So after much neglect these past twelve months, I’ve decided to get back to the blog. I am certainly open to anyone offering suggestions on what they’d like me to address, but to start I’ll just give you what’s been happening with me, and what has pulled me away. First, the Center for Orthodox Thought and Culture has consumed a good bit of my time, and will continue to do so. I hope it is the thing I am remembered for once I hang my officiusm up, or fall over dead, but I don’t see the former happening for at least twenty years, the other is in God’s hands. There’s much to discuss there, and in particular the launch of our journal, The Basilian, for which we are now accepting submissions (so please contact me if you have something you’d like to see considered on any aspect of Orthodox Thought and Culture).
What’s really consumed my time is writing. In the past twelve months I have gotten two books finished, From Rome to Zurich, between Ignatius and Vermigli,* and Calvin’s Tormentors coming out in a few months from Baker Academic. No sight is up yet, but you can here an interview on it and related items here at the Agora Podcast, plus five essays accepted for publication: one on the political thought of the English Catholics under Elizabeth, one on Nicholas Cusanus and the Trinity, another on St. Friedrich Nietzsche (which is a rejoinder to a Barthian reading of Acts), then one on Thomas Stapleton’s interactions with the theology of Calvin, and lastly one on the question of modernity as it relates to Orthodoxy theology and Henri cardinal de Lubac. This last one I have to keep mum on, as it is a long review of a book that has yet to be published. In fact, I think my review will be out before the book. Besides that I have given three lectures that have yet to be reworked for publication. One was at the Florovsky Symposium and the other the Kuehner lectures at Reformed Episcopal Seminary, entitled “The Face of God and the Idols of our Age,” which can be heard on Ancient Faith Radio. I am also now working on two books which I hope will be out in the next three years, both of which I may touch on in future blogs, but at the moment I shall keep under wraps.
Oh, and I still teach. I just finished my twenty-third year at EU, where things are not as insane as ever, but probably more so. Not that it’s all bad there. The History Department is the largest major in the college of Arts and Sciences, our graduates are doing wonderfully, and my colleagues are all excellent, who all have a keen eye on publishing, and they take their life as educators very seriously.
Over the past year I have gotten to travel a good bit, some to conferences, some on vacation, and some for research (five wonderful weeks in Oxford last summer to that end); and in all things have just been busy no end, but also happily productive. One of the things that I have worked hard on in particular is my rule of prayer, of always saying the morning and evening offices. This has reinforced to me Evagrius of Pontus’s thought that prayer is the most difficult of intellectual activities. In this regard I have read and reread Metropolitan Anthony’s Beginning to Pray, and as well read a number of other works on prayer, including those by monastics ancient and modern. Some things in monastic literature and practices, as even the monastics have written, is not for those who aren’t monks or nuns. The monastics have warnings for the laity not to go off by themselves reading the Philokalia, and with this I agree. Many an Orthodox will read The Way of the Pilgrim, trace his wonderful adventures, and then have a sudden taste to read the Philokalia, only to find what is asked of them is way more than repeating the Jesus prayer 5,000 times a day. Much in the Philokalia I have to admit has been a great help to me, so far be it from me to disdain the Philokalia as there is so much there of great benefit. I love St. Maximus the Confessor’s chapters on charity (which treat of far more than charity). But anyone who realizes what was written by the Desert Fathers, St. John Climacus, inter alios, that it presents a level of devotion and discipline far beyond what non-monastic Christians can obtain, should hardly despair of leading a life of real repentance and virtue. Thus I recommend heartily Metropolitan Anthony’s Beginning to Pray, as this encapsulates and distills a great deal of what one can obtain from the Philokalia, and sets before layman the basic essentials of a life of prayer while still carrying on vocations that are not monastic.
But this post is not about prayer per se, but rather one aspect of prayer, and that is keeping God always in our mind. When I teach The Way of the Pilgrim, I impress on my students that while reciting the Jesus prayer is a good unto itself, one of the reasons the pilgrim’s spiritual father enjoined him to do it with such frequency (say it 3, 4, 5,000 times a day till it stays with you always) has to do with reorienting the mind and heart toward God. Now most of us aren’t like that pilgrim that we can find a job where we sit guard over a garden hours on end (though I have had jobs as a night watchman that came pretty close), so what is left to us? One of the things I’ve noticed is that in the Russian morning prayers (though not the evening prayers) and in both morning and evening prayers for the both the Antiochians and the Greeks, we are enjoined to say the Symbol of Faith, that is, the Nicaean Creed. At times this seems a bit much, after all, having now said this again and again (I generally use the Greek/Antiochian form for morning and evening prayers, though add a number of prayers from the Russian order as well) it’s easy for me to opine “I know this! I teach this! I study this! Why should I have to repeat this over and over?” Something came to my attention the other day apropos this very thing. A respondent to a blog that was talking about the grim and dismal prospects of “liberal Christianity,” noted a certain evangelical minister’s child who had now renounced the faith had largely done so in the midst of neglect. The combox commentator then quoted Lewis from Mere Christianity that “…if you have once accepted Christianity, then some of its main doctrines shall be deliberately held before your mind for some time every day. That is why daily prayers and religious readings and churchgoing are necessary parts of the Christian life. We have to be continually reminded of what we believe. Neither this belief nor any other will automatically remain alive in the mind. It must be fed. And as a matter of fact, if you examined a hundred people who had lost their faith in Christianity, I wonder how many of them would turn out to have been reasoned out of it by honest argument? Do not most people simply drift away?”
Thus it is never a slight matter to say the creed, just as it is never a slight matter to say the Jesus Prayer, the Our Father, the Trisagion prayers, the prayer of St. Ephraim, or any prayers we that know we may wish to add, e.g., Prayer of Humble Acces, the Mea culpa or Kyrie eleison. Too many people simply come to a place of growing cold, and thus of drifting away, not because of a great spiritual crisis, but because they have never disciplined themselves to retain God in their thoughts. Thus, when the crisis does come, they are all too easily swept away. A rule of prayer is not easy to keep and maintain, as there are always distractions, always something that seems so pressing. But keeping what we believe constantly before us can never have bad effects. Certainly we can become negligent, and I am reminded of Luther’s statement that the Lord’s Prayer was the greatest martyr of the Church (don’t ask me for a reference). Yet it is not the Our Father that is at fault if we become careless, and in fact it is better to say the Our Father carelessly than to say “I can’t say it without distraction, so I won’t say it.” In that case, we will never gain attentiveness.
My next post will be on the death of libraries as the death of learning.
Christ is risen!
Al Maseeh qam!