Friday, December 27, 2013

Theosis: A Path of Purging, Praxis, and Pondering


Hello all! I recently wrote this paper for an History/Literature/Theology (Omnibus) class and want to share it!  Please remember, the terms--especially the Eastern Orthodox ones--are being used vaguely and broadly for the purpose of the assignment (which was to discuss sanctification from a biblical, historical, and literary perspective, with a special focus on the current book we were reading: The Divine Comedy--all under a 2,000 word limit).  To gain a fitting and respectful understanding of Praxis, Theoria, Theosis and the Nous requires more in-depth study, explanation and application--a lifetime, really.  So, I highly recommend reading some of the links in my bibliography for further pursuit of the terms, as I was not able to expand on them in this paper. 

(Icon of The Theotokos of the Unburnt Bush, "Dante Following Virgil Up the Mountain" Gustave Dore, Superman Emblem, Illustration from Pilgrim's Progress) 

Theosis: A Path of Purging, Praxis, and Pondering 
It is said that you become most like the five people with whom you spend a majority of your time.  Why is this?  Humans were never created to be alone.  They only know themselves in the eyes of another—shaped by the people with whom they commune. In the same way, Christianity is not a religion of individuals.  Instead, Christians understand themselves as incomplete if they do not know themselves in the eyes of their Savior and the Church (His Body).  To become Christ-like is to keep company with Him and His Church--it is to gain a knowledge ofwho He is (theoria) and dedicate time and energy towards Him (praxis) in order to achieve union with Him (theosis).  The possibility of achieving theosis is distinctly possible for anyone since God’s Grace and Mercy pours in abundance over the world (John 12:32).  History and literature swell with stories of people moving towards perfection (wholeness) by achieving a personal knowledge of Christ through practice and work.  The Divine Comedy, Dante Alighieri’s magnum opus, is an example of one of these stories as it explores the concept of unification with the Lord through faithful practice and divine contemplation.  Praxis, for example, is union with God through not only faith, but the correct practice of faith, since as St. Maximus the Confessor once said, “Theology without action is the theology of demons."  Theoria, on the other hand, is a spiritual contemplation and knowledge of the divine which is not limited to merely the mind (gnosis), but extends throughout the entire person.  Dante indirectly examines these two terms and their relationship to becoming more Christ-like throughout his cantos.  His work, along with illustrations from the Bible, history and culture, show that unification with God (theosis), through the purging of sin utilizing praxis and theoria, is the natural purpose of man.
The Purge and the Dance--
Dante succinctly opens the second book of his Divine Comedy, Purgatorio, by saying, “I shall sing about that second realm where man’s soul goes to purify itself and become worthy to ascend to Heaven” (Dante 1).  Here, he sets the theme for the rest of the book—the theme of struggling and wrestling with one’s sins in the process of drawing closer to God.  Throughout the entirety of purgatory, the souls within work towards the purging of their sins through not only faithful action (praxis), but divine contemplation (theoria).  The top seven terraces especially demonstrate this as their occupants experience a physical catharsis through the presence of a whip of virtue (the Holy Virgin as chastity in the 7th terrace) and a bridle of sin (Pasipahe and the bull as lust in the same terrace).  However, they also experience something which is somewhat equivalent to theoria through their benedictions and prayers (such as “Blessed are the pure in heart”).  Although each canto and terrace within Purgatorio can serve as an example of sanctification through praxis and theoria, the 7th terrace is especially applicable.  In it, the spirits walk in flames.  They “must burn within the fire: the cure of flames, the diet of the hymns—with these the last of all their wounds is healed” (273, Canto V). 
Like the rest of the souls in purgatory, these souls must exert diligence in order to progress.  2 Peter 1:5-8 expands on this image of “diligence” in the midst of struggle and praxis towards unification with God.

“Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

This passage is often associated with dancing—a step by step flow of movement to create a work of art.  In the same way, Christians, struggle by struggle, action by action, work towards theosis--the completed work of human potential and purpose.  Achieving the qualities Peter mentions, ushers in a theoria—a true knowledge—of Christ.  Similarly, the souls in purgatory climb a ladder, virtue by virtue, quality by quality, to attain that knowledge and union in Paradisio. 
John Bunyan, a 15th century version of Dante, composed his own Christian “comedy” about a pilgrim as well: Pilgrim’s Progress.  The very title gives evidence of its purpose—that is, to demonstrate the Christian life as a path of purification and unification with the Lord.  One passage from the work is particularly relevant to 2 Peter 1:5-8 as well as the seventh terrace: 

“. . .The Interpreter took Christian by the hand and led him into a place where was a fire burning against a wall, and one standing by it, always casting much water upon it, to quench it; yet did the fire burn higher and hotter” (Bunyan 128-9)

Christian, after seeing this, queries what the vision means.  The interpreter explains to him that another man stands opposite the wall he sees pouring oil into the fire to nourish it.  This portrays the attacks of the devil on the fire of faith and Christ’s abundance of Grace to strengthen and nurture the struggling Christian in his path.  However, the fire represents not only zeal of faith, but a purging of the soul.  As fire removes dross from the silver to purify it (Isaiah 1:25), so is the human soul purged through praxis, theoria and Grace.  From here, a parallel can be drawn to the Theotokos, who is considered an icon of the burning bush from Exodus.  She contained “Fire” (Heb. 12:29) and yet she was not consumed, since she was pure.  Given this, it is of no surprise that the Virgin Mary is the “whip” of terrace seven—the terrace of fire.  In the same way, praxis and theoria are the fires which burn away the dross of our hearts, purging us so that we, too, can be pure and attain unification with God.
Simulacra and Divine Contemplation-- 
Canto XXX in the Divine Comedy is especially important to understanding theoria.  In it, the pilgrim Dante is reunited with Beatrice only to receive a stern reproof from her concerning howhe has spent his life and what he has contemplated in that life.  He “wandered from the path that leads to truth, pursuing simulacra of the good, which promise more than they can ever give” (325).  “Simulacra” is a key term in this excerpt.  Coming from the singular Latin word “simulacrum,” simulacra can be simply translated as “likenesses,” “similarities,” or even “simulations.”  However, throughout the centuries it has gained a much darker connotation.  A simulacrum of something is a faulty portrayal or misrepresentation of that thing.  In essence, a simulacrum is the opposite of an “icon.”  It is the clouding of clear vision and the distortion of the truth.  In many ways, it is detrimental to attaining theoria, which requires clear vision of truth for divine contemplation.
In this case, it is important to recognize simulacra in the world and to detach from it, to block it, to avoid it at all costs.  To be “in the world,” but not “of the world” is to move away from the simulacra—the faulty portrayals—of truth.  Romans 12:1-2 is a call to renewing the mind towards its proper focus, away from the distortions of the world:

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. . .”

Through this verse, St. Paul implores the Christians in Rome to attain theoria by presenting themselves as sacrifices for spiritual service (praxis) and to transform their minds (theoria)—looking outside of this world, yet remaining in it.  However, the word for “mind” in this verse does not mean the pithy organ that resides in the human skull.  Instead, it comes from the word “nous,” a word that cannot be translated into simply one English expression.  When St. Paul says, “I desire to speak five words with my mind so that I may instruct others also, rather than ten thousand words in a tongue.” (1 Cor. 14:19), the word for “mind” is “nous.”  In other words, it is the core of man’s existence.  It is the “energy of the soul” and when it “enters the heart and acts within it, there exists a unity” within the soul (Metr. Nafpaktos 35).  This is the part of the man in which theoria must be attained.  Grasping theoria within the nous affects the rest of the man, giving life and revealing truth through divine contemplation.  Beatrice criticizes Dante for not focusing on his “nous” and thus being distracted by the simulacra of the world--being in the worldand of it.    
A modern example of learning to block simulacra can be found in the recent movie “Man of Steel.”  Cal-al or “Clark,” as he is known on earth, is aware from a very young age that he is notof the planet Earth, but that he certainly resides in it.  From a young age, his human parents instruct him to learn to focus his great powers and abilities, since someday they must be used for a greater good.  Through mistakes and successes (praxis), Clark learns to focus (theoria) his power in such a way that gives him greater strength and understanding, as well as a deep sense of communion with humanity and his own world.  Of course, this movie was not didactic storytelling, but it stands as one of the many examples of people learning to “block” the distractions around them and focusing on a more important task. In this case, the task was to focus his energies and thoughts on a greater purpose. Christians, too, must focus their energies and thoughts towards a greater purpose: theosis—unification with the Lord. 
The implications Dante makes about the purging sin reverberate throughout time and literature, constantly echoing the same words: praxis and theoria; diligent work and personal knowledge.  From the fiery seventh terrace of purgatory to the fictional world of Superman, man’s redemption is painted in the combination of both action and thought for success and redemption.  The path to Salvation is difficult.  It is tedious. It takes patience in labor and humility in contemplation, but in the end, the fruits are sweet. The work of becoming Christ-like—theosis—is best expressed by C.S. Lewis when he says, “The command ‘Be ye perfect’ is not idealistic gas. Nor is it a command to do the impossible. He is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command. . . The process will be long and in parts very painful; but that is what we are in for. Nothing less. He meant what he said.” (Macmillan, 1952, p. 174, Mere Christianity).
Works Cited
Metr. Hierotheos, Nafpaktos. Orthodox Spirituality: A Brief Introduction. Fifth Edition. Levadia, Greece: Birth of the Theotokos Monastery, 2008. Print. 

Alighieri, Dante. The Divine Comedy, Volume #2: Purgatory. London, England: Penguin Classics, 1985. Print.

The New Inductive Study Bible - NASB. Eugene, OR: Precept Ministries International, 2000. Print. 

Bunyan, John. The Pilgrim's Progress. United States: Answers in Genesis, 2006. Print. 

Metr. Dr.Yazigi, Paul . "East-West Dialogue: Reference to Monasticism." Theoria & Praxis According to St Gregory Palamas. N.p., 2004. Web. 19 Dec 2013. <http://www.alepporthodox.org/files/writings-en/writings/006-Monasticism_in_Palamas.pdf >.

"Theosis." Orthodoxwiki. N.p., 2012 . Web. 17 Dec 2013. <http://orthodoxwiki.org/Theosis >. 

Fr. Romanides, John . "What is the Human Nous? Chapter 1 from Patristic Theology." Orthodox Christian Information Center . N.p., 2008. Web. 17 Dec 2013. <http://orthodoxinfo.com/phronema/patristic-theology-romanides-chapter-1-what-is-the-human-nous.aspx>.


Saturday, November 9, 2013

A Lesson Learned From An Atheist





       The debate ended up taking a surprising twist.  I came into class and instead of a formal debate full of Cross-X, rebuttals and flowery statements, our teacher had decided to play the role of an Atheist and asked us to challenge him. I was utterly terrified because I had never had the opportunity to debate with an atheist (even a pseudo-one) at this level--that is, the very existence of God. 

The few so called “apologetic” articles and books I had perused about Atheism made the world much more confusing, complicated, and frustrating than seemed necessary.  What and who would I be facing? 

Of course, you have to have arguments--good old logic, right?  That pithy stuff in our brain that helps us win disagreements. 

So I used a few... 

Pulling from the acclaimed C.S. Lewis, I worked my way through a discussion about how man cannot find ultimate satisfaction on this planet--not limited to himself. 

Do you agree, sir? Yes. 

Moving on, then.  Do you believe that this lack of ultimate satisfaction has an ultimate solution? 

Perhaps.

That solution implying an outside and transcendent source of satisfaction? 

Perhaps.

       I kept trying to prove a knowledge beyond the mind--a knowledge not entirely tangible, but around us all the time.  Relational knowledge.  If he admitted that we were creatures who contain relational knowledge and pursued relationships, it would be an easy ride to “prove” God. 

       Then it hit me. No matter what I said, my arguments were unconvincing to him. My ideas were either “logically impossible” or “completely superfluous.”

I realized something quite shocking... no one can win a debate with an Atheist. 

If I do convince him in that short period of time, either he is not a true atheist or I am unconsciously placating to his philosophy. 

How in the world do you “win” a debate with an Atheist? 

That’s the thing--you don’t “win” it. 

The solution to ever bringing an Atheist out of atheism is found in relational knowledge, not proving a series of arguments.

There comes a point when, if you can't get the atheist out of his mind, then you must wait for him to experience something which is outside of his mind...

Or, you treat him in a way which is not simply rational. 

You don't give up on him, you don't become exasperated with him, you don't leave because he's too smart.  

You show, instead of tell, that knowledge is more than just rational. That there is something which cannot be explained or warded off by the mind. In essence, to convince an Atheist that relational knowledge (and thus God) exists, you must do more than just argue.

You must give him an experience.

An Atheist, at heart, is not looking to defeat you or prove the irrelevancy of the world. He is asking for you to knock on his heart, instead of strangle his mind.  Atheism is not a stance, it is a plea.

How do you handle an Atheist in real life?  You become their friend--truly their friend, not to convince or convert them. It takes significantly more time than a simple debate does... but that’s the most beautiful part of it. 

It is a series of building blocks, not a pre-made home.  It is a growth, not an explosion.  It is a refining, not a demolishing.

And perhaps this applies to far more than just Atheism. 

(Special thanks to Mr. Bart Martin and Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick) 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Weekly Creative Writing #18




My kinfolk tumble blindly across the universe - or, what we know to be the universe.  That is, this world... a collection of continents in the cradle of an immense sea. 
We are wisps of folded paper, written words, some stamps, a dried flower lovingly placed in our seams.  We are created the moment words are married to us... the moment a pen, a stylus, a pencil presses into us and creates our identity and determines our future.    
Our souls are thoughts, pleas and ponderings.  We are all different - unrepeatable, unique, never to be recreated in the same way.

Each of us experience a different story.  

Our creation is sometimes quick, as our creator speedily scribbles something and suddenly, we’re alive.  Then he folds us in haste and flurry.   We’re suddenly enveloped in paper, sealed and tattooed with numbers and stamps, then sent off.

Sometimes our creation is frightful.  We’re penned into existence among the black, light-depraved thickness of the night, in the trenches of a battle.  Rain stains our infantile existence but his tears rapidly mature us.  Again, we are sealed, but with trembling hands and tearful kisses... receiving whispered, tender messages that, unlike what we contain, will never be delivered. 

Then we are thrown in a sack, or a metal container, or letter box. 

From place to place we tumble and our dwellings are never permanent until we reach the hands of those our stamps and tattooed numbers have destined for us... You see, a human’s life begins in a home and then he or she begins to tumble around in the world.  But, us... our lives are spent tumbling until we find our home... and when we do:

Then some of us are eagerly ripped open - our seals broken and our souls read.  Some of us are handled with care.  Some of us are never opened. 

And then our dwellings become the desks of dear friends; under the pillows of sweethearts; the bedside tables of military families; in the hope chests of little girls, within a father’s wallet; used as a scholar’s bookmark, or sheltered in the folds of a grandfather’s Bible.  

And so we live... restless until we find rest, meandering until we are delivered, and riding on the winds of thoughts and hopes until we find our home in expectant hands. 

For the absolutely brilliant counterpart of this weekly themed creative writing project, visit: http://thebeatlesandblackcoffee.blogspot.com

Monday, July 15, 2013

Hemingway and Sentences




Ernest Hemingway leaves some confusion about how the words "same way" can be interpreted - some are martyrs, some die naturally, some received the death penalty, some are killed by disease.  

However, the essence is understood.  We all physically die.

How we die?  Again, that differs, but we do die.  Our story (here, at least) comes to a temporary end. 

In the same way he says our lives end, so do they all begin in the same way.  We are all born.  We all struggle for that first, laborious breath into the vast cosmos and our cries soon beckon for our dear mothers.  

Remember learning about sentences and punctuation in the first grade?  How a sentence - a proper, living sentence - begins with a capital letter and ends with a period?  

All the words and grammar inside that capital letter and period may be total rubbish or they may surpass Shakespeare’s genius.  Nonetheless, we all get a fair share.  Regardless of the sentence’s quality, it will always begin and it will always end. 

What lies between those two things distinguishes that sentence from every other sentence in the world.  What lies between the first letter and the period tells its own unique story.

Rather like a life does.
The verbs are especially important.  Haven’t our composition teachers asked us to use "strong verbs" in our sentences for ages?  To make our sentence interesting?  So that other will want to read it? 

“Strong verbs” and “strong actions” give our sentence dimension, depth, and style. 

They are rather like the “details of life” that Hemingway talks about, aren’t they?

Who knows, if a sentence is anything like a person's life - beginning and ending -maybe our composition teachers were teaching something beyond just writing.

Maybe something about life?

Of course, not that we should like “dangerously.”   “Strong verbs” are not rash, bloody, mindless things.  Rather, maybe they - like Hemingway - are trying to show that we must live “strongly.” 


Lastly, this saying to wrap up everything... =)  

Please comment with any additional thoughts! 


Saturday, July 13, 2013

Weekly Creative Writing #`17

For Jessie. =) 

I am blind.  “Darkness” and “black” are not words to describe what I “see.”  In fact, a way to describe the nothingness my eyes give me does not exist.  I simply do not.  All my life, I have been denied from knowing the world through what you call “colour,” “dimension,” and “movement.”  And, contrary to what many may think, I do not consider the absence of sight a “void.”  It was just never there and so other things took its place.  

I like to think my sister took the place of my sight.  Not literally, of course, but it is a lovely thought.  I would much rather have no ability to gaze on the world, than to lose her.  For with her, I can see the world so much more beautifully than if I my own eyes were freed. 

Her laugh, for instance, is entirely infectious and sweeter than any bells you will ever hear.  It is all the colours I cannot see.  Yellow, pink, and light blue (apparently that is the color of the sky?) are the colours her laugh paints when she is happy.  She says those are “happy” colors.  Reds and oranges - a stifled, angry, and sarcastic snicker.  Deep blue, green - a melancholy sigh.  Black - no sound.  White (she says white is all the colours in the world together), so I like to think white is when she’s happiest, when the world is most at peace. 

She is always moving.  I cannot see it, but I don’t need to see movement to feel the energy it gives off.  She loves dancing.  And, no doubt, everything is brighter when she does - twirling and jumping around like she does.  That wonderful energy and happiness is released into what I feel is a heavy, burdened world - giving it some hope, some rest in the midst of its struggles.  And, swimming.  She adores it and she is fantastic at it, I hear.  I’m not surprised at all.  I have been swimming a few times.  The water certainly holds you up, yes, but if your spirit is not light and trusting, it will sink into the depths of fear - fear of the water, fear of the world, whatever. But it will sink.  That’s why I know she is so good at swimming - her spirit is light. 

She is an old soul, though.  She laughs like a newborn and dances like a fairy, but her mind and heart are so much older, so much deeper, and hold so much more dimension than anything else in the world.  She talks to me about books - how the older they feel and smell, the better they are.  Old books are trustworthy books.  Many times we sit and talk about God, heaven, philosophy and the patterns of our lives.  She willingly takes up those discussions with the wisdom of an elder, yet the vigorous humility of a childlike heart.  You want true dimension and depth?  Go find her and talk to her about the world.  Trust me, though I may not be able to perceive the depth of an ocean, I promise you she is even deeper than it.  

So, I guess I really can see colour, movement and dimension... a part of them that most of world is blind to, yet which my sister helps me see. 

The Happiest of Birthdays to my little sister today!  Χρόνια πολλά, αδελφή μου!   This specific writing is dedicated to her - an exercise in trying to describe her as if I was blind.  I am thankful that my reality isn’t blindness, but I want you all to know that everything said about her is truly reality. 

For the fantastic counterpart of this weekly themed creative writing project, visit: http://thebeatlesandblackcoffee.blogspot.com





Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Pens and Perception









I was skimming Pinterest the other day and stumbled across some curious "pins" which caused me to stop and think a bit....maybe some of you could also give your thoughts?

With regard to the above images... for those who can't read the small script, the first one says, "If I tell you there are mountains, you will imagine them as such."  Directly next to it, the graphic and witty pun talking about the positive effect of writing.  How do these two relate?

Whoever said that pens and pencils are "weapons of mass creation" either 1) had been studying far too long for exams and the erasers of pencils were nubs - their rubbery pink fuzz scattered across the table.  Or, 2) meant something beyond just the "positive" effect of words - perhaps their ability to cause mass harm or change perception.

How does that relate to the funny black triangles next to it?  Perhaps what great influence words have on how someone perceives reality.   Those triangles could be anything - they may not even be considered triangles by some.

To a lost tribe in South America, they may represent the heads of arrows.  As a father, covered in the yellow and red paint of a warrior, is telling his story to his son.

To native Americans, the shapes could easily be analogous to the charred and burning teepees that beckoned them longingly as they began their Trail of Tears.

To a Christian, it may very well be an icon of the Trinity.

To a Muslim, it is just another geometric and calligraphic shape to add to a newly handmade transcription of the Koran, since they are not allowed to depict animals or humans.

But, he said they were mountains and it takes a lot of effort to forget that, doesn't it?  His words were weapons of mass creation inside your imagination.  Imagine what the words we have heard all our lives have done - both for better or for worse.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Random Linguistic Fun - Αντίο!


        A fantastic introduction on how to approach learning accents and dialects.  Not to mention, it is an helpful perspective to take when learning languages.

http://m.youtube.com/#/watch?v=VJyTA4VlZus&desktop_uri=%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DVJyTA4VlZus



       Anyways, I’m off to a Greek Orthodox camp for a week.  Expect Creative Writing to resume upon my return, along with regular blog posts, and stories about what fun Greek dancing is, how incredibly disgusting (signome, my Greek friends) dolmathes are, and some peppering of my gleanings on Orthodox life and theology.  (as always... haha.)  



Όλη η αγάπη μου! Αντίο!

Oh, and y’all will appreciate these linguistic conundrums ;) : 

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Weekly Creative Writing #16


Merton DeWitt Strom stumbled his way down the cliffs behind his house.  His eight-year old hands grasped the ancient rocks and moist moss of the rocky path and his blond, bleached hair was lightly bathed by the misty air.  The eyebrows of the elfin German boy were rigidly angled and sharply placed - to the point that if it weren’t for his German homestead and contemporary clothes, the boy could easily have been mistaken for the imperturbable student of a Hellenistic Stoic philosopher.   Yet, beneath those stolid eyebrows shone the bright and curious eyes of his youth - sparkling sea blue, with specks of grey - like the tranquil, speckled sky above him.   His high cheek bones were lightly freckled and he held up his sturdy little chin high as he walked, imitating his father.

It was Friday - a fast-day for his family.  For the whole village, really, since the only church for hundreds of miles was a small Roman Catholic parish.  And, Friday meant the traditional fish fry when the community of fishermen brought together their choice catches; the women cooked and chopped for hours; and the children entertained themselves with fantastical games and dangerous escapades.  Merton had become tired of aimlessly walking around the house, waiting for relatives to arrive, and smelling food which made his empty stomach rumble.  That old trail of his grandfathers’ and uncles’ stories seemed enchanting enough, despite his past fear of the place.  He wondered what he would find at the end of this difficult, rocky collection of rocks leading to the long-deserted lake. 

As he neared the water, his once clean shoes were christened in mud and the trees arched lower than usual to kiss the ground.  After parting the dew-heavy greenery, he stopped suddenly, realizing that he had reached the very edge of the shore, before it sank into the crystal lake water.  Just beyond was a stressed hut of some sort.  Small, old, with its pathway sunken beneath the water.  From where Merton stood, he could see a window casting light on the crude shadows of what seemed to be buoys and cages.  His stoic eyebrows raised in fascination and his eyes gleamed with that dangerous curiosity of childhood. It was still March, and the water was freezing, but he still waded his way to the make-shift door of the fishing hut - fully drenching his trachten socks.  

The interior was hardly a mansion - containing all that was familiar to him - that is, the tools of a fisherman. He found a bucket to stand on and hoisted himself up to the window with his scrawny arms.  He leaned out to see the view like so many before him had done as they waited for their fish. He shivered. It was cold.  His thin trousers, linen shirt, and suspenders were hardly enough to keep his petite body warm during this frigid spring season.  But he stayed, nonetheless, and played with the white puffs his every breath created in the frosty air.  

In his play, he never saw what happened behind him.  The ghosts of his ancestors came from the moss covered walls - all at once and struggling to be free.  Their eerie shapes walked, sat, and shuffled about the hut behind Merton - broad shouldered men just as blonde, just as freckled, and just as curiously stoic as him.  One phantom mended a net.  Another cast one.  A few others laughed in a corner, enjoying some equally wraith-like beer.  The genesis and history of his family walked behind him.  Each man passing on the trade of the net-and-hook to the next.  

Then, deep voices rang in the distance and the smell of frying fish finally invaded the little hut.  The families had come.  Merton didn’t want to go and he didn’t know why.  The view and hut felt like home.  But, still, he put his tyrolean alpine hat back on and turned towards the door.  The phantoms faded quickly into the past and into his heart.  He walked home, but now - now, he was connected to that place.  He would go back again and again, until his blond hair was silvery grey, and his hands were weathered by the lake and sea.  Like the threads of the delicate nets, he was now mended into that legacy of fishermen from his past.  And, later his son would join that webbed net of heritage, and so would all the young men after him - haunted by the phantoms of their fathers. 

For those of you who enjoy name origins, here are the meanings behind the German/European names of the main character:  Merton (one who settles by a lake) Dewitt  (blond) Strom (brook, stream). 

For the marvelous counterpart of this weekly themed creative writing project, visit:  http://thebeatlesandblackcoffee.blogspot.com  =) 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Quotes From the Ancient Desert Fathers =)

       Two of my favorite quotes from what I have read thus far in, “The Ancient Fathers of the Desert” - compiled and translated by Archimandrite Chrysostomos.  =)  The first one is especially relevant to me, since I love languages so dearly.   In it, he is simply saying he does not understand the “alphabet” of the man.  Many might take this as just meaning the Egyptian language; however, could this also mean the spiritual “language” of the man himself?  His mind? His fears? His circumstances?  We may know Greek, Latin, or have the wealth of this world's knowledge, but must we not also humble ourselves to learn the “alphabet,” the “language,” the “life” of another in order to communion with them?  To love them? To truly understand them? 



******


Once Abba Arsenios revealed his thoughts to an Egyptian elder and asked him about them. But a certain other Abba saw him and said to him: “Abba Arsenios, you have had so much education in Greek and Latin, yet you ask this man, so unlettered in worldly knowledge, about your thoughts?”

Abba Arsenios said to him: “Indeed, I know Roman and Greek letters well; but I have not yet learned even the alphabet of this simple man.”


******


“If our prayer is not in harmony with our deeds, we labor in vain,” Abba Moses often told the young monks. 

“How are we to accomplish such harmony?” they asked him one day. 

“When we make that which we seek fitting to our prayer,” explained the Saint. “Only then can the soul be reconciled with its Creator and its prayers be acceptable, when it sets aside all of its own evil intentions.” 


******


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

~ e.e.cummings and the church ~


A wonderful reminder of what a church should be - forever changing to remain the same. =) 

(Photo credits to Stamatia Hagen)

i am a little church(no great cathedral)
far from the splendor and squalor of hurrying cities
-i do not worry if briefer days grow briefest,
i am not sorry when sun and rain make april

my life is the life of the reaper and the sower;
my prayers are prayers of earth's own clumsily striving
(finding and losing and laughing and crying)children
whose any sadness or joy is my grief or my gladness

around me surges a miracle of unceasing
birth and glory and death and resurrection:
over my sleeping self float flaming symbols
of hope,and i wake to a perfect patience of mountains

i am a little church(far from the frantic
world with its rapture and anguish)at peace with nature
-i do not worry if longer nights grow longest;
i am not sorry when silence becomes singing

winter by spring,i lift my diminutive spire to
merciful Him Whose only now is forever:
standing erect in the deathless truth of His presence
(welcoming humbly His light and proudly His darkness)

~ e.e.cummings ~

Friday, May 10, 2013

A Study in Manuscripts: A Mystery St. Mark Left for Linguists, Scholars, and Theologians

Hello all!  Here is a paper I recently had to write for school, and thought I'd share it!  Constructive criticism is welcome, hope you all enjoy it! =)





A Study in Manuscripts: 
A Mystery St. Mark Left for Linguists, Scholars, and Theologians
       What is a manuscript by definition?  According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, it is “a written or typewritten composition or document as distinguished from a printed copy” or “writing as opposed to print.”  The word itself is rooted in the Latin manu scriptus - “written by hand.”  Overtime, copies, editions, and versions can develop stark differences.  A good example of these changes is within the Bible.  The Bible itself has undergone transcription, translation and reprinting since it was officially canonized in 397 A.D.  Certain branches of the Church have left out some books originally canonized; developed their own canon; or chosen to use different manuscripts of the Bible in the place of others.  For example, during the Reformation, books, now considered Apocryphal to the Western Church, were taken out of the original Majority texts of the Bible (i.e. Judith, Tobit, the Maccabees, etc.).  Many believe the removal was based on either lack of scriptural inspiration or monetary practicality in publication.  The Bible underwent even more changes in the 19th century when the traditional Majority Text manuscripts were moved aside for seemingly older manuscripts of the Bible, commonly identified as the Minority Text.  Most modern English translations of the Bible (such as the NIV or NASB) follow the Minority Text manuscripts, whereas older English translations (primarily the KJV) follow the Majority Text manuscripts.   
Differences in Transcription and Translation
       Outside of simple Apocryphal and Canonical differences in Church Traditions, other difficulties have arisen about the consistency of Scripture.  For example, certain Hebrew or Greek terms found in the Bible have meanings “untranslatable” into other languages.  This has resulted in similar rather than exact translations made to communicate ideas.  However, this can lead to exegetical confusion if the reader does not understand the original language of the document.  Paraphrasing is also an active difference in versions of the Bible.  The Message Bible, for instance, is a modern translation of the Bible which has paraphrased/rephrased the Greek to fit cultural idioms.  
       Yet, beyond all of these, the unmistakable differences in Minority and Majority texts of the Bible and how people have chosen to address those differences must be discussed.  From stark omission of a passage to a single word, the Minority and Majority Texts of the Bible contradict each other 3,000 times just in the Gospels!  One of the more serious contradictions is the inclusion or exclusion of Mark 16:9-20.  
Mark’s Rhetorical Style
       To give context, Mark has been characterized by some theologians as a “comic book” style writer - everything took place quickly and concisely, continuing on to the next event.  Using ευθυς - the Greek word for “immediately” - fifty-one times in his Gospel, his vocabulary choices are evidence of his speedy and practical rhetorical style.  He spends most of his time on the last week of Jesus’ life - compactly and chronologically summarizing His last few days.  Lastly, he uses the historical present tense over 150 times to demonstrate urgency.  His purpose was to highlight Christ’s non-stop work; how He truly came to “to seek and to save that which was lost;” and how He “seeked” diligently and with necessary urgency.  He portrayed the substantial requirements of the Christian life – then, effectively ending his Gospel with a specific highlight of Christ’s death and resurrection in Chapters 14-15. 
Discrepancy and Causes of Controversy
       The end of these chapters is where the controversy starts - Chapter 16.  Mark’s “τελος” (ending) has been analyzed with academic scrutiny and yet multiple elements of it still cause contention among leading scholars, linguists and theologians.  The first problem which arises is the two known endings to Mark - the Long Ending and the Short Ending.  The Short Ending (shown below) is a less familiar replacement of Mark 16:9-20.  It is found in only six Greek manuscripts and one Latin manuscript (Codex Bohiensis) from around 400 A.D.  Although it can be found in italics or in the footnotes of some Bibles (i.e. NASB), it is not a popular ending and is, in majority, rejected by all Traditions of the church.
“All that had been told to them, they told to Peter and his companions.  And after that Jesus Himself [appeared to them and] sent out through them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.  Amen.”
(Short Ending) 
       The Long Ending, however, is much more prominent in the church and has been accepted as canonical until recent speculation.  The Long Ending is commonly known as Mark 16:9-20 in almost every modern Bible available.  
“9 Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils.  10 And she went and told them that had been with him, as they mourned and wept.  11 And they, when they had heard that he was alive, and had been seen of her, believed not.  12 After that he appeared in another form unto two of them, as they walked, and went into the country.  13 And they went and told it unto the residue: neither believed they them.  14 Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen.  15 And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.  16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.  17 And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;  18 They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.  19 So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God.  20 And they went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen.”
(Mark 16:9-20, KJV)
       The recent speculation on the endings results from some inconsistencies between certain manuscripts of the Bible - some including the Long Ending and some removing it completely.  Those ancient manuscripts which do not contain the Long Ending - the Alexandrian texts, Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus - are the bases for what is now known as the Minority Text.  The Majority Text has its foundation in mainly Byzantine manuscripts (along with Western and Caesarean manuscripts) most of which are considered “late” manuscripts - produced after 600 A.D.  Out of the 5,000 Greek manuscripts of the Bible, the Majority Text inhabits a vast 95% of them - all of them containing the Long Ending.  This is where the controversy started - which one is right?  The older one, with no ending?  Or, the countless “later” manuscripts with an ending? 
Five Major Views and Implications
In this case, scholars, pastors, linguists, and laymen take one of five major views concerning Mark 16:9-20:  

           1.  Those who include the verses, because they believe Mark wrote them.
  1. Those who wish to include the verses, regardless of Mark’s authorship. 
  2. Those who exclude the verses, even if Mark did write them. 
  3. Those who exclude the verses because they believe Mark did not write them.
  4. Those who include or exclude the verses based solely on historical evidence and not personal belief. 
       These five opinions can be found throughout the Church; however, the stance a person takes on Mark 16:9-20 will greatly “affect and reflect” his view on what defines Biblical canon.  Thus, the implications of inclusion or exclusion are huge.  First, most mainstream Protestants, Roman Catholics, and the Western Church as a whole are concerned with the placement and historical standing of Mark 16:9-20 because it directly affects the infallible inspiration of scripture.  Historical inaccuracy or unknown authorship is not acceptable or trustworthy.  The Eastern Church (Oriental and Eastern Orthodox) is concerned with the content of Mark 16:9-20 - is it heretical or edifying to the Christian faith?  Does it follow the criteria for canonization? 
       When it comes to determining a side to a controversy, a scholar must look toward the most natural proof in existence: evidence.  Some interpret evidence differently, depending on their worldview – absolute objectivity, in this situation, is impossible.  However, a brief summary and explanation of the current evidence for/against the Long Ending is very possible.  
External Evidence For and Against Including the Long Ending: 
External in Support: 
       The external evidence for the Long Ending is most convincing.  The words of the Early Church Fathers, textual resources, and dates have been supplied to support the Long Ending.  
To begin, the claim that Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus are the oldest (and thus considered the “most reliable”) manuscripts containing Mark is an erroneous statement.  Older and contemporary manuscripts to those two Codices exist as well.  Those include the Curetonian Syriac, the Coptic Sahidic, Bohairicn and Fayyumic versions, the Vulgate, Codex Ephraimi Rescriptus, Codex Washingtonensis, and most importantly, Codex Alexandrinus.  Codex Alexandrinus is regarded as equal, if not more consistent than Sinaiticus and Vaticanus - both holding their own noticeable discrepancies with other manuscripts.  All of these Codices, not including the two Alexandrian ones, contain the Long Ending and stand as external evidences for its inclusion.   
       Secondly, the Long Ending has received much reference from Patristic writings and other writings from and on the Early Church.  Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, Tatian, Tertullian, Cyprian, the Gospel of Nicodemus, De Rebaptismate, Aphraates, Ambrose, Didymus, the Apostolic Constitutions, Jerome, Chrysostom, Leo, Severian, and Augustine all mention or contain some direct or indirect reference to Mark 16:9-20 (Long Ending).  These ancient witnesses were also spread across a large geographical area ranging from Gaul to Egypt to Syria.  Irenaeus, a Church Father who lived in the 2nd century - before Sinaiticus and Vaticanus were completed - explicitly quoted verse 19 from the Long Ending:
 "Also, towards the conclusion of his Gospel, Mark says: 'So then, after the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God." 
Irenaeus, Against Heresies, (roughly A.D. 185), Book III, 10:5-6
       Lastly, the question should be raised as to why the early Alexandrian texts, Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, do not contain any ending, in comparison to the rest.  How did this happen?  And, how does the Long Ending’s exclusion in these documents possibly support its inclusion?  Since Sinaiticus and Vaticanus are both Alexandrian texts, they were copied and scribed in similar locations and cultures.  If an inclusion or exclusion is found in one text - to be legitimately considered - that same variant must be found consistently throughout other texts from different regions or cultures.  However, this is not the case with Sinaiticus and Vaticanus.  They are the only Alexandrian texts of their kind which contain this exclusion of the Long Ending, whereas all other “branches” of texts and codices do not exclude it.  
External Against: 
       External evidence against the inclusion of the Long Ending is sparse.  Besides the weight which the Codices Sinaiticus and Vaticanus carry in modern translation, most external evidence supports the inclusion of the Long Ending in the canon.  Some Early Christian writers, such as the Church Historian Eusebius claim to have no knowledge of the Long Ending and are only familiar with the short ending or no ending at all.  However, these ancient witnesses are few.
Internal Evidence For and Against Including the Long Ending:
Before delving into the internal evidences, it must be noted that those who support the inclusion or exclusion of the Long Ending based on the internal evidence simultaneously take a stance on Mark’s authentic authorship of the passage.
Internal Against Inclusion: 
       Scholars and linguists say that the juncture between verses 8 and 9 is sudden and awkward, both in concept and language.  Conceptually, the immediate reference to Mary Magdalene in verse 9 is unusual to Mark’s typical style in regards to names and repetition of characters.  In addition, the women mentioned in verses 1-8 do not appear in the remainder of the chapter, whereas Mary does.  With regard to language, the Greek word “γαρ” (gar), a conjunction which simply means “for,” appears oddly placed at the very end of verse 8.  Grammatically, “γαρ” is not supposed to appear at the beginning of a Greek sentence.  There is no rule, however, that it is incorrect to be placed at the end.  Mark uses “γαρ” roughly four times in his Gospel, but never at the end of the sentence.  This inconsistency and abrupt ending causes some linguists or scholars to believe that the Long Ending is not original and was added on later to make up for a possible missing ending to Mark. 
In addition, scholars have examined the vocabulary used in the Long Ending in comparison with the rest of Mark and have found some inconsistencies.  Sixteen different vocabulary words, three of which are repeated more than once, are used in the passage, but nowhere else.  For example,“μορφή” (morphe) appears nowhere else in the Gospels, except for the Long Ending.  And, “απιστεω” (apisteo) does not appear anywhere in Mark but the Long Ending.  Also, Mark’s “favorite” word “ευθυς”(immediately) appears nowhere in the passage.  
        The different phraseology of the Long Ending is the last major argument for the internal evidence against it.  Eight different phrases are used in that particular passage, but nowhere else in Mark.  “μεν ουν”  (men oun "on the one hand therefore," v. 19) is one example of a phrase appearing only in Mark.  “Oi met' autou genomenoi ("those having been with him" vs. 10) is another obscure phrase - used only in this passage, when referencing the disciples.  
 
Internal For Inclusion: 
       Little internal evidence exists for the inclusion of Mark 16:9-20 and any evidence which does exist is in refutation to the internal evidence against the Long Ending’s inclusion.  In this case, the refuting arguments for the three internal reasons for exclusion are below:  
       1) In regards to the conceptual and language differences within the Long Ending, it was not uncommon for Mark to refer to people in the brief, repetitive way he referred to Mary Magdalene.  Three other instances in Mark (Mark 3:16, Mark 3:17 and Mark 7:26) reveal that Mark had sparingly used this instant flashback of character identification.
       2)  The vocabulary differences and inconsistencies in the Long Ending are not as inconsistent as they appear.  Although sixteen new words appear in the passage, eight of the sixteen are just constructions based off of root words which are found continuously throughout the rest of Mark and the New Testament.  Others appear elsewhere in the Bible to describe the same events portrayed in the Long Ending. 
       3) Lastly, the phraseology is truly different from any other found in Mark.  However, it can be argued that other Gospels and books of the Bible contain similar inconsistent phraseologies throughout them.  And, it must also be noted that another portion of Mark (chap. 15) includes phraseologies found nowhere else in the book. 
      Based off of the evidences for inclusion, the general purposes for including the Long Ending in Mark 16 are either because 1) a person is convinced by the external evidence that Mark 16:9-20 is authentic (in authorship and/or canonical accuracy) or 2) a person requires these evidences to prove the historical infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture.  
     The purposes for excluding the passage encompass a broad plain.  In summary, it can be said that either 1) a person is convinced by the internal evidence against the passage or 2) a person is uncomfortable with the possibility of error or apocryphal inclusion. 
Plausible Conclusion of Internal and External Evidence: 
     It is possible that Mark’s authorship of the Long Ending is authentic for several reasons.  First, Mark’s rhetorical style is erratic, fast paced and resembling an ancient “comic book” nature.  So, with regard to the internal evidence, it is very possible that the abrupt junctions, new vocabulary, and different phraseology were purposeful.  Did Mark actually write the Long Ending?  We will likely never know.  Scholars, linguists and theologians have become almost evenly divided on the issue after surveying the evidence.  God tells Job in Job 38:4, Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding.”  In the same way, we were not present for the writing, compiling, or transcription of the manuscripts of Mark and because of this we lack the most convincing and effective evidence: physical presence.  In the same way, C.S. Lewis says, 
“When I lay these questions before God I get no answer. But a rather special sort of 'No answer.' It is not the locked door. It is more like a silent, certainly not uncompassionate, gaze. As though He shook His head not in refusal but waiving the question.
Like, 'Peace, child; you don't understand.”
     However, the more significant question is whether the Long Ending should be included in the Bible as canonical.  The answer, given the evidence, is “yes.”  For centuries, the Long Ending has been regarded as not only canonical, but edifying to the church and used within it.  Regardless of the manuscript differences or vocabulary skirmishes, the passage itself contains the very “heart and soul” of countless mission statements, when it begins to say, “Go ye into all the world.”  And so, the question for inclusion or exclusion of the passage does not rest in historical accuracy or full assurance of Mark’s authorship, but on the edifying nature of the passage.  Is it used universally throughout the church?  How has the church used it throughout the centuries?   
Conclusion:
     The small inconsistencies in Mark and the troublesome history of the manuscripts emerged after the Minority Text began to take more precedence.  Consequently, the authenticity of the two separate endings (Long and Short) began to be (and still are being) hotly debated.  However, the primary debate is the inclusion or exclusion of Mark 16:9-20.  From the external evidence of manuscript statistics and Patristic writings to the internal evidence of nuances in the Long Ending’s language, the passage of Mark has made scholars, linguists, and theologians almost equally embattled.  These “sides” are taken based on the expert’s or layman’s priorities on the issue - be that accuracy, authorship, consistency, or edification.  However, the church has used the Long Ending of Mark for centuries - experiencing little controversy about it until recently.  Voltaire once said, “Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.” In addressing Mark, it is necessary to ask the right questions - questions about the true purpose and reason for the Long Ending. 
A valuable lesson from this controversy is that understanding the universals of purpose will set up a strong foundation for analyzing the particulars.

Sources/Bibliography: 
Jim , Snapps II. "The Authenticity of Mark 16:9-20." La Vista Church of Christ. (Copyright © 2003,2013): http://lavistachurchofchrist.org/LVarticles 
David, B Loughran. "Bible Versions ." (June 1999): http://atschool.eduweb.co.uk/sbs777/vital/kjv/part1-4.html .
Reese, Currie. "Textual Choices and Bible Versions." Compass Distributors (Copyright ©1999): http://www.compassdistributors.ca/topics/textchoi.htm.
Bruce , Terry. "The Style Of The Long Ending Of Mark." ( Copyright © 1976, 1996): http://matthew.ovc.edu/terry/articles/mkendsty.htm.
Michael D. , Marlowe. "The Ending of Mark: Mark 16:9-20." Bible Research Internet Resources for Students of Scripture. ( Contents copyright © 2001-2012 ) http://www.bible-researcher.com/endmark.html.
Dave , Miller Ph.D. "Is Mark 16:9-20 Inspired?." Apologetics Press . (Copyright © 2005): https://www.apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=13&article=704 .
"Mark 16:9-20 - An Orthodox View ." John Mark Minitries . N.p., n. d. Web. 2 May. 2013. <http://www.jmm.org.au/articles/2365.htm>.
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