:: Thursday, April 29, 2004 ::
Paul’s Epistles: Reading Someone Else’s Mail
:: Saturday, April 24, 2004 ::
It is considered rude in modern society to read someone else’s mail; in fact, it is downright illegal. However, I have been reading other people’s mail a lot recently, and am even getting class credit for it. Unfortunately, they are confusing, and I am unable to dedicate to them the time and depth of reading they deserve, but I am still trying to read them.
In fact, the letters are a little too confusing. I am reading someone else’s mail, after all, and I do not know the situations behind the writing. Of course, I go and read the historical details: St. Paul was writing to this and such group at then and such year. But that does not tell me the background. This seems to present more of a problem to those who hold Sola Scriptura, since they have no exterior information with which to interpret the Scripture, but it does seem to be less of a problem with the data of Tradition.
In reading Thessalonians, I cannot help but ask: What of this is written to me, and what is written to them? I do not have too much in common with the Thessalonians in as much as they were Thessalonians. I do not live in a first-century port town on the Via Egnatia where the worship of Cabrius may cause immorality. I do have much in common with them in another way, however. I am a part of the Church, just as much as they are part of the Church (present tense is appropriate here; remember, Christians have eternal life, right?). So, the ‘parts’ of the Epistles to the Thessalonians that were written for them as far as they were Christians are things that I still need to practice today.
In I Corinthians, St. Paul talks about women covering their heads in church; OK, so I cover my head when I go to church. Two verses later, however (1 Cor 11:14), it says that men shouldn’t have long hair. Wait a minute…our priests have long hair. How does this work? Well, the full context of the situation (for which one must step out of the text itself) is that effeminacy is not to be encouraged among men; therefore, no long hair. While one instruction is seen as pertaining to us as far as we are Christians, the other is a specific example that applies only to the Corinthians in their specific situation; it is only through the context of the second one that we are able to fully understand it.
So, how much of this do I need to follow? The general rules are good, but the specific ones are confusing. Should women not be permitted to speak in church? Should they only learn at home? Should they cover their heads? The placement of these verses makes interpretation difficult; which specific and which are general? How do we know? It is impractical to take them all as specific or all as general; too specific, and you end up alone in Podunk Bible church with your rifle, wife, and 22 kids; too general, and you end up like the liberal Episcopal Church. There has to be a middle ground. Where is that? Well, you know what I’d say…Ask the Church; I’ve heard she’s kept up on the original intent and context.
Glory to God!
:: 6:41 PM on
Thursday, April 29, 2004
Doctrinal Development: A New Faith?
:: Friday, April 23, 2004 ::
Was St. [pick your favorite early church father] a Trinitarian? Recently my class has been reading the Pauline epistles. As a side note, if you have not recently just sat down and read the whole book of 1 Corinthians, I highly recommend it. It’ll take an hour (if your fast), or up to 10 (if you’re like me), but it’s really worth the time, if only to see the context. As I was reading it last week, I came across something that struck me as odd.
St. Paul benedictizes readers exclusively in the name of the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. While he does mention the Spirit in other places, he does not mention it in the blessings. Let me make myself clear at this point: St. Paul was a Trinitarian. I am not saying that simply because he did not bless in the name of the Trinity that he did not believe in it; the last verse of II Corinthians removes all doubt. But what would happen if you walked into a church today, asked the priest for a blessing, and he blessed you in the name of “…God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (I Cor 1:3b)? What would happen if every time he mentioned God, he only mentioned two Persons of the Trinity? Ever tried to cross yourself to that? You hopefully would (and rightly should) leave the church, and probably tell a bishop. It would be very obvious to you that something is wrong with the Trinitarian beliefs of that church. So, why do we let St. Paul get away with it?
Explicit knowledge of the Trinity was not necessary at St. Paul’s time. I was discussing this with a philosophically minded friend last night, and he said questions must be asked before answers are formulated. There was no Arius, so there was no Athanasius. St. Paul did not need to have an explicit (see Summa Theologica) belief in the Trinity since no one was questioning that belief. If he had known about the Nicean-Constantinopolitan creed, he would have signed it immediately, but since he did not know it, he did not say it.
The other solution is to allow St. Paul to have not believed in the Trinity. This just sounds funny to me, since it somehow implies that I know more about God than St. Paul. Would it be wrong to say this? It sounds really weird. You can say that St. Paul wrote at a time before the doctrinal development of the Trinity was complete, and so he did not know about the Trinity, but he did know God. But there is a problem with this wording; the Trinity is God, so to know one, you know the other. Anyway, St. Paul was innocent of explicit Trinitarian knowledge, so his ignorance was not damning; however, it soon became heretical for someone to knowingly reject the Trinity. St. Paul clearly was a Trinitarian, but could there be an early Saint who was not? Would it be possible that anyone who knows God better than I (and that’s lots of people) could reject the Trinity? Or is it conceit on my part, claiming I know more about God than they do because I know about the Trinity? It almost seems as if we are allowing the development of doctrine to create “new” requirements for the Christian faith. Is it really the creation of “new” doctrine, or simply the clarification of implicit doctrine? If it is the creation of new doctrine, or even the redefinition of old doctrine, we must be careful that we do not sound like Canon V. Gene Robinson with our “new interpretations.” This is a sticky problem; I’ll get back to you if I find some answers.
Glory to God!
:: 3:58 PM on
Saturday, April 24, 2004
Is it shyness, or pride?
:: Monday, April 19, 2004 ::
I am shy of some people. I am shy of people whom I respect due to the respect in which I hold them. I am not shy of my peers, whether or not I respect them, and I am not shy of meeting new people. As I was recently lamenting being shy to a friend, she suggested that it was not fear, but pride that was hindering me.
I am shy of those who I respect; this includes clergy, professors, and other important people. Of course, there are always exceptions to this, like that one professor we’ve all had who tries really hard to be “cool,” but it is so false that you lose all respect for him. But generally, I am shy of these people. When I am shy, I literally forget everything, even basic things, like the response to, “Hi, Erica, how are you today?”
Of course, in most situations I have no fear of people. I am the type of person who comes up to you on your first visit to the church and says, “Hi, my name is Erica. What’s your name?” I have no qualms about this; I am engaging in a peer-to-peer discussion, and there is no need to be embarrassed. Speaking in class, volunteering, and speaking in front of groups is fine, but speaking with a single professor or priest whom I respect is nearly impossible.
I have come to the conclusion that indeed, I am not shy. I fear that I am simply proud. Why do I freeze up? Because I have nothing to say and I do not want to look stupid. Then, of course, I have to remind myself that 99% of the time, I do not mind looking stupid (and do so frequently). But I want whomever I respect to have a good impression of me, so I get really self-conscious. Why am I self-conscious? Because I want to look good and knowledgeable. What do we call that? Pride.
I do not ask questions of people whom I respect, even though I know I probably should. Why would he want to answer a question of mine? I have plenty of secondary excuses: It is probably a facile question I could answer if I read up on the subject; I am likely too stubborn to accept the answer; I won’t understand the answer, and I’d have to ask for clarification; he is busy, and does not have time to answer this question from someone of no consequence. While these could perhaps be classed under “shyness,” they are only secondary. My primary excuse is “I will open my mouth and reveal my own foolishness.” We call that pride .
I want to look intelligent, knowledgeable, good. Of course, I forget that if I am actually any of these, it is only by God’s free gift and grace, so I cannot boast. The world and its pride are hard to shake; they cling to our mortal bodies while we are on this earth. Some day, we will be free of pride; until then, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
Glory to God!
:: 10:07 AM on
Friday, April 23, 2004
Blessings in Confusion
:: Sunday, April 18, 2004 ::
This past weekend was a long one, but ultimately a good one.
My older brother drove me down back LA, since he is looking at going to UCI or UCR next year. As we were hanging out this weekend, it occurred to me how much both of us had changed since our childhood. We have always been quite close, but we used to be in such staunch competition. Being two years younger, I had always tried to get ahead; it could be fierce at times, and I was the brutal and even cruel one in many of our sparring matches. This last weekend, it occurred to me that he has grown up. When we were planning the trip, I wouldn’t have thought he would have wanted his “little sister” touring all of these colleges with him, so I was prepared (actually, I was planning) to get homework done while he toured the campuses. In fact, he not only invited me, but had signed me up to go on the tours with him! It was the last time we will probably hang out like that, with him leaving home for school next year, but it was good. It was also his 22nd birthday on Saturday, and as I took him out for birthday pie, we were talking and he said, “Well, I wonder what mom and dad will do now that we are out; I wonder what we’ll do in two years when we graduate…” I don’t think he heard the words he was using; it was no longer “I” but “we.” Since college, and actually all through high school, my competition with him has always made it “I.” It was either “I” or “him,” but we were never really “we.” The competition ended this last weekend; it was us two kids leaving our (rapidly!) aging parents. All of a sudden, we are equals; we will graduate the same year. In my competition, I had always tried to get ahead, and in doing so, I would stop David from doing his own thing. Now, we do not need to compete anymore; his maturity in admitting equality (although by admitting it, he was showing himself clearly more mature than I!) seemed somehow to make it pointless to compete. Instead of getting ahead, it is as though I could slow down and enjoy being with him. It was one of the most enjoyable times I can remember hanging out with him since the days we made blanket forts on the living room floor.
Unfortunately, our wonderful weekend was cut short. After he dropped me off at school Saturday night, he went to go check into a local hotel. As he pulled out of a parking lot about 20 minutes from Biola, he totaled his car; it was his first ever accident, and it was on his birthday, and he was shaken up. Thanks be to God, he was totally unharmed! As I got his stuff out of his car today at the wreckers, I saw the damage. The drivers door didn’t really open, and the whole front end was smashed. If he had been hit just 24 inches further back, it would have been horrific. When it happened, my dad called me, and I called my wonderful friend Bree, who dropped everything she was doing at 9PM at night to come pick me up and take me to go find him; her parents then let him stay at their house that night and drove him to the bus station the next morning (friends like Bree and her family are awesome!). He is pretty shaken up, but he’s OK.
The contrast of the weekend got me to thinking about my blessings. I have a brother whom I can trust and respect and help. He has grown up; I only hope I can do likewise. I have friends who will literally stop what they are doing at a 5 minute notice and take me driving around the city in the middle of the night looking for my brother. Not only will they do that, but they will give him a bed to stay in and a ride to the bus station the next morning. I am so blessed!
Glory to God!
:: 10:31 PM on
Monday, April 19, 2004
:: Tuesday, April 13, 2004 ::
How much can we be expected to believe in something as weird as prayer? Try rationally explaining prayer to an athiest without looking like an idiot, “So, uh, you talking to God. You can’t hear him…uh, but he hears you…No, no you’re not talking to the ceiling…it’s uh…like your talking to a person you can’t see or touch or sense in anyway, but you’re supposed to have a normal conversation with him.” Yeah, right. Explain to him why he should pray, why it is important, or better yet, why it is effectious. While some of the great saints have successfully explained prayer in supra-rational terms, any of our paltry explanations would fail and we would only expose ourselves to ridicule. Prayer cannot be understood, explained, or reasoned out.
For many years, I would pray obligatorily. I would pray right before meals, and read my Bible and pray before bed. Of course, I did not see the point or the power, but I was just trying to be a good Christian kid, and that’s what they did, right? It was always a struggle in the wrong way; I would watch the clock, or write in my prayer journal something like “Too tired and busy to write tonight. I’ll write tomorrow.” As I got older, I tried to rationalize prayer: what weight does my opinion hold in God’s plan for the universe? Isn’t his plan going to be his plan no matter how much I beg him to do otherwise? This made prayer seem almost pointless. While I freely admit I haven’t answered these questions, I can say that prayer is something to be experienced rather than discussed.
Yesterday I was able to spend a few hours at the monastery in Calistoga; there were about 5 people, including Fr Sergious, and we were planting bulbs for the summer. As he showed us how to plant the bulbs, Father also mentioned the prayers to say as we worked. The concept of praying as we planted the bulbs was somehow beautiful. We should be bathed in prayer; from planting bulbs to entering a church, our life should be a communion with God, and that involves abiding in his presence.
The bulbs all planted, we were resting in the guest house and cleaning up from Pascha when one of the women who lives by the monastery, Sara, mentioned that they pray for me as a catechumen in the Liturgy. She said it in passing, but it fell into place with the whole morning. It was one of the most encouraging things I could have heard. With all of my changing location, between school and home, never really grounded and falling through the cracks, I often worry if I will succeed in ever being baptized. No matter where I am, no matter how many stupid or wrong things I think, say, or do, I am strongly encouraged to know that there is prayer.
I will leave an exploration of the power of prayer to a future post; I will leave a discussion of the Jesus Prayer for a way, way future post (say, a few centuries!). I would rather make the point here that prayer is something real, not only in the non-imaginary sense, but as a sacramental connection with God. It is something at which I should struggle, and I should force myself to do it even when I do not enjoy it. But if I do not generally enjoy praying, there is something wrong with my relationship (communion) with God. Prayer is to be experienced, not taught; you must jump in to learn how to swim. Prayer is encouraging and uplifting, and knowing that I am being prayed for, despite my unworthiness, is of great comfort.
I do not know the efficacy of my prayers, but I do offer them for those of you on my blog-roll and those who regularly comment. That may seem odd to you, but I do not think it can be bad. I do not understand prayer much more than my limited experience, but as that experience grows, I see that it is something to be investigated.
Glory to God!
:: 8:21 PM on
Sunday, April 18, 2004
:: Saturday, April 03, 2004 ::
Christ is risen!
Wow. Pascha. Wow. There isn’t much more I can say. I went to more services during Holy Week than any other week in my life. How can I describe all of it in one post? I cannot even try. So, I will describe the crown of them all, “the night that shines brighter than the brightest day:” Pascha itself.
Firstly, I got to attend Pascha; an occurrence I was unsure of until Saturday morning. In the evening, I was there plenty early, and got a relatively good place to stand. As midnight approached, the nave quickly grew crowded with people and electric with excitement. I discovered that there is fact electricity in the church, but that there are only about 5 small, dim lights. Once the candles were all extinguished, we were in near darkness. Then midnight came and all the lights went out. I didn’t think it was legal to make it that dark in a room with that many people in it. Then the bells started, slowly…One…Two…all the way to twelve. It took a good two or three minutes for the final knell to fade as we waited in the pitch dark, completely silent in the expectant stillness. Suddenly, behind the altar, we could see the silhouette of one of the priests. The next thing I know, the three brightest candles in the world are being carried out of the altar. I don’t remember what was said; I am sure it was profound and is worth mentioning and meditating upon, but I wasn’t listening. I just remember those candles. It was so dark, but the darkness was not only physical; we had just heard the bells from Christ’s funeral. Then, the light. It was so bright; it came out, and immediately spread through the congregation, from eager candle to eager candle; the light of hope shone on the faces of the people as brightly as the new flame shown from their candles. Next we were singing the sticharion in alternating Slavonic and English and processing around the church. It was cold and windy, but well worth it.
Once back inside, the priests repetitively walked through the congregation, censing all of us and yelling “Christ is risen!” in the language of the nearest people group. Mostly there were Russians and Americans, but at least ¼ of the group was Eretrian. The Eretrians are stricter about gender segregation in church than most of us Americans, and so there were two big groups of them. The men were not as loud as the women, but each time the priest would walk by, the Eretrians would start yelling “La la la” and the children would clap their hands on their mouths, still yelling. It is their way of being excited, and it was quite celebratory. Most of the church stood in language groups, and as the priest would walk through, he would say, “Christ is risen!” in the language of the people group, provoking a loud response from the group. There were groups of Russian/Slavonic, English, Eretrian, and Romanian (in that order). It was a night of much fun, yelling, and revelry. Fr. Michael, the older priest, read the homily, and we would all join with cries of “It was embittered!” and “He is risen!” Of course, there is far too much to put into one post, and you must experience it to understand the joy and splendor of the night.
Of course, I am not sure if I will be going next year…I didn’t get home until it was time to leave for the sunrise service with my family, and then didn’t get any sleep until that evening, by which time I had a 101 degree fever. Needless to say, my parents were mad at me for “not eating or sleeping!” Well…I don’t have to deal with that for another whole year, and I did get to go this year, so I cannot complain. Christ is risen!
Glory to God!
:: 9:51 PM on
Tuesday, April 13, 2004
Fear of the Holy
:: Friday, April 02, 2004 ::
I don’t know about you, but I am afraid of many things. I am afraid of multiple people, especially those in authority; I am afraid of powerful things, like prayer; I am afraid of stupid things, like demons. Mostly, I am afraid of holy things.
Next week is Holy Week. It is the end and culmination of Lent. Yes, I know that technically Lent ends today, but it is as though the lesser ends so the greater can come. I fear Holy Week.
Lent itself is scary enough. To never really have to deal with Lent by itself, I have spent been parsing and dividing my life. (Pray), homework, (pray), class, (pray), read, (pray), sleep. I “experience” or “live” Lent when it is convenient for me to do so. I have not really let it invade my life; I tend to live Lent is spurts, in between the rest of life. What would Lent look like if I really let it mix in with my life? It would probably be more powerful, but I cannot do it. Lent is too powerful; or, maybe it is God that is too holy for my liking. I fear the power and holiness I find there. This Lent, some of my prayers have been answered; the danger of this scares me. It shows that there is power there, and that I am involved in it.
Holy Week is the culmination of Lent. While I have been distracting myself throughout the last forty days, parsing my life and time, I will stop during Holy Week. The distractions of my life will cease, even if just for a few days. I will have my last class on Tuesday afternoon, and then…I will not be able to hide behind my books, behind my homework, or behind my other responsibilities. I will have to stop moving and running and working and just stare at God as he defeats my worst enemy, death. What will happen as I try to follow him? Firstly, I will fail. The prayer of St. Ephraim comes ringing in my ears, “Grant me to see my own sins…” In one way, I am frantically trying to finish all of my work a week early; but at the same time, I am enjoying the distraction it provides me from God. I fear this upcoming week; if Lent was intense, what will happen when I stop letting myself distract myself? I can only cry, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!”
Glory to God!
:: 1:55 PM on
Saturday, April 03, 2004
Praise versus Thanks
There are some things for which I praise God. Then, there are some things for which I thank God. Then there are some things where I am unsure if I should thank or praise God.
It seems as though praise is a rather generic verbal expression of God’s power, but should be used exclusively in a ‘holy’ setting. For example, I would say, “Praise the Lord for his excellent greatness,” or “Praise the Lord from the heavens.” I can praise God for demonstrations of his power (the sun rose this morning), but not for the resultant act of that power (the sunrise); for that, I give thanks. Praise seems loftier; it seems to be something we should reserve for the holy, and not for common things. It is not something that I want to tie down to a specific action: I would not praise God for my food in as much as it is food, but I may praise him for his bountifulness in giving it to me.
On the other hand, I do thank God for my food, “We thank Thee, O Christ our God, for thou hast satisfied us with Thine earthly blessings…” Shallow person that I am, I may thank God that I got an ‘A’ on a test, or that I completed my paper on time. Thanks seems to be something I can tie to a specific action; I am thankful that the sun rose this morning, that I am reading a good book, and that I go to a good church. Thanks also seems to be something that doesn’t have to be tied to a specific ‘holy’ thing; it can be for common, everyday things.
It seems as though I do not praise enough, and thank God for the wrong things. I find myself wanting to say “thank you,” but not knowing if I should really thank God, praise God, or if some things are just stupid and I shouldn’t bother with either. Say I step in a puddle on the way to class, but my shoes just happen to be waterproof, so I don’t get wet. I am happy, even if that happiness is not specifically directed to anyone or anything; is this something for which I should thank God? I am rather certain that this is not something for which to praise him, but is it something that was a result of a series of coincidences, and so something I should ignore completely?
There must be specific ways in which one praises and thanks God. In the prayers of the Church, I see lots of penitence and contrition. Although I know I should learn these essential elements first, there are times when I want to praise God without looking at my own sins and faults. There are times (especially in Lent!) when I get tired of “seeing my sins,” and want to offer only thanks to God. Everywhere I look, though, there seems to be first a necessary to realize our own faults before praising God; there is a connection between contrition and praise…(that’ll come in another post).
Oh, and if the difference between “praise” and “thanks” is not enough for you to try to get your mind around, add to the mix “worship” and “glory” (as in “Glory to God for all things”)!
Glory to God!
:: 12:02 PM on
Friday, April 02, 2004
Takin’ Holy Week Off
Last post is coming tomorrow, then…I’ll be back on Bright Monday.
Oh, and congrats to all of the catechumens who will be illumined tomorrow and on Holy Saturday. I envy you in many ways. May God grant you many years!
Glory to God!
:: 12:01 PM on [+] ::