Wednesday, August 14, 2013

House in Potsdam

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Friday, September 10, 2010

Elder Porphyrios

I recently began reading a beautiful book about an Orthodox saint of modern times - Wounded by Love: the Life and Wisdom of Elder Porphyrios (1). By the grace of God, the Orthodox church has seen an outpouring of the Holy Spirit in several saintly men and women of the latter half of the last century. In their knowledge of the Scriptures and their miracles, many of them rival the saints of the apostolic age and the desert fathers of early monasticism. Among them are Elder Cleopa of Romania, Elder Paisios of Mount Athos, and Elder Sophronios of Essex. Elder Porphyrios, another of this number, was a monk on Mount Athos, but because of illness he spent most of his life as a priest at the Polyclinic hospital in Athens, Greece. When he was still quite young, around 16 or 17, he received a gift from God, the gift of clear sight. This gift enabled him not only to see distant objects as though they were right in front of him, but also to see into the souls of those people whom he encountered as a priest for confession. The passage in which he describes the initial effects of this gift is quite beautiful, and so I quote it below. The footnotes at the bottom are my own.

The gift of clear sight, as I have told you, was something I had never desired. Nor, when I received it, did I attempt to increase it or cultivate it. I gave no importance to it. Neither have I ever asked, nor do I ask God, to reveal something to me, because I believe that it is counter to His will. But after the experience with Old Demas (2) I changed completely. My life became all joy and exaltation. I lived among the stars, in infinity, in heaven. I wasn't like that previously.

From the moment I experienced the grace of God all the gifts were multiplied. I became sharp-witted (3). I learned the Trinitarian canons, the Canon of Jesus and other canons (4). Simply on their being read and sung in the church I learned them by heart. I recited the Psalter by heart. I took care with some Psalms that have similar words so that I didn't mix them up. I genuinely changed. I 'saw' lots of things, but I didn't speak, that is, I wasn't given the right to say anything. I wasn't 'informed' to speak. I saw everything. I registered everything. I knew everything. From my joy I no longer walked on the earth. My sense of smell was opened and I smelled everything, my eyes were opened and my ears were opened. I recognized things from far away. I distinguished the animals and the birds. From the sound of the call I knew if it was a blackbird or a sparrow, a finch or a nightingale, a robin or a thrush. I recognized all the birds by their song. At night and at dawn I delighted in the chorus of nightingales and blackbirds, all of them . . .

I became another, a new, a different person. I turned everything I saw into prayer. I referred it to myself. Why does the bird sing and glorify its Maker? I wanted to do the same. The same with the flowers: I recognized the flowers by their fragrances and I smelled them when I was half an hour away. I observed the grasses, the trees, the water, the rocks. I spoke with the rocks. The rocks have seen so much! I asked them and they told me all the secrets of Kavsokalyvia (5). And I was filled with emotion and contrition. I saw everything with the grace of God. I saw, but I didn't speak. I often went into the forest. I was greatly enthused by walking amidst the stones and the rushes, the thickets and the tall trees.

(1) Limni, Evia, Greece: 2005, Denise Harvey (Publisher): pp. 30-1.

(2) Old Demas was a saintly Russian monk on Mount Athos with whom Elder Poryphyrios had a life-changing encounter.

(3) The Elder had received formal schooling only at a rudimentary level.

(4) The Canons are liturgical poems, often of a dogmatic character, sung primarily during the service of Matins.

(5) The skete on Mount Athos where the Elder lived with two older monks.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Southern Tour

We are about to begin our second annual Southern Road Tour, which will commence this Friday and end sometime in mid-June. We will be in Nashville for the first two weeks of June, and would love to see any and all old friends who have a mind to come up to the Athens of the South.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Antiquarian's Delight

I have recently discovered something which will likely be of great interest to those of us who have a love for the past, who indeed feel towards our ancestors a certain sympathy of thoughts and affections which is, unfortunately, so lacking in the hurly-burly of contemporary society. It is a Book Machine (though I might as well call it a Time Machine, for Books have a way of enlivening the time in which they were written or with which they are concerned), which takes scanned books from Google's voluminous collection and binds them in a handsome paperback format. The whole process takes about 15 minutes. The standard price for non-copyrighted works is $8 at the Harvard Bookstore, which has named its machine Paige Gutenberg. I mentioned this to a friend who lives in northern Vermont, and he told me that there is a similar machine near him. Perhaps there is one near you; if not, the Harvard Bookstore does ship, I'm told.

There is an incredible wealth of older works on Google Books, which you have probably discovered already. It is very nice to know that one can hold these volumes in one's hand in book form instead of only being able to stare at them on a screen. I came up with a few ideas for authors in the non-copyright range, whose books are hard to find or sometimes expensive: GK Chesterton, Hillaire Belloc, John Henry Newman, and Sir Walter Scott. There are also many translations and secondary works by 19th Century Anglo-Catholics on the church fathers that are quite wonderful, and which are available at Google, including the Ante-Nicene Fathers Series, the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Series I and II, and the Library of Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church, Anterior to the Division Between East and West. One might consider as well older translations of classic works, such as Chapman's Homer (or Pope's), Hobbes' Thucydides, or Jowett's translations of Plato and Aristotle. Just a few ideas to start.

Good, cheap editions of older works can be a great incentive for following the advice of C.S. Lewis in his introduction to St. Athanasius' On the Incarnation: "The only pallative [to the errors of our age] is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can only be done by reading old books." If you have anything excellent you've discovered on Google Books, let me know. I could use some ideas from people with different interests and preoccupations, such as folklore (JE), history (KE), poetry (ER), fiction (JR,MR), aesthetics (SB), and music (JB) - and feel free to ignore these easy classifications of your interests.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Happy New Year

New Developements

I have been following a couple of interesting developments in the area of Christian education which Locust Street patrons might also find intriguing.

The first is a new Center for Early Christian Studies opening at Wheaton College, arguably the best evangelical school in the country. It aims to bring evangelicals, Catholics and Orthodox together to study the fathers of the early church. Funded by Greek Orthodox alumni of Wheaton, run by a Greek evangelical from Athens, the Center seems serious about their ecumenical vision. Their first speaker was Robert Louis Wilken, a Catholic patristics scholar who recently retired from the University of Virginia. I think this is one more piece of evidence that evangelicals are showing interest in Christian history and in the writings of the fathers in particular. Seeing the dead ends of the historical-critical method of Biblical interpretation, evangelicals are discovering the insights of patristic exegesis of Scripture, which is modeled on the interpretation of the Old Testament that we find in the Apostolic writings of the New Testament. Interestingly, Faulkner College is also showing interest in the Fathers: see the website for their Patristics Project.

The second is the planned C.S. Lewis College, which hopes to open in nearby Northfield, MA, in a couple of years. The founders are describing it as a great books college based on mere Christianity, welcoming faithful protestants, Orthodox and Catholics to come together over a curriculum of foundational primary texts. The professors will be 'fellows' on the Oxford model, with great involvement in the college outside of class. The C.S. Lewis foundation, funded by the retailer Hobby Lobby, has just purchased the beautiful Northfield Mt Herman campus, formerly an independent secondary school.

Here's wishing all patrons a Healthy and Happy 2010!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

On the Incarnation

Today I finished my third annual reading of St. Athanasius’ De Incarnatione, and I decided, despite the lateness of the entry, to bring you a few golden nuggets from this wonderful church father as a humble Christmas gift. Lest you protest that Christmas is over, I’ll remind you that there are 12 days of Nativity feasting given to us by Christian tradition between the Birth on December 25th and the Baptism of Christ on January 6th. In fact, Theophany was the greater holy day for most of Christian history, as it continues to be in Roman Catholic and Orthodox countries.

In my reading this year, two passages stuck out as being of particular interest. In the first, St. Athanasius is answering the question ‘why didn’t Christ choose an honourable death for himself instead of an ignoble death on the cross? ‘ For an educated Greek or Roman of his day, suicide might have been the most ‘honorable death’ imaginable, being an act of free will rather than necessity (see Sophocles’ Ajax). St. Athanasius’ reply is as follows:

Death came to His body, therefore, not from Himself but from enemy action, in order that the Saviour might utterly abolish death in whatever form they offered it to Him. A generous wrestler, virile and strong, does not himself choose his antagonists, lest it should be thought that of some of them he is afraid. Rather, he lets the spectators choose them, and that all the more if these are hostile, so that he may overthrow whomsoever they match against him and thus vindicate his superior strength. Even so was it with Christ. (§ 24)

Christ, the wrestler in the figure, accepted death from His enemies in whatever form it arrived, to show his strength over any kind of death. This wonderful image helps cleanse our minds of the one-sided view of Christ as a passive victim on the cross. He is not simply passive but awaits death like a strong and virile wrestler awaits his opponent, not fearing its supposed might.

The second passage is the last one in the book. In his final words to Macarius, the friend to whom Athanasius dedicates his treatise, he advises Macarius to search the Scriptures to see whether what he has said is true. Then he writes,

Anyone who wants to look at sunlight naturally wipes his eye clear first, in order to make, at any rate, some approximation to the purity of that on which he looks; and a person wishing to see a city or country goes to the place in order to do so. Similarly anyone who wishes to understand the mind of the sacred writers must first cleanse his own life, and approach the saints by copying their deeds. (§ 57)

The Gospel is a stumbling block to the tenured academics at big universities for this very reason: it makes a demand on us that is not simply intellectual. It teaches that the life one lives will clarify or distort one’s intellectual vision, that thought is not separate from the moral life. To see the ultimate truths requires the greatest attention to inner purity. Would academics still be reading Michel Foucault or Paul de Man if they understood this?

Here’s wishing all Locust Street patrons a Merry Christmas for the remaining days of the feast. I hope this year will smile on our meeting face to face somewhere, sometime soon.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

St. Lucia of Syracuse

Today Santa Lucia of Syracuse is celebrated around the world. At Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church here in Boston, we remembered her with a festival of light and music after Divine Liturgy. Our Lucia was quite happy to hear her name sung by everyone. Following are St. Lucia's life and the Troparion for her feast:


Saint Lucy was born in Syracuse, Sicily during the reign of Diocletian. She distributed her wealth to the poor, and made a vow of virginity. Since she refused to marry him, a rejected suitor denounced her to the prefect Paschasius as a Christian, and she was arrested. She was sentenced to be defiled in a brothel, but with God's help she preserved her purity.

Then the pagans attempted to burn her alive, but she was not harmed by the fire. Finally, she was killed by a sword thrust to the throat.

The name Lucy (Lucia) is derived for the Latin word for light (lux), and so she is often invoked for afflictions of the eyes. There is a tradition that she was blinded by her torturers, and the church of San Giovanni Maggiore in Naples even claims to possess her eyes.


Adorned with the radiant robe of virginity,
Thou wast betrothed to Christ the Lifegiver,
And didst disdain all mortal love.
Therefore thou didst bring to the Lord as a bridal gift
the streams of thy martyr's blood.
Intercede with him for us all, O Virgin Martyr Lucia.

(icon from the wonderful website of Aidan Hart)

Sunday, December 06, 2009

St Nicholas Day

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Happy Birthday Mr Gaiman

Put The Graveyard Book on your list. Even if you don't have time for it right now, the next time you're in a bookstore pick it up for the illustrations.