Tag Archives: Orthodox

Following Egeria

A few days ago, I finished a book that I got for Christmas but had only recently gotten around to reading, “Following Egeria” by Lawrence Farley.

The gist is, there was a 4th-century nun who went and visited the Holy Land, and she wrote to the folks back home the things she saw and experienced.

Her writings were known about, then lost for a time, then reappeared in the 18th Century… but missing the beginning and the end. Still, the extant part is quite informative, about Christianity that had recently emerged from the shadows of persecution, of an Israel that has been somewhat buried over the centuries.

Father Lawrence (Orthodox priest) is treated to a trip to Israel by his deacon, and is familiar with Egeria’s writings, and also familiar with the scholarly research as to the authenticity of sites.

Fr Lawrence quotes Egeria where their travels overlap, and comments on which sites have the better claim as to Where Something Actually Happened, and why, and also expresses how he was impacted by each site.

This book made my wish list about as soon as I heard about it, so it was obviously a book I was expecting to enjoy, and enjoy it I did.

Egeria herself isn’t really quoted at length, so I was definitely left wanting to hear more from her.

Also, the scholarly research into the sites, mentioned fairly frequently, is only lightly touched upon, and I was left wanting more of that, too.

Also, after reading the book, I really wanted to go back and visit the places again (there were quite a few “been there!” moments). The thing is, I knew rather a lot less then than I do now. Was completely ignorant about Orthodoxy, and nearly-completely ignorant about Catholicism (as a Protestant, oftentimes one just has an unsympathetic view that Catholics Are Wrong, with perhaps a few specifics). Unfortunately, this ignorance doesn’t really help when the majority of sites are Roman Catholic or Orthodox. And then, one of the places I’d been to, that Fr Lawrence talks about, he’s not interested in what’s obviously there, he’s interested in looking at the remains of something that was there before. And for some reason I can’t jump back into myself-of-10-ish-years-ago.

That said, the book is partly aimed at people who haven’t been over there, so they might perhaps experience it second-hand, so I won’t moan too much (or dwell on being jealous of myself-from-around-a-decade-ago).

So, thumbs up, but definitely wanting more (not that that’s a bad thing).

Christmas Traditions, Part 7

I was pondering writing about Christmas music, some of which we’ve been listening to over the last week. But today, as expected, has been somewhat busy.

So, instead of writing about Christmas music, I’m going to write about Christmas music.

The Troparion for the Nativity:
Your Nativity, O Christ our God,
Has shone to the world the Light of wisdom!
For by it, those who worshipped the stars,
Were taught by a Star to adore You,
The Sun of Righteousness,
And to know You, the Orient from on High.
O Lord, glory to You!

And the Kontakion:
Today the Virgin gives birth to the Transcendent One,
And the earth offers a cave to the Unapproachable One!
Angels with shepherds glorify Him!
The wise men journey with a star!
Since for our sake the Eternal God was born as a Little Child!

Have a great Christmas, everybody!

Star Wars, Religion, And Magic

In Star Wars: A New Hope, there is a memorable exchange between an Imperial officer and Darth Vader:
Admiral Motti: Don’t try to frighten us with your sorcerer’s ways, Lord Vader. Your sad devotion to that ancient Jedi religion has not helped you conjure up the stolen data tapes, or given you enough clairvoyance to find the rebels’ hidden fortress…
[Vader makes a pinching motion and Motti starts choking]
Darth Vader: I find your lack of faith disturbing.

In a kind of mirror encounter, Han Solo expresses a similar disbelief to Luke, while Obi-Wan listens in:
Luke Skywalker: You don’t believe in the Force, do you?
Han Solo: Kid, I’ve flown from one side of this galaxy to the other, and I’ve seen a lot of strange stuff, but I’ve never seen *anything* to make me believe that there’s one all-powerful Force controlling everything. ‘Cause no mystical energy field controls *my* destiny. It’s all a lot of simple tricks and nonsense.

So I think we get a sense that the general understanding in the universe at this point, is that there is no magic, no Force, religion is dismissed as not alive, perhaps not much thought about.

In one of the Force Awakens trailers, it seems the same zeitgeist permeates the universe.
Rey: There are stories about what happened.
Han Solo: It’s true. All of it. The Dark Side, the Jedi. They’re real.

This may be reading too much into the quote, but perhaps there’s a bad guy mirror scene:
Supreme Leader Snoke: There’s been an awakening. Have you felt it? The Dark side, and the Light.

I guess Luke didn’t singlehandedly rebuild the entire Jedi Council in the intervening years.

The parallels with various countries of the 20th and 21st centuries are obvious. In various places, the Communists tried to stamp out all religion, and those places are having to spend effort in recovering what they once had. And there are various currents rather obvious in English-speaking countries, either apathetic or hostile to either religion in general, or Christianity in particular. Not always without good reason.

I was thinking tonight about sites in England (springs and wells) that historically were regarded as miraculous, such claims easily dismissed now even by most Christians in the country. And miraculous things I find out about in my approach to Orthodoxy that seem really weird coming from a Protestant background, but seem to have something to them.

I don’t want to bang on too much about the subject, so I’ll just post a link instead, but there were a couple of stories like this that seemed fairly close together, this was the one I found: https://oca.org/news/headline-news/up-from-the-ashes-helping-south-boston-parish-recover

Perhaps there’s more magic in the world than people generally see.

The Focus Of The Service

Our little church group has been exploring Orthodox Christianity for more than a couple of years, and we’ve done our own priestless services for a while, with occasional visits to other communities, or by a priest when he was in the area. It’s only really been since the end of July (maybe even the beginning of August) where we’ve been able to go to the full priest-y service, a couple of times a month.

So between kid-wrangling, and trying to sing the right notes, there’s things I’m really starting to notice, in the experience.

Something that’s particularly struck me the last couple of times, has to do with the interplay between who’s doing what. And there’s a lot of what being done. There’s responsive prayers, there’s songs the choir sings, there’s a couple of declarations the people make. And the movements in and out of the altar area: with the gospel book, with the covered bread and wine.

There’s prayers said aloud, so that the congregation can give the Amen. And there’s some that are said quietly, that the congregation generally don’t hear, and perhaps the end of it might be said loudly. And some that the choir sings over.

The impression this has been reinforcing on me, is that, while the service is ultimately for our benefit (bringing us Jesus, particularly in the Gospel and the chalice), we’re not the focus. And while, in other Christian traditions I’ve been part of, or just visited, I wouldn’t have really considered the service or the songs to be “about me” (though, towards the end, some of the songs ended up feeling that way), the Orthodox service is radically and emphatically not about me.

And yet, “for us men and for our salvation”. Not about me, or to me, but still for me. A balance, an emphasis in one direction but not to the exclusion of another.  And, like I said, interplay

Interesting. And something I’m liking.

Halloween From A Different Angle

Something occurred to me a while ago, which has rather the potential to change one’s understanding about Halloween, particularly when thinking about the historical context. I knew that there was an ancient understanding of the cycle of the day, certainly in Old Testament Judaism, that the day started at sunset. “Evening and morning, one day”, the creation narrative tells us.

I’m not quite sure when I started understanding this, but that perception of time continued into Christianity. An Orthodox example, the first Sunday service is Vespers on Saturday evening. This perspective may not be maintained in modern denominations, or if it is, it may not be immediately noticeable, as it doesn’t mean much practically outside of a liturgical framework. In fact, even in the liturgical concept, if you weren’t told and didn’t pick up on a few subtle cues, you might not immediately notice, either.

With that in mind, then, Halloween becomes not “the day before All Saints’ Day”, as you’ve probably heard all your life. It is the evening that marks the start of All Saints’ Day.

In a similar manner, then, properly speaking, the 24th of December is not “Christmas Eve”. The evening at the end of what is commonly perceived as the 24th of December is the evening that marks the beginning of Christmas Day. I found it confusing when in Germany I was told they celebrated Christmas on the 24th. I think perhaps they retained at least the practical implications of Christmas Day starting in the evening of the secular 24th, where in England we retained the understanding of Christmas Day being the 25th.

So what does this mean for Halloween? It means that whatever historic Christian traditions that were associated with Halloween, and the insights those traditions might provide to how our ancestors depicted evil spirits, or how they understood the deceased and how they relate to us, was part of, not separate to, their participation in the Feast of All Saints.

Digging through the layers of candy to discover those traditions and insights, now that’s the hard part.

How The Discovery Of St Juvenaly Changed History

I have a certain fondness for history, and particularly enjoy the occasions where historical evidence disrupts conventional wisdom. I’ve done a post on the book The Ra Expeditions, which has quite a few examples: the assumption that cultures that used reed boats did so because reeds were abundant in those places (untrue in several of those places), modern shipbuilders having opinions on how the boat should go together proving inadequate compared to the archaeological designs, and so on.

If you enjoy that sort of disruption, or just love a good story, you’ll probably enjoy the following video on those merits.

Back when Alaska was owned by Russia, a fur-trading company brought some Russian monks over, as part of a strategy to try and get a monopoly in the fur-trading business. One of those monks, Juvenaly, went travelling, and never came back.

Some years later, the company wrote a report on their activities, which reflected badly on the monks, and contained a story about what happened to Juvenaly. Some years after that, someone wrote a history of Alaska, which relied heavily on the help of a disgruntled Russian translator, who translated Juvenaly’s diary. The History of Alaska, in particular, became accepted history.

But some things about the conventionally-accepted history didn’t add up, and then some oral tradition surfaced which had the potential to shake things up a bit…

I found the video at the OCA site. They embedded it from Vimeo, but the video’s settings are preventing me from embedding it here. Still, I found it a very entertaining 40 minutes.


Conversations On The End Times

One thing that was interesting to find out, was that some popular notions of the End Times, Jesus returning, and all that, originated in the 18th Century. “But what about all those Bible verses?” you might ask. These are often from different parts of the Bible, and hadn’t been put together to try and form a cohesive theory before. And there are some conflicting versions of these theories about, with disagreements over what’s supposed to happen when, and all that.

Here are some shows to listen to, that give a different perspective on eschatology. Hopefully you will find them entertaining and illuminating.

Faith Encouraged Live has two shows. The first ended up more, “no, we don’t believe this, or that”, and the second tried to be “this is what we actually do believe about this”. Fr Barnabas has a different guest on each program, and also has some live calls. Each episode is about an hour and a half:
1: Rapturemania and the Second Coming of Christ
2: Even So, Come Lord Jesus

Our Life In Christ has 4 shows, which each take on a different aspect of the subject. The hosts Steve and Bill have a chat/discussion around the subjects, each episode is around an hour.:
Part 1: “Steve and Bill discuss the landscape of popular end time scenarios”
Part 2: The End Times in church history
Part 3: They talk about the Rapture and Christian Zionism, among other things, and relate the subjects to the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed.
Part 4: 666, Antichrist and the Beast.

Finally, Fr Thomas Hopko of blessed memory gave a 3-part talk that went through the book of Revelation from start to finish. Each part is just over an hour:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

A Sobering Thought

A while ago, I came across a saying along the lines of, “You only love God as much as you love the person you hate most”. I don’t remember where I heard it first, but I’m sure I’ve heard it since.

I think the saying is accurate. It seems to echo 1 John 4, where it is said that you can’t love God, whom you have not seen, if you don’t love your brother, whom you have seen.

Now, it might be argued that “brother” might cover only a small proportion of people in general. Perhaps actual family, or it might extend to church family, which seems to be the context of this verse. This argument would not take into account that it’s the people closest to you, who are best at pushing your buttons.

Living with extended family-in-law, in relatively close quarters, toes do get stepped on fairly regularly, and of course there is the occasional blowup. When one’s toes are stepped on fairly regularly, in a limited number of ways, by a small subsection of household members, maintaining an attitude of goodwill can be difficult. It happens when I am the “one” in that sentence, and I can observe it when others are the “one” in that sentence. Harder to see when I am the “small subsection of household members”.

And then there’s the example of Cain and Abel. It’s not uncommon for loving your actual brother to be hard.

That argument aside, though, it’s not just brothers, extended family, or church family. Or co-workers or anyone else you’re obliged to spend a bunch of time with. In Matthew 5, in the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus replaces the old Law with the new, the instruction is to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”.

I have heard, at least a couple of times on AFR, that it’s hard to hate someone whose salvation and well-being you are praying for. But how about some examples of this in action?

Jesus, of course, at his humiliating execution: “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they do.”

St Stephen, in Acts 7, while being “bludgeoned to death with big rocks” (that last quote, a slightly censored line from a Kevin Smith movie): “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”

Early martyrs are described similarly, though sometimes later ones you might find responding with threats of damnation and such.

Dying to oneself, taking up your cross and following Christ, denying yourself, humility. We see these themes. We see asceticism throughout church history, perhaps most obviously, but not exclusively, in monasticism.

Take this story from the Desert Fathers. I’ve heard it a few times, but on searching for it just now, I found it at this link.

A brother came to see Avva Macarius the Egyptian, and said to him, “Abba, give me a word, that I may be saved.” So the old man said, “Go to the cemetery and abuse the dead.” The brother went there, abused them and threw stones at them; then he returned and told the old man about it.

The latter said to him, “Didn’t they say anything to you?” He replied, “No.” The old man said, “Go back tomorrow and praise them.” So the brother went away and praised them, calling them, “Apostles, saints, and righteous men.” He returned to the old man and said to him, “Did they not answer you?” The brother said, “No.”

The old man said to him, “You know how you insulted them and they did not reply, and how you praised them and they did not speak; so you too, if you wish to be saved, must do the same and become a dead man. Like the dead, take no account of either the scorn of men or their praises, and you can be saved.”

Of course, easier said than done. At the moment, for me, actually remembering any of this stuff when interpersonal difficulties arise, is the difficult part. Or, to put it another way, doesn’t really happen. If I can remember, then actually do it, I think it would be worth it. Theoretically, living together could make saints of us all.

Service Book Update: Nearly There

The service book I’ve been working on, has passed through a bunch of version numbers as various little problems have surfaced (one of the most recent being a missing “us” in “forgive us our trespasses” in the Lord’s Prayer), and the formatting has had some tweakings, so in theory it’s easier to pick up again after skipping stuff (mainly the Tones you’re not doing that week).

Father Dan gave the thing a quick once-over today, and gave it a thumbs up. But then a part that has been slightly-problematic-but-we-kinda-got-used-to-it was pointed out, and so I inquired about how OK it was to modify that bit.

There’s a psalm that’s read early on in the service, 104 in the Western numbering, and the translation that’s in the service books we’ve been using is a bit awkward: the Thou/Thy isn’t so bad, but there’s places with “hast” rather than “has”, but then the rest of the text uses “did” rather than “didst”, and that sort of indecisiveness doesn’t help it just flow off the tongue.

We have some options, but we’ll probably stick with Thou and Thy, but more modern language for the rest.

There’s still some bits I think I’ll pick the others brains about:
“The mountains rose, the valleys sank down to the place which Thou did appoint for them. Thou did set a bound which they should not pass, so that they might not again cover the earth”
I wonder if “Thou appointed” might be better than “Thou did appoint”, and “Thou set a bound” without the did. That kind of thing.

So, nearly there, and I’m looking forward to when we can print off a bunch of copies of Version 1.0, the one we’re happy to use for the services. Version 0.9b and 0.9c both got labelled “Final Review”, I hope I can avoid a similarly-labelled 0.9d.

Foundations Podcast Series

Our little church group has been going through this podcast series, a rather tightly-packed introduction to the basics of Christianity in general, and Orthodox Christianity in particular. It’s good for those who know something about the subject, but it should also prove interesting to those who know nothing about it.

The series is Foundations Of The Orthodox Faith, and this page links the first episode at the top, and the last episode at the bottom.

I’m actually having to catch up on my mp3 player, because I missed a bunch of the first few episodes we did. The shortest episode is slightly longer than 20 minutes, the longest slightly over 30 minutes, and there are 8 episodes.

Hope you enjoy!