Showing posts from May, 2020

Go to Your Inner Room

Today, here in Wayne County, the home of St. Tikhon's Seminary, we are officially moving to the "yellow phase" of reopening after the two months of quarantine and being restricted from going to church. Not that the quarantine was comfortable, but at least my head had begun to become acquainted with it. Now that some degree of reopening is on the horizon and there is potential to return to church and the Holy Eucharist, the temptation is to try to move back to "business as usual" and not keep a hold of the lessons I have learned during my isolation from church. One phrase that has continually come to mind these past two months is something that a friend of mine "quoted" on social media. He admitted that this is probably just a mis-quote from some or other ancient desert father, but regardless, there is a kernel of truth with a ready lesson: "Go to your cell and pray. If you can't find God in your cell, you won't find him anywhere."

Cabasilas & Schmemann: Talking about Communion

In the introduction to The Life in Christ , Boris Bobrinskoy repeatedly claims that Cabasilas sees the Eucharistic communion as the layman’s communion in Christ. I had an immediate and negative reaction to such statements due to my aversion to the false dichotomy between “lay” and monastic spirituality, but especially in the current climate of quarantine at home and isolation from the parish and Eucharistic communion, a time of sharpened attention to communion and what that means when we do not have the Eucharistic communion. I will admit that I attempted to prove Bobrinskoy wrong and to find references from Cabasilas that would also support communion with Christ in other ways outside of the Eucharist. Certainly, Cabasilas speaks of union with Christ in our heart, but I will have to concede that the Eucharist is his focal point: “So perfect is this Mystery [the Eucharist], so far does it excel every other sacred rite that it leads to the very summit of good things. Here also is the

Cabasilas & Schmemann: Fleshing Out the Idea of Salvation

Not to set up Schmemann’s work for rejection again, but his language about our salvation is exactly what I was just mentioning as fadish among Orthodox—he is not at all wrong and can say these things with the full weight of the Fathers behind him—salvation is a healing, or in this case, restoration of our nature: “It is Paradise, not sin, that reveals the true nature of man; it is to Paradise and to his true nature, to his primordial vestment of glory, that man returns in Baptism.” And also, “Christ came not to replace ‘natural’ matter with some ‘supernatural’ and sacred matter, but to restore it and to fulfill it as the means of communion with God.” That is all true, and Orthodoxically beautiful to say, but notice Cabasilas’s language on the same topic, mentioning not only “uniting our nature to Himself”, but also “paid the penalty”, a phrase rarely heard in today’s Orthodox dialect: “By this He paid the penalty for the sins which we had audaciously committed; then, because of tha

Cabasilas & Schmemann: The Need to Theologically Explain Ourselves

There are some spots where it is helpful to have a man from our own times speaking on Baptism. Schmemann, writing on the tail of the greatest wave of cultural change in America, the tumultuous 60s, can speak to our mixed up, modern this case, about death. “Seemingly, from a modern perspective, nothing has happened to biological death with Christ’s death, because we still all die,” runs the thinking of a modern atheist looking at Christianity. He is able to respond to this confusion with the fundamental Christian vision of death: it is that death “in which the ‘biological’ or physical death is not the whole death, not even its ultimate essence. For in this Christian vision, death is above all a spiritual reality, of which one can partake while being alive, from which one can be free while lying in the grave.” Cabasilas rightly speaks of this spiritual death in Baptism by saying that “in the sacred mysteries, then, we depict His burial and proclaim His death. By them we

Cabasilas & Schmemann: Is This Just an Artificial Restoration?

Fr. Alexander made a good point, but a point that was so good it almost undercut his entire book in my mind. He posed this question: “Are we not somewhat restoring, even though restoring is always artificial”, and emphasizing his own point, “all restorations are always artificial”. He argues long and hard for faithfulness to the original services of Baptism and Chrismation, to make sure we are serving them as they were written to be served. And that would...or could be artificial, even in his own estimation. Therefore, it is essential to keep in mind when reading Fr. Alexander’s book, that it is not for some romantic or “archeological” love of the past or to see a perfect historical restoration of the services, “but because of our certitude that only within this original structure can the full meaning of Baptism be grasped and understood.” That I understand: if we cut out chunks of the service we lose meaning. Clear. Later, though, it feels as though the tentative understanding we ju

Cabasilas & Schmemann: Intellectual Speak

This is an absolutely unfair and completely biased and subjective opinion—I think my emphasis is quite clear in saying how the following probably should not be said in a proper and balanced evaluation of these two books, but will be anyway, for I think it is helpful to the reader in determining how to interpret my thoughts on these two books—but Schmemann’s book seems too theologically “uppity”, where Cabasilas is more like hearing wise thoughts that may be partially over the listener’s head, but the understood pieces become pearls to cherish. [ This is where you choose to read any of the following articles or not. I am not anti-Schmemann; I loved the book, but this work, and I am assuming others of his as well, are written "higher" than necessary. ] St. Nicholas’s book, for all of its distance from us in time and geography and culture, seems to treat Baptism in a way that hits our modern context more directly than Fr. Alexander's book. It is not better, and Fr. Alexa

Cabasilas & Schmemann: The Intended Audience

Fr. Alexander Schmemann starts off his book with a lamentation about our need to understand Baptism. That clearly reveals his intended audience: Orthodox Christians. Over and over throughout his book, he finds every exhortation, every inspirational liturgical detail, every symbol lost on the modern ear to help reconnect modern Orthodox Christians with the richness of Baptism, Chrismation, and the Eucharist. And that is a message that needs to be heard, especially in the 1970s when he wrote it. He makes references to abbreviation or outright removal of seemingly redundant, meaningless, or outdated parts of the baptismal service, which to him is particularly abhorrent because such changes usually proceed from ignorance of the sacrament. St. Nicholas Cabasilas seems to have had a different audience in mind. On the surface, he, too, is speaking to Orthodox Christians, though it is difficult to say if that be to his own flock, because there is much uncertainty as to whether he ended his l

Looking for a Book to Explain Baptism

How often are we looking for a good book to help explain a particular topic? It is often the case that new books—we could roughly define that as written in the past decade—are the easiest to find, quite likely will be easy to read, and more or less cover the topic needed, but are somehow lacking in depth. Most new books look more like paperback versions of a collection of blog posts than a “real” book. If, on the other hand, the priest looks to the Church Fathers, the texts are often archaic and tedious, which might simply be a result of the style of translation employed. And even if the text is not actually difficult to read, the impression can still remain that any book with a saint as an author will be too hard to understand. Neither of the books I intend to cover in this book review, of sorts, fit neatly into either of these categories. Both cover the meaning of the Mystery of Baptism and extend their discussion into Chrismation and the Eucharist, both are a wealth of informati

A Bridge between My Baptist Roots and Orthodoxy

The truth of the matter is that many Orthodox converts (from Protestantism) are often just as reactionary against sounding Protestant as the Protestants are against their perception of Orthodoxy. I am exposing some of my Baptist roots here. I know I cannot refer to Protestants as one unilateral block of people, but I also do not want to be so specific as to just say Baptists. So, I will refine my statement: for the purposes of this topic and the quote I am about to share, I particularly have in mind the Protestants who place the utmost, if not sole, emphasis upon the cross in working our salvation...or rather, I have in mind the Orthodox converts that seem to subconsciously avoid such language as sounding too Protestant. Hymns like "Jesus Paid It All", "At the Cross", "Nothing but the Blood"; comments of "Ask Jesus into your heart" or "Are you saved?"; all such terminology is strictly avoided. It is much more Orthodox-convert-fadish

Longing for the Eucharist in Its Absence

I stumbled across a beautiful quote that really struck me in these days of being deprived of the Holy Eucharist. "How can one be capable of enjoying and finding delight in the presence of things for which one had not longing when they were absent?" These are the words of St. Nicholas Cabasilas in The Life in Christ , and he is primarily speaking of our salvation and of life eternal, and I am taking it somewhat out of context...but not totally. Our life in Christ, our union with him, is the beginning of eternal life. We commune with him here and now, that is, we are daily coming into union with him, through our efforts and through his grace. With that in mind, here is a little more context to St. Nicholas's quote: "The kingdom and vision of God and union with Christ are privileges which depend on willingness . They are thus possible only for those who have been willing to receive them and have loved them and longed for them. … How can one be capable of enjoying an