Saying of the Day

The brethren also asked him. “Amongst all good works, which is the virtue which requires the greatest effort?” He answered, “Forgive me, but I think there is no labor greater than that of prayer to God. For every time a man wants to pray, his enemies, the demons, want to prevent him, for they know that it is only by turning him from prayer that they can hinder his journey. Whatever good work a man undertakes, if he preserves in it, he will attain rest. But prayer is warfare to the last breath.”

Sayings. Agathon. 9

Decrying Minimalism

This time from an Orthodox priest, and a well-known and loved blogger, Fr. Stephen Freeman:

There is a tendency in our modern world to make things as simple as possible. We hide the complexities behind a keyboard (I don’t know how my computer works – or not very well) or we treat things that seem complex as unnecessary obfuscations. This same drive to simplify was very much alive in the 16th century as Christianity underwent reform in many places of the world.

Thomas Cranmer, the English Reformer, railed against the complexity of the service books required for a Roman Catholic Mass and managed to bring everything down to one small book. Every service required by a cleric could be found in the one Prayer Book, which also contained the book of Psalms.

Cranmer’s work was often outdone in other places – some eventually discarding the use of any book but the Bible. Following Martin Luther’s lead, the Scriptures themselves were limited to 66 books (discarding those Old Testament books which did not have a Hebrew original – the so-called “Apocrypha”).

This, of course, is not all of the story of the Reform. At the same time that services were being simplified, there were massive productions of new commentaries and works of theology. Thus there was both a simplification and a new layer of complexity.

As centuries have gone on, the drive to simplify has not disappeared. Frontier preaching in America had little place for complexity and the proclamation of the gospel became quite straight-forward indeed. A common tool in use throughout various religious movements in post-Guttenburg Europe, was the religious tract. Produced by the thousands and millions, these small summaries of the faith or of a point of doctrine were spread throughout homes and the streets and occasionally played important religious roles in religious movements (I’m not sure how much they do today).

How simple should Christianity be? Should it be reduceable to four spiritual laws or summarized in a paragraph or two? Is John 3:16 the perfect summary of the perfect faith? If you were shipwrecked on an island and could only have one chapter of Scripture, what would you keep?

I would like to suggest several principles that might be of help in thinking about such things.

1. Christianity is not an idea.

2. Christianity is not part of the religious annex of planet earth.

3. Reality cannot be simplified.

On the first point – Christianity is not an idea. I could say that it is also not a philosophy. It is a faith about how things (all things) are and Who God is, and what God has to do with us (or us with Him). It is thus a full account of reality, even though much of that account may remain unspoken. Christianity is either everything or it is nothing.

This leads easily to my second point. Christianity is not part of the religious annex of planet earth – that is, it is not a subset or comparment of something else. Since it is the fullness of reality in its truth – there is not a larger fullness (other than God) in which it may be contained.

My third point – reality cannot be simplied – may sound obvious – but we frequently live in simplified, digitzed, simulacra of the world itself. Given the choice between life on earth as we know it, and life in a holo-deck as pictured in the Star Trek movies and series – many people would gladly choose the holo-deck, some already opting for its current low-tech version in various games and such.

The invitation to another human being to embrace Christ as Lord, God and Savior is thus an invitation not to a religious hobby, but to the truth of the world as it is and as it shall be. Christ reveals reality in its fullness. Thus Christianity can never properly be a diminishing of human life.

It is interesting to me, having spent the last 10 years of my life (and a little more) as an Orthodox Christian missionary in the American South (or one small corner of it) to note how much I have learned in those 10 years – far more than I knew when I started. For one, I am not in a hurry. An invitation to reality (which is the essence of Catechesis) is rarely something you can do in a single moment (with apologies to the good thief who was far more worthy than I to be saved). Catechesis is the invitation “to put your hand to the plow and not turn back.” It is an invitation to a fullness that cannot be contained and yet is placed in our mouths at communion. It is a fullness that has birthed cultures and sustained hermits. It is the fullness that brought the whole of the universe into existence and towards which the entire universe is being gathered.

Shame on us for ever having diminished the faith – for reducing it to something less than all that is (and more). Shame on those who would remove whole elements of reality (the saints, the angels, etc.) for a simplified world. Great art Thou, O Lord, and marvelous are Thy works! There is no word to hymn Thy wonders!

Saying of the Day

The same Abba Agathon was walking with his disciples. One of them, finding a small green pea on the road, said to the old man, “Father, mya I take it?” The old man, looking at him with astonishment, said, “Was it you who put it there?” “No,” replied the brother. “How then,” continued the old man, “can you take up something which you did not put down?”

Sayings. Agathon. 11

Saying of the Day

The old man was asked, “What should a man do in all the temptations and evil thoughts that come upon him?” The old man said to him, “He should weep and implore the goodness of God to come to his aid, and he will obtain peace if he prays with discenrment. For it is written, ‘With the Lord on my side I do not fear. What can man do to me?'” (Ps. 118:6)

Sayings. Moses. 6

Pelosi Needs to Study Christian History

No doubt you’ve heard Nancy Pelosi’s delusional claim that the Catholic Church was not always opposed to Abortion. Here’s an excellent post from Western Orthodoxy that gathers all kinds of sayings of the Fathers, from many generations going back to Apostolic times that describe the Christian’s abhorrence of abortion.

Forgive the “political” post, but a politician stepped into our territory. Our fearless Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, claimed on Meet the Press that Christianity has no clear teaching on when life begins, and hence on abortion, and St. Augustine denied life began until the end of the first trimester. Tom Brokaw asked her what she would tell Barack Obama if he asked her when human life has its genesis:

I would say that as an ardent, practicing Catholic, this is an issue that I have studied for a long time. And what I know is, over the centuries, the doctors of the church have not been able to make that definition. And Senator–St. Augustine said at three months. We don’t know. The point is, is that it shouldn’t have an impact on the woman’s right to choose…over the history of the church, this is an issue of controversy.

She went on to say Christianity has believed life began at conception for “like maybe 50 years or something like that.” You can see the disgusting display here.

If she has studied this issue “for a long time,” she would have known the Church Fathers had an unbroken teaching on this subject for 2,000 years. Yes, it is true that St. Augustine of Hippo made a distinction between a child before its “quickening” (the time it began to move) and afterwards; so, too, did Aquinas. However, none believed abortion before that time was blameless (!). More importantly, there was a long tradition in the Church that corrected these unrepresentative views, going back to the earliest days of Christianity:

The Didache [A.D. 70]

“The second commandment of the teaching: You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not seduce boys. You shall not commit fornication. You shall not steal. You shall not practice magic. You shall not use potions. You shall not procure [an] abortion, nor destroy a newborn child” (Didache 2:1–2).

The Letter of Barnabas [A.D. 74]

“The way of light, then, is as follows. If anyone desires to travel to the appointed place, he must be zealous in his works. The knowledge, therefore, which is given to us for the purpose of walking in this way, is the following…Thou shalt not slay the child by procuring abortion; nor, again, shalt thou destroy it after it is born” (Letter of Barnabas 19).

Athenagoras [A.D. 177]

“What man of sound mind, therefore, will affirm, while such is our character, that we are murderers?…[W]hen we say that those women who use drugs to bring on abortion commit murder, and will have to give an account to God for the abortion, on what principle should we commit murder? For it does not belong to the same person to regard the very fetus in the womb as a created being, and therefore an object of God’s care, and when it has passed into life, to kill it; and not to expose an infant, because those who expose them are chargeable with child-murder, and on the other hand, when it has been reared to destroy it” (A Plea for the Christians 35).

Tertullian [A.D. 197]

“In our case, a murder being once for all forbidden, we may not destroy even the fetus in the womb, while as yet the human being derives blood from the other parts of the body for its sustenance. To hinder a birth is merely a speedier man-killing; nor does it matter whether you take away a life that is born, or destroy one that is coming to birth. That is a man which is going to be one; you have the fruit already in its seed” (Apology 9:8 ).

“Among surgeons’ tools there is a certain instrument, which is formed with a nicely-adjusted flexible frame for opening the uterus first of all and keeping it open; it is further furnished with an annular blade, by means of which the limbs [of the child] within the womb are dissected with anxious but unfaltering care; its last appendage being a blunted or covered hook, wherewith the entire fetus is extracted by a violent delivery.

“There is also [another instrument in the shape of] a copper needle or spike, by which the actual death is managed in this furtive robbery of life: They give it, from its infanticide function, the name of embruosphaktes, [meaning] “the slayer of the infant,” which of course was alive…

“[The doctors who performed abortions] all knew well enough that a living being had been conceived, and [they] pitied this most luckless infant state, which had first to be put to death, to escape being tortured alive” (The Soul 25 [A.D. 210]).

“Now we allow that life begins with conception because we contend that the soul also begins from conception; life taking its commencement at the same moment and place that the soul does” (ibid., 27).

“The law of Moses, indeed, punishes with due penalties the man who shall cause abortion [Ex. 21:22–24]” (ibid., 37).

Minucius Felix [A.D. 226]

“There are some [pagan] women who, by drinking medical preparations, extinguish the source of the future man in their very bowels and thus commit a parricide before they bring forth. And these things assuredly come down from the teaching of your [false] gods…To us [Christians] it is not lawful either to see or hear of homicide” (Octavius 30 ).

Hippolytus [A.D. 228]

“Women who were reputed to be believers began to take drugs to render themselves sterile, and to bind themselves tightly so as to expel what was being conceived, since they would not, on account of relatives and excess wealth, want to have a child by a slave or by any insignificant person. See, then, into what great impiety that lawless one has proceeded, by teaching adultery and murder at the same time!” (Refutation of All Heresies).

Council of Ancyra [A.D. 314]

“Concerning women who commit fornication, and destroy that which they have conceived, or who are employed in making drugs for abortion, a former decree excluded them until the hour of death, and to this some have assented. Nevertheless, being desirous to use somewhat greater lenity, we have ordained that they fulfill ten years [of penance], according to the prescribed degrees” (canon 21).

Basil the Great [A.D. 374]

“Let her that procures abortion undergo ten years’ penance, whether the embryo were perfectly formed, or not” (First Canonical Letter, canon 2).

“He that kills another with a sword, or hurls an axe at his own wife and kills her, is guilty of willful murder; not he who throws a stone at a dog, and unintentionally kills a man, or who corrects one with a rod, or scourge, in order to reform him, or who kills a man in his own defense, when he only designed to hurt him. But the man, or woman, is a murderer that gives a philtrum, if the man that takes it dies upon it; so are they who take medicines to procure abortion; and so are they who kill on the highway, and rapparees” (ibid., canon 8).

John Chrysostom [A.D. 391]

“Wherefore I beseech you, flee fornication…Why sow where the ground makes it its care to destroy the fruit?—where there are many efforts at abortion?—where there is murder before the birth? For even the harlot you do not let continue a mere harlot, but make her a murderess also. You see how drunkenness leads to prostitution, prostitution to adultery, adultery to murder; or rather to a something even worse than murder. For I have no name to give it, since it does not take off the thing born, but prevents its being born. Why then do thou abuse the gift of God, and fight with his laws, and follow after what is a curse as if a blessing, and make the chamber of procreation a chamber for murder, and arm the woman that was given for childbearing unto slaughter? For with a view to drawing more money by being agreeable and an object of longing to her lovers, even this she is not backward to do, so heaping upon thy head a great pile of fire. For even if the daring deed be hers, yet the causing of it is thine” (Homilies on Romans 24 ).

Jerome [A.D. 396]

“I cannot bring myself to speak of the many virgins who daily fall and are lost to the bosom of the Church, their mother…Some go so far as to take potions, that they may insure barrenness, and thus murder human beings almost before their conception. Some, when they find themselves with child through their sin, use drugs to procure abortion, and when, as often happens, they die with their offspring, they enter the lower world laden with the guilt not only of adultery against Christ but also of suicide and child murder” (Letters 22:13).

The Apostolic Constitutions [A.D. 400]

“Thou shalt not use magic. Thou shalt not use witchcraft; for he says, ‘You shall not suffer a witch to live’ [Ex. 22:18]. Thou shall not slay thy child by causing abortion, nor kill that which is begotten…[I]f it be slain, [it] shall be avenged, as being unjustly destroyed” (Apostolic Constitutions 7:3).

Not Beyond Redemption

Basic Instinct. Showgirls. Writer Joe Eszterhas made a fortune on these scripts and others like them. He used to cut a large swath in Hollywood. A lurid, indulgent and dissipated swath.

But he has been completed another kind of manuscript recently–a book published by St. Martin’s Press: Crossbearer: A Memoir of Faith.

Get Religion posted a story published in the Toronto Blade about Eszterhas’ conversion to Christianity. It’s a remarkable story, filled with God’s working in his life to overcome his addiction to alcohol and tobacco, healing throat cancer and, even more miraculously, healing the heart of a man. Eszterhas also praises the miracle of Holy Communion saying,

The Eucharist and the presence of the body and blood of Christ is, in my mind, an overwhelming experience for me. I find that Communion for me is empowering. It’s almost a feeling of a kind of high.Eszterhas understands the heart of repentance as well.

He went from doubting if he could make it through life without tobacco and alcohol, to knowing that he could “defeat myself and win.”

What a wonderful way to describe repentance! It reminded me of what I had read in my daily devotion:

If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost? (Luke 9:23-25 NKJV)

Read the entire piece here.

Saying of the Day

A brother at Scetis committed a fault. A council was called to which Abba Moses was invited, but he refused to go to it. Then the priest sent someone to say to him, “Come, for everyone is waiting for you.” So he got up and went. He took a leaking jug, filled it with water and carried it with him. The others came out to meet him and said tohim, “What is this, Father?” The old man said to them, “My sins run out behind me, and I do not see them, and today I am coming to judge the errors of another.” When they heard that they said no more to the brother but forgave him.

Sayings. Moses. 2

“Missionalism”

I call it “missionalism” rather than “evangelism.” It’s when the good news about the
mission replaces the Good News about Jesus.

Look again at the Ablaze! homepage. What do you find? How many we have reached.
How much we have raised. How many congregations or districts are involved. How
many critical events have ocurred. “Help us spread the Ablaze! Movement. Help us
spread the word about the Ablaze! vision.”

Ablaze! seems to do a better job of promoting itself than promoting the
Gospel. It’s almost as though the inventors of Ablaze! have confused
Ablaze! with the Gospel.

That would explain that exclamation mark …and many other things.

(By Todd Wilken. Read the rest here.)