A new blog

September 22, 2009

I learned today of a new blog, Toward Transfiguration, that has been started by a seminarian at St. Vladimir’s Seminary named Nathan. The initial posts, on beginning life at St. Vladimir’s, and on a weeping Russian icon that (the author hopes) may soften long-indurated hearts, give eloquent testimony to the author’s love of Christ and, I should think, to his real priestly calling; they portend good things to come. I intend to read it often.


Some of us have been celebrating our fiftieth birthdays this year, and that fact has occasioned reflections on this blog upon the passage of time; so perhaps it is fitting for me to mark also the commemoration today of the three hundredth anniversary of the birth of Dr. Samuel Johnson, the English lexicographer and man of letters. Not long ago, I had picked up again James Boswell’s monumental biography of him, without realizing that this anniversary was coming up; and I was struck by certain passages of that book which relate Johnson’s dislike of Americans and his contempt for democracy (“Whiggism”), passages which I reproduce below. In spite of his anti-Americanism, Johnson is a favorite author of mine, and has been since I was in high school. When I was in England in the 1980’s, I attended the college at Oxford where Johnson had been enrolled, Pembroke; among the various Johnsoniana on display in the college’s library is his teapot. I give below also a sampling of Dr. Johnson’s prayers.

From Boswell’s Life of Johnson, R. W. Chapman, ed. (Oxford 1953), p. 590.

The doubts which, in my correspondence with him, I had ventured to state as to the justice and wisdom of the conduct of Great-Britain towards the American colonies, while I at the same time requested that he would enable me to inform myself upon that momentous subject, he had altogether disregarded; and had recently published a pamphlet, entitled, Taxation no Tyranny; an answer to the Resolutions and Address of the American Congress.

He had long before indulged most unfavourable sentiments of our fellow-subjects in America. For, as early as 1769, I was told by Dr. John Campbell, that he had said of them, ‘Sir, they are a race of convicts, and ought to be thankful for any thing we allow them short of hanging.’

Boswell goes on to cite an unpublished paragraph from Taxation no Tyranny (op. cit., p. 592):

‘Their numbers are, at present, not quite sufficient for the greatness which, in some form of government or other, is to rival the ancient monarchies; but by Dr. Franklin’s rule of progression, they will, in a century and a quarter, be more than equal to the inhabitants of Europe. When the Whigs of America are thus multiplied, let the Princes of the earth tremble in their palaces. If they should continue to double and to double, their own hemisphere would not contain them. But let not our boldest oppugners of authority look forward with delight to this futurity of Whiggism.’

Op. cit., p. 946:

From this pleasing subject he, I know not how or why, made a sudden transition to one upon which he was a violent aggressor; for he said, ‘I am willing to love all mankind, except an American:’ and his inflammable corruption bursting into horrid fire, he ‘breathed out threatenings and slaughter;’ calling them, ‘Rascals—Robbers—Pirates;’ and exclaiming, he’d ‘burn and destroy them.’ Miss Seward, looking to him with mild but steady astonishment, said, ‘Sir, this is an instance that we are always most violent against those whom we have injured.’ —He was irritated still more by this delicate and keen reproach; and roared out another tremendous volley, which one might fancy could be heard across the Atlantick. During this tempest I sat in great uneasiness, lamenting his heat of temper; till, by degrees, I diverted his attention to other topicks.

Op. cit., pp. 947-950:

He as usual defended luxury; ‘You cannot spend money in luxury without doing good to the poor. Nay, you do more good to them by spending it in luxury, than by giving it: for by spending it in luxury, you make them exert industry, whereas by giving it, you keep them idle. I own, indeed, there may be more virtue in giving it immediately in charity, than in spending it in luxury; though there may be a pride in that too.’ Miss Seward asked, if this was not Mandeville’s doctrine of ‘private vices publick benefits.’ Johnson. ‘The fallacy of that book is, that Mandeville defines neither vices nor benefits. He reckons among vices everything that gives pleasure. He takes the narrowest system of morality, monastick morality, which holds pleasure itself to be a vice, such as eating salt with our fish, because it makes it taste better; and he reckons wealth as a publick benefit, which is by no means always true. Pleasure of itself is not a vice. Having a garden, which we all know to be perfectly innocent, is a great pleasure. At the same time, in this state of being there are many pleasures vices, which however are so immediately agreeable that we can hardly abstain from them. The happiness of Heaven will be, that pleasure and virtue will be perfectly consistent. Mandeville puts the case of a man who gets drunk in an ale-house; and says it is a publick benefit, because so much money is got by it to the publick. But it must be considered, that all the good gained by this, through the gradation of alehouse-keeper, brewer, maltster, and farmer, is overbalanced by the evil caused to the man and his family by his getting drunk. This is the way to try what is vicious, by ascertaining whether more evil than good is produced by it upon the whole, which is the case in all vice. It may happen that good is produced by vice; but not as vice; for instance, a robber may take money from its owner, and give it to one who will make a better use of it. Here is good produced; but not by the robbery as robbery, but as translation of property. I read Mandeville forty, or, I believe, fifty years ago. He did not puzzle me; he opened my views into real life very much. No, it is clear that the happiness of society depends on virtue. In Sparta, theft was allowed by general consent: theft, therefore, was there not a crime, but then there was no security; and what a life must they have had, when there was no security. Without truth there must be a dissolution of society. As it is, there is so little truth, that we are almost afraid to trust our ears; but how should we be, if falsehood were multiplied ten times? Society is held together by communication and information; and I remember this remark of Sir Thomas Brown’s, “Do the devils lie? No; for then Hell could not subsist.”’…

Somebody mentioned the Reverend Mr. Mason’s prosecution of Mr. Murray, the bookseller, for having inserted in a collection of Gray’s Poems, only fifty lines, of which Mr. Mason had still the exclusive property, under the statute of Queen Anne; and that Mr. Mason had persevered, notwithstanding his being requested to name his own terms of compensation. Johnson signified his displeasure at Mr. Mason’s conduct very strongly; but added, by way of shewing that he was not surprized at it, ‘Mason’s a Whig.’ Mrs. Knowles. (not hearing distinctly,) ‘What! a Prig, Sir?’ Johnson. ‘Worse, Madam; a Whig! But he is both.’

I expressed a horrour at the thought of death. Mrs. Knowles. ‘Nay, thou should’st not have a horrour for what is the gate of life.’ Johnson. (standing upon the hearth rolling about, with a serious, solemn, and somewhat gloomy air,) ‘No rational man can die without uneasy apprehension.’ Mrs. Knowles. ‘The Scriptures tell us, “The righteous shall have hope in his death.”’ Johnson. ‘Yes, Madam; that is, he shall not have despair. But, consider, his hope of salvation must be founded on the terms on which it is promised that the mediation of our Saviour shall be applied to us,—namely, obedience; and where obedience has failed, then, as suppletory to it, repentance. But what man can say that his obedience has been such, as he would approve of in another, or even in himself upon close examination, or that his repentance has not been such as to require being repented of? No man can be sure that his obedience and repentance will obtain salvation.’ Mrs. Knowles. ‘But divine intimation of acceptance may be made to the soul.’ Johnson. ‘Madam, it may; but I should not think the better of a man who should tell me on his death-bed he was sure of salvation. A man cannot be sure himself that he has divine intimation of acceptance; much less can he make others sure that he has it.’ Boswell. ‘Then, Sir, we must be contented to acknowledge that death is a terrible thing.’ Johnson. ‘Yes, Sir. I have made no approaches to a state which can look on it as not terrible.’ Mrs. Knowles. (seeming to enjoy a pleasing serenity in the possession of benignant divine light,) ‘Does not St. Paul say, “I have fought the good fight of faith, I have finished my course; henceforth is laid up for me a crown of life?”’ Johnson. ‘Yes, Madam; but here was a man inspired, a man who had been converted by supernatural interposition.’ Boswell. ‘In prospect death is dreadful; but in fact we find that people die easy.’ Johnson. ‘Why, Sir, most people have not thought much of the matter, so cannot say much, and it is supposed they die easy. Few believe it certain that they are then to die; and those who do, set themselves to behave with resolution, as a man does who is going to be hanged.’ Miss Seward. ‘There is one mode of the fear of death, which is certainly absurd; and that is the dread of annihilation, which is only a pleasing sleep without a dream.’ Johnson. ‘It is neither pleasing, nor sleep; it is nothing. Now mere existence is so much better than nothing, that one would rather exist even in pain, than not exist.’ Boswell. ‘If annihilation be nothing, then existing in pain is not a comparative state, but a positive evil, which I cannot think we should choose. I must be allowed to differ here; and it would lessen the hope of a future state founded on the argument, that the Supreme Being, who is good as he is great, will hereafter compensate for our present sufferings in this life. For if existence, such as we have it here, be comparatively a good, we have no reason to complain, though no more of it should be given to us. But if our only state of existence were in this world, then we might with some reason complain that we are so dissatisfied with our enjoyments compared with our desires.’ Johnson. ‘The lady confounds annihilation, which is nothing, with the apprehension of it, which is dreadful. It is in the apprehension of it that the horrour of annihilation consists.’

From E. L. McAdam, Jr., ed., Samuel Johnson: Diaries, Prayers, and Annals (New Haven and London, 1958), pp. 138-140.

O Lord God, in whose hand are the wills and affections of men, kindle in my mind holy desires, and repress sinful and corrupt imaginations. Enable me to love thy commandments, and to desire thy promises; let me by thy protection and influence so pass through things temporal, as finally not to lose the things eternal, and among the hopes and fears, the pleasures and sorrows, the dangers and deliverances, and all the changes of this life, let my heart be surely fixed by the help of thy Holy Spirit on the everlasting fruition of thy presence, where true joys are to be found, grant O Lord, these petitions.

Forgive, O merciful Lord, whatever I have done contrary to thy laws. Give me such a sense of my Wickedness as may produce true contrition and effectual repentance, so that when I shall be called into another state, I may be received among the sinners, to whom sorrow and reformation have obtained pardon, for Jesus Christs Sake. Amen.

O merciful God, full of compassion, long-suffering, and of great pity, who sparest when we deserve punishment, and in thy wrath thinkest upon mercy, make me earnestly to repent, and heartily to be sorry for all my misdoings, make the remembrance so burdensome and painful, that I may flee to Thee with a troubled spirit, and a contrite heart; and O merciful Lord visit, comfort, and relieve me, cast me not out from thy presence and take not thy Holy Spirit from me, but excite in me true repentance, give me in this world knowledge of thy truth, and confidence in thy mercy, and in the world to come life everlasting, for the sake of our Lord and Saviour, thy Son Jesus Christ. Amen.

Brian Keena and I grew up in an inconsequential town in northern New Jersey, where we were in the same first grade class and have been friends ever since. Today he celebrates his fiftieth birthday. His radio show, the “Jazz Messenger,” can currently be heard on WTJU, Charlottesville, Fridays at 10:30 A.M. Eastern Standard Time.

What though the passing toll of years
should carry dreams away,
and sequences of hopes and fears
leave tell-tale hairs of grey?
The lines that time may trace
upon an honest face
beatify the whole
and show the inner soul.

As when a sculptor takes a block
of marble from a hill
and chips away unwanted rock
and forms it to his will,
the patterns in the mass
of what should come to pass
must guide his hand and eye
if beauty he’d espy;

So God, with perfect inner sight
and time his sculptor’s blade,
removes whatever he deems right
to show of what we’re made.
And we ourselves also
become what we don’t know
and, through our Maker’s art,
receive a deeper heart.

On Obama’s speech

September 10, 2009

Like much of the rest of the country, I made a point last night to listen to President Obama’s speech on health care. (Since June, when the federally-mandated switch from analog to digital television broadcasting occurred, the only English-language station my television set has been able to receive is NJN, the New Jersey Network. As that network did not broadcast the President’s speech, I listened to it on the radio.) Because I was unable to view it, some aspects of the speech and its delivery probably escape me. It is said, for instance, that when Representative Joe Wilson of South Carolina yelled out and called the President a liar, Obama gave him a withering look. I would like to have seen that.

Although I am a confirmed centrist, I acknowledge that the nut-cases of the Right scare me more than the nut-cases of the Left. And these nut-cases have been much in evidence in America in recent weeks. A couple of weeks ago two men from Virginia set up a stand in front of the post office in my sleepy town in New Jersey; on the stand was a poster showing Mr. Obama’s face, on which had been drawn a Hitler moustache; under it, the words, “He Wants to Kill Your Grandmother.” (I learned about this a few days later, from an article on the front page of my local paper.) It is good that I was not there in person to greet these ambassadors from the Confederacy; I might have been thrown in jail for interfering with their constitutional right to express libellous slander in a public space.

I voted for Obama last November. I voted for him because he seemed to me the best man for the job, and the best hope for undoing some of the serious damage to the country that had been caused under George W. Bush. I remain convinced that I made the right decision. On the issue of health care, I support this president’s attempts to reform the system.

As for the Republican Party, although some of my personal friends are members of it, I am not and never have been. (I did support Richard M. Nixon’s bid for re-election in 1972, when I was 13 years old, and in fact made telephone calls on behalf of his campaign from a Republican campaign office. This was largely because I approved of his having opened up diplomatic relations with China. After the Watergate scandal emerged, I felt embarrassed about the whole thing. Allowance must be made for the fact that I was 13 years old at the time.) On the other hand, some members of my family have been members of the Republican Party; in my closet I have a box containing buttons in support of Wendell Wilkie, which has been passed down from my Aunt Julia.

Whether, if my Aunt Julia were alive today, she would still be voting Republican, I somewhat doubt. It is true that Aunt Julia was a very canny New York businesswoman, who managed to make money during the Great Depression by playing the stock market. My guess is that, if she remained a Republican at the present time, she would be a Republican of the Olympia Dukakis Snowe type: a political moderate in a society dominated by ranting lunatics.

On that point, I would note the following observations of Thomas Friedman, from his column in yesterday’s New York Times:

“China is going to eat our lunch and take our jobs on clean energy — an industry that we largely invented — and they are going to do it with a managed economy we don’t have and don’t want,” said Joe Romm, who writes the blog, climateprogress.org.

The only way for us to match them is by legislating a rising carbon price along with efficiency and renewable standards that will stimulate massive private investment in clean-tech. Hard to do with a one-party democracy.

The same is true on health care. “The central mechanism through which Obama seeks to extend coverage and restrain costs is via new ‘exchanges,’ insurance clearinghouses, modeled on the plan Mitt Romney enacted when he was governor of Massachusetts,” noted Matt Miller, a former Clinton budget official and author of “The Tyranny of Dead Ideas.” “The idea is to let individuals access group coverage from private insurers, with subsidies for low earners.”

And it is possible the president will seek to fund those subsidies, at least in part, with the idea John McCain ran on — by reducing the tax exemption for employer-provided health care. Can the Republicans even say yes to their own ideas, if they are absorbed by Obama? Without Obama being able to leverage some Republican votes, it is going to be very hard to get a good plan to cover all Americans with health care.

“Just because Obama is on a path to give America the Romney health plan with McCain-style financing, does not mean the Republicans will embrace it — if it seems politically more attractive to scream ‘socialist,’ ” said Miller.

The G.O.P. used to be the party of business. Well, to compete and win in a globalized world, no one needs the burden of health insurance shifted from business to government more than American business. No one needs immigration reform — so the world’s best brainpower can come here without restrictions — more than American business. No one needs a push for clean-tech — the world’s next great global manufacturing industry — more than American business. Yet the G.O.P. today resists national health care, immigration reform and wants to just drill, baby, drill.

“Globalization has neutered the Republican Party, leaving it to represent not the have-nots of the recession but the have-nots of globalized America, the people who have been left behind either in reality or in their fears,” said Edward Goldberg, a global trade consultant who teaches at Baruch College. “The need to compete in a globalized world has forced the meritocracy, the multinational corporate manager, the eastern financier and the technology entrepreneur to reconsider what the Republican Party has to offer. In principle, they have left the party, leaving behind not a pragmatic coalition but a group of ideological naysayers.”

As his speech last night confirmed, President Obama is a rational, moderate, intelligent man, a centrist, who is doing all he can to achieve political consensus on an issue of vital importance to the nation’s future well-being. The people who accuse him of being a grandmother-slayer should be ashamed of themselves. This is a man who saw his own mother struggle to get insurance to cover her condition when she was dying of cancer, and who wants to prevent other Americans from having to go through the same experience. It probably is worth repeating what he said about this, on another occasion:

“I remember my mother. She was 53 years old when she died of ovarian cancer, and you know what she was thinking about in the last months of her life? She wasn’t thinking about getting well. She wasn’t thinking about coming to terms with her own mortality. She had been diagnosed just as she was transitioning between jobs. And she wasn’t sure whether insurance was going to cover the medical expenses because they might consider this a preexisting condition. I remember just being heartbroken, seeing her struggle through the paperwork and the medical bills and the insurance forms. So, I have seen what it’s like when somebody you love is suffering because of a broken health care system. And it’s wrong. It’s not who we are as a people.” [Cited from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ann_Dunham.]

Essentially the same line, that this is not who we are as a people, was in his speech last night. I hope his faith in the national character is proved right.

In nativitatem Mariae

September 8, 2009

Today is celebrated the feast of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary. The following hymn is the eighth ode from a canon for the feast; the Greek text, given below, is found in Joseph Schirò, ed., Analecta Hymnica Graeca e codicibus eruta Italiae inferioris, vol. i, Canones Septembris (ed. Ada Debiasi Gonzato) (Rome 1966), pp. 154-156.

[Note: Is it not somewhat bizarre that there are two separate Wikipedia articles on this feast, one titled Nativity of Mary and the other Nativity of the Theotokos?]

Πῶς ἐβλάστησας, εἰπέ,
ἐν τῇ γαστρί σου, Ἄννα,
τὴν οὐράνιον
σκηνήν, ἐν ᾗ ὁ Λόγος
«Στεῖρα οὖσα ηὐξάμην
δι’ ἐπαγγελίας
Θεοῦ τεκεῖν μητέρα.»
Say, O Anna, how it was
that in your womb you caused to sprout
the tent celestial,
that tent wherein
the Word encamped.
“Being barren, I made prayer
that, by promise, I might bear
the Mother of God.”
Ὄντως θαῦμα φρικτόν,
τὴν ἐν γαστρὶ ἀφράστως
συλλαβοῦσάν σε
τὸν ποιητὴν τῶν ὅλων,
Ἄννα, τίκτουσαν
ἐξ ἀκάρπων λαγόνων
δι’ ἐπαγγελίας·
«Οὐκ ἔτι μένει στεῖρα.»
Verily a wonder strange:
that she who in her womb conceived
thee unspeakably,
the universe’s Maker,
should now be brought into the world
from the fruitless recesses
of Anna, through the promise that
she should no more be barren.
Ἀνοιγέσθω ὁ ναός,
τὸ ἱερὸν δονείσθω·
τὰ γὰρ ἅγια
τὰ τῶν ἁγίων νῶτα
ὑφαπλοῦντά σοι
Θεοτόκε, ἐν δόξῃ
ὑποδέχονταί σε
ἐν τῷ ἱλαστηρίῳ.
Let the temple open up;
let the sanctuary be shaken.
For the holy things
(the back-parts of the holy),
having spread a way for you,
now receive you, Theotokos,
in glory,
into the mercy seat.
Νῦν ἡ ἄμωμος ἀμνὰς
ἐκ σοῦ γεννᾶται, Ἄννα,
ἡ ἀμίαντος
περιστερὰ καὶ νύμφη
τοῦ Θεοῦ ἡμῶν,
παρθένος καὶ μήτηρ
καὶ παστὰς καὶ δούλη
καὶ θρόνος καὶ νεφέλη.
Now the ewe-lamb without spot
is, O Anna, born from you,
the unpolluted
dove and bride
of our God,
at once virgin and a mother,
portico and handmaiden
and throne and cloud.
Ἐμεγάλυνας, Σωτήρ,
Ἰωακεὶμ καὶ Ἄνναν
τοὺς θεόφρονας,
τῆς ἀπαιδίας λύσας
τὴν ἀσθένειαν
καὶ ἐξάρας ἐκ γένους
καὶ ἐξ οἴκου Δαβὶδ
ὄνειδος εἰς αἰῶνας.
Thou hast magnified, O Savior,
Joachim along with Anna,
the godly-minded pair,
having freed them from
infirmity of childlessness,
and having from the race
and house of David
removed reproach forever.
Νῦν εὐφράνθητι Δαβίδ,
ὅτι ἠγέρθη κέρας
σωτηρίας σοι,
ἡ ἐκ φυλῆς καὶ ῥάβδος
ἡ βλαστήσασα
ἐκ κοιλίας τὸ ἄνθος,
Ἰησοῦν τὸν Χριστόν,
τὸν ζῶντα εἰς αἰῶνας.
Now let David’s heart rejoice,
for in you there has been raised
the horn of our salvation,
the horn from his own tribe, the rod
that budded forth
from her own womb the flower,
Jesus Christ,
the one who lives forever.
Οὐκ ἐκλείψει προειπὼν
ἐκ τοῦ Ἰούδα ἄρχων,
οὐχ ἡγούμενος
ἕως ἂν ἔλθῃ τοῦτο
ὃ ἀπόκειται,
τὸν ἐκ γένους Δαβίδ σε
προδηλῶν Ἰακώβ,
ἐθνῶν τὴν προσδοκίαν.
Jacob showed this long ago
and foretold that there should not
fail a ruler out of Judah
nor someone to lead the way
until that which is set in store
should finally come:
thou, of David’s family,
the Gentiles’ expectation.
Χαῖρε, ὄρος τοῦ Θεοῦ,
χαῖρε, παστὰς ἁγία,
χαῖρε, τράπεζα,
χαῖρε, χρυσῆ λυχνία,
χαῖρε, ἄνανδρε
παιδοτόκε Μαρία,
σέ, ἁγνή, ὑμνοῦμεν
εἰς πάντας τοὺς αἰῶνας.
Hail, O mountain-peak of God!
Hail, O holy portico!
Hail, O altar!
Hail, O lampstand made of gold!
Hail, Mary, who without a man
did bear a child!
O holy maid, we sing your praise
unto unending ages.

On time passing

September 1, 2009

Today is the first day of the Byzantine year 7518 (see the post Happy New Year). It is the beginning of the ecclesiastical year, a day that the current Patriarch of Constantinople has seen fit to consecrate as the Day for the Protection of the Environment. It also marks the seventieth anniversary of the start of World War II, and the second anniversary of the founding of this blog. I’d like to reflect briefly on some of these things, on the passing of time, and on the state of this blog and my other work.

When I was a child, I viewed the events of the 1930’s and 40’s as ancient history. They had occurred a quarter of a century before I was born. That seemed to me the distant past, a bygone era when cars had running boards and events unfolded in flickering, black-and-white newsreels. Now that I am fifty years old, a quarter of a century seems like a short blip in time, a nothing. The Great Depression, the rise of Nazism in Germany and of Stalinism in Russia, the Second World War, the beginnings of the Cold War, all occurred in a brief period comparable to the time from Reagan’s presidency to the present. Human memory is short, and plays tricks with perspective.

Hardly a day goes by when I do not read one or more of the Psalms. I do this so habitually that I tend to think of them simply as contemporary prayers, applicable to my own current situation. Yet, if one accepts the ascription of most of the Psalms to the historical person, King David, these writings are older than Homer, older than the oldest surviving literature in a Western, Indo-European language. All of Greek literature is, relatively speaking, new, as the Greeks themselves were aware (see Plato’s Timaeus 22b Ὦ Σόλων, Σόλων, Ἕλληνες ἀεὶ παῖδές ἐστε, γέρων δὲ Ἕλλην οὐκ ἔστιν). The Greeks learned their alphabet from a man named Cadmus, the founder of the city of Thebes; the name is a Semitic one; kedem in Hebrew means both “East” and “old.” Cadmus was the old man from the East.

I once came across a very strange book with the title Hebrew is Greek (see reviews of it on amazon.com). The author, Joseph Yahuda, presents the thesis that Hebrew is a variant of the Greek language (not, curiously, the other way around). My knowledge of Hebrew is not good, but I know enough to feel certain that the thesis is basically preposterous. Nevertheless, the author finds enough linguistic parallels to convince me that there were cultural contacts at a very early, pre-literary stage. A couple of the parallels that seem most persuasive: ἀγάπη and ahava, according to Yahuda, are cognate (both terms for “love”), and so are tsedekah, and δίκη/δικαιοσύνη (the DIK root, meaning “justice,” is common). When I was teaching in Albania, I was surprised to learn that the Albanian word for ship, anije, is the same as the Hebrew word אניה (öneey-yah, Jonah 1: 3, 4, 5, etc.) — probably a relic from the early days when the only ships the Illyrians came in contact with belonged to Phoenician traders.

A possibility suggests itself. The Philistines could have been Pelasgians, a people who were widely spread in the Eastern Mediterranean before the arrival of the Greeks; the names are sufficiently similar to warrant considering this possibility. If there are deeply rooted linguistic parallels between the Greek and Hebrew languages, the Pelasgians/Philistines could have been a mediating agent of this.

None of this is perhaps very important. Yet it helps give me a sense of perspective on current events. Two years, or twenty five years, or seventy years, is not a long time in historical terms, much less so in geological ones. Human life is very brief. But, by the same token, much can change in a very short time.

I confess that some days I find it hard to concentrate on John Bekkos and events of the thirteenth century; some days, I would rather concentrate upon things that are unfolding before my own eyes. I would like to say that I have a great confidence in the future of humanity, but, if I were to say that, I would be misrepresenting my own sentiments. I would like very much to think that the future is bright; but I do not actually or habitually think this. The visible prospects for the continuance of the human race on earth are, at best, obscure. It is no longer something one can simply take for granted, as a natural fact.

Why do I say that? Some reasons:

  1. I take global warming, and the substantial contribution to it by human activity, to be sufficiently well-established to deserve to be called facts. What is not yet clear is how far it will be allowed to progress; but anything beyond a rise of 4º C in global temperature, it is said, would be utterly catastrophic and perhaps irreversible, and such a scenario is well within the bounds of possibility.
  2. The possibility that we are at or near a peak in global oil production also appears very real. While this does not spell an end to human civilization as such, it does portend possibly catastrophic economic consequences, as a global economy predicated upon perpetual growth in production comes up against the natural limitations of the earth’s resources. As was seen two years ago before the recession hit, the price of oil affects the price and availability of everything else — in particular, food, but also all oil-based products, which nowadays means pretty much everything since plastics are so ubiquitous. The idea that there will be a single energy source that will replace oil is the sort of assumption made by people who are unacquainted with the constraints of physical reality; after not much more than a century, a resource that took hundreds of millions of years to come into being, and that is the life-blood of the modern global economy, has been largely used up. Just as American oil production peaked in the early 1970’s, so, inevitably, the production of oil in countries like Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait, will also peak, probably in the not-too-distant future. And after that, who knows what kind of competition will take place over the remaining supplies?
  3. There is still the possibility of a nuclear war; in some ways, this possibility seems more imminent now given the nuclear ambitions of countries like Iran and North Korea. There is also the possibility that a nuclear weapon, or some similarly heinous weapon, could be made use of by a non-state organization like Al-Qaida.

There are other worries I have, but these are probably sufficient for showing that apprehensions about the long-term prospects of, at least, the current political order of things, if not of humanity itself, are rational.

What about the rationality of hope?

Hope is a Christian virtue, and, as it is founded in the ultimate reality, God himself, it cannot be false. But one must not confuse hope with rash confidence. As a Christian, I have hope that God will save me, in spite of my many sins, because of the blood of Christ; but if I conclude from this that I have no changes to make in my life to conform it to the will of God, then I delude myself, and my hope is found to be, not hope in God, but a rash, unfounded confidence in my own innate invincibility. So, similarly, when Christians claim to have a firm hope that God will see humanity through the hard times ahead, but then do nothing to address the present challenges they face, but instead pretend that things are fine and are going to remain just fine and that nothing in their lives needs to change, such Christians act irresponsibly; they show, not true Christian hope, but a rash confidence, what St. Paul calls a “confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3:3-4).

Of course, it is no part of Christian doctrine that the world should last eternally. But, as we are stewards of it, we have a duty to preserve it; we have no right to think that, in hastening its demise, we are doing God’s will.

I suppose that what I am advocating here is an end to the divisions between liberals and conservatives on some fundamental issues. Both sides should be able to acknowledge that abortion is a moral evil, and that irresponsible sexual practice corrupts both personal life and families and whole societies. So also, both sides should be able to acknowledge that the proper stewardship of the earth’s resources is a moral imperative, given the current human situation. It is a life issue. It is wrong to think that the one is a conservative issue and the other a liberal one: both are basic to the common good and to any long-term continuance of civil society. Indeed, any social platform or political agenda that does not look to the common good is inherently immoral and, for that reason, unchristian. If Christians cannot agree on such things, if we bicker and accuse each other, we are simply wasting our time, and might as well eat, drink, and be merry with the pagans, for we are no better than them.

The possession of a blog is a great temptation to being foolish, a kind of permanent soap-box onto which to climb and give speeches before an invisible public. It is all the more foolish when the speech-giver is unemployed and has nothing to show for himself. After two years of writing this blog, all I can say is that the work on John Bekkos continues. Perhaps I shall find useful things to say about him in the months ahead.

Copied from the American Orthodox Institute blog

Encyclical for the Beginning of the Ecclesiastical New Year

Aug 24, 2009 | Protocol 63/09 | September 1, 2009

Day for the Protection of our Natural Environment

To the Most Reverend Hierarchs, the Reverend Priests and Deacons, the Monks and Nuns, the Presidents and Members of the Parish Councils of the Greek Orthodox Communities, the Distinguished Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Day, Afternoon, and Church Schools, the Philoptochos Sisterhoods, the Youth, the Hellenic Organizations, and the entire Greek Orthodox Family in America.

Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

We give thanks to God for the beginning of this Ecclesiastical New Year and for His abundant blessings, which fill our hearts with gratitude, deepen our faith, and strengthen our souls. The date of September 1 on our calendars marks the beginning of many things in our lives. For some, it presents the beginning of another academic year filled with worthy goals and challenges. For others, it is the return from summer vacation with refreshed bodies and minds, and renewed commitment to vocation and responsibilities. For those who work in agriculture, this date marks the beginning of the agrarian year and the tasks of planting, nurturing, and harvesting.

For Orthodox Christians, September 1 begins a new liturgical year in which we participate in the life of the Holy Church through Her divine services. September 1 is also the date that has been designated by our Holy Ecumenical Patriarchate as the Day for the Protection of our Natural Environment. For more than one reason, the joining of our observance of this Day with the beginning of the Ecclesiastical New Year, is significant, as it guides us in understanding the important relationship between our world created by God and our Orthodox Christian faith.

First, as human beings, it is within our world that we experience communion with God through our worship in the divine services of the Church. Our natural environment calls us to be in communion with God and with others. God brought the natural world into existence out of nothingness and He then created humankind within the natural environment for a harmonious coexistence and fellowship. While this harmony was interrupted through the sin and disobedience of man, our God, out of His great love for us, entered into His creation as flesh and blood in order to redeem us and all that is under the bondage of sin and death, restoring the harmonious fellowhip.

Second, through the liturgical life of the Church we are not only strenghthened in our journey of life but we also become aware of the great spiritual significance of our natural environment. This happens through the usage of purely material elements, as the bread and the wine, in the most holy Mystery of the Divine Eucharist which as the Body and Blood of Christ unites us with God Himself. Here, the spiritual and physical relationship is significant. We are both physical and spiritual beings, created for life, and blessed with the ability, unique only to human beings, to worship our Creator within a natural environment that not only provides for our basic physical needs, but also enables us to exprerience perfect communion with God.

Finally, our liturgical life and our life in the world cannot be considered as separate spheres of existence, but as one realm of living and relationship. In the services of the Church, we are called to liturgy, to a collective work as a people that will be our vocation for eternity. Within the Church, we strive for deeper communion with God, and we nurture our relationships of faith and love with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Our natural environment is also dependent upon our faith inspired work as a people, specifically as stewards of what God has created. We have been called to oversee and protect the natural environment. This requires cooperation with others in a spirit of love and fellowhsip. It also requires that we appreciate the impact of our actions and inactions, and that we cherish the beauty, function, and purpose of all that God has created, consistent with the manner by which we invoke His holy name in our worship of Him.

Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

It is on this day of the inauguration of this Ecclesiastical New Year, it is at this time, that all of us are called to think seriously about what St. Paul said to the Corinthians: behold, now is the happily acceptable time, behold now is the day of salvation (2 Corinthians 6:2). Let us then, hear this apostolic saying as a call to an enhanced participation in the liturgical life of our Church, to a renewed relationship to our natural environment, and to a deeper understanding of the preciousness of the time given to us by our God and Creator.

With paternal love in Christ,

† D E M E T R I O S
Archbishop of America