All this took place to fulfill what had been said by the Lord through the prophet: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him “Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.”—Matt. 1:22-23
May the Lord bless you with peace, and good will, and joy. From Matthew’s Gospel: “Now, the birth of Jesus took place in this way” (1:18). Sometimes I wonder if Christmas doesn’t actually start—and Advent end—the moment we hear those words in Scripture, they are so delightfully familiar. And the Nativity music and the beautiful troparions and the perfume of Frankincense are filling our days, and the sidewalks smell like Christmas trees for sale, and traditional holiday treats are baking, and colored lights bless us from everywhere—here we are at the threshold of God’s unsearchable gift to us of the Incarnation in the birth of the little Christ Child. For soon, so soon we will celebrate the glorification of the Nativity in the flesh by the Most Holy Virgin Mary of our Lord Jesus Christ. And: “the Virgin bears Him who is transcendent, and the earth contains him in a cave, Him who is utterly uncontainable” (Kontakion of Holy Nativity, Third Tone).
And yet, we do hear a lot of fretting from Joseph in the story as it is told in the Gospel of Matthew. Another of the traditional kontakions explains it for us: “The chaste-minded Joseph, who before had within him a storm of doubting thoughts, now beholds all-glorious things within the divine cave (Kontakion IV, Akathist Hymn to the Nativity of Christ). Another way to reflect on his concern is to see in it Joseph working out his honorable respect of Mary as sacred to God; perhaps that his very young fiancé is already dedicated to God at this point.
Russian Sophiology has returned. For decades, speaking of Fr. Sergius Bulgakov or any of the Russian Sophiologists was usually to invoke a niche interest. Yet today, judging by translations and secondary literature, Fr. Bulgakov in particular has emerged as a force in systematic theology that far exceeds mere historical or confessional interest. His contemporary relevance as a daring theologian and religious thinker par excellence has not only caught the eye of contemporary Eastern Orthodox theologians, but (arguably even more so!) from Roman Catholic and Anglican thinkers as well. And while the major works of his systematic and experimental thought are now largely translated, we are only now getting the first glimpses of the more personal writings.
Roberto De La Noval has previously translated Bulgakov’s harrowing encounter with terminal throat cancer in The Sophiology of Death: Essays on Eschatology, and now he has teamed up with Mark Roosien to present Bulgakov’s spiritual diary from 1924-1925, a time of exile for him and his family, in translation and theological context. It should provide, even if implicitly, one of the greatest possible defenses of Fr. Bulgakov’s theology. The spiritual diary does not paint a portrait of someone addicted to novelty; it paints a remarkably ordinary picture of conventional spiritual topics and moods. He records the cycles of the spiritual life assiduously, marking all the difficulties of cultivating gratitude, patience, and forbearance. He speaks constantly of love for God and the great labor and joy that is prayer. He encounters the same cycles of joy, tedium, despondency, and contentment that would be familiar terrain in most spiritual writers East or West. This diary presents a man of extraordinary intellectual gifts and vision encountering the same everyday duties and tasks of any husband, father, and priest.
It was a normal Greek summer day in July 2022, before an Orthodox baptism provoked a fervent debate, or another episode in the “culture wars,” regarding the requirements (are there any?) of a child being baptized in the Church. Although Greeks are accustomed to reading about Church activities in newspapers and on social media, for instance on ecclesiastical property or the interference of the Church in political issues, this was something different in nature. It brought to the fore a series of crucial questions related to Christian identity in a secular age. Are there any specific theological, or other, preconditions that permit or prevent a person’s baptism? Does the Church accept same-sex marriage?
On July 9, 2022, Archbishop Elpidophoros, head of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, visited Athens to baptize the children of celebrity fashion designer Peter Dundas and Evangelos Bousis in a parish outside of Athens (Viouliagmeni). This parish belongs to the jurisdiction of the Metropolis of Glyfada, one of eighty dioceses that constitute the synodal system of the Church of Greece. Soon this seemingly ordinary baptism became a battlefield for the local bishop and other traditionalists who reacted against it for various reasons: on the surface, for jurisdiction, but essentially for homosexuality, since it involved children of a same-sex couple.
Late in J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic The Lord of the Rings, Samwise Gamgee finds himself in darkness and likely near death. Enemies have captured his dearest friend, and Sam lies alone, shivering and impossibly far from home. He tries to make sense of the situation, but “even of the days he had quite lost count. He was in a land of darkness where the days of the world seemed forgotten, and where all who entered were forgotten too. ‘I wonder if they think of us at all,’ he said” (The Lord of the Rings, HarperCollins, 2021, p. 987).
Forgetfulness is a key tool of evil in The Lord of the Rings. Cowardice, despair, and exhaustion tempt characters throughout the book, but forgetfulness—of home and friends, of beauty, of causes worth fighting for—is the fog in which treachery grows most threatening. Memory, in turn, has a distinct power in The Lord of the Rings. It rouses characters to hope in the face of staggering odds, hardening them against fear and doubt. Beyond this strengthening effect, Orthodox Christian writers also recognize memory’s role in enriching and beautifying a man’s life, even uniting him with God. Memory in The Lord of the Rings bears striking similarities to this idea as well. Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov sets out both conceptions of memory—as a source of strength and as a redeeming force—and illuminates the centrality of memory to The Lord of the Rings.