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"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

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Tuesday, 30 July 2013

SIGNS OF HOPE IN ORTHODOX - CATHOLIC DIALOGUE

In this short essay, I am going to discuss some signs of hope, solid reasons to believe that the Catholic - Orthodox schism will not last for ever; but, at the same time, I will argue that reunion will not happen soon: we still have a long way to go, principally because we need time to grow together, to have confidence in one another, even to like one another, before there will be sufficient impetus to tackle the more intractable problems.

 My optimism stems from several reasons: firstly, that for the first time in history since Constantine's conversion, it is clear that Eastern and Western Christianity face the same problems because we live in the same global society; secondly, that, since Vatican II, Orthodoxy and Catholicism are looking at their differences within the context of the same eucharistic ecclesiology; thirdly, such concepts and words as "theosis" and "synergy" and the transcendentals "the good", the "true" and the "beautiful" are now commonplace and central in Catholic as well as Orthodox theology.   Moreover,  I would suggest, that at least some Orthodox and Catholic theologians, people of the same line of thought as Pope Benedict and of Metropolitan John Zizioulas, think that answers to the main problems may well lie in what Pope Benedict calls the "hermeneutic of continuity".   This last phrase was not made up to argue for a traditionalist interpretation of Vatican II nor for a return to the post-Tridentine Mass: it is one of the most important and most basic ideas of Pope Benedict and of the school of thought most active in Vatican II to which he belonged.

This group was centred on Paris and Lyons, were mostly Jesuits and Dominicans, though Louis Bouyer was an Oratorian.   There was nothing formal about the group.   They may not have even considered themselves to be a group at first; but they had a community of interest.   They saw the Church in crisis, a church which had largely lost the working class.   They believed that "secular values" were encouraged by a too stark separation in the theology of their day between "natural" and "supernatural".   They held that mankind has a natural desire for God, and that the main reason why the people were falling away was because they were starved of the sacred.   This could only be rectified by liturgical reform because the people were cut off from the sacred by a completely latinised and clericalised liturgy.   They subjected the theology of their time to a stringent critique.  As several of them were patristic scholars, they compared the modern Church unfavourably with  the Church of the Fathers.   This group is immensely important because a) they had formed their ideas in France where a group of extremely able Russian Orthodox theologians had taken refuge; also b) because a young archbishop of Cracow called  Carol Wojtyla and a young German theologian called Joseph Ratzinger along with others like Dom Christopher Butler OSB of Downside joined them in the council; and c) because they were involved in writing the most important Vatican II documents.

They were opposed by the so-called "conservative" position that was commonly held before the council in which the Church's grasp of God's revelation in Christ had been encapsulated in ever clearer propositions over the centuries  under the guidance of the Holy Spirit  so that all we have to do to understand Catholic Truth is to listen to the teaching of the present day Magisterium and to interpret history in the light of its teaching.    History  may be used to prove the truth of the modern Church's teaching, but it is never used to criticise it.    For "conservatives", the idea that a critical study of  church history could be used to call in question the present-day teaching and practice of the Church looked too much like modernism. 

  The way the new school of theologians used history laid them open to charges of "modernism" in the twenty or so years before Vatican II, and they only came out from under that cloud where the Vatican had placed them when some were invited by Pope John XXIII to take part in Vatican II, and others accompanied their bishops to the council..   The continuity that is so basic to their thought is not something theologians have invented, nor does it exist only at a theoretical level, nor is it something the pope, the bishops or the theologians have completely under their control; nor is it a mere product of the Magisterium: the Magisterium is its servant.   It is nothing less than the continuity of Tradition; and Tradition is the product of the synergy between the Holy Spirit and the life of the Church, with the Holy Spirit enabling it to happen and the Church allowing it to happen by its humble obedience. 

Tradition is only partly the transmission of ideas.   It is also continuity of celebration and continuity in participation in the vision of faith and of the Christ-life.   As George Florovsky wrote about patristic theology:


In the age of theological strife and incessant debates, the great Cappadocian Fathers protested against the use of dialectics, of Aristotelian syllogisms, and endeavoured to refer theology back to the vision of faith.


  Patristic theology could only be "preached" or "proclaimed" - preached from the pulpit, proclaimed  also in the words of prayer and in the sacred rites, and indeed manifested in the total structure of Christian life.   Theology of this kind can never be separated from the life of prayer and from the exercise of virtue.   "The climax of purity is the beginning of theology," as St John the Klimakos put it. (Scala Paradisi, grade 30)



On the other hand, theology of this type is always, as it were, "propaideutic," since its ultimate aim and purpose  is to ascertain and to acknowledge  the Mystery of the Living God, and indeed to bear witness to it in word and deed.   Theology is not an end in itself, but a way.   Theology, and even the "dogmas" present no more than  an "intellectual contour" of the revealed truth, and a "noetic" testimony to it.   Only in the act of faith is this "contour" filled with content.   Christological formulas are fully meaningful only for those who have encountered the Living Christ, and have received and acknowledged Him as God and Saviour, and are dwelling by faith in Him, in His body, the Church.   In this sense, theology is never a self-explanatory discipline. It is constantly appealing to  the vision of faith.   "What we have seen and heard we have announced to you."   Apart from this "announcement",  theological formulas are empty and of no consequence....To follow the Fathers does not mean to quote them.  To follow the Fathers means to acquire their "mind", their phronema
.  

 It is by sharing their "mind" that we can think, pray and act within Tradition.   Only if we have the vision of faith, given by the Spirit, can we make head or tale of the Truth that the formulas express.   When I was studying theology in the early sixties, we did not call the theology of de Lubac, Danielou etc resourcement theology; we called it kerygmatic theology.   Reading Florovsky, we can begin to understand why: it is embedded in the liturgical tradition of the Church and proclaimed in the kerygma, and theological reflection can never separate it's formulations from the Christian ecclesial life of faith that gives them substance.


  Tradition being the product of the Holy Spirit and the Church acting in synergy, popes, bishops, general councils and faithful are subject to it, and not the other way round.   It is the context in which the New Testament was written, its books were recognised and are read and interpreted, the liturgies of the Church were formed and have developed, where dogmas have been expressed in words and interpreted.   If you want to see the role of Tradition in the Catholic Church, then read the teachings of Vatican II and some of the words and actions of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

Because bishops, councils and theologians are not the masters of Tradition but its servants, Vatican II made no attempt to solve the problems between East and West, even though this was very much in the mind of many: they waited on the action of the Holy Spirit, and the Catholic Church continues to wait for the gradual or rapid growing together of the two traditions under the influence of the same Spirit.   It is only then that things can become clear.   This is so because Catholic theologians are confident, as George Florovsky said, that the two versions of Catholic Tradition belong together.   Thus, people like Joseph Ratzinger knew that the eucharistic ecclesiology favoured by Vatican II, with the powers of the Church arising from the celebration of the Eucharist, is a profounder, more basic insight into the nature of the Church than that of Vatican I of a Church that is a perfect society, held together by papal universal jurisdiction that was legally delegated to Peter by Christ. If the priority of its eucharistic dimension over its legal structure is forgotten, then the laws that the Church must have in order to function as one body throughout the world will appear like any other laws, and the clear distinction taught by Christ between authorities in the Church and authorities in the world will be forgotten.  Nevertheless, as Catholics, they cannot deny Vatican I's place in Catholic Tradition.   Hence they simply put the two views side by side, fully knowing that, in time, the profounder view would modify the interpretation of the Vatican I view almost out of recognition; but there would be an inner continuity, leaving the papacy intact to operate in a new context of a more fully Catholic Tradition of both East and West.   In this situation,  John Paul II asked help in Ut Unum Sint from our separated brethren.

In this regard, it may be a good idea to notice why the group of theologians, centred on France, to which Wotlyla and Ratzinger attached themselves in Vatican II, were considered dangerous by the Vatican, who suspected them of modernism.   They were called resourcement theologians because they wanted to return to the sources.   Basic to their theology was Tradition which maintains the same relationship with the Spirit at any particular moment, from the time of the Apostles until now.   There is a continuity which allows for growth in clarity and profundity, but they also saw that aspects of the Truth have been forgotten, exaggerated  and even distorted.   Our present grasp of the Truth can be modified by the way the Truth was grasped in earlier times.   Scripture and the time of the Fathers are particularly authoritative; and modern problems may well have solutions in the past.  For the resourcement theologians, modern interpretation, like the interpretation of any other particular time, is subject to Tradition as a whole - the hermeneutic of continuity - and they even claimed that there had been a deterioration of our understanding of the Church and of the sacraments, and that there was a crying need for a fuller understanding and reform of the liturgy, and that the Church of the Fathers had a better understanding and a better practice in these areas.   All this was believed while they also held that the insights and practices accepted by the Church in later centuries are also true, because the Holy Spirit has not ceased to guide the Church.

Since we have used the papacy as an example of an institution that needs correction by Tradition, I shall now give you a short passage from Yves Congar  OP on church authority.   He was an important peritus or expert in Vatican II and belonged to the resourcement group, a friend of Joseph Ratzinger.  It is a good illustration of the past correcting the present, and was published near the end of the Council in 1964.   It is called in French "Pour une Eglise Servante et Pauvre", which shows us that Pope Francis is on track!


We have...studied...the history of the expression Vicarius Christi as a papal title.   The use of the title has continued but its meaning has changed.   Its older sense in Catholic theology was that of a visible representative of a transcendent and heavenly power which was actually active in its earthly representative.   The context and atmosphere surrounding the idea were those of the actuality of the action of God, Christ and the saints working in their representative.   This is a very sacramental, iconological concept linked to the idea of the constant presences of God and the celestial powers in our earthly sphere.   It is this quality of actuality and of "vertical" descent and a presence which has its source in the celebrated text in Luke 10: 16, "Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me."   Although this quality does not disappear, it is overlaid by another quality which is also not entirely new - what is new is its marked predominance over the former one - namely a "power" given at the beginning by someone, by Christ, to his "vicar", that is, to a person who takes his place and who hands on to those who come after him, in an historical sequence of transmission and succession, the power thus received.   The predominant feature is not a vertical movement, an actual presence, an iconological representation,  but the "horizontal" transmission of a power vested in the earthly jurisdiction and which, though received from on high, is genuinely possessed by this jurisdiction which uses it in the same way as any authority may use the power attached to it.


The modern "mystique" of authority in the Church comes from the movement whose characteristics we just described.   But, and this is where its strength lies, once again, strength comes from the mystique and not from the legal aspect - it has combined the actuality of the power possessed with the vision of the "vertical" descent of divine power upon the actual historic authority.....I believe that the spirit of the time introduced something new into this continuity [of Tradition], namely, a certain legalistic aspect.....legalism is characteristic of an ecclesiology unrelated to spiritual anthropology, and for which the word ecclesia indicates, not so much the body of the faithful, as the system, the apparatus, the impersonal depositary of the system of rights whose representatives are the clergy or, as it is now called, the hierarchy, and ultimately the pope and the Roman Curia.


The movement back to the sources must go forward until it restores a completely evangelical concept of authority, a concept that willbe fully supernatural and fully communal.   We are on the right road, we have gone far to recover the agape beyond mere moralism, the function of the laity, the community, and our mission and service as dimensions essential to and co-extensive with.   We have better understanding of the the religious implications of the covenant, and these involve our acceptance of God's gift through faith, and the life of this gift through agape the diakonia, witness and thanksgiving....Since we are returning to a pre-Constantinian situation in a pagan world, since we are aware that we are in a minority, that it is our task to preach Jesus Christ, we are doubtless approaching a period in which, while we shall lose nothing of value acquired in the course of history, we shall recover wholly evangelical ways of exercising authority in the new world in which God calls us to serve him.

The change from a sacramental way of interpreting the authority of the Church to a legalistic one arose from the habit of popes  comparing their authority with that of emperors, and of archbishops like St Thomas a Becket with that of kings.   Also there was  the separation of theology from cult as theological activity went away from monasteries and cathedrals and into universities.   This weakened its essential connection with the liturgy and Christian living.   As the Church came to be seen as a world-wide perfect society, held together by papal jurisdiction, so jurisdiction was separated from the celebration of the Eucharist in which Christ himself is actively engaged in deepening our understanding through the liturgy, as we collaborate through humble obedience.   Finally, to fit in with the idea of the Church as a perfect society, the Eucharist and the Church lost the sense of participating in the heavenly liturgy.  This affected the concept of authority in the Church which became secularised, functioning like any other authority.

 It is in the Roman liturgy's participation in the heavenly liturgy that St Peter is really connected with the church of Rome, and how the Roman Church is united to all other places where the Eucharist is celebrated.  St Peter and St Paul are buried there, and their bodies await resurrection on the Last Day.

   The Roman Eucharist, like the Eucharist in Constantinople and Moscow, embraces heaven where our divisions don't exist as they do on earth, but the Romans have a special relationship with these two apostles; and this relationship, especially with St Peter, is bound to be reflected from time to time in the words of the Roman bishop, "Peter speaks through the mouth of Leo!"

The way to reunion with the Orthodox is, as far as we are concerned, the way of making the insights of Vatican II a concrete reality. There is much yet to be done, but it is marked out for us in the documents of the Council. 

  •   We must have a liturgy that celebrates our participation in the liturgy of heaven.   This is yet to be realised.   Going back to the pre-conciliar past won't help because the extraordinary rite is no better than the novus ordo in that regard.  
  •  We must have true collegiality both world-wide and regionally and allow the episcopates in the regions to make their own decisions. Collegiality and primacy belong together; but this is yet to become a reality in the Church.  Here I have hopes that Pope Francis will go further than either John Paul II or Benedict XVI were able to do.  
  •  We must work together with our Orthodox brothers and sisters to evangelise the world.   We must never accept the dominance of secularism.   If we do, then we are already beaten.  We must take it on: we have resources that the secularists cannot even dream about; if they did, they wouldn't be secularists.



  • We Catholics must express our belief in the position of the papacy in the Church in non-legalistic terms.   Eucharistic ecclesiology shows us that the Church, before it was ever a "perfect society" united by a common law, was a community united by its participation in the same sacraments, especially in the Eucharist.  Its unity came from heaven "in Christ", and its this-worldly unity was a manifestation of the heavenly reality.  Its laws are based on the divine Love that expresses itself in ecclesial charity; while ordinary civil law is based on force.   This ecclesial charity unites Christians with their bishop, unites the bishops with one another and with the successor of St Peter, and all Catholics together as one body.   So that ecclesial charity can function in this world, it works through laws, both locally and universally.
  •  In eucharistic ecclesiology the Catholic Church fully exists in each eucharistic assembly under its bishop; and each eucharistic assembly relates to all other eucharistic assemblies like hosts in a ciborium: they are identical to one another because each is body of Christ.   This may well be true in theory; but it is also true in fact that the people making up the eucharistic assembly are imperfect, so that the assembly may well have to be reminded what it stands for and what it believes.   As Pope Benedict XVI said on one occasion, his job does not involve imposing beliefs on people, but of reminding them, from time to time, in what beliefs the Catholic faith that they profess involves them. As each local church is identical to all others, this can be done without imposing one church over another.   Papal infallibility challanges each local church and each Christian to be themselves.
  • It must be recognised that, since the schism, this charisma of Rome can only be done imperfectly, since the pope only represents the western tradition that has its own theological language, distinct fro Orthodox language and there are limitations that arise from that.  In other words, Roman Catholicism has its own belief system, just as Orthodoxy has; and a statement of belief cannot be simply separated from its own system, from which it draws its life, and be imposed on the other. Once it moves from one system to the other it subtly changes its meaning and significance.   This is the source of much misunderstanding.   People like me who believe in both systems have to endure these mutual misunderstandings, but it is worth it because we feel at home in each community   Roman infallibility has nothing to do with imposing beliefs on other local churches and doesn't work when dealing with another belief system.   Hence, it is good resourcement theology to return to the sources, before the break, and build up from there.  This is now recognised by the theologians on both sides and is another sign of hope.  We are concentrating on what both sides believed up till the time of the break.
  • If the ability of the Church to perceive the truth arises from its union with Christ in the Eucharist, then both sides have the benefit of the guidance of the Holy Spirit.   We must take seriously the objections of each side against the other, and not just dismiss them as heretical nonsense.   We must accept each side as true because of the Eucharist, but limited by the schism from judging the other side.   
  • Because it is recognised by both sides in the debate that the "filioque" clause means one thing in Latin and another in Greek, it must be acknowledged by the West that it is totally inappropriate in a Creed that is meant to show the unity of East and West, and must be got rid off as soon as possible, not waiting for some future reunion negotiations.   Its inclusion was resisted for centuries by Roman pontiffs against pressure from the Western Empire, and was only accepted in a moment of weakness.   Its presence in the Creed has nothing to do with western tradition on the Trinity, and everything to do with causing problems with the East.   It must go, because western trinitarian thought can do without it and Greek thought cannot understand it.
  • Finally, as the madman Grisha said to the boy Prokhor (St Seraphim of Sarov), when he asked how he could re-build the Church, we must, "Pray, pray, pray."







Friday, 26 July 2013

THREE SUPERB LECTURES BY DAVID BENTLEY HART, AN ORTHODOX ACADEMIC, ON BEAUTY





One of the most significant factors that influenced how Vatican II's documents were formed was the fact that two groups of theologians became acquainted in France. These were the Orthodox theologians who were refugees from Communist Russia, and the resourcement theologians like de Lubac, Danielou, Chenu, Yves Congar, Louis Bouyer etc. They almost certainly met at the SEmaine Liturgique that took place at the Institut Saint Serge in Paris every year; but they also contributed to the same journals etc, and there was Chevwtogne in Belgium as well. Thus phrases like "eucharistic theology", "synergy" and the three transcendentals, the good, the true and beauty are central to much Catholic theology now, having been imported from the Fathers of the Church. Here is an extremely able Orthodox theologian talking about "Beauty", which, as a reflection of God, is now a common concept, both in Orthodoxy and in Catholicism.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

NEWS: POSTS ON THE TRANSFIGURATION AND RELATED TOPICS



The August edition of "Bathed in Silent Light" is ready for your perusal.   The subject is "The Transfiguration".   The first post is by the late Father Jean Corbon OP.  He was a Greek Catholic theologian in Lebanon and one of Pope Benedict XVI's favourite theologians.   He wrote the section on prayer in the Catholic Catechism, and the introductory section to the sacraments on participation in the Christian Mystery is based on his theology.   He writes on "The Significance of the Transfiguration".   This is followed by a Greek Orthodox contribution on the same subject.   Then we have Dom Alex Echeandia OSB, monk of my monastery in Peru, who is studying at Blackfriars, Oxford.   He is also an accomplished iconographer and a pupil of Aidan Hart, the Orthodox iconographer.   At present, Dom Alex is doing a course on iconography in the Catholic University in L'viv, in the Ukraine.   He has written a post on "The Icon of the Transfiguration"
  
The light of the Transfiguration, being the effect of the union between divinity and humanity in the Incarnation, is invisible to the naked eye until Christ reveals it on Mount Tabor.   Nevertheless, its presence can be sensed by the Grace of God, even when it is invisible.   The other posts are about situations in the modern Church where the light of Christ can be sensed, even when it is not seen.
Go to the post by clicking on the title:


THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE INCARNATION 
by Father Jean Corbon OP



THE TRANSFIGURATION
FROM AN ORTHODOX PERSPECTIVE
by George Mantzaredes









THE ICON OF THE TRANSFIGURATION
by Dom Alex Echeandia & others






SACRIFICING AND TRANSFORMING LOVE:  ST ELIZABETH, THE GRAND DUCHESS AND ROYAL MARTYR, (GRANDDAUGHTER OF QUEEN VICTORIA)





A MODERN SAINT OF MOUNT ATHOS
ELDER PAISIOS



CHRIST'S LOVE MANIFESTED IN TRIUMPHANT FAILURE
BLESSED CHARLES DE FOUCAULD









THROUGH VULNERABILITY TO GLORY: FATHER HENRI NOUWEN







GOD'S GLORY MANIFESTED IN A COMMUNITY OF BROKEN PEOPLE, JEAN VANIER & L'ARCHE








A TALE OF GREEK CATHOLIC CONFESSORS IN ROMANIA: GOD'S GLORY MANIFESTED IN EXTREME WITNESS.










THE PATH OF LOVE: THE CONVENT OF ST ELIZABETH, THE ROYAL MARTYR, IN MINSK, WITH MENTALLY HANDICAPPED CHILDREN AND THE OUTCASTS OF SOCIETY: THE GLORY OF GOD SHINES THROUGH THE EYES OF THE CHILDREN & REJECTED.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

THE FUTURE OF THE PAPACY AND ECUMENISM by David Bentley Hart




There has been much debate about an article I published called The Myth of Schism by David B. Hart, here http://www.orthodoxchristianity.net/forum/index.php/topic,52570.0.html/   Some have scornfully dismissed the article as Papist propaganda, I think because they live in a world where propaganda is mistaken for history - a mistake we all make from time to time.   Did not some historian say that history does not happen, it is written?   Anyway, having shamelessly pirated David B. Hart's excellent article for my blog - I believe my ancestors were pirates who worked from the port of Bristol - I think I owe it to him to pirate another article which is just as excellent, and which reveals that he is a solidly Orthodox believer.   This may not be recognised by some other Orthodox believers who do not recognise their own faith unless it is actually seeped in xenophobia.   I hope someone in the Orthodox Forum will indicate the existence of this post to the rest.

  In this article, David Hart puts his finger on the problem, and the reason why   Catholics accept so easily the notion that we share the same faith, and Orthodox are more cautious.   I believe that there may be a solution, that some Orthodox theologians also think that there may be a solution; but only time will tell.   Both churches need to solve some of their internal problems; hence the need for us to concentrate on action rather than words or immediate solutions at the present moment.   As the Patriarch of Moscow has pointed out, we need to take on the secular world together, as far as we can.   We will need to trust one another, even like one another, before there is any opportunity of union; and this will only happen by us working together.   It happened in the gulags, so it can happen here.   Meantime, read David Hart's article on the papacy, enjoy it, and adjust your attitude to David B. Hart accordingly. 



SATURDAY, MARCH 25, 2006

David B. Hart, "The Future of the Papacy," and Ecumenism
This was a response to a George Weigel article in First Things about the role of the papacy in Church history.
As John Paul II’s extraordinary pontificate enters its twilight (pray God, a long and golden one), it is well to reflect upon his enormous achievements and celebrate them with the grateful astonishment they merit. But it is also sobering to recall that the one aim that, by his own avowal, has always lain closest to his heart—reconciliation between the Eastern and Roman Churches—has proven to be the source of his gravest disappointment, and probably the only manifest failure that can be placed in the balance over against his innumerable successes. As an Orthodox Christian definitely in the ecumenical “left wing” of my church, I cannot speak for all my co–confessionalists; but I can record my own shame that so few Orthodox hierarchs have even recognized the remarkable gesture made by John Paul II in Ut Unum Sint (1995), in openly soliciting advice on how to understand his office (even indeed the limits of its jurisdiction), or been moved to respond with anything like comparable Christian charity. However, the Pope has perhaps always been somewhat quixotic in his reckoning of the severity of the differences between the communions, and so of the effort required to effect any real reciprocal understanding between them (let alone rapprochement).

Anyone familiar with the Eastern Christian world knows that the Orthodox view of the Catholic Church is often a curious mélange of fact, fantasy, cultural prejudice, sublime theological misunderstanding, resentment, reasonable disagreement, and unreasonable dread: it sees a misty phantasmagoria of crusades, predestination, “modalism,” a God of wrath, flagellants, Grand Inquisitors, and those blasted Borgias. But, still, and from my own perspective ab oriente, I must remark that the greater miscalculation of what divides us is almost inevitably found on the Catholic side, not always entirely free of a certain unreflective condescension. Often Western Christians, justifiably offended by the hostility with which their advances are met by certain Orthodox, assume that the greatest obstacle to reunion is Eastern immaturity and divisiveness. The problem is dismissed as one of “psychology,” and the only counsel offered one of “patience.” Fair enough: decades of Communist tyranny set atop centuries of other, far more invincible tyrannies have effectively shattered the Orthodox world into a contentious confederacy of national churches struggling to preserve their own regional identities against every “alien” influence, and under such conditions only the most obdurate stock survives. But psychology is the least of our problems.

In truth, so vehement is this pope’s love of Eastern Christianity that it has often blinded him to the most inexorable barriers between the churches. As an error of judgment, this is an endearing one, but also one possible only from the Western vantage. Of course a Catholic who looks eastward finds nothing to which he objects, because what he sees is the Church of the Seven Ecumenical Councils (but—here’s the rub—for him, this means the first seven of twenty–one). When an Orthodox turns his eyes westward he sees what appears to him a Church distorted by innovation and error: the filioque clause, the pope’s absolute primatial authority, purgatory, indulgences, priestly celibacy. Our deepest divisions concern theology and doctrine, and this problem admits of no immediately obvious remedy, because both churches are so fearfully burdened by infallibility. The disagreements in theology can be mitigated: Western theologians now freely grant that the Eastern view of original sin is more biblical than certain Latin treatments of the matter; only the most obtusely truculent Orthodox still believe that the huge differences in Trinitarian theology that a previous generation found everywhere in Latin tradition indeed actually exist; etc. But doctrine is more intractable. The Catholic Church might plausibly contemplate the suppression of the filioque, but could it repudiate the claim that the papacy ever possessed the authority to allow such an addition? The Eastern Church believes in sanctification after death, and perhaps the doctrine of purgatory really asserts nothing more; but can Rome ever say that in speaking of it as “temporal punishment,” which the pope may in whole or part remit, it was in error? And so on.

Even if we retreat to the issue of psychology again, here too Catholic ecumenists often misconstrue the nature of the Orthodox distrust of their good will. It is not simply the case that the Orthodox are so fissiparous and jealous of their autonomy that the Petrine office appears to them a dangerous principle of homogeneity, an ordo obedientiae to which their fractious Eastern wills cannot submit. Jurisdictional squabbling aside, the Orthodox world enjoys so profound a unity—of faith, worship, spirituality, and ecclesiology—that the papacy cannot but appear to it as a dangerous principle of plurality. After all, under the capacious canopy of the papal office, so many disparate things find common shelter. Eastern rites huddle alongside liturgical practices (hardly a peripheral issue in the East) disfigured by rebarbative banality, by hymnody both insipid and heterodox, and by a style of worship that looks flippant if not blasphemous. Academic theologians explicitly reject principles of Catholic orthodoxy, but are not (as they would be in the East) excluded from communion. There are three men called Patriarch of Antioch in the Roman communion—Melkite, Maronite, and Latin (I think I have them all)—which suggests that the very title of patriarch, even as regards an apostolic see, is merely honorific, because the only unique patriarchal office is the pope’s. As unfair as it may seem, to Orthodox Christians it often appears as if, from the Catholic side, so long as the pope’s supremacy is acknowledged, all else is irrelevant ornament. Which yields the sad irony that the more the Catholic Church strives to accommodate Orthodox concerns, the more disposed many Orthodox are to see in this merely the advance embassy of an omnivorous ecclesial empire.

All of which sounds rather grim. But having made the necessary qualifications, I can now praise John Paul II for all he has done for the unity of the apostolic Churches. He is, simply stated, a visionary on this matter. True, human beings cannot overcome the obstacles dividing East from West; but the unity of the Church is never—even when it is only two or three gathered in Christ’s name—a human work. Each church is grievously wounded by its separation from the other, and only those who have allowed pride and infantile anger to displace love in their hearts are blind to this.

Moreover, our need for one another grows greater with the years. It is sometimes suggested that the future of society in the West—and so, perhaps, the world—is open to three “options”: Christianity, Islam, and a consumerism so devoid of transcendent values as to be, inevitably, nothing but a pervasive and pitiless nihilism. The last of these has the singular power of absorbing some of the energies of the other two without at first obviously draining them of their essences; the second enjoys a dogmatic warrant for militancy and a cultural cohesiveness born both of the clarity of its creed and the refining adversities of political and economic misfortune; but the only tools at Christianity’s disposal will be evangelism and unity. The confrontation between the Church and modern consumerism will continue to occur principally in the West, where a fresh infusion of Orthodoxy’s otherworldliness may prove a useful inoculant; but the encounter or confrontation with Islam will be principally, as it long has been, in the East. It is impossible to say what peace will be wrought there or what calamity, but it may well be that the Petrine office, with its unique capacity for “strengthening the brethren” and speaking the truth to the world, will prove indispensable.

The present pope has long been the great, indefatigable voice of Christian conviction in a faithless age. If future popes follow his lead, and speak out forcibly on behalf of the Christians—in Egypt, Syria, Turkey, and elsewhere—who will most acutely suffer the pressure of this difficult future, love will ever more drive out suspicion, and the vision of unity that inspires John Paul II will bear fruit. Sic, at any rate, oremus.

Monday, 22 July 2013

A SACRIFICING AND TRANSFORMING LOVE: ST ELIZABETH, THE ROYAL MARTYR


One of the brightest stars in the celestial array of Russia’s New Martyrs is the Holy Grand Duchess Elizabeth. A convert to Orthodoxy, she outshone many of those whose Faith she had so ardently embraced. She was like a sun whose penetrating rays warm hearts grown cold and renew the lost faith of a fallen and despairing humanity, as if to say that not all have succumbed to egotistical self love, that there are still those servants of Love whose example points the way to the true path, to happiness both on this earth and for aIl eternity. She placed a law in her heart: that the strong bear the frailties of the weak. Love was the cornerstone of her life and all her activities. This love made easy for her what was difficult, it made serving her fellowman a plea sure, and through it the forgiveness of enemies was made possible. For the sake of this Love, she sacrificed herself for others, thereby fulfilling that greatest of commandments according to the Apostle of love, that we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren (1 John 3:16).
There exists perhaps no more eloquent tribute to the holy Grand Duchess than the spiritual portrait so finely drawn by the late Metropolitan Anastassy:
“She was a rare combination of exalted Christian spirit, moral nobility, enlightened mind, gentle heart, and refined taste. She possessed an extremely delicate and multifaceted spiritual composition and her outward appearance reflected the beauty and greatness of her spirit. Upon her brow lay the seal of an inborn, elevated dignity that set her apart from those around her. Under the cover of modesty, she often strove,  though in vain, to conceal herself from the gaze of others, but one could not mistake her for another. Wherever she appeared, one would always ask: Who is she who looketh forth as the morning, clear as the sun (Song of Solomon 6:10)? Wherever she would go she emanated the pure fragrance of the lily. Perhaps it was for this reason that she loved the color white – it was the reflection of her heart. All of her spiritual qualities were strictly balanced, one against another, never giving an impression of one-sidedness. Femininity was joined in her to a courageous character; her goodness never led to weakness and blind, unconditional trust of people. Even in her finest heartfelt inspirations she exhibited that gift of discernment which has always been so highly esteemed by Christian ascetics…”
The Grand Duchess was born on October 20, 1861, the daughter of Princess Alice of Hesse and the granddaughter of Queen Victoria of England, under whose strict tutelage she received both an extensive and a practical education. Her mother died when she was still young, the first tragedy in a life marked by inner suffering. But through greatness of spirit, her sorrow at the absence of maternal love was later transformed into a tender and solicitous compassion for others who lacked this love.
Chosen as the future wife of the Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich, the Grand Duchess arrived in Moscow and set about learning all she could about her newly adopted homeland, its people and its culture. Her heart was soon captured by the beauty and spiritual depth of Orthodoxy that she discovered so tightly interwoven into the rich fabric of the Russian soul. It was not mere formality that prompted her decision to become Orthodox, but a strong inner conviction. In Orthodoxy she found full expression for the natural spiritual cast of her character. Social obligations at the palace, however, prevented this disposition from blossoming, although in keeping with her new position she was able to dedicate much time to philanthropic activities. It was only with the tragic assassination of her husband in 1905 that Providence granted her the opportunity to withdraw from the tumult of a world that her soul found so wearisome. But through her patient endurance she had already achieved a measure of Christian perfection. This was manifest in her ready forgiveness of her husband’s murderer, whom she even went to visit in hopes of softening his heart. On the memorial cross erected upon the site of her husband’s death, she had inscribed the Gospel words, Father, forgive them for they know not what they do. She had already begun the ascent up the ladder of Christian virtue.
Ignoring the scandal caused by such a move, the Grand Duchess left the royal apartments and settled in a building that she had acquired at Ordinka. Here, with the counsel of the elders of the Zosima Hermitage under whom she had placed herself in total obedience, she laid the foundation for a sisterhood that combined in itself the ascetic labors of the monastic life and works of charity. This quiet haven in the midst of a bustling city was named in honor of Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus, whose two natures of service and prayer were so beautifully intertwined in the mission of the new community. “To be not of this world and at the same time to live and act in the world in order to transform it – this was the foundation upon which she desired to establish her convent.”
The Grand Duchess was personally involved in all the plans for the buildings of the community, and they reflected her refined aesthetic sensibilities. The main church was built in the traditional Novgorod-Pskov style and painted by the well-known Russian artist Nesterov. The austere white walls were balanced with exquisite sculptured ornamentation. The architectural harmony of the buildings, the peaceful atmosphere, the beauty of the church services – all combined to lift the tired soul from its earthly cares and give it a glimpse of paradise. Even members of the unchurchly contemporary Russian society, whose spiritual re-education was of such concern to the Grand Duchess, were drawn to this unique community.
The Holy Protection Cathedral at the Martha and Mary Convent of Mercy

The Martha and Mary Convent of Mercy

“It is not surprising that the convent quickly blossomed and attracted many sisters from the aristocracy as well as the common people. Nearly monastic order reigned within the inner life of the community and both within and without the convent the activities of the Grand Duchess consisted in the care of those who visited the sick who were lodged in the convent, in the material and moral help given to the poor, and in the almshouse for those orphans and abandoned children found in every large city. The Grand Duchess paid special attention to the unfortunate children who bore within themselves the curse of their fathers’ sins, the children born in the turbid slums of Moscow only to wither before they had a chance to blossom. Many of them were taken into the orphanage built for them where they were quickly revived spiritually and physically. For others, constant supervision at their place of residence was established. The spirit of initiative and moral sensitivity which accompanied the Grand Duchess in all her activities, inspired and impelled her to search out new paths and forms of philanthropic activity, which sometimes reflected the influence of her first, western homeland, and its advanced organizations for social improvement and mutual aid…”
Wherever there was a need the Grand Duchess would try to answer it, and only her strong spirit was able to keep her from being entirely overcome physically by all that she in her willingness was ready to undertake. All her activities, however, did not cause her to wander from the “one thing needful,” and while serving the least of Christ’ s brethren, she was ever at Christ’s feet, listening to His words.
The sorrowful tribulations that visited Russia as the Revolution spread its shadow over the land only caused her virtues of love and self-sacrifice to shine more brightly. Together with her younger sister, Tsaritsa Alexandra, she was slandered on account of her German blood. But she harbored neither bitterness nor hatred towards her enemies, and even the revolutionaries recognized her greatness of spirit and spared her and her community for a time.
Relics of St. Elizabeth
Finally, however, the martyr’s crown was brought within her reach. On Pascha, 1918, the Grand Duchess was suddenly arrested and taken first to Ekaterinburg and then to Alopaevsk where, with her ever-faithful companion Sister Barbara, she was imprisoned in one of the city schools. On the fateful night of July 5/18, together with other royal captives, she was taken in an automobile outside the city and buried alive in a mineshaft. Even here, in the bowels of the earth, she did not cease to manifest her sacrificing love. Excavations have shown that until the last moment she strove to serve the grand dukes who were severely injured by the fall.
At last her precious remains – which, according to eye-witnesses were found in the mine shaft completely untouched by corruption – were received with triumph in Jerusalem and laid to rest in a sepulcher of the church of St. Mary Magdalene, just over the hill from Bethany where the sisters, Sts. Martha and Mary, served and glorified the Lord.
(Quotations from “The Holy New Martyr, Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna,” by Metropolitan Anastassy, in Orthodox Life, Sept.-Oct., 1981).
Source: Orthodox America

For the Russian Orthodox, July 18th is the feast day of St. Elizabeth the New Martyr. She was a Grand Duchess of Russia, a German-born sister of Alexandra, the German-born Tsaritsa. After her husband, Grand Duke Sergei, was murdered in 1905 by an assassin, she visited the killer in prison to encourage him to repent and be saved. She entered religious life as an Orthodox nun, and devoted herself to nursing the sick and serving the poor. When the Bolshevik Revolution occurred, she was taken into custody, and murdered on this date in 1917, along with her companions. One of the assassins later testified as to how St. Elizabeth and the others died. Excerpt:

At last we arrived at the mine. The shaft was not very deep and, as it turned out, had a ledge on one side that was not covered by water.

First we led grand duchess Elizabeth (Ella) up to the mine. After throwing her down the shaft, we heard her struggling in the water for some time. We pushed the nun lay-sister Varvara

St. Elizabeth the New Martyr


down after her. We again heard the splashing of water and then the two women’s voices. It became clear that, having dragged herself out of the water, the grand duchess had also pulled her lay-sister out. But, having no other alternative, we had to throw in all the men also.

None of them, it seems, drowned, or choked in the water and after a short time we were able to hear all their voices again.

Then I threw in a grenade. It exploded and everything was quiet. But not for long.

We decided to wait a little to check whether they had perished. After a short while we heard talking and a barely audible groan. I threw another grenade.

And what do you think – from beneath the ground we heard singing! I was seized with horror. They were singing the prayer: ‘Lord, save your people!’

We had no more grenades, yet it was impossible to leave the deed unfinished. We decided to fill the shaft with dry brushwood and set it alight. Their hymns still rose up through the thick smoke for some time yet.

When the last signs of life beneath the earth had ceased, we posted some of our people by the mine and returned to Alapaevsk by first light and immediately sounded the alarm in the cathedral bell tower. Almost the whole town came running. We told everyone that the grand dukes had been taken away by unknown persons!



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Friday, 19 July 2013

HENRI NOUWEN: A WESTERN EXPLORER OF THE CHRISTIAN EAST by Jim Forest

Henri Nouwen: a Western Explorer of the Christian East
Henri Nouwen

(For Remembering Henri edited by Gerry Twomey and Claude Pomerleau; published by Orbis Books in August 2006)

By Jim Forest

In a difficult period in my life, Henri Nouwen was my spiritual father. He was an excellent confessor who made it possible for me to share parts of myself that were painful, awkward or embarrassing. He helped me survive hard times and cope with bouts of despair. So I say at the beginning that whatever light I can shine on him is not the result simply of studying his writing, identifying main themes, or analyzing him as if I were studying him through a telescope. He was a person who played — in fact still plays — a role in my life.

Our lives led us both to cross an ocean, though in opposite directions. I find myself living in Henri’s homeland, the Netherlands, while North America became home to Henri. It was unplanned, perhaps one of God’s jokes, but he and I traded places.

Henri was a restless man, constantly on the move. His restlessness brought him from one continent to another. He taught at Notre Dame, then Yale, then Harvard, but could bring himself to stay at none of these distinguished institutions. Searching for community, he was a kind of temporary brother at a Trappist monastery for several extended periods, but found monastic life, though it helped clear him mind, didn’t suit him. He had a sabbatical in Latin America and thought for a time he was called to make his life there as a missionary, but then decided also wasn’t his calling. He finally found a home for himself not in academia or monastic life but with the L’Arche community in Canada — not among the brilliant, but the physically and mentally handicapped plus their downwardly-mobile assistants. Appropriately, he died while traveling — two heart attacks in Holland — while en route to Russia where he intended to make a film about Rembrandt’s painting of “The Return of the Prodigal Son.”

He possessed a remarkable gift for communicating to others through the spoken and written word the fact that a life of faith is one of endless exploration, a pilgrimage second to none. He produced a flood of books, many of which remain in print. Few writers on religious life have been so widely read or been so often translated into other languages. Years after his death, he still has a huge influence on the lives of many people. (He died relatively young, at age 64, in 1996.)

In common with Thomas Merton, he believed that the healing of east-west divisions among Christians are assisted more by a process of east-west integration in the spiritual life than by academic theological conferences. As Merton put this is Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander:

If I can unite in myself the thought and devotion of Eastern and Western Christendom, the Greek and the Latin Fathers, the Russian and the Spanish mystics, I can prepare in myself the reunion of divided Christians. From that secret and unspoken unity in myself can eventually come a visible and manifest unity of all Christians. If we want to bring together what is divided, we cannot do so by imposing one division upon the other. If we do this, the union is not Christian. It is political and doomed to further conflict. We must contain all the divided worlds in ourselves and transcend them in Christ.

Henri returned to this passage often. Also like Merton, Henri played a major role in this quiet movement of rediscovering icons. It is this area of their search that I wish to focus on in this essay.

The main monument to his love of icons that Henri left to us was his book Behold the Beauty of the Lord. This thin volume remains among the best introductions to icons — very accessible, not at all technical, with a directness and sobriety that one can only describe as icon-like. With his usual immediacy, Henri explains how one icon and then others gained a place in his life and what he had so far learned from long periods of living with four of them: Rublev’s Holy Trinity icon; an icon of Mary holding Christ in her arms; an icon of the face of Christ (also by Rublev); and, finally an icon of the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles at Pentecost.

Of course, Henri had seen icons in art history books, museums, churches and monasteries many times, but it wasn’t until his first visit to the L’Arche community in Trosly, France, in 1983 that he began to see icons with wide-open eyes. Barbara Swanekamp, assistant to L’Arche founder Jean Vanier, had put a reproduction of Rublev’s icon of the Holy Trinity on the table of the room where Henri would be staying. “After gazing for many weeks at the icon,” Henri noted in Behold the Beauty of the Lord, “I felt a deep urge to write down what I had gradually learned to see.”

Henri was profoundly sensitive to the visual arts. It was a family trait. In the introduction to his book on icons, he recalls a Chagall painting his parents had purchased early in their marriage when Chagall was hardly known — a watercolor of a vase filled with flowers placed on a sunlit window ledge, a simple yet radiant work that made one aware of God’s silent energy. I recall seeing it when Henri brought me to stay with him at his father’s house. There were many other beautiful works of art in the house — the house was a small museum of fine art — but the Chagall watercolor stood out from the rest and still remains a fresh memory. “The flowers of Chagall,” Henri writes, “come to mind as I wondered why those four icons have become so important to me.”

The connection does not surprise me. Chagall’s work was deeply influenced by iconography. In some of his paintings the link is made explicit, but it is always there in more subtle ways. Chagall’s work in was never enslaved to the rules of perspective or to the physics of gravity. People and animals fly. Fiddlers play on rooftops. Husbands and wives float in the kitchen. Like an iconographer, Chagall made his canvas a window opening on the invisible world and the life of the soul. It may be that the Chagall painting Henri grew up with helped awaken in him a capacity to appreciate icons and understand their special language.

I remember Henri coming to visit us in Holland following his stay at Trosly. He was very excited about the gift he had brought with him, a reproduction of the Holy Trinity icon he had bought that morning in a shop in Paris. Though he had not yet seen the actual icon — it was in the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow — he was confidant that the print came as close to the real thing as print technology would allow.

Though I had seen icons from time to time, until that day I had taken only a meager interest in them. Merton’s enthusiasm for them had been was a mystery to me. It wasn’t until Henri’s visit that finally I began to see them with a similar excitement.

I vividly recall sitting at Henri’s side as he explored, with childlike fascination, every tiny detail of the Holy Trinity icon. I think he remarked first on the utterly submissive faces of the three angelic figures, each inclined toward the other, in a silent dialogue of love. He considered their profound stillness and yet warmth and vitality. Then, we looked at the colors Andrei Rublev had chosen, though even the best reproduction can only hint at what Rublev had actually achieved, as I was to see for myself not long afterward when I first visited the Tretyakov Gallery. Henri traced the perfect circle that invisibly contained the three angels. Then he traced a cross within the circle and then the triangle it also contained. All this significant geometry reveals the icon’s theology yet none of it is heavy-handed. Then there was the table around with the three figures were placed — the Eucharistic altar with golden chalice. Above the three figures were three objects: a house with an open door, a tree, and a mountain. The doorless building is the Church. The tree is the Tree of Life and also the Life-giving Cross. The mountain is the Mount of the Beatitudes.

Henri also spoke about what the history of the icon, how Rublev had painted it as the principal icon for the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity where the body of St. Sergius of Radonezh had been placed. St. Sergius, one of Russia’s most beloved saints, was a monk and woodworker who lived in the 14th Century. He left no writings. The only word that comes down to us from St. Sergius are these: “The contemplation of the Holy Trinity destroys all enmity.” Through this icon standing a few meters from the burial place of St. Sergius, Rublev sought to provide the opportunity for the contemplation of the Holy Trinity.

It may have been from Henri that I first heard the comment of one of the martyrs of the Soviet era, the physicist, mathematician, theologian and priest, Pavel Florensky, who wrote: “Because of the absolute beauty of Rublev’s Holy Trinity icon, we know that God exists.” Henri understood this way of thinking — beauty is a witness to the existence of God. Again and again, he found in works of art doors to heaven: Rembrandt’s Prodigal Son, and many of the paintings of Van Gogh.

For Henri the Holy Trinity icon was an icon of “the house of love” — the Church as God intends it to be, the doors of which are never closed and which needs no locks. Henri linked icons with the question: “What do we really choose to see?” It is a matter of enormous importance what we look it and how we look at it. “It makes a great difference,” Henri noted, “whether we see a flower or a snake, a gentle smile or menacing teeth, a dancing couple or a hostile crowd. We do have a choice. Just as we are responsible for what we eat, so we are responsible for what we see. It is easy to become a victim of the vast array of visual stimuli surrounding us. The ‘powers and principalities’ control many of our daily images. Posters, billboards, television, videos, movies and store windows continuously assault our eyes and inscribe their images upon our memories. We do not have to be passive victims of a world that wants to entertain and distract us. We can make decisions and choices. A spiritual life in the midst of our energy-draining society requires us to take conscious steps to safeguard that inner space where we can keep our eyes fixed on the beauty of the Lord.”

Henri proposed a theology of seeing, or gazing, the verb he preferred. To really see something beautiful, such as a well-painted icon, so that its beauty becomes a sacramental reality, one has to do much more than glance. For Henri, the icon is the primary visual art of the Church — if not the door of the Church, than the window. Nor could they see it as something meaningful apart from the totality of the Church. The icon becomes a dead plant when it becomes simply a “work of art,” a “collector’s item,” an aesthetic object. For both Thomas Merton and Henri Nouwen, icons were intimately connected with Eucharistic life and daily prayer.

Like the Bible, the icon is made by the Church and guarded by the Church. The icon is a witness to the truths the Church lives by. Each icon has dogmatic content, so much so that is said to be “written,” not “painted.” For example, any icon of Christ in the arms of his mother remind us that he took flesh in the flesh of her body. Christ’s bare feet seen in the Virgin of Vladimir icon are a reminder that he was fully man, walking on the same earth as we do. Though an infant, he is shown dressed as an emperor, because in reality he continually rules the cosmos.

While I have concentrated on icons, Henri’s debt to Eastern Orthodox Christianity goes much further. He was one of the relatively few non-Orthodox readers of the Philokalia, an anthology of writings, mainly from patristic sources, whose main topic is the “Prayer of the Heart.” He would occasionally borrow a sentence from one of the authors included in the Philokalia, St. Theophane the Recluse: “Prayer is descending with the mind into your heart, and there standing before the face of the Lord, ever present, all seeing, within you.”

Henri would expound upon this theme in writing:

The great challenge is living your wounds through instead of thinking then through. It is better to cry than to worry, better to feel your wounds deeply than to understand them, better to let them enter into your silence than talk about them. The choice you face constantly is whether you are taking your wounds to your head or to your heart. In your head you can analyze them, find their causes and consequences, and coin words to speak and write about them. But no final healing is likely to come from that source. You need to let your wounds go down to your heart. Then you can live through them and discover that they will not destroy you. Your heart is greater than your wounds. [The Inner Voice of Love, p. 91]

The Prayer of the Heart is another name for the Jesus Prayer, a short prayer which centers on the name of Jesus and which is very widely used, especially in the Orthodox Church, though gradually it is becoming well known in the West as well. In its most common form, one prays: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

The connection between spiritual life and response to others was basic to Henri and the vocationally choices he made. Henri was torn between competing vocational attractions — university professor, monk, missionary, or becoming part of a community of hospitality. He fully explored each of these possibilities before finally becoming a member of the L’Arche community at Daybreak near Toronto. He, too, became a spiritual father and guide to many people.

Henri realized that the icon, far from being merely an artistic image that directs our attention away from the world we live in with all its agonies, is a school of seeing. It helps reshape the way we see and relate to other people. The icon — the Greek word for image — is a reminder that each person, no matter how damaged his life, is a bearer of God’s image and, like those whom we regard as saints, has the capacity to reclaim the lost likeness. But it is one thing to believe intellectually that, each person is made in the image of God, no less than Adam and Eve, and yet another to actively seek that image and to relate to the other in ways that bear witness to that awareness.

In Henri’s life, perhaps the most important event in the last phase of his life was his taking responsibility at Daybreak community for Adam Arnett, a young man of twenty-five who could not speak, suffered frequent epileptic seizures and was utterly dependent on help from others. Adam was a person whom many would regard as a first-class case for abortion or, having managed to be born, an excellent candidate for what is euphemistically called “mercy killing.” It was no easy thing for Henri, far from the world’s most practical or physically well coordinated person, a man who had difficulty frying an egg or operating a washing machine, to center his life on attending to Adam’s numerous practical needs. Yet Adam became both physically and spiritually a person at the center of Henri’s life, one of Henri’s most important teachers.

“His heart, so transparent, reflected for me not only his person but also the heart of the universe and, indeed, the heart of God. After my many years of studying, reflecting and teaching theology, Adam came into my life, and by his life and his heart he announced to me and summarized all I had ever learned.” [Adam, p 38]

Much of the healing that occurred in the final years of Henri’s life was Adam’s gift. Adam became in Henri’s life a living icon.

Henri Nouwen: in essence, an explorer of God’s presence in our world, a discover of icons on wood and in flesh, always trying to open his eyes just a little bit wider, always trying to become just a little less blind.

* * *
Jim Forest
Kanisstraat 5
1811 GJ Alkmaar
The Netherlands
e-mail: jhforest@cs.com
Jim & Nancy Forest web site: http://www.jimandnancyforest.com
* * *
text as of June 23, 2004
* * *

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