Posts Tagged ‘monasticism’

This I haven’t seen or read, because it’s not out yet, but should be interesting.  I’ve heard of funder the Farah Foundation, and Fr. McGuckin, an Orthodox writer and church historian … but I don’t know a whole lot about either the Foundation or Father.  “Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer”: Is that like the old A&E’s Mysteries of the Bible ? 😉   Could we look for a cable series?

So, I guess at this point this is just an FYI.

I know nothing about the recent controversy over this, referenced at the beginning of this article from St. Tikhon’s Monastery in Pennsylvania (anonymous), and was surprised to hear about it.  But this article seems to address it well, briefly, and Orthodoxly.  It also highlights the misinterpretation or misunderstanding of Patristic writings that is possible unless one is steeped ever more deeply in Orthodoxy’s Patristic, Holy Tradition, ie, not just historic prooftexts (or even Scriptural for that matter), but the Tradition in its fullness, including the Liturgy and its hymns and prayers, the spiritual and ascetic struggle to receive God’s Gift, and even how Orthodoxy has and has not made use of non-canonical (“apocryphal”) scriptures and related writings.  For its taste of this, I highly recommend the article even if you already don’t question the sinlessness of the Theotokos.

(I would only add to the piece, to clarify it, that at no time did Mary lose her free will.  She was probably sorely tempted!)

I just ran across local newspaper science columnist Faye Flam’s old article (PDF) about speculation around, let’s say marital relations, in the afterlife.  She does remind us that the Lord Himself reported that in Heaven the saved do not marry [and therefore do not have sexual relations], but live as the angels.  (In fact Orthodox Monasticism is often referred to as angelic life, or anticipation thereof, both in pious expressions and in hymns on monastic Saints’ feast days.)  Angels don’t “do it” because they lack a fundamental requirement: bodies!*  We even call them “the Bodiless Powers.”

Flam also reported a non-Christian insight more relevant than she realized: “Zoroastrians, he said, believed there was sex in heaven but people would wean themselves away from both food and sex as they got used to being dead.”  I point this out because the Orthodox Way includes not denial that we are embodied human beings, since we are not dualists like the Zoroastrians (ancient “gnostics” still around today), but seeking to repent of and purify ourselves of any sinfulness (including that related to sexuality and food, though not of sexuality or eating itself) and seeking healing of our domination by our passions (including the sexual and gluttonous).  Mainstream Orthodoxy never considered “intercourse for pleasure … ‘depravity'” as the Western Christian mainstream Flam discusses did.  In fact, the ancient Fathers of the Church recognized the unitive and agape-building, relationship-building qualities of marital relations so much that it is from them that Christianity has its tradition of allowing them (if grudgingly in the West medievally) during infertile times such as pregnancy and menopause, vs. the still-heard Western idea that reproduction is the overriding point of human, Christian sexuality, and anything else mere condescension to human drives.  Nevertheless, the Orthodox Way, especially Monasticism, is also sometimes referred to as “dying to the world,” not entirely unlike what the Zoroastrians say about ‘dying to sexuality and gluttony’ after death.

But fear not!  Since Orthodoxy retains the doctrine that Heaven isn’t merely some kind of ‘earthly life on steroids,’ but advancing ever deeper into the Glory of God as Uncreated Light (as well as glorious fellowship – communion, koinonia – with the other saints, such as those we commemorated this past Sunday, All Saints Day, both those recognized by the official Church and the overwhelming majority not) and God-like-ness, we won’t miss sex!  Although to get there we do need to collaborate (synergeia, synergy) with God purifying us of our exaggerated attachment to it in the first place, here on earth….  Fr. John Romanides was fond of castigating the West’s attachment to “happiness” as fundamentally opposed to Orthodox Glorification / Salvation.  What do I know?  But perhaps another way of seeing it is that we need to find our happiness in God today, or else we’ll really hate spending eternity with Him.**

What about the Orthodox Mystery (sacrament) of Holy Matrimony?  Theologically it isn’t a ‘license to screw’ if you’ll pardon the expression, but just like its counterpart, Monasticism, a form of discipling to use a popular Evangelical word.  IIUC, the Orthodox discipline (or as I like to think of it, disciplin’) of fasting Traditionally includes married couples abstaining from relations, ie, most Wednesdays and Fridays, during Lent, the Apostles’ Fast (going on right now), the Transfiguration / Dormition Fast (in August), the Nativity Fast, the couple other fast-days on the calendar, and also on days before receiving Communion.  (This may or may not be a complete list.)  IIUC, part of the idea is that Orthodox marriage partners help each other with this discipline / disciplin’, since theologically they marry to help each other get saved.  In Orthodox fellowship / communion / koinonia with each other, they’re not to struggle in individual isolation, but to share each other’s burdens and build up each other’s gifts.  (This may have something to do with the ancient preference that Orthodox only marry other Orthodox, not non-Christians or even Heterodox Christians, though today marrying Heterodox Christians of certain denominations is tolerated alot, and of course we were never required to separate from non-Orthodox spouses when ourselves converting to Orthodoxy, since the Holy Apostle Paul counseled that we might help save our spouse.)

(*–With apologies to Fr. Andrew Greeley, who delights in the medieval Western speculation around what exactly the angels do have, for bodies!)

(**–I believe the latter clause comes from Fr. Anthony Coniaris in a basic intro to Orthodoxy of his, but I’m not certain.)

A few years ago I picked up a blue half-sheet of paper after an Inquirers’ Class at St. Philip’s Antiochian Church in Souderton, Pennsylvania (the one with the great choir!), on which were printed the Jesus Prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”), the Prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian used during the Great Fast/Lent, and one called the “Morning Prayer of the Last Elders of Optina.” (Optina is a famous monastery in Russia about 120 miles southwest of Moscow. “Elder” in Russian is starets, plural startsy, referring to a monastic spiritual father, like Elder Zosima in The Brothers Karamazov. The Greek equivalent is geronta [masculine in gender despite ending in A] – the source of the English word “gerontology”… and the brand name Geritol! Optina is once again an active monastery and center for pilgrimages and retreats, since the decline of Communist rule.)

As you can see here, I’m not the only one who has been disturbed by the line in the Optina prayer, “all is sent down from Thee.” But ISTM the two priests toward the end of the current Comments at the link have some helpful things to say about it, especially Fr. Matthew. Reminds me of a line from an old Philadelphia Quaker* traveling minister, Hannah Whitall Smith, in her famous 1875 book The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life, that however something bad started, by the time it reaches you, God means it for your good. We say God is always trying to bring good out of the bad people do or have done. But often that’s hard for us to perceive because of our limited perspective. “Your Arms Too Short to Box with God“! But eyes of faith might learn to see. Actually I’d forgotten that the line from the patriarch Joseph (he of the technicolor dreamcoat!) was his: “You meant this to me for evil, but the Lord meant it to me for good.” It was paraphrased by St. Raphael of Brooklyn in reference to a persecution that temporarily drove his parents from their hometown of Damascus to Beirut while they were expecting his birth in 1860, and the incident is alluded to with that paraphrase in Oikos 1 of his Akathist, where I’ve re-encountered it.

But since I wasn’t sure how well Mrs. Smith agreed with Orthodoxy, I’ve unfailingly read the prayer repeating the line from the previous paragraph, “subject to Thy holy Will,” instead of “sent down from Thee”! (I *am* the worst of sinners, to second-guess Holy Elder-Martyrs of the Bolshevik Yoke!!!) It’ll take some adjustment, and swallowing of pride….

(*–Ironically, Smith was an “Orthodox Friend”… no, not like some of these folks! In the 1820s-’30s U.S. Quakers split into two branches, each believing it was truer to the spirit of the first English Quakers of the 1600s, and thus to true Christianity: one branch sought to retain a theological ‘peculiarity,’ but soon tended in a Liberal Protestant direction, while the other sought a more ‘evangelical’ Protestant theology, and came to be called “Orthodox” in a sense not unlike the later “Neo-Orthodox” movement in Protestantism. Hence, perhaps, the Smiths’ later involvement with Holiness movements in the U.S. and Britain. In fact, a majority of the world’s Friends today are Evangelical of one tendency or another, and not very much like the Britain/Philadelphia stereotype – liberal, quiet, inclusive, non-evangelistic, pacifist – anymore. In fact, around the turn of the last century the Inupiat “Eskimos” of northwest Alaska – north of the Orthodox Yup’ik “Eskimos” – were converted from their Native faith to Pentecostal Quakerism!)