St. Gennadios, Patriarch of Constantinople

Today the Church commemorates St. Gennadios, the Patriarch of Constantinople. Sources often mistakenly mix up St. Gennadios, Patriarch of Constantinople in the fifth century, with this blog’s Patron Patriarch, Gennadios Scholarios, who was Patriarch of Constantinople a millennium later. Because of this we sometimes see people calling Gennadios Scholarios a saint when he isn’t (although in the Prologue of Ohrid, St. Nikolai Velimirović calls him “the glorious Patriarch” on the feast day for St. Mark of Ephesus).

St. Gennadios was Patriarch from 458 to his death in 471. He may have been friends with St. Cyril of Alexandria earlier, and during his patriarchate he definitely corresponded with Pope St. Leo of Rome. As one can imagine, he was a defender of Chalcedon and he also presided a council against simony (he cared about the purity of his clergy: it is said he would only ordain those who knew the entire Psalter by heart). Aside from ecclesiastical affairs, he was known as a miracle-worker and was a man of learning who wrote scriptural commentaries, some fragments of which may be found in Patrologia Graeca, 85 along with some of his other writings.

UPDATE, 10/10/2016: Turns out that Gennadios Scholarios is commemorated as a saint on some calendars, see here.

Links

  • Physicist Edward Witten is pessimistic about the prospects of scientifically explaining consciousness.
  • An English translation of Fr. Marie-Joseph Lagrange’s La Méthode Historique, a series of lectures on modern biblical criticism and the Old Testament. Even though occasionally he’ll give a point not too well-supported, it’s definitely worth reading, since it is pretty brief. This is especially true if you are interested in reconciling critical Old Testament scholarship with Christian tradition. On p. 73 he gives a very interesting passage from St. Cyril, where he acknowledges that Israel did not always have a developed view of God:
  • A French Russian Orthodox magazine, called Mouvement, with very high quality articles.
  • Irina Kirillova speaks at Cambridge about Met. Anthony of Sourozh: Part 1 and Part 2.
  • An oath for doctors from 14th century Georgia.

Anguish of Heart

But though I knew it not, You were listening. And when in silence I sought so vehemently, the voiceless contritions of my soul were strong cries to Your mercy. You knew what I was suffering and no man knew it. For how little it was that my tongue uttered of it in the ears even of my closest friends! Could they hear the tumult of my soul, for whose utterance no time or voice of mine would have been sufficient? Yet into Your hearing came all that I cried forth in the anguish of my heart…

St. Augustine, Confessions, 7.7.11 (Sheed’s translation).

Transient Love

All love that depends on a transient thing, when the thing has ceased, the love ceases (too); but the love that depends not on a transient thing never ceases. What is that love which depends on a transient thing? The love of Amnon and Tamar. And that which depends not on a transient thing? The love of David and Jonathan.

Source: Pirke Aboth, chapter 5.

The love that Amnon had for Tamar, being lustful and solely based on her looks, was bound to last only a short time (2 Sam 18). In contrast, David loved Jonathan not for any sexual reasons (despite some modern claims to the contrary) but because of a friendship that loved the person and not the accidents that fade away – looks, prestige, wealth, etc. “Jonathan’s life became bound up with David’s life; he loved him as his very self” (1 Sam 18:1, NABRE). Yet many today believe that, without a sexual partner, life cannot be totally fulfilling. For example, Bertrand Russell in chapter 6 of Marriage and Morals wrote:

I believe myself that romantic love is the source of the most intense delights that life has to offer. In the relation of a man and woman who love each other with passion and imagination and tenderness, there is something of inestimable value, to be ignorant of which is a great misfortune to any human being.

In this modern attitude can be seen a reason for the push in different Christian churches for allowing same-sex marriage. Proponents often argue that it is an injustice to deprive gay Christians of a romantic partner. However, this is not the traditional Christian view. St. Augustine, St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Jerome, along with many other Fathers, not to mention St. Paul and Christ himself, thought that celibacy was a holier state than married life. The loss of asceticism and of clerical celibacy in the West has likely played a role in changing this view.

There are, however, voices to the contrary. Online, there are not a few Catholics with a high view of tradition, many of whom attempt to remind others of “the exaltedness of celibacy.” Happily, among the Orthodox, Archimandrite J. P. Manoussakis expressed a similar opinion: “Making marriage a norm to which everyone is expected to conform is for me problematic. The abolition of clerical celibacy in the aftermath of the Reformation was perhaps a first step toward this direction that is now completed by granting marital status upon homosexual couples.” (Note that he is opposed to same-sex marriage; certain extreme Orthodox sites badly distort and misinterpret his words here – perhaps because his words were being translated from a Finnish website).

Prominent currents in Western culture excessively emphasize sexuality, to the point where watching pornography and premarital sex are assumed to be normal behavior, in contrast to earlier eras when even masturbation was taken to compromise virginity. In their desire to be faithful, many devout Christians reduce this emphasis but still fail to question it outright in light of Christian morals. But the Apostle tells us the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom 14:17). It must be acknowledged, then, that the object or basis of love cannot be transient but must bind the lives of its lovers together forever, like David and Jonathan, or St. Augustine, who wrote of his mother’s death in these terms: “Because I had lost the great comfort of her, my soul was wounded and my very life torn asunder, for it had been one life, made of hers and mine together” (Confessions, 9.12).

St. John of Damascus on the Dormition

St. John of Damascus, although now best known for his Exposition on the Orthodox Faith, was perhaps best known in his time for his preaching abilities, which is why writers sometimes called him John Chrysorrhoas, which means ‘streaming with gold’. I thought it would be fitting today to post a section of one of his sermons on St. Mary’s death and assumption, since today we celebrate the Feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God:

O how does the source of life pass through death to life? O how can she obey the law of nature, who, in conceiving, surpasses the boundaries of nature? How is her spotless body made subject to death? In order to be clothed with immortality she must first put off mortality, since the Lord of nature did not reject the penalty of death. She dies according to the flesh, destroys death by death, and through corruption gains incorruption, and makes her death the source of resurrection. O how does Almighty God receive with His own hands the holy disembodied soul of our Lord’s Mother! He honours her truly, whom being His servant by nature, He made His Mother, in His inscrutable abyss of mercy, when He became incarnate in very truth. We may well believe that the angelic choirs waited to receive thy departing soul. O what a blessed departure this going to God of thine. If God vouchsafes it to all His servants–and we know that He does–what an immense difference there is between His servants and His Mother. What, then, shall we call this mystery of thine? Death? Thy blessed soul is naturally parted from thy blissful and undefiled body, and the body is delivered to the grave, yet it does not endure in death, nor is it the prey of corruption. The body of her, whose virginity remained unspotted in child-birth, was preserved in its incorruption, and was taken to a better, diviner place, where death is not, but eternal life. Just as the glorious sun may be hidden momentarily by the opaque moon, it shows still though covered, and its rays illumine the darkness since light belongs to its essence. It has in itself a perpetual source of light, or rather it is the source of light as God created it. So art thou the perennial source of true light, the treasury of life itself, the richness of grace, the cause and medium of all our goods. And if for a time thou art hidden by the death of the body, without speaking, thou art our light, life-giving ambrosia, true happiness, a sea of grace, a fountain of healing and of perpetual blessing. Thou art as a fruitful tree in the forest, and thy fruit is sweet in the mouth of the faithful. Therefore I will not call thy sacred transformation death, but rest or going home, and it is more truly a going home. Putting off corporeal things, thou dwellest in a happier state.

Some Links

  • Fr. Alexis Trader writes about using patristics to complement psychotherapy methods. I especially liked what he says on p. 90: “The Church Fathers have long pointed out that the word metanoia [repentance] means specific changes in one’s way of thinking in which the nous, that is, the governing seat of the mind, is ‘transferred from that which is bad to that which is good.'” I suffer from religious scruples, and I think it’s totally true that focusing on negative things and intrusive thoughts only leads to you bigger problems and nastier thoughts. Later on he gives an interesting list of what Fathers have suggested to deal with these thoughts: “vocalizing them to someone else, exposing them by writing them down, disdaining them, and engaging in other intellectual activities such as the memorization of Bible verses or language learning. The individual can also alter his approach to the thoughts by contrasting them to reason or the Gospel of Christ, by analyzing them introspectively distinguishing between their logical meaning and subjective emotional connotations, or by observing the external situational factors that can contribute to the persistence of problematic thoughts.” (pp. 90-91).
  • An article from famous Oriental scholar Robert Hoyland on the history of writing a historical account of Muhammad and the problems in trying to do so. An interesting point he makes is that there were many different genres of tradition passed down, presumably with varying levels of reliability expected of each: some stories, for example, were told more for edification than anything else.
  • As a counterpoint to the above, here is an article from Islam scholar Jonathan A.C. Brown, who is much more critical than Hoyland of the common tendency among scholars to be highly skeptical of all early Muslim sources.
  • Behold the final actions of an insect who lived 50 million years ago.
  • Some quotes from famous Catholic biblical scholar Fr. Raymond E. Brown, S.S.

The Transfiguration

Today the Church commemorates the Transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ on Mount Tabor. In honor of this, here is a passage from the accomplished New Testament scholar Dale Allison comparing the account of the transfiguration and the account of the passion in the Gospel of Matthew:

I have mentioned both the transfiguration of Jesus and his passion in darkness. It is remarkable how the two events, as recounted in the synoptic Gospels, present themselves as antitheses and wage a symbolic battle of light against darkness.
In Matthew 17:1-8 Jesus takes Peter and James and John to a high mountain where heaven comes to earth: Jesus’ face shines as the sun, his garments become white as light, Moses and Elijah appear, a voice from a shining cloud speaks (“This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased; listen to him”), and the disciples fall on their faces and fear exceedingly.
There is one other place in Matthew where people fear exceedingly: after the centurion and those with him see the miraculous signs attendant upon the crucifixion, they too fear exceedingly. The link is small, but it prods one to observe that also common to the transfiguration and the crucifixion are the confession of Jesus as God’s “Son” (17:5; 27:54), the presence of three named onlookers (17:1, three male disciples: Peter, James, and John; 27:55-56, three female disciples: Mary Magdalene, Mary of James and Joseph, the mother of the sons of Zebedee), and the number six (“after six days,” 17:1; “from the sixth hour,” 27:45).
Moreover, these shared features exist in the midst of dramatic contrasts:

Transfiguration, 17:1-8 Crucifixion, 27
Jesus takes others (1) (31) Jesus is taken by others
elevation on mountain (1) (35) elevation on cross
private epiphany (1) (39) public spectacle
light (2) (45) darkness
garments illumined (2.) (28, 35) garments stripped off
Jesus is glorified (2ff.) (27ff.) Jesus is shamed
Elijah appears (3) (45-50) Elijah does not appear
two saints beside Jesus (3) (38) two criminals beside Jesus
God confesses Jesus (5) (46) God abandons Jesus
reverent prostration (6) (29) mocking prostration

Between Matthew 17:1-8 and 27:27-56 there is a curious confluence of similar motifs and contrasting images. We have here (whether intended by the author or not) pictorial antithetical parallelism, something like a diptych in which the two plates have similar outlines but different colors. If one scene were sketched on a transparency and placed over the other, many of its lines would disappear.
Despite their similarities, the two Gospel scenes represent the extremities of human experience. One tells of spit and mockery, nails and nakedness, blood and loneliness, torture and death. The other makes visible the presence of God and depicts the divinization of human nature. Moreover, the contradiction of experience, the coincidence of opposites in one person, is forcefully felt in the colors: the triumph is white and the tragedy black.

Source: Allison, D. C., Jr. (1995). The silence of angels. Valley Forge, PA: Trinity Press International. pp. 57-58.