The Mythic Character of Reality

The friendship between CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien is well-known, as is Tolkien’s role in bringing Lewis to Christ. Less well-known (unless you dig a bit further) is Tolkien’s role in bringing Lewis out of a rigid and flat understanding of the world and into the rich possibilities afforded by “myth.” Without this conversion, Lewis would likely not have become a Christian, and certainly would not have authored the fiction that is loved by so many. It is deeply underappreciated though it goes to the heart of both Lewis’ and Tolkien’s faith. They were not only Christians, they were Christians whose hearts were deeply touched and sympathetic to the power of myth. Through it, they gave us worlds that continue to entertain. However, most are entertained by their stories in the same way they are entertained by any action drama. The mythic character of their work is passed over and reduced to little more than “children’s fantasy.” Professor Digory says it well: “It’s all in Plato, all in Plato; bless me, what do  they teach them at these schools!”

The early conversations between Lewis and Tolkien were not about Christ, per se. They were about myth and the character of reality. Tolkien wrote a poem for Lewis (they both loved poetry), entitled “Philomythus to Misomythus” (“Lover of Myth to Hater of Myth”). One stanza reads:

He sees no stars who does not see them first
of living silver made that sudden burst
to flame like flowers beneath the ancient song,
whose very echo after-music long
has since pursued. There is no firmament,
only a void, unless a jewelled tent
myth-woven and elf-patterned; and no earth,
unless the mother’s womb whence all have birth.

The heart of the argument turned on the relationship of myth to reality. Lewis had said: “Myths are lies, even though breathed through silver.” Tolkien saw in mythic stories not lies, but a revelation of the very character of reality that could not be known or expressed in another manner. Modernity is fond of saying, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” which is another way to say, “Beauty is merely subjective and not real. Beauty is a lie.” Modernity dismisses Tolkien as another fantasy author.

Tolkien once said, “If God is mythopoetic, we must become mythopathic.” Understanding this statement goes to the heart of Lewis’ Christian conversion and all of his subsequent work. Neither Tolkien nor Lewis (after his conversion) believed myth to mean “stories that are not true,” or mere “primitive efforts to explain what is not known.” Both were struck, not by the fictional aspect of myth (all myths), but by their profound insight into the nature of human existence and the world in which we live.

There is a reason, for example, that we discuss a certain kind of self-centered personality disorder as “Narcissistic,” making reference to a character in Greek mythology. Oedipal, erotic, cupidity, stygian, the Midas Touch, martial, and a host of other terms within our language make reference to ancient “myths,” not as an effort to be obscure, but because the stories within the myths carry a weight and a meaning that mere clinical language, devoid of such reference, lacks.

But both Lewis and Tolkien have something much more profound in mind. Lewis’ whimsical reference to Plato points to this fact. Somehow, myth is not just true, but real. The nature and character of the world cannot be described properly without reference to something more. That something more has a nature that gives shape to the stories labeled as myths. They are not just any story, a sub-genre of fiction. Indeed, even stories that would otherwise be labeled “true” and “real” (in the literal sense) have significance precisely in their mythic character.

Those who are “misomythic” are not necessarily anti-religious. However, their religion lacks power, beauty, and substance in that it is flat and empty. What modernity labels as “fact” is insufficient for human existence.

I have encountered such religion from time to time in a mindset that prides itself on the literal character of its faith. It will admit interpretations (of Scripture, for example) that have an allegorical or typological character (both of which seem to me to be sub-genres of myth). But, in fact, they are nominalists, granting such readings nothing more than a mental status, a literary trick. Such “tricks” are given some leeway in that they abound in the writings of the Fathers (and in the New Testament itself). But they deny that these readings are actually there: they are merely inferred.

When I have argued for the use of allegory or the “mystical” reading of Scripture, it is with reference to the actual character of reality and of the text itself. The universe is “one-storey,” something in which all that might be called mystical or mythical actually inheres. It is to be discerned.

St. Porphyrios said that in order to become a Christian, one must first become a poet. Poets, and “mythopoetic” above all else. Reading Lewis and Tolkien is not an exercise in literary fiction. Both, in different ways, understood themselves to be creating myth. Tolkien engaged in what he called an act of “sub-creation.” We feel it when we read him, with a strange aching sense that though we do not believe in his elves and orcs, they are, nonetheless, hauntingly real. I would say they have a sacramental character, embodying something that is real, but which we can only express in mythic form. Reading Tolkien should change how you see the world around you.

Lewis’ fiction is mythic in a different way. For Lewis, the primary “myth” (I would even say “Myth”) is that of Christ. He wrote:

As myth transcends thought, Incarnation transcends myth. The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact. The old myth of the Dying God, without ceasing to be myth, comes down from the heaven of legend and imagination to the earth of history. It happens–at a particular date, in a particular place, followed by definable historical consequences. We pass form a Balder or an Osiris, dying nobody knows when or where, to a historical Person crucified (it is all in order) under Pontius Pilate. By becoming fact it does not cease to be myth: that is the miracle. I suspect that men have sometimes derived more spiritual sustenance from myths they did not believe than from the religion they professed. To be truly Christian we must both assent to the historical fact and also receive the myth (fact though it has become) with the same imaginative embrace which we accord to all myths. The one is hardly more necessary than the other…We must not be ashamed of the mythical radiance resting on our theology.

For many, the “mythical radiance” has been lost. What has taken place is the privileging of the secular account of reality. It is felt that we must win on the ground defined by secular materialism. The result is a modernized faith, even if the “facts” embraced are antique. My argument is like that of Tolkien and Lewis. God is mythopoetic. To understand Him requires that we learn the language in which He speaks and hear even the silence into which the Eternal Word is spoken.

80 comments:

  1. Thank you, Father.
    Tolkein’s essay “The Monsters among the Critics” is a brilliant and fierce defense of true myth against the analytical critics. One had gone so far as to assert that the cadence of the spoken word was not important in poetry. It’s sad (and something we often lose in electronic communication). Josef Pieper also has a very nice reflection in this vein, titled “Only the Lover Sings”. It’s also well worth a read. By contrast, much of the rationalist world recently celebrated the birthday of Charles Darwin (the 12th), who by the end of his life could not see beauty in a landscape – all he saw was his law of natural selection. The forest had been lost in the trees had been lost in the lignin and cellulose… But the forest lives, breathes, and sings to God – the trees of the field clap their hands, and the heavens are telling the glory of God, the sky proclaims the work of His hands!

    In Christ,
    Mark

  2. Father,

    What are your thoughts on *teaching* this? In other words, do you think it is possible to teach, to *communicate* the mythopoetic character of Scripture and reality? Modernity is a myth, but it is one which has a strong feedback mechanism in that it self consciously hardens the heart against recognition of itself – it is a myth which convinces the believer that it is not a myth and that myths are lies. How can a teacher (or friend, or a priest, etc.) point to the mythic character of modernity, and then further on to the Real Myth?
    I am wondering out loud if it is possible to teach – one rather has to get it through a hard (or joyous) experience of life first.

  3. Father, Mark.,
    It is interesting that the subjective nominalism of secular thought sees a randomly occurring cosmos whereas that sacramental view of creation accounts for the existence of timeless, objective, universal beauty, unity, order, teleology, and above all (at its most intense) meaning/Logos… It is also interesting that amongst secular scientists of all strands, it is said that mathematicians are the least likely to proclaim atheism. I see a clear connection: The eternal, universal, non-evolutionary character of maths and their beauty (take the fractal unity of the cosmos extending out the the most inconceivable macro scale and in to the most unimaginable micro scale) seems to make them suspect a reasonable Creator far more than the other scientists brought up on an equally atheist diet.

  4. Christopher,
    I would say, based on my experience, that it is possible, though you’re always working against the flow. However, the experience of beauty, and of that “nagging” sense that we sometimes have of “something more.” Many people, coming to the Church from non-sacramental backgrounds, don’t know how to express this longing within them, but feel it so strongly that they come to the Church with the hope that it’s possible to find it. Schmemann wrote against the kind of sacramentalism that isolated the sacraments into these little events, obscuring the sacramental character of all reality. I might add that he was also a great student of literature. My Archbishop (Alexander Golitzin) says that he thinks Schmemann was more of a literary scholar/poet, etc. than theologian – and meant it in the best sort of way.

    Patience and teach, teach, teach…

  5. Dino, et al
    The mythic/sacramental/iconic character of reality – really a function of its “logicity,” – is the only way of speaking in which the universe is truly “cosmos” and “universe.”

  6. Father
    I had never thought of the amazing etymology of the word universe before…
    prefix is uni, “one” and root ‘verse’ , meaning “word” is “one word” spoken by the First Causee of the universe, also referred to as “The Word” , the “Logos”.

  7. Beautiful, Father! I know so many people–just in my own little sphere–who have turned away from “flat” and literal forms of Christianity and have turned instead to Buddhism and a mishmash of occult practices. I think many of them are searching for the poetry, beauty, and mystery that are absent from their rationalistic faith backgrounds. They haven’t rejected Christ per se, but not finding Him there, they fall into spiritual snares.

  8. “The eternal, universal, non-evolutionary character of maths and their beauty (take the fractal unity of the cosmos extending out the the most inconceivable macro scale and in to the most unimaginable micro scale) seems to make them suspect a reasonable Creator”

    Dino, you might be interested in Benedict XVI’s 2006 Regensburg Address in which he says the same thing a different way:

    “…as I have attempted to show, modern scientific reason with its intrinsically Platonic element bears within itself a question which points beyond itself and beyond the possibilities of its methodology. Modern scientific reason quite simply has to accept the rational structure of matter and the correspondence between our spirit and the prevailing rational structures of nature as a given, on which its methodology has to be based. Yet the question why this has to be so is a real question, and one which has to be remanded by the natural sciences to other modes and planes of thought – to philosophy and theology.”

    Or put in a literary way, how did we come to be in a story we can grasp?

  9. Scott, Dino,
    Great quote from Benedict XVI. Just thinking out loud: the mythic character of reality is not unlike the mathematical character of reality. We look at trees, and sky, etc., and do not see numbers in a literal way, and yet, when we do the math, everything fits. Myth is a much more complex example.

  10. “Myth is a much more complex example.”

    Who would you say is a good Mendeleev to read for a periodic table of tropes?

  11. Scott,
    That’s a good question. More of Tolkien, such as his letters. Also Owen Barfield. It might be too rich and complex to find a Mendeleev. Of course, since everything points towards the Logos – it is always right and primary to pursue Him above all.

  12. I remember a statement that a myth is something that is false on the outside,but true on the inside. I also remember a Protestant minister who was really uncomfortable with the very concept of myth in religion.
    And an Orthodox priest once commented , a bit outraged by Thomas Cahill’s book about Christ, “ but it is as if Christ is just an idea! “ But to me, Christ is the profoundest melding of idea,and poetry, and art, and reality. Abraham Heschel once said, God is a person ,among other things. What a glorious God !

  13. Human beings are myth-makers and icon drawers. It is part of the image of God within is. Both are also a reflection of the Providential self-revelation of God in our lives throughout time that we call history.

    It is impossible to perceive anything rightly without myth.

    Unfortunately, the darkness of modernity particularly the nihilism at it’s core is built upon a lie masquerading as myth while stripping away all that is true and beautiful but leaving the facade of myth that draws people into the darkness.

  14. Thanks for that feedback Father.

    On that Benedict quote, Immanuel Kant took up the “remanding” just as he suggests and came to an epistemology and metaphysic of the mind that preserves the Cartesian anthropological presupposition(s) of modernity. Kant’s solution is essentially where science and modernity is at today, and the subsequent history of science and the philosophy of science while containing some interesting footnotes, is still just footnotes. So at the risk of playing the intellectual pessimist (as I so often do around here), I find Benedict’s (and most of RC thought on this subject) to have not really assimilated the *meaning* of Kant’s place in science particularly and western secularism in general, which is surprising given the sophistication of so much of RC work in these sorts of areas. That said, it is at least an order of magnitude better informed than what I have read of the recent (last 20 years or so – Pat. Bartholomew being an obvious advocate) efforts by Orthodox intellectual/theologians around “ecology” and the like. On the other hand, the Orthodox efforts stay at the surface to such an extent that they don’t make the same sort mistakes.

    All this to say that they mythical answer to Scott’s question on “how did we come to be in a story we can grasp?” is supplied to the modern scientist (and to a real extant, the wider pseudo-scientific cultural mind) by Kant and he is Benedict’s philosophical superior (as good as Benedict is)…

  15. Father Stephen,
    Thanks to God for your inspirational writings,so unusual but so true as the every day life of a believer is. Talking about myth in this way describes, in fact, the methaphysical nature of the Orthodox faith.It’s like a coexistence with the physical where reality is a miracle itself only visible for someone, Christ himself refers to those who have eyes and ears to see and listen and even He says they understand without paraboles.
    Especially about Lewis’ Narnia, I wondered about the chosen parallel my mind and heart sometimes make after the Liturgy, like opening the world of the wardrobe and so innocent feeling of experiencing everything as fresh,with a chance for a new start. The lion on the table of Sacrifice leaves you without a speech especially touching the metaphysical nature of the innocent lamb sacrificed when the table cracks and the direction of events is changed from the bottom to top, from Death to Rising of Christ. I have always enjoyed reading mythical writings since child and whenever gloomy reality catches my being I refresh the feeling and realize that reality is different always with a new start. Maybe Beauty is not in the eye of the beholder, but seeing Beauty does depend on the eye of the beholder and it’s such a tiny change of perspective, just a tiny change of angle,but the leap is great and that doesn’t mean anything if you fell in Love once🙂

  16. Christopher,
    I appreciate your bringing up Kant. His philosophy was required reading for a course I took at grad level. This is very many years ago. (Therefore I don’t remember very much at all!) But the reason I bring this up was that reading Kant and Piaget at the same time created a sort of shift (as in away from) in my perspective concerning western academics in general. For some reason (beyond my memory) it seemed that Piaget was more interesting and reading his work eventually served to influence me in a direction toward the physical sciences. Since this happened so many years ago, I don’t even remember what it was in particular that I thought was contrasted between these writers’ philosophies.

    Are you familiar with Piaget as well? I’m curious about your perspective (regarding contrasts) but it might be too far off topic. But if you will, perhaps you will elaborate on how you see philosophies such as that of Kant in the context of what Fr Stephen has written in this article. What is it that you wish to see among the Orthodox in this context?

    I’m asking this because of your statement:
    “All this to say that they mythical answer to Scott’s question on “how did we come to be in a story we can grasp?” is supplied to the modern scientist (and to a real extant, the wider pseudo-scientific cultural mind) by Kant…”

    Are you saying there is no well developed ‘Orthodox’ answer to Scott’s question?

    Since I don’t remember much of Kant, what does he say of the mythical that corresponds to what Fr Stephen describes? I suppose I might be called a “modern scientist” but I’m not sure I have been influenced so much by Kant–but I’m not sure because I just don’t remember.

    –I’m interested in your thoughts and Fr Stephen’s as well. Perhaps I’m reaching for something beyond me.

  17. Fact is not truth. Fact is merely observation. Myth is the Truth that underlies all facts. Myth is the Truth to which fact speak. Truth is a narrative, a story, an unfolding, not made up of various facts but of consequence and revelation.

  18. I want to de-lurk (I’ve been reading this blog about a year) and thank you all for the posts and the comments. You’ve been an education and there are too many moments of “blowing my mind” (in a good, inspirational way) with your writings to describe them all. Thank you and bless you all!

  19. Dee,
    In short, Kant held that everything can (and should) be explained through reason. Christopher is not endorsing Kant, but suggesting that Benedict’s suggestion fails to deal with the Kantian solutions beloved in modernity.

    I like Piaget, at least for his learning theory (we learn through play).

  20. Father, it is descriptions such as yours about Kant that directed me away from Kant. I have always known that his premise was simply incorrect.
    My parents taught me the authority of real myth and the supervening realty of the personal presence of the Divine in His Creation.
    The Church has shown me Jesus Christ.

  21. Michael,
    The title of one of Kant’s more famous treatises says it all: “Religion with the Limits of Reason Alone.” He is the quintessential Enlightenment philosopher. His “religion” would have been devoid of all miraculous and dogmatic elements – with only morality remaining. It’s Thomas Jefferson with a German accent and sophistication (also, very dense prose).

  22. Dee, Christopher, et al.
    Kant’s attempt at an answer is indeed widely accepted – but this is a diminishing consensus. I’m in the space-exploration side of academia, and there has been, even in the span of the last decade, a noticeable shift in the answer to our being in the story. The Kant-influenced answer is the emblem of steely-eyed, virtuous, missile men boldly exploring a rational cosmos. This is still the view of many outside of the NASA-sphere. Think “Apollo 13”, and the story was understood to be the usual Enlightenment narrative of a God-like Man exploring an ordered, reliable, world into which God didn’t poke a meddling nose.
    However, if you look over the recently funded missions at NASA, you will find a surprising focus on what I will label anti-myth (using anti- in the sense of antidoron, antichrist, antitype – in the place of, not necessarily the negation or repudiation of). This anti-myth is exactly the origin story of man and the cosmos, coupled with deliverance stories (from climate, and from asteroids, see the OSIRIS-REx and DART missions). It is a myth told as a myth, and the papers are written by astrobiologists, cosmologists, etc. Perhaps this is where the dig at ecology comes in – some even in Orthodoxy may swallow parts of this myth too easily, giving a deference to “scientists” who are actually acting as myth-makers. But the intent is to build up a mythos independent of God, using the tools of rational science. It is, I think, the toppling of the domino of “natural science” into the abyss of postmodern deconstruction/language/power games.
    The astute observations by Dino and Dee about the quantum and mathematical are where we very clearly meet the Logos in creation, and can see more than in other places how personal Truth is, pointing to Christ.
    Thank you all for your thoughts, much love in Christ,
    Mark

  23. Mark,
    Just hazzarding an observation. I think much of what drives the myth-makers in science is the result of a generation (or 2) nurtured in pop science fiction. Star Trek, for example, sort of took a few trends of modernity (multi-culturalism, for example) and spun a tale about a universe. That it is genuine make-believe makes no difference. The Christian roots of Western culture collapsed some time back, and we have been hungry for a narrative to support the various efforts of the modern project.

    Some years back in my Anglican days, I had a missionary from Nepal speaking to a large class in my parish. It was a very moving presentation. But, during the Q and A, a young woman (an engineer), challenged him for interfering with Nepalese culture. I realized as I listened to her argument that she had internalized the Prime Directive (non-interference with planetary cultures) as a moral norm for Christians. It was bizarre.

    Another example: I was in a doctoral seminar at Duke, in which we were reading various systematic theologies and critiquing them. One week we looked at the radical feminist, Rosemary Radford Ruether. The presenter read their paper which was on Reuther’s doctrine of God. When he finished, there was stunned silence in the room. After a minute or so, someone piped up and said, “That’s the force in Star Wars, isn’t it?” We laughed and moved on to the next paper.

  24. Dee & Father & Mark,

    Right. Benedict assumes the “Platonic element” leads to a question that can not be answered by the myth (which would then lead an inquisitive man to alternative myths such as Christianity), but Kant already shows us that the modernity’s myth ‘swallows up’ the Platonic element to which he refers. That’s what myths do. Modernity is a robust myth. Its origen/beginnings/genesis aspect, thus its story of man (anthropos) is very powerful. Lewis calls it “…one of the finest myths human imagination has yet produced” (in his essay “Is Theology Poetry?” collected in the book “The Weight of Glory” and elsewhere). The relationship between beginnings and ends (telos) is something modernity-as-myth is perfectly comfortable with, and Benedict is in a long line of Christians who have assumed that this is a point where the modern myth fails or is incomplete. Lewis had it right – this is actually where the modern myth is at its most powerful. Some in Orthodoxy (including leadership at the highest levels) are not even to the point where Benedict is, and they uncritically borrow this or that aspect of the modern myth and graft it haphazardly into a particular Christian story they are trying to tell around ecology, or human sexuality, etc. (to simply reinforce what Mark M. said).

    I have not thought about Piaget in a long time Dee, maybe since undergraduate days! Not sure how he fits in.

  25. Father,

    Your last post to Mark has me wondering if it will be moderninities failures on the moral plain (where it is weak compared to other myths – even Kant’s moral synthesis degenerates into a Rawlsian veil) that will be its *human* undoing, its wide *cultural* emptiness that will be filled with some other myth.

  26. Christopher,
    Interestingly, Lewis’ cites H.G. Wells as a major example of the scientific modern myth, even calling it “Wellsianity.” Wells, of course, is seriously dated now, having been succeeded by other pop fictions – as those I cited. But he looked to Science Fiction for the source of our mythology.

  27. Christopher,
    The incredibly ephemeral character of our present culture – riding on the rapid-fire blips of social media rage and outrage – makes it hard to draw careful observations and conclusions of how things will play out. This morning I’ve been musing on the death of the Republic. When the Roman Senate ceased to be effective, it gave way to tyranny – the rise of the Emperors. Thinking about the rather frequent use of executive orders over the past several presidents points to the fact that the legislative branch of government has ceased to be of any importance. It is little more than a tv show, a drama in which to parade reactions. It does not govern in any meaningful way. I was wondering whether that trend would increase, such that executive orders and national emergencies will simply become the normative manner of governance.

    All of that seems beside the point at first glance, but I think it is germane. The political narratives that drive the culture are amazingly thin and inadequate, regardless of party. It generally means that whenever we engage in political conversations, we have agreed to be silly.

    Grand schemes like a manned mission to Mars, for example, is largely a result of people imagining us to be living in the early years of Star Trek. Removed from that narrative, it is pretty much a silly effort, representing nothing more than symbolism – like planting the American flag on the Moon. In point of fact, apart from the fragile, incredibly miraculous environs afforded by the, perhaps unique, situation of the planet on which we live, space is utterly hostile and toxic to living things. It’s like saying, “Let’s go live in a pit of poison!”

    I remember some of the Monty Python sketches where, in lieu of an ending, a British officer walks into the scene demanding that the sketch end because it’s become too silly. I long for his visitation.

  28. Father,

    I got a hearty chuckle out of the imagery of the British officer walking in – how many of our conversations with acquaintances, with family, with parishioners at coffee hour call for this! 🙂

    On this present republic, before (and of course currently) the executive orders there was the modern Court filing in the vacuum. However, something happened around the turn to the present century where the legislative branch completely ossified and became full stop political theater. That said, underneath politics is culture, and underneath culture is religion. The disease of the republic is a religious problem, and I think the nexus is the the anthropological/moral revolution of the 20th century. So far, this God protected country has been relatively peaceful – were all too rich and fat to *suffer*, and the natural conservatism of our three branch design has suppressed the worst of it. How long?

  29. Oh, I meant to comment on the Science Fiction – yes! It’s place as the mythopathy of the modern age/mind is too little appreciated.

  30. “the legislative branch of government has ceased to be of any importance.”

    Incumbents can’t rally troops with solved problems.

  31. Mark,
    There’s always a counter-myth, a pretty satanic one if we’re honest. Individuals who would like to debunk eternal principles – Truth – and replace that with some Grand mover/anti-myth that has an ostentatious aura (like H G Wells mentioned above) to avoid the embarrassment of what Lewis exposes as ‘nothing but our impulse desires’ (in The Abolition of Man) love to work towards its creation.
    The chaff will continue to grow as always. The wheat needs to just nourish itself rather than concern itself with the chaff. The more we do this (in and through our bonding with grace), the less reasons to worry do we find, whereas the more we don’t (in our concern with the “chaff”), the more worry, dark interpretation, and difficulty in seeing God’s secret hand overcomes us.

  32. Thinking about the rather frequent use of executive orders over the past several presidents points to the fact that the legislative branch of government has ceased to be of any importance.

    I would think that, rather than saying it has ceased to be of any importance, we might say that it has ceased to be effective in any meaningful manner. The nature of political gridlock is that the Legislative Branch simply no longer works. Presidents are damned by the party with which they are associated and voting is primarily along party lines. Executive Orders are the only manner in which anything, if it is even mildly contentious, gets “done” in our government (even if they only last until the next election).

  33. The master of English mythopoetic writiing is George MacDonald. He also had a huge influence also on Lewis’s Christian vision, although he is less well known than Tolkien. . MacDonald was also a major contributer in my own move toward Orthdooxy. The Wise Woman (or a Double Story), The Curdie stories, and his Unspoken Sermons prepared me for falling in love with Patristic theology and our liturgical hymnography.

  34. I think it was somewhere in this blog that it was pointed out that we now live in a culture built around shame. One is either with the group or against; there is no middle ground. I see this being acted out in our government.

  35. [This comment is way beside the point of conversation here, so please forgive.]

    “The Mythic Character of Reality” was one of the things that drew me to Orthodoxy. But I couldn’t have described it as such at the time. I only knew there had to be ‘something more”… that I was greatly missing something. It was not only the church I was in that was blind to the reality of myth, but my entire upbringing in this culture. Neither at home nor in school were we encouraged to engage the classics in music, literature, poetry, or the arts. As a result, it takes not a small amount of effort to comprehend “myth” and its relation to our existence. I find much of the liturgical writings and that of the Fathers so very helpful. I find it gripping.

    As I follow this post and read the comments, I am keenly aware of my lack in this area. I was embarrassed. I deleted a comment earlier today where among other things I mentioned that I never read Tolkien, nor the classics. Instead I just went over to my icons and prayed for some clarity in this area that would help me better understand, in the long run, You. I also confessed my embarrassment and (ugh) self-pity.
    And here is the point of the story…
    So I went to town and on the way back stopped at the thrift store. I was rummaging through a couple of boxes of books that had not been shelved yet. And what do I come across but an old hardcover – World Masterpieces – 1700 pages of the classics….and then, Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Two Towers. I’m like, “Oh!”
    I dare not have said anything else, thought anything else, like ‘well this means this or that’…but I just thanked God. A lot…
    God is good…

  36. I’ve just arrived back on the blog after a long day and haven’t had time to read through carefully yet. But before this thread gets much longer and after I’ve time to read carefully, I just wanted to thank Mark, Christopher and Fr Stephen for your responses and lively commentary. My first guffaw happened when I read Fr Stephen’s account of the missionary’s questioner and the Prime Directive followed by the memory of the feminist paper and The Force. I heard from someone the franchise has been rebooted on television. I don’t understand how it keeps going. But I don’t have much to do with the comics movie culture either.

    I’m going to have to think more about the ‘anti-mythic’ character of the current proposals in NASA that Mark talks about. Mark’s interpretation is very perceptive but I think the phenomena went under my own ‘radar’. (I’m not in the field) I appreciate your bringing this up Mark! Very helpful.

    Christopher, the prof of that taught Kant, wasn’t happy with me when I wrote a critical paper on Kant. He assured me I will not get a passing grade in the course unless I was more favorable (seriously!). Anyway all I remember was I didn’t do what he wanted, more by accident than on purpose.

    Thank you Fr Stephen, Christopher’s and Mark for explanations and examples. I needed a better understanding and appreciate your patience with me. I haven’t been much of a ‘literary’ person over the years–to my detriment. But I’m slowly working on that.

  37. Dee,
    I have a parishioner in seminary (well I have 2 such). When the first was speaking with the Archbishop to get his blessing to attend, he asked Vladyka what he should do over the next year in preparation. The Archbishop said, “Don’t read theology. You’ll get plenty of that. Read good literature.” I’ve read similar comments in Schmemann. I also know that Fr. Seraphim Rose often urged catechumens and new Orthodox to read good literature. I’ve learned almost as much (or more) from reading Dostoevsky (in depth) as I have from theology itself. What we seek, in a fashion, is the formation of the heart. Sentiments are not entirely bad, particularly if they are properly shaped. I think that is something that comes from exposure. Many students, finishing high school, admit that they have never actually read a whole book. Many books in the classical “canon” are no longer taught. The educational establishment wants to create a different set of sentiments. It seems to be working – as we produce “men without chests” (in Lewis’ phrase).

    Things that should be felt as utterly revolting barely register anymore. You cannot have a conversation with someone whose sentiments are so foreign to your own. You never know what to say to them.

  38. Nor am I an enemy of science, Father, but the science to date does not at all prove the theory of evolution. Have you read this particular work of Fr. Seraphim Rose? Like your own critiques of modernity, it has caused to re-think everything I thought I knew to be true.

  39. Fr Stephen I’ve downloaded and started reading Lewis’s book on Abolution of Man. And I know you have recommended a particular book by Dostoevsky and translation—which one— where should I begin?

    Indeed I agree and have made a similar comment recently about the difficulty of talking to someone who has such different sentiments. Thank you for you insights and guidance.

  40. I appreciate the blog and applaud its conclusions, even though it misspells “Digory” and misquotes him. He actually says, “It’s all in Plato, all in Plato; bless me, what do [in italics] they teach them at these schools!”

  41. When I studied in England I often walked by the college where CS Lewis taught and visited the pub where the Inklings gathered. I took a poetry tutorial and a class on Christian Mystacism. Some lines I wrote during those months of deep loneliness

    “Event narrative
    I am plainly given fact
    hard sustinance of reality
    hungry for more.
    Unfed, unfettered
    narrative unsheltered
    boundless possibilities hindered by words
    and promises
    unseeing
    lost in dreaming
    of shelter,
    water,
    words meaning more”

    God work deeply for my salvation during those months.

  42. I feel the yearning Nicole in your poetry. And these thoughts your words convey seem all the more salient because of where and when you wrote them. Thank you for your openness to share these ‘words meaning more’.

  43. Paula, as you simply express what touches you ! it opens in me a smile of tenderness, because I understand very much what you express …
    The most important thing is not what is lacking in our literary knowledge but what is lacking in our heart to welcome the love of God in fullness ; The Lord gives what we need, in his time.
    I lost a lot, but very much, the memory of what I had read when I was a librarian in adult literature and youth, when Faith and Orthodoxy seized me, I then plunged in the scriptures and the books of prayer and a little theology. It’s as if I fall into a huge field filled with multicolored flowers that were pulling me to the sky. I stay in this field because I can not and do not even want to leave …. But I really appreciate the diversity and the wealth of thoughts and knowledge, and especially the Faith, which unfolds on the blog, that I can collaborate or not … Your presence Paula participates singularly in this quality.

  44. Damon,
    Thanks for the head’s up. The quote was working from an aging memory. As to the spelling (which I’ve corrected), I remember a quote from Andrew Jackson, “I have little respect for a man who can only spell a word one way.” Thanks!

  45. Esmee,
    I have only skimmed the work. It is worth noting that he did not see fit to publish it in his lifetime. It was edited and published well after his death. There are many things in his critiques that I would agree with. However, I am not nearly well-enough schooled in science to judge the accuracy or saliency of that part of his work. A lot of ink has been spilled on the topic. I prefer not to get into it on the blog. I fear we would largely be speaking in ignorance. That scientific theory can be constructed with poor narratives is obvious. The author of the River of Fire (Kalomiros) wrote a series of articles refuting Fr. Seraphim’s treatment of the Fathers on the topic of creation. It is, for me, not the place that I choose to raise my battle flag.

  46. Esmee, et al
    Just a few more clarifying thoughts. Christians are not evolutionists, in the Darwinian sense, nor are we historicists. We believe in the Providence of God. The work of Providence, particularly as the Orthodox understand it, is an everywhere present reality, filling all things and working all things together towards God and His good will. We get many glimpses of His Providence. However, when we stare closely at any one thing, Providence often becomes not as clear. It is not “obvious” in the objective sense. I have no doubt whatsoever that where we are and everything about us is the result of God’s providence. That is a much better narrative than pure evolutionism. But that providence might be at work in every mechanism of creation is undoubted.

    That there are mechanisms within creation is obvious, however. I think Christians should keep their thoughts on the work of Providence and how God makes Him known in that. It is a good common ground that admits of plenty of wonder.

  47. “As myth transcends thought, Incarnation transcends myth.”

    Indeed. Instead of history as a meeting point with Christ, it too often becomes the thing in itself and the outward forms (or, rather, our modern thoughts about them, be they positive or negative) become everything (or nothing). Soon, we lose Tradition and are left merely with a few “traditionalists” (who are nothing of the sort) and a ton of liberals—all of whom miss the point, albeit in [very slightly] different ways.

    Byron,

    I think you are closer in your assessment of the US political situation—it is easy to reduce things too quickly, too easily, when there are a lot of factors at play. But even the executive order idea is a media-constructed narrative: the last administration in the US issued the fewest number of executive orders (per time in office) since the 1800s!

    Christopher,

    I really enjoyed a more recent “Inkling”, JK Rowling. Harry Potter is light enough for children to breeze through yet surprisingly deep. John Granger’s books (he’s Orthodox), such as “How Harry Cast His Spell”, were *very* formative for me years ago and that is probably one of the easiest approaches I can think of for teaching about myth. Once you start to see it in Harry Potter, you begin to see it elsewhere—the books are not so much an analysis on the novels as they are a guide to reading Christian literature (and seeing creation) mythologically, symbolically, allegorically, and ultimately Christologically.

    And that is really where we have to fight the battle—with and in Christ. We can’t fight modernity using modernity. We can’t get to Truth by repeating or even dissecting lies. We have to be careful lest we see Kant, or the dialectic, or anything else everywhere. The Holy Spirit is everywhere—we need to see Him. And we have to point to Him not just intellectually but in our actions and behaviors.

  48. Fr Stephen,
    I frequently become weary of arm chair scientists who expound on fields they have never worked/lived/studied. It is a frequent occurrence in blogs where opinions become the source of concepts that have less to do with science and more to do with cultural trends. (I get lured into such conversations a lot without having to go on blogs to read them)

    Critique of science is welcomed always. It’s necessary actually. Just the same it ought be informed. And the bar for that seems to be extremely low.

    Much critique, especially that in the blogosphere —the back and forth of argument of ‘what science or scientists say’ has context within western culture spirituality. Positioning science theories as rebuttals to God and life in Christ has its origins in this culture rather than in the practice of science, itself. The culture infuses into science. The discussion to create such divisions among people for and against science is frequently polemic. I work hard not to engage in such discussion but I fail.

    All I can say is that I thank God for your wisdom, charity and humility. Your composure is something I try to emulate but with far less capacity. I’ll need to work on that.

  49. Dee & Paula & Nicole,

    From the science fiction genre “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang. It’s a creative mediation on persons (human and alien), language and its relationship to the deep seemingly futile structures of the universe (i.e. physical laws, time and their fatalistic character). No shooting or space battles! It’s a love story in the end, the good kind of love story – love as *the* meaning of everything. They made a movie out of it which I have not seen but I was told it did not capture the essence of the story.

    Joseph,

    Up until recently I was reading to my 10 year old daughter George MacDonald. On the fly translation of archaic english keeps me awake 😉 Last month or so however have been taken up with Harry (& a Hogwarts themed birthday party). Thankfully my wife likes Rowling and has taken nighttime reading duty. I have no philosophical problem with Rowling, I just don’t subjectively care for it. I am looking forward to starting the Hobbit with her soon. I was slightly older than her when a family member read the Hobbit to me and it is one of my formative childhood memories. Thanks for the reference of John Granger, I will check him out. Sounds like he does what Jonathan Pageau does around teaching/explaining myth and symbolism to a modern, largely literal /nominalistic audience (Orthodox or not).

    I read about Papadiamandis, “Greece’s Dostoevsky”, earlier in the week so I ordered Constantinides’ translation of “Tales from a Greek Island” and it came yesterday. I read the first story before falling asleep last night. I am wondering if “Greece’s Flannery O’Connor” is not more accurate.

  50. Dee,
    “My composure.” I generally try to do my ranting and raving offline, with occasional lapses that usually require that I later edit and delete my own comments. I am easily subject to shame (I make no pretense otherwise. That makes debate and difficult exchanges very difficult to navigate. We quickly lose sight of things are begin to speak out of our pain. The delete button is my friend.

  51. Fr. Stephen, “That there are mechanisms within creation is obvious”
    I am not sure that this is as obvious as you think. Many ancient cultures see all the movements of creation as being the result of some living will – the gods, etc. . Many Fathers of the Church also see creation this way except that it is God’s will along with angels – both fallen and righteous, and men’s will that is the cause of all movement in the universe. Even in modern science Schrodinger’s theory gives us a glimpse that we do not live in a purely mechanistic universe. That there are intrinsic impersonal mechanisms built into creation itself that are the cause of some movements is something that only became “obvious and indisputable”with the rise of the scientific mindset. If a mechanistic view seems obvious to us, and if it seems strange that all movements should come from some living will, I would say this is culturally formed. One of the greatest theologians of all time, St Maximos the Confessor, sees the foundational movement of creation coming from the logoi of each nature. The logoi are God’s will for each created thing. It is up for debate though whether he saw these logoi as instrinsic in each nature or whether they are due to the living presence of God in creation. This question is probably like asking if a body can function without the life of the soul interpenetrating it. The soul interpenetrates and enlivens every nerve and atom of the body, it is not just a “mind” that directs the body like someone would an independent connected organism. Added to or along with this is movement of the logoi of nature is that which comes from the free will of rational creatures. The secular mindset though sees any perfectly consistent movement of nature or anything that can be predictable or mathematized an impersonal law of nature and anything that is not perfectly consistent it classifies as coming from a creaturely will. However, God is incorruptible and perfectly consistent. How can we know whether what is perfectly consistent is an impersonal mechanism built into creation or the presence of God? Are miracles an interruption to or change to mechanisms built into creation, or are miracles more like how a mother might serve dinner like clockwork at 6pm, but on occasions this is changed because of a need in the family? maybe miracles are not God interrupting or changing inbuilt mechanisms, but simply God who is present everywhere and filling all things, acting differently. It has to do with the cause of the movements we see. Are they from God, or do they come from impersonal mechanisms?

  52. The comments on this thread may have run their course but I can’t help not joining. Fr. Stephen has commented before on reading good literature. I’ve even asked questions in those posts about what good literature is. I’m no closer to an answer really but have concluded at least one thing. There is an ocean of what most would probably agree is good literature. One can’t sail all the open waters, so why not hang around a place you enjoy?

    Dostoyevsky makes my head spin and I just don’t understand him. I wish I were so smart and could speak about the deep stuff. I love LOTR and can read it over and over again and actually enjoy it and enjoy discussing it. I feel that inner longing Fr. mentions and while I do know that trees don’t talk and walk they are indeed alive and I trust their wisdom!

  53. Christopher thank you! I’ve written these suggestions down. But in your last critique what elements are you using for comparison between Dostoevsky and OConnor?

  54. Anna I think you misunderstood Fr Stephen. You’ve selected words out of context and amplified them.

  55. Dear Helene thank you for your kind words. You speak to the child in me who needs such reassurance. You are right to say that the most important thing in life is a heart open to the love of God. Really, all else flows from there.

    Dee…”Positioning science theories as rebuttals to God and life in Christ has its origins in this culture rather than in the practice of science, itself.” So true. Brad Gregory addresses this well in his book. So instead of unity, there is division. Thank you Dee. Your insight is of value as are the questions you pose.

    Christopher…thanks for recommending Chiang’s book. Just ordered it!

    Father…if not for your composure, then I thank you for your genuineness and humility. You do not put yourself above your readers. I too am very easily subject to shame. Not only does it make conversation difficult, but it is not even on track. If I allow it to fester, it completely clouds my mind. Your work here has shown me how to address these issues, most importantly, with a ‘disposition’ toward Christ. I am very grateful. Couldn’t do without all the comments, either. As Robert said “One can’t sail all the open waters, so why not hang around a place you enjoy?”. Well, here we be!

  56. Anna,
    “Mechanism” was a poor choice of words for me. I meant simply, “something at work.” A modern slip of the tongue. My own thoughts are very much along the lines of St. Maximus, upon whom it would be difficult to improve.

  57. Reading your comments always bring joy and edification Paula. You too are one I wish to emulate. God’s grace is in you. Thank you for your comment regarding shame. It is a reminder for us (actually specifically for me, indeed) to be gentle.

  58. Sorry but I will mention one more thing before I get back to work:

    Christopher I just read that author, Ted Chang, studied linguistics for 5 years before writing the story. I’m impressed by this effort to flesh out a character. Now I’m hooked.

  59. Dee,

    in the past Fr Stephen has recommended the translations by R. Pevear and L. Volokhonsky, husband and wife translating team. As one who has done a small bit of translating (German to English), I can attest that it is difficult and time-consuming work and requires much skill and deep background study to get things “right”, so I’m kind of picky 🙂 I read “Brothers Karamazov” in their translation and was impressed with the clarity and flow. Not sure if they have translated “Crime & Punishment” yet, but I think their plan is to work through the whole Dostoyevski opus. Katz’s new translation of C&P is supposed to be good.

    Dana

  60. Dee,

    Papadiamandis so far in the one story I read parrelled O’Connor in his very honest but sympathetic take of a particular people in their time and place. His characters are utterly transparent in their brokenness and sin, exaggerated even, but only just. Their Christianity floats in and around their story, but they are aware of it in in a largely unconscious way, and there are aspects of their character which seem hardly touched at all by it. The story, the narration, the dialog – all of it is pointing to this dichotomy. Sin and death is thrust forward in the story, and the “moral” of the story is about this sin and death. All this Dostoyevski does in his own way, but he lacks the terseness, efficiency, the “to the point” of someone who can spin a good campfire yarn IMO. Hope that helps…

  61. I wholeheartedly recommend the Peavar/Volkhonsky translation of Crime & Punishment. It will make your heart race.

    And to Joseph, indeed, we must first of all see “Christ… in the features of men’s faces” (Hopkins), and concern ourselves with our own repentance and love of our nearest neighbors, whoever those be. In that spirit, after my last comment, I went and laid a 15″ culvert with my kids’ help. “Do not despise the day of small things”, as the returned exiles in ruined Jerusalem were reminded…

    In Christ,
    Mark

  62. From myth … to Miracle.
    I allow myself this little jump maybe qualitative …. and certainly it is off topic … but I risk myself anyway …
    We had the visit recently, in the metochion of Simonos Petra in south of France, of the Hebrew the geronda Elisha who spoke to us, among others, the miracle, the small miracles that occur in the existence, in fact, the divine reality at work in the imperceptible breath of ordinary life.
    We had some very edifying examples and the one that marked the beginning of the year at Simonos Petra happened this year, the day of the Nativity of the Lord. It had snowed a lot on Mount Athos (1 meter 50) and for several days any means of communication was cut with the other monasteries.
    There is a monk who lives alone in a small house near the harbor, at the very bottom of the monastery. It was impossible to move in this height of snow, without a path, at the risk of falling into a crevasse …. Well, at the beginning of the Vigil of the feast, here he comes to the church, the radiant face telling another father that he had felt incredible strength in all his person, who had made him cross the snow and brought here and that he was even ready to start again ! All were happy to see him !
    Listening to the Elise Geronda, citing other examples of miracles that occur regularly, even those that are imperceptible, we were all inhabited by something indefinable that expands the present, changes the eye, and stimulates prayer so that the Holy Spirit finds its place in the reality of each day ….
    Forgive me for these steps aside…

  63. Helene…thank you for the blessed “aside”! There is nothing too small or a day too mundane for God not to reveal His glory! I can imagine how uplifted that monk must have felt (literally…through the snow!)…and the others who greeted him!
    I can sit and listen to these stories all day and night and not tire. How nice it must have been to hear them!

  64. Hey Dana!!
    Thank you and Mark for your endorsement of the translations of Dostoevsky. I’ll purchase those! And thank you Christopher for your explanation. It’s very helpful and now intrigues me to want to read O’Connor!

    Very beautiful story, Helene. Thank you– it is indeed relevant. ‘The mythic’ (miracles) is part of daily life for the faithful who see God’s Providence in all things.

  65. Dear Helene,
    Thank you for relating the story of the Simonopetra father who trekked through the snow! It’s very inspirational and heartwarming for someone like me, who lives in MN, where we are experiencing record snow falls this February – it was already given the name “snownami” in the news! 🙂
    By now, it can become depressing to see more snow out the window and to think “I have to go shovel it again…!? aargh!”

    But with this story of a Simonopetra Father, I may be able to at least smile first 🙂

    If Father Stephen would allow me also an “aside”, I wanted to share with the readers of this blog my joy of delivering the money collected through the online fundraiser to the Abbess of the monastery (and orphanage) in Athens. Several of you gave generously and I took the cash directly to the monastery on my trip (I’m still in Greece now, the visit in Mati happened last Friday).
    The Abbess was so kind, grateful and loving. She especially spent a long time looking at all the names of the people on the donors list. She will pray for all of us, and she also sent some small “blessings” for me to give out, so for those who’s contact info I have, please expect a little something in the mail later. 🙂

    And for those who may want to “join the list”, please consider giving. The needs there are enormous! All these months later (the fires were last July), the monastery is nowhere near restored, no buildings were reconstructedyet, only a few nuns returned to live onsite, while others together with the children live in temporary arrangements elsewhere. The sights of the fire devastation are heartbreaking (I will add photos to the update on the GoFundMe page when I return and can do it on the computer).

    I thought I would stop the solicitating and the collection effort after the visit to Athens, but I have decided to continue. Even if just a few people offer an occasional $5, it will add up with time. And it will make a enormous real difference in rebuilding of the life of the monastery.

    So if you are reading these words here and now, and you have not yet offered your small gift, please consider it. In our Lenten effort we are called not only to prayer and fasting, but also to gifts and deeds of charity, to His Glory!
    I’m offering you a very worthwhile cause and opportunity 😉

    Thank you, Agata

  66. Dino, (I allow myself a little personal parenthesis …)
    Since you had asked me to greet Father Theotokis on your behalf, I did not fail to do so, but with desolation he told me that he lost much of the memory of the people he met on the Mount Athos ; he has been at the metochion in France for more than 10 years now, for several constructions including a Roman-Byzantine church with the stones of the region which is now finished; a wonder ! but he makes regular visits to Simonos Petra ! I have seen Father Theotokis many times since then, but his memory has been solicited by many things lately ! Forgive him, but you are surely in his heart, because he is tall and very generous ….

  67. Hélène D.
    thank you very much. I am sure there will be a chance to see him and rekindle old memories…
    You guys have a fire from Athos in the midst of you.

  68. Dear Agata….been thinking about you and your visit to Greece. Thank you for the update. Sounds like there has been many bittersweet moments.
    May God bless you all…

  69. Agata,
    Thank you so much Agata for what you have done! Yes, even small gifts are seen by God…the widow’s two copper coins. God in Christ richly bless you and in your travels keep you safe.

  70. Dear Paula and Dean,
    Thank you for your kind words and especially your encouragement all along in this difficult project. I have learnt a lot in the process, and have a much greater appreciation for anyone who undertakes fundraising efforts (especially for truly worthy causes – sadly, even a truly worthy cause is not a guarantee of the proportionate response).

    Thank you one more time for your gifts, may God return them in your own lives multiplied many many times.

    Agata

  71. As a child, in Lewis’s Narnia books, and then later in The Lord of the Rings, I encountered what I would call a “vision of beauty” — a way of looking at the world that was ancient, beautiful, hierarchical, structured — but also something more organic than the very mechanistic form of Evangelical Fundamentalism in which I was raised. That vision was suppressed at times by a very moralistic emphasis on “living the kind of life that God blesses,” but it never entirely died. I rediscovered it in early adulthood thanks to a return to Tolkien and Lewis, though this time to their more scholarly works: On Fairy Stories, which helped me find a place for story and song after I had very piously shut it out of my life for many years, and The Discarded Image and Mere Christianity, which reawakened within me a love for Christian doctrine and what Lewis called the “Medieval Model.” As a result of following these threads, which included an encounter with Chesterton’s Orthodoxy and Heresy and The Ballad of the White Horse, I began a love affair with Dante, medieval Thomism and Benedictine spirituality that still hasn’t entirely gone away. I even went to graduate school and got an advanced degree in medieval studies, doing my best to follow in Tolkien and Lewis’s footsteps.

    I say it was a love affair, but if it was then it was the most intellectual of love affairs. These things made me a better preacher and a better teacher (I was on staff at a Protestant church for 10+ years), but I am not sure if they really made me a better man. No, I’ll go farther–I know they did not. Beneath the veneer, I know that I was in bondage to secret sin and pride, and very frustrated by something I didn’t understand at the time, but which I know now to have been hunger for God and for beauty. As I said, all of these things got me to the door.

    What got me in through the door of the Church was really two things: the first was a series of encounters with Orthodox Christians over the years. These weren’t perfect people, but all of them possessed a quiet joy and humility, and a real seriousness about their own sin that was far beyond my experience. Whenever I tried to get to the bottom of what made these people tick, it always seemed the answer was their Orthodoxy. At the instigation of one of them, I ordered and read Fr. Schmemann’s For the Life of the World. Looking back, it seems my life turned a corner. I realized that the thing I longed for, the thing I had glimpsed in Narnia and The Lord of the Rings was really the joy of the Sacraments, not as technical categories as I knew them from Thomism, but the vivid joy of a God who reveals himself to us, who gives himself to us, who is no “unmoved mover,” but always moving toward us in the Chalice, in the Baptismal Waters–in everything. I read a lot of other contemporary books on the sacraments at that point, mostly by Roman Catholic authors, I even met and had a very long talk with a respected Roman Catholic theologian, but I did not find in any of them what I found in Schmemann’s simple little book.

    The second thing that got me in through the door of the Church was the Mother of God, together with St Seraphim of Sarov.

    During the period after I knew I couldn’t remain Protestant anymore, but before we’d decided to become Orthodox, I was given the little red prayer book put out by the Antiochian Church. I started using that with my family, and as a result, I started privately praying to the Mother of God. Without going into too many details here, her presence in my life and, I believe, her intercession on my behalf, radically changed my life, delivering me from struggles and depression I had thought I would have to bear my entire life.

    One of the first Orthodox saints I read about was St Seraphim of Sarov, via Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams, who called him a man “totally transparent to Jesus Christ.” Later, it transpired by “chance if chance you call it” (as Tolkien would say) that I attended my first Divine Liturgy at a church bearing his name, on the feast day of the opening of his relics. It was a weekday, and the congregation prostrated themselves for the “Our Father.” After some hesitation, I did too. I do not know what to say except that when I stood up again, I could not turn back. This was my first “relationship” with a saint other than the Theotokos; I do not doubt that St Seraphim was and is praying for me.

    For various reasons (namely trying to finish out my commitments to my old denomination in an honorable way) we were only able to officially become catechumens a couple of months ago, though we’ve been attending services and talking with our priests for several months. I do not know when we will be received into the Church. But I am both eager and at rest, knowing the joy that awaits me. It is Christ himself.

  72. Richard – Saint Seraphim brought me to the Church as well, through a book titled The Mountain of Silence by Kyriacos Markides. I eventually was baptized into Orthodoxy at a Church bearing his name which I still attend. I went through a very difficult period when I strayed away from the Church for a number of years, and Saint Seraphim brought me back to the Church again. It’s a very long story feom beginning to end, but suffice to say that I would not be Orthodox had it not been for the miraculous ways that Saint Seraphim has worked in my life.

  73. Fr. Stephen,

    Silence seems to be a theme in your writing of late. It keeps reminding me of this quote:

    The silence of eternity requires that the living should temper their speech. ~Fr. Anthony Masaala

  74. Fr. Stephen;

    There is a strain of thought in modern evangelical circles – not so much a doctrine as a supposal, that the messages to the various churches of that time which open the Revelation of St. John can also be mapped to the general character of – at least – the western church of various period of history; so the church of Ephusus, rebuked for forgetting ‘the love they had at first’, would represent the immediate post-apostolic age, Thyra the medieval church, Sardis a ‘dead’ church during the period of the Renaissance and Reformation, and so on( of course, including the Orthodox Church in this framework also works, in ways perhaps not intended by it’s proponents – especially if one views the Church of England as Orthodoxy’s estranged cousin in the west, who indeed had an open door during the Philledalphian’ ‘missionary age’ of the 19th and 20th centuries!) But the cautions and commendations to some churches( or ages, if one wishes) are of course to be found in every age, and might well fit alongside the rebukes given to churches to whom they are not included.

    All of which to say, relevant to the ‘loss of the mythic’, that I’ve often thought that the rebuke to Ephesus could be equally well applied the legacy of the early ‘Reformers’; the very passion with which they decried the Catholic church of their day also sometimes showed a callousness toward disagreement on some ‘recovered’ principle which they held, and another denomination did not, fueled a rejection of ‘sacred mystery’, drove division among communities which broke away from the church of Rome, and so left the west vulnerable to a Greek rationalism sprung forth from it’s sublimation under Byzantium, upon a western world of divided reformers and a Catholic Church that could no longer command the respect of much of the population; The great ‘necessary tragedy’ of the west that kicked off the humanist march of the modern world. It’s far easier to love God from a distance, than as an real and present Presence in every sphere of life, where there’s no room for the pride of anger of ‘We Are Right’!

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