There’s a famous anecdote about the emissaries of Vladimir the Great who were sent out to neighboring states to find some religion that might unify the sundry peoples under Vladimir’s rule. After rejecting several options (Judaism, Isalm, Germanic Catholicism) they came to the Hagia Sofia in Constantinople, about which they reported later: “We knew not whether we were in Heaven or on Earth… We only know that God dwells there among the people, and their service is fairer than the ceremonies of other nations.” And thus, as the story would have it, beauty brought the kingdom of the Rus into the Eastern Orthodox orbit. A thousand years later, Pope Benedict XVI spent much of his career emphasizing the privileged place of the Way of Beauty—the Via Pulchritudinis—as the most attracting mode of evangelizing an increasing secular world.Continue reading
I’ve been fascinated for a while now with a particular artistic motif which depicts King David, ruler of ancient Israel and credited author of many of the Psalms, in the rapturous throes of composing. Many images of David with his harp/lyre can be found dating right back through the early middle ages, but many of these are also of a somewhat static, poised David. As art became more expressive of emotion in the Renaissance and beyond, the figure of David became more dramatic. And David, as an artistic figure, is particularly suited for drama. Continue reading
We’re all just meat sacks animated with electricity for a little while. Once our brains quit sparking, there’s no consciousness left and no meaning left. The whole world disappears every time a brain dies (the world being only a subjective construct). This being the case, morality is just another feature of each brain’s construct of reality, not a real objective thing outside of ourselves. In other words, it’s not real, and anything and everything is totally permissible because any suffering that is caused is only temporary and will end in oblivion as if it never existed. Because there’s no enduring, conscious perspective in the universe, nothing matters in the end, which means nothing ever mattered from the beginning. There is no cosmic justice. All of our “justice” is just the tinkering of clever apes—accidents of physics.Continue reading
Why do the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches celebrate the assumption of Mary? It turns out, it’s because of Easter.
But Easter has to do with Jesus, and this feast day is about Mary, right? As with all celebrations of the Saints, of course, it’s Jesus who shines through them to receive the highest and ultimate praise. When we depict the Saints in our iconography, they have a halo around their heads; that halo is the light of Christ shining out of them. They have surrendered their old life, the mere life of bios—biological life—in exchange for zoe, the divine life that is God himself, united to human nature in Jesus Christ, and shared now with all his brothers and sisters, if they will receive it. Those who shine through with that light most brilliantly, who have evidenced to the Church that their lives are full of the Christ-life, we call Saints.
And so a feast day for a Saint is never really just about that Saint. It’s always about Christ who that Saint conforms to. There are some Christians who think of the Kingdom of heaven as a zero sum game, where any praise a Saint gets is praise that God isn’t getting. But that’s not how the Kingdom works at all. Christ glories in his Saints, and his Saints glory in him. Christ’s glory is not diminished when we celebrate those who belong to him; just the opposite—his glory increases. And so let’s look to Mary, and see how she increases her Son’s glory. Continue reading
I recently read The Exorcist, the classic 1971 novel by William Peter Blatty (on audiobook and narrated by the author himself!). I imbibed the book, is more what I did. I was immediately drawn into this story of a demon-possessed young girl and her devoted mother whose tireless efforts at finding a remedy for her condition ultimately secure the ministrations of a Jesuit psychologist (Fr. Damien Karras) and a mysterious elderly exorcist (Fr. Lankester Merrin). Blatty’s poetic prose, his evocative scene-setting, character descriptions, and philosophic inner monologues all make the book a delight to read. The subject matter of the novel—a demon possession—also helps to keep the reader riveted, of course. >>Spoilers ahead<<Continue reading
The following paragraphs contain some of the most poignant and simultaneously soul-sapping words I’ve ever read. I won’t waste time on any commentary except to say that this resonates with me because I know exactly what is meant here from experience. I know the flavor of the banal art produced not by the forgivable immaturity of atheistic communism (which at least had real conviction) but by the comfortable, horizonless, dead-endedness of a society that only rises to the level of pretend conviction at most, and more often only ape-ish itching and scratching:Continue reading
Over the course of writing this blog (over ten years now!), I’ve taken several unplanned, accidental hiatuses, initiated by quantum randomness and sustained by the easy inertia of just not writing. But nine months to the day from my last post, I’ve finally decided I should take up the pen again, as it were.Continue reading
Magic—it’s not just for Disney wizards and fairy god-mothers. We all believe in magic. In fact, we all not only believe in magic, but we rely on it constantly. Continue reading
The Declaration of Independence is an astounding document. It’s short (you should read it). The majority of its content is actually an enumeration of “injuries and usurpations” by the British monarch King George III against the American Colonies, but the most interesting part is the first three sentences which give a rationale for why it is necessary for “one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another.” The following “unalienable rights” that the Declaration lists—Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness—would become the shorthand for what America stands for, and would be the lifeblood of the next great document to be produced by the new country: the Constitution. G.K. Chesterton once observed, “America is alone in having begun her national career with a definite explanation of what she intended to be. And this is an experiment of the highest historical and philosophical interest.”Continue reading
A recent referendum in Ireland followed the popular vote of the people there and lifted a constitutional ban on abortions when the mother’s life is not endangered. The legislation has yet to be drafted, but it’s likely to permit abortions now for the broadest of reasons, up to three or six months—who knows. I kept tabs on news stories there during the run up to this vote, and from what I witnessed in pictures of rallies, saw in comment sections and read in published articles from both sides, the pro-life side was, on the whole, more civil and polite, and the pro-choice side was, on the whole, more rancorous, insulting, and boastful. I’ve seen the same thing here in the States. In the visible public square, the proponents of the pro-choice movement behave more poorly than their opposition, have ruder signs and more vulgar slogans. But clearly, the pro-choice camp is the majority in the entire Western world now. And I don’t believe all of them are the rancorous rally-ers and picketers in the images featured in news articles. Continue reading
From Chapter 4 of the Rule of Saint Benedict:
First of all, love the Lord God with your whole heart, your whole soul and all your strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. Then the following: you are not to kill, not to commit adultery; you are not to steal nor to covet; you are not to bear false witness. You must honor everyone, and never do to another what you would not want done to yourself.
Renounce yourself in order to follow Christ; discipline your body; do not pamper yourself, but love fasting. You must relieve the lot of the poor, clothe the naked, visit the sick, and bury the dead. Go to help the troubled and console the sorrowing. Continue reading
So, I have a new blog now! As in, I now have two blogs; I’m not replacing this one. I’ve been asked to be a contributing blogger on the new website OrthodoxWest.com. This new site will include blogs, media, and articles on various topics related to the Western Rite in the Orthodox Church, particularly in the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America. Continue reading
The heavens declare the glory of God. The skies proclaim his handiwork. Trees and mountains can sing to God together, and even the rocks could start crying out. But I can’t seem to open my mouth to pray.
The phenomenon, I’m assured, is not unique to me. Prayer is hard to do. Continue reading
I’m generally not for the new trend of bio-pics about currently living people (Barry, Snowden, The Iron Lady, The Social Network, The Theory of Everything). While depicting figures from the past brings them back to “life” in a fictional sense, depicting living figures seems to me to be robbing them of their own ongoing, real drama in this world. Their story isn’t yet finished, so it’s objectionable to try to tell it—even a portion of it—because the end of their narrative, the conclusion that is necessary to cast the final light over all the rest of it, hasn’t yet come to pass. But I’ve made an exception in watching the Netflix original series The Crown, because the living figure which it depicts is exceptional. Continue reading
A pang of emotion shot through my stomach the other day—a stab of mysterious longing that unbalanced me as I was returning to the office from my lunch break. Transcendental yearning overwhelmed my faculties in the parking lot, and under the weight of my own soul, saturated with qualia, my knees weakened. I had a soul attack. Continue reading
In October the nights get longer and the air gets colder. For the ancient agrarian Celts in the British Isles, this time marked the end of the growing season for crops. They would have to harvest as much food as they could to last them through the winter, but if there was a poor yield, the anxiety of that problem would be settling in right about at the end of October. Winter, that cold and dark time of year when the danger of sickness and starvation is at its height, would just now be reaching the tips of its icy fingers into people’s lives, and the dread of death, even the memory of death in previous winters, would intensify. With this recalled memory of death, the veil between this world and the invisible one was either imagined to be, or else truly perceived to be by those with the sight to see it, made thinner. Continue reading
One night in 2008 I awoke in the middle of the night to a strange sound. I was still groggy, and as I blinked my eyes to try to get them to focus in the darkness of the room, the sound became louder. All at once I was inexplicably certain that the sound was that of massive, feathered wings beating—not as if they were in flight, but just as if they were flapping for the effect of their sound, since they were clearly flapping in the same place: at the foot of my bed. Continue reading
In a recent post I summarized my Faith journey into the Orthodox Church. I wanted to include a section in that post on the very important topic of the Eucharist in order to highlight maybe the most striking difference between what I grew up believing and what classical Christianity teaches. I didn’t include it in that post because it would have made it much too long, but I did save what I had written about it. That section is what follows here: Continue reading
On this blog, I try to emphasize the importance of stories. The stories we tell shape our minds and hearts — they shape the very way we perceive the world. And when those stories are about our own history, what’s at stake in the telling of them is both our worldview and our sense of self. Telling the story of Western civilization is a tall order: that story must weave characters, events, institutions, and geography into a coherent order with a coherent logic. It must not only describe events, but imply causalities; it must not only describe characters’ actions, but suggest their motives. Otherwise, the history may be factual, but it will not be meaningful. To be useful to us, it must be a story. Continue reading
Back in 2011 I started writing a series of posts entitled “According to the Whole” which was focused on exploring the issue of Christian disunity and where I was looking for possible solutions. The posts were personal and were informed by my own intellectual and experiential journey, but they weren’t overtly autobiographical. I used them to ask questions, make diagnoses, and offer prescriptions in a general sense, but I didn’t use them to tell much of my story. Now my story which spawned those questions and thoughts has reached a definitive point, even a conclusion of sorts, and I want to finally tell it. Continue reading