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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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Wednesday, 11 May 2016

PASCHA IN THE EAST AND IN THE WEST by METROPOLITAN HIEROTHEOS (VLACHOS) | 05 MAY 2016 ( and MY REPLY)




If you have read other posts in this blog on Pascha, many wonderful articles and homilies by Orthodox priests that I have published so that I could share them with my Latin brethren and others by Catholics on the same theme to be shared with my Orthodox brethren, if you have read them attentively, you will have come to the conclusion that Metropolitan Hierotheos is wrong in his main thesis.  I will not accuse him of lying, because that would imply his will to deceive; but he reads Orthodox articles from within, because he is Orthodox, and he reads Catholic texts from without, indeed, he reads them with the intention of proving that Catholics are wrong.  When taking the texts out of a Catholic environment and commenting on them in an Orthodox environment, this becomes an easy task, but he does not notice that, in doing so, he falsifies the Catholic intentions, motives and spirituality, and ends up by writing nonsense.

I first read his point of view in Vladimir Lossky's "Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church"; and I asked a knowledgeable Archimandrite why Lossky was so profound when expounding Orthodox theology and so silly when expounding Catholic theology.  The Archimandrite told me that Lossky had to write like that because, if he didn't distance himself from Catholicism, Orthodox readers wouldn't read him: they suspected him of being infected by Catholicism by the mere fact that he lived and wrote in Catholic France.  Xenophobia lives!!   For some Orthodox, xenophobia has become almost an article of faith.

Like any good untruth, this commonly held Orthodox opinion has a basis in fact, in truth but not the whole truth.   In this post, I shall first give you the Orthodox article in its entirety and then follow it with my own essay, "The Catholic Church is the Church of the Resurrection Too", in which I shall try to restore the balance that the Orthodox article lacks.  

Of course it is not the only Orthodox view - Orthodoxy, like Catholicism, is not monolithic - and there are some Orthodox viewpoints which demand the utmost respect, though not necessarily our complete agreement, because they reflect a profound acquaintance with Christian Tradition and can, therefore, teach us much.  However, we are here dealing Metropolitan Hierotheos' attempt and we will try to do him justice.

PASCHA IN EAST AND WEST
by  METROPOLITAN HIEROTHEOS (VLACHOS)
my source: Pravmir.com
The Orthodox Church is the Church of the Resurrection, because it gives prominence to Christ’s victory over death. Pascha is the overcoming of death, the passage of the Word to the human heart and not the reduction of the heart to human reason and senses. When one examines the “ethos” of Orthodoxy, one finds that it confers the “spirit” and life that comes out of the Tomb: the “life in the tomb” as the hymns say. It is a blaze of light and the ecstasy of life. This is where the difference between western Christianity and the Orthodox Church can be seen:

Saint Francis, in Kazantzakis’ biography, reaches the highest degree of the spiritual life by feeling “God crucified” in his body. He said of this: “It is a cross, Brother Leone, man’s body is a cross – open your arms and you will see, God is crucified upon it”. And he prayed, “My Christ, my love, I ask one favour of you, one favour for me before I die – that I may feel in my body and soul, as far as possible, Your pain and Your Holy passion…” He reached the point of seeing the wounds of the Cross on his body, and when he asked for another, greater, experience, he heard a divine voice saying: “Do not ask for more; this is where man’s ascent ends – at the Crucifixion!”


On the other hand, the Orthodox saint, St. Silouan the Athonite, saw the Resurrected Christ and experienced Pascha within his being and within creation. Following the vision of Christ resurrected he said: “I was living in a paschal feast. Everything was beautiful; the world was grand, people were pleasing, nature was unspeakably lovely, the body changed and became light, strength was added… the soul overflowed with joy; it had compassion on people and prayed for the whole world.”

This difference between Western and Eastern thinking is seen in the difference between Jean-Paul Sartre and St. Seraphim of Sarov. The former (Sartre), disillusioned by western Christianity said: “The other is my hell!”. The latter (St Seraphim of Sarov) addressed everyone who met him with the greeting: “Christ is Risen, my joy”. Each and every ‘other’ is not ‘different’ a ‘stranger’ a ‘foreigner’, but a brother. The experience of the Resurrection overcomes death, neutralises selfishness, and abolishes Hades. Otherwise, man is enclosed in his own personal hell.

In celebrating “our Pascha” as “the feast of feasts” and as “the death of death, the first-fruits of another life that is eternal” we feel within ourselves and around ourselves the scent of spiritual death, of life that is before the Resurrection of Christ. We live this biological life simply for survival, but, indeed, as yet mortal. We chant “Christ is Risen!”, we celebrate on the outside, but the bitterness of Hades rules within us, often even in church life. The remembrance of death is bitter, so too is the pain of loneliness. These poisonous constraints, even in the field of Christianity are bitter; even in the Church itself, which continues to be the Church of the Resurrection and to preach the mystery of the Resurrection.

It is of course our various passions that keep us away from the existential festival of life. Various pressures also make Church life feel different from this. Christians divided by various political considerations, the Orthodox with various rivalries between themselves; these do not remind us of the Resurrected Christ at all.

So, the crucifixion of the Orthodox Church continues. The wounds of the Cross of the Church in Jerusalem, from its internal weaknesses and external influences blacken the “Holy Fire” that comes from the Sepulchre of Christ. The political opportunism, the nationalistic racists with their all too human passions do not allow the joy of the Resurrection to shine out as light to the people round about.

The domineering powers that can be seen in all Christian confessions drain away the “Joy to all”, the “Peace unto you”, the “be of good cheer”, because they are ruled by other alien powers, foreign to the “spirit” of the Resurrected Christ. Unfortunately, politics, often in ecclesiastical dress, are the nails of the crucified Church, the bride of the Resurrected Christ together with the worldly-led pressures that take place in the name of the term “mother Church”…….

Our Pascha, as the victory over death and the experience of life, is lived out today despite these secular-minded powers and tendencies. It is experienced by those who live humbly and existentially within the sphere of the Church, away from secularisation, racism and political considerations and can be clearly seen in the relics of saints.

Normally, the bodies of those saints that have fallen asleep, which are a just mass of cells, within which are included the cells for ageing, should rot away. However, the power and grace of the Resurrection does not let them break up; something which proves they have overcome death. The saint is a person who is asleep awaiting the last wake up call.

This then is our Pascha, as a mystery of the Resurrection, and not as a Christianity of religiosity with the passions of the love of precedence, of division and of rivalry. ‘Our Pascha’ cannot be replaced by ‘our Religion’, which lives under the rule of death. The Resurrected Christ cannot be made up out of the political expressions of Christianity and the power of the Resurrection cannot fit within the so-called “Christian States”. It is experienced in a life beyond the imagination, thinking and speaking; transfigured by Divine Light, with a loving desire for God and with humility.


THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IS THE CHURCH OF THE RESURRECTION TOO!
And I saw in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, a Lamb standing as having been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God having been sent out into all the earth. (Apoc. 5,6)

The first thing to stress is that, for the Catholic Church as well as for the Orthodox Church, it is impossible to separate the passion and death of Jesus from his resurrection.   They are not two opposites. We cannot share in one without the other.  Though separated from each other in historical time, they become one single reality in Christ. Jesus is the "lamb standing as having been slain."   Sorrow and joy come together in any single experience of the cross.  Father Alexander Schmemann called it "joyful sorrow", and it is in this way that St Bonaventure describes the experience of St Francis:
When, therefore, by seraphic glow of longing he had been uplifted toward God, and by his sweet compassion had been transformed into the likeness of Him Who of His exceeding love endured to be crucified,—on a certain morning about the Feast of the Exaltation of Holy Cross, while he was praying on the side of the mountain, he beheld a Seraph having six wings, flaming and resplendent, coming down from the heights of heaven. When in his flight most swift he had reached the space of air nigh the man of God, there appeared betwixt the wings the Figure of a Man crucified, having his hands and feet stretched forth in the shape of a Cross, and fastened unto a Cross. Two wings were raised above His head, twain were spread forth to fly, while twain hid His whole body. Beholding this, Francis was mightily astonied, and joy, mingled with sorrow, filled his heart. He rejoiced at the gracious aspect wherewith he saw Christ, under the guise of the Seraph, regard him, but His crucifixion pierced his soul with a sword of pitying grief. He marvelled exceedingly at the appearance of a vision so unfathomable, knowing that the infirmity of the Passion doth in no wise accord with the immortality of a Seraphic spirit. At length he understood therefrom, the Lord revealing it unto him, that this vision had been thus presented unto his gaze by the divine providence, that the friend of Christ might have foreknowledge that he was to be wholly transformed into the likeness of Christ Crucified, not by martyrdom of body, but by enkindling of heart. Accordingly, as the vision disappeared, it left in his heart a wondrous glow, but on his flesh also it imprinted a no less wondrous likeness of its tokens.

The stigmata of St Francis cannot be contrasted to the transforming light of St Seraphim of Sarov because the theme of light is also present in the Franciscan story. Besides the Seraph-Christ who was all aflame, in another contemporary account, Brother Leo was charged with bringing food and water to his hermitage.   
Each time Leo came back, after bringing him some food, they went and stood around him, questioning him with the look in their eyes.
"Beautiful--beautiful!" he would whisper. "He kneels there in a heavenly light and talks out loud, but I don't dare listen. I have to struggle not to listen. He is so absorbed in prayer that he does not even hear me."

Now let us put the quotation from St Francis in context.   Firstly, over against Lossky's assertion about stigmata, it is not true, it is utterly false that stigmata are a normal phenomenon in Catholic spiritual life.   In fact, St Bonaventure and other Franciscan apologists claimed that what happened to St Francis was for the very first time in Christian history, and many of them linked St Francis' stigmata with an apocalyptic prophecy about the rise of the mendicant orders in the Church.  There were copycat occurences aftwards, but, on the whole, the Church took no notice of them.  Even now, with St Padre Pio and Marthe Robin, the stigmata have been an obstacle to canonization rather than a help: the person with a stigmata is guilty until proved innocent of having a spirituality centred on experiences rather than on an ever more faithful obedience to the will of God.  This would be a neurotic, inauthentic spirituality.  There must be very hard evidence in favour of a heroic life and prayer of charity and humble obedience to balance the evidence of stigmata: only then can stigmata be found worthy of acceptance.  St Bonaventure says in the Life of St Francis that obedience to the will of God is his underlying disposition, and the Church agreed with him.   However, in spite of the stigmata, the most obvious characteristic of St Francis is joy, and everything and everyone was his brother or sister.

Of course, to know this, you have to read the sources with an open mind, and this is beyond the capacity of the Metropolitan.  They are readily available on the internet, so there is no excuse nowadays.

The context of St Francis' words quoted by the Metropolitan is the saint's desire for martyrdom.  Early on in the story, a small group of his followers travelled to the Middle East to preach the Gospel to Muslims with the object of converting some and then being put to death as martyrs.   The stayed in a monastery of canons regular in Lisbon where the guestmaster called Fernando Martins who was also a very well known preacher and theologian at the university.  He was so impressed by their dedication and their joy, even the joy of being martyred, that he decided to become one of St Francis' disciples: he set off for Italy by foot while the brothers went to the Holy Land to become the first Franciscan martyrs.  In Italy, he went to Padua and changed his name to Anthony.  He had a life-long desire to become a martyr in the Holy Land, but obedience always moved him in other directions.

Francis tried, more than once - I think three times - to preach to the Muslims and managed to get to Syria and was brought before the Sultan of Babylon.
7. Howbeit his glowing charity urged his spirit on unto martyrdom, and yet a third time he essayed to set forth toward the infidels, that by the shedding of his blood the Faith of the Trinity might be spread abroad. Thus in the thirteenth year of his conversion he set forth for the regions of Syria, continually exposing himself unto many perils that so he might win entrance into the presence of the Soldan of Babylon. For at that time there was relentless war between the Christians and the Saracens, and the camps of both armies were pitched each over against the other in the plain, so that none might pass from one unto the other without peril of death. Moreover, a cruel edict had gone forth from the Soldan that any who should bring the head of a Christian should receive a gold bezant as reward. Nevertheless, the undaunted soldier of Christ, Francis, hoping that he was shortly about to gain his end, determined to continue on his way, not dismayed by the fear of death, but urged on by his yearning therefor. And as he prepared himself by prayer, he was strengthened of the Lord, and boldly chanted that verse of the Prophet: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.’’....... For, as the Soldan beheld the marvellous fervour of spirit and valour of the man of God, he heard him gladly and did right earnestly invite him to tarry with him. Then the servant of Christ, taught by the heavenly counsel, said: “If thou, together with thy people, wilt be converted unto Christ, for the love of Him I will right gladly tarry among you. But if thou art hesitating whether to give up the law of Mahomet for the faith of Christ, do thou command that a great fire be kindled and I will enter the fire with thy priests, that even thus thou mayest learn which faith is the surer, and holier, and most worthy of being held. Unto whom the Soldan made answer: “ I do not believe that any of my priests would be ready to expose himself unto the fire in defence of his faith, or to undergo any sort of torture.” For he had seen that, so soon as mention of this was made, one of his priests, an aged man and one in authority, had fled from his presence. Unto whom the holy man replied: “ If thou wilt promise me, on behalf of thyself and thy people, that thou wilt embrace the faith of Christ, if I come forth from the fire unscathed, I will enter the fire alone; if I am burned, let it be set down unto my sins, but if the divine might protect me, ye shall know that Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God, is the true God and the Lord and Saviour of all.” Howbeit, the Soldan replied that he dare not accede unto this proposition, for that he feared a revolt of his people. But he offered him many costly gifts, all of which the man of God, hungering, not for worldly goods, but for the salvation of souls, contemned like mire. The Soldan, perceiving the holy man to be so absolute a despiser of worldly things, was moved with amazement and conceived a greater devotion for him. And, albeit he would not, or perchance dared not, go over unto the Christian faith, he did nevertheless devoutly pray the servant of Christ to receive the gifts aforesaid, for his own salvation, and to bestow them upon Christian poor folk, or on churches. But Francis, for that he shunned the burden of money, and could not see in the soul of the Soldan any root of true piety, would not agree thereunto.

So he returned home disappointed that he could neither convert the Sultan nor become a martyr.  Man proposes, but God disposes.

When St Francis ascended Mount Alverna, he probably believed himself to be a complete failure.   Many of the ecclesiastical authories were against him and his movement; he had tried to renew the Church with people who lived the Gospel to the full. but they were  at sixes and sevens, quarrelling among themselves, some were fanatical and others lax, and even St Anthony of Padua wanted to introduce courses of theological studies among his disciples against the will of St Francis; perhaps, most of all, his desire for martyrdom had been thwarted.  He was at his lowest when he saw the seraphim approaching.

St Francis wanted martyrdom, not just an inward transformation, when he asked, and he was told that he had received the maximum in line with his vocation.   He was not rejecting experience of the resurrection, as the metropolitan implied, because for him the cross and resurrection are not distinct realities as the metropolitan seems to think.  He was not expecting any experience short of union with Christ.  If you complain about his urge to suffer martyrdom, he was only doing what St Ignatius of Antioch did when he asked the Roman Christians not to use their influence to help him escape execution.

I have thoroughly enjoyed the novels of Kazantzakis though I haven't read the one on St Francis of Assisi.  However, if Metropolitan Hierotheos really wanted to be either fair or prudent, he would have read the biography of St Francis by G.K. Chesterton. [a video reading of it is below, after this post.]   Kazantzakis, partly Christian, partly Buddhist, is not as likely as Chesterton to  understand the holiness of St Francis; but I don't think the Greek metropolitan wants to understand the holiness of St Francis.

the cross of st Damian
Actually, St Francis is much closer to St Seraphim of Sarov than the metropolitan realises.  Both are charged with the task of building the Church, Christ speaking through the crucifix of St Damian to St Francis, and through Grisha the Fool to St Seraphim; both are bathed with light on occasion in prayer; both are ascetic; both have charismatic gifts of prophesy and healing; and both were transformed by grace and were agents used by God to change others; and both left their mark on their respective churches; and both had joy as their chief and most obvious characteristic.  (Please listen to the first video by the Orthodox Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh).

We now reach that part in Metropolitan Hierotheos' post when he shows how little he knows about Catholicism.  He quotes Jean Paul Sartre as a spokesman for the West.   Sartre, he said, rejected western Christianity when, in reality, he rejected all Christianity: he was an atheist.  Has the archbishop run out of Catholics to quote?   What if I were to quote Stalin who had been an Orthodox seminarian in his youth and, therefore, had rejected Orthodoxy, and if I were then to use him as a spokesman for Russian Orthodoxy, would you not consider me mad? Metropolitan Hierotheos writes:
This difference between Western and Eastern thinking is seen in the difference between Jean-Paul Sartre and St. Seraphim of Sarov. The former (Sartre), disillusioned by western Christianity said: “The other is my hell!”. The latter (St Seraphim of Sarov) addressed everyone who met him with the greeting: “Christ is Risen, my joy”.I would suggest the good archbishop should read the "Canticle of the Sun" by St Francis. 
Do western Christians say, "The other is my hell."? Really?  Is that the attitude of Pope Francis, or of the other popes before him?  Of Patriarch Kirill and Francis when they met?   Was it the attitude of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, or of Dorothy Day?   How does this bishop know about western Christians when he can find only Sartre to represent us?  And if he doesn't know, why  does he not have the humility to realise this and the charity to shut up?

There is an ecclesial disease which has infected all our churches at some time or other: it is the spirit of schism.  It is present when ideas and attitudes, formed in times of hatred become hardened and institutionalised so that they are thoughtlessly believed in and repeated by even normally charitable people, in spite of the fact that there is very little evidence to back them up. It is a spirit born of ignorance; it is the spirit of division; and the word "devil" comes from a verb which means "to divide" or "to scatter.  That is not to say that when these opinions are repeated those who repeat them are schismatics or possessed; only that when they are repeated, the devil is very pleased because those who repeat them are doing the devil's work, even when they are Orthodox metropolitans, and good ones at that!

Of course, if you hold the theory that the Orthodox Church is the only one with sacraments that work and that there is no grace beyond the borders of Orthodoxy, then you have to ignore evidence of actual Christianity on the ground because the theory is supported neither by history nor by real acquaintance with contemporary Christianity. 

 The only excuse that the abbots of Mount Athos have for holding such ideas is their separation from the objects of their criticism; but it would be hard to continue to support such a thesis if you live in Atlanta!!   (You must listen to the tape of Metropolitan Anthony Bloom.)

I have no real quarrel with the rest of the article except, perhaps, the tone: it is far too pessimistic and over critical.  It needs to be shot through with the spirit of St Silouan the Athonite or, perhaps, of St Francis of Assisi.
Christ is Risen!
He is Risen indeed!
It is not surprising that the world is sinful: that is obvious.  The surprising thing is that God loves it with an infinite love, so that grace is everywhere and can be found in surprising places. Hence, let us rejoice , whoever and wherever we are, and sing with paschal joy.
Orthodox, Catholics and Anglicans
celebrate Easter

METROPOLITAN ANTHONY BLOOM (ORTHODOX) ON THE DIVIDEDNESS OF
CHRISTIANITY 

CHESTERTON'S WHOLE WORK ON ST FRANCIS
AN EXCELLENT COMMENTARY 
  
ST FRANCIS IN HIS OWN WORDS




PREVIOUS POSTS FOR
ORTHODOX PASCHA
2016

THE SOULS OF ALL ARE A FLAME
Orthodox Pascha in Dachau 1945

FROM GOOD FRIDAY TO PASCHA

CONTINUING TO CELEBRATE EASTER
Father Alexander Men and
Father Georges Florovsky

ANGLICAN EASTER TRIDUUM
CAMBRIDGE


Pope Francis tells another pope, Tawadros II: 'we have a common witness'
Peter Kenny|Tuesday, May 10 2016
my source: Ecumenical News
(Photo: © Peter Williams / WCC)Pope Tawadros II, patriarch of the See of St. Mark and leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church visited to the World Council of Churches on Sept. 1 2014.)


Pope Francis has sent a message to another pope, Tawadros II to mark the "day of friendship" between Catholics and the Coptic Orthodox, noting that churches face current challenges, particularly in the Middle East, where Christians continue to face daily persecution.
"Though we are still journeying towards the day when we will gather as one at the same eucharistic table, we are able even now to make visible the communion uniting us," Pope Francis said in his May 10 letter to Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria, leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church.
May 10 marks the anniversary of the first meeting between Pope Paul VI, the Bishop of Rome, and the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, Pope Shenouda III, which took place 43 years ago.
In 2016, on the Day of Friendship between Copts and Catholics, Pope Francis wrote to Tawadros II, Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of Saint Mark, to commemorate the occasion.
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Like the Bishop of Rome, the Coptic Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria is known as "Pope" to his followers.
The Coptic Orthdox Church is an Oriental Orthodox Church and is a member of the World Council of Churches that brings together more than 550 million mainly, Anglican, Orthodox and Protestant Christians.
Pope Francis' message marked the third anniversary of his meeting with Tawadros in Rome; the day has become an annual celebration of fraternal love between the Catholic and Coptic Orthodox Churches.
"Copts and Catholics can witness together to important values such as the holiness and dignity of every human life, the sanctity of marriage and family life, and respect for the creation entrusted to us by God," Pope Francis wrote.
By learning to "bear each other's burdens and to exchange the rich patrimony of our respective traditions," he continued, "then we will see more clearly that what unites us is greater than what divides us."
The Coptic Orthodox Church is an Oriental Orthodox Church and is a member of the World Council of Churches that brings together more than 550 million Christians from mainly Anglican, Orthodox and Protestant traditions
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