Thursday, August 30, 2012

Monasticism ( 9 ) Mount Athos - Part 1

Athos is home to 20  Eastern Orthodox monasteries under the direct jurisdiction of the patriarch of Constantinople. The Heart and Holy Mount of eastern monasticism.

 Historical documents on ancient Mount Athos history are very few. It is certain that monks have been there since the 4th century, and possibly since the 3rd. During Constantine  I's reign (324–337) both Christians and pagans were living there. During the reign of Julian the apostate (361–363), the churches of Mount Athos were destroyed, and Christians hid in the woods and inaccessible places. Later, during Theodosius I's reign (383–395), the pagan temples were destroyed. The lexicographer Heysichicus of Alexandria states that in the 5th century there was still a temple and a statue of "Zeus  Athonite". After the Islamic conquest of Egypt in the 7th century, many orthodox monks from the Egyptian desert tried to find another calm place; some of them came to the Athos peninsula. An ancient document states that monks "...built huts of wood with roofs of straw (...) and by collecting fruit from the wild trees were providing themselves improvised meals..."

 The chroniclers Theopanes the Confessor (end of 8th century) and Geprgios Kedrenos (11th century) wrote that the 726 eruption of the Thero valcano was visible from Mount Athos, proving that it was inhabited at the time. The historian Genesiso recorded that monks from Athos participated at the 7th Recumenical council of Nicaea of 787. Following the Battle of Theois in 829, Athos was deserted for some time due to the destructive raids of the Cretan Saracians. Around 860, the famous monk Efthymios the Younger came to Athos and a number of monk-huts  were created around his habitation, possibly near Krya Near. During the reign of emperor Basil I the Macedonian, the former Archbishop of crete  Basil the Confessor built a small monastery at the place of the modern harbour ("arsanas") of Hilandariou Monastery. Soon after this, a document of 883 states that a certain Ioannis Kolovos built a monastery at Megali Vigla.

On a chrysobull of emperor Basil I, dated 885, the Holy Mountain is proclaimed a place of monks, and no laymen or farmers or cattle-breeders are allowed to be settled there. The next year, in an imperial edict of emperor Leo vi the Wise we read about the " ancient seat of the council of gerondes (council of elders)...", meaning that there was already a kind of monks' administration and that it was already "ancient". In 887, some monks expostulate to the emperor Leo the Wise as the monastery of Kolovos is growing more and more and they lose their peace.

In 908, the existence of a Protos ("First monk") is documented, who is the "head" of the monastic community. In 943, the borders of the monastic state was precisely mapped while we know that Karyes is already the capital town and seat of the administration and has the name "Megali Mesi Lavra" (Big Central Assembly). In 956, a decree offered land of about 940,000 m2 (10,118,075.79 sq ft) to the Xiropotamou monastery, which means that this monastery was already quite big.

In 958, the monk Athanasios the Athonite arrived on Mount Athos. In 962, he built the big central church of the "Protaton" in Karies. In the next year, with the support of his friend, Emperor Nicephorus Phocas,  the monastery of Great Lavra was founded, still the largest and most prominent of the 20 monasteries existing today. It enjoyed the protection of the emperors of the Byzantine Empire during the following centuries and its wealth and possessions grew considerably. The 4th Crusade in the 13th century brought new Roman Catholic over-lords which forced the monks to complain and ask for the intervention of Pope Innocent III until the restoration of the Byzantine Empire came. The peninsula was raided by Catalan mercenaries  in the 14th century.

Graphic: top left, Xenophontos monastery
              bottom right, Stavronikita monastery was the last monastery to be founded

 complied from several sources

Saturday, August 25, 2012

a Scottish Hospitality Prayer

A Scottish Hospitality Prayer

I met a stranger yest're'een;
I put food in the eating place,
Drink in the drinking place,
Music in the listening place;
And, in the sacred name of the Triune,
He blessed myself and my house.
My cattle and my dear ones,
And the lark said in her song,
     Often, often, often,
Goes the Christ in the stanger's guise;
     Often, often, often,
Goes the Christ in the stranger's guise.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Simone Weil (1907-1943)

Someone Wiel's Reflections on the  Recitation of the Lords Prayer

 The Our Father from Matthew 6,9-13 was the only prayer Simone Weil recited, at first only for its beauty, but afterwards she writes that she found herself repeatedly in the presence of Christ after praying it. She describes this experience in her letter to Father Perrin written as she left for America from Casablanca in May of 1942.

Up until last september, I had not prayed even once in my life, at least in the litteral sense of the word. I had never addressed words to God aloud or mentally

 The virtue of this practice is extraordinary and surprises me every time I do it, for, even though I live it every day, it goes beyond my expectation every time. Sometimes the first words already tear my thought outside my body and transport it to a place outside space from which there is neither perspective or point of view. Space opens up. The infinity of ordinary space is replaced by an infinity to second or third power. At the same time this infinity of infinities fills itself to the brim with silence, a silence that is not an absence of sound, and that is the object of a positive sensation, more positive than that of a sound. Noises, if there are any, only reach me after going through this silence.
Sometimes also, during this recitation or at other moments, Christ is present in person, but with a presence that is infinitely more real, more poignant, more clear and more full of love than the first time he took me.

I never would have taken it upon me to tell you all this if I wasn't leaving. And as I leave with more or less the thought of a probable death, it seems to me that I do not have the right to not speak of these things. For after all, in all of this, it's not about me. It's about God. I have nothing to do with it.

 The words of the Pater are perfectly pure. If you recite the Pater with no other intention than to pay the fullness of one's attention on the words themselves, you are completely sure to be delivered by this means from a part, as small as it may be, of the evil you hold inside you

 The only pure things down here are sacred objects and texts, the beauty of nature if you look at it for itself and not as a place for your reveries, and, to a lesser extent, human beings in whom God lives and works of art issued from divine inspiration.

 That which is perfectly pure can not be anything else but God present down here. If it was something else than God, it would not be pure. If God was not present, we would never be saved. In the soul where there has been a contact with purity, all its horror of the evil that it carries inside it changes into love for divine purity. This is how Mary-Magdalene and the good thief were privileged by love.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Lectio Divina (3)

The Heart of Lectio Divina

In monastic theology, lectio divina is not simply an intellectual exercise, but a communing with the living God who reveals himself to us through his Word. It is the occasion of a visit from the Lord, a reading with God, in his company, with his help, a reading that involves two

This spiritual exercise is accompanied by a relish which, surpassing a mere notional knowledge, leads to a true religious experience suited to each individual. This light which comes from the inspired text or - it is important to note - on the occasion of the lectio, is received by the soul as a personal message, which is meant for it and serves to build up its faith.

The monk of the Middle Ages was not primarily interested in the letter of the text, as is the exegete of today, but in the profit he could draw from it for his spiritual life. The purpose of the lectio was to stimulate devotion.

from the: The Monastic Theology of Aelred of Rievaulx
Amedee Hallier, 

grapich: an Icon from the Anchor in Nashville, bc

Monday, August 20, 2012

Bernard of Clairvaux ( 1090 -1153 )


Bernard of Clairvaux Speaks to This Moment

"There are those who seek knowledge for the sake of knowledge; that is Curiosity.
There are those who seek knowledge to be known by others; that is Vanity.
There are those who seek knowledge in order to serve; that is Love.” 

" Many of those who are humiliated are not humble. Some react to humiliation with anger, others with patience, and others with freedom. The first are culpable, the next harmless, the last just.” 

"Vines and trees will teach you that which you will never learn from masters.”  

 'What we love we shall grow to resemble.” 

 “If you concentrate hard on the state you are in, it would be suprising if you have time for anything else. ” 

 "What I know of the divine sciences and the Holy Scriptures, I have learned in woods and fields. I have no other masters than the beeches and the oaks.” 

“Neither fear nor self-interest can convert the soul. They may change the appearance, perhaps even the conduct, but never the object of supreme desire... Fear is the motive which constrains the slave; greed binds the selfish man, by which he is tempted when he is drawn away by his own lust and enticed (James 1:14). But neither fear nor self-interest is undefiled, nor can they convert the soul. Only charity can convert the soul, freeing it from unworthy motives.”

 ― Bernard of Clairvaux

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Blaise Pascal (1623 -1662 )

Wisdom from the Pensees

All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” 

 “Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.” 

 There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus.” 

 “Kind words don't cost much. Yet they accomplish much.” 

There is enough light for those who only desire to see, and enough obscurity for those who have a contrary disposition” 

  “To understand is to forgive.”

 “I would prefer an intelligent hell to a stupid paradise.” 

 There are only two kinds of people we can call reasonable: either those who serve God with their whole heart because they know him, or those who search after him with all their heart because they do not know him.” 

 “If we submit everything to reason our religion will be left with nothing mysterious or supernatural. If we offend the principles of reason our religion will be absurd and ridiculous . . . There are two equally dangerous extremes: to exclude reason, to admit nothing but reason.” 

The Pensees or thoughts on religion and other subjects were short proverb like observations. Pascal wrote with a lucid and insightful style, rich in personal experience, physiological and theological commentary. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Kingdom of God (In the Book of Acts)

The Book of Acts

Acts 1:3
“During the forty days after his crucifixion, he appeared to the apostles from time to time, and he proved to them in many ways that he was actually alive. And he talked to them about the Kingdom of God.”

Acts 8:12
“But now the people believed Philip’s message of Good News concerning the Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ. As a result, many men and women were baptized.”

Acts 19:8
“Then Paul went to the synagogue and preached boldly for the next three months, arguing persuasively about the Kingdom of God.”

Acts 28:23
“He explained and testified about the Kingdom of God and tried to persuade them about Jesus from the Scriptures. Using the law of Moses and the books of the prophets, he spoke to them from morning until evening.”

Acts 28:31
“Boldly proclaiming the Kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ. And no one tried to stop him.”
And my favorite passage on the Kingdom from the Epistles

* Romans 14:17   “For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”

*added for good measure 

graphic: detail of woodcarving by Miranda Stone

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Hours and their Relationship to the Rythm of the Day

The office of Vigils takes place  at the midnight hour when  one awaits the arrival of the Bridegroom (Mt 25:6; Mk 13:35). In monastic communities the concentration on vigilance began with this office which continues until lauds. Monastics spend this time enveloped in and supported by darkness and silence, in lectio divina, prayer and meditation.

Lauds is celebrated at daybreak when the sun is dispelling the night and the new day is born. The Church has always considered the sun to be a symbol of Christ rising from the dead. This prayer is called Lauds because it is a laudatory liturgy of praise in the early morning light. We thank God for the first light at the beginning of creation and for the second light of our redemption in Christ’s paschal victory. It is a joyful, optimistic hour reflected by  hymn, psalms and canticles.

 Midday prayer, takes place when the sun is at its apex and one has become a bit weary and mindfulness is all but impossible. It is a time for earnest prayer to resist temptation, to keep from being overcome by the demands and pressures of life. Reminded of Christ being crucified at the sixth hour, we unite ourselves with Him. We are aware of failures and mistakes and pray for deep and abiding conversion even to the point of sacrifice.

Vespers, celebrated at day’s end, takes on the character of evening. The day is almost over, our work is done. The golden evening light is like old, mature wine, and in some late summer and autumn days it is like gold, transfiguring our world and making it transparent for God. This is the hour of wise age, of resting in thanksgiving and humility after the struggles, successes and failures of the day and of a productive life.

 Compline comes from the Latin which means to complete. It is the last prayer before retiring for the night, we pray it privately. It marks the completion of our day and heralds life’s end. It leads back into the darkness of the night. This is the darkness of God’s mysterious presence, the abyss of mercy into which God lets us fall. Compline may be understood as a daily exercise in the art of dying. For what is sleep if not a little rehearsal for death? But it is a death that ends in the fullness of life and light. 

compiled from several sources

graphic:Rhythm of the day, by Leslie Avon Miller

Clare of Assisi ( 1194 -1253 )

 On the Joy of Contemplation

That is why you, too, dearest, must always rejoice in the Lord, and not let bitterness and confusion envelop you, O Lady most beloved in Christ, joy of the angels, and crown of your sisters. 
Place your mind in the mirror of eternity;
Place your soul in the splendor of glory;
Place your heart in the figure of the divine substance;
And, through contemplation, transform your entire being into the image of the Divine One himself,
So that you, yourself, may also experience what his friends experience when they taste the hidden sweetness that God alone has kept from the beginning
For those who love him.
And completely ignoring all those who in this deceitful and turbulent world ensnare their blind lovers, you might totally love him who gave himself totally out of love for you,  whose beauty the sun and moon admire, and whose rewards, in both their preciousness and magnitude, are without end.  I am speaking about the Son of the Most High,

 (an excerpt from Clare's 3rd letter to Agnes of Prauge, the language in Clare's letters is so rich and full of exquisite imagery oozing with compassion ) 

graphic: Icon of St Clare

Thursday, August 9, 2012

A Journey Prayer


God, bless to me this day,
God, bless to me this night ;
Bless, O bless. Thou God of grace,
Each day and hour of my life ;
Bless, O bless. Thou God of grace.
Each day and hour of my life.

God, bless the pathway on which I go,
God, bless the earth that is beneath my sole ;
Bless, O God, and give to me Thy love,
O God of gods, bless my rest and my repose ;
Bless, O God, and give to me Thy love,
And bless, O God of gods, my repose.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Early church Teaching: Free will (10)

more fathers on free Will

Prior to the writings of Augustine, the Church universally held that mankind had a totally free will. Each man was responsible before God for his choices and actions.  In the three centuries from the Apostles to Augustine the early Church held to NONE of the five points of Calvinism. The writings of the fathers for the first three centuries, are in stark contrast to the ideas of Augustine and Calvin. While fully dependent on God's grace and power, man is capable and responsible for his choices and response to the Gospel. This was considered to be the Apostolic doctrine  in the eastern church and was the understanding of the early Celtic Christians.

Clement of Rome (AD30-100)
"On account of his hospitality and godliness, Lot was saved out of Sodom when all the country round was punished by means of fire and brimstone, the Lord thus making it manifest that He does not forsake those that hope in Him, but gives up such as depart from Him to punishment and torture. For Lot’s wife, who went forth with him, being of a different mind from himself and not continuing in agreement with him [as to the command which had been given them], was made an example of, so as to be a pillar of salt unto this day. This was done that all might know that those who are of a double mind, and who distrust the power of God, bring down judgment on themselves? and become a sign to all succeeding generations." (Clement, Epistle to the Corinthians, XI)

Ignatius (AD30-107)
"Seeing, then, all things have an end, and there is set before us life upon our observance [of God’s precepts], but death as the result of disobedience, and every one, according to the choice he makes, shall go to his own place, let us flee from death, and make choice of life. For I remark, that two different characters are found among men — the one true coin, the other spurious. The truly devout man is the right kind of coin, stamped by God Himself. The ungodly man, again, is false coin, unlawful, spurious, counterfeit, wrought not by God, but by the devil. I do not mean to say that there are two different human natures, but that there is one humanity, sometimes belonging to God, and sometimes to the devil. If any one is truly religious, he is a man of God; but if he is irreligious, he is a man of the devil, made such, not by nature, but by his own choice. The unbelieving bear the image of the prince of wickedness. The believing possess the image of their Prince, God the Father, and Jesus Christ, through whom, if we are not in readiness to die for the truth into His passion, His life is not in us." (Ignatius, Epistle to the Magnesians, V)

Origen (AD185-254)
"This also is clearly defined in the teaching of the Church, that every rational soul is possessed of free-will and volition; that it has a struggle to maintain with the devil and his angels, and opposing influences, because they strive to burden it with sins; but if we live rightly and wisely, we should endeavor to shake ourselves free of a burden of that kind. From which it follows, also, that we understand ourselves not to be subject to necessity, so as to be compelled by all means, even against our will, to do either good or evil. For if we are our own masters, some influences perhaps may impel us to sin, and others help us to salvation; we are not forced, however, by any necessity either to act rightly or wrongly, which those persons think is the case who say that the courses and movements of the stars are the cause of human actions, not only of those which take place beyond the influence of the freedom of the will, but also of those which are placed within our own power." (Origen, De Principis, Preface)

"And for this reason we think that God, the Father of all things, in order to ensure the salvation of all His creatures through the ineffable plan of His word and wisdom, so arranged each of these, that every spirit, whether soul or rational existence, however called, should not be compelled by force, against the liberty of his own will, to any other course than that to which the motives of his own mind led him (lest by so doing the power of exercising free-will should seem to be taken away, which certainly would produce a change in the nature of the being itself); and that the varying purposes of these would be suitably and usefully adapted to the harmony of one world, by some of them requiring help, and others being able to give it, and others again being the cause of struggle and contest to those who are making progress, amongst whom their diligence would be deemed more worthy of approval, and the place of rank obtained after victory be held with greater certainty, which should be established by the difficulties of the contest." (Origen, Bk. II ch. I)

Monday, August 6, 2012

Kathrine Drexel (1858 - 1955 )

Born into a wealthy banking family Kathrine was raised  in an atmosphere of generosity to others by her step mother. Dedicating herself and her inheritance to the needs of the oppressed she founded a religious community for women that combined prayer and social action. She was a vocal advocate of racial tolerance.  Ministry was focused on Native Americans and African-Americans in the western and southwestern states where  she established a religious congregation the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Colored People. She also financed more than 60 missions and schools around the United States, as well as founding Xavier University in Louisiana the only historically Black, Roman Catholic university in the United States to date. after being slowed significantly by a heart attack Drexel was able to live the last 18 years of her life  as she desired, as a contemplative.


Saturday, August 4, 2012


You have ravished my heart with one look of your eyes...
My sister my spouse.
How beautiful are your breasts...
Your lips my bride drip as the honeycomb...
my sister my spouse is an enclosed garden.

Song of Songs 4:2-12


Shadows of the mystical union renewed
You roll into my hungry arms
Face to face
How do i describe this
God i want you more now 
Than the 1st time our eyes locked
All the things you are
 I long to absorb thru your fragrant lips
Like some kind of sensual osmosis
Gazing  into the deep clear pools  of your eyes
Free falling through your soul
Two become one
Wound in a scarlet cord
Ever grateful you wear my ring

       BC           7/96

Mary and i  are celebrating 40 years of wedded Love this weekend surrounded by friends who are family and family who are friends

graphic: our wedding bands

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Lectio Divina (2)

The Basic Steps of Lectio

The Practice opens with the reading (lectio) of a text, which leads to a desire to understand its true content: what does the biblical text say in itself? Without this, there is always a risk that the text will become a pretext for never moving beyond our own ideas. 

Next comes meditation (meditatio), which asks: what does the biblical text say to us? Here, each person, individually but also as a member of the community, must let himself or herself be moved and challenged. 

Following this comes prayer (oratio), which asks the question: what do we say to the Lord in response to his word? Prayer, as petition, intercession, thanksgiving and praise, is the primary way by which the word transforms us. 

Finally, lectio divina concludes with contemplation (contemplatio), during which we take up, as a gift from God, his own way of seeing and judging reality, and ask ourselves what conversion of mind, heart and life is the Lord asking of us? In the Letter to the Romans, Saint Paul tells us: "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect" (12:2). Contemplation aims at creating within us a truly wise and discerning vision of reality, as God sees it, and at forming within us "the mind of Christ" (1 Cor 2:16). The word of God appears here as a criterion for discernment: it is "living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart" (Heb 4:12). 

We do well also to remember that the process of lectio divina is not concluded until it arrives at action (actio), which moves the believer to make his or her life a gift for others in charity"  

(Verbum Domini, 87).