Western Rite Critic

A Balance to Contagious Enthusiasm

Taboo Topics: The Material Fast?

If you refuse... you might offend them!A priest recently began Lent with a sermon on keeping the fast. It seems like people are afraid to talk about that, as though the prohibitions against fasting before men, or against judging the brother who eats, somehow forbid discussion of it, or stating what the Church requires. It is popular to read the sermons of Saints about the importance of keeping the fullness of the fast (forgiveness, fasting from the passions, alms for the poor (which come from the money saved by fasting), but quite unpopular to read saints who point out that one who does not fast does not really believe in God.

Of course in places in the world where most Orthodox are baptized as infants, at least until the Bolsheviks ruined it for them, everyone knew that everyone else was fasting, and there wasn’t this pretense that we’re protecting one another’s secrecy. Contributing to the problem in convert countries is the conviction that fasting is a personal impulse rather than a corporate activity. One supposedly decides for himself when to fast, from what to fast, and how to fast. How this cripples our ability to encourage one another to stand strong, to help those who would ask advice but feel silenced by this pseudo-secrecy. We all know what we’re supposed to be doing. We know, of course, that for some reasons of ailment or definitive weakness, a fasting rule may be modified by economia, under the care of a father confessor, but we know the general rules: no animal products, no olive oil, no alcohol.

It’s a serious failure of Orthodox mind and culture that whole sectors of Orthodox aren’t even bothering to go through the motions. When the Fast is mentioned, it’s a bit like mentioning chastity and the prohibition on premarital sex among a group of young, single lovers and romancers. It’s a quaint, old custom from the past, but not how we really live anymore. This is a culture swimming in a sea of passionate foods and sensuality. To envisage 40 days without animal products, for most people, is like proposing a month without television or video. It sounds absurd. You actually hear people ask, “what would we eat?” showing not only no planning or preparation, but a complete failure of education on the part of their hierarchs. Continue reading


March 14, 2008 Posted by | Western Rite Pieties | , , , , | Leave a comment

Let us quit ourselves like men.

“Let us, let us set out with joy upon the season of the Fast, and prepare ourselves for spiritual combat. Let us purify our souls and cleanse our flesh; And as we fast from food, let us abstain also from every passion. Rejoicing in the virtues of the Spirit, may we persevere with love, and so be counted worthy to see the solemn Passion of Christ our God, and with great spiritual gladness, to behold His Holy Pascha.” – The Sticheron of the First Monday of Great Lent

March 10, 2008 Posted by | Western Rite Quotes | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Theology and Economy

TheologyTheology is who God is in and of himself apart from any created thing. Economy, in contrast, is God’s activity toward all that is not God – that is, toward all creation (and what is not God is created). Economy is God’s salvation from everlasting. The Energies (the Grace) of God, by which we speak of His activity, are likewise uncreate, are God, and in fact are the means of creation and redemption. The Orthodox alone hold this Faith from the Apostles. By contrast, the Roman Catholic Church considers grace (the energies) to be created: created grace – which is a different and incompatible theology (doctrine of God), leading to a different an incompatible mysteriology, eschatology, and other doctrines.

Economy: The Economy (another word for it is Condescension) is really the Incarnation of Christ. When we speak of the Economy or the use of economia, we speak specifically of the Incarnation, for in that reality all God’s activity is recapitulated, from creation to redemption. God became man, and all history looks either forward to or back from that prime event. In this is our teleology (belief concerning the meaning of history) and likewise the mystery of our eschatology (doctrine of the future).

The God who created man, became created man, to save him, and to make possible the union of God and man, theosis (deification). God condescended to man, because man could not reach God. God overcame the barriers between us and salvation, closing the uncloseable distance of union. God is unknowable and so unobtainable, but God became what we are, that he might remain God, unknowable in essence, but that we might obtain union, through his uncreated Energies.

All activity of God toward man is of the Incarnation, is Economy, and has its character and attitude. All God’s activity toward man is for man’s salvation – for theosis. Nothing else. Even theology is merely a means to an end – this union with God. Theology is nothing in itself – and union is all. And so our genuine theology is the far reaches of the path of union, rather than any academic study, which is more a discussion of a path rather than a pursuit of it. As the fathers say, theology is prayer, and the true theologian is the one on the path of true prayer. Continue reading

February 23, 2008 Posted by | -- Theology, Western Rite Issues | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lent: Lion and Lamb

Some years ago, in a discussion, an academic was exalting some acquired ‘knowledge’ and accusing an opponent of ignorance and various passions. The man’s response was to say “I have no knowledge of God, and I am guilty of all passions. Indeed, start from that.’ The answer came back “Thou thyself hath said it”. It was clear then that this person knew many academic facts, but almost nothing of how Orthodox people properly interact with one another. Evidently, in all the training, that was missed. They were speaking a different language.

Someone who has not lived in other worlds – other nations, cultures, etc. for extended periods of time, tends to find it hard to think outside the box. Take the ritualized humility of many of the great Asian cultures, wherein someone calls you on the phone and invites you eagerly to his house for a meal but apologizes repeatedly that there is not much food in the house. A western reaction might be to offer to stop and buy some groceries, or to bring a course or two. But of course, this is exactly the wrong reaction, and could be insulting if pressed. The person has plenty of food in the house, or he wouldn’t have invited you. The reason for his words is not readily apparent to Western ears, and it will seem silly, dishonest, or at least confusing. It has to be understood by living in it.

In the case of Orthodoxy, sadly, when it is not very noticeable even among our own people, how much harder it is to learn our way. And even if one does, it might alienate you further from even other Orthodox who aren’t used to it or misunderstand it. The result is that everything gets reduced to the level of the culture and its standard and norms, rather than elevated to life in the Kingdom.

As we go into Lent, and we cease to kill animals for food, preparing for the fullness of the kingdom, whereby lion will lie down with lamb, and little children will lead them. … as we prepare for the end of death, and our deepest remembrance of death, perhaps its more fitting to devour animals than to devour one another.

February 15, 2008 Posted by | Western Rite Issues | , , , , | Leave a comment


%d bloggers like this: