Once upon a time there was a man who was alive.

Location: Hattiesburg, Mississippi, United States
St. Cuthbert and Disciples in a Boat


Of Adam and Christ

"If any of us does not recognize that he is Adam, the one who sinned before God in Paradise, how can he recognize and think that the coming down of the Son and Word of God was for him. A law was established after the Fall, that just as each of us is Adam, that is, corruptible and mortal man, not by reason of our own sin, but by reason of the disobedience of our first ancestor Adam, from whose seed we come; so each of us is of Christ, immortal and incorrupt, not for the sake of our own virtues, but for the sake of the obedience of the second Adam, Who is Christ our Lord Who came down from Heaven; we become bone of His bone and flesh of His flesh. And just as corruption and death come down from generation to generation from the old Adam, so also incorruption and immortality come down to Christians from the new Adam."

St. Symeon the New Theologian, Homily 38


Request For Prayer

My family is going through a very difficult time right now: my younger brother, Josh, has been getting into some serious trouble in the past few weeks. I'd rather not specify, but it has been quite bad.

I am afraid he has set out on a path of rebellion. I don't need to elaborate on the details; it's the same old story we hear and see so often and you can probably guess all too easily. I have known several other guys who have done the same sorts of things. Some are still "out there", some have come back. My best friend "came back" after years of rebellion and drug-abuse and everything that follows. He is now one of the finest guys you could ask for, deeply devoted to God, would give you the shirt off his back. Others- I haven't seen one guy, who used to me a good friend, for years. I don't know if he'll ever come back. There are so many- here, in this little community- that are in the worst blackness, the worst sorrows and troubles. There was a man, his mother's a member of our church, shot dead a few days ago in a drug deal turned bad. My dad is helping at the funeral. Another man is killing himself on crystal meth, leaving his poor (literally) wife and son to scratch by. But this isn't news- it's the awful fruit of sin and death and corruption.

And now my brother is going the same way. It's so much closer now- after all, when it happens "somewhere else" it's easy enough to shrug off an ignore. What do you do- what can you do? Pray for him, I know- but I'm finding it hard to do so. It's strangely painful.

My mother has taken it very hard- I can't imagine what it must be like. I and my family would greatly appreciate your prayers.

O Lamb of God, Who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.
O Lamb of God, Who takes away the sins of the world, grant us Your peace.
O Lamb of God, Who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.


The Humility of God

"For Christians the Cross is magnification, glory, and power: for all our power is in the power of Christ Who was crucified; and all our sinfulness is mortified by the death of Christ on the Cross; and all our exaltation and our glory are in the humility of God, Who humbled Himself to such an extent that He was pleased to die even between evil-doers and thieves. For this very reason Christians who believe in Christ sign themselves with the sign of the Cross not simply, not just as it happens, not carelessly, but with all heedfulnes, with fear and with termbling and with extreme reverence. For the image of the Cross shows the reconcilation and friendship into which man has entered with God."

St. Symeon the New Theologian, Homily 1 (From The First Created Man)


The Atonement

Alastair has recently posted some excellent thoughts (in essay-length!) on the subject of the Atonement, particularly critiquing the predominant evangelical retribuitive view. Very good stuff, well worth reading through and thinking over. Here is an excerpt:
The purpose of Christ’s death was not primarily that of compensating or taking the punishment for the sins of the past, but that of establishing the gracious foundation for the future. Those who think in terms of retributive punishment often lose sight of this. Jesus came in order to bring in the new creation and the new covenant. The cross does not leave us merely as forgiven sinners, but as participants in a new creation.

In order to bring in the new world order Jesus had to deal with the old apostate humanity. He did this by bearing it down to death on the cross. Through His death and resurrection Jesus reestablished the loving reciprocity between God and man and established a new faithful humanity, governed by the Spirit. The greatest act of God the Father’s self-giving (‘who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all’) led to the giving back of humanity to God in Christ (who gave Himself up for the Church, His Bride). Eucharist fellowship between God and man was reestablished by the cross of Jesus Christ.

By being incorporated in Christ’s act of self-giving we are drawn into the relationships that exist within the Triune God. Christ’s incarnation, death, resurrection, ascension and Pentecost are all moments in a Trinitarian movement into which the Church as Christ’s Bride is being introduced.


Last weekend was rough. Due to a variety of circumstances, my work hours were much longer and more wearing than usual- which would have been bad enough without the fact of college starting back last Thursday. So by Sunday afternoon after church I was in a state of deep self-pity. I brooded darkly over the facts of my recent existence: work was awful, I had barely slept for days, my feet and back and head ached; besides that, I don't have any definite direction in life, I'm wrestling over which Church to join (a topic for another post) and I'm single and lonely and did I mention burned out? It was along these lines that I mourned the unfortunateness and unfairness of my poor existence.

However, I pulled out of it after a little while, mainly after overhearing my parents discuss one of my brother's schoolmates- a young man whose parents are desperately poor and lives in awful conditions. Actually, I've been by his house once before, to pick him up for Wednesday night church service- a little worn-out place directly behind a spawling complex of chicken houses. In case your olfactory organs have been spared chicken houses, let me describe it: one of the nastiest industrial smells in the world, a step above pulp mills and fisheries and just perhaps a rung below pig farms. It's horrid: the stench permeates everything around it. These folks live right next to one. I remember it took several miles of driving before the smell got out of my car's system. Anyway, that's only part of the young man's situation: I understand he has a number of other problems. It was the remembrance of this- and the corrollary that it's not a rare thing- that knocked me out of my vulgar self-pity.

It's terrible, really, and shameful: the few times I ever get really upset, the few times after childhood I have earnestly shed tears is almost always because something has seriously (or so I think at the time) impugned my sacred comfort. I expect, not the absolute best of course- just the close runner up. You won't find me weeping over the injustices perpetrated every day against my fellow men: Genocide in Darfur? Persecuted Christians in China? The poor family down my road? No, if I get pained and upset, it's because I'm feeling bad, I'm in more hardship (which has never been more than the slightest) than I'd prefer (which is none, thank you). I do not weep over my sins: at evening prayer I may feel a little contrition, just enough to use a slightly longer form of confession. "Grant me the though of confessing my sins"- but only for ten minutes or so. Repentance is nice, so long as it involves minimal hardship and sorrow. No, if I sorrow, it is the ungodly sort, not the sort that "leads unto salvation."

All this falls back on a very root problem: self-love, which St. Maximus identified as "the mother of all passions." I simply like for ME to feel good, I like to worry about ME, and all MY rights and needs, and, durn it, what I WANT. God and other people are all well and fine so long as they contribute to my overall level of happiness. I am self-centered, in egocentric orbit.

Here enters Gospel: there is, however, a hope for my egocentric disease. It is in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ and His "Passionless Passion": the hope for breaking free of self-love's chains lie in the breaking-out pattern of the Cross. It is only in the Triune God of ec-static love and communion that there is any hope at all. It is in the death of Christ that I have died and been raised into new life. The egocentric orbit hs been fatally destabilized on the Cross. When I look to Christ I look to the Maker and Source of new life, of life radically sundered from the fallen, nasty, self-pitying one. It is into this death and life that I have been baptized into, united with, and appropiated through grace. And it is because I am already dead and buried and raised to life that I have any hope at all of imitating Christ in His self-lessness. For in Christ selfishness finds its end: life is returned to orbit around God and love of the other.

It is from this groundspring of hope that I can defeat selfishness in myself. Repentance is driven by the fact that Christ possesse me, and that His death and resurrection are mine. Mortification, dying to self- and with it the rejection of ideas of "rights" and "due deserts," and every other thing I've gladly and willingly been led to believe I deserve- flow from Christ's Passion and Life, with the sudden dual realization of our sin and God's redemption. Repentance, mortification, contrition, active love: these "work out" the grace that has been deposited in me; I stabilize my will in the will of the Holy Spirit within me- all through yet more grace and unwarranted goodness of God. It is only in the Divine perspective in Christ that we can cease to sinfully pity ourselves and be further isolated in our egocentric prisons, and instead be raised into God's Trinitarian, self-giving love.


True Theology

Among the selections from Jeremy Taylor in the Classics of Western Spirituality volume is an excellent sermon on understanding God through doing the will of God. Taylor demonstrates that true knowledge of God is only possible on the long path of penitence, virtue, and purification. We do not arrive at true theology simply through our own reasoning and erudite speculations. Our knowledge is a product of holiness: 'blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.' Taylor makes the observation that the greatest hindrance to our understanding lies in our failure to repent of our sin- or to even acknowledge it. As we repent and live in active virtue and holiness, as our vision is purified, then we begin to understand and to see, then we begin to embrace real theology.

This is a thread of thought that is quite common in the Fathers. To quote St. Symeon the New Theologian: 'We think we will receive the full knowledge of God's truth by means of worldly wisdom, and fancy that this mere reading of the God-inspired writings of the saints is to comprehend Orthodoxy, and that this is an exact and certain knowlege of the Holy Trinity. Nor is this all, but the more august among us foolishly suppose that the contemplation which comes to pass only through the Spirit in those who are worthy is the same as the thoughts produced by their own reasoning. How ridiculous! How callous!' St. Gregory the Theologian is very admant in his First Theological Discourse that theology is not something to be lightly picked up and used- it is something to be approached with great care and reverence. Indeed, for the Fathers, theology does not mean so much our conceptual knowledge of God as our direct knowledge of God. This is not to set up a dualism between 'creedalism' and 'experience' or 'dogma' and spirituality'; rather, it is to indicate that the true and ultimate knowledge of God is of a 'supra-rational' sort (and which must be guided by dogma and creed- dogma and spirituality are inseperable). St. Maximus, drawing on similar thoughts in St. Paul's Epistles, speaks of two sorts of knowledge: the comparative, conceptual knowledge which will one day cease, and the experiential knowledge, the knowing that knows the love of Christ that 'surpasses knowledge.'

Coming into true knowledge of God is impossible for anyone to do on their own powers. It is only in Christ, through grace, that this is possible. My reason alone is not sufficient. And it is through purification and ridding of the passions that we enter more and more into the divine vision, as we participate in the Christ Who has graciosuly opened Himself to us. True theology is lived: we must 'philosophize with our works.' Speaking for myself, this is not easy. Reading theology and discoursing about it or thinking sublime thoughts about the Trinity and the Incarnation isn't all that hard. As someone of an academic bent, I quite enjoy it. However, I should much rather read my theology than try to live it while an annoying family member is intruding in my peace and quiet. And when I desire to more fully understand, I would prefer to attain it without doing anything or commiting myself to something uncomfortable, thank-you. The heights of spiritual ecstasy seem terribly appealing, so long as I needn't pass through penitence and, worst of all, active love- which might mean giving up my preferences and desires. But this is what we are called to: the death of self through Christ's Passion, so that we may arise in the light and life of God.

Such is true theology: the participation in God, the knowledge that flows from and leads to love. It is a participation that manifests itself in doing things that do not seem to be venues for the Uncreate Light of God. It means finding Mt. Tabor through Golgatha.


The Christ Haunted South

I have recently begun working through the works of Flannery O’Connor. I am rather embarrassed to admit that I have only now made her acquaintance, properly (I did once read “A Good Man Is Hard To Find” in one of my second-hand literature anthologies) . After reading a couple online articles regarding her, I drove up to the county library and checked out both O’Connor volumes- The Violent Bear It Away and The Complete Stories; I bought Wise Blood yesterday at a bookstore.

The Violent Bear It Away was quite a book. I am still digesting it. However, I must say that I was rather distressed- if that’s the word- when I read through the reviews of this book on Amazon. In my humble estimation, the vast number of readers completely missed the point of the story. The great-uncle prophet is the “good-guy;” O’Connor herself said that she was “one hundred percent” for him. The schoolteacher personifies the crippling impotency of modernism- or, more universally, rejection of Christ. It is not “fundamentalism” of the Christian sort that drives the destructive madness of the story; it is the rejection of the “bloody, stinking shadow” of Jesus.

Of the short stories I have read through, I found three particularly striking- “Parker’s Back,” “Everything That Rises Must Converge,” and “Greenleaf” (the last is now quoted on the left-hand column of this blog). O’Connor had the ability to bring the great spectrum of colours and humanity that is the South and meld them to universals. She had an eye for the Jesus Who so poignantly and consistently haunts this land- in our darkness and decay as much as our churches and high-points. The Jesus of O'Connor's work is there in the midst of ruin and rottenness, pursuing the least-likely, the ones who would rather escape Him. He is in the midst of grotesque, often disturbing events, in the midst of human depravity and lunacy. He is here, flitting from tree to tree like He does in Hazel Mote's mind.

And I might add, as a Southerner, that O’Connor’s situations are often not all that far-fetched, but rather very often ring true. Folks do things down here that they don’t do elsewhere, I think.

I hope to read through her entire canon in the next week or two- which isn’t a particularly difficult task, as it’s rather small- she died at age thirty-nine, if I recall correctly. Hopefully by then I will manage to clobber up some worthy "interpretation" and post it on here.


Jeremy Taylor on Death in Man

Picking up my previously begun theme of creation, fall, and death, here is an interesting passage from the great Anglican divine Jeremy Taylor's masterpiece, Holy Dying:

"That death therefore which God threatened Adam, and which passed upon his posterity, is not the going out of this world, but the manner of going. If he had stayed in innocence, he should have gone from hence placidly and fairly, without vexatious and afflictive circumstances; he should not have died by sickness, misfortune, defect, or unwillingness; but when he fell, then he began to die; "the same day," so said God, and that must needs be true: and therefore it must mean that upon that very day he fell into an evil and dangerous condition, a state of change and affliction; then death began, that is, the man began to die by a natural diminution, and aptness to disease and misery. His first state was, and should have been so long it lasted, a happy duration; his second was a daily and miserable change, and this was the dying properly.

"This appears in the great instance of damnation, which, in the style of scripture, is called eternal death: not because it kills or ends the duration; it hath not so much good in it; but because it is a perpetual infelicity. Change or seperation of soul and body is but accidental to death; death may be with or without either: but the formality, the curse and sting of death, that is, misery, sorrow, fear, diminution, defect, anguish, dihonour, and whatsoever is miserable and afflictive in nature, that is death. Death is not an action, but a whole state and condition; and this was first brought in upon us by the offence of one man."

Chapter III, Section I


Our Unhappy Distinction

JACKSON, Miss. - Mississippi has the nation's highest teen pregnancy rate and a new study shows the economic impact is equally steep.

Over 46 percent of all Mississippi children born in 2001 were born to unmarried women. One-third of those mothers were teenagers.

"The current annual cost to Mississippi for teen births is over $540 million," said Pete Walley, director of Mississippi's Bureau for Long Range Economic Planning.

Rest of story here.


On God's Preservation and Integration of the Universe

God, as he alone knew how, completed the primary principles of creatures and the universal essences of beings once for all. Yet he is still at work, not only preserving these creatures in their very existence but effecting the formation, progress, and sustenance of the individual parts that are potential within them. Even now in his providence he is bringing about the assimilation of particulars to universals until he might unite creatures' own voluntary inclination to the more universal natural principle of rational being through the movement of these particlar creatures toward well-being, and make them harmonious and self-moving in relation to another and to the whole universe. In this way there shall be no intentional divergence between universals and particulars.

St. Maximus, Ad Thalassium 2 {From On the The Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ}