"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch


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Wednesday, 25 November 2015


Conference                                                                    November 24th 2015

            Brethren, it’s now 5 days since our workshop on the EBC Forum came to an end and already it seems like a lifetime away. It’s amazing how quickly our duties and the routine of everyday life take over and you wonder if those talks and discussions we had ever took place. And, of course, over it all still looms the spectre of Paris and Isis and an uncertain future for the world we love and for that vision of unity and peace, which lies at the heart of the Christian Gospel, together with the imperatives of mercy and forgiveness. Let us pray earnestly, even more so than before, for peace and that the King of Peace may touch the hearts of the most hateful and negative people in the world. We must never forget the importance of intercessory prayer.

As we approach the beginning of Advent, we are very conscious of the inauguration of the Holy Year of Mercy and the fact that, here at Belmont, we too will have a Holy Door and that people will be coming on pilgrimage, looking to the Lord for mercy and forgiveness. Br Bernard is elaborating a simple programme, with which I hope all of us will be happy to cooperate. Let me just say about the workshop that I hope the discussions on the various themes will continue, informally at least, and that we will take to heart the call of Fr Luke Beckett to share more with each other, talking about the serious matters concerning our spiritual and community life, as well as all the usual topics that normally dominate our conversations, whether at recreation or elsewhere. One of the great things about our community is the fact that we are not straightjacketed and are free, within reason and using discretion and moderation, to say what we think and to speak frankly about ourselves and our needs and worries. Obviously, we all have a “wish list”, much of which will have to remain just that. I know that if I were to read mine out to you, you would all run a thousand miles. And, to be truthful, were it to be implemented, I would probably run a thousand miles as well! Let us all try, at least, to put others first and community before self, difficult enough as that is and the work of a lifetime spent in a Benedictine monastery.

We have been in Advent mode since the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, when, suddenly and without warning, the readings changed and became apocalyptic in nature, a give-away that originally Advent commenced with the feast of St Martin of Tours and that there were six Sundays rather than four, just as in the Ambrosian and Byzantine rites. Although our Victorian forebears, looking back to the Middle Ages, made a lot of preparing for the coming of the Christ Child, the birth of Jesus at Bethlehem, even the great O Antiphons, including the last one O Virgo Virginum, that was sung on Christmas Eve and is addressed to Our Lady, speak as much of the Second Coming as of the First in human flesh. It is the intermediate coming here and now in the Sacraments and that final coming at the end of time, which we long and yearn for as each day of the Octave leading up to Christmas we sing those magnificent chants. Of course, in the Mass Lectionary, they are also used at the Alleluia before the Gospel.

Although St Benedict talks about Lent as being the quintessential season for monks and that our lives should always have a Lenten aspect about them, it is equally true to say that we should also live in the spirit of Advent and that our lives should be a permanent vigil, looking forward not just to the Resurrection of Jesus as in Lent, but to his Second Coming as Lord and Judge at the end of time to recapitulate all things to the Father’s glory and separate the sheep from the goats and set fire to the tares that have been pulled out from among the wheat at harvest tide. Of course, the monastic life in its entirety is a preparation for that dread moment, when we could be chosen for the Kingdom or excluded for ever. Little wonder that the Dies irae, although no longer sung at a Requiem Mass, is to be found in many office books to be used during the last week of the liturgical year. I wish we could do that here at Belmont as they do in many other monasteries. Even being able to sing Charles Wesley’s great hymn, Lo! he comes with clouds descending, doesn’t quite make up for not singing the Dies irae. It is such a magnificent poem, which has inspired such great musical settings as that of Verdi, a hymn that is full of tenderness and compassion, while sparing none of the horrors of judgment and Hell.
Qui Mariam absolvisti,
Et latronem exaudisti,
Mihi quoque spem dedisti.  on the one hand:

Judex ergo cum sedebit
Quidquid latet apparebit:
Nil inultum remanebit.   on the other.

Yet it ends,
Pie Jesu Domine,
Dona eis requiem.

Our God is a loving God, there can be no denying it, but he is also a just God and Jesus does not move from that truth in the Gospel, but rather warns us to be prepared, for we know not the day or the hour. However, we do know what we will be examined on, we have been shown the examination paper beforehand. We have been told the answers. The Lord asks us simply to show kindness and generosity, true charity, nothing more, nothing less. Perhaps this is what we should be meditating on as we prepare our Advent confession. How generous am I towards my brethren and towards others who need me and need my help? Do I give them what they need or do I give grudgingly what I think they deserve or whatever costs me as little time and energy as possible? Do I visit the sick or chat with the elderly? Do I have patience with others? Am I judgmental? Do I murmur inwardly and publicly? Do I think before I speak? Do I hurt people without thinking? Do I care more about myself and my own needs than I do about others and their needs? Would I be prepared to lay down my life for my brethren and friends as Jesus did for me? Do I recall I took a vow of conversatio morum?

I hadn’t intended ending up moralising like this, but I probably need it far more than you! Pie Jesu Domine, parce nobis hodie. Amen

The Liturgical Season of Advent
How did the celebration of Advent come about?


The liturgical season of Advent marks the time of spiritual preparation by the faithful before Christmas. Advent begins on the Sunday closest to the Feast of St. Andrew the Apostle (Nov. 30). It spans four Sundays and four weeks of preparation, although the last week of Advent is usually truncated because of when Christmas falls. (For instance, this year, the fourth Sunday of Advent is obviously on Sunday, and then that evening is Christmas Eve.)
The celebration of Advent has evolved in the spiritual life of the Church. The historical origins of Advent are hard to determine with great precision. In its earliest form, beginning in France, Advent was a period of preparation for the Feast of the Epiphany, a day when converts were baptized; so the Advent preparation was very similar to Lent with an emphasis on prayer and fasting which lasted three weeks and later was expanded to 40 days. In 380, the local Council of Saragossa, Spain, established a three-week fast before Epiphany. Inspired by the Lenten regulations, the local Council of Macon, France, in 581 designated that from Nov. 11 (the Feast of St. Martin of Tours) until Christmas fasting would be required on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Eventually, similar practices spread to England. In Rome, the Advent preparation did not appear until the sixth century, and was viewed as a preparation for Christmas with less of a penitential bent.

The Church gradually more formalized the celebration of Advent. The Gelasian Sacramentary, traditionally attributed to Pope St. Gelasius I (d. 496), was the first to provide Advent liturgies for five Sundays. Later, Pope St. Gregory I (d. 604) enhanced these liturgies composing prayers, antiphons, readings, and responses. Pope St. Gregory VII (d. 1095) later reduced the number of Sundays in Advent to four. Finally, about the ninth century, the Church designated the first Sunday of Advent as the beginning of the Church year.

The Catechism stresses the two-fold meaning of this coming : When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Saviors first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for His second coming (No. 524).
Despite the sketchy history behind Advent, the importance of this season remains to focus on the coming of our Lord. (Advent comes from the Latin adventus, meaning coming.) The Catechism stresses the two-fold meaning of this coming : When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Saviors first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for His second coming (No. 524).

Therefore, on one hand, the faithful reflect back and are encouraged to celebrate the anniversary of the Lords first coming into this world. We ponder again the great mystery of the incarnation when our Lord humbled Himself, taking on our humanity, and entered our time and space to free us from sin. On the other hand, we recall in the Creed that our Lord will come again to judge the living and the dead and that we must be ready to meet Him.

A good, pious way to help us in our Advent preparation has been the use of the Advent wreathe. (Interestingly, the use of the Advent wreathe was borrowed from the German Lutherans in the early 1500s.) The wreathe is a circle, which has no beginning or end: So we call to mind how our lives, here and now, participate in the eternity of Gods plan of salvation and how we hope to share eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven. The wreathe is made of fresh plant material, because Christ came to give us new life through His passion, death, and resurrection. Three candles are purple, symbolizing penance, preparation, and sacrifice; the pink candle symbolizes the same but highlights the third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday, when we rejoice because our preparation is now half-way finished.

The light represents Christ, who entered this world to scatter the darkness of evil and show us the way of righteousness. The progression of lighting candles shows our increasing readiness to meet our Lord. Each family ought to have an Advent wreathe, light it at dinner time, and say the special prayers. This tradition will help each family keep its focus on the true meaning of Christmas. In all, during Advent we strive to fulfill the opening prayer for the Mass of the First Sunday of Advent: Father in Heaven, ... increase our longing for Christ our Savior and give us the strength to grow in love, that the dawn of His coming may find us rejoicing in His presence and welcoming the light of His truth.

Why fast before the Nativity?


I was wondering why we fast before Nativity. The Lenten fast seems more obvious. Also, from what foods do we normally fast from during the Nativity fast?


We fast before the Great Feast of the Nativity in order to prepare ourselves for the celebration of Our Lord’s birth. As in the case of Great Lent, the Nativity Fast is one of preparation, during which we focus on the coming of the Savior by fasting, prayer, and almsgiving.

By fasting, we “shift our focus” from ourselves to others, spending less time worrying about what to eat, when to eat, how much to eat, and so on in order to use our time in increased prayer and caring for the poor. We learn through fasting that we can gain control over things which we sometimes allow to control us—and for many people, food is a controlling factor. 
[We live in the only society in which an entire TV network is devoted to food!] While fasting from food, however, we are also challenged to fast from sin, from gossip, from jealousy, from anger, and from those other things which, while well within our control, we all too often allow to control us.

Just as we would refrain from eating a lot before going to an expensive restaurant for dinner—if we “ruin our appetite” we will enjoy the restaurant less—so too we fast before the Nativity in order to more fully feast and celebrate on the Nativity itself.

During the Nativity Fast, we are called upon to refrain from meat, dairy, fish, wine, and olive oil. At the same time, we are challenged, within this framework, to fast to the best of our ability, and to do so consistently. 
If we must modify the extent to which we fast within this framework, it is of course possible, but in every instance our fasting should be consistent and regular, for Christ does not see fasting as an option, but as a “must.” 
In Matthew Christ says, “WHEN you fast, do not be like the hypocrites,” not “IF you fast” or “IF YOU CHOOSE to fast.”

Finally, it seems quite odd that in our society—a society in which people gladly and freely spend huge sums of money for diets, most of which recommend that one refrain from red meats and dairy products—fasting is not more widely embraced. How odd that a Jenny Craig consultant or diet guru or physician will tell us to refrain from eating meat or cheese or butter and we will gladly embrace—and pay large sums of money for—his or her advice, while when the Church offers the same advice [at “no cost”] we tend to balk, as if we were being asked to do the impossible.

Monday, 23 November 2015


St. Anthony the Great: Wisdom Derived from Humility
Humility to virtues, it is often said, is like a root to a tree. A tree could not grow strong, bear fruit, or live a long life unless its roots are established deep in the ground. The branches of humility are modesty, unpretentiousness and respect. Therefore humility, defined as being free from pride, is primary for all those seeking a strong enduring relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.

Humility, once firmly established, makes the foundation for wisdom strong . King Solomon famed for his wisdom said, "When pride comes, then comes shame; but with the humble is wisdom" (Proverbs 11:2). David the Prophet and King said, "The testimony of the Lord is sure, making the wise the simple" (Psalm 19:7), "the simple" referred to here being the humble. In the Holy Book of Sirach we read, "A poor man with wisdom can hold his head high and take his seat among the great" (Sirach 11:1). Again, the poor man in this verse refers to the humble. Why humble? The poor man knows he is poor, is patient when misfortunes strike him, blames himself in everything and does not care about the opinion of others because his aim is simply to please God.

St. Pachomius, the noted founder of coenobitic monasticism, said, "Be humble so that God guards and strengthens you, because God looks to the humble. Be humble so that God fills you with wisdom, knowledge, and understanding, because it is written that He guides the humble and teaches His ways to the meek." Also St. Pachomius said, "Be humble in order to be joyful, because joy goes hand in hand with humility."

The childhood of this humble saint, Abba Anthony, is one of necessary contemplation by children and youth today. Some saints were born saints; others were saints from their mother's womb (St. John and Jeremiah the prophet). These saints were among the highest levels of saints, a gift from the Lord. St. Anthony was not born in this class of saints. He was a youth born to a noble family attributed for their great wealth. St. Athanasius the Great wrote much concerning the family and childhood of St. Anthony. Our saint was an Egyptian, a descendant of a slave-owning family. His forefathers were believers in the Lord Jesus Christ and therefore from his earliest childhood, St. Anthony, was blessed by having been brought up in the fear of the Lord. As a child reared up in the secular world, he knew nothing of his father's business or of what went on among his kinsmen.

He was so silent in disposition and his mind was so humble that he did not even trouble his parents by asking them questions. He was exceedingly modest and honest beyond measure. When he attended church with his parents he would run before them to the church in an outflow of his affection. St. Anthony never neglected or held lightly the observance of any of the seasons of the church neither in his childhood nor in his early manhood.

Since childhood until he began to distinguish between good and evil; his going to church was not a mere custom, but the result of discernment and understanding. As a child and a young man, St. Anthony looked up to his family as his teachers, paying them honor after the manner of a full grown man, and they, at their old age, regarded him as the master of the house until their days came to an end.

When St. Anthony became an adult, he made the eastern mountains and desert his home; continually having to strive to overcome great obstacles in his attempt to achieve the highest level of sainthood. He desired to prove his love to God and his readiness to exhaust every effort to live in unity with God by leaving the world voluntarily, giving all his wealth to the needy; so that he could live the life of poverty, he had believed, would assist him to gain the earthly life nearest to the Lord, he so ardently wanted.

In all St. Anthony's earthly accomplishments and fame, he retained his humility. As St. Makarius in one of his contemplations said that he saw demon's lures scattered all over the earth and asked, "Lord, who can escape it?" And following this question, St. Makarius heard a voice answering, "The humble will."

St. Anthony's humility took many forms. From childhood, St. Anthony listened to others without insisting on his own opinion. As an adult, St. Anthony committed himself to solitude and practiced it by living enclosed for twenty years during which he did not see a single human face. This, it is thought, is the life he had preferred. Yet, following many years in the desert, when people gathered at his door, asking to see him or hear his teachings, he did not turn them away even though he wanted to remain in the life of complete solitude he had chosen for himself.

He instinctively knew he must replace his preferred way of life and begin to teach monasticism, opening his door to all that wanted to visit. He thus changed his life style for the sake of others; and with wisdom accepted what God wanted him to do. St. Anthony believed monasticism entailed abandoning the world and living in the desert in prayer and meditation. However, when bishops called upon him to go to Alexandria to fight Aranism, he went to the city and stayed with the people for three days until his mission had been accomplished. Only then did he return to his solitude. He was obedient and did as he was told although he was about one hundred years of age at the time.

Another act of humility encompassed visiting the martyrs awaiting trial and torture. He gave them his support and encouraged them.

Further, with humility St. Anthony overcame stringency and stubbornness normally associated with isolation. His modesty created gentleness in him. He flexibly exercised wisdom, increasing moderation and discernment with himself and others. He became happy and joyful in his humility and kept it a central part of him till the end of his earthly life.

During the time of St. Anthony, the Egyptians were in the habit of taking the righteous men's corpses especially those of the blessed martyrs, embalming them and placing them not in graves but on biers in their houses; for they thought that by doing so, they were doing them honor. When St. Anthony got sick,he instructed his two disciples who had been with him the last fifteen years to dig a grave for him and never to tell anyone one where they would bury him. "...and there I shall be until the Resurrection of the dead". Humility, even unto death, was St. Anthony's last wish, following the example of the deaths and ground burials of the holy Apostles.

St. Anthony further gave instructions for his meager possessions. "Divide my garments into lots and give one leather tunic to Bishop Athanasius and the covering of this my bed which he gave to me when it was new; but now it has the age of many years. And to Bishop Serapion do ye give the other leather coat; and this covering of my bed which is made of hair you yourselves shall keep." His only possessions taken care of, he instructed his disciples to abide in the peace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and his face became full of joy unspeakable. With heavenly joy upon his face, St. Anthony departed from this world. The disciples wrapped around him the garment which he had wore, dug an unmarked hole, and buried his body without ceremony. To this very day no man knows where they had buried him except the two disciples who had laid him in the earth.

In quiet finality was the end in the body of the 105 years of the blessed St. Anthony, a great man of God who from his earliest youth to his old age never strayed from the Lord his God.

Many youth have often asked why St. Anthony did not become a bishop; yet he was a contemporary of bishops. During the day of St. Anthony it was not mandated that bishops should be chosen from among monks. In addition, during St. Anthony's time, monasticism was regarded as a spiritual order beyond the realm of pastoral care. It was a life considered better than priesthood and closer to that of the angels. Given those facts, who would quit monasticism to become a bishop.

As stated earlier, one of his famous disciples who wrote his biography was a deacon and became a Patriarch, St. Athanasius the Apostolic. Today, our beloved popes are followers of the monastic life and St. Anthony's legacy, of great humility serving the papacy; preserving the same spiritual virtues as St. Anthony the Great. Today, our popes and their predecessors examples are again supporting the evident; that great humility in life renders ever greater wisdom in service to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Ephram El-Souriany said, "Inside the meek and humble man, the spirit of wisdom rests." This is such an astounding quote when put in perspective regarding the life of St. Anthony, who he had no guide. He had little childhood formal education. There were no books he could research in order to self educate himself in the desert. He was alone throughout most of his spiritual quest without companions; but did not fall once. He had complete faith in God, the longevity of his life from childhood till death believing that God was with him. He obtained his strength from deep within himself and had the courage to enter into the uncharted unknown in the search of angelic worship. His humility conceived his wisdom.

Today, we commemorate St. Anthony the Great not only on his feast but also in the commemoration of the saints in our Divine Liturgy and in the Midnight Prayers.

Methodius (c290) an Ante-Nicene and bishop of Lycia wrote, "All the bodily members are to be preserved intact and free from corruption. This means not only those members that are sexual, but those other members too that minister to the service. For it would be ridiculous to keep pure the reproductive organs, but not the tongue. It would be ridiculous to preserve the tongue, but not the eyes, ears, or hands. Lastly and importantly, it would be ridiculous to keep all these members pure, but not the mind, defiling it with pride and anger."

May the prayers of the great St. Anthony who sought holiness in solitude, willingly became an obedient and wise teacher, whose humility bore gentleness and goodness be with us all, Amen.

Bishop Youssef

Bishop, Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States



my source: The Monastery of the Ascension


Humility is one of the most prominent themes in the Rule of Benedict. It may well be the most difficult to understand. This discussion will discuss Benedict's teaching, move to a theological definition and discussion, and finally conclude with some personal reflections.

The Rule of Benedict

The teaching of the Rule of Benedict regarding humility is very complex. Perhaps the best contemporary expositor of that teaching is the Australian Trappist, Michael Casey.1

Humility is Truth

He points out the humility is not a popular idea right now, though vanity is not prized either. He points out that ideas that seem irrelevant or trivial are often those that call one's framework of thought into question. He also says that whereas we think of humility in psychological terms, in Benedict's time it was more a matter of objective behavior. Once again, humility is truth: conformity of created reality with the intention of its Maker. Humble people are satisfied with the possibilities of human life. Humble people depend on God and recognize in themselves a space that only God can fill. They know they are sinners with a personal history of meanness and broken relationships, burdened with liabilities and limits which result from their personal history, and so in need of grace and acceptance of God's providence and the challenges and opportunities it brings.¨

Humility joins us to the rest of the human race. We share their lot. Our gifts are held in trust for them.

The fruit of humility is naturalness, being ourselves in grace.

St. Benedict's Steps and their Sources

St. Benedict's teaching on the steps of humility derives from the Institutes of John Cassian (4.39), who listed ten signs of humility. The Rule of the Master, written not long before Benedict's Rule, was his immediate source. The Rule of the Master transformed Cassian's ten signs into twelve steps. Perhaps Casey's most important observation is that Benedict's ladder of humility is not prescriptive, but descriptive. He is describing the way that humility will manifest itself over a lifetime in the monastery. They don't cause progress, but measure it. In fact, Benedict doesn't call humility a virtue.

Benedict begins by citing the biblical paradox of the exaltation of the humble. Thus, the monk ascends by way of humility and discipline. His twelve steps are

(1)fear of the Lord
(2)renunciation of self-will
(3)obedience to the superior in imitation of Christ
(4)patience and equanimity in difficulties
(6)contentment with the least
(7)awareness of one's own liabilities
(8)avoidance of individualistic and self-seeking behavior
(9)radical restraint of speech
(10) avoidance of laughter
(11) gravity of speech
(12) humility manifest in all facets of life
As one grows in humility one grows in love that ultimately casts out fear, and acts humbly from habit and with delight.

Thus humility is not a way of diminishment, but a road to freedom, self-transcendence and the capacity to receive grace. Benedict begins with the inner attitudes then deals with outward behavior. One needs to work with both at once.

Seriousness: Fear of the Lord (the first degree)

One component of fear of the Lord is mindfulness, the opposite of mindless extroversion or blind following of instinct. Fear of the Lord involves a call fro the Lord to conversion, to weed out evil in our good deeds. Desires are controlled by an awareness of the dangers they involve.

Doing God's Will (second and third degrees)

Becoming responsive to God requires freeing oneself from alien powers: from sub-personal forces of sin. The choice is not between autonomy and submission, but to what one will submit. Often we see what commanded or drove us only in retrospect. Hence the list of deadly sins helps us identify where we are needful. The goal is not self-help but freedom to follow Christ. We can't root out desires, but we can channel them and interpose discretion between desire and action. Obedience to the human superior is a means to the end of doing God's will. The aim of religious obedience is not efficiency or the imposition of the superior's will, but finding God's will. Superior has to adapt to personal differences of monks, not vice versa (RB 2.31-32). Obedience should be ready, confident and cheerful.

Patience (fourth degree)

Obeying can lead to failure, unfairness. Hence one needs patience as an antidote to anger or sadness. Patience is acceptance, in union with Christ, of whatever pain life brings. The heart of patience is quieting feelings and thoughts which arise. Aelred of Rievaulx distinguished six steps in attaining internal peace: reject world standards in favor and Christian/monastic ones; don't make excessive demands; be honest about internal factors and sensitivities which work against our peace; from experience learn one's limitations; restrain taking frustration out on others or talking just to reinforce one's own point of view; stillness: stay put to avoid avoidance and do some work to break from over-intense self-scrutiny.

Radical Self-Honesty (fifth degree)

The routine of monastic (and non-monastic!) life can lead to discovery of internal factors at variance with one's external practice. This can lead to a crisis. Then one needs to talk to someone with wisdom in order to clarify one's understanding and to find support and a new perspective.

Abasement (sixth to eighth degrees)

If one is tempted by tendencies of domination, acquisition and social approval one antidote is to accept inferior status. The dignity of a human being does not require stripes on one's sleeve. However, monasteries tend to reward the compliant who are satisfied with status quo. These three degrees aim at contentment and equilibrium. The goal is harmony, not passivity, conformity or uniformity.

Restraint in Speech (ninth to eleventh degrees)

Silence is humility in word. Benedict is concerned with human speech, not environmental noise. "Taciturnitas" is a quality acquired by personal discipline, not an external asset. The aim of restraint in speech is to promote prayer. It includes absence of noise, disturbance, frivolity, and mental restlessness. Humor has a place, but playing the buffoon and vacuous chitchat do not. Benedict is describing a wise old man and suggests the young imitate him. For the most part, one will only be able to do that when one has done a lot of living.

Integration and Transformation (twelfth degree)

The outcome of a life of humility is the restoration of God's likeness, the elimination of inner conflict, acceptance of one's lowliness. This is where the whole ladder started, but not it is effortless and abiding. The authentic self is all that is left. Then, Benedict says, when one arrives at perfect love that casts out fear, one acts effortless out of love for Christ, good habit and delight in virtue. All this the Holy Spirit manifests in his worker now cleansed of sin and vices.


1. Fear of the Lord is probably the nodal point of the spirituality in the Rule of Benedict. God sees all; we are responsible for every second of our lives; we will be judged (RB 7.10; 7.26; 4.44-45; 19.1). This one needs "to keep in mind." The purpose of the monastic environment and monastic practices is to help us keep in mind God's presence. Recognition of the infinite difference between God and us is where humility and fear of the Lord meet.

2. The eighth step of humility is the most communal. It asks the monk to fit himself into the community, to respect the practice of the elders. Ultimately, learning to be at ease in community, neither neurotic about conforming nor feeling a need to not conform is a sign of maturity and humility.

3. This discussion of humility has emphasized the contrast between God's infinite perfection and our own limits. It has not spoken much about comparing oneself with others. The gospels and Benedict's Rule both speak of counting oneself the least. This doesn't mean you should think of yourself as worthless. Rather it means that you know that everything you have is a gift. Knowing that, you can both accept a compliment and give what you have away. It also means that you give the other the benefit of the doubt, since you don't know their inner disposition, their constraints and the blessings with which the other works. You do know yours, and you are ready to serve others, just as Christ was.

A Theological Definition

Karl Rahner formulated the following definition of humility:

The disposition of the human being who, conscious of his radical distance from God, who is perfect Being, has gratefully and courageously taken to himself God's self-emptying in his Son (Phil 2.2-8) and the transformation (elevation) therein revealed of the little and the weak of this world into the great of the kingdom of God (Mt 18.4 and parallel passages). This humble self-acceptance is expressed particularly in acceptance (forgiveness, endurance) of the weakness of one's fellow man and in readiness to serve him and God.3

This definition merits some commentary. Humility is a disposition, a virtue or habit of heart that permeates one's whole outlook. It is an outlook of human beings. Humility is related to the Latin word "humus," which means earth or ground. The word "human" comes from the sent root. Humility is to recognize both the earthiness of human existence. Humility recognizes that we are created to be with all natural things and all people, in an interconnected web of life. Our ultimate ground is God, who is radically distant, but nevertheless present wherever God's creative power is at work. This God who is utterly transcendent and imminent brings human beings and all else into existence; otherwise they are not. God is—all else is brought to be by God. Our greatness and our fragility and limits spring from the same source. One might even say they are ultimately identical. We are something, somebody, but derivatively, by the gift of Another.

However, historically4 and theologically, humility is rooted primarily not in the human beings status as limited created beings, but in the example and teaching of the Son of God "who emptied himself" (Phil 2.7). Jesus, the incarnate Son, was meek and humble of heart (Mt 11.29). He taught that those who are last shall be first, that those who welcome children with childlike openness and who make themselves the servants of all are the great in the Kingdom of God.

Another dimension of our limitation and imperfection is not simply given but comes from sin, bad habit, bad example, and the failure of human beings to nurture one another. St. Bernard says that "Humility has two feet: appreciation of divine power and consciousness of personal weakness." The Cloud of Unknowing echoes this: "There are two causes of this meekness: one is the foulness, wretchedness and weakness into which a man has fallen by sin…. The other is the superabundant love and worthiness of God himself."

The humble person gratefully and courageously takes to himself Christ's humility. If we really recognize all that we are is God's gift, then we will be thankful. That gratitude will show itself in the courage to follow Christ in his self-emptying on behalf of others. Humility is not a virtue of the fearful, but of the courageous. Self-emptying is glorification. Those who are "little and weak" by worldly measures are "great" in God eyes.

Humility is acceptance of our status as human beings, dust from dust, but redeemed and ennobled by the Son of God. Hence, humility is truth. One who is humble does need to resort to deception to bolster his self-esteem; or does he need to compete or envy others. The humble person accepts both her gifts and her limitations.

This self-acceptance is expressed particularly in acceptance, forgiveness and patience for others and in readiness to serve other and God. To serve here means to be at their disposal, to be ready to perform any task on their behalf.


1. Healthy humility is not the result of having never accomplished anything, but a readiness to let go of what one has accomplished. Humility is having a self, but being ready to give it away.

2. To reiterate a point already made: humility, clear-sighted avowal of one's fragility and weakness opens us to compassion for others sufferings and limitations.

3. Yves Congar somewhere wrote that medieval authors find two motivations for prayer: God's mercy (misericordia) and human misery (miseria). Recognizing one's own sinfulness leads one to entrust oneself to the divine mercy. St. Bernard distinguished cold humility that is a matter of severe truth, and humility inspired by charity toward God and others. Christ's humble service was inspired solely by love.5


Friday, 20 November 2015


The Icon of Sophia, the Wisdom of God (Kiev), occupies an unique place in the Russian Orthodox Church. On the icon is depicted the Theotokos, and the Hypostatic Wisdom, the Son of God incarnate of Her.
my source: First Things
December 2012
At the beginning of the twentieth century, those Westerners who knew about the Orthodox Church tended to think it exotic and theologically and culturally irrelevant. Orthodox theology was very little known and even less understood, and perhaps even less valued than understood. The Bolshevik Revolution changed this. By the direct order of Lenin, at the beginning of the 1920s, the leading Russian religious thinkers were exiled to the West. With the arrival in Western Europe of the leaders of what became known as the Russian Religious Renaissance on the “philosophy steamer” (since most of them traveled by sea) and the establishment of the St. Sergius Orthodox Theological Institute in Paris in 1925, Orthodox émigré theologians began to speak with distinctive and recognizable, if at times discordant, voices in the West.

The Russian Religious Renaissance was an attempt to interpret all aspects of human existence—culture, politics, even economics—in Christian terms, brought about by the generation of Nicholas Berdyaev, Sergius Bulgakov, Nicholas Lossky, and Lev Shestov. This older generation built upon the main currents of nineteenth-century western European and Russian religious thought. For example, Berdyaev’s religious existentialism and personalism had its roots in German mystics, especially Jacob Boehme, as well as in the religious questions raised by Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. Bulgakov took as his point of departure the German Idealist tradition, especially Schelling, as worked out in the sophiology of Vladimir Solovyov. Lossky developed religious and philosophical intuitivism, whereas Shestov worked out a form of antirationalist existentialism akin to the religious vision of Søren Kierkegaard. The movement was interrupted midstream in Russia, but it continued with renewed vigor in the diaspora.

The younger generation, whose thought matured in the emigration, was led by Georges Florovsky and Nicholas Lossky’s son Vladimir. This generation rebelled against the previous generation’s perceived theological “modernism” and was concerned to free Orthodox theology from its centuries-old “Western captivity.” They announced a reform of Orthodox theology through a return to the patristic sources. By the second half of the twentieth century, this theology had become the dominant paradigm of Orthodox theology.

In Florovsky’s works, this reform program received the name of a “neopatristic synthesis,” which, he wrote, “should be more than just a collection of patristic sayings or statements; it must truly be a synthesis, a creative reassessment of those insights which were granted to the holy men of old. It must be Patristic, faithful to the spirit and vision of the Fathers, ad mentem Patrum. Yet, it also must be neo-Patristic, since it is to be addressed to the new age, with its own problems and queries.” For Florovsky, this involved a Christocentric approach to theology, rooted in the Chalcedonian definition, whereas for Lossky it was a rediscovery of the apophatic theology of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite. Along with Basil Krivocheine and Myrrha Lot-Borodine, Lossky participated in the retrieval of the theology of Gregory Palamas. The Palamite distinction between the incommunicable divine essence and the communicable divine energies, and the attendant theological anthropology, became a trademark of an important expression of neopatristic theology called Neo-Palamism.

In the course of this development, those who tended to present Orthodox theology as something universal—for example, Bulgakov and Berdyaev—ultimately lost the battle of ideas to those who emphasized Orthodoxy’s particularity and distinctiveness. The generation involved in expanding the boundaries of Orthodoxy lost its battle to the generation involved in defining the same boundaries. Even those Orthodox theologians who resisted a self-imposed intellectual isolation from the West tended to highlight the differences, rather than the points of resemblance, between the Eastern and Western modes of theologizing.

Orthodox theologians often “orientalized” Orthodox theology by presenting it primarily as an antithesis to Western theology. To simplify the frequently invoked dichotomies, the allegedly individualistic, legalistic, rationalistic, positivistic, and anthropocentric Western religious thought was contrasted with the allegedly communitarian, holistic, mystical, and theocentric Orthodox thought. Such dichotomies reveal as much about the internal tensions within various expressions of Western intellectual history as they do about the alleged contrast between the East and the West. Along with constructing modern Orthodox theology as an alternative to its Western counterpart, Orthodox intellectuals could not resist producing an idealized picture of their Church, a “book version” of Orthodoxy, in the interest of apologetics. Often it is this sanitized picture of Orthodoxy that has the greatest initial appeal to Western inquirers.

After World War II, the second steamer sailed across the Atlantic. The most important migrants on the “theology steamer” first included Nicholas Lossky (his son Vladimir stayed in France) and Georges Florovsky (who became the first Orthodox to teach at Harvard Divinity School), who were followed shortly thereafter by Alexander Schmemann, John Meyendorff, Serges Verkhovskoy, and others. Although other theologians, primarily Greek theologians like John Zizioulas, John Romanides, and Christos Yannaras, exercised theological leadership in the historically Orthodox countries, Orthodox theology remained largely a phenomenon of the diaspora. Behind the Iron Curtain, communist governments stifled theological thought, although some heroic attempts were made in the Soviet Union and Romania to pass on this nearly extinguished light. One may mention in this regard the names of such scholars as Alexei Losev, Sergei Averintsev, and Dumitru Staniloae.

It is true that only a few first-rate minds could rival the extraordinary spiritual boldness, learning, and resourcefulness of the Renaissance thinkers, but the standard of Orthodox theology remained high. For example, under Schmemann’s influence, Orthodox liturgical theology acquired its maturity. Creative works in Orthodox moral theology began to emerge, including, for example, the contributions of Paul Evdokimov and Vigen Guroian, followed by forays into the field of Orthodox biblical studies, such as the works of Theodore Stylianopoulos, Paul Tarazi, and John Breck.

Presently, Orthodox theology in the West is changing fundamentally. It can even be said to have been transformed already, and in five important ways.

First, Orthodox theology has developed from an unknown commodity into a respectable minority theology. In the beginning of the twentieth century, Orthodox theology inspired little sympathy in the West. Harnack, for example, construed Greek patristic theology as a result of the corruption of the gospel by Greek metaphysics. Writing in the 1930s, Florovsky noted that “in the West one has become accustomed to regard Orthodoxy as a sort of exhumed Christianity, retrograde and stagnant, to think that the Christian East, at best, is in a state of historic coma. Historic separation and estrangement account for this deceptive interpretation.”

Today, many universities in the United States pride themselves on having at least one “token” Orthodox faculty member in their departments of religion, theology, or philosophy. For example, Harvard Divinity School has Kimberley Patton, Princeton Theological Seminary George Lewis Parsenios, Brown University Susan Ashbrook Harvey, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary Edith Humphrey, and Baruch College Michael Plekon. Remarkably, the theology departments of Fordham and Duquesne universities each have two full-time Orthodox faculty members. It is not unreasonable to expect that where two or three Orthodox theologians are gathered, there could emerge a small center or a program to promote Orthodoxy’s intellectual legacy, like the Orthodox Christian Studies Center that George Demacopoulos and Aristotle Papanikolaou have established at Fordham in 2007, hardly possible even thirty years ago.

In most cases, Orthodox theologians enjoy considerable intellectual freedom and little ideological pressure at the non-Orthodox schools that employ them. Our Catholic hosts, as a rule, accept us as potentially offering a corrective to what they perceive as the limitations of “Latin” theology. Our Protestant colleagues often regard the representatives of Orthodoxy as offering the goods of Catholic Christianity without the historical traumas of the Reformation. As a minority, we enjoy a unique, politically non-threatening status and are respected for who we are.

Second, Orthodox theologians have moved from teaching mainly in Orthodox seminaries to teaching in non-Orthodox schools. A century ago, the majority of Orthodox theologians who relocated to Europe either held posts at the established Orthodox schools like the University of Belgrade and Sofia University or had to create new Orthodox institutions like the ?St. Sergius and St. Denys theological institutes in Paris. After the war, in the United States, most Orthodox theologians taught at the recently established Orthodox schools. Today the situation is quite different. The total number of full-time faculty at the Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, and St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Theological Seminary is around fifty. At least twice as many now teach religion-related subjects at non-Orthodox institutions and seminaries.

Due to the financial challenges and relatively slow growth of the Orthodox Church in the U.S., the number of full-time faculty at the Orthodox schools is not going to increase considerably in the near future. Yet the number of Orthodox students pursuing doctoral work has been steadily growing, and these often very gifted young scholars are more likely to find teaching posts at mainstream academic institutions than at Orthodox schools. They will interact regularly with their non-Orthodox peers as well as the non-Orthodox students, and their thinking, teaching, and writing will naturally turn into an implicit dialogue with the non-Orthodox. Any act of accountable and serious scholarship becomes in some sense an ecumenical act, whether or not they actually engage in formal ecumenical negotiations.

Third, Orthodox theology is shifting from engaging in ecumenical dialogue to addressing the post-denominational condition. In the beginning of the twentieth century, the ecumenical dialogue was predicated on the assumption of clear and rigid denominational boundaries. Those outside one’s own group were typically regarded as heretics or schismatics. While the traditionalist Orthodox may still use this language, the denominational boundaries in America have become increasingly porous and flexible.

On one level, a century after the beginning of the ecumenical movement, Christians have become even more divided. On another, the dividing lines no longer coincide neatly with the ecclesiastical boundaries but with positions on controversial issues of human sexuality, the ministry of women, and other social issues. On yet another level, non-Orthodox theologians are more and more willing to engage with and incorporate into their own work the insights of Orthodox theology. For example, apophatic theology and the concept of deification are no longer perceived as exclusively Eastern ideas. Postmodern theologians of all stripes are captivated by the via negativa , and more remarkably, Catholic and Protestant theologians, both mainstream and Evangelical, have recently offered very appreciative accounts of deification.

There is a growing awareness that the Orthodox tradition has been previously neglected in the curriculum of Western theological institutions and has to be more effectively represented. Forward-looking deans of various theological schools are considering concrete ways of institutionalizing such changes. For example, Union Theological Seminary created the endowed chair in Late Antique and Byzantine Christian History for the renowned Orthodox patristic scholar and theologian John Anthony McGuckin and provided the resources for the establishment of the Orthodox Sophia Institute. Fordham University will soon establish an endowed chair in Orthodox Theology and Culture. More institutional determination will be required in the future for this trend to continue.

Fourth, Orthodox theology has shifted from diaspora theology to convert theology. Only thirty years ago, almost without exception, Orthodox scholarship in the United States was dominated by Slavs like Schmemann and Meyendorff and Greeks like Romanides. Some were educated and even born outside of their countries of ethnic origin, but their roots still ran deep in their respective ethnic traditions. Now, a deep immersion in the Orthodox tradition has led a number of noted scholars to join the Orthodox Church. These include McGuckin, Humphrey, Harvey, the late Jaroslav Pelikan, Richard Swinburne, Andrew Louth, and David Bentley Hart. All of them teach or have taught primarily at non-Orthodox schools. Converts also predominate among Orthodox graduate students. For example, the ten Orthodox students currently pursuing their doctorates at Fordham are all either converts or come from the families of converts.

As a Slavic immigrant and an Orthodox Levite myself—the maternal side of my family includes several generations of Russian Orthodox clergymen, albeit with a hiatus during the Soviet time—I welcome this new development. At the annual meetings of the Orthodox Theological Society in America, the contributions of the converts are at least as substantial as those of the ethnic Orthodox. As for the sessions of the Eastern Orthodox Studies Group at the annual meetings of the American Academy of Religion, recent years have witnessed increasing attendance by Roman Catholics, Evangelicals, and others.

Sociologically, the increasing intellectual presence of converts—I predict that their influence will grow exponentially in the years ahead—will create some new identity challenges for the Orthodox. Having received the elephants like Pelikan, Swinburne, Hart, and McGuckin into the house of contemporary Orthodox theology, the walls are bound to shift in unpredictable ways. One cannot, of course, just shrug one’s shoulders and declare that any given theological contribution counts as Orthodox theology if the author intends it as such. Some damage control and boundary making will be inevitable, as the gifts of the convert theologians are received and unwrapped.

How, for example, are we to fit Richard Swinburne’s defense of Christian theism, written before his entry into the Orthodox Church, into the body of modern Orthodox theology? With trepidation or with admiration? Swinburne’s use of probabilistic arguments to defend the rationality of Christian beliefs is without precedent in Orthodox theology. Such a move challenges Orthodox theologians to reconsider the role of reason. Swinburne’s work, widely read by philosophers in Russia, is awaiting its reception in Orthodoxy.

Moreover, consider the exchange a few years ago between McGuckin and Hart in the pages of the Scottish Journal of Theology. McGuckin argued that Hart’s engagement of postmodernism in The Beauty of the Infinite did not authentically speak for Orthodoxy. Hart replied that Orthodoxy does not offer one paradigm for doing theology and cited precedents of other paradigms besides the neopatristic one. This was an argument between two convert theologians regarding the boundaries of Orthodoxy.

Some converts prefer to draw more clearly defined boundaries between the East and the West than do many cradle Orthodox, especially those of my generation. After all, the converts made a conscious decision to move from non-Orthodoxy to Orthodoxy, something that the ethnic Orthodox have not experienced. For some converts, joining the Orthodox Church is a bit like a happy second marriage: the hairs are gray, the feelings mature, but the bliss of the honeymoon is not over yet.

Finally, Orthodox theology is shifting from the dominance of neopatristics to a re-emerging plurality of theological paradigms. The Russian Religious Renaissance was an enormous explosion of different theological visions of the world, in which no aspect of human endeavor was to remain outside of the framework of Christian teaching (it is somewhat akin in its breadth to the Radical Orthodoxy movement). In contrast, the post-war generation accepted Florovsky’s and Lossky’s critique of the Renaissance and expanded most of its scholarly efforts on patristic theology and church history. However, pace Florovsky, not all theological problems can be successfully resolved by recourse to the history of patristic ideas. For example, many questions in the contemporary discussion of theology and science should be addressed on strictly philosophical, rather than exclusively historical, grounds. The same applies to Orthodox bioethics and political theology.

In the years ahead, neopatristic theology will remain a leading direction of Orthodox theology. Indeed, Orthodox theology cannot become post-patristic if it is to remain Orthodox. Yet the time is ripe to explore the paradigms that engage modernity and post-modernity in a more robust and direct manner. Orthodox theology is at the crossroads, and there is a growing dissatisfaction with the hegemony of the neopatristic paradigm, at least as practiced by Florovsky’s generation.

The emerging diversity of paradigms must not deteriorate into a cacophony in which Orthodox theologians lose their common language, or their common ontological assumptions, or their common goal of coming to know more profoundly the reality of the triune God. There are many ways in which our ivory towers could be turned into a tower of Babel. The emerging pluriform Orthodox theology must avoid this fate. Fortunately, however, contemporary Orthodox theologians have exactly the right amount of common ground required to move forward.

I left the September 2011 meeting of the Orthodox Theological Society in America with a strong premonition that we are at the threshold of a new theological renaissance. In this renaissance, the United States, not Europe, is more likely to be the center of gravity, though I also expect some groundbreaking work to come from Greece as well as from Russia, Ukraine, and Romania, as they continue to emerge out of the ruins of their communist past.

I had felt this already at the Orthodox theological conferences in Moscow in 2007 and in Volos in 2010. Orthodox theologians are making a clear attempt to break out of the neopatristic paradigm in very creative ways. In the common internet space that Orthodox theologians now share, the ethnic and geographic boundaries are going to matter less and less. The international exchange between Orthodox theologians will grow, even if the bishops—conspicuously absent from the theological societies’ meetings—have no immediate plans for resolving our enduring and scandalous jurisdictional divisions in the United States and elsewhere. In this regard, the pan-Orthodox character of the Orthodox Theological Society in America is another powerful sign of Orthodox unity in America.

Whatever the theologians produce in the years ahead—and the harvest, I predict, will be plentiful—will have to be received, rejected, or ignored by the Church at large. It appears to be increasingly clear that we are presently witnessing the first signs of a theological earthquake that will bring about the new and more potent wave of the world-wide Orthodox theological renaissance. The epicenter is likely to be North America, the main areas affected are likely to be non-Orthodox schools, and the sources of the most potent shockwaves are likely to be converts to Orthodoxy. Even if my prediction errs in its details, for the earthquakes of the Spirit are more difficult to predict than natural events, we are soon likely to enjoy an embarrassment of theological riches not seen since the heyday of the Russian Religious Renaissance of the previous century.

Paul L. Gavrilyuk is associate professor of historical theology at the University of St. Thomas in Saint Paul, Minnesota

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