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.
I firs posted this question on the Google+ Orthodoxy Christianity Community. I later posted it on the Google+ Theogeeks Community, This is not strictly speaking an Orthodoxy question, but I would like to hear from the Orthodox perspective. Also, those of you who are widely read in Orthodoxy or otherwise may be able to point me in the right direction.
So my question is about the verse in St Paul’s Epistle to the Hebrews, Chapter 7 verse 7:
And without all contradiction the less is blessed of the better. (KJV)
So at face value — even perhaps taken out of context — what this says to me is, God blesses us, parents bless their children, masters bless their servants, and so forth.
But of course, we have such lovely verses such as Psalm 103:1
Bless the LORD, O my soul
Certainly by soul is not better than God-Man Jesus Christ. So what does it mean? First, to you; and then, if you have patristic or other theological sources at your disposal, in that context? Have I missed what this verse and its context is saying? What does it mean you? Do you have access to theological or other sources that have tackled a question similar to my own?
A look at the language of the text
The social media writer Steve Douglas has responded to me directly on this point. Among the elucidation that he offered, was the gem that I quote below. It seems that the ambiguity — or rather two senses of the same word, as Lee has mentioned — exists in Greek as well as Hebrew, but that the actual usage (“non-verbal”, as it were), expresses nuance which does not render well in English. If I may be so bold as to quote him,
“that distinction was captured in the Septuagint as eulogemenos for Abram, a perfect passive participle with no verb meaning the likes of ‘let him have been blessed’, and eulogētos for God Most High, an adjective with no verb apparently intended to approximate ‘God Most High is blessed’. The simplest way of saying it is that on one hand, “Blessed be Abram,” and on the other, “Blessed is God.” The author of Hebrews was apparently keying off of this distinction, which lay less in the choice of verb than in verbal aspect, which is something largely hidden from us.”
So I know that language is complex and that words can often have more than one meaning. At this point to me it seems to be more of a language issue than a theological one… one that may be remedied by ‘a life-long and never-ending study of biblical Greek.‘
Thinking a bit deeper
I suppose in once sense I wonder why — as Steve puts it — the writer of Hebrews (keeping the jury out on authorship) would make such a statement as “And without all contradiction”. I have read and heard other translations which say something along the lines of “it is beyond all dispute.” On the one hand, it seems a tad rabbinical as if the writer were reasoning with other rabbis (oops! There that pesky title keeps creeping in), and on the other hand, nothing else about this epistle is presented as a supposition or a qualified statement. Why is this point in particular, ‘without all contradiction ‘ Is this another way of saying, ‘Duh! Obvious guys!’
Or is the statement addressing the ambiguity of the terminology, indicating that this was a current discussion at the time?
Still, it does raise questions which seem to warrant deeper answers. One does not praise God except by the grace of God. One cannot praise God unless one has received a revelation of God. One would not praise God, unless one had realised that God was the source of all things, even the motivation to praise the Creator.
Or is the point of it to underline the status of Melchizedek to an audience which would be inclined to think of Abraham as greater than all of his contemporaries (on account of the Promise, as Peter has mentioned).f
I do feel like I have a bit more grasp on this point, but I am happy to explore it further, because it seems to have reticular connection to many aspects of our relationship to God and Christ.
The context is that the position of Melkezidek is higher than that of Abra(ha)m
I can accept that I am created in God’s image, that my soul arises from the contact of God’s breath with inanimate earth-made flesh, and as Jesus said, quoting the psalmist (Asaph), “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, “You are gods”’?”; which is why it seems to me a bit, how should I say, isolated for the writer of Hebrews to focus in the the hierarchical relationship, unless…
(forgive me for being didactic…)
I am moving toward the conclusion that this passage Hebrews 7:7 is not making a broad theological statement, but is only (solely, exclusively) making a point regarding the position of Melchizedek being greater than that of Abram.
In which case I have a bit of the feeling that, as a New Testament/New Covenant Christian, this statement is actually not intended for me. Having accepted the dynamic nature of God working in me (a living temple of the Living God, an earthen vessel containing Treasure), I almost have to go back to a pre-enlightened mindset to understand the relevance of “And without all contradiction the less is blessed of the better.“
An aside on the authorship of Hebrews
This topic comes up again and again, basically because the question of the authorship of the Epistle to the Hebrews has not been settled. I would like to quote Steve Douglas again to summarize the list of possible authors:
most who do much translation recognize differences in style and language between Paul and Hebrews as stark as those found between Mark and Luke/Acts, or Matthew and John, or James and 1 Peter. They all have very distinct flavors, not the least of which is in vocabulary. Hebrews is Koine Greek of the most refined variety in the NT (Luke/Acts is really sophisticated Greek as well, but not as rhetorical), whereas Paul is much more raw. Others note that there are different theological emphases and perspectives between the Pauline epistles and Hebrews…My personal favorite suggestion is Apollos (proposed by Martin Luther), because he was known as an eloquent Jewish Christian from Alexandria, and there is something rather Alexandrian about Hebrews’ use of typology. Others have suggested Barnabas or a woman (which, aside from the sheer progressive novelty of it, is an attractive explanation for its anonymity, but I don’t buy it). I understand that Clement of Alexandria actually proposed Luke, which makes sense because of the sophistication of the Greek, but I’d be surprised for the chronicler Luke to write such a baldly theological treatise (although such does happen).
As a translator by profession (technical Japanese-English), a translators viewpoint is entirely acceptable to me. More so than a theologians. And I know that an evolution in style and vocabulary is very different than something along the lines of being starkly different.
“You give me a word, any word, and I will show you how the root of that word, is Greek”
The responses to this post once again stirred me to get serious about my study of biblical/patristic Greek — because it is pretty certain that it will never go away. Wanting to start of neat and tidy, I googled ‘biblical greek primer’, and found this. It seems to be exactly what I need at this point:
The other night I googled and found this biblical Greek primer. Given my occupational background, I feel rather comfortable with the translation approach.
Given what I know from other fields of translation, it seems like it should be possible to find other texts with known authors that have similar phraseology, diction and grammar. It is unlikely that a highly eloquent writer had no other published works; sounds like a post-grad thesis in the making.
There are a few ways to heat your home in South-West Kerry: gas fired-radiators, oil-fired radiators, oil-fired under-floor heating, electric under-floor heating, open fireplace, solid-fuel cast-iron stove, cast-iron stove with a back-boiler (which means solid-fuel fired radiators), or a one-way ticket to Australia.
In the US we have a thing called central heating, which is usually air heated by burning gas, then that heated air is forced through ducts to each room of the house. I have not yet seen this system in operation in Ireland. Nor have I seen screens on windows.
A Hearth Makes A Home
So we are using the solid fuel cast-iron stove arrangement. Oil and gas are convenient because the energy is compact, and someone else does the delivery. Of course, you pay for the convenience. You pay, BP and Exxon style. Depending on how you acquire it, the solid fuel option may be cheaper. Coal puts out a lot of heat, and the energy source is relatively compact. Because emissions are high and the fuel is non-renewable, we prefer wood.
A while ago there was a major storm, as there often are this time of year. As a result of the storm, our neighbour had a massive tree blown over on their property. The tree landed on their garage, but did not cause structural damage. Nonetheless, the weight of the tree put the garage at risk. So they called me up and asked me to help cut up the tree. The compensation was that we got to keep as much of the wood as we could carry away.
For the record, we are now somewhere around our tenth car load. It was a massive tree.
Long story short, I found myself making extensive use of a borrowed chainsaw. Previously I had received extensive notes on how to use and maintain a chainsaw from one Dominik O’Byrne. According to those notes, I knew that the chain on the saw I was borrowing had gone dull, and needed a sharpening. So I took the saw and its chain back to Mr O’Byrne, who helped me sharpen the chain, and gave me some more notes. By looking at the chain, he could tell that it had not been used properly. So I took notes; this time, in writing.
The chainsaw had been overheating. Make sure that the flow of oil to the chain is unobstructed.
Top of the oil reserve of the saw every time you add petrol.
Be careful to not strike rocks (also, nails and moss). The chain had shown blunting and deformity, likely due to a rock.
When used properly, the chain can go weeks of constant use without needing to be sharpened.
A chain can be sharpened about five times.
The blade (the part under the chain) may go before the chain does.
When oil is not getting to the chain properly, it will actually run faster and the saw motor will rev. Some people thing, ‘Oh great, my saw is running so much faster.’ But in fact, when this happens, you are putting the saw motor in jeopardy.
Texas Chainsaws: Massacre Free Since 1976
I did in fact get blood on the chainsaw. But it was not because I was Siren-seduced by the hypnotic whir of the revolving chain. I was cutting down the trunk of a dead tree. To keep the tree from falling on a property-line fence, I tied a rope to it, which was secured to another tree in the opposite direction of the fence. I was wearing Nauticas, which are nice leather shoes, but a bit slippery. I don’t think they would make good deck shoes.
Slipping out of the bracing tree, I avoided breaking my neck by holding onto the truck of the tree as I slid down it. Much like the way a fireman holds onto the pole as he slides down, except is this case the trunk had all of the usual stubs of branches sticking out of it. Bloody mess, lots of torn patches of skin, and in the subsequent work with the chainsaw, a small amount of blood was drizzled over the saw casing. So, that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.
This blog post is dedicated to all the people in my life who are not really my friends. I am on to you.
From personal experience, I can speak about how devastating it is to have a friend that is not really a friend. The more you have to offer in life, the more people will try to get close to you, who not only do not love you, but actually intend to do you harm.
I believe the following to be reliable techniques to help you in your on-going effort to identify and deal with the friend-enemies in your life, the so-called frien-nemies.
The aphorism “Know yourself” (γνῶθι σεαυτόν) has been attributed to the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus, likewise to Socrates, and to others. It is said to have been inscribed in the forecourt of the temple of Apollo at Delphi. It is characteristic of our early adult years that we seek to discover our destiny in life, our calling, what it is that we are supposed to do, in the big sense. This is important not only in terms of the face value of ‘knowing what you are to do with your life’, but it is also critically important from the standpoint of those who must identify who are our true friends, and who are our enemies posing as friends. The edge of the knife is this: the false friends will take every opportunity to criticise (mock, deride, denigrate) our destiny.
Nor sits in the seat of the scornful
Which brings us to an important point: false friends recognize our destiny, sometimes even when we do not. So, again, this is yet another reason why it is critically important to get a handle on our calling in life as soon as possible.
I had a friend when I was younger who accused me of being a monk. He meant it as a criticism. He wanted to make out with wanton girls in amusement parks, and I was unwilling to follow him or support him in the exploit. I did not consider myself particularly chaste. I enjoyed the company of women. But because I was not as desperate as him in my pursuit of temporary affection, he found cause to criticise. Over the course of time, I see how that subtle criticism has had larger implications, and is ultimately linked to the reason why we are no longer friends. I think that this is not just an anecdote from my own life. I think this advice is generally applicable to anyone in my generation. Pay attention to the criticisms with which your friends criticise you. The more their criticism is directed toward something that is fundamental to your life, the more they may prove themselves to be false friends.
I will give an example. Let’s say you are an artist, a painter. If you have a friend who critiques your painting, saying how you could improve here or there, I would say that they are not criticising you, but supporting you. On the other hand, if you have a friend who criticises the fact that you are driven to paint, who doesn’t see the logic in trying again and again to achieve a visual representation, then that persons is not critiquing your work for the sake of improvement, but they are criticising you, your vocation, and your destiny. They are most likely doing so out of jealousy, even envy. They are not true friends, but detractors. In a Judeo-Christian, Hindu-Buddhist, or mystical Islamic context, we would say that they have been sent by the Enemy, the great accuser.
Friends don’t let friends fight friends
It has been written about at length by other authors, so I will touch on it only briefly here. If you have a situation where one of your friends persists in criticising another one of your friends, there are two major possibilities. Possibility one: friend A (as we will call him), has a legitimate concern about the influence that friend B has on your life. In this case, friend B is likely the friennemy described above. Possibility two: friend A is the friennemy, trying to cut supportive and edifying friends out of your life. You will have to decide. The sooner, the better. But you know something is up when you more than once hear one friend criticise another, especially in terms of character rather than in terms of conduct.
Stop bogarting my Ribwich
The consumable pleasures of life are many and verried varied. Certain garden variety weeds recently legalized in Washington and Colorado, Bushmills Irish Wiskey, J&B Scotch Whiskey, Camel cigarettes, donuts, the Ribwich. There are people in your life who only come calling when you have a supply of your favourite. They help themselves, while paying you the necessary lip service. Then, when they have had their fill, or when your supply is exhausted, they split. I am sorry to be the first one to tell you, but these are not friends, my friend.
There is a more complex level of non-friend-ness related to the same. There are people in your life who actually supply you with these things. While the temptation is to indulge yourself and partake of the good times that they are offering, beware. When drunk on donuts, high on the Ribwich, stoned on cigarettes or in a cannabis-induced alpha brain wave state, beware. What are they asking you about? What are they asking you to do? Who are they criticising? Please, beware of friennemies bearing gifts.
Get your own damn ideas
Ostensibly, quoting someone is complementing them. Imitation is the highest form of flattery. But in reality, get your own damn ideas.
So called friends, who take your ideas, and then either pass them off as their own, or make reference to you as a matter of duty, have a limited capacity for friendship. When friends come together and share out of their creative abundance, then there is equity, parity, and community. But if your friends are much more creative than you are, or you find that you are more creative than your friends, then it is perhaps best to re-label the relationship as an acquaintance, or as a teacher-student relationship, or as something along those lines.
In order to be friends, you must be alike in your difference, and you cannot be dependent one upon another for creative ideas. Where the rubber meets the road, flattery is more of a warning sign than something in which to take pleasure.
Machiavelli says that when a spy is discovered, he must be put to death immediately. We are not governing states; we are governing our own lives. So when you discover the friennemy, there is no need to put any one to death. There is a need, however, to act quickly, and to bring the sham friendship to an end. Put the relationship to death, so to speak, but do physical violence to no one.
It is easier to become emperor than it is to become king. To become emperor, you simply need to successfully invade all of your neighbouring countries. Then you declare yourself emperor. But to become king – ideally – you must be ordained by God. An emperor is a general who has seized control of the state. A king is the high priest of the temporal secular authority, of noble blood, and anointed. In a previous post, I described how the emperor bows down to the King. With secular authorities, the emperor is greater than the king. But in the Kingdom of God, it is more or less the opposite, and the King is superior to the emperor.
Any schmuck can make himself emperor. This means you, Napoleon!
Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly
Let me leave you with a final anecdote about a past friennemy. This particular person had another friend. At one point, those two friends had (what my grandmother would call) a falling-out. Previously they had spent most of their free time together. More than this particular person spent with me. Then those two had an argument, and they stopped spending all their free time with one another. Then, this particular person did two things, which I offer to you as warning signs of a friend-who-is-not-really-a-friend.
First, they came to me, and told me all the things that were wrong with their ex-friend. I did not ask for the inside scoop. I was not fishing for the weaknesses of that other person. It didn’t matter to me. But it did matter to this particular person. They had to justify their ‘break-up’, and they used me to do it.
(I have purposely chosen the plural personal pronoun here. I know it is not the best in terms of writing style, but I do not want to use the gender-specific personal pronoun.)
Second, as further justification for the breakup, or to perhaps cover up the fact that previously this particular person clearly spent all of their quality free time with their former friend, they showered me with compliments, and praised our friendship. “You are my best friend. You are a true friend. I love you.”
It was all temporary. In the course of time, this particular person went back to their old friend, now a former enemy. I, meanwhile, having run out of Ribwiches, fell down a few notches on their list, and I only heard from them via social networking sites or when there was something else that I could do for them.
So in conclusion
So, to summarise, my advice to you is: beware of criticisms, beware of gifts, and beware of flattery. True friends will not resort to any of these.