Byzantwo

THE PREVIOUS Post was written and posted. Totally forgotten was the point: the bridge used by the writer to open up the “the west” for the fruits of prayer arising in the east was the Liturgy. The Vatican Two “novus ordo” is exactly the Byzantine Divine liturgy, slightly tweaked for Westerners.

By way of History, the liturgy of East and West was in times past more parallel than it had become in the last 1,000 years. It was also a bit more out-of-doors and processional. The rites of Jerusalem, Rome, and Constantinople were all begun in one of several locations, with processions through the city streets, to another central location. There communion was celebrated, and then deacons carried the consecrated gifts out again to other places for the people who could not attend the rite itself.

There are elements of this still in the “Station churches” of Rome: the bishop of the city would call the people to gather at one church. Prayers were said, then the people would process, singing psalms, to another church where the rest of Mass was said. In Constantinople the final location was Hagia Sophia. In Jerusalem it was often (but not always) the Holy Sepulchre. Over time the processional rites were diminished in the west. In the east, as it became increasingly impossible to do such things out of doors (because of Muslims, mostly) the chanting of Psalms was moved indoors, and what we now think of as the Three Antiphons at the beginning of the Divine Liturgy were formalized. Apart from these Antiphons, the Divine Liturgy and the Novus Ordo are basically the same:

Divine Liturgy:
  1. Holy God (Penitential), Entrance blessing & hymnody
  2. Psalm Verse
  3. Lesson (Epistle)
  4. Alleluia
  5. Gospel
  6. Homily
  7. Prayers/Litanies
  8. Offertory
  9. Creed
  10. Sursum Corda
  11. Anaphora
  12. Our Father
  13. Communion
  14. Dismissal
  15. Final Blessing
Novus Ordo
  1. Hymnody, Blessing, Penitential rite, Gloria
  2. Lessons
  3. Psalms
  4. Alleluia
  5. Gospel
  6. Homily
  7. Creed
  8. Universal Prayer
  9. Offertory
  10. Sursum Corda
  11. Anaphora
  12. Our Father
  13. Communion
  14. Dismissal
  15. Final Blessing

Apart from the Creed and the East’s propensity to often do “little litanies” the two rites are structurally the same.

It should be noted that in the Novus Ordo, while there are two lessons + Gospel assigned, it’s generally understood that the goal of the reform was one of either lessons plus Gospel but with a wider selection. We see this in the weekday Mass with only one reading, Psalm, Alleluia, then Gospel. Personally, I’m OK with three – and I think it’s strange that the Byzantine Rite has so little of the Jewish Scriptures at all – except for Psalms of course. On a “normal” Sunday, depending on the local liturgical tradition, one can get upwards of 16 full Psalms in the course of the rites of Sunday!

This would be more evident if the Ad Orientem posture was restored fully in the west (as per the actual rubrics) and the often-ignored minor propers were chanted more often. This would add more Psalm verses.

So, seeing these two rites are the same, we get a better sense of what the Council Fathers intended by the phrase, “full, conscious, and active participation.” There was no implication of something new but rather of something very old. It’s something, in fact, that the Byzantines had been doing right along in their already-vernacular liturgies! These liturgies are often chanted by the entire congregation, sung in simple folk melodies that come from the “home countries”. The Novus Ordo wasn’t a revolution, but an ecumenical (meaning the whole Church) evolution – using “both lungs” as Pope St John Paul would later say.

Byzantine

As subdeacon at the Paschal liturgy with my friend, Fr Christopher.

IT’S BEEN AN INTERESTING Year serving in a Byzantine Catholic Parish. There’s been a whole lot of learning – and some sadness. In 20 years as an Orthodox Christian, I was never once inside the Holy Place for the liturgy. Singing in choir was enough and – on those rare occasions (I can remember 3 in 20 years) when I ventured beyond the iconostasis I felt the space inside vibrate – like an electrical charge. It was not that I wasn’t supposed to be there: I had no desire to be in there at all. In becoming Roman Catholic and wrestling with the whole question of vocation again, the return to Byzantine liturgy was… what? An irony? A grace? A mark of God’s humor? Yes. And more.

What has come to is a sense of prayer that was never there before. And it seems that it’s not private prayer, not something that’s going on in me in spite of the liturgy happening around me. Instead, it’s personal prayer that’s arising from and woven intrinsically into the action that’s making me a person. And from the Byzantine Liturgy this prayer has sprung out into the Latin liturgy, the Liturgy of the Hours, the Rosary… focused on the Name of Jesus, the venerating the icon of God present in the Church and in those served.

So, in some way I was not before, I’m a Byzantine Christian. This is the spirituality that is home. It’s the filter through which other things come to the point that I don’t know the answer to questions like this: is St Thomas Aquinas so very Byzantine because he is or because I’m hearing it that way? When I hear Byzantine context in Hebrew mysticism is it there because it is or because I’m hearing it that way? Can’t tell. I can’t tell because Latins hear it all very Latin-y. Is Aquinas or Hebrew Latin? It’s heard that way…

Then in the hearing there is a revelation of the mode of the hearer. And so the hearer has become a learner: and what is revealed is joy.

To be clear: Byzantine Catholic – not Eastern Orthodox. And yet really that is semantics. Coming into the Catholic Church I discovered I had been there all along.

God is good.

Something Greater.

The Readings for the Sunday of St Mary of Egypt
The Fifth Sunday of the Great Fast

OUR HOLY MOTHER MARY OF Egypt, as she is called in the Great Canon of St Andrew of Crete, is perhaps my most-favorite of female saints. Her regular feast day is 1 April which is always in Lent so – like the other saints of this Church Season – she was given a Sunday so that her feast would not get obscured. However she – of all the saints in Lent – is especially Lenten. It makes sense that she should have a Sunday. 1 April being Saturday this year, this whole weekend is hers. There is nothing twee or Victorian about her. She is not a visionary or mystic. She is a sinner who returned to her God. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Her Life is read in Church on Wednesday or Thursday of this week as part of Matins. (Wednesday night is normal, but I’ve been in places where it’s read on Thursday night – may just be a scheduling issue…) This year one thing stands out.

As I mentioned, she is a sinner who repents, nothing more. But she is a very prolific sinner. I’ve appended her words to the end of this post. She did not do things out of hatred of God or love of evil. She wasn’t paid to do evil. She was simply following her bliss: things that she enjoyed.

But the thing that stands out is at the beginning of the tale, the whole point. The Elder Zosimas has been a monk since childhood until he was 53. “After that, he began to be tormented with the thought that he was perfect in everything and needed no instruction from anyone, saying to himself mentally, “Is there a monk on earth who can be of use to me and show me a kind of asceticism that I have not accomplished? Is there a man to be found in the desert who has surpassed me?” Thus thought the elder, when suddenly an angel appeared to him and said: “Zosima, valiantly have you struggled, as far as this is within the power of man, valiantly have you gone through the ascetic course. But there is no man who has attained perfection. Before you lie unknown struggles greater than those you have already accomplished. That you may know how many other ways lead to salvation, leave your native land like the renowned patriarch Abraham and go to the monastery by the River Jordan.

The whole tale is predicated on this promise: to show him something greater than his own journey. To this end he meets St Mary of Egypt who has struggled alone for her 50 years in the desert of her own choice seeking God. There’s not further comment on the Angel’s promise in the text, but the implication is clear: the monk thinks he’s done it all… but this one sinner who repented is greater, living in the angelic realm even while on earth.

Beyond that, St Mary seems to have had communion only twice as an adult and never even once attended the liturgy. This is paralleled by the odd practice of the monastery to which the Elder attaches himself: at the beginning of Lent the entire community leaves the monastery, each going his own way. They only return on Pascha. This is a story about someone inside the church being sent beyond the church’s walls to meet a saint.

Can we imagine that God’s power stops at the doors of the Church? No. Can we imagine our faith has no effect in the world? No. How great is God’s mercy? Infinite. How loudly can God call us even through our sins!

Holy Mother Mary of Egypt, pray to God for us!

I am ashamed to recall how there I at first ruined my maidenhood and then unrestrainedly and insatiably gave myself up to sensuality It is more becoming to speak of this briefly, so that you may just know my passion and my lechery. for about seventeen years, forgive me, I lived like that. I was like a fire of public debauch. And it was not for the sake of gain — here I speak the pure truth. Often when they wished to pay me, I refused the money. I acted in this way so as to make as many men as possible to try to obtain me, doing free of charge what gave me pleasure. do not think that I was rich and that was the reason why I did not take money. I lived by begging, often by spinning flax, but I had an insatiable desire and an irrepressible passion for lying in filth. This was life to me. Every kind of abuse of nature I regarded as life. That is how I lived. Then one summer I saw a large crowd of Lybians and Egyptians running towards the sea. I asked one of them, Where are these men hurrying to?’ He replied,They are all going to Jerusalem for the Exaltation of the Precious and Lifegiving Cross, which takes place in a few days.’ I said to him, Will they take me with them if I wish to go?’No one will hinder you if you have money to pay for the journey and for food.’ And I said to him, `To tell you truth, I have no money, neither have I food. But I shall go with them and shall go aboard. And they shall feed me, whether they want to or not. I have a body — they shall take it instead of pay for the journey.’ I was suddenly filled with a desire to go, Abba, to have more lovers who could satisfy my passion. I told you, Abba Zosima, not to force me to tell you of my disgrace. God is my witness, I am afraid of defiling you and the very air with my words.”

Zosima, weeping, replied to her: “Speak on for God’s sake, mother, speak and do not break the thread of such an edifying tale.”

And, resuming her story, she went on: “That youth, on hearing my shameless words, laughed and went off. While I, throwing away my spinning wheel, ran off towards the sea in the direction which everyone seemed to be taking. and, seeing some young men standing on the shore, about ten or more of them, full of vigour and alert in their movements, I decided that they would do for my purpose (it seemed that some of them were waiting for more travellers whilst others had gone ashore). Shamelessly, as usual, I mixed with the crowd, saying, `Take me with you to the place you are going to; you will not find me superfluous.’ I also added a few more words calling forth general laughter. Seeing my readiness to be shameless, they readily took me aboard the boat. Those who were expected came also, and we set sail at once. How shall I relate to you what happened after this? Whose tongue can tell, whose ears can take in all that took place on the boat during that voyage! And to all this I frequently forced those miserable youths even against their own will. There is no mentionable or unmentionable depravity of which I was not their teacher. I am amazed, Abba, how the sea stood our licentiousness, how the earth did not open its jaws, and how it was that hell did not swallow me alive, when I had entangled in my net so many souls. But I think God was seeking my repentance. For He does not desire the death of a sinner but magnanimously awaits his return to Him.

Of Incidents and Accidents.

The Readings for the Sunday of St Gregory Palamas
The Second Sunday of the Great Fast

AS THE Observance of the Great Fast evolved in the Eastern Church, each Sunday was assigned a special devotion: the Sunday of Orthodoxy, the Sundays of St Gregory, of St John, of St Mary, and the Sunday of the Holy Cross. Of all of them, it’s this Sunday of St Gregory Palamas that can seem the most out of place. Or, at least it seems to me. As the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese puts it, “The feast day of Saint Gregory Palamas is November 14, however, he is commemorated on this Sunday as the condemnation of his enemies and the vindication of his teachings by the Church in the 14th century was acclaimed as a second triumph of Orthodoxy.” So, here we are as Byzantine Catholics celebrating the “second triumph of Orthodoxy”. In what way?

Although Gregory’s opponents are usually seen as “Scholastics” on a western model – and that is spun to be an anti-Catholic feast – the history is a bit more clear. Gregory taught “that ascesis and prayer are the outcome of the whole mystery of Redemption, and are the way for each person to make the grace given at Baptism blossom within himself.” That “God is love and full person”, that God allows us to participate as beings in His Being without admitting a break or division in “the unity of the divine Nature.” The fire of God is the fire of love which ignites the Christian soul and draws us all towards God.

Here, on the Second Sunday of Lent, we celebrate not a theological innovator but someone whose brilliant mind compiled the teachings of the Fathers of the preceding 14 centuries and summed it all up. St Gregory is often depicted by partisans as someone who stands against “Scholasticism” but he is as great a compiler as St Thomas Aquinas. His teaching is just a distillation of all that had gone before in the Eastern Church.

The light of Christ’s Transfiguration on Tabor shines in the soul of the Baptised and, through participation in the Holy Faith, that same light can shine out of our sous into the world around us. Deification. Theosis. This is what salvation means. This is the Glory of God, St Irenaeus teaches, “a living man” (and as was echoed in the Talmud – “The adornment [or glory] of God is man” – Derekh Eretz Zuta 10.7.) As we live in the world today, we are called to see the unity of our soul in Christ not so that each of us can – as individuals – be got into heaven, but rather so that we as the Body of Christ can bring healing to the world around us. Paul asks, “how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?” (Heb 2:3)

Of Icons & Hosts

The Readings for the Sunday of the Triumph of Orthodoxy
The First Sunday of the Great Fast

HEARING OF A BYZANTINE CATHOLIC podcast called What God is Not, I decided to give a listen to a ByzCath Nun, Mother Natalia, and Fr Michael O’Loughlin, a priest of the Eparchy of Phoenix. I was instantly drawn in, not only because of the excellent material and conversation, but also because Mother Natalia sounds exactly like someone I know – and in fact looks like her! I had to use my Google-Fu to make sure I wasn’t hearing a St D parishioner. Someplace in the first episode to which I listened, and sadly I do not remember which one it was, Mother made a comment to the effect that the East had to deal most with heresies around iconoclasm while the West had to deal with denial of the Eucharist. This, she suggested, was why Eucharistic Adoration is a thing in the West, but not in the East; and why icons, and venerating them, take such a huge role in the East. Marian apparitions are a thing in the West, but “revelations of Marion icons” are a thing in the East.

The listener’s mind was sufficiently blown. This is, certainly, an historic reality, but it’s a huge theological statement as well. Imagine the idea that God can work, locally, delivering what might be needed there.

I started teaching a class called ByzCath 101 at Our Lady of Fatima. It seemed like a good way to put my experience in the Orthodox Church to use or, rather, to bring that with me into the Catholic Church. Yet I’ve had to rethink a lot of things around how we parse out (T)radition vrs (t)radition. Big-T Tradition and Little-T Tradition are a huge argument on the Orthodox Internets. One can easily get burned for anything from letting women read prayers before Liturgy to using “you” for God. Did your pastor leave the Holy Doors open at Liturgy? You’re in danger of Modernist Ecumenism. Did your Bishop’s spiritual father commune with the Catholics or Communists in Soviet Russia? You’re outside of the Church now. It’s a mess! After 20 years or so, what seemed to me to be (T)radition was really just (t)radition all along. What was hyper important in this place wasn’t so important in that place. Yet, everyone seemed to be struggling towards God. So (T) must stand for things that are dealing with our salvation. (t) must be everything else. There’s a lot of (t) masquerading as (T) though.

Then, becoming Catholic and reading the Catechism, one begins to see that even the things that seemed very important at the end of my Orthodox Journey are only (t) as well. In fact, how to say mass or the Liturgy, how to pray, how to do anything, what confession means, how the sacraments work… even the Filioque. It’s all (t)radition. Yes, it’s hella important in your local Church, but in the end only what pertains to your salvation is (T). Everything else is (t). You must believe certain things, yeas – but those are the T. We cannot even legitimately say that certain things are required in a sacramental marriage or a sacramental confession unless we qualify them by saying “required in this particular church” with the subtext always being “but not in that one…”

Let me tell you how liberating it is to be a member of the Catholic Church!

The Parable of Rabbits & Pigs

The Readings for the Sunday of the Last Judgement
Meatfare

HERE IS A PRECES of our parable: Jesus says at the Last Judgement God will divide us as a farmer does the sheep from the goats. The sheep will find out that they have often fed, clothed, and cared for Jesus. And they will say in all humility, No… we did not. And the goats will be told that they have never fed, clothed, or cared for Jesus. And they will say in self-justification, But we never had that chance: we would certainly have done so if you had shown up.

And then both groups will be told the punchline: when you did – or did not do – these things for the poor, the hungry, the homeless then you did – or did not do – these things for Jesus.

Then the sheep get into heaven and the goats go someplace where heaven is not, and the story ends.

Readers might have heard a sermon that goes something like this: Jesus never asks either the sheep or the goats if they’ve kept any religious rules. Did they’ve gone to mass, did they say their prayers? Jesus only asks if they have cared for the poor. Care for the poor matters, but Jesus doesn’t care about religious rules. A more subtle form of this sermon might conclude that people who care for the poor will get into heaven long before anyone else. Then it swerves off into “social justice” and trying to “build the city of God” here on this planet to “get ready” for the second coming.

However, this parable is not about ditching religious duty in favor of a crypto-Marxist reading of scripture.

In terms of animals following religious rules, a better example might be pigs. To be kosher an animal must have split hooves and chew its cud. Pigs have hooves that are split, but they do not chew the cud. You can’t see that, so if you look at a pig briefly you might think it’s Kosher on the outside… but it’s not. Horses chew the cud, as do rabbits. They have the right insides, but they have the wrong kind of external features. Rabbits not only chew the cud, but they are also cuddly. The inside counts as much as the outside. But this parable is NOT about following rules. Sheep and goats are both Kosher. They are both sacrificial animals. They both – unlike pigs, rabbits, or horses – follow all the rules: on the inside and on the outside.

You miss the point if you don’t catch this. Jesus is not talking about Marxist bunnies or Capitalist pigs here. This scene from the Last Judgment takes place after the pigs, rabbits, and horses have all been sent away already

Both sheep and goats are goodly, clean things. Both are acceptable symbols for us, the religious folks. Follow all the rules. Do everything right. The sheep, however, follow through on the spirit as well as the letter of the law.
The goats fail to do so. The sheep realize that, beyond the law, there is love.

It is almost like Jesus saying to all the Good Sheep and the Good Goats…(Realized here that my “Jesus Voice” sounds like Bishop Barron….)  “Oh, one last thing… you went to mass every day, you prayed every day, you never broke a commandment. Good. Good. All important, all needed….”

But, um…

Did you get the point?

You can’t use this parable to say “there are no rules except care for the poor.” Love God AND love your neighbor. Do right by both. No one is saved by doing anything: but love and faith require doing to be real. There is something beyond the rules: your whole life must be changed into Christ.

There are no generous pigs here. There are, however, people who follow all the rules and do nothing important. (Rabbits are cute, though.)

So this Guy’s got Two Boys, right?

Readings for the Sunday of the Prodigal:

NOT THAT THERE’S Really this kind of ranking system, but I imagine that “The Prodigal Son” is one of the more well-known of Jesus’ stories. Perhaps equally as often what they know about this story is wrong. We use “prodigal” as a way to describe anyone who goes away and comes back, although that’s not what “prodigal” means. Many folks know about how forgiving the Father was in this story and use this story as one of Jesus’ “don’t judge me” moments to try and get the Church to bend (or even break) her own rules. They only know what they want to hear. What they have learned though, is sort of an inoculation: it keeps them from wanting to know more.

First, we’re going to start with the meaning of “prodigal”. It’s about how you spend, waste, give away, or otherwise use or misuse your money. It’s not about coming back.

  1. spending money or resources freely and recklessly; wastefully extravagant.
    “prodigal habits die hard”
  2. having or giving something on a lavish scale.
    “the dessert was crunchy with brown sugar and prodigal with whipped cream”

When the younger son says to the Father, “split your stuff in half and then give me what is mine…” he is saying, “I wish you were dead now.”

The Father concedes this. So it is the Father who is the first prodigal in this story. Yes, the Son runs away and spends all of Dad’s hard-earned dough, but the Son is only doing what he’s seen Dad do already. And yes, I know: the Son is prodigally sending his money on wine, women, and song. However he’s spending only irresponsibly – and he’s copying Dad. Dad, of course, could run a business, take care of a family, and lavish a gift on his son. Son does not have the kind of discipline needed to navigate in the real world. That said, I knew lots of kids in college who made stupid money choices. I was one of them! Again, the Youth probably wanted to do “things” with his money that would make him happy. He didn’t want to do responsible things like pay bills. That’s boring – let Dad do that – but as long as I have money, let there be a party! The Son thinks Dad made some wonky choices and the Son thinks, Hey, I can do this better.

And, like most irresponsible youths he comes to himself after a while, snaps out of it. Grows up. Settles down. Stops being prodigal in a bad way and – one hopes – becomes prodigal in a good way, like Dad.

But then the problem with reading arises: because the older brother is a bit of a putz, at least in the normal reading. So I want to speak for him.

See, at the start of the story, Dad divides everything in half and gives one whole half of everything to the younger brother and one whole half to the older son. It says the property was divided between them – not just to the younger one. That might sound just to you, with your 21st-century ears, but to a Second Temple Jew or in many cultures around the area, that would have already been entirely wrong. By right, the older brother gets anywhere from 2/3 of everything all the way up to everything. It’s the older brother who’s getting screwed here. And, when the younger brother comes back, and the father says, “All that I have is yours…” it might be better to hear that as “The only stuff we have left is your stuff.” When the fatted calf gets killed for this welcome home party the calf belongs to the older brother.

I’d be a bit indignant about this too.

Dad’s been very prodigal with his family stuff. The father is just as guilty of wasting his belonging as the younger son. The older son is saying, “Hey… wait. That’s my stuff!” And, let’s be real, it is.

Where the older brother fails here is to think it’s about stuff – his stuff, my stuff, your stuff, our stuff. But it’s not about stuff. It’s about love. It’s about family. It’s being together in the end that’s what counts.

But more than that, the older brother is only acting as if he hasn’t anything at all. The Father already gave him his half of the stuff. (Jesus says this happened at the beginning of the story.) He’s acting this way to get the right to complain. You never gave me a fatted calf… well, actually, everything was given to you at the beginning of the story. Why are you complaining? What are you afraid of?

The older brother is acting like the guy with one coin (Luke) or one talent (in Matthew). In the both stories, the servant hides things away because they are fearful of the master. In the Lukan story the servant is described as “wicked” but in the Matthew story the servant is “slothful”. The Greek implies that the Master is accusing the the servant of being scared of doing anything, of being timid. Jesus seems to be saying the same thing here: yes the younger brother ran away, and took a huge risk and came back. He had every reason to be afraid, and yet he was not. He was bold as all get out – just like Dad. But the older brother had no reason at all to be fearful or angry – and yet he was still that way: love is prodigal. Fear is not.

Fear is risk adverse. Timid. Careful. “Where’s my stuff” is not a greedy question here, it’s the voice of fear. That’s not Jesus’ way at all.

Freedom is a State of Soul

Tuesday in the week of the Publican & the Pharisee:

BETWEEN THE CFR Podcast and my own t0-read (especially Transformation in Christ and He and I) list I’m in the midst of a flood of thoughts about interior freedom. This is a specifically Christian conception, although it may have non-Christian predecessors in pagan philosophies. How can a person respond fully from, the core of their being, to God as he is really presenting himself to them? To do this the person must be free, but this doesn’t mean free of external chains: a saint can be imprisoned, beaten, enslaved, abused, tortured, maimed, and nearly dead – while still being free to respond to God.

Understanding that external forces can only “kill the body, but not the soul” is a first step, or maybe the first step is realizing that no matter what the world says, God says we are free in the Son. That means that even when the world says you are “oppressed” or “unfree” in any way, you’re not actually hindered at all from responding to God in a way that mirrors the mystery of Holy Matrimony: free, full, faithful, and fruitful. We fear external forces and this fear can prevent us from being free. It is the fear itself – and internalized response – that is the cause of our unfreedom: not anything on the outside. If God calls and we do not respond because of fear, we have failed. It’s not that someone else has prevented us. God does not call us foward if he doesn’t give us the gifts to move in his will. A fearful rejection of God’s call is a lack of faith in God, a lack of confidence in his promises.

Today’s epistle, though, finds St Peter describing to us an entirely different kind of hindrance to interior freedom: those who fall pray to their own desires, “especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority… They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children! Forsaking the right way they have gone astray…”

It would be especially easy in today’s church to point at Cardinals, Bishops, Priests, Monastics, Nuns, theologians, etc, and say, “they are like this” but to point at or to point out… would be to make us like the Pharisee in Sunday’s Gospel. It’s damnable to point out this failure in the second or third person, but far more difficult and far more laudable to point out this sin in the first person. In the second person, just saying “she gets to do this…” becomes an excuse for me to do it as well. But saying out loud, “I am doing this because I want to…” and saying it with that level of honesty can help others seek their own healing. Peter calls out those who want to. They are enslaved to their own addictions to sin. And they lead others to the same enslavement.

It’s easy, as I mentioned, to point at others.

I spent most of my twenties and thirties involved in things this way. My parents turned into activists, now launching others in this direction. It pains me, today, to see the blowback of my own enslavement.

But freedom comes not from one’s own license to do whatever one wants, but conformity to the God who’s very name is love.

CS Lewis’ Screwtape Letters has a passage on this at the very beginning:

To us [the Demons] a human is primarily food; our aim is the absorption of its will into ours, the increase of our own area of selfhood at its expense. But the obedience which the Enemy [that is, God] demands of men is quite a different thing. One must face the fact that all the talk about His love for men, and His service being perfect freedom, is not (as one would gladly believe) mere propaganda, but an appalling truth. He really does want to fill the universe with a lot of loathsome little replicas of Himself—creatures whose life, on its miniature scale, will be qualitatively like His own, not because He has absorbed them but because their wills freely conform to His. We want cattle who can finally become food; He wants servants who can finally become sons. We want to suck in, He wants to give out. We are empty and would be filled; He is full and flows over. Our war aim is a world in which Our Father Below [that is, Satan] has drawn all other beings into himself: the Enemy wants a world full of beings united to Him but still distinct.

…Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.

When that desire to obey manifests, it is God’s Grace that does so. When we lean in, it is His Grace that causes us to lean in at all, and gives us the needed time and energy and tools to do so. It is the dance of human freedom to be God’s Son that moves us, but the Dance is God.

We can only do it when we are Free.

And God will break all the chains we hold out to him.

Publican and Republican

The readings for the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee:

LAST NIGHT I attended the vigil service at Holy Trinity Cathedral (OCA), my former parish. Since my Byzantine Catholic Parish does not have vigil services, I think I may make a few trips over to the Cathedral this Lent. The Dean greeted me and asked what prompted my visit and I replied, “Publican and Pharisee.” “Which one are you?” He asked. “That’s what I’m here to find out.”

“We’re all the Pharisee.” he replied.

Exactly.

It’s important to realize that any of Jesus’ listeners would have known the good guy and the bad guy in this story. Everyone hated the tax collectors and everyone respected the Pharisees. Some scholars posit that Jesus, himself, was a Pharisee and there’s good reason to read many of the stories in the Gospel within the context of contemporary, Second Temple rabbinic debates. So, begins Yeshua, Let me tell you a story about a tax collector and a Rabbi I know. Everyone settles down knowing how this will end.

Except suddenly the bad guy is the good guy and vice versa.

This is not a parable about “legalism” or about Jews, this is not even a parable about Pharisees. Yes, the prayer the Pharisee says is a slight mockery of three of the prayers one says waking. But these didn’t (seemingly) start in Judaism. Yeshua taught us not to judge, it would be odd if he made a parable judging others – and teaching us to judge that group of people as well! It’s about You-know-who-the-bad-guy and You-know-who-the-good-guy, except you’re wrong.

This is a story about the listener or, in this case, about the reader.

My brother in Christ drew this 12 years ago. It’s still right. We always want to compare ourselves. Jesus wants us to focus each on our own journey. But we want to see how others are doing. That’s why this week is a fast-free week in the Eastern Tradition: there’s no fasting at all. Meat for seven days! Don’t look at what others are doing. And, by the way, what you can do doesn’t really matter that much either. It’s your heart. Rend your heart, not your garments, as the prophet says. Rend your soul, not your diet. Rend your life, not your neighbor’s.

When we think we know who the good guy is, we usually make a first-person inclusion there. Aquinas says no one loves evil because it’s evil: everyone thinks he’s loving a good. Of course I’m the good guy. Or at least one of them.

The lesson in this parable is that we can’t tell from the outside and – worse – if we’re making judgments at all from the outside, we’re exactly like the bad guy in this story who judged himself good and the other guy evil when… in fact… the other guy was saved.

Rather than looking anywhere else, it’s much better to look at your own plate, at your own heart, at your own life and see what’s out of place and pray for God to have mercy on you. When you sit down to hear a story and it seems you may have misjudged who was the good and bad guys, yes, the storyteller was very crafty.

But the problem (which the storyteller used) was your judgment.

Thomas Hopko’s 55 Maxims

ALONG WITH THE “Rule” of the Late Fr Alexander Schmemann, which he wrote in his Journal on Tuesday, January 20, 1981 (see my copy here) the 55 Maxims of the Late Fr Thomas Hopko are, for me, a sure guide to living a Christian life as a single man living in the world. I can keep neither perfectly, so don’t read any claim into this post! These two together – adapted to my situation – are my personal rule.

Fr Tom was Fr Alexander’s Son-in-Law. Both served as Dean of St Vladimir’s Seminary. The maxims were originally part of a podcast. The Episode is archived here, along with a full transcript. Below is a condensed version of the 55 points. Although they were written for an Eastern Orthodox context, both the Maxims and the Rule are applicable in any Christian Journey.

  1. Be always with Christ and trust God in everything.
  2. Pray as you can, not as you think you must.
  3. Have a keepable rule of prayer done by discipline.
  4. Say the Lord’s Prayer several times each day.
  5. Repeat a short prayer when your mind is not occupied.
  6. Make some prostrations when you pray.
  7. Eat good foods in moderation and fast on fasting days.
  8. Practice silence, inner and outer.
  9. Sit in silence 20 to 30 minutes each day.
  10. Do acts of mercy in secret.
  11. Go to liturgical services regularly.
  12. Go to confession and holy communion regularly.
  13. Do not engage intrusive thoughts and feelings.
  14. Reveal all your thoughts and feelings to a trusted person regularly.
  15. Read the scriptures regularly.
  16. Read good books, a little at a time.
  17. Cultivate communion with the saints.
  18. Be an ordinary person, one of the human race.
  19. Be polite with everyone, first of all family members.
  20. Maintain cleanliness and order in your home.
  21. Have a healthy, wholesome hobby.
  22. Exercise regularly.
  23. Live a day, even a part of a day, at a time.
  24. Be totally honest, first of all with yourself.
  25. Be faithful in little things.
  26. Do your work, then forget it.
  27. Do the most difficult and painful things first.
  28. Face reality.
  29. Be grateful.
  30. Be cheerful.
  31. Be simple, hidden, quiet and small.
  32. Never bring attention to yourself.
  33. Listen when people talk to you.
  34. Be awake and attentive, fully present where you are.
  35. Think and talk about things no more than necessary.
  36. Speak simply, clearly, firmly, directly.
  37. Flee imagination, fantasy, analysis, figuring things out.
  38. Flee carnal, sexual things at their first appearance.
  39. Don’t complain, grumble, murmur or whine.
  40. Don’t seek or expect pity or praise.
  41. Don’t compare yourself with anyone.
  42. Don’t judge anyone for anything.
  43. Don’t try to convince anyone of anything.
  44. Don’t defend or justify yourself.
  45. Be defined and bound by God, not people.
  46. Accept criticism gracefully and test it carefully.
  47. Give advice only when asked or when it is your duty.
  48. Do nothing for people that they can and should do for themselves.
  49. Have a daily schedule of activities, avoiding whim and caprice.
  50. Be merciful with yourself and others.
  51. Have no expectations except to be fiercely tempted to your last breath.
  52. Focus exclusively on God and light, and never on darkness, temptation and sin.
  53. Endure the trial of yourself and your faults serenely, under God’s mercy.
  54. When you fall, get up immediately and start over.
  55. Get help when you need it, without fear or shame.