Monday, November 24, 2014

The Church Fathers and 1984

The Church Fathers and 1984 

I finally read Orwell’s famous 1984 this semester for AP Lang/Comp. Although I did not find it particularly appealing, I cannot deny the genius of its author. Woven into the delicate paradoxes of the story are countless political, philosophical, ethical, relational, linguistic and metaphysical questions. . . .

Very early on in the novel, I encountered the Party’s official and incredibly paradoxical slogan inscribed on the white walls of the Ministry of Truth (minitru):

War is Peace
Freedom is Slavery
Ignorance is Strength

Up until this semester, my knowledge of 1984 was peripheral and limited. I came to it without any expectations or any preconceived notions. When I read the first maxim in this slogan (War is Peace), my initial “connection” was not one which associated the Party with our modern government or with another dystopian reality. Instead, I associated it with the writings of the early Church and Desert Fathers on passions and sin. In all honesty, evil totalitarian slogans and the writings of the Church Fathers do not even belong in the same sentence, but let me explain myself. . . .  

“Conflict is Control”

However, before I do that, let me give some context to the phrase, "War is Peace. . . ."

To begin, the maxim, “War is Peace,” has quite a few interpretations. In one sense, it can be interpreted to mean that constant external strife creates internal stability. War with something “outside” of a country inevitably creates unity within a country. In another sense, it can be interpreted to mean that people are united under a common enemy. The Party creates a sense of “revolution” to purge the old world and to usher in and establish the dynasty of Big Brother. The society’s common enemy is ideological: anything other than what Big Brother permits. Although it seems contradictory, this constant state of social turmoil becomes the social norm. The people define normality and stability—or “peace”—as continuous conflict. Lastly, Oceania (Europe) is always at war, so those born during the days of Big Brother do not remember a time without war. In essence, their idea of peace is equivalent with warfare. The two words take on the same semantic meaning. Warfare means normality and normality means peace. 

However, in all of these cases, “war” or “conflict” is a means of manipulative control. To accept this paradox of “War is Peace” is to accept the idea that war and peace are interdependent and inseparable. With war, comes peace and where peace is achieved, war has taken place or is taking place. In the context of 1984, the maxim “War is Peace” is more honestly translated as “Conflict is Control.”

“Struggle is Salvation”

Now, I immediately thought of the Church Fathers when I read the words “War is Peace” because of their many teachings on the relationship between spiritual struggle and joy. In a way, they also believe that a kind of external strife creates internal stability. Many of them speak of how to achieve peace by warring with the passions—with sin. According to them, a man does not achieve peace only after warring with his passions, but he achieves peace and joy while warring with them.

St. John of Kronstadt says to “fight against them [the passions] valiantly and vigilantly unto your last breath, looking upon them as dreams of your imagination, as illusions of the spirits of evil.” 

Here, St. John establishes that we do, indeed, “war” against our passions. 

St. Anatoly of Optina writes: “Are you fighting against your passions? Fight, fight, and be good soldiers of Christ! Do not give in to evil and do not be carried away by the weakness of the flesh. During the time of temptation, flee to the Physician, crying out with the Holy Church, our mother: “O God, number me with the thief, the harlot, and the publican (i.e., with the repentant), and save me!”

Here, St. Anatoly also affirms that our interaction with sin should be one of struggle, wrestling, prayer and valiant spiritual effort. 

James 1:2-4 also says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

Here, James, the brother of Jesus, concludes that trials and tests—the “wars” against sin—are indeed profitable. That they are meant to bring completeness and perfection. 

As the Party does in 1984, the Church Fathers also believe that “War is Peace.” However, what differentiates the two from each other is their understanding of war, of peace, and of humanity. With Big Brother's totalitarian government, war is unpleasant and unavoidable conflict, peace is stability and control, and humanity is without hope or goodness or consciousness. In the writings of the Church Fathers, war with sin is also an unpleasant and unavoidable conflict, but peace is freedom from passions and humanity has hope and the ability to wage a war which can, with God’s grace, be won. 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Creative Writing #20 - The Komboskini

Creative Writing #20 - The Komboskini

Α short piece I wrote for a scholarship application...slightly edited.

(Fr. Justinius, the αγιοταφιτης of Jacob's Well)

It all happened very quickly. I was standing next to the Well of Sychar in West Bank, Israel. A short little monk strained to slide something onto my tiny wrist. Before I could look down, he mumbled something in Greek—a blessing—and jovially tapped my head a few times. When I finally got my wits about me, I looked down. It was a small black bracelet. Many of the youth who visit him receive these bracelets—“komboskini,” as the Greeks call them. It was a common occurrence, but when it happened to me, I cried. 

There is nothing extravagant about it—just 72 tight knots. I know, because I’ve counted them during moments of writer’s block. It is simple, but why is it significant? 

He put it on my left hand. 

Traditionally, cultures elevate the right hand. Even now, blessings are given or received with it. The left hand—the “sinister” hand—is ignored in matters of importance. I'm left-handed. The monk had placed this “blessing” on my writing hand, not my right hand.

I am a writer and a lover of language. Words are what I do best. The gift he gave me blessed the physical source of all my writing: my left hand. 

Of course, the blessing did not magically transform me into an Emerson or an Aristotle. Instead, it reassured me that I was, indeed, on the right path. He broke tradition to show me that I needed to write... what will I write? what should I write? I don't know. I only know that in that tight little room beneath the main church, clouded with the sweet smells of incense and anointing oil, I realized that I must write... something, someday, somewhere, but I must write. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

~Εἰρήνη and Σιώπα, Day #2~

~Εἰρήνη and Σιώπα~

Although school usually gets in the way, today I actually went to bible study at Holy Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church. The discussion was on the Gospel of Mark, specifically the fourth chapter. At the end, after Christ speaks about the parable of the mustard seed, the famous “calming of the seas” scene occurs. . .

There arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full. And he (Christ) was in the hinder part of the ship, 
asleep on a pillow: and they awake him, and say unto him, 
Master, carest thou not that we perish?

And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, 
“Peace, be still.” 
And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. . .
(Mark 4:37-9)

In Greek, “Peace, be still” is “Σιώπα, πεφίμωσο (Siopa, pephimoso).” Siopa, as seen above, is translated as “peace.” And, yes, that is one translation of it. However, another more accurate translation of the word is “silence” or “hush.” It comes from a verb σιωπάω (siopao) which means “to be quiet, remain silent; to be calm, not agitated.”  It indicates a conscious or unconscious state of rest or peace. 

In essence, the command “Siopa!” means, “do not be restless!” The word itself defines peace apophatically—for what it is not. Peace is not restless.

Throughout the Bible, but especially throughout St. John Chrysostom’s liturgy, another word frequently repeats itself: “Εἰρήνη (Eereni)” or “Peace.” In comparison to Siopa, Eereni defines peace cataphatically—for what it is: “quietness and rest.”

It appears constantly throughout the petitions and litanies which the priest or deacon read before the Gospel during the Liturgy of the Catechumens. During this time, peace is a request. Either the priests or the priests and the congregation ask for peace. 

That is, until the Gospel. At the Gospel, everyone in the congregation stands and the priest says, “Wisdom! Arise! Let us hear the holy Gospel. Peace be to all!” This is one of the first times that eereni is no longer a supplication. It is a gift. It is here that the priest or deacon turns toward the congregation and says, “Εἰρήνη πᾶσι! Peace be to all!”

Why is this significant? It takes place directly before the Liturgy of the Faithful. 

And why is that placement significant? Because of Mark 4! 

(This is an old diagram I used for notes while studying Church architecture quite a few years back…) 

The area where the congregation sits is often called, in architectural and in theological terms, the “nave.” Coming from the latin word for “navis” or “ship,” a nave is simply the main body of a ship. Or, in the case of the Church, the area where the main body of Christ—the congregation—stays during liturgy. Many have said this terminology originated from how the architecture, especially the arch or roof, of the main body of the church resembled the stern and keel of a ship. 

Now if a three year old-boy heard such a thing, he would immediately say, “So the Church is like a ship!” And, us older people would chuckle and say, “It’s not that simple.”  The truth is, neither the three year-old or the adult is entirely right. It is a paradox. It is both that simple and not that simple.

When the disciples, fearing for their lives, woke Christ, He went out of the chamber in which He was sleeping and onto the dock, instructing the raging sea of Galilee to be silent, quiet, calm, and at rest. However, the real restlessness was not in the sea. It was in the hearts of the disciples. His purpose is twofold and one in the same. He meant to bring peace, but to both the sea and to the disciples. 

Similarly, when the priest, as an icon of Christ, turns toward the people before the Gospel and says, “Εἰρήνη πᾶσι! Peace be with you all!” he is doing as Christ did. He is bestowing peace upon the sea of the congregation and calming the rocking ship or, in this case, the tumultuous nave. He is calling for silence, peace, quietness, restfulness and contemplation of the work ahead. The congregation—about to embark into the Liturgy of the Faithful—is asked to lay aside the storms of their lives, all their “earthly cares.” 

“Liturgia” literally means the work of the people. However, work cannot be done when the people are in chaos, when a storm is brewing. When you come to Church, to liturgy, remember that you are safely in the nave and you are no longer in the storm.

Breadcrumb #2: Be at peace. 

(A big thanks to my amazing mother, Priscilla, who held an extensive discussion with me about this on the way back home from Bible study!) 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Tree of Knowledge: Technology and the Millennial Generation

An essay I wrote yesterday for AP Lang/Comp... Would you agree? Disagree?

The Tree of Knowledge: Technology and the Millennial Generation
            In the beginning, Adam and Eve had a choice: they could eat the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and have seemingly unlimited knowledge at their fingertips or they could obey God and live without the burden that the knowledge would bring them. In today’s world, people have a choice to open their laptops with a snazzy half-bitten apple on the back and bask in a tsunami of information, eventually drowning in its magnitude—unable to manage or use it correctly. Or, they could take this “tree” of knowledge and use it for the better, knowing when to eat of its fruits and when to abstain. The firstlings of this world and the “millennials” hold something in common with the rest of humanity: a desire for knowledge, but a knack for misusing it. In the digital age, technology is lauded because of its great accomplishments: the computer, sending man to the moon, revolutionary medical advances. Yet, with the influx of technology, the millennial generation seems to fall a step short: lacking depth, simplicity and, in many ways, self-control. Although technology itself is not responsible for the increased ignorance and inabilities of millennials, the misuse of technology is responsible for the disintegration of this generation, revealing the effects that a tool can have in the hands of the untrained or undiscerning.
            Like any tool, technology is a double-edged sword—it can cut both ways: to destroy the mind or to assist it. It is a neutral tool bereft of moral value. Some say, with the advent of Artificial Intelligence, that technology will eventually develop its own moral intelligence based upon logic and reason. Others believe that something created by humans will always remain in the control of humans—subject to their moral integrity or lack thereof. Yet, in the context of technology’s neutral essence, neither opinion is entirely correct. A lifeless tool can be used and still affect the life of its user. However, assuming that technology itself is the cause of the millennial’s plight is not only a post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy, but it fails to dig deeper and see the real cause. The tool affects the life of the user, but the use of the tool is where the effect begins. In his article “Is Google Making Us Stupid?,” Nicholas Carr wrestles with this paradox between a tool’s neutrality and its positive or negative effect on the human mind. He believes that media not only “supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought (Carr 168).” In its gravity, technology tempts him, but in the end, he is the one who gives in, puddle-jumping from link to link unaware that his focus is floundering. It is the not-so-age-old story of “I’m just going to check my email” and the next two hours are spent playing hopscotch on Pinterest, Facebook, or news articles. A knife is meant to cut, but it is used for both murder and cuisine. Technology is meant to provide information and service, but how do people use it?
            Within an increasingly globalized world, technology has been used for multiple purposes—academia, security, exploration, etc.—but, do its uses outweigh its misuses? In the most positive sense, technology has helped improve life in the areas of general efficiency, personal comfort and information availability. Thanks to it, some of the most grueling tasks are now automated, home life is easier with the advent of the microwave and internet, and very few need a library to find source materials. Surprisingly, people write more now than ever before, according to Clive Thompson, who says that the Generation Y’s encounters with multiple interfaces of language and rhetoric have given them an incredible sense of kairos—“assessing their audience and adapting their technique to best get their point across (Thompson 173).” A popular media theorist, Steven Johnson, even tells the Discover magazine that the millennial generation has become a “regime of competence,” due to the gaming craze that has taught them to navigate, manage and master countless variables (Johnson 172). However, people like Mark Bauerlein passionately disagree that technology has created the new and improved Critical Thinking 2.0, saying that “the mental equipment of the young falls short of their media (Bauerlein 168).” Despite its numerous and helpful applications, a use of technology has ushered in a neglect of other tools. Informational abundance is simultaneously a famine of knowledge and skill. To quote a Pew survey, “56 percent of 18-to-29-year-olds possessed low knowledge levels, while only 22 percent of 50-to-60-year-olds did (Bauerlein 168).” The traditional pillars of acquired knowledge—philosophy and politics, trades and tradition, writing and history—have been discarded, leaving a culture that, as each day passes, moves toward a shallow future, only to forget a rich past.
            The use of technology itself is altering how people have functioned for thousands of years—the lines between perception and reality are blurred, the differences between speed and quality are becoming greater, and the definitions of knowledge and ignorance are skewed. There will always be those who use power (in this case, technology) to prey upon the weak, the ignorant and the vulnerable. But, the true danger of technology rests in people using it without awareness or without approaching it correctly. As the cartoonist Roz Chaste demonstrates in her 2010 cover of The New Yorker, the generation’s focus has shifted and thus their focus is slowly deteriorating (Chaste 174). The perception of social media is not the reality of the world. The speed of internet research does not match the quality of a contemplative walk outside. Convenient knowledge has become an addiction, yet ignorance spreads without temperance. Modern surveillance is unparalleled and yet crime is still rampant. Humanity is creeping toward a second Tower of Babel as globalization creates homogeneity. Pleasure is often overwhelming without a mature understanding of it. For example, a toddler does not understand the consequences of eating his entire birthday cake. Similarly, this generation, when encountered with the novelty of modern technology, is not aware of the consequences of its use and is not capable of using it correctly, without another “tool” or set of “values.” 
            In the end, the millennial generation is drowning because they do not know how to swim in a sea of knowledge. This sea of knowledge—of technology—is innocent, without moral value or conviction. Its tide will rise and fall and it will continue to be the source of life for new ideas, creations, and advances. But, biologically, a human cannot drink from the sea—from salt water—and still live. He must either know that he cannot drink it or he must know how to remove the salt. Similarly, the millennial generation cannot live on technology, but they are unaware that depending on it solely will be to their destruction unless they learn to discern what is and what is not. They have bitten into the apple—eaten the fruit from Tree of Knowledge—but the question is: how will they use it? 

Works Cited
Bauerlein, Mark. The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and
Jeopardizes Our Future (or, Don't Trust Anyone under 30). New York: Tarcher/Penguin, 2008. N. pag. Print.
Chast, Roz. "Shelved." New Yorker 18 Oct. 2010: n. pag. Print.
Carr, Nicolas."Is Google Making Us Stupid?" Atlantic 1 July 2008: n. pag. Atlantic. Atlantic
Monthly Group, Web. 21 Sept. 2014.
Johnson, Steven. "Your Brain on Video Games." Discover 24 July 2005: n. pag. Discover.
Kalmbach Publishing. Web. 21 Sept. 2014.Chast, Roz. "Shelved." New Yorker 18 Oct. 2010: n. pag. Print.
Thompson, Clive. "The New Literacy." Wired. Wired, 24 Aug. 2009. Web. 21 Sept. 2014.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Creed and the Afterfeast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord (Trisagion Films)

Today marks the official end of the after feast of the Transfiguration of our Lord... See my article on this after feast on the Trisagion Films website! 

 The Creed and the Afterfeast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord: 

Pilgrimage to the Church of St. George in Lydda (Trisagion Films)

This year, I went on a pilgrimage to Israel and Cyprus with 38 other people. This is an article on one of our stops... The Church of St. George in Lydda. Check it out on Trisagion Films! 

Pilgrimage to the Church of St. George in Lydda

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Holy and Great Martyr Marina (Trisagion Films)

A daily post from a while ago for Trisagion Films... The Holy and Great Martyr Marina - commemorated on July 17th.

       Born to pagan parents during the tumultuous time of Diocletian’s persecution of the Christians, St. Marina stands as a timeless example of true Christian heroism and strength. Through God’s providence, St. Marina’s widowed father unwittingly gave her over to the care of a Christian governess after Marina’s mother died (either during childbirth or shortly thereafter). Unbeknownst to her father, St. Marina decided at a very young age to pursue a chaste and pure life. However, this laudable choice did not remain secret for long. Her father found out and angrily disowned her.
       Not long after, Olymbrios, the Roman prefect in Pisidia, Antioch, saw Marina in passing and attempted to flatter and seduce the beautiful fifteen year-old girl. Yet he soon found her firm decision quite the barrier to his lustful desires. For a man who usually got everything he wanted, this situation was hardly satisfactory. Infuriated, Olymbrios’ lust for blood soon overwhelmed his lust for Marina.  He ordered his guards to torture and mutilate the girl whose beauty he once fancied. Marina suffered innumerable, nearly fatal tortures. Yet each time the prefect thought her dead, the Archangel Michael appeared and comforted and healed her.
       It is said that a demon visited Marina in the prison to test her, after observing Olymbrios’ failed attempts. But the demon’s twisted visit was short-lived, for Marina immediately took up a hammer and beat the demon until he left her. After this, Olymbrios attempted one last string of tortures: to burn her with fire, then lower her into boiling water. Yet both of these attempts, like others before, were transformed into a means of God’s grace. For Marina may have been burned with fire externally, but the fire of the Holy Spirit filled her soul internally. As she was lowered into the boiling water, she called upon God to use the torturous waters as means of life — of Holy Baptism — to cleanse her soul, although it would disfigure her skin. Hundreds witnessed this event (including Theotimos, who later recorded it) and converted to Christianity. Olymbrios, on the other hand, was at his wit’s end and quickly beheaded the newly converted witnesses as well as the brave Marina.
       To this day, St. Marina is remembered as Great among the martyrs and her relics are considered miracle-working by Christians and non-Christians alike. Even the Muslims refuse to destroy her remains. Although torn and abused during life on this earth, she remains untouched now — perfected in Christ.

Troparion — Tone 4

Your lamb Marina calls out to You, O Jesus, in a loud voice: “I love You, my Bridegroom, and in seeking You I endure suffering. In baptism I was crucified so that I might reign in You, and I died so that I might live with You. Accept me as a pure sacrifice, for I have offered myself in love.” Through her prayers save our souls, since You are merciful.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Golden-Green Leaf and Vanities: A Reflection on Occupied Cyprus - Creative Writing #19

Context: The Turkish illegally occupied Cyprus in 1974, over a period of three days. Thousands upon thousands of Greek Cypriots were forced to evacuate their homes in Northern Cyprus, leaving the life they knew frozen in time as they ran for a safer reality. To this day, Turkey still occupies the same region. Cyprus is poetically referred to as “the golden-green leaf thrown in the sea” due to its appearance on the map.

(A field in Marathovounos, Cyprus--an occupied territory and the original inspiration for this little writing. Farther ahead, on one of those mountains, is an enormous flag representing the "Turkish Republic" set in stones along the mountain's vegetation.)

    Time and war have draped a protective film of dust on the tiny room. The aged concrete seems to crack under the injustice it has suffered; the timbers of wood splinter under neglect. A muezzin wails from that nearby screaming tower--a minaret--his calls bouncing off the walls that once amplified the chaotic noises of a young family. A household once handmade with care, now withers from the lack of it.

    I scuffle among the fifty year-old bullet shells and overturned chairs to a wooden vanity in the corner. Passing a rickety bed, I notice the slightly scorched quilt. A thread-bare rug folds unexpectedly under my feet and I fall forward. Grasping unsuccessfully for the helping hands of ghosts long gone, I crash to the floor--dust flurrying into the once clear, dry air. I rise and am confronted with my own blurry image.

    So this is her vanity? It is simple. A few carved embellishments, but like most things in her life, it was used for practicality. Its mirror is grayer with the smudge of grime than her ashen hair is with the toll of time.

    There’s her old ivory comb, given as an unexpected gift on her wedding night, because she had broken her old one in a nervous attempt to tame her frizzy curls that night. It had a history of “last minute” uses, too. After returning from the fields, Papou had stolen it a few times in a rush to tidy his sweaty hair before she laid eyes on him. Apparently, she’d used it directly before fleeing, because even in that state of terror, she didn’t want the Turks to believe they’d gotten to her head... or her hair. Neatness was awfully important to her.

    Of course, you wouldn’t know that by looking at the vanity as it is now--strewn with tipped bottles, pins, and various, unidentifiable knick knacks. But at one time it was quite immaculate, she says. It was one of the three things she took with her when she came with Papou after their wedding--this vanity, a box of icons and a baby lemon tree. For her own sanity, she continues to convince herself that it is as clean as when she left it. She doesn’t know that the lemon tree has died for lack of water, that the icons are nowhere to be found--burned during the invasion, most likely-- and that the state of this vanity embodies the unspoken reality of what the invasion did to these people. Where order once thrived in communion, chaos now rules in abandonment.

    “The Golden-green leaf thrown in the sea (Χρυσοπράσινο φύλλο ριγμένο στο πέλαγο),” is a third brown now... the life drained from its stem.
For a well-known song on "The Golden-Green Leaf," visit:

(A mosque in Marathovounos, courtesy of Efstratios Papageorgiou.)

(The loved ones of those who fled,  courtesy of Efstratios Papageorgiou.)

(The Church of Prophet Elijah, courtesy of Efstratios Papageorgiou.)

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Holy Great Martyr Procopius, July 8th

Today, on July 8th, we commemorate St. Procopius the Great Martyr. In my research on this saint, I encountered two dramatically different accounts of his life--one which is considered the earliest account and another which is the commonly held traditional account. Whether the accounts speak of different "Procopius's" or one of the two accounts is erroneous, there is still much to glean from both. I personally wrote on the common account concerning the soldier, but I also provide some links (courtesy of a friend) on the earlier account from Eusebius. 


(And icon of Saint Procopius from the 13th century; 
Saint Catherine's Monastery on Mount Sinai)

Earliest Account: 

From Eusebius Pamphilii of Caesarea's "History of the martyrs in Palestine:"

The Legends of the Saints: An Introduction to Hagiography: 

Common Account:

    What do St. Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus and St. Constantine the Great’s legendary vision, “Ἐν Τούτῳ Νίκα!” (with this ‘sign’ you shall conquer!), have in common?  Given that Constantine was born more than two hundred and fifty years after St. Paul’s death, a “common” thread--besides that of Christianity--is hard to identify.

    However, in the life of St. Procopius (late 200s to 303 AD), the two events find a meeting point. Born near Jerusalem, Neanius (his pagan name) was raised by his pagan mother, Theodosia, to become a machine for political success, academic accomplishment and monetary ease. His Christian father, Christopher, died while he was still very young, which left him highly vulnerable to the Roman paganism of the time. He was groomed for secular achievement and had very little difficulty achieving it, securing the interested eye of Emperor Diocletian soon after his education was completed. Upon his mother’s request, he became the Duke of Alexandria--a chief executive officer--filling her with pride and joy. Diocletian quickly sent this promising young man on the one mission that would alter his life: a campaign against the Christians to exterminate them. Neanius, eager to please the emperor, lost no time in the expedition. However, this pursuit was over before it began, for as he rested along the road with two bodyguards, a shining cross appeared to him and a loud voice said, “I am Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who was crucified.”

    This event changed the entire cadence of Neanius’ life. Like St. Paul, he adopted a Christian name--Procopius (meaning “progress”)--and redirected his forces to defend the Christians in Jerusalem from those sieging it, much to his mother’s confusion and dismay. Similar to St. Constantine, he ordered that the cross from his vision be inscribed on every shield. Theodosia’s perfectly built temple of a boy was transformed into a palace for God. The Christians were obviously bewildered at this unforeseen support from the Duke of Alexandria, but they received it joyfully and hosted him until the prefect, Holkian, summoned him to a pagan temple. He accepted this summon only under the condition that some of his Christian brothers accompany him. Despite the efforts of the prefect, St. Procopius and his brothers refused to give reverence to the pagan gods, praying instead for the Lord to demonstrate His merciful power. After they exited the temple, it began to rumble and soon crashed, broken and shattered, to the ground. This was too much for the already angry Holkian, who perceived these miraculous events as black magic. Thus, the martyrdoms of St. Procopius and his friends were swift: beheading without a proper trial on July 8th, 303 A.D.

Troparion — Tone 4

Your holy martyr Procopius, O Lord, through his suffering has received an incorruptible crown from You, our God. For having Your strength, he laid low his adversaries, and shattered the powerless boldness of demons. Through his intercessions save our souls!


Poulos, George. "July 8, Saint Prokopois the Great Martyr." Orthodox Saints. Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, Print.

"Greatmartyr Procopius of Caesarea, in Palestine." The Orthodox Church in America, n.d. Web. <>.

Further Studying: 


The Orthodox Church in America:
Prologue from Orchid:

Other links:,,

Monday, July 7, 2014

Great-Martyr Kyriaki of Nicomedia (Trisagion Films)

Another daily "short" for Trisagion Films:

 Great-Martyr Kyriaki of Nicomedia 

For further reading on her life and martyrdom: 

~Logic and Language~

Are you a lover of logic or language? Both? Requiring no previous language experience, these sites offer challenging exercises in both areas--growing your ability to grasp the various structures, sounds and nuances of language through logical deduction.

The Linguistics Challenge:

(Similar to Oxford's undergraduate admissions test for the Faculty of Linguistics, Phonetics and Philology, these puzzles challenge your ability to observe the function and patterns of language. If you have a firm grasp of English grammar and a passion for logical puzzles,
these puzzles will be addicting.)

The Great Language Game:  

(Do you find yourself subtly intruding and intently listening to the conversations of others, attempting to pinpoint where exactly they come from, what exactly their language is? If so, this is the game for you. Currently featuring 78 different languages, your inner analyst will be challenged in a quest for identification.)

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Liturgics - Sacraments: The Who Not the What

(One the final papers I wrote for this previous school year. It was a paper which required an interview with a clergyman, but just for a short time the priest consulted for the Orthodox perspective shall remain anonymous. Constructive criticism is desired!)

The Who Not the What
Throughout time, humanity has highlighted certain objects, dates, and people--all of whom are deemed as holy (hieros/agios/sacrum).  A “holy” thing could range from “that which is set aside for a special purpose” to “that which is perfected” to “that which participates in the energies of the supernatural/uncreated/divine.”  Within Christianity specifically, encountering holy objects, people and events is inevitable: Saints, feast days, the Bible, and the Sacraments.  The sacraments (or Holy Mysteries) stand as a central focus of many, if not all, Christian traditions.  However, the Holy Mysteries themselves have been defined and handled very differently since the beginning of the Church.  Out of the varying perspectives on these Mysteries, the two most prominent and perhaps influential are those of the Eastern and Western Churches--more specifically, in the context of this paper, Calvin and Eastern Orthodoxy.  Where much of the West defines the Holy Mysteries as signs, symbols and covenants, the Eastern Orthodox Church approaches them as “mysteries” of which we cannot totally define, but can participate within.  Calvin is sorely misrepresented and misunderstood by many inside and outside of Calvinism today.  Given these things, the Eastern Orthodox “phronema” and John Calvin’s contribution has been examined via textual evidence in order to explore the “spermatikos logos” found in Calvin’s sacramental theology and to introduce Orthodox sacramental theology as being a full and communal “phronema” on the Holy Mysteries.
Calvin offers two similar definitions for a “sacrament” in its most general sense.  One is that a Holy Mystery is “an outward sign by which the Lord seals on our consciences the promises of His good will toward us in order to sustain the weakness of our faith; and we in turn attest our piety toward him in the presence of the Lord and of his angels and before men (Bk. IV, Ch. XIV, pg. 1277).”  On a more condensed note, he also says that a Holy Mystery is simply “a testimony of divine grace toward us, confirmed by an outward sign, with mutual attestation of our piety toward Him (pg. 1277).”  In general, Calvin looks upon the Holy Mysteries as indicative of Salvation and agents of the Holy Spirit, but not entirely necessary for Salvation. For he says of the Bible, “God’s truth is of itself firm and sure enough, and it cannot receive better confirmation from any other source than from itself (pg. 1278).”  Many people interpret Calvin’s words to mean that the Holy Mysteries are merely signs, but this is far from what Calvin truly believed.  Although he did perceive them as outward signs (which can appear lifeless), they also were characteristically mystical due to the communication of God’s grace through them.  In addition to this, he firmly believed in sacraments as covenantal things. Like the covenants in the Old Testament, the sacraments “point to Christ.”  Yet, Calvin was insightful enough to go beyond even this to say that “Christ is the matter or substance of all the sacraments, for in him they have all their firmness and they do not promise anything apart from him.”  In essence, the sacraments from Calvin’s perspective can be divided into two categories--the outward sign and the inward mystery: each being distinct from the other, but capable of being united under the preaching of the Word of God, through faith and by grace. 
According to the Orthodox, Calvin is close to the truth, but not entirely there.  He has all the pieces of a mirror shattered by Catholicism, but he does not have the tools to put that mirror back together to gain a full reflection of the truth. He has the sandy ground of the Enlightenment and the untrustworthy glue of rationalism (orthologistis), not the rock of Holy Tradition and the superglue of communion.  In the Orthodox Church, “sacraments” and “mysteries” are considered synonymous terms.  However, in contrast to Calvin, “mystery” is preferred due to the depth of meaning which accompanies it.  For a “mystery,” in Orthodoxy, is considered something outside our realm of understanding--that is, outside of time--and yet it has managed to pierce time and space in a way that causes us to acknowledge it.  Christ’s Incarnation is considered the greatest “mystery” or sacrament due to the phenomenal act of the Creator of time entering time itself as 100% man and 100% God.  Either “Christ is the only Holy Mystery, for all Mysteries are Him, or all things are Holy Mysteries, for He is in all places” and according to this paradox, Mysteries take on a different identity in Orthodoxy compared to Calvinism.  They are no longer events or things isolated to merely the Church, but part of a lifestyle and a “cadence” of living in Christ, who is present through these Mysteries, as the focus of one’s life. As to whether or not the Holy Mysteries are necessary for salvation, if our ultimate goal is to become Christ-like and the Holy Mysteries are specifically given to us in the Bible as things done in remembrance of Him (Luke 22:19) and His life, then why not use them?  How can they not be salvific, if they were instituted by the One who is salvation?  Anything which brings us closer in communion with Christ is necessary for salvation.  Thus, the Holy Mysteries are necessary for salvation for those who are capable of receiving them.  There are natural exceptions for those who are incapable.  After all, if we are dealing with a Holy Mystery--something outside of time--we cannot put restraints on it as Calvin did.  For the Mysteries are necessary for Salvation only in the sense that they restore communion, but Necessity itself does not lord over any aspect of the Mysteries. Lastly, Calvin focuses heavily on the communication of the Mysteries rather than participation with them. His perspective is restrictive to God’s grace and he puts yield signs and traffic lights on anything that resembles mystical participation (not communication), which is, to him, characteristically Roman Catholic.  However, the Orthodox perceive the Mysteries as things which can be received, communicated and participated in simultaneously.  They are not simply a one sided communication, but a two-sided communion. They do not simply “point to Christ,” they are Christ.  
Calvin also focuses with intensity on “cornerstone” sacraments such as Baptism and the Eucharist in order to channel his more general theology through specific sacramental examples. According to him, “Baptism is the sign of the initiation by which we are received into the society of the church, in order that, engrafted in Christ, we may be reckoned among God’s children (Ch. XV, pg. 1303).”  Although he addresses quite firmly the materialistic and gnostic heresies of the Roman Catholic Church regarding Baptism, he also spends time reiterating how Baptism is a sign of repentance and union with Christ.  It demonstrates repentance and represents union.  It is a claim to “regeneration” and a union with the generations of God’s children.  However, it stops at this.  Torn between what a sacrament is and who it imparts, Calvin does not go beyond simply stating the evident communication of God’s grace and presence in the sacrament and goes on to meticulously define the nuances of definition itself with regard to the exterior nature of the Mystery. 
The Orthodox do not necessarily disagree with Calvin on Baptism either, but as with most of the Holy Mysteries, Calvin does not have the “full picture.”  The Orthodox agree that it is a physical indication of repentance, but they go even further to say that this “metonia” (the word for repentance, meaning a complete change of physical, spiritual and mental direction) is a participation in the event of Christ’s Baptism, thus emphasizing a real connection with Christ through baptism.  The engrafting is not simply symbolic, but mystically communal--not simply a communication from God to the people and from the person to God.  It is both (not bits and pieces of) the outward sign and the inward reality.  It is a sustained and accepted paradox.  In addition, Calvin focuses on the exterior sign representing an interior, unseen reality, but the Orthodox perceive the interior reality as being the source of the equally legitimate exterior reality.  Calvin reasons from the outside in; the Orthodox reason from the inside out. 
Lastly, Calvin shifts his focus toward the Mystery of the Eucharist as he responds to the heresies which saturated the Roman Catholic Church and he brings up the famed “spiritual presence” of Christ in this specific Mystery.  Calvin’s ideas on this subject were highly influenced by the corruption of the Roman Catholic Church of his time period, so his views on this must be gracefully understood in the context of the extremities he experienced.  Communion was no longer communal.  Instead, it was a power play of the hot blooded popes who spiritual starved people due to their impertinent defiling of the Mystery and arrogant deification of themselves.  Thus Calvin conceived the idea of “spiritual presence” and to this day, it characterizes his theology from all other theologies.  He says that, “when we see wine set forth as a symbol of blood, we must reflect on the benefits which wine imparts to the body, and so realize that the same are spiritually imparted to us by Christ’s blood (Ch. VXII, pg. 1363).”  Careful not to fall into the heresy of transubstantiation or complete gnosticism, Calvin tries to walk a high wire between the utterly real and the utterly spiritual in his theology regarding Holy Communion.  However, in his balancing, he delineates boundaries and logical constraints to something known since the early church to be a “mysterion”--something which is certainly not illogical, but simply beyond our logical abilities.  In addition, he puts a weighty emphasis on Holy Communion as being a sacrifice and our participation in it as being a reflection of that sacrifice. It focuses primarily on Christ’s death, not on the life found through His death. 
There is a significant difference between Calvin’s focus and perspective on the Eucharist and the common Orthodox perspective; the first, misplacing emphasis and the second, correctly placing emphasis on this Mystery.  Concerning his misplacement of emphasis, Calvin states that the preaching of the Word of God is the center of worship and that sacraments are illegitimate without this preaching. The Orthodox also hold similar views about the importance of scriptural inclusion in the liturgy.  However, in contrast to Calvin, they center their liturgy on the partaking of the Eucharist.  Because of this, the Orthodox and Calvin are both simultaneously different and similar.  Both Calvin and the Orthodox focus on the Word of God with great energy.  Yet Calvin focuses on the Word as a what (scripture, preaching, etc.), whereas the Orthodox focus on the Word as a who (Christ, the Word of God, the ultimate communication of God’s grace).  By acknowledging the Word of God in His being through the Mystery of the Eucharist, the Word of God in its written form naturally follows.  This broad difference has multiple implications.  For example, Calvin instructs us to “reflect” on the Mystery, limiting our participation in the mystery to merely the mind.  The Orthodox endeavor to be present entirely in the Mystery as Christ is also entirely present--with the mind, the body, and the soul--for it is the whole body which needs life and healing.  There is also a sharp divide between Calvin’s use of logical distinction and rationalization (which ironically limits a full understanding of the Mystery) and the acceptance of the incomprehensibleness of the mystical event which is found in Orthodox sacramental theology.  Knowledge is not as important as relationship and explanation is not necessary for participation.  Lastly, as mentioned, Calvin heavily emphasizes the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist.  The Orthodox would also agree here--the significance of Christ’s body and blood is found in the Crucifixion. However, the Orthodox do not use the Eucharist to focus on what was done, but Who did it and who it was done for. 
With a “phronema” that sets relationships above facts, the Orthodox concern themselves first with the person and second with the mind--for with the first comes the second.  Calvin, on the other hand, in a defensive position against the Roman Catholic corruption of the sacraments, fell into the trap of heavily focusing on the mind and rationalism as tools of healing, due to the abuse to the person he had the misfortune of witnessing.  Based on these foundations, Calvin’s thorough rational analysis of both Baptism and the Eucharist stand in sharp contrast with the Orthodox understanding of the personal and relational aspect of the Holy Mysteries. Calvin, by no means, was entirely wrong.  In fact, his perspective is strikingly similar to Orthodox sacramental theology, requiring subtle differentiation to highlight the actual differences, but he only had half of the picture.  With the advent of the age of reason and the subsequent importance placed on mind and man, Calvin’s writings, although wise at the time, have become a movement to elevate humanity and to “box in” God Himself.  For the Church, according to the Early Church Fathers, was and is a hospital for sinners, not a philosopher’s forum and its sacraments are the medicine given by the Doctor and received by His patients. 

Works Cited and Sources
Fr. (Anonymous) Ph.D. (in Patristics) and Protopresbyter 
Calvin, John. The Institutes of Christian Religion. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminister John Knox Press, 2006. Print.
The Orthodox Study Bible. ed. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishing, 2008. Print.