… the life of the Church is assimilated and known only through life—not in the abstract, not in a rational way. If one must nevertheless apply concepts to the life of the Church, the most appropriate concepts would be not juridical and archaeological ones but biological and aesthetic ones. What is ecclesiality? It is a new life, life in the Spirit. What is the criterion of the rightness of this life? Beauty. Yes, there is a special beauty of the spirit, and, ungraspable by logical formulas, it is at the same time the only true path to the definition of what is orthodox and  what is not orthodox. The connoisseurs of this beauty are the spiritual elders, the startsy, the masters of the ‘art of arts’, as the holy fathers call asceticism. The startsy were adept at assessing the quality of spiritual life. The Orthodox taste, the Orthodox temper, is felt but it is not subject to arithmetical calculation. Orthodoxy is shown, nor proved. That is why there is only one way to understand Orthodoxy: through direct orthodox experience… to become Orthodox, it is necessary to immerse oneself all at once in the very element of Orthodoxy, to begin living in an Orthodox way. There is no other way.

Pavel Florensky, The Pillar and Ground of the Truth. An Essay in Orthodox
Theodicy in Twelve Letters, trans. by Boris Jakim, Princeton NJ, 1997, pp. 8–9.

Quoted in “Lecture I: Thinking and doing, being and praying: where do we start?” which is the first of a series of lectures by Father Andrew Louth on “Orthodox Theology. A Personal Introduction.” More information here. Of course, if you should be anywhere near the Netherlands, you would be well advised to go and listen to the lectures!

For anyone in or around the Cape Town area who is interested in the interface between psychology and Christian faith, the Orthodox Archbishopric of Good Hope is hosting a lecture by Professor Renos Papadopoulos, director of the Centre for Trauma, Asylum and Refugees at the University of Essex and Honorary Clinical Psychologist and Systemic Psychotherapist at the Tavistock Clinic, London. As consultant to the United Nations and other organisations, he has been working with refugees and survivors of political violence and disasters in many countries. He consults and offers specialist training courses internationally.


Psychology and Orthodoxy:
Complementary or Contradictory

Thursday, 5 January at 7 pm for 7.30 pm

at the Hellenic Community Centre, 24 Bay Road, Mouilles Point.


The outline for the lecture reads:

In our increasingly demanding, perplexing and oppressive modern world, people are constantly looking for answers. They often turn to psychology to find comfort, meaning and reason. Is psychology able to provide reliable and appropriate answers and solutions? In this talk, Professor Papadopoulos will explore the relationship between psychology and Orthodoxy, their similarities and differences. Particular attention will be given to the issues of suffering and traumatising experiences, within the context of both everyday living as well as in situations of natural or man-made disasters. The talk is aimed at medical practitioners, other mental health professionals, students, as well as the general public. There will be plenty of time at the end for questions, discussion and dialogue.

There is no entry fee, but please call Erine on 021 433 2374 to reserve seats or Evgenia on 082 311 9885 for more details.

I should have posted this earlier, but I’m sure that there will be readers of this blog who will be interested – and pleased – to know that the lectures on Saints Athanasios, Dionysios, Maximos and Gregory Palamas, that Father Andrew Louth has been giving at the Amsterdam Centre for Eastern Orthodox Theology (ACEOT), are now available on iTunes. I still haven’t worked out why my computer doesn’t like iTunes so haven’t been able to listen to them yet, but have no hesitation in recommending them nevertheless.

There are also lecture handouts available here.

Another update: Joe Koczera has a post on this tragedy here.

Update: They’ve been freed – Al Jazeera report here, and BBC here.

From the BBC World Service (18:05 GMT):

Gunmen take hostages in Baghdad church

Gunmen have taken around 40 worshippers hostage in a central Baghdad church, Iraqi police say.

The gunmen first attacked the stock exchange in the Iraqi capital before moving to a nearby Assyrian Catholic church, where a Sunday evening service was being held.

At least six people were killed in the attacks, police said.

The gunmen are reportedly demanding the release of al-Qaeda members imprisoned in Iraq and Egypt.

According to the police, several other people were wounded.

The attackers are also holding two priests at the Our Lady of Salvation Church, the Chaldean Bishop Shlemon Warduni told the AFP agency.

“What we know is that a number of worshippers and two priests are being held hostage at the church by terrorists,” he said.

A local television station, al-Baghdadia, said it had been telephoned by the suspected attackers, who claimed they were from the organisation Islamic State of Iraq – an umbrella group embracing al-Qaeda and other militant groups.

The broadcaster said the men were demanding the release of al-Qaeda prisoners in Iraq and Egypt.

It reported that the men spoke in classical Arabic, which could imply that they are not from Iraq.

The BBC’s Jim Muir in Baghdad said the church in Karada district was surrounded by security forces and the area sealed off.

There were reports that the gunmen threatened to shoot the hostages if the church is stormed by security forces.

In 2008, the Chaldean Catholic archbishop of Mosul, Paulos Faraj Rahho, was kidnapped by unknown gunmen and found dead two weeks later.

We clearly need to pray. But this also reminded me of something Steve Hayes wrote here:

The destruction of Christian communities in the Middle East surely cannot be described as an unintended consequence of the invasion. It was both forseeable and foreseen, and therefore must have been intended. It is an integral part of the Bush-Blair legacy. It is said that one should not ascribe to malice what can be explained by ignorance and stupidity, but the leaders of the most powerful nation on earth cannot have been that stupid…. can they?

May God have mercy on us all.

I don’t know if this blog is read by people from the Netherlands or Belgium who don’t already know this, but in case it is it may be worth making people aware of the following events.

  • On Thursday, 21 October, the Amsterdam Centre for Eastern Orthodox Theology (ACEOT) will be officially inaugurated with a symposium on Peace in Orthodox Theology. Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) will speak on “Peace in Orthodox Theology and Liturgy” and Father Andrew Louth will speak on “Peace from on high, St Maximos Confessor on peace.” More information can be found here. Update: Jim Forest posted photos here.

  • On Saturday, 30 October, Archimandrite Symeon (Cossec), Igumen of the Monastery of St Silouan in France, will speak on “Keep your soul in hell and do not despair” (presumably in French) at the parish of Saints Constantine and Helena in Brugge. More information can be found here.
  • On Saturday, 27 November, Archimandrite Zacharias (Zacharou) of the Monastery of St John the Baptist in Essex, will speak on “Remember thy first love” at the parish of Saint Nektarios in Eindhoven. More information can be found here.

Needless to say, I rather regret that I won’t be able to attend any of them, especially the first!

I’m not sure if I’m going to be able to express what I want to say here. Forgive me if I offend or shock, but here goes…

A few days ago reports were doing the rounds of the latest round of violence between Greek and Armenian monks in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. I have been reflecting on such incidents a bit and realising that I am quite uncomfortable with the attention that they draw, both in the media and in the conversations that “enlightened” western Christians have about such things.

Don’t misunderstand me. I do not think that monks, or any other Christians, should go around beating each other up. Neither do I think that the divisions between Christians, as they find concrete expression in the holy places, are anything other than scandalous. But…

In thinking about this I was reminded of a conversation I once had with the Melkite Patriarch Gregory III, when he was still bishop of Jerusalem. I was left to make small talk with him when the abbess I was accompanying was unexpectedly called to the telephone. Not knowing what to say I commented on the divisions of the Churches in Jerusalem and, in typical western liberal Christian fashion, lamented how terrible it was. I was quite taken aback by his sharp response, which basically reprimanded me for commenting on things that I knew little about, although he was too gracious to put it quite so bluntly. He proceeded to tell me how the Churches in Jerusalem were working together and how their leaders met regularly to discuss matters of common concern, accounts of which I later heard from other sources as well.

Perhaps it is inevitable that sensational news like monks beating each other up attracts attention, but it does make me wonder about the power dynamics and the cultural presuppositions involved on the part of those who are so shocked by it. The Churches are divided and we are all of us violent creatures. Perhaps it should not be so shocking that this erupts in the Church’s holiest place, but perhaps it should also stimulate us to reflect on the divisions and the violence that we all-too-easily camouflage under a “civilised” discourse, whose presuppositions may have more to do with the respectability of the enlightenment than with the Gospel.

I was initially trying to ignore the U.S. election campaign because, well, it’s quite annoying being reminded of how dominant the superpower is. And I couldn’t help thinking that all the enthusiasm about Obama was more hype than anything else.

Then I thought of highlighting this post by Steve Hayes in which he describes himself as being more relieved than elated at Obama’s election, and which pretty much sums up my feelings on the American presidency – he is a South African after all! Or this one by Byron Smith (an Australian), which provides a thoughtful reflection on the dangers of messianic expectations.

But I must admit that I am beginning to be just slightly infected by some of the enthusiasm. When I read Peter Gilbert describing how a vast cloud had lifted I could not help but being reminded of our South African elections in 1994. I don’t want to overstate the comparison, much less to place Obama in the same category as Nelson Mandela. (And even Madiba was not the Messiah). And there was hype and emotion involved that tended to blur some of the real issues. But it did nevertheless do something important for our national identity, providing hope for a different type of society, and providing an end to our status as a pariah nation. It certainly did not usher in the Kingdom but it was nevertheless a formative experience that I look back on in gratitude, however messy South African reality may have become.

So, yes, I do rejoice, if rather tentatively, with those who are rejoicing and hope and pray that it makes a difference, not just for the U.S.A. but also for the rest of the world.

(And if anyone is inclined to raise the abortion issue in any isolated fashion, I would recommend this post).

I’m rather late mentioning this, but for anyone interested who hasn’t seen it elsewhere, on Monday, 8 September, feast of the Nativity of the Mother of God, Dom Eamon Fitzgerald was elected the new Abbot General of our Order.

Please pray for Dom Eamon, for the Order and, perhaps most especially, for his monastery of Mount Melleray in Ireland who have just lost their abbot.

Please pray for the General Chapter of our Order, which opened in Assisi yesterday. Apart from the usual pastoral and juridical issues that the abbots and abbesses gather to discuss every three years, they are also going to be electing a new abbot general as Dom Bernardo Olivera is retiring after eighteen years as abbot general.

In case anyone is interested there is a blog with news of the Chapter here.

Here is the last conference from the colloquium in Ghent. Please see my previous disclaimer concering the accuracy of my reporting and translations!

Brother Benoît Standaert, osb, is a monk of Saint Andrew’s Abbey, Zevenkerken, in Bruges, and author of several books which have been translated into French and Italian, but I am not aware of any English translations.

John of Dalyatha or John “Saba,” which means “the elder,” lived in the eighth century in Dalyatha, a mountainous region where modern Turkey, Iran and Iraq meet.

His life

John lived between 690 and 780 and was thus younger than Isaac of Nineveh whom he quotes. He began his novitiate around the year 710 in the monastery of Mar Yuzadaq and after seven years of formation was allowed to begin his eremitical life in the mountains of Dalyatha where he lived for the greatest part of his life. He had two brothers who were also monks. Towards the end of his life he returned to the region of Qardu in the southeast of modern Turkey. Together with other monks he rebuilt the deserted monastery of Mar Ya’kub where John became abbot. He died at a ripe old age surrounded by his brothers, and before he died he entrusted them with a rule of life.


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