Saturday, August 1, 2009

+ It's a surprisingly common misunderstanding that the Christian Church sees God as "masculine" -- or even as somehow male. This is especially surprising since we've historically -- since the very beginning, in fact -- been very explicit about the fact that God is a bodiless spirit.

In the fourth century there arose a controversy about "Anthropomorphism." There were some who mistook the physical metaphors relating to God in the Old Testament as literally true.

Saint Kassian the Roman (known in the West as Saint J0hn Cassian) tells a poignant story of an elderly monk who had been for many years misled by an anthropocentric view of God. When the issue came to a head and was clearly rejected by the Orthodox, this monk broke out weeping, and cried out: They have taken away my God.

We mourn for his anguish, but his views were simply wrong. We grieve with him because he was misled.

Yet many in our time and place are similarly misled, thinking that if there's nothing of us in God (particularly, in our culture so saturated with sex, if God has no gender) then God is wholly alien: perhaps even frighteningly so.

Nevertheless, Orthodox Christians maintain the ancient truth: God is not us. God is not a part of created being. There is no gender in God.

This point is extremely difficult for people in our time to grasp. Many of our contemporary pagans want a "mother" god or even an androgynous god. It seems especially difficult for people in our culture to accept that the Christian God is a genderless God. Many make a point of insisting that the Christian God is "masculine" or even "male" just so they'll feel justified in their rejection of Christianity.

But such a rejection is false since its based on a misrepresentation of Christian doctrine.

Below is a quote from an important contemporary Orthodox theologian. It indicates the importance of abandoning any concept of God that can be derived from things we can know.

An important element in the eastern Christian understanding of God is the notion that God, in His essence, is totally transcendant and unknowable and that, strictly speaking, God can only be designated by negative attributes: it is possible to say what God is not, but it is impossible to say what He is.

A purely negative or apophatic theology -- the only one applicable to God, in the Orthodox view -- does not lead to agnosticism, however, because God reveals Himself personally -- as Father, Son and Holy Spirit -- and also in His acts, or "energies."

Father John Meyendorff
article in Encyclopedia Brittanica

Sunday, March 1, 2009

+ Once upon a time, the Saint was traveling with his ypotaktikós -- his subordinate -- toward Nitria far away, and he said to the monk: "You go on ahead and I’ll catch up with you someplace up there."

So the monk went on ahead. And as he went he met a priest of the pagans coming toward him. The monk was unfortunately not well advanced in spiritual life and began to berate the poor priest, calling him a benighted devil, a man of wicked life and other vile names. The priest himself was, as it happened, not well advanced in spiritual life. Instead of taking the monk’s words with humility as a chastisement from God for his sins, he was greatly insulted and angered and began to beat that monk until he left him half dead. And so he went on his way.

And as he went, he met Abba Makários coming toward him, and the Saint greeted him with kindness, saying: "Rejoice! Rejoice, O weary wanderer." ("Rejoice" is a greeting common among the peoples of the world -- and beyond the world: so the great Archangel hailed the Mother of Christ our God.) The priest was taken aback by this, and questioned, saying: "What good do you see in me, that you should greet me like this?" Replied the elder: "I see you wearing yourself out, not knowing that you labour in vain."

The priest was moved by this saying, and understood that he was standing before a man of God. "But," he said, "another lousy monk threw his shoe at me, and I beat him enough he should die before night." The elder realized that the man spoke of his own ypotaktikós. But the priest continued, falling at the Saint’s feet and begging him to make him a monk. And together they went to find the Saint’s monk.

They found him and carried him to the church in the mountain of Nitria now close at hand. When the fathers saw a pagan priest in company with the elder they were amazed; and blessing God they made the man a monk. It was then that the holy elder said this word, that: "One evil word makes even the good evil, while one good word makes even the evil ones good."

One of the Zen fathers said that: "You must believe that every created being has a good heart for you; otherwise life is very difficult."

And so we learn.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

One particular incident in the life of Saint Makários has been remembered as an example of the Saint’s non-possessive attitude. This whimsical story also shows God’s providential care for those who will follow Him along the narrow way of self-denial in accordance with His word: If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me (Saint Luke 9:23).

They said of Abba Makários that a thief went into his kéllion when he was away. The elder came back and found the thief loading his things onto a camel. So Makários went inside, picked up his things, and helped the thief load them onto the camel. When they were finished the thief began to beat the camel to make it get up, but in vain. Seeing that it did not get up, Abba Makários went into the kellí, found a small hoe, brought it out and put it onto the camel saying, Brother, the camel wants this too. Then the elder kicked it and said, Get up. At once the camel got up and went forward a little, because of his command. Then it lay down again and refused to get up until it was completely unloaded. And then it set off.

But someone else told it this way:

Abba Makários came up to the thief as if he were a stranger and helped him to load the animal. When they were done, he saw him off in great peace of soul saying, We’ve brought nothing into this world, and we can take nothing out of it. The Lord has given and the Lord has taken away: blessed be the Name of the Lord!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Saint Makários the Great of Egypt was born at the beginning of the 4th Century. As a child he worked with his father, who owned camels that were used to carry natron from the Wadi el-Natroun. His father was also the priest of the village in which the Saint was born and brought up. Already in his youth Saint Makários was known for his great wisdom and holiness of life, and so was called the young elder. After his father, he himself was ordained to serve as priest in the village.

At the age of about forty he retired to the desert at Skítis, which he helped to establish as a hermit community. After more than 1600 years, the Monastery of Saint Makários still exists as a cenobitic community at Skítis. One of the great monastic elders of our time, Abba Matta el-Meskeen, or Matthew the Poor, was instrumental in bringing about the current revival of life at the monastery. He lived there from 1969 until his blessed repose in 2006.

At Vespers for Saint Makários we chant of the struggles in self-restraint and non-possessiveness of this important founder of Christian monastic life:

Fourth Tone. Unto them that fear Thee.

Striving for the blessedness that far surpasseth the mind of
man, * thou didst reckon strict abstinence * as pleasure,
O wondrous one; * poverty as riches; * never to possess, as to have abundance in all things; * and moderation as glory passing great. * According to thy purpose, therefore, thou hast found thy desire on high, * O Makários, dwelling now * in the bright mansions of the saints.

Saint Makários is commemorated on 19 January/1 February.