Dumitru Staniloae on The Meaning of Existence

Cover of The Holy Trinity by Dumitru Staniloae

The Holy Trinity by Dumitru Staniloae

Because it is without beginning, supreme existence is eternally happy in and of itself without needing to develop at all. In order to reach this state and unite themselves with supreme existence, created beings need to make an effort of their own free will. They can only progress through that freedom that has been given to them as they follow laws that are an expression of the good will of God, or of supreme Reason. But once reason has been given to them, they can use it to oppose the good that supreme Reason and its laws demand of conscious things. They can use reason in a distorted manner to justify orienting themselves toward deceitful goals, or to promote their own egoism. Goodness desires to rest in a free harmony established among conscious things and between them and God. But selfishness opposes the good, and therefore opposes God. It ruptures the Reason that brings harmony among all things, and between everything and God. This shows once again the creation too must contribute something if it is to have unity with God. But the Holy Trinity, in which the most perfect harmony and love reside, helps creation makes its contribution. The Son of God Himself helps humanity realize this unity. The Father uses the Son, just as He uses Reason, for the sake of creation.

You can order The Holy Trinity by Dumitru Staniloae directly from the Holy Cross Bookstore, or from Amazon.com.

Wise orators stand mute as fish.

Book cover for "The Orthodox Church" by John Anthony McGuckin

The Orthodox Church

NOTE: The following is an excerpt of Fr. John Anthony McGuckin’s book “The Orthodox Church”. I highly recommend it.


…This is only a brief argument using scriptural indications to speak about historical tradition soberly received and reverently passed on. It will hardly convince a generation of so-called historical scholars who have mutilated the scriptural record they set out to comment on, using the premise that ‘nothing unusual can happen in the world, that is not entirely explicable by reference to things that are usual’: and thus ‘explaining’ the Virgin birth for their readership as a ‘magical’ explaining away of an illegitimate birth. But the Akathist hymn gave a good response to this in ancient times:

Wise orators stand mute as fish before you Theotokos; for they are unable to explain how you could remain a virgin and yet give birth. But we who marvel at the mystery of faith can cry out to you: All hail, you who are the chosen vessel of God.

The Virgin Mary stands not only as a Christological bulwark, epitomizing the ultimate ‘scandal of our faith’ that if she is called the Theotokos, her Son must be confessed as divine (God of God, Light of Light, true God of true God, as the Creed has it). But in many ways she is a ‘Bronze Gate’ in a contemporary world abounding in reductionist and faithless exegesis. She who treasured all these stories and tales of wonder about her Son in her heart, as the evangelist tells us, is still one who refuses to allow the sacred kerygma of the Gospel to be watered down and made palatable to the tastes and conceptions of those who are far from being deeply rooted i the strange and paradoxical ways of a God who, with the world’s salvation in the balance, chose a simple and innocent heart which was ready to say to him: ‘Let it be done in me, as I am your servant. The choice of an unmarried first-century Jewish woman from a rural backwater was a contradiction of the ‘wisdom of this world’, and still is. It is perhaps why theological reflection on the Theotokos (so prevalent and powerful in the early church) has fallen into relative silence today.

McGuckin, John Anthony. The Orthodox Church: An Introduction to its History, Doctrine, and Spiritual Culture. West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.

 

Father George Calciu: Interviews, Homilies, and Talks

Father George Calciu: Interviews, Homilies, and TalksFather George Calciu: Interviews, Homilies, and Talks by George Calciu

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is not a single narrative, but a selections of biographical sketches about and interviews with Father George Calciu, as well as a selection of his homilies, talks, and newsletter articles written to his congregation. Because of this, there is a certain amount of repetition — repetition which is to be expected.

The organization of this book is interesting, beginning with biographical sketches and interviews which mention the seven Lenten Homilies to the Youth, the sermons Father George gave to the Romanian people in 1978. But for all the foreshadowing, one is still unprepared for the power of these sermons. It is no wonder that they were laboriously hand-copied, passed from person to person, and quickly made their way to the outside world. After his Homilies to the Youth the book focuses on the various lectures, talks, writings, and interviews given after Father George was released from prison and exiled to the United States, including interviews given after the fall of communism and on the occasion of his visit to his homeland.

Their are several notable things about this book.

First, Father George rarely names names or places blame. There are a few occasions where he mentions a specific church hierarch who failed him, specifically the Bishop and former monk who arranged for Father George’s arrest and imprisonment. And yet even here there is no sense that Father George is seeking revenge; what one senses is sorrow and forgiveness. Father George notes that when he initially began writing his account of life in the Pitești prison, his anger overwhelmed him. It wasn’t until he put his writing away, symbolically making a break with the past, that he recovered. By this we are meant to learn that the rehashing of wrongs hurts our hearts and is ultimately unfruitful. Revenge is a dish best not served at all.

Second, Father George notes several times that it was through suffering that he became aware of God’s presence, that God was with him in his suffering. God did not save him from his suffering, nor did God save him by means of his suffering. However, patient endurance of suffering — while not redemptive — has a purifying effect.

Third, there are passages in this book that are quite remarkable in their practicality. For example, when Father George discusses prayer, he outlines which prayers are normative, and then provides a number of techniques by which one can maintain focus on the prayers. Unlike some more theoretical discourses on prayer, this is personal, pragmatic, and pastoral.

Finally, Father George notes that although our fellow Christians can fail us, our priests can fail us, and even the Church hierarchs can fail is, the Church is still the place where we find salvation. This is continually relevant, as the failure of Bishops, Metropolitans, and Patriarchs looms large in social media. And yet the Church of Christ still stands, and is still the one place where we can partake of the Eucharist, the medicine of immortality. Thanks be to God.

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Why Humans Matter

An image of the cover for "The Lost World of Genesis One"

The Lost World of Genesis One

Embedded in the book “Why Mary Matters” is a long section on theological anthropology, or what it means to be human (Part III: Cosmology and Anthropology). Shortly after releasing the book I came across the book “The Lost World of Genesis One” by John H. Walton, professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College. This book is unique in that it looks at Genesis using the figurative literal, grammatical/historical hermeneutic so beloved by fundamentalists and evangelicals, and comes up with conclusions that are remarkably similar to those taught by the church fathers.

Of particular interest, because it fits so well with “Why Mary Matters”, is John Walton’s description of the creation of humans on the sixth day. He has already spent a great deal of time developing the idea that the Creation accounts in Genesis are functional rather than material, based on his understanding of ancient near eastern cosmology and world view. Regarding humanity, he writes:

“The difference when we get to the creation of people is that even as they function to populate the world (like fish, birds and animals), they also have a function relative to the rest of God’s creatures, to subdue and rule. Not only that, but they have a function relative to God as they are in his image. They also have a function relative to each other as they are designated male and female. All these show the functional orientation with no reference to the material at all. …All of the rest of creation functions in relationship to humankind, and humankind serves the rest of creation and God’s vice regent.”

What John Walton misses is that humans were created to be the priests of creation, to offer it up to God. This is likely because he, like most Protestants, is not sacramental himself, and so misses the sacramental elements in Sacred Scripture. Still, Walton does notice that the Genesis accounts are functional, in that they describe the building of God’s temple; when His temple was complete, he rested. However, resting doesn’t mean lazing about, but it means that God took up His rightful place  in His temple, and began His rightful work of engaging with His creation. Walton describes humans being God’s “vice-regents”, when it would better suit his thesis if humanity were the priests of God’s temple.

I highly recommend John Walton’s book to anyone interesting in the origins debate. Walton provides a way to understand the creation accounts that should be palatable to the evangelical, and perhaps the fundamentalist, as it does not violate any of their principles of interpretation. Yet this way does not dictate any particular view regarding the creation of the material world, as that is not what the author of the text is concerned with.

Why do humans matter? Because they were created in the image and likeness of God to serve as priests in God’s temple. Why does Mary matter? Because she was the one through whom the Son of God was born after the flesh, so that He might conquer sin, death, and the devil, restoring us to our position as priests of His creation.