This past Friday, I attended the Sophia Institute annual conference. I am a fellow of Sophia and presented a short paper there on Orthodox Christian monastic enterprise. The theme of the conference this year was “Monasticism, Asceticism and Holiness in the Eastern Orthodox World.” In addition to my paper, the subjects of the keynote addresses may interest readers of the PowerBlog. (more…)
In the most recent issue of Theosis (1.6), Fr. Thomas Loya, a Byzantine Catholic priest, iconographer, and columnist, has an interesting contribution on the upcoming feast of the Presentation of Christ at the Temple (also known as Candlemas or the “Meeting of the Lord”). For many, February 2nd is simply the most bizarre and meaningless American holiday: Groundhog Day. However, for more traditional Christians, this is a major Christian feast day: the commemoration of the forty day presentation of Christ at the Temple in Jerusalem (December 25 + 40 days = February 2; for the biblical account, see Luke 2:22-40).
In his installment on “Applied Byzantine Liturgy” (pp. 54-56), Loya writes regarding this feast that it, like all liturgy, transforms our vision and thereby ought to be “applied to every aspect of life.” He writes,
When we say, “applied to every aspect of life” we really, really meant it: the economy, the environment, politics, education, healthcare, marriage, family, sexuality, law, work, unions, management, etc, etc. Did you notice how many of the words in this last sentence were some of the “hot button” words of our day? Have you also noticed how none of the areas that these words denote is functioning well today? There is one reason—lack of the correct vision and the application of the correct vision. (more…)
Armenian Orthodox theologian Vigen Guroian’s The Melody of Faith (2010) seeks to provide an introduction to the basic dogmas of Eastern Christianity, harmonizing various Eastern Christian traditions (and making significant mention of a few Western ones) through continual reference to their writings, to their icons, and especially to their hymnody. The book, however, makes no claim to “constitute a systematic account of the Christian faith in the Germanic style of rational academic theology” (xi). Instead, Guroian muses,
It may be that theology is nearer in origin and character to music than to architecture, despite modern assumptions to the contrary…. In primitive culture, music is inherently religious, expressing basic beliefs about beginnings and endings as it is employed in worship of deity. Music originates at the well-spring of human emotions and expresses an experience of the numinous. (xii)
Ironically, as an American of German descent I cannot help but point out that the category of the “numinous” was first articulated by the German theologian and scholar Rudolf Otto. It may be that Guroian is so naturally ecumenical he has even unintentionally found something true and beautiful in that “Germanic style” he seeks to avoid. And, I must admit, his insight and approach are both imaginative and refreshing.
Indeed, despite the fact that four of the six chapters are revisions of articles previously appearing in scholarly publications, The Melody of Faith reads with a natural fluidity, at times more reminiscent of a devotional memoir than an introduction to theology. Yet, it maintains a clear focus, each chapter addressing a specific theme, moving from creation in the first chapter, to eschatology in the next, to salvation, to Mariology, to the Crucifixion, and finally to the Resurrection. The resulting whole is a sacramentally- and synergistically-oriented symphony of vibrant Christian faith and living tradition.
This sacramental and synergistic emphasis addresses several of the Acton Institute’s core principles, especially human dignity, human freedom, and human sin. With regards to sin, Guroian writes, “Sinning is an offense to God, but the state of sin is an illness that morally weakens the patient” (55). Consistent with traditional, Eastern Christianity, he emphasizes that sin is more than legal offense, humanity’s problem more than juridical guilt, but rather spiritual and physical sickness or corruption which leads to death. The cure is “divine therapy” or healing. According to Guroian, “Christ is the surgeon who removes the sting of death (1 Cor. 15:15) with the sharp instrument of the cross. And his body and blood are the medicine of our immortality” (55). Christ is the physician who operates; we are the patients who must willingly take our medicine, which we find primarily in the sacrament of the Eucharist. Indeed, “God has created [humankind] in his own image as a personal and free being” (16). Just as Christ was not conceived and all humanity was not saved apart from the consent of the Virgin Mary, we as individuals are not healed and deified by his gracious presence apart from our active participation either. Anything less would denigrate our dignity as bearers of the imago Dei.
The Melody of Faith does not seek to be comprehensive, but its success lies in its accessibility and ecumenical sensitivity. To the outsider looking in, Eastern liturgy and theology can appear confusing, even dissonant, but to many such concerns The Melody of Faith provides a fitting and elegant resolve.
I love the song, “Mary, did you know?”…
Reflect on the words…
The Incarnation is at the heart of the Gospel– not just that Jesus came
as the GodMan in bodily form,
as the ultimate sin-bearer,
as the Perfect High Priest offering Himself
as the Perfect Sacrifice for our sins.
Beyond that, consider the manner of the Incarnation– He didn’t just
roll down here for a week,
hop on a cross,
and rise from the dead.
He lived our kind of life
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