Friday, December 6, 2013

Housekeeping Β’ and a Journey into Fingal's Cave

The Hebrides, Op. 26 "Fingal's Cave" by Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)

And then there was St. Barbara the Great Martyr, whose pagan father secluded the beautiful girl from all but those whom he approved to instruct her, who saw the Divine imprint upon Creation and longed to know her Creator.  Did she, in gazing from her seclusion, contemplate how the Lord ordered every ray of light and every shadow to fall in precise order through the trees and to cast themselves as the life upon the earth should require?  Did she imagine herself stripped of her fetters and wandering the fields He clothed while yet their own garments were a moment more spared the oven?  Or did she one fine day love her earthly father and, in professing Christ to his idolatry, ask of him bread and receive a stone and soon thereafter the collapsing walls of the caves it had been hewn from?  She added to her father's bathhouse a third window to represent the Holy Trinity and inscribed the Sign of the Cross upon the marble.  For this she was questioned and chided, for her faith she was tortured, and for her steadfastness and by a swing of the blade by her fathers own hand she was murdered.  The Orthodox Church commemorated St. Barbara two days ago, as it does every year on the 4th of December.

Some of the recent readings in the Orthodox lectionary, most especially because we have just commemorated some monks and hierarchs, and certain readings are prescribed for such occasions, have dealt with the contrast of, on the one hand, relief and healing through communion and the faith of Christ and, on the other, the burdens that we must suffer in this world.  There were, for instance, the healing of the blind man near Jericho (Luke 18:35-43) and that of the woman with the twelve years' flow of blood (Mark 5:24-34).  Thy faith hath saved thee, the Lord said to the former, and Thy faith hath made thee whole to the latter, and indeed are these two statements really all that different?  What is salvation, if not to be rid of the disruption that pervades this life and corrupts what God intended otherwise?  In yesterday's Epistle reading, Galatians 5:22-26 and 6:1-2, the Apostle Paul begins with the fruit of the Spirit, a famous list of marvelous benefits—love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance—but he moves immediately to those who suffer spiritual fault, the perils to those who would help them, and the bearing of one another's burdens.  In yesterday's Gospel reading, Matthew 11:27-30, the Lord, meek and lowly in heart, promising rest to those who labour and are heavy laden, puts forth the famous offer of his easy yoke and light burden.  If, having concluded the day's reading in the lectionary, one were to proceed a bit further in Galatians, by the way, one would see further contrast between the communal bearing of burdens and the cares that the individual shall bear alone: don't think that you're something, for you are nothing, and yet you shall carry your own burden.  (All references KJV.)

This is, as you may have surmised from the title, another tidying up and organizing post, but, in making the transitions that I shall announce here, and in going through my days, I have the themes of readings such as those quite prominently on my mind.  The woman with the flow of blood or the blind man, for instance: do you reckon that either of them was especially weak in his or her own component of faith prior to the encounter with the Lord?  For twelve years did the woman lack something herself that she ought have had, something that failed to liberate her of her physical malady and ritual defilement?  Did she not believe enough?  Have sufficient conviction of the righteousness and mercy of her Creator?  Or could it be, rather—and to paint a more complete icon of such an event—that her faith, as well as the blind man's, is not just the individual's belief in God, which we would call faith in God, but is the faith of God?  Do you detect in our discussing this in English a meaningful distinction and understanding of faith denoted by the prepositions?  The woman did not heal herself, nor did the man, and yet their faith made them whole, when they encountered Christ, Who is Himself faithful.

Consider also how the Apostle Paul speaks of the fruits of the Spirit and then immediately of burdens.  Surely he does not mean to suggest that those whom he warns of their present or future burdens are bereft of the Spirit.  Why, one need not turn many pages to find examples of the man himself despairing of his own life or recalling some agonizing afflictions, even ones suffered during his missionary work and his contact with the churches that he writes to.  The fruit of the Spirit and the faith that makes us whole are not promises of a cure right now.  How many years might any one of us wait for our physical infirmity to depart, our psychic turmoil to end, or our promised reward to arrive?  How many saintly lives end still in pain and expectation?  The Beatitudes and Woes recorded in Luke were also among this week's readings, if memory serves.

In further drawing the boundaries for Lasseter's Lost Reef and my presence on the World Wide Internet, I have, as you can see both at the top of the page and in the right-hand column, begun Lasseter's Lost Reef Β’.  You will remember from the first Housekeeping post that I added a Google+ widget to this journal (see that on the right too) and noted that I sometimes leave commentary in my Google+ profile as well as links to sites I find noteworthy.  As the last several of my Google+ comments became rather unusually long for the format, I decided to stake out another place for such writings: that is, for essays that are not as disciplined or focused as what I wish to put here, that are generally easier to write, but that nonetheless may have some substance.  I shall still have remarks for Google+, and that and the here-today-gone-today Twitter (where I also periodically perform my stand-up routine) are the places to find most of my links.  I suspect that the second Lasseter's Lost Reef will see more frequent updates than this, the first, but I make no promises.  My yoke is flighty and the online burden I offer unpredictable.  In any case, my first post on Tumblr, a reflection on my baptism and what it means to be Orthodox, can be found here:

I have installed comments on my tumblr, and readers are as welcome to comment there as they are here and on Google+.  If you would care to follow any of these three pages by RSS, you can do so quite easily (although, be warned, friends of the here-today-gone-today and "I gotta have Virge's latest now" Internet, the G+ RSS only goes through every two hours, and Tumblr seems to be slower even than that).  Those links are:*

Last evening, at the top of the Cleveland Orchestra concert, guest conductor and artist-in-residence Leon Fleisher began by announcing the death of a great man and dedicating the concert to him on behalf of the Orchestra, pianist Jonathan Biss, and himself.  The first piece was Felix Mendelssohn's Hebrides overture.  Mendelssohn's musical reflection on those Scottish isles could not help but be shaded by the news.  No further commentary is required.  Have a listen.

* 7 December 2013.  I have burned what should be a more timely updated feed for the Tumblr site by Feedburner, and there is already also a Feedburner alternative for this one.  So, if you would prefer:


  1. Very interesting insights, Virgil, into those passages in Luke and Mark, about the blind man and the woman with the hemorrhage. As someone who has suffered physically most of my life, I can relate very much with both those Biblical characters, though particularly with the woman. I wonder too about what it means to have faith to be made whole. Many camps within Christendom claim healing is entirely dependent on one having enough faith—but this has always bothered me, for it leads to the suffering individual carrying the extra burden of guilt if they don’t get healed. I’ve known this kind of guilt myself, having been prayed for many times, with no positive results. I’m reminded of the apostle Paul’s thorn in the flesh—he prayed three times for the thorn to be removed, and yet God refused to remove it, telling Paul “His grace was sufficient.” If God did not heal Paul, who certainly wasn’t lacking in faith, then I don’t believe we can attribute every unanswered prayer for healing to lack of faith.

    I’m more inclined, similar to you, to believe this faith Jesus talks about is not something we conjure up in our own strength, as if we were capable of healing ourselves, but a faith He grants us, for His good purposes. Some He chooses to heal. Some He does not. I think it’s extremely damaging—faith-destroying, actually—to believe that one’s suffering is the result of not having enough faith. As you pointed out, many saints have had tragic ends and known great suffering. This is why whenever I hear certain Christians spouting the health and wealth gospel I get a bit ticked off. Jesus never promised us pain-free lives—on the contrary, He told us to pick up our crosses and deny ourselves.

    1. I completely agree, and I especially like that you call it faith-destroying, and it's not just in the physical realm. There are, for instance, as I'm sure you know, those who reject psychological counseling and believe that it is a matter of "getting right with God." Even if you're not part of some cultic brand of Christianity, this kind of trap is easy to fall into: self-doubt leading, if one's sorrows do not abate, to outright self-blame.

      Let me offer you this quote from Theophylact of Bulgaria, his comment on Matthew 21:21-22 to chew over:

      Great is the promise which Christ makes to His disciples, the ability to move mountains, if only we are not ambiguous in faith, that is, we do not hesitate. Whatever we ask, unhesitantly believing in God’s power, we shall receive. One might ask, "And if I ask for something unprofitable, and foolishly believe that God will give me this, will I indeed receive this unprofitable thing? How is it that God is said to love mankind if He would fulfill my unprofitable request?" Listen then. First, when you hear "faith," you should understand that it means not "foolish faith" but "true faith"; and when you hear "prayer," understand it to mean that prayer which asks for things profitable, such as the Lord gave to us when He said, "Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one," and petitions of similar nature. Then consider the words "doubt not," [literally, "be ye not divided," me diakrithete]. For how could a man who is united with God as one and not divided or separated from Him, how could that man ask for something unprofitable? So if you are undivided and inseparable from God, then you will ask for and receive things which are profitable for you.

      (Translation by Fr. Christopher Stade.) This is a fine comment, but perhaps you detect how even this can make one wonder: is there something wrong with me that I want something that seems good to me but that God does not want me to have? One must not misconstrue the Gospel lesson or this commentary to mean that one's ongoing pain, despite one's prayers for relief, is a punishment for having had inadequate faith or something inherently to be ashamed of in any other way: it may be true that the faith lacks something, because the one who prays lacks the knowledge of why he should continue to suffer, but that's not an inherently moral indictment. Job was, after all, the most righteous man on earth.

      I think also that when the relationship with God is made out to be some kind of buddy-buddy personal relationship or a father-son or father-daughter relationship that can be understood in human terms, we turn ourselves into more than what we are or God into less than what He is. Sometimes He doesn't tell us much of anything, and it makes little sense to us. It doesn't necessarily mean we've done anything to be ashamed of.

      Thank you for stopping by again.

  2. Greetings. We've all been in the depths of the flu but appear to be re-surfacing.
    I must say I am somewhat in awe that you can juggle, or even attempt to juggle, your various media outlets. For Christmas two of my children gave me a Facebook account. It is not yet clear if I will survive. I am trying to come up with clear personal guidelines on how to use it. We shall see. Congratulations to you, though. I have no current plans to emulate your model as that seems utterly out of my league, but go for it, I say.

    1. Facebook is something I steadfastly refuse to join. It'll be a cold day, as they say. Google+, on the other hand, although its parent deserves a bit of criticism for being invasive and annoying (such as insisting constantly that I link various accounts in ways that I do not want to link them and not having a simple option to say "No" and be done with it), is directly connected to this journal and offers what seem to be some benefit of getting one's name as author of one's writings attributed in searches and whatnot. The Google+ page (on which, by the way, I am followed by a mere fourteen users, none of whom I know personally) is a convenience and a reasonable place to store links. The Tumblr page is for my piece of mind, since there are just things I might want to write that do not quite belong here.

      Sometimes figuring out how to code this or that is time-consuming, but I look upon all of these accounts as conveniences. As with anything online, there is a great risk of time wasting.

      If I joined Facebook, I might be able to advertise this journal more, although I wonder how well that would work. I can scarcely think of anyone I would especially want "to friend," and I can hardly think of more than a tiny number of friend requests I would care to receive. It may be good for catching up with old chums and classmates and what-have-you, but I just don't have too many of those in any substantial way anyhow.

      So, it's no great accomplishment. It surely does little to boost my readership. Nonetheless, it ought not vex what current readers I have. Following Lost Reef Β’ is quite easy, and I'm not the most prolific author on the Internet anyway.

    2. And I hope you all continue to recover from your recent flu attack.

    3. What would vex one of your readers is to witness how hard you are onto yourself. I could say this is not a judgment… Maybe the more you hit yourself, the quicker you'll be broken until there's nothing left. I think you know how valuable you are but you can not accept the truth and this is your "world war" within yourself.
      I'm taking a risk by writing these to you, but I'm (kind of, not really, but-yes if I have to…) prepared for the consequences. As long as you would accept the value in you, I could sacrifice losing you.
      I'm sorry...
      Thank you...

    4. It's OK, ZD. You're in no peril of harsh consequences. What could I do? Excommunicate you from my journal? ;-) You're one of my most reliable commentators and something of a publicist of my work on Twitter. Plus you've nominated my work for awards. One of these days I'm going to have to write up a post and acknowledge the nominations and make a few of my own.