Category Archives: quotes

Their greatest disloyalty.

“We must be convinced that there are no such things as ‘Christian principles.’ There is the Person of Christ, who is the principle of everything. But if we wish to be faithful to Him, we cannot dream of reducing Christianity to a certain number of principles (though this is often done), the consequences of which can be logically deduced.

“This tendency to transform the work of the Living God into a philosophical doctrine is the constant temptation of theologians, and also of the faithful, and their greatest disloyalty is when they transform the action of the Spirit which brings forth fruit in themselves into an ethic, a new law, into ‘principles’ which only have to be ‘applied.’”

― Jacques Ellul, The Presence of the Kingdom

Man denies his own continuity.

I’m still in the middle of Jacque Ellul’s great work, The Technological Society, which is really helpful in understanding the way our modern world works. When Ellul talks about technique he does not mean merely the physical machinery or medicine or digital technology, but more importantly, the manner in which so much of our life is managed according to systems and measurements; our activities are prompted and organized according to the primary value of efficiency. Here he explains it himself: “Technique” 

Not bothered by the fact that I haven’t finished that book (or his Humiliation of the Word, which I also loved), I began to listen to another one by the author: Propaganda. Propaganda is just one facet of the technological society. Ellul’s books are so thought-provoking and full of insights, it’s hard for me to pick a few of the best paragraphs to share. But here is one, which I broke up into smaller parts for ease of reading:

“To the extent that propaganda is based on current news, it cannot permit time for thought or reflection. A man caught up in the news must remain on the surface of the event; he is carried along in the current, and can at no time take a respite to judge and appreciate; he can never stop to reflect. There is never any awareness — of himself, of his condition, of his society — for the man who lives by current events.

“Such a man never stops to investigate any one point, any more than he will tie together a series of news events. We already have mentioned man’s inability to consider several facts or events simultaneously and to make a synthesis of them in order to face or to oppose them. One thought drives away another; old facts are chased by new ones. Under these conditions there can be no thought. And, in fact, modern man does not think about current problems; he feels them. He reacts, but he does not understand them any more than he takes responsibility for them. He is even less capable of spotting any inconsistency between successive facts; man’s capacity to forget is unlimited. This is one of the most important and useful points for the propagandist, who can always be sure that a particular propaganda theme, statement, or event will be forgotten within a few weeks.

“Moreover, there is a spontaneous defensive reaction in the individual against an excess of information and — to the extent that he clings (unconsciously) to the unity of his own person — against inconsistencies. The best defense here is to forget the preceding event. In so doing, man denies his own continuity; to the same extent that he lives on the surface of events and makes today’s events his life by obliterating yesterday’s news, he refuses to see the contradictions in his own life and condemns himself to a life of successive moments, discontinuous and fragmented.”

-Jacques Ellul, Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes, 1965

Image is from the website of the International Jacques Ellul Society.

Not swallowed up, but infused.

From the archives:

Mother Gavrilia was one of those people I have heard about who know what it is to die to oneself, to “cease to exist,” as she put it. St. Paul wrote about this in his letters, saying, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” You might think that someone for whom this is a reality would lack personality or presence, because if your self is truly swallowed up in Christ, who would you be?

I know this question has come up through the years, talking with various people. It’s been theoretical to those of us who talk, knowing as we have that we ourselves have not advanced very far on that road to “non-existence.” But of course, to be fully in Christ is to be most fully alive, and about the opposite condition Mother Gavrilia also said, “When we lack love, we become corpses, entirely dead.”

She was born in 1897, and was the second woman ever to enter a Greek university, but she said, “One thing is education: that we learn how to love God.” Later she trained in physiotherapy in England and returned to Athens to open her own practice when she was over 50 years old. Several years after (and older still) she traveled to India by herself. She treated lepers and helped the poor everywhere. Then Palestine, East Africa, France, America. She was friendly with Muslims and Hindus and Protestant Christians, but often withdrew from society altogether. As John Brady tells in one account of her life, “Mother Gavrilia’s life obliterated the inane distinctions that we so often make between prayer and service, contemplation and action….The difference was immaterial because the Source was the same.”

Lately I have encountered many  thought-provoking sayings from Mother Gavrilia. Reading them, and about her very active and miraculous life, I get the impression of a bright intellect, a radiantly energetic person, so full of life and light as to make the concept of mere “personality” seem tiresome.

Here is one story in her words that makes a good introduction:

gl-gavrilia-mother-or-gerontissa-gabrielaOnce… some foreign missionary came and said to me, “You may be a good woman, but you’re not a good Christian.”

I said, “Why?”

“Because you have been here so long and you only go about speaking English. What local languages have you learned?”

I said to him, “I haven’t managed to learn any of the local languages, because I travel a great deal from place to place. As soon as I learn one dialect, they start speaking another. I’ve only learned ‘Good morning’ and ‘Good evening.’ Nothing else.”

“Bah, you’re no Christian. How can you evangelize? All the Catholics and Protestants learn all the local dialects in order to . . .”

Then I said, “Lord, give me an answer for him.” I asked it with all my heart, and then I said, “Ah. I forgot to tell you. I know five languages.”

“Really? What are these five?”

“The first is the smile; the second is tears. The third is to touch. The fourth is prayer, and the fifth is love. With these five languages I go all around the world.”

Then he stopped and said, “Just a minute. Say that again so I can write it down.”

With these five languages you can travel the whole earth, and all the world is yours. Love everyone as your own — without concern for religion or race, without concern for anything.

Mother Gavrilia reposed in 1992. Her monastic daughter, with the contributions of others of her spiritual children, wrote the story of her life in the book Ascetic of Love.

How to scare away a demon.

St. Nikolai

“Spiritists of our day accept every manifestation from the spiritual world as though sent by God, and immediately they boast that God has been ‘revealed’ to them. I knew an eighty-year-old monk whom everyone respected as a great spiritual director. To my question, ‘Have you ever in your life seen anything from the spiritual world?’ the monk answered me, ‘No, never, praise be to God’s mercy.’ Seeing that I was astonished at this, he said: ‘I have constantly prayed to God that nothing would appear to me, so that I would not have occasion to fall into deception and receive a fallen devil as an angel. Thus far, God has heard my prayers.’

“The following recorded example shows how humble and cautious the elders were. The devil, clothed in the light of an angel, appeared to a certain monk and said to him: ‘I am the Archangel Gabriel, and I am sent to you.’ To this the brother responded: ‘Think–were you not sent to someone else? For I am not worthy to see an angel.’ The devil instantly became invisible and vanished.”

-St. Nikolai Velimirovich