I was reading 1 Samuel ch. 15 this morning; it is the chapter in which Saul, called upon by God to annihilate the Amalekites, does not fully carry out God’s order, whereupon, in consequence, Samuel is sent to Saul to tell him that the Almighty has rejected him from being king. The chapter raises, most prominently, two theological questions: the question of the morality of the order Saul is given to exterminate a whole people, and the question of God’s repentance, that is, his apparent change of mind. The latter question, in particular, leaps out of the text itself, since the chapter both speaks, twice, of God repenting of having made Saul king (vv. 11, 35), and, once, states that God does not repent (v. 29). A. F. Kirkpatrick has some excellent notes, especially upon this second question.

“God’s repentance is the change of His dispensation.” In the language of the O.T. God is said to repent when a change in the character and conduct of those with whom He is dealing leads to a corresponding change in His plans and purposes towards them. Thus (a) upon man’s penitence God repents and withdraws a threatened punishment (Ex. xxxii. 14; 2 Sam. xxiv. 16): (b) upon man’s faithlessness and disobedience He cancels a promise or revokes a blessing which He had given. The opposite is also true, “God is not a man that he should repent” (v. 29). His repentance is not to be understood as though He who foreknows all things regretted His action, nor is it a sign of mutability. A change in the attitude of man to God necessarily involves a corresponding change in the attitude of God to man.

A. F. Kirkpatrick, The First Book of Samuel (Cambridge, 1880), pp. 142-143.

On the former of these two questions, the question of genocide, Kirkpatrick has an extended note on pp. 240-241, which can be read here.

I learned the other day that Mike Pompeo
has some icons in his home
in a corner of his living room
next to the television set,
icons of Christ, of the archangels Michael and Gabriel,
of St. Nicholas, and of the holy Virgin,

and I said to myself,
Well, perhaps I should pray for this man
whose policies I so detest,
perhaps God may open his eyes
and he may turn from his offenses.

But yesterday, the United States announced
it was sending warships to Venezuela
on the utterly bogus charge
that President Maduro is a drug dealer
and we must remove him by force.

That is to say
we are using the occasion of a
global pandemic
to bully other nations
into subservience.

St. Paul says that
we should pray for those in government
and seats of authority
so that we may live a peaceful and sober life
in all godliness and piety
or something like that

and, surely, the thugs who governed
the Roman Empire in his day
were no better than Mike Pompeo
in fact, they bear to him
a distinct resemblance
both morally and physiognomically

And what about the Democrats?
The child-molesting rapist Joe Biden
the school-marmish Mrs. Pelosi
the vulturous Mrs. Clinton peering from a distance
ever ready to swoop down upon fresh carrion

the seven moral dwarves approved by the DNC
whose names I shall not bother to mention —
do any of these approved leaders
offer a word of protest?
When the US sends in warships

and imposes sanctions
cutting off food and medicine
in a time of plague
then the US itself has become a plague
a plague upon itself, and upon others

and no amount of China-bashing, or
Russophobia, or even
will remove this curse from us.

May God have mercy on us
every single one of us
including Joe Biden, and Donald Trump,
Mike Pompeo, Hillary Clinton,
and Nancy Pelosi

may he have mercy on
the Venezuelans, and on the Iranians
on China, and Russia, and all those nations
we seek to overthrow

may he have mercy on the British
as their country falls apart
may God save the Queen
and her dysfunctional, tawdry family

may he have mercy on Julian Assange
sitting in a high-security prison
for the crime of journalism

may he have mercy on the Palestinians, and on the Israelis
on ISIS, and the American Osiris,

on Bashar al-Assad, his beautiful wife Asma,
and all their long-suffering people

on Jeremy Corbyn, and Bernie Sanders,
Vladimir Putin, Poroshenko and Zelensky,
Nicolas Maduro, and the usurper Guaido,

may he have mercy upon the dying
and those tending to the dying
those who have no respirators
and those who have no toilet paper

may he send the rain of his compassion
upon the just and the unjust
may he cause the sun of his justice
to shine upon us all
and bring us to repentance

Jeffrey Epstein died today
in a Manhattan cell
and whether it was suicide
or murder, we can’t tell.
He’s on that lonesome road to meet
his Lord and God and Maker
and given some employment to
the city undertaker.

Perhaps Ghislane is weeping now
with tears of sad remorse
and Bill and Hill will cast a rose
upon his stiffened corse,
and maybe our dear president
will come down from his tower
to pay respects to one with whom
he spent so many an hour.

But, if they sigh, I must suspect
they do not sigh from grief,
but most of Epstein’s erstwhile friends
are sighing from relief
because his death has set them free
from fear of prosecution
for acting as accomplices
to child prostitution.

We hold that there’s a justice
that controls the course of things
and out of earth’s dark hidden wells
the truth forever springs
and, in that faith, I’ll pray a prayer
that this man’s death may not
hide with him those for whom he worked
but that they too may rot.

Ὁ Φιλοπρωτεύων

September 17, 2018

Last week, the Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew, sent two exarchs into Ukraine for the purpose of setting up an independent patriarchate there, in what the Church of Moscow regards as, historically and canonically, its own territory, and where a third of its parishes are found. This action was taken by the Ecumenical Patriarch without consultation with the Orthodox Church at large, and in spite of clear statements from the Moscow Patriarchate that it considered such an action uncanonical, and that it would respond by breaking off communion. On Friday, the Holy Synod in Moscow declared that it was removing Bartholomew’s name from the diptychs, and would no longer commemorate him in hierarchical liturgies or participate in joint liturgical services with hierarchs of the Patriarchate of Constantinople; it further declared that it would “break off the participation of the Russian Orthodox Church in the Episcopal Assemblies and in the theological dialogues, multilateral commissions and any other structures chaired or co-chaired by representatives of the Patriarchate of Constantinople.” Any further moves by the Patriarch of Constantinople to establish a separate patriarchate in Ukraine, its communiqué stated, would result in a complete break in communion, i.e., the faithful under the Patriarch of Constantinople would not be allowed to receive the sacraments in churches under the Patriarch of Moscow, and the faithful under the Patriarch of Moscow would be directed not to receive sacraments at churches affiliated with Constantinople. Since there are many Russians resident in Turkey, this might mean the creation of a separate ecclesiastical organization upon Constantinople’s immediate territory (although, since the Turks do not allow Christians to build new churches, it may be that, within Turkey itself, such an organization would be strictly limited in its activities).

These are dismal, soul-destroying events, and I would agree with the Moscow Patriarchate that, behind them, there stands a new theory being asserted by the Patriarch of Constantinople about his own authority. As an example of what I mean by this, I would note a recent paper by the Metropolitan of Bursa, Elpidophoros Lambriniadis, which, in place of the usual Orthodox description of the authority of the primus as “first among equals,” pointedly characterizes the Patriarch of Constantinople as “first without equals,” primus sine paribus.

In response to these events, yesterday I composed a troparion, which I herewith present to readers of my blog, along with a translation and a recording. For the reference to “Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first,” see 3 John 9.

Ὁ φιλοπρωτεύων Βαρθολομαῖος εἰς τὴν Οὐκραϊνὴν δύο ἐξάρχους ἔστειλεν,
ὁ καὶ νέος Διοτρεφὴς αἰτία νέου σχίσματος ἐγένετο.
Νῦν κλαίουσι πάντες ἰδόντες τὴν Ὀρθοδοξίαν σπαραττομένην ὑπὸ τοῦ κοσμικοῦ κράτους,
νῦν στενάζουσιν, διότι τὸν μέγαν καὶ φιλόχριστον λαὸν τῆς Ῥωσσίας ἠτίμασεν.
Ὦ φιλάνθρωπε Χριστέ, δώρησαι τῷ κόσμῳ τὸ μέγα σου ἔλεος.
Bartholomew, who likes to put himself first, has sent two exarchs to Ukraine,
and the new Diotrephes has become the cause of a new schism.
Now all weep when they see Orthodoxy torn apart by the worldly power;
now they groan, because he has dishonored the great and Christloving people of Russia.
O Christ, lover of mankind, grant the world your great mercy.


The corpus of Letters of Gregory II of Cyprus, Patriarch of Constantinople from 1283 to 1289, was edited by Sophronios Eustratiadis and published in the journal  Ἐκκλησιαστικὸς Φάρος between the years 1908 and 1910. It is hard to come by, so, earlier this year, I uploaded to archive.org parts 3 through 5 of this corpus (parts 1 and 2 could already be found online). Below I supply links to all of the letters individually. Someone may perhaps find these links useful.


  • Letter 1 : To the bishop of Neocaesarea

Letters 2-45

Letters 46-65

Letters 66-115

The letters of the same most holy Patriarch, published during his patriarchate:

Letters 116-130

Letters 131-141

Letters 142-166

Letters 167-173

Letters 174-184

Letters 185-187

Letters 188-197; also, “Proclamation of his orthodoxy by those who supported him”

R. Janin’s article on Metrophanes of Smyrna in the Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique, vol. 10/2 (Paris, 1923), cols. 1627-1628:

Metrophanes of Smyrna

Metrophanes of Smyrna: metropolitan of that city (9th century). He was born probably at Constantinople. Baronius, Annales, an. 843, n. 2 and 3, following John the Curopalate, reports that his mother had been the woman who, by a payment of money, had been successfully persuaded by the adversaries of Patriarch Methodius to accuse the latter of having formerly violated her. Nothing is known either about Metrophanes’ childhood or about his youth. He was already Metropolitan of Smyrna when St. Ignatius was deposed in 857. He showed himself an implacable adversary of Photius and placed himself at the head of the bishops who remained faithful to Ignatius; they excommunicated the intruder, who excommunicated them in turn (Baronius, an. 859, n. 54, and 860, n. 1). This courageous attitude earned Metrophanes the harsh attentions of Michael III. This prince had him first thrown in prison, then exiled. After the first deposition of Photius (867), Metrophanes was able to retake possession of his see. He attended the Eighth Ecumenical Council (869) and took an active part in its deliberations. During the fourth session (13 October), he put forward the motion of the patrician Baanes, the imperial commissary, demanding that two bishops, ordained by Methodius and partisans of Photius, be introduced into the assembly so that they might there learn the reason for their condemnation. The pontifical legates were opposed to this, but he ended up having his way. During the same session, he professed that he himself had been momentarily deceived by Photius who pretended to have been recognized by the pope and by the eastern patriarchs (Mansi, Concil., vol. X, cols. 55-73, passim; Baronius, Annales, an. 869, n. 27-28). During the sixth session (25 October), he gave an important speech and refuted the arguments of Zacharias, metropolitan of Chalcedon, a partisan of Photius (Mansi, ibid., cols. 89 sq.). At the end of the council, he was one of two bishops designated to read solemnly, at Hagia Sophia, the fathers’ profession of faith (Mansi, col. 179 A; Baronius, an. 869, n. 29-30). In 870, Metrophanes wrote, at the request of the patrician Manuel, Logothete of the Course or prefect of the imperial posts, an exposé of Photius’s conduct (Mansi, col. 413-420; Baronius, an. 870, n. 44-51). It was perhaps in the years following this that Photius wrote an ambiguous letter to Metrophanes (published by A. Papadopoulos-Kerameus, Ss. Patris Photii … Epistolae XLV, St. Petersburg, 1896, pp. 18-19). Upon the death of St. Ignatius, Metrophanes did not want to recognize Photius as patriarch and refused, under the pretext of illness, to attend the council held during the winter of 879-880 to pacify the Church. After the third warning, John VIII’s legates declared him cut off from the Church (Mansi, vol. XVII A-XVIII A, cols. 496 sq.). At this council of 879 there was seated a certain Nicetas with the title of Metropolitan of Smyrna; he must have been ordained by Photius during Metrophanes’ exile. All trace of Metrophanes is lost after 880. The date of his death is unknown, nor is it known if he was able to retake possession of his see after Photius’s second deposition (886). Certain manuscripts of his works give him the title of saint and even that of martyr; nevertheless, no service seems to have been composed for his veneration.

The works of Metrophanes of Smyrna are quite numerous and varied. John Bekkos, in his Epigraph VIII, PG 141, 692 (L. Allatius, Graecia orthodoxa, 1648, vol. II, p. 605), cites the beginning of his commentary on the first epistle of St. John. A Georgian translation exists of his commentary on Ecclesiastes, K. S. Kekelidze, Thargmanebay Eklesiastisay Mitrophane zmwrnel metropolitisay (Commentarii in Ecclesiastem Metrophanis, metropolitae Smyrnensis), Tiflis, 1920; the Greek text has not yet been reported. Allatius, De libris ecclesiasticis graecis, n. 67, says that Metrophanes is the author of the canons to the Holy Trinity that are sung in the office of Sunday (Fabricius, Bibliotheca graeca, 1722, vol. v, p. 49; A. Papadopoulos-Kerameus, Ἱεροσολυμιτικὴ βιβλιοθήκη, vol. I, ms. 249, p. 320, vol. II, mss. 257, 434, and 468, pp. 383, 548, and 559); from him are also sticharia on the same subject (A. Papadopoulos-Kerameus, op. cit., vol. II, ms. 434, p. 548); diverse hymns (ibid., vol. II, ms. 106 and 342, pp. 118, 464); canons and sticharia in honor of the Holy Virgin (Theotocarion, ed. Venice, 1808, pp. 15, 47, 65, 91, and 105; A. Papadopoulos-Kerameus, vol. II, ms. 435, pp. 547-548). He also left an instruction on the manner of transcribing hymns (A. Papadopoulos-Kerameus, vol. II, ms. 106, p. 188). We spoke above about his letter to the patrician Manuel on Photius’s conduct; it is found in Latin in Baronius, op. cit., an. 870, n. 44-51, in Greek and in Latin in Mansi, op. cit., vol. XVI, cols. 413 E-420. B. Georgiades has published (in Ἐκκλησιαστικὴ Ἀλήθεια, vol. 3, 1882-1883, pp. 298-302) a panegyric by Metrophanes on St. Polycarp; another by the same author on the archangels likewise appeared in the same review, vol. 7 (1887, 2nd ed.), pp. 386-393. Finally, a treatise against the Latins on the subject of the procession of the Holy Spirit has been attributed to Metrophanes: L. Allatius, De Ecclesiae occidentalis et orientalis perpetua consensione, 1648, vol. II, c. 6, col. 575; but J. Hergenröther, Photii liber de Spiritus Sancti mystagogia, Ratisbon, 1857, has proven that this work is by Photius.

Baronius, Annales ecclesiastici, ann. 843, n. 2 and 3; 859, n. 54; 860, n. 1; 869, n. 27-30; 870, n. 44-51; Mansi, Concil., vol. XVI, cols. 55-73, 89 sq., 179; vol. XVII a-XVIIIa, cols. 496 sq.; Fabricius, Bibliotheca graeca, 1721, vol. X, p. 540.

Gerhard Podskalsky, Von Photios zu Bessarion: Der Vorrang humanistisch geprägter Theologie in Byzanz und deren bleibende Bedeutung (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2003), pp. 40-41.

Aufs äußerste zugespitzt, aber aus zweifellos schmerzhafter Selbstreflexion über relevante Texte der lateinischen und griechischen Patristik in den Monaten der Einkerkerung erwachsen ist die systematische Kritik des Patriarchen Johannes XI. Bekkos an der Hauptthese der “Mystagogie” des Photios. Bekkos geht es um das hohe Gut des kirchlichen Friedens; darum wollte er in seiner Antwort die umstrittene syllogistische Methode der westlichen Scholastik vollständig vermeiden. Tatsächlich bleibt der Ton in seiner abschnittweisen Widerlegung (aus Kirchenvätern und. Hl. Schrift) sehr maßvoll und unpolemisch. Aber bei aller Irenik sah (der inzwischen als Patriarch abgesetzte) Bekkos sich doch gezwungen, auch der Vermittlungsformel seines ihm gegenüber äußerst antipathisch gesonnen und handelnden Nachfolgers, Gregorios II. Kyprios, dem gleichsam “halbierten Photios” (ὁ τῆς ἀρτιφανοῦς αἱρέσεως ἀρχηγός: PG 141, 865B), entschieden entgegenzutreten: in zwei großen Reden werden einzelne, im Wortlaut zitierte Sätze des Zyprioten auseinandergenommen; auch diesmal möchte sich Bekkos der dialektischen Methode enthalten. Die pneumatologische Position des Patriarchen Gregorios II. wird von modernen Autoren des Orthodoxie als “antinomische” bezeichnet; es stellt sich aber die Frage, ob dieses Prädikat nicht einfach ein Dilemma verschleiert, bzw. ob die gleichzeitige Distanz zu Photios wie zu Bekkos metaphysisch-theologisch überhaupt nachvollziehbar ist. Of an utmost acuity, but born of undoubtedly painful self-reflection on relevant texts of the Latin and Greek Church Fathers in his months of imprisonment, is the systematic criticism of Patriarch John XI Bekkos on the main thesis of the Mystagogy of Photios. Bekkos is concerned with the high good of ecclesiastical peace; therefore, in his reply he wanted to avoid completely the controversial syllogistic method of Western scholasticism. In fact, the tone of his refutation, based on excerpts (from Fathers of the Church and Holy Scripture), remains very modest and unpolemical. But in spite of all irenicism, Bekkos (now deposed as Patriarch) saw himself compelled likewise to oppose resolutely the mediating formula of his successor, Gregory II of Cyprus, who was extremely inimical to him, and who acted as a “semi-Photios” (ὁ τῆς ἀρτιφανοῦς αἱρέσεως ἀρχηγός: PG 141, 865B): in two great treatises individual statements of the Cypriot, quoted verbatim, are dissected; again, Bekkos wants to abstain from the dialectical method. The pneumatological position of Patriarch Gregory II is described by modern Orthodox authors as “antinomic”; but the question arises as to whether this predicate does not simply conceal a dilemma, or whether the simultaneous distancing from Photios, as well as from Bekkos, is at all metaphysically and theologically comprehensible.

How to Speak About God

July 21, 2018

In images we speak of God correctly
Because some things cannot be said directly.
How can a Name unspeakable be said
Without it rendering the speaker dead
At least as to the intellect and heart
Which, by one’s arrogance, are torn apart?
In images we speak of God with care
In hopes to find our truth and meaning there
In what we cannot otherwise proclaim
And, in so doing, glorify His Name.
Because our human intellect is such
That it transforms whatever it may touch
Into a kind of idol: which to break
God breathes in us, a truer mind to make.

Commentaries on the four gospels, excerpted from the writings of the Church Fathers.

Every Sunday is the Lord’s day, the day of the resurrection; but today, Sunday, April 8, 2018, is, for millions of Orthodox Christians throughout the world, the day of the resurrection par excellence, the feast of feasts, holy day of holy days, the Lord’s Pascha. Yesterday evening and earlier this morning, I experienced this feast in a new way: for most of the past month I have been conducting our church choir in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, our official choir director being incapacitated due to a recent hip replacement. So, although I have sung in many Easter services, today was the first time in my life of some 59 years that I conducted one. Thanks be to God, our singers sang well, we acquitted ourselves of our task with jubilation, and, I think, helped the congregation to pray and to focus their minds and hearts on the glory of God, which is what a choir is supposed to do.

Whether it is this novel experience of directing a church choir during an Easter service that has awakened these reflections, I don’t know, but I think it is right, on this feast day, to speak of joy. What is the joy that characterizes the life of a Christian? A Christian is, like other human beings, subject to innumerable ups and downs, a Christian is not, any more than anyone else, continually floating on a cloud of earthly and material bliss, and, even in spiritual matters, a Christian is acquainted with the grief first of all of his or her own sinfulness and the estrangement from God and man that sin entails, and secondly, with the grief of living in a fallen world in which might frequently triumphs over right and falsehood over truth. Nevertheless, the life of a Christian is characterized by joy. How is this possible?

It is possible, I think, because of the resurrection. The resurrection contains the entire message of Christianity, and, if we are to understand what makes the life of a Christian what it is, it is there that we must look. On the cross, Christ broke the power of sin, the demonic forces that tyrannize human life, and provided, for all time, an infallible key for escaping spiritual imprisonment; by rising from the dead, Jesus showed us that death is not the final reality, he showed himself the victor over death and corruption, and gives us the possibility of sharing in his victory and in newness of life. That is what Christian joy is all about; it is the response of one who begins to live in the light of the risen Christ, who has overcome the world. And Easter, as it is the feast of Christ’s resurrection, is preeminently a feast of joy — a joy, not in ourselves or our accomplishments, but in Christ who gives us the victory. It is the communal joy of Christ’s redeemed people. If the singers at a liturgy, by their voices, are able to communicate this joy to the congregation, they have done their part in proclaiming the gospel.

May God grant the readers of this blog a joyous Easter. Christ is risen!