Tag Archives: Met. Kallistos Ware

A continuing attitude, to the end of life.

“Correctly understood, repentance is not negative but positive. It means not self-pity or remorse but conversion, the re-centering of our whole life upon the Trinity. It is to look not backward with regret but forward with hope – not downwards at our own shortcomings but upwards at God’s love. It is to see, not what we have failed to be, but what by divine grace we can now become; and it is to act upon what we see. To repent is to open our eyes to the light.

“In this sense, repentance is not just a single act, at initial step, but a continuing state, an attitude of heart and will that needs to be ceaselessly renewed up to the end of life.”

-Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, in The Orthodox Way

Solar Flashback calendula May2016

Incessantly and Altogether Beautiful

Tonight marks the end of Lent in the Orthodox Church. We enter Holy Week with Lazarus Saturday, and of course we do fast until Pascha, but it’s not technically Lent anymore for us. We now stop thinking about whether we succeeded or failed at Lent, because we need to focus on what God has done and be fully present for these last days of the remembering of the death and resurrection of the Lord.

In our parish we had Matins of Lazarus Saturday, a time to remember the whole story of how Lazarus had been dead four days when Jesus came into town and his friends said, “If only you had been here, he wouldn’t have died.” And Jesus wept. Then He showed his power over death, and raised Lazarus. And then followed the events that sent Him to His own death, which He also overcame for our sakes. His powerful beauty is still filling this world.

Despite the effects of the Fall and despite our deep sinfulness, the world continues to be God’s creation. It has not ceased to be “altogether beautiful.” Despite human alienation and suffering, the Divine Beauty is still present in our midst and still remains ever active, incessantly performing its work of healing and transfiguration. Even now beauty is saving the world, and it will always continue to do so. But it is the beauty of a God who is totally involved in the pain of the world that He has made, of a God who died on the Cross and on the third day rose victorious from the dead.

–Metropolitan Kallistos

christ passion

The Power of a Great Melancholy

“Automat” is a picture of sadness — and yet it is not a sad picture. It has the power of a great melancholy piece of music. Despite the starkness of the furnishings, the location itself does not seem wretched. Others in the room may be on their own as well, men and women drinking coffee by themselves, similarly lost in thought, similarly distanced from society: a common isolation with the beneficial effect of lessening the oppressive sense within any one person that they are alone in being alone. In roadside diners and late-night cafeterias, hotel lobbies and station cafés, we may dilute a feeling of isolation in a lonely public place and hence rediscover a distinctive sense of community. The lack of domesticity, the bright lights and anonymous furniture may come as a relief from what are often the false comforts of home. It may be easier to give way to sadness here than in a living room with wallpaper and framed photos, the décor of a refuge that has let us down.

In this second chapter of his book The Art of Travel, Alain de Botton writes about people who travel more from an unhappiness at being home than from a desire for recreation. He includes reproductions and commentary on other paintings by Edward Hopper (whose “Automat” is the painting at the top of the page): “Gas,” “Compartment C, Car 293,” and “Hotel Room.”

The themes in the paintings here seem primarily to be isolation and loneliness, but to expand the scope of the chapter titled “Travel Places,” the author also introduces the life and writings of Charles Baudelaire, whose work was a significant influence on Hopper, it turns out.

Baudelaire

Baudelaire, who from an early age wanted nothing more than to flee from home, all his life “felt more at home in the transient places of travel than in his own dwelling.” Not that he ever seems to have escaped the restlessness he describes: “Life is a hospital in which every patient is obsessed with changing beds. This one wants to suffer in front of the radiator, and that one thinks he’d get better if he was by the window.”

My own childhood and temperament having made me a perpetual home-lover, I’m unable to fully understand these dissatisfied impulses, but I have done a bit of solitary traveling now and again. I liked it because I like being alone, but I also always had caring people on one or both ends of my journey, and a measure of peace knowing that the One Who loves me most was right with me. 

Otherwise, I might have said with Baudelaire:

Carriage, take me with you! Ship, steal me away from here!
Take me far, far away. Here the mud is made of our tears!

I’ve struggled for weeks to write on this part of de Botton’s book, knowing that the topic is really too difficult for me, but wanting to tackle it because it’s fundamental to our existence. What line divides a peaceful solitude and a painful loneliness? Can any one of us hope to understand another person’s experience of isolation? Is loneliness an essential ingredient of human life, at least a step on our way to maturity?

In this book on travel we can’t expect to find a deep exploration of these ideas. Or even a nod to the question of whether we in the 21st century experience our loneliness any differently from Hopper’s subjects. In the whole book there is not a mention of cell phones or the array of social networking tools that seem to prevent any of us from being part of a scene such as de Botton describes in the paragraph above. Perhaps it’s a deliberate omission, and he hopes to gently propel the reader back to a low-tech experience of being alone.

But being with strangers in an airport or service station nowadays likely means being surrounded by people using electronic devices that exclude them from any here-and-now community, lonely or otherwise. We know that many of them/us are doing this in an effort to have friends, to be in community, all the while missing possible opportunities to connect with people present in the same room. How might this development change the dynamics of a place like the automat?

De Botton writes about his own bad feelings being transformed while sitting in similar place, into a “gentle, even pleasant kind of loneliness,” and he values Hopper’s paintings that “allowed their viewers to witness an echo of their own grief and thereby feel less personally persecuted and beset by it.”

Hopper – Night Shadows

As I pondered the meaning of loneliness, I thought for a long time that de Botton is trivializing it. Along the way I read various writers on the subject in hopes of understanding everything better. Of course de Botton writes from his own experience, and it must be that his own feelings are not on the level of acute alienation, nor is he destitute of support, to use some synonyms. If he had known what some people feel as catastrophic and terrifying, what John O’Donohue, in Anam Cara: The Book of Celtic Wisdom, calls “…the solitude of suffering, when you go through darkness that is lonely, intense, and terrible. Words become powerless to express your pain…” I don’t know that he would make these fairly easy remedies, such as looking at paintings and riding on trains, sound plausible.

De Botton is such a pragmatist, as evidenced by his use of religion, that if he had in fact suffered an agony of soul I would expect him to be one of the many people who tell us that loneliness is the human condition. Get over it, make use of it, learn to live with yourself and with the knowledge that you are completely alone and there is no fixing it.

Even Jesus was lonely, after all. In his darkest hour, when he might have taken some comfort from his friends at least standing by, they fell asleep and left him all alone and feeling forsaken. And this shows that he did take on the whole of the plight of being human.

It’s an aspect of our lives that we in the modern age are especially prone to and sickened by, but it’s not what we were made for. We were made in the image of God, The Holy Trinity, where all Life resides — God in three persons, a unity of Love, as Bishop Timothy Ware explains in his book The Orthodox Church:

Our social programme, said the Russian thinker Fedorov, is the dogma of the Trinity. Orthodoxy believes most passionately that the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is not a piece of ‘high theology’ reserved for the professional scholar, but something that has a living, practical importance for every Christian. Man, so the Bible teaches, is made in the image of God, and to Christians God means the Trinity: thus it is only in the light of the dogma of the Trinity that man can understand who he is and what God intends him to be.

God is personal, that is to say, Trinitarian. This God who acts is not only a God of energies, but a personal God. When man participates in the divine energies, he is not overwhelmed by some vague and nameless power, but he is brought face to face with a person. Nor is this all: God is not simply a single person confined within his own being, but a Trinity of three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each of whom ‘dwells’ in the other two, by virtue of a perpetual movement of love. God is not only a unity but a union.

If all the humans you know fail in their love toward you — and they likely will — and if you feel alienated from society, from God, even from your true self, your salvation does not lie in accepting this situation as All There Is. As St. Augustine said, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”

In the Church we can be brought into communion with the Holy Trinity and with other people who are learning to participate in that “perpetual movement of love.” This is the opposite of alienation, but we may have to go through the Valley of the Shadow of Death to get there. If that’s what it takes for us to realize our need, and to become desperate enough to cry out to the only One who will never disappoint us or hurt us, we might consider it the power of a great melancholy.

This is the fourth in a series on The Art of Travel. The other posts are
Introduction
Possessing Beauty
What Van Gogh Can Do

Five misconceptions about the fast

Lately I’ve been in discussion with some people about the purpose of Lent. It can be a sort of springtime New Years Resolutions Revisited. Probably that’s part of the reason I get anxious during the several-weeks run-up to the fast that we have in the Orthodox Church: Experience has shown me how unresolved and weak I am, and I can only imagine certain failure.

But so many homilies and Scriptures and hymns have comforted me in the last few days, I really do feel that joy they speak of as we set out on our journey. And yes, blog posts and e-mail greetings on the subject have been greatly encouraging. It seems that lenten grace is like all grace, in that you can’t get it ahead of time; it’s God with us in the moment. Even a balanced perspective on the meaning of Lent is only an intellectual understanding until I implement it and participate in it.

Prayer and almsgiving are just as important during Lent, but in this post I’m sticking to the fasting aspect. And as an example of helpful reading, I offer a truncated outline of a few points from a longer article, “The True Nature of Fasting,” by Bishop Kallistos Ware and Mother Mary. The passage is part of the Lenten Triodion in the section “The Meaning of the Great Fast.” I commend the whole to your reading; it seems to me the most thorough and well-articulated statement on the subject, and I’ve found it worthwhile reading every year. (Italics are in the original.)

1) The Lenten fast is not intended only for monks and nuns, but is enjoined on the whole Christian people….By virtue of their Baptism, all Christians – whether married or under monastic vows – are Cross-bearers, following the same spiritual path.

2) It should not be misconstrued in a Pelagian sense.Whatever we achieve in the Lenten fast is to be regarded as a free gift of grace from God.

3) Our fasting should not be self-willed but obedient. When we fast, we should not try to invent special rules for ourselves, but we should follow as faithfully as possible the accepted pattern set before us by Holy Tradition.

4) Lent is a time not of gloom but of joyfulness….It is true that fasting brings us to repentance and to grief for sin, but this penitent grief, in the vivid phrase of St. John Climacus, is a ‘joy-creating sorrow.’….Lent signifies not winter but spring, not darkness but light, not death but renewed vitality

5) Our Lenten abstinence does not imply a rejection of God’s creation….When we fast, this is not because we regard the act of eating as shameful, but in order to make an our eating spiritual, sacramental and eucharistic – no longer a concession to greed but a means of communion with God the giver.