Thursday, June 28, 2012

Irenaeus (125-202)

The Theology of Irenaeus

The central point of Irenaeus' theology is the unity of God, in opposition to the Gnostics' division of God into a number of divine "Aeons", and their distinction between the "High God" and the wicked "Demiurge" who created the world. Irenaeus uses the logos theology he inherited from Justin Martyr, but prefers to speak of the Son and the Spirit as the "hands of God," using figures for the Trinity which antedate the more precise language of the Cappodicians. Christ, for him, is the invisible Father made visible.

His emphasis on the unity of God is reflected in his corresponding emphasis on the unity of salvation history. Irenaeus repeatedly insists that God created the world and has been overseeing it ever since. Everything that has happened is part of his plan for humanity. The essence of this plan is maturation: Irenaeus believes that humanity was created immature, and God intended his creatures to take time to grow into his likeness. Thus, Adam and Eve were created as children. Their Fall was thus not a full-blown rebellion but a childish spat, a desire to grow up before their time and have everything now.

Everything that has happened since has therefore been directed by God to help humanity overcome this and grow up. The world has been designed by God as a difficult place, where human beings are forced to make moral decisions - only in this way can they mature. Irenaeus likens death to the whale that swallowed Jonah: it was only in the depths of the whale's belly that Jonah could turn to God and do his will. Similarly, death and suffering appear evil, but without them we could never come to know God.

The high point in salvation history is Jesus Christ. Irenaeus believes that Christ would always have been sent, even if humanity had never sinned; but the fact that they did sin determines his role as a saviour. He sees Christ as the new Adam, who systematically undoes what Adam did: thus, where Adam was disobedient about the fruit of a tree, Christ was obedient even to death on the wood of a tree. Irenaeus is the first to draw comparisons between Eve and the Theotokos, contrasting the faithlessness of the former with the faithfulness of the latter. In addition to reversing the wrongs done by Adam, Irenaeus thinks of Christ as "recapitulating" or "summing up" human life. This means that Christ goes through every stage of human life, from infancy to old age, and simply by living it, sanctifies it with his divinity. Irenaeus is therefore forced to argue that Christ did not die until he was quite old!

Irenaeus thus thinks that our salvation comes about, essentially, through the incarnation of God as man. He characterises the penalty for sin as death and corruption. God, however, is immortal and incorruptible, and simply by becoming united to human nature in Christ he conveys those qualities to us: they spread, as it were, like a benign infection. Irenaeus therefore understands the atonement of Christ as happening through his incarnation rather than his crucifixion , although the latter is an integral part of the former. 

from  Orthodox wiki

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Free Will (8)

Justin Martyr on Free Will (part 2)

"Could not God have cut off in the beginning the serpent, so that he exist not, rather than have said, ‘And I will put enmity between him and the woman, and between his seed and her seed?’ Could He not have at once created a multitude of men? But yet, since He knew that it would be good, He created both angels and men free to do that which is righteous, and He appointed periods of time during which He knew it would be good for them to have the exercise of free-will; and because He likewise knew it would be good, He made general and particular judgments; each one’s freedom of will, however, being guarded." (Justin, Dialogue with Trypho, 102)
"I said briefly by anticipation, that God, wishing men and angels to follow His will, resolved to create them free to do righteousness; possessing reason, that they may know by whom they are created, and through whom they, not existing formerly, do now exist; and with a law that they should be judged by Him, if they do anything contrary to right reason: and of ourselves we, men and angels, shall be convicted of having acted sinfully, unless we repent beforehand. But if the word of God foretells that some angels and men shall be certainly punished, it did so because it foreknew that they would be unchangeably [wicked], but not because God had created them so. So that if they repent, all who wish for it can obtain mercy from God: and the Scripture foretells that they shall be blessed, saying, ‘Blessed is the man to whom the Lord imputeth not sin;’ that is, having repented of his sins, that he may receive remission of them from God; and not as you deceive yourselves, and some others who resemble you in this, who say, that even though they be sinners, but know God, the Lord will not impute sin to them." (Justin, Dialogue with Trypho, 141)
"Here, then, is a proof of virtue, and of a mind loving prudence, to recur to the communion of the unity, and to attach one’s self to prudence for salvation, and make choice of the better things according to the free-will placed in man; and not to think that those who are possessed of human passions are lords of all, when they shall not appear to have even equal power with men." (Justin, On the Sole Government of God, VI)

Friday, June 22, 2012

the Lords Prayer in Irish Gaelic

The Lord's Prayer in Irish Gaelic

Ár n-Athair
Ár n-Athair atá ar neamh,
Go naofar d'ainim,
Go dtagfadh do ríocht,
Go ndéantar do thoil ar an talamh
mar a dhéantar ar neamh.
Ár n-arán laethúil tabhair dúinn inniu,
agus maith dúinn ár bhfiacha
mar a mhaithimidne dár bhféichiúna féin
(Ach ná lig sinn i gcathú,
ach saor sinn ó olc,) 

graphic: Irish Countryside south of Dublin

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

House Protection

Collected in the Highlands of Scotland and

Translated by Alexander Carmichael from the Gaelic
courtesy  of 

Monday, June 18, 2012

Ephrem the Syrian ( 306-373 )

Nick named the Harp of the holy spirit due  to his  musical creativity and elegant speech Ephrem Syrus  wrote a wide variety of hymns, poems, and sermons  in verse, as well as prose. His sermons had the metrical beat of music and his theological treatises have been described as poetic. Ephrem introduced the extensive use of hymns into public worship for both praise and teaching. 

 Another Syriac father, Jacob of Serugh, wrote that Ephrem rehearsed all-female choirs to sing his hymns set to Syriac folk tunes. Over four hundred hymns composed by Ephrem still exist. 

He composed in three distinct styles, the most important of his works are his lyric, teaching hymns or madrāšê. These hymns are full of rich, poetic imagery drawn from biblical sources, folk tradition, and other religions and philosophies. The madrāšê are written in stanzas of syllabic verse, and employ over fifty different metrical schemes.

 He also wrote verse homilies or mêmrê. These sermons in poetry are far fewer in number than the madrāšê. The mêmrê are written in couplets (pairs of lines of seven syllables each).

 The third category of Ephrem's writings is his prose work. He wrote biblical commentaries on the on Genesis Exodus, the Acts of the apostles and Paul's Epistles.

 His poetry in particular showed an acute sensitivity toward  the human condition.

 Ephrem's works witness to an early form of Christianity in which western ideas take little part. He has been called the most significant of all of the fathers of the Syriac (Syrian)-speaking church tradition.

 He was in  his 60's  when he died, while in Egypt after succumbing to the plague while distributing food, money and medical relief to the poor.

graphics: top left,Icon of St. Ephrem.
bottom right, Newly excavated Church of Saint Jacob  in nisbis, where Ephrem taught and ministered.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Evelyn Underhill (1875 - 1941)

 A few quotes from Underhill's opus  "Practical Mysticism"

 What is it that smears the windows of the senses? Thought, convention, self-interest. We throw a mist of thought between ourselves and the external world: and through this we discard, as in a dark glass, that which we have arranged to see. We see it in the way in which our neighbors see it; sometimes through a pink veil, sometimes through a grey. Religion, indigestion, priggishness, or discontent may drape the panes. The prismatic colors of a fashionable school of art may stain them. Inevitably, too, we see the narrow world our windows show us, not "in itself," but in relation to our own needs, moods, and preferences; which exercise a selective control upon those few aspects of the whole which penetrate to the field of consciousness and dictate the order in which we arrange them, for the universe of the natural man is strictly egocentric.”

 But the doors of perception are hung with the cobwebs of thought; prejudice, cowardice, sloth. Eternity is with us, inviting our contemplation perpetually, but we are too frightened, lazy, and suspicious to respond: too arrogant to still our thought and let divine sensation; have its way. It needs industry and goodwill if we ~ would make that transition: for the process involves a veritable spring-cleaning of the soul, a turning-out and rearrangement of our mental furniture, a wide opening of closed windows, that the notes of the wild birds beyond our garden may come to us fully charged with wonder and freshness, and drown with their music the noise of the gramophone within.
Wisdom is the fruit of communion; ignorance [is] the inevitable portion of those who "keep themselves to themselves," and stand apart, judging, analyzing the things which they have never truly known. Because he has surrendered himself to it, "united" with it, the patriot knows his country, the artist knows the subject of his art, the lover his beloved, the saint his God, in a manner which is inconceivable as well as unattainable by the looker-on.”

 The visionary is a mystic when his vision mediates to him an actuality beyond the reach of the senses. The philosopher is a mystic when he passes beyond thought to the pure apprehension of truth. The active man is a mystic when he knows his actions to be a part of a greater activity. Blake, Plotinus, Joan of Arc, and John of the Cross - there is a link which binds all these together: but if he is to make use of it, the inquirer must find that link for himself.

 The relation of this universe to the world of fact is not unlike the relation between a tapestry picture and the scene which it imitates. You, [the] practical man, are obliged to weave your image of the outer world upon the hard warp of your own mentality; which perpetually imposes its own convention, and checks the free representation of life. As a tapestry picture, however various and full of meaning, is ultimately reducible to little squares; so the world of common sense is ultimately reducible to a series of static elements conditioned by the machinery of the brain.

The Divine Liturgy (2)

The Divine Liturgy is the primary worship service of the Church. The most commonly celebrated forms of the Divine Liturgy are the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, the Liturgy of St. Basil, but there are others such as the Liturgy of St. James; the Liturgy of St. Mark; the Liturgy of St. Gregory the Great and the Liturgy of St. Tikhon of Moscow. The Divine Liturgy is a Eucharistic service. It contains two parts: the Liturgy called the Liturgy of the Word, at which the scriptures are proclaimed and expounded, and the Liturgy of the Faithful, sometimes called the Liturgy of the Eucharist, in which the gifts of bread and wine are offered and consecrated.

Graphic: Icon, Divine liturgy, second half of the seventeenth century, Crete

Thursday, June 14, 2012


 The eye of the great God, 
 the eye of the God of Glory
 the eye of the King of hosts, 
 the eye of the King of the living,  
 Pouring upon us
 at each time and season. 
 Pouring upon us 

Glory to thee, 
thou glorious sun
Glory to thee, 
thou sun, 
face of the God of life


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Free Will ( 7 )

More  Tertullian on Free Will

"God put the question [to Adam - "where art thou"] with an appearance of uncertainty, in order that even here He might prove man to be the subject of a free will in the alternative of either a denial or a confession, and give to him the opportunity of freely acknowledging his transgression, and, so far, of lightening it. In like manner He inquires of Cain where his brother was, just as if He had not yet heard the blood of Abel crying from the ground, in order that he too might have the opportunity from the same power of the will of spontaneously denying, and to this degree aggravating, his crime; and that thus there might be supplied to us examples of confessing sins rather than of denying them: so that even then was initiated the evangelic doctrine, “By thy words thou shall be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.” (Tertullian, Against Marcion, Bk. II, xxv)

"That rich man did go his way who had not “received” the precept of dividing his substance to the needy, and was abandoned by the Lord to his own opinion. Nor will “harshness” be on this account imputed to Christ, the Found of the vicious action of each individual free-will. “Behold,” saith He, “I have set before thee good and evil.” Choose that which is good: if you cannot, because you will not — for that you can if you will He has shown, because He has proposed each to your free-will — you ought to depart from Him whose will you do not." (Tertullian, On Monogamy, XIV)

Monday, June 11, 2012

Monasticism (7) IONA: A Brief History

Iona. The monastery founded by St Columba in 563 soon became the center for Celtic Christianity, sending out missionaries to Scotland and Northumbria. Although the ravages of Viking raids before and after 800 made Iona a more dangerous place to live, its prestige continued well into the 9th cent. Following a massacre of its monks in 806, work began apace on the Irish midland monastery of Kells, which was gradually to become the focus of the Columban communities in Ireland. Kells was finished in 814, and not long after (c.818), a new Columban monastery in central Scotland was founded, Dunkeld. It is generally held that in 849 the relics of St Columba were split between the two new monasteries, confirming shifts in patronage and power centers which had been under way for some time. From the end of the 9th cent., we find the head of the Columban communities, the comarba Choluim Chille, based in Kells, and the headship remained there until the 12th cent.

None the less, Iona's importance as a religious centre continued, and began to attract the newly converted Norse settlers of the Hebrides. Two Norse cross slabs are now housed in the Iona museum, one bearing an inscription in Norse runes, another bearing a scene from Norse legend. In 980, the powerful king of Viking Dublin, Olaf Cuarán, died on pilgrimage to the island. This was an up-and-down relationship, however, as six years later, a raiding party from the Northern Isles slaughtered the elders of the monastery and the abbot.

The wider influence of Iona monks can be seen as far afield as Carolingian Europe. Dicuil, a cosmographer who wrote a description of the world c.825 in the court of Charles the Bald, probably came from Iona, and he describes other Iona monks ranging as far north as the Faroes and as far south as Egypt. The martyrdom of Blathmac, son of Flann, defending the relics of Columba from Viking raiders in 825 caught the imagination of Walahfrid Strabo, based in the monastery of Reichenau on Lake Constance. One of the 10th-cent. heads of the Columban communities, Mugrón (965–81), who appears to have been partially based in Scotland, was a devotional writer of some skill.

The 11th cent. was marred by such incidents as the loss of some of Columba's relics on a journey back to Ireland from Iona (in 1034), and slaying of the abbot by a rival, the son of a former abbot of Kells in 1070. None the less, Scottish kings, according to tradition, continued to be buried there, and Margaret, wife of Malcolm III, king of the Scots, held the monastery in favour.

In the next century, it again became the religious hub of a new island-centred power-base. Somerled mac Gille-Brigde, the powerful Argyll sea-lord whose descendants became the Lords of the Isles, attempted in 1164 to lure the head of the Columban communities back to Iona. He failed, but the building of a new Benedictine monastery in 1204, followed by an Augustinian nunnery, spelled the return of Iona's fortunes. Closely linked to the Lords of the Isles from the 14th cent. onwards, and the seat intermittently of the bishop of the Isles, Iona in the later Middle Ages was a great centre of sculpture. The present church on the island dates substantially to the 15th-cent. renewal programme, and displays the skills and patronage then available. Only with the forfeiture of the lordship in 1493 and the Reformation did Iona's decline set in in earnest.

- article by Thomas Owen Clancy

graphic: Iona Island, Iona Abbey, Iona coast line from the Abbey

Iona: A History By The Duke of Argyle 1871 

Link to the Living water Article Hilda of Whitby and development of. Monasticism  

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Saturday, June 9, 2012

Columban of Iona

Prayer St. Columban of Iona

Lord, Thou art my island; in Thy bosom I
Thou art the calm of the sea;
in that peace I stay.
Thou art the deep waves
of the shining ocean.
With their eternal sound I sing.
Thou art the song of the birds; in that tune
is my joy.
Thou art the smooth white strand of the
in Thee is no gloom.
Thou art the breaking of the waves on the
Thy praise is echoed in the swell.
Thou art the Lord of my life

graphic: Columba and Iona Icon

Friday, June 8, 2012


Thou, my soul's Healer,
Keep me at even,
Keep me at morning,
Keep me at noon,
On rough course faring,
Help and safeguard
My means this night.
I am tired, astray, and stumbling,
Shield Thou me from snare and sin.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Desert Wisdom (13)

A brother who was insulted by another brother came to Abba Sisoes, and said to him: "I was hurt by my brother, and I want to avenge myself". Abba tried to console him and said: "Don't do that, my child. Rather leave vengeance to God". But he said: "I will not quit until I avenge myself". Then Abba said: "Let us pray, brother; and standing up, he said: "Our Father... forgive us our trespasses as we forgive NOT those who trespass against us..." Hearing these words, the brother fell at the feet of the Abba and said: "I am not going to fight with my brother any more. Forgive me, Abba."

Saturday, June 2, 2012

a Simple Guide to Centering prayer

Thomas Keating emphasizes that Centering Prayer is not an exercise in concentrating, or focusing one's attention on something (such as a mantra), but rather is concerned with intention. The participant's sole goal is to "consent to God's presence and action during the time of prayer." Centering Prayer is more akin to the very ancient practice of  heychasm as understood in the Eastern Orthodox Tradition, in which the participant seeks the presence of God directly aided by the Jesus Prayer.

Basil Pennington, one of the best known proponents of the centering prayer technique, set out these  guidelines for centering prayer:
  1. Sit comfortably with your eyes closed, relax, and quiet yourself. Be in love and faith to God.
  2. Choose a sacred word that best supports your sincere intention to be in the Lord's presence and open to His divine action within you (i.e. "Jesus", "Lord," "God," "Savior," "Abba," "Divine," "Grace" "Shalom," "Spirit," "Love," etc.).
  3. Let that word be gently present as your symbol of your sincere intention to be in the Lord's presence and open to His divine action within you. (Thomas Keating advises that the word remain unspoken.
  4. Whenever you become aware of anything (thoughts, feelings, perceptions, images, associations, etc.), simply return to your sacred word, your anchor.
Ideally, the prayer will reach the point where the person is not engaged in their thoughts as they arrive on their stream of consciousness. This is the "unknowing" referenced in the 14th century book"Cloud of Unknowing, mentioned earlier.

  he first thing you need to know centering prater is is not an event, a quick fix or a fast track.. It is a discipline, a potential lifetime spiritual practice. You cannot experience the benefits of centering prayer over night or by trying it once. 

  Step 1: Create an environment that is conducive to contemplation

The first thing you need to do to practice centering prayer is to find or create a place where you can be comfortable sitting in silence for at least 15 minutes (20 minutes is ideal). When you become more acclimated to the practice you may go longer than 15 minutes, but that’s a good goal to start with.
Perhaps the best thing you can do for this is to wear comfortable clothing. I prefer either sweatpants or loosely-knit pants that don’t bunch up or press against my waist when I sit. I also have a firm pillow to sit on. I prefer to spend my prayer time sitting on the floor, though sitting in a chair is acceptable.
For some people, especially people with poor circulation or other physical problems, it may be impossible to sit comfortably on the floor for 15 minutes. That’s totally ok! The most important thing is to be able to sit in such a way that you can be relaxed and comfortable, but also alert.
It is very important that you be able to make your space as quiet as possible and minimize potentially-distracting sense input. I live in an inner-city neighborhood and have two cats, so I understand that can sometimes be difficult. Just do the best you can. Eventually you will learn how to focus despite noises you can’t control. I will admit that I have not yet figured out how to retain focus well when a cat licks my toes while I’m deep in prayer.
A lightly-scented candle or incense may help create a helpful atmosphere. If it helps with your focus then go for it. Sometimes it’s helpful for me; sometimes it isn’t.

2. Sit in a comfortable position, close your eyes, and regulate your breathing

I prefer sit on a prayer mat on the floor with my legs crossed. The lotus or half-lotus position, Make sure your back is straight but not rigid, with your hips and shoulders in line. If you’re in a chair, keep your feet flat on the floor.
You may want to set a timer. Again, I recommend at least 15 minutes to start, though if you want you can certainly do it longer. When you’re just getting started, it’s probably better to do it for a shorter time, but consistently. 15 minutes for three days is better than 45 minutes one day and zero for two.
You don’t need to “count” your breathing or anything like that; just breathe naturally. As you become more relaxed and ready your breathing will naturally deepen. I like to touch my tongue to the roof of my mouth, just behind my top two teeth, and breathe in and out evenly through my nose and mouth together. You may try that, or you may be more comfortable breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth, or some other way. It’s entirely up to you and your own comfort. It is better to use both your nose and mouth than only one of the two.

Step 3: pick a word or short phrase for focus

You should pick a word or short phrase to repeat in your mind as your breathing begins to deepen. This can be a bit from scripture, or perhaps something that helps you think of God being close to you.
Many choose to repeat the word Abba, reasoning that if it worked for Jesus then it’s good enough for them. The specific word or phrase doesn’t matter as long as it helps you center yourself and recognize the presence of God about, around, and within you.
Eventually you will come to the point where you no longer need to consciously speak the word or phrase in your mind; you will have internalized it. At that point, you can wordlessly invite God to search your heart and begin the work of healing. When you find yourself distracted by outside things or your own doubts and fears, take up your word/phrase  again to find your bearings and return to your internal place of peace.

Step 4: repeat this for 15 minutes or more

Do not become frustrated if you have difficulty focusing. It will come! Don’t try to push out your thoughts or struggle against them. Continue breathing and praying your word/phrase and allow thoughts to come and go.
If you feel frustration or condemnation, know that God is with you and will not allow evil to overcome you. It could be that through your thoughts God is showing you something. On a few occasions, a recurring thought has come to me during times of centering prayer that have been directly related to things God was working to change in me. Let them be, accept the fact of their existence, and keep allowing God to illumine your inner self.

Step 5: regain awareness of the world

After 15 minutes or however long you have decided to spend praying, open your eyes and slowly regain a sense of awareness of the world around you. Look around, taking in the colors, sights, and sounds. Notice the presence of God around you, and realize that it goes with you wherever you are.
You may need to stretch a bit after spending so long sitting in one place. Let thoughts come back without fighting against them, and begin to transition into whatever you need to do next. You might want to say another prayer to wrap up the time, such as the Lord’s Prayer or a personal prayer. I like to say either the Lord’s Prayer or the Collect for Purity from the Book of Common Prayer.