Wednesday, August 26, 2015

On Humility and the Commandments: An Introspection

The Gospel reading for this past Sunday was taken from Matthew 19, regarding the rich young ruler, who had "kept all of these [commandments] from [his] youth up", yet could not bring himself to sell all that he had and give it to the poor.

While the Gospel was being read, the Holy Spirit impressed upon me how backward we have so many things.  For example, one of the things I like to do is give to the poor, and I have even considered (prior to being married) doing exactly what the rich young ruler couldn't: selling it all, giving the proceeds to the poor, and entering a monastery.

But what hubris!  How can I even begin to approach the righteousness of this young ruler.  This ascetic feat was the final step for him to be perfect.  He kept the rest of the commandments from his childhood (no easy task, given the vicissitudes of adolescence, particularly).

I fancy that I can or should give all to the poor, and yet I have not even kept the first of the commandments that he did: "Thou shalt do no murder."  True, I have not actually ended the life of another.  But I have hated my brothers, and even those set over me in the Lord, at various points, and He says in another place that this is the same thing.

"Thou shalt not commit adultery."  True, I haven't had sex with a woman not my wife, but I've certainly looked at some with lust, and our Lord says plainly that this is the same thing.

"Thou shalt not steal."  I'm not proud of it, but I have actually stolen things; but even if I hadn't, additionally I have done "soft theft" -- by not giving my all at work, by accepting praises for something that I did not do, or which I did in another's strength, etc.

"Thou shalt not bear false witness."  I've lied.  So have you.  No use beating around the bush about it.

"Honor thy father and they mother."  Again, I have trouble even with this.   (I'm staying away from details on purpose.)  And even if I'm "better at it" now, I haven't always been, and I certainly haven't "kept [this] from my youth up".

Finally, "Love thy neighbor as thyself."  I don't even come close.  Never really have.

How can I even begin to contemplate giving everything away?  And yet this is what the young man lacked only.

Lord, have mercy on me!  For if the young ruler lacked only this, and still could not enter the Kingdom, how much farther am I!  And only this one thing was impossible with men, how much more do I say with the disciples, "Who then can be saved?", when these others beset me so?

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me, for with You, all things are possible.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

On iconography, feminism, and faithfulness to Tradition

I recently came across this article, by a non-Orthodox person styling herself as "a rebellious iconographer".

My response is as follows:

If one is going to claim "no female saintly presence" for an icon, she would do well to choose icons that actually have no female saintly presence.  The Pentecostal icon she uses as her first example (Fig. 1) has a HUGE female saintly presence: the Mother of God herself is front and center.

In iconography, that position is huge, which even she admits:

The Apostles are depicted seated in a semi-circle, with no individual among them taking the central seat of authority.

She is correct that none of the Apostles occupies the central seat of authority, but I beg to differ with the assertion that "no individual" takes that seat in this icon.  It is occupied by the Mother of God, a "female saintly presence" if there ever was one.

Fig. 1
That icon is so clearly structured! I, as an Orthodox Christian looking at that icon, see the Mother of God first and foremost; only then do I notice that those surrounding her are the Twelve.  The emphasis here is very much a feminine saintly presence.

She dismisses (or perhaps just misses) this by saying,

[When] Mary got elevated to Virgin Mother of God she lost her place as a woman saint or female apostle.

Maybe in her tradition that's true, but not in Eastern Orthodoxy.  For us, rather than losing her place as a woman saint, Mary is shown to be the pinnacle of what it means to be a woman saint.  (Actually, I could even leave off the gender and say just as accurately that she is the fulfillment of what it means to be a saint, period, but since we're talking about gender, I'll leave it on.)

She is the ultimate female saint!  And she's front and center.  So her whole thesis is turned on its head.

(As for "female apostle" -- as far as I know, she never was that to start with, so its hard to say she "lost her place" as one.  We do have plenty of other female apostles -- many of them sent by her, even! (e.g. St. Nino of Georgia) -- but she was not herself of that Order.

Besides, if she's going to argue from exclusion, she should argue that that same icon gives a vast quantity of men short shrift as well, considering that there were at least 120 people in that room, and at least 70 of them were men, none of whom are portrayed.  But I digress.)

In her article next to this part (i.e., where she dismisses Mary), there is what used to be another icon of Pentecost, now mangled by Photoshop (Fig. 2).

This one includes the Mother of God in neither its mangled nor original (Fig. 3) form.  However, one cannot use her absence in this one to say that women are excluded in Eastern Orthodox iconography, because in the same Tradition, and just as popular (if not more so), we have the icon discussed above.  Clearly this one (without her) has a different pedagogical purpose and focus.

Fig. 2 - Mangled
Fig. 3 - Original

The blank space at the bottom of the original holds a depiction of the Cosmos personified.  I won't go into a whole meditation on this aspect of the icon here, but suffice it to say she's completely missed the point of the whole icon, which had nothing to do with male OR female, or the composition of the Church, etc.  She's taken it apart and put it back together as something completely different.  To borrow a line from Irenaus, she's turned the mosaic of the King into a mosaic of a fox.

(It's like taking the original Star Wars trilogy and replacing The Empire Strikes Back with Cinderella, and Return of the Jedi with Pride and Prejudice.  It's not even the same story, if such a "trilogy" can be called a story at all!)

She asserts,

Iconographers have continually taken liberties with image content as church teaching changed and their emphasis modified.

In the Eastern tradition, nothing could be farther from the truth, not only because church teaching hasn't changed (it is still "the Faith once delivered to the saints"), but also because, understanding that "the icons portray and teach with color what the Scriptures and the Fathers teach with words", to "take liberties with image content" in the way she is describing would be tantamount to heresy.  It's like taking liberties with the content of Scripture.  Have some people done so?  Yes.  Did they keep the Tradition by doing so?  No; rather, they departed from it.

She then gives an interpretation of the empty center seat, correctly noting that it is the Teacher's seat, but then positing that the icon invites us to sit in it.

Insofar as the center seat is depicted as empty, I guarantee you it is not because it meant for us to plop ourselves down in it.  That seat is "empty" because the Christ who still sits in it is invisibly present, as opposed to visibly.  So it is not actually empty; it is occupied by an invisible presence.

This is in fact a great temptation to the unlearned and unstable: to see the "emptiness" of the Teacher's seat and then, abandoning all humility, to assume that it is left empty for oneself to take.

But that is not the place of the one contemplating the icon, nor is her place "to stand outside looking in".  The icon's composition does not allow this.

Rather, if you are viewing the icon at all, the icon as originally written places you squarely in the circle of the Apostles, although at the bottom of it, farthest (compared to them) from the seat of the Teacher.

Your position at the event is to be seated on the part of the circle not depicted.   It's not absent because it doesn't exist; it's "absent" because that part of the circle extends through the window into our world, and the observer is seated on it.  So it's not absent at all.  It's just not on the other side of the window.

This openness of the circle already shows exactly what this author says we need to include: that the whole world is invited into the Kingdom, to sit with the Apostles and receive the Spirit.  It also shows, however, that there is order and hierarchy in the Kingdom. The Kingdom is no egalitarian miasma.

If even the seats at his right and left hands are not up for grabs, I think we would do well not to assume that the Teacher's own seat is available.  Did not He Himself teach us so?

When thou art bidden of any man to a wedding, sit not down in the highest room; lest a more honourable man than thou be bidden of him; and he that bade thee and him come and say to thee, 'Give this man place'; and thou begin with shame to take the lowest room. 
But when thou art bidden, go and sit down in the lowest room; that when he that bade thee cometh, he may say unto thee, 'Friend, go up higher': then shalt thou have worship in the presence of them that sit at meat with thee. 
For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.

As a side note: if this is true for you and me, how much more so would the saintly and humble women whom she has shoehorned into the seats of the Twelve be appalled that she has done so?  They would be the first to censure her!

She concludes with the question:

Why not expand past women saints and female apostles and include an international gathering of great thinkers who control our world[?]

The original icon does include such great thinkers, and the entire set of people who have controlled and continue to control the world, in the person of Cosmos.  The original icon has much to teach about the relationship of the Spirit, the Church, and the world leaders.  But she has blacked that teaching out entirely and discarded it.

The Eastern Church has no need to "rethink" the Tradition, nor our depiction of it in color.  This author says, rightly, "Icon paintings have their power in showing the potential for human harmony and divine energy all in one instant."  But that power is not theirs to shape as they will.  They must show the Truth of things.

If an iconographer paints simply whatever she feels like, or tries to shape a narrative outside of the Tradition, she is not an iconographer at all.  Or worse, perhaps she is a false iconographer, showing false visions and portraying lies!

Iconographers, just the same as Preachers and Prophets, ought to take careful heed that they do nothing without true vision, lest the Lord say of them also,

I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran: I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied. ... Behold, I am against them that prophesy false dreams, and do tell them, and cause my people to err by their lies, and by their lightness; yet I sent them not, nor commanded them ... And I will bring an everlasting reproach upon you, and a perpetual shame, which shall not be forgotten.

How does one receive true vision, which one can then faithfully depict?  By entering the true Faith.  By receiving the Tradition (that is, the Spirit), and seeking always to enter ever more fully into it and remain faithful to it.  By not assuming that she can simply alter it to serve her own ideas (which are often, as in this case, nothing more than an expression of the zeitgeist), but rather by letting it alter her ideas, and flow through her as a fountain of living water.

If a woman wants more female saintly icons in the Byzantine tradition, I say to her: You are female; become a saint of the Byzantine tradition!  Then there will be more. :)

This is much easier said than done, of course.  But there's no time like the present to get started....


As a side note: there is another Byzantine icon of Pentecost that merges the two mentioned above (Fig. 4).

Fig. 4
This is, I think, the "master" icon, and the other two are meditations on various aspects of it, with different lessons in mind.  Or perhaps this is the combination of the two threads into one contemplation later.  I don't know.  All I know is that either way, this kind of shifting of emphasis and content is perfectly permissible within the Tradition, because there is no alteration -- simply meditation on different aspects.

What this author proposes, however, is not a meditation on the Tradition in order to apply it to the needs of our times, but rather a complete alteration of -- or rather, departure from -- it.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

On the gestational Right to Life and the Dependency Created by its Support at Law

A Facebook commenter asked me yesterday whether those of us who support "forcing a mother to give birth to an unwanted child" -- that is, protecting the unborn child's right to life -- would be around to adopt or support the child being born, or whether we would just let them fill up the streets and probably die of starvation anyway.

The answer is: Yes, we would!  Most pro-life advocates (not all, but most) are Judeo-Christian in their religious outlook.  Orphanages and foster care have long been the grateful privilege of the Christian Church, "to care for the least of these", even if their own parents don't want to (abortion) or can't (have to give up for adoption).

Originally, I had the following conclusion:
Unfortunately, however, orphanages are no longer legal in the United States.  That leaves a huge burden on the individual couples who might desire and have the resources to adopt.  Historically, the orphanages were the default place for "unwanted" or otherwise guardianless (for various tragic reasons, not just that nobody wanted them) children.  Of course, the goal was to adopt these out to worthy and desiring families as soon as possible, but if such was not possible, at least they were taken care of.

Pro-Life advocates should also fight for the legalization of orphanages, and (upon legalization) should petition and provide for their Churches to establish and oversee them in every city.

However, I did a little research, and I found out that there is such a thing as Residential Treatment Centers (see, e.g., which are the modern descendants of Orphanages.  So such things are possible, if somewhat difficult to run.

My new conclusion is as follows:

Pro-Life advocates should also, as a supporting matter, petition and provide for their Churches and Organizations to establish and oversee such centers in every city.

On Abortion, Rights, and Child Support

In debates about abortion, the phrase "it's my body" often pops up. If the debate is able to move past that (rare), the fallback is usually, "Why should we force a woman to have to have a parasite (essentially) feeding off of her body and making her do/feel weird things?"

Most counter-arguments focus on the whole "parasite" phrasing, but I grant it. A baby is exactly that, functionally, and an accidental one probably even carries with it (for the mother) all the negative and pejorative connotations of that word, especially if it is the product of rape.

Nevertheless, the point must be answered: why should the woman have to support this drain on her resources, potential killer (complications from pregnancy and birth can, on rare occasion, kill the mother), etc.?

My answer is this: because it is a Human Being, who enjoys, by virtue of that fact, a Right to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. These three are not equal, but hierarchical -- they are presented in that order for a reason.

And even most abortion rights advocates recognize this, although they may not realize it. Most abortion rights advocates are also against the use of the death penalty, in favor of life in prison, forcing the maintenance of that Life onto the taxpayer. They assert that even when the right to Liberty has been surrendered, the right to Life remains, and that said Life must be sustained, even if it means forcing others to do so. And so they recognize a hierarchy within the three rights, with Life as the fountainhead, paramount in its importance, even at the expense of others.

This same distinction is also recognized in their (usual) advocacy of a social safety net.

The objection being answered is legally founded on the mother's right to Liberty: to do with her body as she wills.  However, the Right to Life comes first, and the Baby's Right To Life therefore overrides any conflicting Rights that the Mother upon whom he or she is dependent may otherwise hold, including Liberty.  (I say nothing of the Right to the Pursuit of Happiness, because if that overrode the Right to Life, then children could be murdered by their parents outside the womb, too, and no one would blink an eye.  If the Right to Liberty can't trump the Right to Life, and it is greater than the Right to the Pursuit of Happiness, then how can the least overcome, either?)

To show this most clearly, let's examine the case of the father.  Women's rights advocates are vociferous in their calls for "deadbeat dads" to "man up", to be called to account, to pay for the physical and psychological support of their offspring.

Why?  Because they recognize that every child has a right to the Pursuit of Happiness, and if they child is not provided for by two parents he or she will suffer in the realization of that right.  (Not that it will be eliminated, but merely reduced!)

But this forced recognition of dependency infringes greatly upon the father's own Rights to Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness -- Liberty, because his body and time are no longer solely his own (he has to use them, for at least part of the time, to generate enough revenue to pay the required payments); the Pursuit of Happiness, because in diverting some amount of his resources involuntarily, he is, perforce, not able to use those resources in the pursuit of his own happiness, therefore, his Right to the Pursuit of Happiness is infringed to the extent such diversion is required.

So women's rights advocates (and any right-thinking person, really) do aver that it is good and right to recognize that the lesser rights of the child do in fact infringe upon the same rights of the father to a greater or lesser degree, and that such infringement does not grant any right to the father to cut off the fountainhead Right of the child (that is, to murder his own child in order to end the inconvenience).  They furthermore assert that such infringement should be authorized and enforced by the full force of the law.

This even though the dependency is realized only partially and distantly realized.   (That is, the Child's rights are merely reduced, and not eliminated, if the one on whom he or she is dependent does not recognize and provide for the dependency.)

How then, I ask, can they simultaneously assert that the greatest Right of the child (i.e. to Life) may be abrogated completely, simply because the one on whom it is dependent (in this case, the mother) does not desire to recognize and provide for the dependency, based on an assertion of her lesser Rights?  Do they not see that the same lesser Rights, when asserted by the provider in the other case had no standing or ability to overcome the provision against even the reduction, let alone elimination, of even the lesser Rights of the Child.

How can they say that the same assertion on the one had allows the full elimination of the greater Right, and on the other it doesn't even suffice to allow the mere reduction of the lesser Rights?

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

On the remediation of rape in the Mosaic Law...

In the Old Testament Law, if a man raped a woman, and got her pregnant, he had to pay a fine and marry her, and was forbidden to ever divorce her.  (Deut. 22:28, 29)

Unfortunately, this is interpreted almost universally as a dastardly law designed to let men get away with rape in an era of unbounded patriarchal oppression of women.

It is anything but that.  Quite the contrary, in fact, especially given the cultural norms and stigmas surrounding marriage and family life at the time.

Rather than oppressing the woman and allowing her rapist to get off scot-free, this law gives her a valid method of accusation and remedy against him, in a time when marriage was a) not for love anyway, and b) a huge financial boon to women.  Notice the prohibition of future divorce, which locks the fellow (and his whole family!) in, so he cannot get out of providing child support, etc. (and if he neglects her, his family is liable).

There is no shame or stigma in these commands.  Quite the opposite, in fact.

Far from allowing him to "get off scot-free", it locks him into having to provide for her and her child for the rest of his life, and also into publicly acknowledging his sin and doing his best to make it as right as possible for the rest of his life (note, again, the prohibition against divorce).

This law would even be fair today, let alone in an era where it would have locked the whole family into providing for her.

On the "rape case scenario": Abortion as convenience to avoid shame and responsibility

When asked if there are any exceptions to our rule, too many of us "pro-lifers" -- that is, anti-baby-murder activists -- grant the "rape case" exception without hesitation and without thought.

This is one of my pet peeves.

I do not acknowledge that that situation is justification for murdering a human being.  Is he somehow worth less, simply because he was conceived in tragic circumstances?  Is her life worth nothing, because her mother thinks* she might have to bear the shame?

Yes, rape is horrible, and pregnancy from rape is the very definition of an unplanned pregnancy.

But the ending of a human life (and yes, the baby is a human, whether it is still in the womb or not) is a serious matter.

It is precisely at this point, this black and white, no-shades-of-gray point, that the principle of Life should shine most clearly.  It is precisely here, if anywhere, that we should make our stand.

And yet this is the point we most easily surrender!  This is quite frustrating.

A pro-lifer who says abortion is OK because of rape contradicts herself.  On the one hand, she asserts that murder is wrong, that the decision to end a human life should not be based on the convenience or lack of readiness of the caretaker of that life.  Yet on the other, she allows it for exactly those reasons.

Yet what is the rationale behind the allowance of the rape case exception?  She might respond (along with her baby-murdering opponents, with whom she agrees in this scenario), "Why, compassion, of course!"

"She shouldn't be forced to bear the shame of having been raped, because the child will be constant reminder of her tragedy.  The child will have a stigma as well.  The child will never know it's father."  Etc. Etc.

You're saying that rather than have her bear the shame of being victimized (something she could do nothing about), you'd rather she add the shame of being a murderess?  That rather than overturning her sorrow by bringing a precious little life into the world, she should add to it by giving herself nightmares and depression, if not by cutting off her emotions entirely?

You're saying that having your life cut off -- and involuntarily at that -- is better than living with stigma (assuming there even will be such a stigma, and not universal empathy)?  You're saying that having your life involuntarily ended is better than not knowing your father?  That somehow all of these things -- tragic though they may be -- are enough to justify ending the child's life?

What a bleak and hopeless (and selfish!) world-view!  And it's poppy-cock.  There are plenty of other, non-murderous alternatives to abortion, even in the case of rape. For example, putting the child up for adoption.

*most of the time incorrectly, but the point stands even if the mother's fears are accurate

ROUGH NOTES: Of gods and tech: a brief, introductory exploration of some potential origins and ends of mankind's drive to express

desire and drive to create
but get bogged down in the details....distracted.
desire not simply to create, but to express.
And not just things, but life.

Unfortunately, life (and things) are rather details oriented and somewhat chaotic.

We want to be able to slay the dragon in the waters
to bind the behemoth
to put a bit in leviathan's mouth.

And we want to do it by expressing ourselves, that is, by command, by pure manifestation of will.

We want, in short, to be gods.  Being "regular humans" is such hard work.

ROUGH NOTES: Mathematical Musings...

functional --logical operators, intermediary steps--> algorithmic

can boolean operators be recast in terms of waveform math (interference of given waves?)  If so...standing or travelling? (or both?)


all algorithms are functional math
quantum computing becomes much easier to understand visually (currently cast in statistical math, which is somewhat hard to visualize).

Grace for grace: the mediation of Mary in the light of Christ, the One Mediator

Random, unorganized thoughts on created vs. uncreated grace  (Prompted by meditation on this link:
And of His grace we have received: grace for grace.
God's uncreated energies synergize with our created energies, bolstering them, and making them the carriers of true grace, created though they be, through a sort of hypostatic union of His own and our own, exactly parallel to (if not repetitive of) His own hypostatic union.

He has as His principle uncreated nature, and so He is "God by nature", although He "took on Himself the form of a servant" -- that is, He took on Himself created nature, and so became man.

We have as our principle that same created nature which He put on.  And we are called, by a similar "putting on" of Him, the Christ, to become "god(s) by grace" -- that is, "partakers of the divine nature".

But -- I think -- it is one and the same hypostatic union that results, both in Him (uniting uncreated with created) and in each of us (uniting created with uncreated): both He and we are Sons of God.

The only distinction is this: that He is the only begotten Son, having His generation from the Father before all ages (that is, eternally), and being manifested in the flesh only afterward.

Whereas we are manifested in the flesh first, and receive our generation only after, "that we may become the sons of God", receiving the Spirit of adoption.

In this sense, then, we understand that
There is [but] one mediator between God and man: the man Christ Jesus.
Namely, that it is "of His grace [that] we have received", "the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ" that is with us all.

Any other "mediation and help" for which we ask the saints (particularly Mary) are mediations not between God (the Father) and man (for that is Christ's alone), but rather are mediations of the grace of the Son to His fellow men, which grace we have received, each according to the measure of faith given to him.

And so, when I synergize with this grace -- this energy, this action -- I mediate it to the world, and so it can properly be called "my mediation", and I a "mediator", as I am the instrument of Christ's One Mediation in the world: for it is yet not I who lives, but Christ Who lives in me.

So, when we pray, asking the Virgin Mary for "Thy mediation and help", calling her "Mediatrix", we do not replace Christ with her, and we are not speaking as though she is the Mediator Between God and Man. Rather, we express precisely the correct doctrine that He, the One Mediator, is present in and active through His saints, that "of His grace we have received: grace for grace", and that we are called to activate that grace in the world by uniting our own (created) energies to it, subjecting our own will to His even as He subjected His human will to His divine will.  We express this doctrine by asking Mary to (continue to) do that thing that every Christian (Mary included) is called to do: use her God-given gifts (χαρίσματα, 'charismata' = 'graces' or 'gifts'), which she receives from our collective Head, for the edification and help of the Body.

(Side note: There is also the sense that she mediated Christ to the world insofar as she gave birth to Him from her own flesh.  She is the ladder upon which He descended.)

We single her out specifically and specially simply because, while the grace given to her is not "without measure" as her Son received from the Father, she has the greatest measure of grace of any of the Saints, even so far as to have been referred to by the angel as "full of grace" (κεχαριτωμένη).

This is evidenced by the fact that she is the only Christian to have undergone the Resurrection of the Body as of yet.  And not only that, but her faith is the simplest and most direct in the Kingdom, and she is the Queen Mother, set at the right hand of the King, having born Him as a result of an act which precisely portrays and activated exactly what we're talking about here: namely, her active, complete, and humble submission of her created energies (her "natural" or "created" graces and abilities) to the will and operation (uncreated energies) of God, to manifest Christ to the world in the flesh, when she said to the angel: "Be it unto me according to thy word."

Also, because of her aforementioned Resurrection, she alone among the Saints has full and unfettered use of the graces given to her by Her Son.  Unfettered on the one hand by the body of sin, unlike those of us still in the flesh here on earth.  And unfettered on the other by the lack of any body at all, unlike the rest of those who have fallen asleep in the Lord, but have not yet been resurrected.