Friday, June 21, 2013

St. Herman of Alaska & The Science of Sciences

In the life of St. Herman titled Herman: A Wilderness Saint, the following remarkable letter is referenced and, after coming across it, I felt compelled to share it. It was written in 1819 by Simeon Ivanovich Ianaovskii some time after he had become the main ruler of the Russian colonies in America (e.g. Alaska), where St. Herman was the head of the spiritual mission. The letter cites a malady all too common in the modern world -- certainly not unique to early 19th century Russia -- and its cure. Enjoy:
   I was thirty years old when I met Father Herman. It should be mentioned that I trained at a naval college. I knew much science and had read widely but, unfortunately, the science of sciences -- that is, the Law of God -- I hardly understood even superficially and what I did know was theoretical, not applied to life. I was a Christian only in name, while in my soul and in action, I was a free-thinker and a deist. In this I was like almost everyone who has been trained in colleges and official institutions...
    What is more, I did not acknowledge the divine nature and sanctity of our religion; I had read many of the godless essays of Voltaire and other philosophers of the eighteenth century.
    Father Herman immediately noticed this and wanted to convert me. It was not easy! I had to be convinced, to be shown the holiness of our faith; this is why it required time, knowledge, and the ability to speak well and convincingly.
    To my great surprise, this simple uneducated monk, Father Herman, inspired by grace, spoke so forcefully, so wisely, and argued so convincingly that it seemed to me no erudition or earthly wisdom could hold out against his words! Father Herman truly had a great mind, sound thought, and had read many spiritual books; most importantly, he had the grace of God!
    We spoke unceasingly: about love, about God, about eternity, about the salvation of the soul, about the Christian life, and other things. An unceasing flood of sweet conversation flowed from his mouth!
    Through such constant talks and by the prayers of the holy elder, the Lord converted me wholly to the path of truth, and I became a true Christian. For all of this, I am obliged to Father Herman; he is my true benefactor. 
O Blessed Father Herman of Alaska, together with all the Saints and the Heavenly Hosts, pray to God that on each of us He will bestow wisdom for our mind, strength for our will, light for our spirit, enabling us to attain to the true peace of life which is from God alone. Amen.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Christ and Nihil

"No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon." - Matt. 6:24

"Know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God." - James 4:4

"I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou were cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of my mouth." - Rev. 3:15-16

When it comes to God and his Kingdom, there is no halfway allegiance. There is allegiance and defiance; fidelity and apostasy; communion and exile. The verses above are just a small sampling of a consistent theme that runs throughout the New Testament: the Incarnation of the Word of God inaugurates the Kingdom of God on Earth, and this Kingdom stands victorious over and against the kingdom of the "god of this world" (2 Cor. 4:4), i.e. Satan.

Because God alone -- and participation in His life, the life of the Holy Trinity -- constitutes true being, rejection of this life in favor of kingdom of this world that is passing away, constitutes a turning inward to the Self and self-will, and therefore toward nothingness and non-being. Toward the nihil.

In his short text Nihilism -- which was to be but one chapter in his unfinished magnum opus THE KINGDOM OF GOD AND THE KINGDOM OF MAN -- Fr. Seraphim Rose seizes on this fundamental truth and uses it as a matrix for analyzing the condition of the modern world. If rejection of Christ is ultimately a single phenomena, then that phenomena lies behind, underneath, and within every species of unbelief and idolatry. There should be a discernible continuity that unites all who stand opposed to God, whether they know it or not and despite any apparent differences.

If this is true, then the same force that gives life to Liberalism, Humanism, Scientism, Realism, New-Age spiritualisms, and compromised and worldly Christianities is the same force that gave us Nazism and Bolshevism. The differences between these various phenomena must be a quantitative rather than qualitative one; a difference of degree rather than of kind. And Fr. Serpahim traces the contours of this modern dialectic with acute precision.

While Fr. Seraphim keenly analyzes the specific instances of the various manifestations of nihilism in the modern world -- in areas of philosophy, politics, religion, and art -- the basic argument is echoed with characteristic verve and brilliance by David Bentley Hart in his magnificent essay Christ and Nothing, which concludes this way:
But we Christians — while not ignoring how appalling such a condition is — should yet rejoice that modernity offers no religious comforts to those who would seek them. In this time of waiting, in this age marked only by the absence of faith in Christ, it is well that the modern soul should lack repose, piety, peace, or nobility, and should find the world outside the Church barren of spiritual rapture or mystery, and should discover no beautiful or terrible or merciful gods upon which to cast itself. With Christ came judgment into the world, a light of discrimination from which there is neither retreat nor sanctuary. And this means that, as a quite concrete historical condition, the only choice that remains for the children of post-Christian culture is not whom to serve, but whether to serve Him whom Christ has revealed or to serve nothing — the nothing. No third way lies open for us now, because — as all of us now know, whether we acknowledge it consciously or not — all things have been made subject to Him, all the thrones and dominions of the high places have been put beneath His feet, until the very end of the world, and — simply said — there is no other god.
Let us then cast ourselves upon the only God Who Is, Christ our true God, and pray that He would have mercy upon us.