Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Interesting Historical Perspective

As an Eastern Christian, I am naturally drawn to writings oriented (no pun intended) towards matters dealing with Eastern Christianity and the Christian East itself. It is in this context that I came across the Foreign Policy website "History Lesson" by military historian Edward N. Luttwak entitled "Take Me Back to Constantinople: How Byzantium, not Rome, can help preserve Pax Americana." Below, I present the first paragraph. The whole piece is fairly short, so don't hesitate to go read it.

Economic crisis, mounting national debt, excessive foreign commitments -- this is no way to run an empire. America needs serious strategic counseling. And fast. It has never been Rome, and to adopt its strategies no -- its ruthless expansion of empire, domination of foreign peoples, and bone-crushing brand of total war -- would only hasten America's decline. Better instead to look to the empire's eastern incarnation: Byzantium, which outlasted its Roman predecessor by eight centuries. It is the lessons of Byzantine grand strategy that America must rediscover today.
Professor Luttak is the author of The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire. Blogger Nicholas D. Rosen has an enticing review of it here. It, too, is well worth reading.

Friday, December 25, 2009

O Holy Night - A More Specific View

Christmas night bestowed peace on the whole world;
So let no one threaten;
This is the night of the Most Gentle One
– Let no one be cruel;
This is the night of the Humble One
– Let no one be proud.
Now is the day of joy
– Let us not revenge;
Now is the day of Good Will
– Let us not be mean.
In this Day of Peace
– Let us not be conquered by anger….
This present day cast open the heavenly doors to our prayers;
Let us open our door to those who ask our forgiveness.
Today the Divine Being took upon Himself
the seal of our humanity,
in order for humanity to be decorated by
the seal of His Divinity.
St. Isaac the Syrian

Christ is born! Glorify Him!

Happy Christmas to all those who celebrate it today.

Christ is born! Glorify Him!

Today Christ is born of the Virgin in Bethlehem. Today He who knows no beginning now begins to be, and the Word is made flesh. The powers of heaven greatly rejoice, and the earth with mankind makes glad. The Magi offer gifts, the shepherd proclaim the marvel, and we cry aloud without ceasing: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will among men.

Today the Virgin giveth birth to the Transcendent in essence; the earth offereth the cave to the unapproachable One; the angels with the shepherds glorify him; and the Magi with the star travel on their way; for a new child hath been born for our sakes, God before the ages.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Sunday before the Nativity of our Lord

Dogmatikon of the Lamp-lighting Psalms of Great Vespers in Tone Six
O cave of Bethlehem, prepare yourself to receive the Mother who bears Christ within her womb. O manger, receive the Word who destroys the sins of mankind. O shepherds, keep watch and then bear witness to the awesome wonder. O Magi, come from Persia and bring your gifts to the King. For the Lord has appeared from a Virgin Mother; yet she bowed to Him as a servant and spoke to Him within her heart, saying: How were You conceived in me? How did You grow in me, my God and my Savior?

Doxastikon of the Apostika of Great Vespers in Tone Two

Behold, the time of our salvation draws near: let the cave be ready, for the Virgin is about to give birth; and you, O Bethlehem of Judah, rejoice and be glad, for the Lord will soon shine forth from your midst. Listen, all you mountains and you hills, and all you country of Judah: Christ is coming to save the human race, His creatures, for He is the Lover of mankind.

Troparion of the Preparation in Tone Four

Bethlehem, make ready, for Eden has been opened for all: Ephrata, be alert, for the Tree of Life has blossomed forth from the Virgin in the cave. Her womb has become a spiritual Paradise wherein the Divine Fruit was planted - and if we eat of it, we shall live and not die like Adam. Christ is coming forth to bring back to life the likeness that had been lost in the beginning.

Kontakion in Tone One of Orthros of the Sunday before the Nativity
(on 20 December or after)
Rejoice, O Bethlehem, and be ready, O Ephrata! Behold the Virgin is on her way, to give birth to the Great Shepherd she carries in her womb. The God-bearing Forefathers will rejoice at His sight, and together with the shepherds, they will glorify the Virgin nursing Him.

(on 20 December or after)
O Virgin, contemplating the bright splendor of your conception, Abraham, the friend of God, together with Isaac, and Jacob rejoices with the choir of chosen holy ones. They led the creation to encounter you in these times which cause our joy. For you bring joy to all in conceiving in your womb the One who once manifested Himself in Babylon, preserving from the flames the young men unjustly thrown into the fiery furnace, by a miracle surpassing understanding. Thus they celebrate the Child whom they see carried in your arms and glorify the Virgin nursing Him.

Synaxarion of the Sunday before the Nativity of our Lord
On this day, the Sunday before the Nativity of Christ, as our holy and God-bearing Fathers have directed, we commemorate all those who were acceptable to God throughout the ages, from Adam to Joseph, the spouse of the most holy Theotokos.
Through their holy prayers, O our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Agony of Heart? St John Klimakos Responds

Hat Tip to Diakrisis Logismōn for this uplifting quote from St John of the Ladder.

Agony of Heart ?

God does not insist or desire that we should mourn in agony of heart; rather, it is His wish that out of love for Him we should rejoice with laughter in our soul. Take away sin, and tears become superfluous; where there is no bruise, no ointment is required. Before the Fall, Adam shed no tears, and in the same way there will be no more tears after the resurrec tion from the dead, when sin has been destroyed. For pain, sorrow, and lamentation will then have fled away.

~St. John Klimakos
I had missed this when originally posted, but am thankful to our Lord that I read it today. As I have noted before, Diakrisis Logismōn is a nice source of well considered spiritual wisdom, posted in nicely-sized doses, and well worth regular consumption for strengthening spiritual health.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Reflections on the murder of Hieromartyr Daniil Sysoyev

The website 'Orthodoxy and the World' has a reflection on the death of Fr Danill Sysoyev. In a few paragraphs the reflection notes the difference between zealotry and inspired faith. It is so worthy of our own reflection that I am reproducing it here complete. For the reflection from its original (English) source, click here.

If one believes the official reports, the murderer of Father Daniel called out, “Who here is Sysoyev?” In these words lies a challenge not only to Father Daniel, but also to everyone who has decided to devote their life to Orthodox witnessing. It seemed to us that the time of martyrdom and costly witness had long passed, but now we are proven wrong. Today, as always, confessing Christ attracts all the spite and hatred of this world.

Evil has a simple logic – if the man is gone, the problem is gone. Polemics is for those who have remained human, but when a person resorts to violence, he becomes dehumanized and unable to be what God called him to be.

It so happened that Father Daniel and I would sometimes disagree and argue. Despite these polemics, one thing was important to me - that we believed in the same God and were children of the same Church. Those disagreements were but trifles, which unfortunately are inevitable in everyday life: we were entirely at one when it came to the principles of our faith.

Death is a watershed that separates the important from the unimportant. Death gives the true measurement of a person, making it possible to put misunderstandings aside and see the person the way he or she is. So now Father Daniel is standing before us in all the simplicity of his smile, and how sad it is that we cannot accept a person as they are while they are still alive.

It is beyond doubt that Father Daniel lived in and for Christ. He and only He was the centre and meaning of his life. His daily confession of the faith and his sincere wish to bring people to the Truth was perceived by many as something foolish, not serious, something inappropriate for reputable people.

We talk a lot about the revival of Orthodoxy and, I hope, we work for it to a certain extent. But are there many among us who have no other interests, or rather, meanings in life but Christ and His Church? We can talk about it, but what do our lives say? Our everyday activities? What is the cornerstone of it all?

Almost all who comment on the terrible tragedy agree that Father Daniel was not indifferent - he was sincere and zealous. The Church Tradition has preserved the words of Christ, “As I find you, so shall I judge you.” Father Daniel became a martyr while performing his priestly service. He was trapped, but not taken unawares; he met his death vested in his priest’s stole and cuffs. We constantly pray at every service that the end of our earthly existence be painless, blameless and peaceful. However, we cannot know what, in fact, it will be; we can only pray and try to live a Christian life. That is how Father Daniel lived, just doing his work and relying on God in everything.

Evil thinks in the categories of earthly history, but we were created for eternity. What we will be in eternity depends on what we become on earth. Father Daniel was a priest of Christ and His Church. All his life was filled with this service, and his death is the confirmation of this. “Death is worth living for, and love is worth waiting for ….”

Please read also about Fr.Daniel:

Fr. Daniel's Autobiography and the Interview with Him on the Occasion of the Opening of the Missionary Centre

On the Murder of Father Daniil Sysoev

Father Daniil Has Gone from us to God as a Confessor
A postscript. We are all called to the Great Commission: The Lord said: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age." (Mat 28.18-20) While the direct commission was given to the Apostles, and through them the Bishops and priests, every Christian has a role to play in "making disciples", beginning with themselves, and through their own witness bring others to Christ.

In the technologically rich and "civilized" twenty-first century, it is too easy to assume that we can simply sit at our computers blogging (like this present activity) and catechumens will wander across our paths like the Ethiopian eunuch to receive the Gospel at our hands. It is too often the case that our witness fall short through lack of prayer, lack of fasting, and lack of Grace-filled Love. There are thousands upon thousands of catechumens 'out there' - the great majority of them not even knowing that they are listening to hear the words of Faith and thus going about their lives like the eunuch, reading and not understanding.

We need to pray for catechumens daily, those we know and those who do not yet know the Church. We need to fast for our own sins and the sins of the world. We need to beg our Lord for the Gift of life-transforming Faith and the Grace of Divine Light. Only then, whether clergy or laity, will our efforts bear the fruits substantiating our claim to be Christian. And we must be prepared to accept that sometimes these godly efforts may require our blood to prove the Truth of our witness.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Holy Land Christians issue their own Manhattan Document - will anyone heed it?

Friday, 11 December 2009, a group of Christian religious leaders of Palestine and Israel met in Bethlehem where they issued The Kairos Palestine Document. In many ways, this document constitutes a kind of Middle Eastern Christian Manhattan Document. Not only arguing for the removal of the many restrictions and human rights violations claimed against the government of Israel, the document also challenges the "Christian Zionism" that is almost a hallmark of many US Protestant groups. Some of these groups support Israel believing that by destroying the Dome of the Rock and building the "Third Temple" the Second Coming of Christ will be brought about. The Kairos Document also frames the situation of Palestinian Christians as apartheid. Thus far, only Speros News has reported on the document.

It is a fact that for many people in the United States, the dispute and ongoing conflict in the Middle East is solely understood as Israel against Muslims. The Palestinians are seen as being a Muslim people. While it is true that the majority of Palestinians are Muslim, a significant - but tragically shrinking - minority of Palestinians are Christians: Orthodox, Greek Catholic, Roman Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, and a sprinkling of Protestant groups. Often Christians are caught in the crossfire between militant Palestinians and Israelis. When Israel imposes curfews, Palestinians Christians suffer along with the many local Palestinian Muslims who have no part in the terrorist acts perpetrated by groups of militants. In recent years, a curfew of Bethlehem during the season around Christmas severely impacted the local Christian community, and other curfews have adversely affected Christians whose businesses rely on pilgrims during the Lenten and Paschal Seasons. (There are increasing reports of young Israelis spitting on Orthodox and Catholic Christian priests and using vulgar language to insult them.)

The cause of peace cannot be forwarded by ignorance of the facts. Acts of terror are not justified by oppression, but neither is oppression against the many justified by atrocities committed by the few. ("The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself." Ezekiel 18.8 ESV)

I will let The Kairos Palestine Document speak for itself. I anticipate that the site itself will grow over time.
For myself, I reproduce a most important and inspiring talk given by His Eminence Archbishop Elias Chacour at the 2007 Presbyterian Global Fellowship Conference. His message of peace, love and seeking the good of all the people of the region - as well as a kind request for Protestants to roll up their sleeves and help versus rolling up their pamphlets to convert Middle Eastern Christians - is well worth your time.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Do you see what I see?

Hat tip to Christopher at Orrologion for connecting us to Dan Mitsui's HORROR VACUI.

The discussion is perspective and the West's love affair with linear perspective. So ingrained in most Westerners is the identification of linear perspective with reality, that all other art tends to be judged on the basis of it. In the case of "modern art" this may be justified; but in the case of Christian art it is most assuredly not justified. Two snippets are reproduced below to arouse your interest.

We are so used to linear perspective that we unthinkingly identify it with realism; to modern eyes, a "realistic" painting is one painted in linear perspective. Some may argue that the resemblance of such a painting to a photograph is proof of its realism. But this begs the question; had we not already been accustomed to consider perspectival painting the standard of realism, we might never have accepted photography as realistic either. I can imagine an ancient Egyptian sage inventing the camera, and upon discovering that it did not always show the human figure in profile concluding that it did not work very well. ...

In the mediaeval mind, hierarchy, rhythm and number are the fundamental laws of the universe. Art was painted and drawn and woven in the same manner that literature was written and the natural world was observed; symbolism was the animating principle. The literal is only one of four senses of reality; the allegorical, tropological and anagogical senses are equally real, and equally necessary to depict....
Check out the full post here!

Then look up "Reverse Perspective" on Google or Yahoo.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The Role of Sympathy

Hat Tip to Salt of the Earth for this beatuiful statement from St John Cassian
Learn from your own experience to sympathize with those in trouble, and never to terrify with destructive despair those who are in danger, nor harden them with severe speeches, but rather restore them with gentle and kindly consolations.

This excerpt was taken from the book “The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Second Series Vol. XI

Monday, December 07, 2009

An Argument for Home Schooling...

cut straight from today's headlines....


You have been warned.

Let me preface this by urging us all to recall the Prayer of St Ephraim the Syrian: "O Lord and Master of my life, a spirit of idleness, despondency, ambition, and idle talking give me not. But rather a spirit of chastity, humble-mindedness, patience, and love bestow upon me Thy servant. Yea, O Lord King, grant me to see my failings and not condemn my brother; for blessed art Thou unto the ages of ages. Amen."

If it weren't for the reliability of the source, I wouldn't believe this. Read this story, and be aware that there is extremely graphic material involved. It is entitled: Breaking: Obama’s “Safe Schools Czar” Is Promoting Child Porn in the Classroom– Kevin Jennings and the GLSEN Reading List

Very seldom will you find me urging you to make a "political" call. But the main number for the White House is (202) 456-1111, and the "Contact Us" page is here.

But before you "make that call" pray the following Psalm, as we are all sinners and in some way must have contributed to this situation.

Psalm 50

Have mercy on me, O God, according to Thy great mercy; and according to the multitude of Thy compassions blot out my transgression. Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know mine iniquity, and my sin is ever before me. Against Thee only have I sinned and done this evil before Thee, that Thou mightest be justified in Thy words, and prevail when Thou art judged. For behold, I was conceived in iniquities, and in sins did my mother bear me. For behold, Thou hast loved truth; the hidden and secret things of Thy wisdom hast Thou made manifest unto me. Thou shalt sprinkle me with hyssop, and I shall be made clean; Thou shalt wash me, and I shall be made whiter than snow. Thou shalt make me to hear joy and gladness; the bones that be humbled, they shall rejoice. Turn Thy face away from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from Thy presence, and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation and with Thy governing Spirit establish me. I shall teach transgressors Thy ways, and the ungodly shall turn back unto Thee. Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O God, Thou God of my salvation; my tongue shall rejoice in Thy righteousness. O Lord, Thou shalt open my lips, and my mouth shall declare Thy praise. For if Thou hadst desired sacrifice, I had given it; with whole-burnt offerings Thou shalt not be pleased. A sacrifice unto God is a broken spirit; a heart that is broken and humbled God will not despise. Do good, O Lord, in Thy good pleasure unto Sion, and let the walls of Jerusalem be builded. Then shalt Thou be pleased with a sacrifice of righteousness, with oblation and whole-burnt offerings. Then shall they offer bullocks upon Thine altar.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Wisdom from the Church Fathers

Whether a habit is good or bad, time nourishes it, just as wood feeds a fire. Thus, so far as we can, we should cultivate and practise what is good, so that it becomes an established habit operating automatically and effortlessly when required. It was through victories in small things that the fathers won their great battles.

St. Peter of Damaskos

Find peace and thousands around you shall be saved.

St. Seraphim of Sarov