Oblate Spring  

Posted by Joe Rawls

I was surfing the net the other night when I came upon a very fine website called Oblate Spring. An oblate, in case you don't know, is a layperson who tries to structure his or her spiritual life according to monastic principles while still living in the so-called real world. A typical oblate will pray the daily office, engage in forms of contemplative prayer, do lots of spiritual reading, and be in spiritual direction, among other things. Participation in a local congregation is a given. The oblate follows a definitive rule of life and has a relationship, reinforced by solemn promises, with a particular monastic community. I myself am an associate (we're called associates instead of oblates, but the principle is the same) of the Anglican Order of the Holy Cross.

Oblate Spring is slanted towards Roman Catholic Benedictines but has lots of good material relevant to any Christian with a serious commitment to contemplative prayer. I've included it in the Favorite Links section of the sidebar. It's maintained by John Bakas, himself an oblate of
St Leo's Abbey in central Florida.

Monday Miscellany  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Following up on what was excerpted here on the Feast of St Mary, The Anglican Scotist has a very good post on Mary's role in the church. Here's the final paragraph:

It seems to me that the Anglican Communion could contribute something here, even now. On the one hand, its members have succeeded here and there in drawing mainline Protestant fragments together....To that extent, modest Anglican devotion to Mary has an opportunity to grow in other mainline churches. And to the extent that succeeds, the right time, the kairos, for promulgation draws nearer. To the extent, however, the AC is drawn over into a modern, Calvinist orbit, one wherein Marian devotions are dismissed with scorn, that day recedes further away.

And, over at The Topmost Apple, bls has a few pithy remarks about clergy and (or vs) laity:

Could we please kneel when we like, and enjoy a bit of peaceful contemplation in our pews--rather than being told we're not doing enough to suit you, and being forced to do whatever nutty things you've dreamed up now? This is just another avoidance mechanism, if you ask me--a way not to have to sit still with oneself and think too hard about anything.

A way to keep busy, rather than having to deal with feelings and with life. Typically American and typically shallow.

The Dormition of the Theotokos...  

Posted by Joe Rawls

...or the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin. Or the feast of St Mary the Virgin. Or any attempt to make some sense of the life of a Jewish peasant girl who got pregnant out of wedlock.

We mark today's feast first of all with a quote from an essay by Anglican Craig Uffman; the complete piece can be found here. Then we have a sermon by St Gregory Palamas, a Greek theologian of the 14th century and a crucial figure in the development of hesychasm. Then we round things off with an excerpt from Missing Mary (New York and Basingstoke, Palgrave McMillan 2004, p. 208), a book by Charlene Spretnak, a Roman Catholic feminist (no, that's not a complete oxymoron).

It is surely significant that Mary responds [to God] magnificently as a woman. It is fashionable these days to deny the particularity of our sexuality, as though being male and female means that we are "merely different". But we are known only insofar as we are bodily, which means that only insofar as we are male and female. So it is important that Mary's relation to Christ is not merely spiritual, but intensely biological. Her relation to Christ is incarnational; her flesh, her person, and her relation to God are inseparable.

She is the cause of what came before her, the champion of what came after her and the agent of things eternal....She is the glory of those upon earth, the joy of celestial beings, the adornment of all creation. She is the beginning and the source and root of unutterable good things, she is the summit and consummation of everything holy.

Theological reflection in every age ideally energizes the contemporary engagement with the Mystery of the Incarnation by bringing to bear the fullest, most current knowledge about the Creation. Twenty-first century physiology reveals that a mother's body receives some of her fetus's cells and DNA, which can remain in her indefinitely. Therefore, Mary's body contained cells of God-the-Son for the remainder of her days, which she spent as the First Disciple of the "Jesus Sect". That is, divine presence entered Mary from the moment she assented at the Annunciation, and it never left. Moreover, contemporary science tells us that pregnancy and child-birth alter the mother's brain by creating new neural pathways. Imagine the neural pathways that would develop in a woman's brain while God-the-Son was gestating within her and growing from her very flesh! Of course, Jesus was physiologically fully human but he was also fully divine--and they both knew that, which surely must have lent a profound dimension to their intimate connection. That elemental connection became part of Mary forever. The Catholic tradition of mystical engagement with the mystical birth of Christ has long intuited this aspect of Mary's spiritual being: Mary after Christ was more than human, the luminous Blessed Mother. During the first several centuries of Christianity, this was particularly apparent to the laity. Many grassroots Christians considered Mary to be the Theotokos long before the Early Church Fathers decreed the title official.

Transfiguration Quotes  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Today we remember the Transfiguration, a major feast in the Eastern churches but somewhat downplayed in the West. I offer three relevant quotes. The first is from Thomas Merton and is found in Merton and Hesychasm, Dieker and Montaldo eds., Louisville, Fons Vitae, 2003, pp. 231-232. The second is from Rowan Williams, The Dwelling of the Light, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2003, pp. 11-12. The final excerpt is from Vincent Rossi's article "The Transfiguration of Creation", found here on an excellent website maintained by The Orthodox Fellowship of the Transfiguration.

The whole tradition of iconography represents a traditional experience formulated in a theology of light, the icon being a kind of sacramental medium for the illumination and awareness of the glory of Christ within us....What one "sees" in prayer before an icon is not an external representation of a historical person, but an interior presence in light, which is the glory of the transfigured Christ, the experience of which is transmitted in faith from generation to generation by those who have "seen", from the apostles on down....So when I say that my Christ is the Christ of the icons, I mean that he is reached not through any scientific study but through direct faith and the mediation of the liturgy, art, worship, prayer, theology of light, etc., that is all bound up with the Russian and Greek Tradition.

This is an icon of quite violent force, explosive quality; it shows an extreme experience. We may find it difficult to relate to at first for that reason: we may be struck and impressed by it, yet feel also that nothing in our own experience corresponds to this. We weren't there; we haven't seen the skys opening, the light suffusing the lonely figure on the rock, the weight of divine presence forcing us back, bowing us down. But the point of this, as of any icon, is not either to depict or to produce some kind of special experience in that sense: it is to open our eyes to what is true about Jesus and the saints. And what is true about Jesus is--if we really encounter it in its fullness--shocking, devastating: that this human life is sustained from the depths of God without interruption and without obstacle, that it translates into human terms what and who God the Son eternally is. The shock comes from realizing this means that God's life is compatible with every bit of human life, including the inner terrors of Gethsemane (fear and doubt) and the outer terrors of Calvary (torment and death)....But the point of this image of the transfiguration is to reinforce how the truth about Christ interrupts and overthrows our assumptions about God and about humanity.

The disciples who witnessed the Transfiguration were also transfigured, not only in spirit and soul, but also in body. The uncreated light and grace of Christ, streaming from his transfigured face, body, and garments, transfigured the very senses of the apostles, allowing them to behold his glory, as of the only begotten of the Father, "full of grace and truth". Since the human nature shared by Christ with all humanity, according to the Fathers, is a microcosm of the whole created order, the fact that the transfigured body of Christ reveals his divinity in a flood of uncreated light, and that this same transfiguring uncreated energy streams from his face, body, and clothing and illuminates and transfigures the bodies of the apostles, means without doubt that the whole of creation is lifted up, and is meant to be lifted up, transformed and transfigured by the irresistible power of the grace of the Logos.

More on Green Orthodoxy  

Posted by Joe Rawls

I posted earlier on "The Green Patriarch", quoting Patriarch Bartholomew's declaration that destroying the environment is a sin. As far as I know, no other church leader of comparable rank has yet characterized environmental degradation in such starkly moralistic terms. I've recently come across some other material illustrating the Orthodox attitude towards the material cosmos that I'd like to share.

The patriarchal website has a subsection dealing with ecological matters which is very informative.

Another good site is that of the Orthodox Research Institute which has a similar section dealing with the relationship between theology and ecology. It contains the full version of "Orthodoxy and ecological problems: a theological approach" by Orthodox theologian John Zizioulas, an excerpt of which follows:

  1. The world has a beginning in a radical sense; it was created out of nothing and is constantly threatened by the return to nothingness. It is not eternal, rather it is fragile, like a precious vase of crystal, and must be approached with reverence, fear, and trembling.
  2. This careful handling was entrusted by God to human beings, as distinct from all other beings and angels. According to Patristic theology man was created material and spirit, to be a microcosm of creation...As the priests of creation we have the unique mission and great responsibility of uniting God and the material world. Our task is not simply to preserve creation but to purify it and elevate it to the level of divine existence. This act of elevation, the referring of creation to its creator, is the essence of our priesthood; this creation is sanctified and partakes of the blessings that participating in divine life involves.
  3. The salvation of human beings which is offered by and in Christ is for us a cosmic event. Through human beings all creation will be saved. Christ not only saves us from ourselves, he offers the redemption of the whole of creation. The incarnation of the Son of God as man was nothing but assuming human nature, not to save man in his own right, but because it carries with it the rest of creation by implication.
  4. The Eucharist characterizes Orthodox theology not so much as a mental discipline but as an experience. Ever since St Irenaeus it has been understood that the Eucharist is not simply a memorial of Christ's death and resurrection but is a cosmic event involving the whole of creation. Bread and wine are not just symbolic elements linking the church to the Last Supper but are representative of the material world and of creation. Equally, human beings, by participating in the Eucharist, participate in a redeemed material world...The Orthodox Christian, by constantly experiencing the Eucharist, affirms that the material world must survive and be redeemed from whatever prevents it from developing into a world which will unite finally with God.
  5. The ascetic experience, as affirmed by the Orthodox church, has unfortunately often been mistaken as a negative attitude to material creation. The ascetic is seen as one who depreciates or rejects the material world. This...is not typical of the true asceticism of the Church. The ascetic abstains from the material world not because he regards matter as inferior but because he respects matter very much and does not want to exploit it for individual pleasure. Another often forgotten dimension of the ascetic experience is that the true ascetic participates in the suffering of the whole of creation, even to the extent of weeping over the death of a bird or animal.
Finally, I'd like to present part of the Akathist in Praise of God's Creation by Metropolitan Tryphon, a Russian cleric who died about 1934. An akathist is a very long liturgical hymn organized in a particular pattern. The complete piece can be found here:

You brought me into this life as into an enchanted paradise. We have seen the sky, like a deep blue cup ringing with birds in the azure heights. We have listened to the soothing murmur of the forest and the sweet-sounding music of the waters. we have tasted fragrant fruit of fine flavor and sweet-scented honey. How pleasant is our stay with you on earth: it is a joy to be your guest.

Glory to you for the feast-day of life.
Glory to you for the perfume of lilies and roses,
Glory to you for each different taste of berry and fruit,
Glory to you for the sparkling silver of early morning dew,
Glory to you for each smiling, peaceful awakening,
Glory to you for eternal life in us, a messenger of heaven,
Glory to you, O God, from age to age.