by Chris Durante
During Lent, lay, clergy and monastic alike partake in fasting, and unlike other fasting periods, such as the nativity fast prior to Christmas, many modern Orthodox Christian laity do still partake in the Lenten fast, at least to some degree and for some extent of time. As the laity partake in this tradition, they ought to consider that for monks and nuns who engage in the practice of fasting throughout the year, fasting is not simply a matter of abstaining from food but is a spiritual exercise that is part and parcel of the quest to be Good and become more Divine-like. Despite the fact that not all persons are suited to monastic life, there are indeed lessons that laity can learn from the deeply psychological and moral dimensions of the monastic understanding of fasting as a spiritual practice.
Some of the most theologically developed discussions of fasting are to be found within the Philokalia, meaning “Lover of Goodness.” Within the four volumes of the Philokalia, we find a robust philosophy of fasting in which the psyche as well as the body must be involved in the spiritual pursuit of the good. Within these classic texts of Orthodox Christian spirituality, the idea that cultivating a state of psycho-spiritual “watchfulness,” “wakefulness,” or “mindfulness” (called nepsis) is foundational for the cultivation of arete, or virtue. Within the Philokalia, nepsis is described as vigilantly guarding one’s heart and mind from evil, or vicious, thoughts such as: anger, jealousy, rage, despair, gluttony, greed, egoism and lust. It is the practice of nepsis that helps enable one to transform these pathoi, or pathological thoughts, into more reasonable desires and place them in the service of attaining the higher-order desire for the good. Continue reading
by George Demacopoulos
Several months ago, a recent convert to Orthodox Christianity with the online handle “BigSexy” launched a Reddit thread decrying Public Orthodoxy because, he claimed, it is an affront to Christian teaching. My first impulse was to mock the absurdity—are we supposed to believe that “BigSexy” has a monopoly on theological insight!?!
I realized, of course, that I should not be surprised that people say silly things on the Internet—especially about religion. Nor should I be surprised that some converts come from traditions that encourage certitude rather than faith. An academic forum, like Public Orthodoxy, is threatening to this kind of Christian (and others) because it complicates simplistic understandings of the Church and its history. At the time, I told myself that no one encounters a faith tradition without the hermeneutical baggage of their past. Indeed, if a Christian as remarkable as St. Augustine was unable to move fully beyond his Manichean experience, could I really expect a convert with Fundamentalist tendencies to eschew the entirety of his former world view?
But the more I’ve thought about this episode over the past few months, the more I have realized that the problem isn’t the converts, their past, or their zeal. The problem is us—those of us raised in the Church. Continue reading
by Kateřina Kočandrle Bauer
Since the beginning of modern times, monastic spirituality has had to face both extreme fundamentalism and extreme liberalism, or in postmodern times, relativism. One reason is an incomplete or incorrect understanding of the human person and human identity. Mother Maria Skobtsova (1891-1945), an Orthodox nun who left Russia after the 1917 revolution and settled in Paris, represents a monastic spiritual journey that moderates both fundamentalism and extreme relativism. She was creative and innovative in her spiritual journey, but at the same time she held onto the spiritual values of the Christian tradition of the past that, in a new context of exile, did not lose meaning. We can find inspiration for a non-fundamentalist but rooted monastic spirituality not only in Mother Maria’s life and actions but also in her theoretical presuppositions for the monastic journey, especially her understanding of the human person as made according to God’s image and likeness and her notion of human identity.
The fundamentalist notion of the human self affirms a strong identity. Postmodern liberal identity, on the other hand, is fluid and often unstable. Fundamentalist religious identity plays strongly on collective identity and thus denies to a certain extent individuality and authenticity. Postmodern liberal consumerist identity, however, seeks only individualism and authentic experience but often without a profound understanding of the past. Here, Mother Maria offers a position that moderates the two extremes: first, she speaks of collective identity as sobornost, but only together with the authenticity of individual identity; and second, she affirms rootedness in the past, but combined with dynamicity and the possibility of adapting Christian identity to the contemporary context—bringing it into the present. Continue Reading…
by Gregory J. Abdalah
I recently took my wife to see Les Misérables. From the first time I heard it, it became one of my favorite musicals. I did not really understand all of the themes and topics at first, often turning to my mom for explanation as we were listening in the car. When asked to choose something to sing in an eighth-grade music class, I naturally chose my favorite song: “Stars.” My mother cried, of course. “Stars” became my go-to piece for anytime I needed something to sing—this range included anything from high school musical auditions to a “Broadway Night” Performance in Stara Zagora, Bulgaria, to my parents “requesting” me to sing for their friends during dinner in the Pope room at Buca di Beppo. Each time she heard me sing it, my mother cried, of course. It became a running joke. I’d sing a few bars in the car and then stop and ask, “You crying, ma?” Nothing seemed a more fitting encore when choosing the program for my college senior recital, the final for a degree in vocal performance. And for those who are wondering…yes, my mom cried. So, much to my surprise, when I took my wife to see Les Misérables, I got emotional during “Stars.” Then memories of the joy shared through music flooding in: listening together in the car, singing in the choir, seeing concerts and musicals and plays together. The next thing I knew, the cast started singing the reprise of “Do you hear the people sing?” and I could not stop crying. I even had to stay in my seat during the standing ovation to compose myself! It hit me like a ton of bricks: Grief is a funny thing. It has the ability to creep up on you when you least expect it.
While I was sharing this experience with a friend, they asked “Does it feel fresh?” I stumbled to find an answer and could not. The best I could come up with was: “It’s like a scab that sometimes gets picked off.” The reality is that it has been ten years since my mom passed away. I feel like I should be past the point of crying at random, but every so often that scab gets picked off. What does it really mean to be “past” it, anyway? Continue Reading…