Saturday, February 29, 2020

Chiasmic Supplications

Last week a friend of mine, who converted from Christianity (Lutheran) to Islam, asked me directly if I pray to Mary. I looked him straight in the eye and said "Yes, absolutely." He looked shocked by the content of my answer, yet somewhat refreshed by my clear and concise confidence in the appropriateness of such supplications.  He knew that my answer to his question was sincere and thoughtful. I didn't mince words. But I also was not interested in explaining what I meant by what I said, any more than he was interested in explaining what he meant by what he asked. He asked a simple question and I offered a simple answer. 

Praying to Mary means a lot of things to lots of different people. To me, it means something very specific, and very practical, because I believe Mary has been raised from death to eternal life, bodily. Mary may be an idol to one person, a imaginary goddess to another, or a celestial vending machine of favors to someone else. But she is not any of those to me. Moreover, I do not obsess over her willingness or ability to intercede for me. Nevertheless, awareness of her intercessions has become profoundly sensible to me. 

Her existence as both fully alive and fully human this very moment, I am persuaded that her eternal share in the Divine Life with our risen Lord changes everything. Being one whose continuous free will and faithful fiat provided for the definitive salvation of mankind, to be raised up to God for eternity, to rule and reign and intercede with God, it is not difficult to wonder at the great change God has brought to the world through her intercessions. (I also consider the many great Christians whom I know have been raised with Christ; but those are not the point of this post, so I will only focus on Mary for now.) Those who do not meditate on the reality of Mary, her virgin birth, her motherhood of one who now remains both fully human and God for eternity, her death, resurrection, and ascension, often do not appreciate prayers to Mary. Many cannot even imagine what prayer to Mary could or should look like, any more than they can imagine what death, resurrection, and ascension to eternal life really looks like right now. There are far too many cartoonish, futuristic, eschatological imaginations of intermediate existence interfering with interpretations of Holy Scriptures and their surrounding histories.

In this post, I want to sample one illustration from the life and liturgy of the Byzantine Church, to challenge contemporary cartoonish fears about prayers to the saints who are ruling and reigning with God. Below is a poem of Theodore the Studite, translated by Maximos Constas, and found in Mother of the Light: Prayers to the Theotokos. In this translation, three things are worthy of notice:

1) There are three people with free will who are invested in this sinner's prayer, and those who are raised with Christ have also become aids to those who are not yet raised, and are still working out their salvation with fear and trembling.

2) The pattern of prayer is one of ascent and return: the child of God petitions Mary, who in turn Petitions her Son, Who in turn advises and delegates to his mother, who in turn advises and directs the child of God. The pattern of each ode is also laid out as a chiasm: A, B, B', A' 

3) The salvation of the sinner depends upon the participation of the Theotokos in the life of God. Without Jesus's ascension to the right hand of the Father, Mary can do nothing. Jesus could theoretically do all without Mary, but He chooses not to, because he has raised up his mother to his side, to rule and reign with him among the Divine Council.2 The sinner could go directly to Jesus, and even should go directly to Jesus. But the mortal sinner of this poem is also free to express his faith in a Savior who has been raised up from the dead-ones in Hades, and has also raised up fallen Adam all the righteous saints with him, who were formerly held captive in Hades. He is therefore free to petition the risen, glorified saints --like Mary-- to intercede with Jesus that He grant this sinner great mercy. This is what I imagine occurs when supplications and petitions of the like (for mercy, forgiveness, favor, etc.) are offered to God and received through the intercessions of those whom He has already raised from the dead. 

Below is a poem expressing the possibilities surrounding such truths. My purpose in sharing this is simple: I hope this helps others recognize that prayer to (or with) Mary, the "God-Birther" (i.e. Theotokos), are not how Protestants imagine them to be. Protestants still might not be comfortable with this, but I am still confident that not many of them imagine prayer to (or with) Mary to be like the poem below. 

First Ode

O Container of the Uncontainable, entreat Christ to deliver me from the dreaded fire devoid of light, and show me forth as a sharer of His kingdom. 

Receive my entreaty, O Son and Word, and deliver from punishment your servant, who is crying out to me from the depth of his soul, and make him worthy of your kingdom. 

You, Mother, know that I am a font of mercies, for even at this very moment I am showing mercy to sinners who transgress my commandments. But this man severely provokes me by his shameful and evil deeds. 

By many disgraceful and shameful misdeeds you have provoked my Son. Thus, being greatly vexed by you, His compassion has been turned to wrath. 

Third Ode1

Truly I have squandered my whole life in evil deeds, and therefore I cry out to you: O pure Virgin, entreat your Son to call me back from sin and save me, just as He called back and saved the prodigal.

O Lord of all, who was ineffably born from my womb, take pity on your servant as on the prodigal long ago, and place him, O All-Good One, at your right hand on the Day of Judgment.

Hear me, O Mother, as I discerningly respond to you. The one who long ago spent his life in prodigality, returned in ardent repentance and cried: "I have sinned." But this man, even though he now cries out to you like this, will subsequently prove to be a liar. 

I told my Son the things you said, entreating Him to make you worthy of His kingdom. But He opposed me saying: He has not drawn near to me with ardent faith, and therefore I shall send him out from before my face."

Fourth Ode

Understanding your strength, O Virgin, I cry out to you in my hour of need, even if my repentance is not completely ardent. But by your supplications to the Master, grant me the complete amendment of my life. 

O Master, who by nature is God that loves mankind, hearken to your Mother who earnestly cries out to you, and deliver your servant from condemnation. And if he does not possess perfect faith, I beg you, as God, to give it to him. 

O Mother, I have given him every opportunity to be saved, but he does not cease sinning and now draws near to death. And this is why no man can be saved unless he passes through the fire. 

I now know you to be, as my Son said, the cause of your own perdition, because you have completely surrendered to sin, and have entirely given yourself over to slothfulness. Who shall now raise you from the place to which you have fallen?

Fifth Ode

O Virgin, I long to walk always on the path of repentance leading me to eternal life, but immediately the grim ranks of demons drag me down and seek to cast me headlong into an abyss of sin, and into the harrowing pit of perdition. 

O Savior, you first put death to death, and then freed Adam from his bonds. Therefore, I implore you, my Son: pluck this man from the hands of the demons who afflict him, because they have never let him repent. 

O Mother who is praised by all, I too cry aloud to you: It is by prayer and fasting that the multitude of wicked demons will be driven out of him. But he has not cleansed his body by abstinence, prayer, and chastity, and thus, alas, has become a cave of devils. 

Listen well to the words of my Son, and understand what needs to be done. When the disciples had not the strength to drive out the evil spirits, He cried to them saying: "This kind of devil is driven out by prayer and fasting."

Sixth Ode

I am not rich with words, and am poor in virtues. I love neither to pray nor undertake fasts, O Bride of God. Therefore I seek refuge in you. 

Attend to me, my compassionate Son, for it is your Mother who implores you. The man running to me is devoid of good works and cries out to me: "I have no other hope but you, O Lady."

O Mother, who pleads so ardently, cease speaking on behalf of this man! For while he says that I am compassionate, he continues to defile himself, failing to see my wrath. 

On your behalf, I entreated my Son and God that you might obtain mercy. But he cried out to me to cease interceding for you to be saved. 

Seventh Ode

All my hope I place in you, O Lady, cast me not, the wretched one, into the pit of perdition. But return to your Son and cry out to Him: "Do not destroy the work of your hands."

O Master, since you are a sea of mercies without measure, I implore you to receive me yet again, for you alone are quick to reconcile, and so take pity on the work of your hands, O You who of old took pity on the woman of Canaan. 

I show mercy and save everyone who comes to me filled with longing, and I never want any of my creations to be destroyed. Indeed I was born from you in order to save them. But this man is very far from my works. 

My Son, eternal pre-existing as the Wisdom of the Most High God, became perfect man through me, in order to save those who, with ardent faith, preserve their divine baptism. But in this you have utterly failed. 

Eighth Ode

Taking courage I approach you, O Virgin, for I have seen your Son saving the harlot and the thief. They had done no good works under the law, and performed no good deeds in life, yet they both obtained forgiveness. 

Look down from the heights and hearken to your Mother, for I entreat you to deliver your servant from the fire, just as you formerly delivered the harlot, and on your Cross redeemed the thief. 

The thief who long ago hung upon the Cross cried out in faith: "Remember me." And, again, the harlot poured forth streams of tears. But this man is not like them. 

Christ saved the weeping harlot, likewise the thief on the Cross, who showed faith in Him. If you desire to attain the Bread of Life, then run to the Lord with tears and faith. 

Ninth Ode

O Maiden, I have shown myself a greater sinner than all other men, therefore I am ashamed to approach your Son. But I beg you to implore Him to take pity on me, and to receive me drawing near to Him with ardent faith and longing.

O Word, deliver your servant, who draws near to you, from punishment. I implore you: Remember not his transgressions. For though he sinned, O Savior, he turned to me for refuge and I entreat you. Through me receive this man, for you fulfill the petitions of all. 

O Mother, he is not worthy to take refuge in your mercy, for no man has provoked my wrath as much as he. But by your precious prayers, I will not punish him on the Day of Judgment if he brings me fruits of repentance. 

Though you were in the depth of Hades, through my prayer and intercessions you have been raised up to the heights to my Son. See that you do not fall back into your former grievous sins. Depart, and stay on the path of repentance, lest you be cast down into gehenna. 

1. There is no second ode in this canon.
2. For those interested in learning more about the Biblical view of the Divine Council, see this post

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Bring our repentance

Nineveh, the trading vessel that is suffering shipwreck and has despaired of all life, cry out and ask the deliverer of all to extend his right hand to you; for I who govern you am not heard, for the errors of all appear only in me. Therefore, cry out; perhaps he is persuaded by your prayers and he bends all the more to your tears. Weep, O bride, weep, O young men, weep, youth together with virgin, old men and infants, in the presence of the Lord, let us bring our repentance.1

1.  Mellas, Andrew. Hymns of Repentance: Saint Romanos The Melodist (Popular Patristic Series Book 61). Saint Vladimirs Seminary Press. Kindle Edition. 

Monday, February 24, 2020

Millennial Haiku

Alarm goes off again—
Toes touch the floor
Checks Facebook

Fifty six notifications? 
What the ef?
I hate being tagged 

What is there to eat?
Nothing much
I’ll just go to the drive thru

What should I wear?
Looks pensively
at options 

Have my phone
Have my keys
Do I have everything? 

Pocket vibrates—
What is it now?
Long exhale

Turns into parking lot
F***ing asshole
I was here first 

I’ll have two number two meals
Each with a large coffee
With four creams added

Checks Twitter
Presses heart

Have a nice day
Thanks, you too
Idiot forgot to add cream

Almost there
Better late than never
Checks Facebook

Where am I?
You’re in the hospital
Where’s my phone?

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Optimizing Trust

Investigating “Science” is not the problem
All these academics and graduates
Specialists and sub-specialists
Those with certificates and those on their way
Quoting each other supportively
Creating this illusion of incontrovertibility
Scientizing all philosophies of problem solving
Problematizing all solutions that are anti-Science
Democracy is the greatest threat to hegemony
When women are valued more than men, equality is achieved
Wetdreams of Hitlerian Brexits are why foreign nations need our policing
If you don’t want to be expurgated, don’t believe the wrong things
Intersectionality proves that translesbian prostitutes are unjustly marginalized
Whiteness has proven itself to be rape, with the exception of Zionists
Eratosthenes’ sticks proved the sphericity of life two thousand years ago
Mark’s little apocalypse proves that the end was not near
Bezos and Musk prove Capitalism to be the enemy of Socialism
Warren’s crosshairs on Big Pharma prove she can’t be bought
Racism equalling prejudice+plus+power proves the dictionary wrong
Non-binary vegan activists prove the patriarchy needs smashing
For the best sex, we need to approve medicare for all
For the best results, make sure you’re fully vaccinated
Utterly pampered idiots infantilizing all investigation into the problem

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Ponderings of 4 Ezra (part one?)

In the apocalyptic message of 4 Ezra 7:26-36, an angelic messenger of YHWH tells Ezra the scribe that there will come a future day when Israel’s Messiah will manifest himself to Israel for the first time and bring final judgment upon Israel. Michael E. Stone’s translation1 reads:

For behold, the time will come, when the signs which I have foretold to you will come, that the city which now is not seen shall appear, and the land which now is hidden shall be disclosed. 

And everyone who has been delivered from the evils that I have foretold shall see my wonders. 
For my Messiah shall be revealed with those who are with him, and he shall make rejoice those who remain for four hundred2 years. 
And after these years my son the Messiah shall die, and all who draw human breath.
And the world shall be turned back to primeval silence for seven days, as it was at the first beginnings; so that no one shall be left.
And after seven days the world, which is not yet awake, shall be roused, and that which is corruptible shall perish. 
And the earth shall give back those who are asleep in it, and the dust those who rest in it; and the treasuries shall give up the souls which have been committed to them. 
And the Most High shall be revealed upon the seat of judgment, and compassion shall pass away, mercy shall be made distant, and patience shall be withdrawn; but only judgment shall remain, truth shall stand, and faithfulness shall grow strong. And recompense shall follow, and the reward shall be manifested; righteous deeds shall awake, and unrighteous deeds shall not sleep. 
Then the pit of torment shall appear, and opposite it shall be the place of rest; and the furnace of Gehenna shall be disclosed, and opposite it the paradise of delight. 
Modern scholars like Michael Stone typically assign 4 Ezra to a late first century composition or redaction. That means it's another example of vaticinium ex eventu. My purpose in sharing this is plain and simple: It illustrates a clear expectation of first century fulfillment, and in doing so it illustrates that the late first century author/redactor thought of such events as already being fulfilled in the first century. Below is a summary of the text above. 

The author begins with a statement about signs of events that "will come." That, in and of itself, indicates that by the time the audience is reading this work of vaticinium ex eventu, they could safely conclude that such signs had already come to pass as promised.

The author continues:

>The city (of God) which now is not seen (because of Babylonian captivity) is promised to finally appear (Rev 21: 1-2)
>Evils have been foretold, and those of Israel who live through such evils will see God's wonders
>The Messiah of God shall be revealed to that generation of survivors
>Those who remain with God's Messiah will rejoice
>After those years, God's Messiah (and son) will die alongside mortal human beings
>For seven days the cosmos will turn back to primeval silence, as in the Genesis one creation narrative
>After that type of new creation silence, those who had died in the cosmos will awake from their sleep, and shall face judgment
>Treasuries of souls shall rise up to face God, where the Most High God (the Messiah of God) will be revealed upon God's seat of judgment
>The final judgment of God will ensue; rewards and punishments will finally be delivered.

When will that dreaded "day of judgment" be? The answer is obvious in context (i.e. within that generation of the Messiah's death), but just to be doubly-clear, Ezra asks at the end of the same chapter, and receives this answer: 

...the day of judgment will be the end of this age, and the beginning of the immortal age to come, in which corruption has passed away...3

Some ambiguity still remains. Does the reference to "this age" refer to Ezra's  immediate generation, or to the age of exile in which the vision takes place, or to the age in which the Messiah was promised to come? The text doesn't explicitly say, but I think it's safe to consider that the only option that doesn't make sense is if it referred to Ezra's immediate generation. 

With all of this in mind, here are some thoughts I had while studying passages like these: 

1) Why do modern scholars and Christians think that such passages are describing a resurrection and "final judgment" in our future? 

2)  Assume this prophecy is "real" (whatever that means to you): Why would Ezra the scribe reveal future cataclysmic events that would certainly take place in a single generation of the Messiah, and yet actually mean those events would take place thousands of years afterward, at some alleged "end of time," as Christians today presume?

3)  Assume this prophecy is not "real," but was (as scholars insist) composed in line with a scribal tradition of thought about "the end" of the world, shortly after the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70: Why would a scribe write about such topics as the resurrection of departed souls and the final judgment of the dead as coinciding with the generation of the Messiah? 

I have been studying the literature of second temple Judaism for a very long time, and although I am by no means a certified expert in the field, I have enough experience to know that these kinds of questions in our generation are not entertained and are not popular. Indeed, the last hundred years of Christian scholarship has either bypassed serious consideration of first century fulfillment  altogether or has deflected attention of the resurrection and final judgment away from the first century and punted that topic into our future, to be fulfilled thousands of years after such literature was written!

I think all of that is a shame. That is why, in a future post (or series of posts) I will be writing about many scholars (mostly German) who worked on the "apocalyptic" texts of the New Testament (especially the Olivet Discourse) and yet bypassed or deflected their first century fulfillment as I described a moment ago. Most Christians over the last hundred years read New Testament statements about resurrection and "final judgment" and assume that they must have been describing events in our future, thousands of years after the historical context in which they were written. So here I am, pointing out the obvious: why assume that? 

I have shown very clearly, and in numerous places (here, here, here, and here), that such is not what the New Testament describes at all. Moreover, if Christians are to treat the New Covenant witness of Old Covenant fulfillment seriously, the popular "already-but-not-yet" paradigm doesn't end up holding water. That paradigm fails miserably in light of linguistic and typological consistency. What doesn't fail at all is complete first century fulfillment. The problem with believing that is that such concepts appear to be too radical, and people are so damn lazy in the way they research claims that alarms of "heterodoxy" and "heresy" immediately start sounding off in people's minds once they take a cursory glance at it's content, and quickly the noise becomes too much of a sensory overload for them to seriously entertain. They soon go back to normal life, believing whatever they are told, and studying those resources that justify their prejudices. 

That is why I have begun this series. I don't personally think that the creedal Christian traditions about "resurrection" and "final judgment" actually conflict with complete first century fulfillment of "biblical" prophecy. I also don't think that creedal Christian traditions are as monolithic and unanimous in their interpretations as tribalists today (whether Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant) imagine them to be. I'm also highly suspicious of confessional protestants who insist on adhering to "orthodox" creeds, as though somehow they're retrieving, prescribing, and maintaining a "catholic" tradition that's essential to Christian faith, without having to subscribe to the canons of that very same tradition out of which such creeds emanate. (All such debates seem to be a complete waste of everybody's time; but I digress.)

The topic at hand is about the complete prophetic fulfillment of "biblical" promises. The resurrection of the dead and final judgment upon mankind is sensitive to discuss. But it needs to be discussed if the "New Testament" Scriptures are to be taken seriously as being historically reliable and rhetorically credible.

1. Michael E. Stone & Matthias Henze, 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch: Translations, Introductions, and Notes (2013). Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, pp. 42-3

2. It is worth noting that although all of the textual witnesses to 4 Ezra seem to derive from a presumed Hebrew original source (or sources), among the secondary textual witnesses which are in Arabic and Armenian, one Arabic text tradition says “a thousand” instead of “four hundred." That echoes the language of Revelation 20:1-6, in which we find the “first resurrection” of old covenant saints raised up to the heavens with Christ, at his resurrection after death, to reign with him for a thousand years. In John’s apocalypse, the reference to “a thousand years” is likely symbolic for an aion, an age or generation of God’s people, who are idealized like the first generation of mankind, who lived roughly a thousand years from the time of Adam to the time of God’s first judgment upon the world, in the flood. It is also worth noting that in one of the primary textual witnesses in Syriac, the textual variant says “thirty” instead of “four hundred. That clearly implies a tradition of a thirty year life-span for Jesus’ earthly ministry before his death, as described here in this text. Oddly, the most reliable textual witnesses of this passage say “four hundred,” yet that statement only makes sense if the Canonical account of Ezra the scribe is taken seriously, which places this historical figure around 470 BC, almost one hundred years after this apocalypse is alleged to have revealed (i.e. around 550 BC; cf. 4 Ezra 3:1). In my estimation, the Syriac witnesses of this passage are the clearest in design among scribal redaction, which, if correct, implies that the Syriac is either closest to the original Hebrew tradition by correcting an erroneous reading of “four hundred,” or it is original and the “four hundred” is a later scribal emendation of “thirty.”

3. 4 Ezra: 7:113

Friday, February 14, 2020

Valentine’s Day Psychology 101

People love 1-to-1 correspondence
The Roman Emperor‘s command for him was to be executed
The Western Empire commands execution of his holy day
Martyred on the 14th of February
We celebrate on the 14th of February
Unless you’re Eastern
Then it’s July 6th & 30th
He wrote a letter
Be my valentine 
We write letters
Be my valentine 
He fell in love before his last day
We celebrate love so it won't be ours
For chocolatiers 
and philanthropists
For poor sweethearts 
and middle-class cheap lays
The year 496 was his canonization
496 million cream filled eggs ordered each year ever since
His demise was 270 years after the year of our Lord
270 electoral votes are needed to win a presidential election this year
He refused the command to deny marriage
We command love and respect with heart shaped treats
Innocent ideographic treats for the legendary love of mankind