Orthodox Predestination – St. Symeon

The Orthodox Life

Over the past 2000 years, the Orthodox Church has granted the title of “Theologian” to only three Saints:  St. John the Apostle, St. Gregory of Nazianzen, and
St. Symeon.

St. Symeon the New Theologian was born in Galatia
in the year 949.  He was educated in Constantinople, and became abbot of the monastery of St. Mamas.
He reposed on March 12, 1022.

St. Symeon produced many writings which have been well received within the Orthodox Church. In  his second Ethical Discourse, he discusses a number of topics, including St. Paul’s doctrine of predestination:


On the Saying “Those Whom He Foreknew,
The Same He Also Predestined”

“Predestination” is an excuse for sloth: God calls everyone to repentance

I have heard many people say: “Because the Apostle says; ‘Those whom God foreknew, the same He also predestined; and those whom He predestined, He also called; and those whom He…

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Will the Spiritual Stars Disappear When Night Becomes Day?

Perhaps you saw the recent CNN report on the disappearance of darkness around the globe. For an increasing number of people, the night sky is no longer brilliantly visible. Artificial lighting has driven away the black. The stars are vanishing.

I thought of this report while reading Fr Gabriel Bunge’s book Earthen Vessel. At sunset the Desert Fathers would pray for two or so hours, then go to sleep for a few hours, awaken and spend the rest of the night in vigil, praise, and meditation. “Biblical man and the Fathers slept, certainly, like every human being,” comments Bunge, “yet for them the night was also the preferred time for prayer” (p. 79). Why preferred? Because it is in the darkness that the mind (nous) becomes most open to spiritual realities. Bunge quotes a passage from one of the letters of Barsanuphius and John:

Sleep flees from the one who, like Jacob, watches his flocks at night, and if it still takes hold of him, then this sleep is for him like waking is for someone else. The fire with which his heart burns simply does not allow him to be submerged in sleep. Indeed, he sings psalms with David: “Lighten my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death.” The one who has arrived at this degree and has tasted its sweetness understands what has been said. For such a one has not become drunk with material sleep, but only makes use of natural sleep.

St John Cassian shared with his fellow monks a story about St Anthony the Great, passed down to him by Abba Isaac:

So that you may grasp, however, what the condition of true prayer is, I will present to you, not my teaching, but that of blessed Anthony. From him we know that he sometimes continued so long in prayer that we often heard him cry out in an ardent spirit, when he prayed in ecstasy and the light of the rising sun began to pour forth: “Why do you hinder me, O sun, since you only rise this early so as to draw me away from that clarity of the true light?”

Evagrius Ponticus makes explicit the connection between nighttime and noetic illumination: “The world created in the mind seems difficult to see by day, the nous being distracted by the senses and by the sensible light that shines; but at night it can be seen, luminously imprinted at the time of prayer” (Kephalaia Gnostica V.42).

For the past nine months I have been rising early (usually between 4:30 and 5:30 a.m.) to spend time reciting the Jesus Prayer. (That I am presently doing this is hardly virtuous, given the severity of my insomnia. I might as well get up and pray as lay in bed thinking about thinking about whatever.) I find the darkness comforting. But I cannot yet testify to any special experiences of noetic illumination. A Desert Father I am not.

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Searching for Our Human Face: The Liminality of Body

Eclectic Orthodoxy

by Brian C. Moore, Ph.D.


The body of Christ is the transformative key. But let us step back for a moment and simply consider the strangeness of the body and the unique qualities of human bodies. John Milbank and Catherine Pickstock co-authored the chapter on touch in Truth in Aquinas. It is a remarkably rich reflection that in nuce indicates the altered ontological and epistemological modes of nuptial reality in the eschaton. They remark first upon the liminal nature of the human body as itself a crossing of thresholds: “what Aristotle has already discovered . . . long before Husserl and Merleau-Ponty . . . is that the body is not just another object in the world of which we are aware. . . . it is, as body, quasi-subjective, and is also the mysterious sphere of mediation between subjective and objective, psyche and hule” (p. 73). The…

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“O come, O come, Emmanuel”

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny
From depths of Hell Thy people save
And give them victory o’er the grave
Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, o Israel

O come, Thou Day-Spring
Come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight
Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, o Israel

O come, Thou Key of David, come
And open wide our heavenly home
Make safe the way that leads on high
And close the path to misery
Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, o Israel

O come, O come, Thou Lord of might
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai’s height
In ancient times did’st give the Law
In cloud, and majesty and awe
Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel

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“What do these ten lepers stand for if not the sum total of all sinners?”

“On the way to Jerusalem Jesus passed along the border between Samaria and Galilee, and when he entered one of the villages ten lepers came to meet him.”

What do these ten lepers stand for if not the sum total of all sinners? When Christ the Lord came not all men and women were leprous in body, but in soul they were, and to have a soul full of leprosy is much worse than to have a leprous body. But let us see what happened next.

“Standing a long way off they called out to him: ‘Jesus, Master, take pity on us.'”

They stood a long way off because no one in their condition dared come too close. We stand a long way off too while we continue to sin. To be restored to health and cured of the leprosy of sin, we also must cry out:” Jesus, master, take pity on us.” That cry, however, must come not from our lips but from our heart, for the cry of the heart is louder: it pierces the heavens, rising up to the very throne of God.

“When Jesus saw the lepers he told them to go and show themselves to the priests.”

God has only to look at people to be filled with compassion. He pitied these lepers as soon as he saw them, and sent them to the priests not to be cleansed by them, but to be pronounced clean.

“And as they went they were cleansed.”

Let all sinners listen to this and try to understand it. It is easy for the Lord to forgive sins. Sinners have often been forgiven before they came to a priest. In fact, their repentance and healing occur simultaneously: at the very moment of their conversion they pass from death to life. Let them understand, however, what this conversion means; let them heed the Lord’s words: “Return to me with all your heart, with fasting, weeping, and mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” To be really converted one must be converted inwardly, in one’s heart, for “a humbled, contrite heart God will not spurn.”

“One of them, when he saw that he was cured, went back again, praising God at the top of his voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. Now this man was a Samaritan.”

He stands for all those who, after their cleansing by the waters of baptism or healing by the sacrament of penance, renounce the devil and take Christ as their model, following him with praise, adoration, and thanksgiving, and nevermore abandoning his service.

“And Jesus said to him: Stand up and go on your way. Your faith has saved you.”

Great, therefore, is the power of faith. Without it, as the apostle says, “it is impossible to please God. Abraham believed God and because of this God regarded him as righteous.”

St Bruno of Segni

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Praying Out Loud: You Never Knows Who’s Listening In

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
… a time to keep silence, and a time to speak. (Eccles 3:1, 7)

For the past two weeks I have been slowly reading Earthen Vessels by Hieroschemamonk Gabriel Bunge. He is a well-known expert on the writings of Evagrius Ponticus and the Desert Fathers. He speaks with especial authority, as he has sought to understand these writings not only by close study but by living out their teachings in his own life of solitude. Bunge describes the ancient ascetical practices, in the confidence that they have much to teach us today about prayer. Thus Evagrius:

It is fitting for those who want to walk along the “way” of him who said: “I am the way and the life,” that they learn from those who previously walked along it, and converse with them about what is useful, and hear from them what is helpful, so as not to introduce anything that is foreign to our course.

This morning I read the chapter on spoken and silent prayer. When should we speak aloud to God and when should we speak silently? Prayer said aloud, if only softly (sotto voce), appears to have been the norm in the desert. This is particularly the case for the recitation of the psalms, which functioned as the backbone of the monastic rule, but also for ejaculatory prayer. Bunge tells the story of Abba Makarios the Great who daily visited a fellow monk for four months and always found him in prayer. On one occasion he stood outside the door of the monk’s cell and heard him crying to God: “Lord, do your ears not hear my crying out to you? Have mercy on me on account of my sins, for I do not grow weary of calling to you for help.” Bunge comments:

Such a direct expression of emotions might seem strange to modern man, as something not at all in keeping with his ideas of “prayer” and meditation”. And yet the spiritual Fathers–including those in the Christian East down to this day–teach that one should recite even the prayer of the heart in an undertone, at least at the beginning and for a certain time, that is, until it has become truly united with one’s heartbeat. For they knew that this, as in the case of reading or “meditating” in an undertone, is an excellent means of bringing distractions under control, which are otherwise so difficult to overcome. … Hearing one’s own voice makes it easier to concentrate on the words of Scripture, of the psalms, or of the prayer, just as the beads of the rosary slipping through the fingers, in another way, focus the attention. (p. 125)

Ah … distractions–I know them well! How the mind loves to wander. But yes, the verbalization of prayer does help. Even so … my mind wanders. My lips are praying and my mind is thinking about the Redskins and what they should do next season about Kirk Cousin’s contract. My guess: they will put the transition tag on him. Oh … there it goes wandering again.

But there are also good reasons, the Fathers taught, not to pray aloud. Did not our Lord warn us against seeking to impress others by our piety (Matt 6:5-6)? Yet whether spoken aloud or silently, God hears our prayers, as St Epiphanius of Salamis explains: “The Canaanite woman cried out and was heard, and the woman with the hemorrhage remained silent and was called blessed. The Pharisee called [in an audible voice] and was condemned, while the tax collector did not even open his mouth and was heard.”

Bunge then mentions another reason in favor of vocal prayer, one of which I had never given any thought: “God is not the only one to hear the voice of the person praying; the demons hear it, too!” (p. 128). Elder John was asked the question “When I pray or recite the Psalms, I do not understand the meaning of the words on account of the hardness of my heart. Of what benefit are they to me?” He replied:

Even if you do not understand the meaning of the words, yet the demons understand it and hear it and tremble at it. Therefore, do not cease reciting the Psalms and praying; and gradually, God will soften the hardness. (Letters From the Desert,  p. 185)

The demons do not enjoy hearing the praise of God. They do not like being reminded of God’s redemptive acts on behalf of Israel. But particularly, they hate the psalmodic curses! Bunge elaborates:

The demons are reduced to “trembling”especially by those psalm verses that speak about the “enemies” and their destruction by the Lord, for example, all of the “imprecatory psalms” that present such great difficulties for modern sensibilities, because their cursing seems to be irreconcilable with the spirit of the gospel. The Fathers, who were well aware “that the just man is not cursing but praying” [Evagrius], spiritualized these texts as a matter of course and related them to the “enemies” of the human race par excellence, the demons. The latter understood this quite well and fear it. (p. 129)

All who pray the Psalter as part of the Divine Office are forced to come to grips with the Psalms of Imprecation. Who can forget these verses?

Make them bear their guilt, O God; let them fall by their own counsels; because of the abundance of their transgressions cast them out, for they have rebelled against you. (Ps 5:10)

Let them be put to shame and dishonor who seek after my life! Let them be turned back and disappointed who devise evil against me! Let them be like chaff before the wind, with the angel of the Lord driving them away! Let their way be dark and slippery, with the angel of the Lord pursuing them! For without cause they hid their net for me; without cause they dug a pit for my life. Let destruction come upon him when he does not know it! And let the net that he hid ensnare him; let him fall into it–to his destruction! (Ps 35:4-8)

Let those be put to shame and disappointed altogether who seek to snatch away my life; let those be turned back and brought to dishonor who desire my hurt! Let those be appalled because of their shame who say to me, “Aha, Aha!” (Ps 40:14-15)

Pour out your anger on the nations that do not know you, and on the kingdoms that do not call upon your name!” (Ps 79:6)

Remember, O Lord, against the E′domites the day of Jerusalem, how they said, “Raze it, raze it! Down to its foundations!” O daughter of Babylon, you devastator! Happy shall he be who requites you with what you have done to us! Happy shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock! (Ps 137:7-9)

How do we pray these words when our Lord teaches us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matt 5:44)? We may do so, suggests Bunge, only if we understand their inspired intent—execrations against the supernatural forces that seek to alienate us from the living God. These are the words the demons fear to hear. Evagrius thus counsels us to employ them when we find ourselves severely tempted:

Do not pray, when you are being tempted, until you have said a few words in anger against the one who is oppressing you. Because your soul has been assailed by thoughts, it follows that your prayer, too, is not pure when it is offered. Nevertheless, if in fury you say something against them, you thwart and destroy the mental images of the adversary. Indeed, anger usually has this effect even upon good mental images.

I admit that I have never used the biblical curses in this way, perhaps because I typically think of temptation as rising from the depths of my heart, rather than as an external power invading my heart. Evagrius wrote at some length about all of this (see Talking Back).

The demons hear our audible prayers. How they “hear” them I do not know. Yet the demons do not, the desert elders assure us, hear our unspoken thoughts. The inner sanctum of personal being is closed to them. For this reason, counsels St John Cassian, we should communicate our most intimate and important petitions to God in silence:

We pray “in secret” when we make our petitions known to God alone in our heart and with a watchful mind, in such manner that the hostile powers cannot even tell what sort of petition it is. Therefore one should pray in the most profound silence, not only so as to avoid distracting the brothers around us by our whispering and calling, or disturbing the sentiments of those who are at prayer, but also so that the purpose of our petition might remain hidden from our enemies themselves, who lie in wait for us especially when we pray. In this way, then, we fulfill the commandment: “Guard the doors of your mouth from her who lies in your bosom.”

By our silence we keep our enemies ignorant of our deepest desires, hopes, and fears. Why give them any more ammunition?

“The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist” ~ The Usual Suspects.

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I blog–therefore I am?

Folks may have noticed that I have been blogging less over the past year than in previous years. The change is easy to explain. I have been reading challenging material (like Aquinas and Bonaventure) that really is beyond my training, capabilities, and competence. And because it is new and difficult, it takes me considerably longer to read and assimilate (to the extent I can assimilate it)–and even longer to write about. Four years ago I could pump out a new article every few days. Today it takes me one or two weeks.

There is also another difficulty: my brain does not work nearly as well as it used to. My intelligent days seem to be gone. Today I sit down to read and do not remember what I have read, and so have to read and reread the same material over and over. Even then comprehension of the material may not be achieved. My doctor assures me that this is not uncommon for a man in his mid-sixties, but it’s still worrisome. I fear the onset of dementia. I have dozens and dozens of unread books in my library. I hate to think they will remain unread because of the loss of mental ability. Getting old is a bitch. Where are those darn car keys?

I do not know what the future of Eclectic Orthodoxy may be. I know that the blog is attracting less people than it once did. This may suggest that readers are not interested in the topics I am now writing on. It may suggest that readers have noticed the deterioration in the quality of my writing. It doesn’t really matter. I blog principally for my own benefit. I write to try to understand what I have read. If others find my articles interesting and helpful, well and good; if not, well and good. That probably means that I will continue to blog into 2018 but at a slower pace.

There was a time when I enjoyed theological and ecclesiastical debate. Today it interests me very little. The contention disturbs my equanmity. Since the death of my son, I find that I am shedding my opinions on a whole host of matters. Most of my opinions are grounded in bias and prejudice, and if I am honest, they always have been. They ain’t worth arguing about and certainly not worth defending. I am an ignorant man. Today I think of opinions–my opinions, your opinions–as rooted in passion and disordered desire. They do not draw me closer to God, and they certainly do not help my fellow man. Do I really need to trumpet my views on the political, cultural, ecclesiastical, and moral issues of the day, especially when I am uninformed about most of them and will likely never know what I am talking about? Is the world made a better place by me tweeting my ignorance? Is democracy strengthened or undermined by all the strident opining? Do your opinions become better informed having been informed by mine? As Dirty Harry quipped: “Opinions are like ass-holes. Everybody has one.” Of course, that’s just my opinion.

I am finding that at this point of my life I want to read more fiction. I want to reread the Iliad. Yes, I’ve already read it at least five times, but I want to read it yet again. Perhaps this time I can persuade Hector not to wait for Achilles outside the gates of Troy. I want to reread the Silmarilion. I want to read and reread the fantasy fiction of George MacDonald (Phantastes is next up). I want to read at least one William Faulkner novel. I read some Faulkner back in my college days. I didn’t really enjoy him then. Perhaps I wasn’t mature enough. Perhaps it was all the reefer I was smoking. Regardless, I want to revisit Yoknapatawpha County. I want to read a novel or two by Walker Percy. God willing, I will definitely read Dante’s Paradiso. I tried once and quickly gave up. This time, though, I’m going to have a commentary at hand. And of course, there is still Moby DickI have tried to tackle it twice in the past five years. Each time I found it impossible. Perhaps that simply means it will always be beyond my sympathies. “Towards thee I roll, thou all-destroying but unconquering whale; to the last I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee.” Needless to say, the more time I spend reading fiction, the less time I’ll have for blogging.

Yet as blogging becomes more difficult for me, my prayer life is changing, for the better …

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