversary of the falling asleep in Christ of Fr. Adrian Pollard, under whose hand I entered the Holy Orthodox Church. I miss him, and feel deep loss that he is no longer with us. Not a single day has passed that I do not think of him and honor his memory.

Fr. Adrian was not a perfect man; like all of us, he had his faults and failures. But for me, in my time of spiritual crisis, he was exactly what I needed. Whatever progress I may have made in my spiritual life is (humanly speaking) due in great measure to the foundation Fr. Adrian gave me in the beginning of my movement to Orthodoxy. There are several key aspects of his teaching that I continually refer to, and with God's help I hope never to forget.

Fr. Adrian constantly stressed the importance of moderation, the "middle way." As he often expressed it, "The Truth is found not just in the middle, but in the middle of the middle." This was Father's way of cutting off extremes in the spiritual life that cause one to go astray into fruitless paths, or even to spiritual destruction. This is really just common-sense teaching which, it should be noted, was not unique to Fr. Adrian; others throughout history (Christian and non-Christian) have noticed the same reality. The Fathers of the Church stressed that the virtues lie in the "mean" between two opposite vices. For instance, the virtue of courage lies between the vice of rashness and the vice of cowardice. Vices are those things that either fall short or go beyond the virtues (see St. Peter of Damaskos, Discources 19 and 20; and especially St. Gregory of Sinai, On Commandments and Doctrines, 87). Though due to my stupidity and weakness I have often found myself leaning toward extremes, the remembrance of Fr. Adrian's emphasis on this point has helped me recover my balance.

Another central tenet of Fr. Adrian's teaching was a love for St. Silouan and Fr. Sophrony. Fr. Sophrony's book St. Silouan the Athonite was one of the first books Fr. Adrian recommended to me to read; after four readings I am still plumbing the depths of this book. Even though Fr. Adrian is no longer physically present to give me advice and help me work out spiritual questions, he gave me a connection to Fr. Sophrony and St. Silouan that is a reliable aid to the spiritual life.

I am grateful for having known Fr. Adrian, and consider it a sign of God's loving-kindness that I was able to be with him even though it was only for a short time. Aonia i mnimi, vechnaya pamyat, memory eternal.

With the Saints give rest, O Christ, to the soul of Your servant where there is no pain, nor sorrow, nor suffering, but life everlasting. (Orthodox Memorial Service)

Monday, July 7, 2008

Chicken update

My oldest son tells me that he thinks the "book" with the chicken-passing relay was one of our The Far Side collections. I seem to remember that one now. My sons, the scholars.

Please pass the chicken.

Like many people in America, we have been watching a little bit of the Olympic trials. One of my sons asked me when they were going to do the "running thing with the guys that pass the rubber chicken." Huh? He insisted that he remembered reading about a 4-man relay where the participants passed each other a rubber chicken; he even modeled the poses as he remembered them from the book. While we all enjoyed a good laugh from this, it did give me an idea--wouldn't it be more interesting if the relay involved passing along a live chicken? Now that would be fun to watch!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Rolling Stones

Rolling stones

Rolling stones over
looking for life,
rummaging in
moist soil, finding
cricket, earwig,
pill bug, millipede;
every square inch filthy rich,
profusion of existence,
even the dust seems to breathe.
Why? For what? Organisms
small and large, with no
apparent purpose.
The Divine Maker could have
created a simpler world—
colorless, tasteless, monotone—
not nearly so beautiful,
not nearly so alive,
but such is not His way.
No, His way is that
when you roll stones over,
life explodes. Lazarus also
knows of this, but from
the other side of the stone.