Reza Aslan has written a new book titled Zealot and has been giving plenty of interviews in broadcast media to promote the book. Some (like the Daily Show or NPR’s Fresh Air) are sympathetic. Others, like FOX News, are the opposite.
I don’t think we have to worry about whether Aslan’s views are properly Orthodox. They are not, nor do they pretend to be. Furthermore, when Aslan was a Christian, he was the kind Christian most likely to end up as a hyper-rationalist critic.
While Aslan’s historical Jesus of Nazareth is not the Christ proclaimed by the Orthodox Church, I think his work has a place is dealing with the atheists and hyper-rational theists who don’t want the spiritual reality of Christ, but want the objective, undeniable evidence of history. For those who do not believe, the historical Jesus remains an undeniable, historical reality.
My first, emotional response, not so much to Aslan’s work, but to himself, was a bit antagonistic. Simply put, the Jesus of history does not work for me. The Jesus of history failed: framed, crucified, forgotten. It is Christ who does it for me. It is Christ who was resurrected, who is theantropos, and who demonstrates his power in me by the Holy Spirit on behalf of God the Father. And not just me. The Orthodox Church has specifically proclaimed Jesus the Christ rather than Jesus of Nazareth. As Vladimir Lossky puts it: [Historical Jesus versus Theological Christ]
But then I thought, “Wait. Maybe the Jesus of History really does work for me.” Jesus the Christ is a reality reserved for those who believe (Hebrews 11:6). Those who doubt want objective, undeniable evidence to consider in their own time and at their own convenience. Jesus the Christ does not condescend to their analysis. But Jesus of Nazareth does. Jesus of Nazareth is an objective, undeniable, evidence-based historical reality. Jesus of Nazareth exists for the unbelievers.
One morning last week I woke up with the idea ‘Science is Revelation’. Most people who consider themselves scientific are not actually researchers or experimental types. They mostly take the laws of science and the findings of institutions as, well, dogmas. True science, the science of hypothesis, trial and reproduction, belongs to the very few. It belongs only to those who bother to devote themselves to active inquiry. Which well over 99.9% of the population do not.
I got this idea from my readings into union with God and acetic salvation. The core of Orthodox (Christian) spirituality is experience with God, in conformity to, and also resulting in, dogmas. But importantly, it is not merely dogma. Experience is an indispensable element. At the end of the day religion/Christianity/Orthodoxy does not offer what science and the scientist-tic mind set demands: irrefutable evidence. But that may not be such a bad thing, because even the irrefutable evidence of science is hardly ever followed up on. In the end it belongs only to those willing to look into the microscope, willing to take out the measuring stick or the stopwatch, willing to read the thermometer, day after day after day. They have an experiential verification of scientific truth. This is the degree to which I suspect that science is revelation. In its true form, it is available only to those who avail themselves of its hidden truths. Science is a discipline that requires devotion and purity of heart; which does not readily share its secrets with the self-serving or the individualistic. True science is a noble vocation.
And so it is with the — shall we say — Orthodox. They have not only dogmatic guideposts, but experience as well which accords with those guideposts.
Last week was a red letter week. A sort of high point in my life. Rather than ‘going down the other side of the mountain’, I would rather ‘plateau’. But it is useful — at times — to descend from the peaks of life. Sometimes you are standing on one of life’s peaks, and you see another higher peak afar off. So to get there, you have to go down a bit, before you go up a bit higher.
Red Letter Week
The second full week of June was very full indeed: It was my first trip to England, I went before the deanery Axios Committee, followed by my second trip to Ireland, a job offer, an initiation into the world of bonsai (and all that entails), swimming lessons in the Atlantic, walking without crutches, visit from an ancestor in a dream, lots of new acquaintances, aloe plants brought back from the brink of death, and (speaking of back from the dead) a rubber tree plants named Lazarus.
First Trip to England
I had meant to make my first trip to England before New Years 2001; but an ice storm in Arkansas prevented me from leaving the state on time. I ended up driving from Ft Smith to Little Rock, and catching a plane from there, and spending New Years Even in Groningen.
So my first time in England commenced the evening of June 7, after having crossed on a Dutch Ferry (P&O) from Dublin to Liverpool. England is weird; Full of English people. nothing is ‘New’ but it is all the ‘Old’ stuff: Old York, Old Jersey, Old England.
I was afraid of running into a UKIP rally or the infamous ‘football hooligans’, but no such misfortune. Mostly mild mannered strangers offering directions. The weirdest part of all (England is not weird, really, but surprisingly ‘normal’, and I say this even as an American) was that all the figures on the highways are in Imperial (i.e. ‘American’) units: miles, feet, yards. I thought the UK was supposed to be, like, completely metric. Apparently not.
Current practice in the Antiochian Orthodox Church, Deanery of the UK and Ireland, is that candidates for ordination first meet with the ‘Axios Committee’, typically composed of four priests, and accompanied by the parish priest who is recommending the candidate for ordination. I went. The typical path of ordination is -> Reader -> Sub-deacon -> Deacon -> Priest, with about two years spent at each of the stages. God’s will be done.
Second Trip to Ireland
The return trip from England on Tuesday constituted my official second trip to Ireland. Granted, my first trip to Ireland lasted only 3 years. Does that count as a trip? In my weird world it does.
The worst part about this trip was in fact the traffic. Morning rush hour in Manchester, evening rush hour in Dublin. I could not wait to get back to Kerry. Feels like home.
On Wednesday, I got a call from a headhunter asking for my resume, for a work-at-home type situation not entirely unlike the work I did for GSK. God’s will be done.
My daughter brilliantly arranged for bonsai lessons from a local artist who is well versed in the art. The five of us attended, but I feel that I was the one to get the most out of it. Of course, I have seen bonsai (the tiny trees) nearly my whole life, but it was not until himself broke it down for me that I understood how it could be done. I don’t plan on quitting this one; no not ‘till the day I die.
Swimming the Atlantic
My girls started swimming lessons through the school. Technically it is referred to as a ‘water safety course’. It is a good thing for every child to have. I myself went into the water up to the waist. We have super-cheap wetsuits on order from SportsDirect.com. Once mine arrives, I am taking the plunge, into those frigid North Atlantic waters. They are surprisingly clear, and full of fish.
Walking Without Crutches
I have been walking without crutches since Tuesday of this red letter week. The bones of my ankle are completely healed, but there is still much healing for the ligaments, tendons and capsule to do. It is painful at time; I had seen one David Lynch, and for a while I did not need pain medication. However, now I find that with the combination of walking unassisted, and doing the exercises required by physiotherapy, that I do need the acetaminophen (paracetamol)/ibuprofen(nurofen) combination. Still, it is good to be walking on my own two feet alone; as well friends and acquaintances in town comment: ‘You’re no longer with crutches!’ Indeed.
In a dream, I was speaking with my grandmother Margueritte. She told me that [a certain relative] was not well, and would be dying soon. I followed up on the dream by means of a phone call (in the waking world); so far, it is not the case.
So it was a good trip that we took as a family. Along the way we met many new friends and acquaintances, including brother Alban from Scotland, who’s name saint was commemorated the day before the publishing of this blog post. We also met a nice family on the ferry originally from New Zealand, who we later met up with in Cahirciveen.
Aloe Vera ECU
We had received an aloe vera plant last year from the owner of one of the computer shops in town. By spring the mother had produced about 7 children in the same pot, and they were all root bound together. We separated them out and gave them each their own pot, but except for the mother, after a couple of weeks all of them were looking brown and withered.
We had some goat willow cuttings rooting in a vase on the kitchen counter. I decided to pour the water from the vase into the children’s pots to water them on a regular basis. Goat willow produces a rooting hormone that promotes not only its own rooting, but the rooting of plants around it.
By the time that we returned from England, all of the aloe vera children were showing increased greenness, plumpness, and putting up new shoots. I recommend the practice, and the cultivation of willow in general.
A Tree Named Lazarus
In Sheffield our hosts were taking care of a rubber tree plant that they named Lazarus, because it had managed to come back from the dead. I have also had the feeling as if being one brought back from the dead. Glory to God for all things.
The Icon: A Seven Part Documentary is based on the book of Bishop JOVANPURIC, Human Face of God. I highly recommend that you watch this video.
My good friend Jim says, “This one of the most interesting Documentaries that I have watched. You will not be disappointed, not only is it educational but also enjoyable. This is youtube site in English.”
The whole video is 3 hours 35 minutes; seven parts have been included in one u2b video. I have watched three of the episodes, and I cannot recommend them to you highly enough. When you leave a video page and then return to it, u2b restarts the video for your where you left it; so watching the video in installments should not be a problem. There are services for downloading u2b videos to your hard drive which are handy (keepvid.com, etc. Just don’t click the ‘download’ button; it is an ad).
The text of the video may be a bit heavy on the Orthodox theology for some, but the images and the music are lovely in and of themselves. The simple fact is, there is quite a bit of theology behind the use of holy icons in the Orthodox church. There is also quite a bit of history, which includes disputes with iconoclasts to the west (Protestants_ and iconoclasts to the east (Islamists); so the verbose theology behind icons arises out of the need to defend their use which has come down from the early centuries of Christianity.
Biblical Representations of Dura Europos
This series also introduces us to the notion that Christian iconography is actually one of the many aspects of faith inherited (or at least shared with) from Jewish faith and practice. Now we know about Dura Europos.
[Dura Europos is] an ancient synagogue uncovered at Dura-Europos, Syria, in 1932. The last phase of construction was dated by an Aramaic inscription to 244 CE, making it one of the oldest synagogues in the world. It is unique among the many ancient synagogues that have emerged from archaeological digs as it was preserved virtually intact, and it has extensive figurative wall-paintings. These frescoes are now displayed in the National Museum of Damascus.
For reading my infrequently updated blog, I will reward you with a tidbit of information: on 8 June I am scheduled to meet with the Axios Committee of the UK and Ireland Antiochian Orthodox Deanery. The subject of the meeting will be the consideration of my ordination to the diaconate of the Orthodox Church. If you would be so kind, please pray for me.
Our Lady Pantanassa
Things are progressing quickly at the Antiochian Orthodox Mission in Cork which I mentioned in a previous blog post. The name of the parish is Our Lady Pantanassa, and it has a new parish priest Fr John Hickey.
Orthodox Ireland Mailing List
Fr John has given me sanction to create a mailing list that will primarily announce service times and news for the parish, but will also (hopefully) serve as a touchstone for those within and without Ireland who meet the criteria, which is namely, “Orthodox Christians living in Ireland, Orthodox Christians of Irish descent, and anyone with an interest in Orthodox Christianity in Ireland. This mailing list is open to anyone acting in good faith”.
St Andrew Antiochian Orthodox Church, Riverside, California
Recently I was tooling around on YouTube, looking for videos of the Orthros service. I found this video of St Andrew Orthodox Church in Riverside, California. I more or less grew up in Riverside (Moreno Valley, Redlands, University Village). It is great to see an Orthodox Church there. The outside is well suited to the warm California sun. The inside is beautiful. If a desolate, god-forsaken (IMAO!) place like Riverside can have such a beautiful church (really, a cathedral), I have high hopes for south and west Ireland.
I first saw Fr Josiah in the interview with Metropolitan Kallistos which I embedded in the preceding blog post. I have not been back to Riverside since the summer after I graduated from high school. I have been back to Southern California once (Irvine) and to Northern California once and for the first time (San Francisco). My maternal grandparents are buried in the Riverside National Cemetery; so now in addition to visiting their graves I have a further reason to return to Riverside.
Metropolitan Kallistos said something in this video that bears resemblance in my hearing to something I have felt very strongly over the past month or so: that the Philokalia is a sort of spiritual time bomb set to go off in the latter half of the 20th century. Finding myself squarely within the 21st century, I would say that its impact has only increased in this present time.
I have been watching John Rommer’s series on Byzantium/Constantinople, where he gives particular attention to the religious tradition and spiritual work that took place in that great city between the 5th and 15th centuries. The thought I had was along these lines: the work they did — particularly the work by the monks of Stoudion — looked past the temporal power of the later Roman Empire (Byzantium) and looked toward a different time. Spiritual words of wisdom, formalization of ceremonial practice and the documentation of deep revelation was being stored up so that one day that great treasure house would be rediscovered and enjoyed by what would to them be an unseen generation. Or perhaps by means of His Holiness the Spirit they did indeed see that future degeneration.
I feel that future generation is our generation. Works like the Philokalia, but even the Divine Liturgies of St John Chrysostom and St Basil, were time capsules stored away for our benefit. But not just static time capsules buried deep in caves like Qumran Texts. The arc of Orthodox worship in its Byzantine, Slavonic and other traditions, is a living time capsule that links us to the time of Christ itself. We do not simply try and sus-out what Christ meant by looking at some obscure and out-of-date text called the New Testament.
We have a living tradition that has come down to us through the ages. The Church that authored the New Testament is alive with us today. The Church itself is the arc, and the waters of worldliness are receding. Whether it is the daily ritual of the monastic life, the cycles of the cathedral worship, or the deep wisdom of hesychasm, this treasure has been laid out as a banquet table before us, full of spiritual sumptuousness and divine delight.