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I really do intend resuming blogging, hopefully soon. But in the meantime, this is something that I have published on my bookbinding site and which may also be of interest to readers of this blog.

Posting this here may seem like closing the stable door after the horse has bolted – after all, many of the people who visit this site do so because their Bibles are in various states of disrepair. But, having seen some of the Bibles that have come for repair recently, I have been thinking that it may be worth giving some advice on things to consider when buying a new Bible. Although it may appear that bookbinders can work miracles in making an old book look like new, there are some things that even we can’t make right.

Whatever Else You Do, Buy a Sewn Bible
This is really the most important point. From a binding perspective, there are two basic categories of mass-produced contemporary books, the glued and the sewn. Glued books consist of single pages that are glued together along the spine. (This is also known as perfect binding). They are only held together by glue, albeit a very strong hot glue. But when they come apart, while one can re-glue individual pages, re-gluing the whole Bible is not going to produce a satisfactory result – partly because one is unlikely to have much margin to work with, and partly because the cold glue that most bookbinders work with today is not as strong as the original hot glue that was used in the factory.

This is a clear example of what a sewn book looks like, although the signatures are sometimes finer and less clear.

This is a clear example of what a sewn book looks like, although the signatures are sometimes finer and less clear.

Sewn books, on the other hand, are held together by both stitching and glue. They are printed in such a way that the book consists of a series of booklets called signatures. Each signature is folded over and is usually stitched through the fold. (This is sometimes called Smyth sewn). If you look at the top or bottom of the Bible, you should be able to see if it is made up of signatures (which vary in thickness) that indicate that it is sewn. (Leonard’s Books has some more advice on this here).

I cannot over-emphasise the importance of buying a stitched Bible rather than a glued one. Not only are stitched books far more durable that glued ones, but they also open far better and can lie flat, something that a glued book will not easily do. A glued book is all very well for a thesis or a whodunit that is not likely to be read again, but is totally unsuitable for a book that will be constantly re-read and cherished.

Bonded Leather is Not Leather
I have been horrified to see the prices that are asked for Bibles bound in bonded leather. It needs to be stated very clearly that bonded leather is not leather, but is rather recycled leather fibres that are held together by a substantial amount of a gluey substance. To call bonded leather leather is like calling chipboard wood – and using chipboard in place of wood is probably a better option than using bonded leather in place of leather, because wood does not need to be supple as leather does, and bonded leather is definitely not supple, nor does it last well.

The grey underside is a sure indication that this was bonded leather, despite the "Genuine Leather" stamp.

The grey underside is a sure indication that this was bonded leather, despite the “Genuine Leather” stamp.

Even more horrifying is the fact that it appears that some Bible manufacturers are passing bonded leather off as genuine leather. I recently had a Bible in for repair that I thought looked more like bonded leather than genuine leather, although it was stamped “Genuine Leather” on the back. I thought that I must be mistaken, but, when I opened it up, there was no mistaking the grey nylon underside of the bonded leather.

Consider Rebinding a New Bible
Instead of buying a glued Bible bound in bonded leather for a hefty price, you would be far better off buying a well-stitched book block with a cheap binding. Even a stitched paperback is preferable to a glued Bible, although a hard cover is preferable as it is likely to round more easily. You could then have it rebound in leather, either immediately, or when you can afford to do so. This option will also allow you to personalise the binding as you consider what sort of cover you want. While the leather available in this country is limited (and I don’t import leather as it would drive the prices up exponentially), it is nevertheless genuine leather, lasts well, and will protect your Bible for many years to come.

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I have sometimes thought of writing on the topic of the Church, for I suspect that it is issues around ecclesiology that often form a stumbling block for many people. I have often encountered other Christians who are fascinated by Orthodoxy, want to learn from us and “use” our tradition, but who balk at the full implications of what Orthodox tradition really means. You cannot, to be quite frank about it, have Orthodoxy without the Church – and by this we mean the visible, historically mediated Church which is the Eucharistic community gathered around the bishop. Yet it is this Church that is often the stumbling block.

The Orthodox understanding of the Church is often either completely unknown to other Christians, or else it is seen as scandalously arrogant. There is a common – basically Protestant – assumption that “the Church” is an invisible entity made up of various “denominations” that makes it very difficult for Orthodox (or Roman Catholic) Christians to engage in discussions without appearing arrogant or exclusivist.

Linked to this is a widespread horror at our insistence that the reception of Holy Communion is limited to Orthodox Christians – and those who are suitably prepared for it, at that. Such practices fly in the face of contemporary demands for “inclusivity,” which has come to be seen as far more important than the theological integrity of the Church and its Liturgy.

There are issues around this that I keep wanting to explore more, but Father Stephen Freeman has expressed some of them far better than I could in his recent post The Politics of the Cup. Drawing on Hauerwas, he writes:

Many Christians fail to see the “politics” of their faith. They think one thing and do another (it is another aspect of the “two-storey universe”). Almost nothing is as eloquent an expression of the Church’s life than the “politics of the Cup.” What we do with the Eucharist and how that action displays the inner reality of our life is a deeply “political” expression (in the sense that Hauerwas uses the word).

The one common thread throughout the Protestant Reformation was its opposition to the Church of Rome. Lutheran, Calvinist and Anglican Reforms were all embraced by various rising nation states, not so much for the appeal of the particularities of their teaching, but for their willingness to provide cover for the subjugation of the Church to the political demands of secular rulers.

Those demands are far less transparent in the modern period. The legitimacy of the state is today rooted in democratic theories. Those same theories are legitimized by the individualism of popular theology. Eucharistic hospitality is the sacramental expression of individualism. The Open Cup represents the individual’s relationship with Christ without regard for the Church. It is the unwitting sacrament of the anti-Church.

In the last few decades, the same individualism has taken on great immediacy within a consumerist economy. At the same time, we have seen the rise of arguments for a radically individualized reception of communion, one that no longer insists on Baptism. Only the secret intention of the recipient is required. The Eucharist becomes inert – reduced to the status of an object to be chosen or rejected according to the desire of the individual. It is a consumer’s communion with himself.

I have more thoughts on this, including on the violence implicit in inclusivist agendas – if everyone can receive communion, then it will not be long before everyone must do so – and on the underlying monism that influences such thinking, but I don’t know when I’ll get them together. But Father Stephen’s post helps to unmask what many people take for granted, and articulates the true vision of a genuine hospitality that is offered to all. Do go and read the whole post.

This is a mishmash of things, some of which I’ve been meaning to note for a while…

A Further Update on Life-Giving Spring
After neglecting it for far too long, I recently did another update on the Life-Giving Spring site. Things are proceeding slowly and life is not without challenges, but I am still here and there is also encouraging news to report.

Acquire the Holy Spirit Series
I’ve made a page for my recent posts in this series and put it on the Completed series page. I’ll hopefully also turn it into a PDF file, along with other things I want to make available … when I get to doing that, and also working out how best to arrange things online.

South African Religious Blogs
For those interested in South African religious or Christian blogging, Jenny Hillebrand of Carpenter’s Shoes has done us a real service by creating blog aggregator called Antioch Blog Community. It’s described as “South African Religious Thinkers” – as far as I can see they all seem to be Christian of one sort or another, and “thinkers” sounds rather grand for some of us, but there you are!

Some Worthwhile Podcasts
I’ve recently been trying to get into listening to podcasts while I work, at least a bit. There is a wealth of material online, but also lots of rubbish! It would probably be a good idea to create a page to compile an ongoing list of things to recommend, but for now let me note these, in case they’re of interest to anyone:

  • Worship in Spirit and Truth: Father Thomas Hopko’s series on the Liturgy is long and ongoing, but very well worth the time. I have been particularly struck by his discussion of worship in the Old Testament – it should be obvious really, but for me much of it was an eye-opener!
  • Nine Sessions with Archimandrite Zacharias Zacharou. I’ve only listened to the first of these, but Archimandrite Zacharias of the Monastery of Saint John the Baptist in Essex and a disciple of Father Sophrony, is a very important contemporary Orthodox teacher and it’s great to have these talks available.
  • Coffee with Sr Vassa is a recently begun weekly series of podcasts on the saints by Sister Vassa Larin, a liturgical scholar and ROCOR monastic,  that are both humorous and enlightening.
  •  Father Vassilios Papavassiliou has started posting links to his theology lectures and Bible studies on Matthew on his (highly recommended) blog. They’re on YouTube, but I can’t find a good way of linking to all of them without other things, so the best way is to probably go via his blog until someone produces an index. I’ve only listened to one of them, but it was excellent, as are his books which I really should say more on sometime!

 

 

I have recently been exploring the world of social media a bit (with some mixed feelings, but that’s another matter) and have had some interactions on Twitter that were both interesting and frustrating, the latter mainly because of the very limited character of Twitter. I’ve sometimes wanted to follow up on those discussions by blogging, but usually my intentions, as with many other blogging intentions, have come to nothing.

But this week I had another one. This one was actually sparked by a blog post by Mark Penrith and I should probably have responded on his blog. But the topic that he was addressing just struck me, from an Orthodox perspective, as really, really weird. While he seems a nice enough person, and while I agreed with him in this instance, Mark is a Calvinist and our theological world views are, well, galaxies apart. But in this instance I agreed with him, for he was reacting to people who argue that one shouldn’t pray for the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Now, given the quote from Saint Seraphim of Sarov which is the title of this post, and given that this pretty much sums up an Orthodox understanding of the whole point of Christian life, this struck me as rather difficult to relate to, although I suspect that that is because of the rather different theological galaxies we inhabit. For at the beginning of virtually all the services we pray:

O Heavenly King,
Comforter, the Spirit of Truth,
You are everywhere present
and fill all things.
Treasury of blessings and Giver of life:
Come and abide in us,
Cleanse us from every impurity,
and save our souls, O Good One!

Anyway, our brief conversation on Twitter did remind me of a talk I’d given earlier this year which took Saint Seraphim’s words as it’s departure point in outlining how we Orthodox understand Christian life. It is fairly basic and could possibly do with reworking but seeks to set our beliefs and practices in a broader context which is nothing other than a lifetime’s work of transformation by the Holy Spirit in order to regain the Image of Christ according to which we were created. And so I thought that I’d post it here as a six-part series in the hope that it may be helpful to some.

Well, there’s nothing like advertising Bibles for sale and then posting something that could be seen as undermining the very concept! But these words by Metropolitan Isaiah of Denver are worth reflecting on. I recently commented to someone that the invention of the printing press brought huge changes in how people related to and thought about Scripture, and I’m not sure that the easy appeals that some make to “the Bible” adequately take that into account. Not that this should undermine our devotion to the Scriptures – I think of accounts of Desert Fathers for whom a book of the Gospels was among the most prized of possessions – but it should perhaps give us pause for thought in assuming that something distinctly modern – and all the baggage that goes with it – always existed in the Church…

Strictly speaking, there never was a ‘Bible’ in the Orthodox Church, at least not as we commonly think of the Bible as a single volume book we can hold in our hand. Since the beginning of the Church, from the start of our liturgical tradition, there has never been a single book in an Orthodox church we could point to as ‘the Bible’. Instead, the various ‘Books’ of the Bible are found scattered throughout several service books located either on the Holy Altar itself, or at the chanter’s stand. The Gospels (or their pericopes) are complied into a single volume — usually bound in precious metal and richly decorated — placed on the Holy Altar.

The Epistles (or, again, their pericopes) are bound together in another book, called the Apostolos, which is normally found at the chanter’s stand. Usually located next to the Apostolos on the chanter’s shelf are the twelve volumes of the Menaion, as well as the books called the Triodion and Pentekostarion, containing various segments of the Old and the New Testaments.

The fact that there is no ‘Bible’ in the church should not surprise us, since our liturgical tradition is a continuation of the practices of the early Church, when the Gospels and the letters from the Apostles (the Epistles) had been freshly written and copied for distribution to the Christian communities. The ‘Hebrew Scriptures’ (what we now call the ‘Old Testament’, comprising the Law (the first five books) and the Prophets, were likewise written on various scrolls, just as they were found in the Jewish synagogues…

The Church is not based on the Bible. Rather, the Bible is a product of the Church. For the first few centuries of the Christian era, no one could have put his hands on a single volume called ‘The Bible’. In fact, there was no one put his hands on a single volume called ‘The Bible’. In fact, there was no agreement regarding which ‘books’ of Scripture were to be considered accurate and correct, or canonical. Continue

H/t Byzantine Texas.

On a related topic, Father Stephen Freeman has a very worthwhile post on Reading the Real Bible and Notes on the Real Hell.

Okay, I’m always a little wary about these sorts of things, but I have gone and entered the SA Blog Awards. Deacon Stephen Hayes of Khanya made me aware of this and suggested that it would be a good way to make more people aware of the existence of Orthodox Christianity, something that far-too-many South Africans are unaware of. I think that Khanya probably stands a better chance than this blog, which has really been rather neglected of late, so if you want to vote it might be better to go there and to vote for it. In any case, I’m putting the badge in my sidebar in case anyone wants to vote for this blog.

Another, perhaps more compelling, motivation for entering was that I had thought that all the blogs which were entered in the “Religion and Spirituality” section would be listed on the SA Blog Awards website, and this would have been a good resource to see who is blogging in this area. However, this doesn’t seem to be the case, which is rather a pity. Of course, I would find it rather embarrassing to be associated with an award in a category for “spirituality” (“religion” I can more or less live with, Father Schmemann notwithstanding), but what can one do?

The truth is that there doesn’t seem to be very much going on in the area of Christian or theological blogging in South Africa – I have the impression that there was more happening a few years ago, but, well, perhaps that is just how blogging has gone. I’m aware of two places online that list such blogs, but neither are that up to date or reliable. Amatomu is notoriously unreliable. The blog it lists first purports to be Christian, but, the less said about it the better, except that if that is genuinely the most popular religious blog in South African then we are in a worse state than I realised. The second is a Muslim blog that doesn’t seem to be particularly South African. The third looks like a decent enough Muslim blog, although it’s been a bit inactive recently. The fourth is a Christian blog that has been inactive for a few years. The fifth is Khanya. After that one gets some decent Christian blogs that are (relatively) active. The other resource that lists blogs that claim to be Christian is Mark Penrith’s My Blogroll. This is also outdated and while Mark, being a Calvinist, is perfectly entitled to his categories, these don’t make any sense to someone who is not a particular type of Protestant.

The other curious thing is that I have not seen any Roman Catholic blogs in either of these lists. I have found a couple myself, but this just reinforces the perception here that Christianity is a basically Protestant thing. (Of course, it’s a bit ironic that there are two Orthodox blogs in the top ten blogs at Amatomu – this one hovers somewhere around there – but that’s a bit of an anomaly!)

Anyway, as a start to compiling a list of Christian blogs that are both reasonably irenic and reasonably serious (or at least written by people who seem to know what they are talking about) I have come across the following blogs. I should note that my time is limited and so this is by no means exhaustive and I would value helpful pointers. I hope that I don’t offend in any of the categorizations I give and I fear that I will end up using words like liberal and conservative which I really hate doing as I find them seriously inadequate, but, well, one has to use words… This roughly follows the Amatomu order, which would not necessarily be my order of preference.

  • Khanya, Steve Hayes, Orthodox, includes wider ethical, social and political reflections.
  • Urban Ministry Live and Unplugged, Thomas Scarborough, Congregationalist (fairly Evangelical I think), lots of short posts about his pastoral experiences.
  • Because He Lives, Mark Penrith, Baptist, Calvinist but Irenic and generally thoughtful.
  • An Uncommon Path, Dion Forster, Methodist, left of centre – or has this become the new mainstream? Into “spirituality” which puts me off, but serious and irenic.
  • My Contemplations, Cobus van Wyngaard, Dutch Reformed, engaging South African reality. Also blots in Afrikaans at Anderkant. One of the more valuable SA bloggers and I should read him more, especially in Afrikaans.
  • Ryan Peter, Protestant, somewhere on the Evangelical to post-Evangelical spectrum (I think), has written some worthwhile things but I find his blog difficult to navigate so don’t often go there.
  • Daylight, Stephen Murray, another irenic Calvinist, serious if infrequent.
  • Carpenter’s Shoes, Jenny Hillebrand, fairly evangelically-inclined Methodist (I think), has fostered some serious theological reflection although now mainly focused on pastoral experience. One of my favourites.

Of those blogs that don’t fall into the Amatomu top 25 (or aren’t there at all), I would also include:

  • A Piece of my Mind, Reggie Nel, Dutch Reformed, infrequent but worthwhile. (Also in Afrikaans at Kopstukke).
  • Blissphil, Philippa Cole, Methodist seminarian, left of centre and into “spirituality,” nice tone but too into “inclusivity” for my tastes.
  • Quod Semper, Peter James-Smith, Roman Catholic, not terribly theological, but intelligent and irenic reflection.
  • Mark Cogitates, Mark Nel, Roman Catholic, right of centre but generally irenic. Cat lover, which is always a good thing!
  • African Distributist, Jonathan Waldburger, Roman Catholic, focus on Distributism. Inactive but says he intends resuming blogging, which would be a very good thing.

This is a very rough list. I may have missed something obvious and further suggestions would be welcome. And I do rather wonder why there are not more Catholics blogging, or are there?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I don’t often simply repost other people’s posts, and it’s not something that I want to get into the habit of doing. And I presume that many readers of my blog already read Glory to God for All Things. But this is extremely important and Father Stephen has a way of expressing these things so well. For those who don’t know his blog, it is well worth reading...

Do I have a responsibility to rescue the ego-driven narrative of your life? Does the gospel of Christ exist to confirm your opinions and strengthen your arguments against the threats of a world-gone-mad? How should we evangelize the neurotic? I use the term “neurotic” lightly, under the assumption that we can all be described by the term to a greater or lesser extent. The ego, as used here, refers to a false-self, created by our thoughts and feelings:

Even though it is not really a “thing” at all, the ego slowly develops from childhood on, and is expressed as a story-line, complete with expectations (the “how things ought to be” section of our ever-churning imaginations), paranoia (“they” are out to get me, even when I am not quite sure who “they” are) and simple everyday self-centeredness (“I and my needs and opinions have to be heard, venerated and accepted by everyone else, or I am in danger of disappearing without trace”).

The problem we encounter with the ego is that it is often that part of ourselves which is presented to the world around us: the heart (nous), remains relatively hidden. It is largely the ego that we meet in argument (both someone else’s as well as our own). Such an encounter is the meeting of two figments of the imagination, an event destined for non-existence.

Sharing the gospel of Christ with another human being is not intended for the ego. The ego can be very “religious,” but not to its salvation nor the salvation of the heart. It is in the heart, the “true self,” that we meet Christ. Effective evangelism is the difficult task of speaking heart-to-heart.

Therefore hear the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is he who received seed by the wayside. But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles. Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful. But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty (Matt. 13:18-33).

The ego never understands. It judges, compares, even “tries an idea on,” but never understands. Understanding is a function of the heart. The ego is riddled with anxiety (its existence is often maintained by constant anxiety). Cares and deceit will rob it of any true planting of the word. In truth, there is no soil in the ego. The heart is the place where we have “root” in ourselves. It is the seat of understanding. There, and there alone, the seed bears fruit.

To speak to the heart requires a word from the heart. The famous visit of St. Vladimir’s envoys to Byzantium are an excellent example. The story is relayed in the Chronicle of Nestor:

Then we went to Greece, and the Greeks led us to the edifices in which they worship their God, and we knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth. For on earth there is no such splendor or such beauty, and we are at a loss how to describe it. We know only that God dwells there among men, and their service is fairer than the ceremonies of other nations. For we cannot forget that beauty. Every man, after tasting something sweet, is afterward unwilling to accept that which is bitter, and therefore we cannot dwell here any longer.

“We cannot dwell here any longer…” These are the words of the heart. The famous encounter in Byzantium was with beauty – but beauty in such a manner that “we knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth.”

My small parish does not appear to be a Church from the outside. It is plain. We have given much work to its interior, that we might worship God in beauty. A recent evening visit by a couple surprised me. Walking into the Narthex, the woman began to weep. “What is that smell?”

“Incense,” I answered.

“It smells like heaven,” she said. She went on, opening her heart and expressing a desire to know more about the faith.

There is no argument or explanation that rivals the simple odor of Divine worship. It is, of course, true that the couple had come to the Church searching. They were leading with their hearts.

Where the gospel is effectively preached, the heart is speaking, and the speaker is listening to hear the sound of the heart’s own door opening. The Elder Paisios famously offered this observation:

Often we see a person and we say a couple spiritual words to him and he converts. 
Later we say, “Ah, I saved someone.” I believe that the person who has the disposition and goodness 
within him, if he doesn’t convert from what we say,  would convert from the sight of a bear or a fox or from anything else. Let 
us beware of false evangelization.

Our egos speak in order to hear themselves. We listen to our own “evangelization” and admire the argument and think ourselves to be “obedient” to the gospel, or to be doing a good work. God is so merciful that he takes words from us (using them like a “fox” or “bear”) and makes them into arrows for the heart. Those whose conversions follow such encounters are not the fruit of our efforts – they bear fruit despite our efforts.

Evangelization of the ego yields fragile converts. Their own ego-driven needs may create a great deal of energy, but with possibly  destructive consequences. Fascination with fasts, feast days, cultural artifacts, correctness (the ego’s panoply) create a pastoral nightmare and a parish riddled with conflict.

True conversion (which happens over an extended period) occurs as we learn to dwell in the heart. Such conversion is an equal requirement within the Church. When it comes to life in the heart – we are all “converts” at best.

Source.

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