Thursday, January 30, 2014

Dostoevsky's Spiritual Therapy

By David Starr

I. Introduction: His Life and Project

Fyodor Mihailovich Dostoevsky was not my mother’s idea of a great Christian writer. He wrote fiction, though he recognized that fact as a problem: In The Brothers Karamazov he has the attorneys at Dmitri’s murder trial discredit each other’s cases as novels. Could there be a truthful novel? In The Adolescent a nice tutor from Moscow advises young Arkady that a Russian novel needs more romance and nobility than his story — the novel ironically ending with these comments. Dostoevsky did not mean to write fiction as ordinarily conceived. What did he intend? I think he wrote investigations of the soul, hypothetical analyses of the sickness and healing of the human spirit, with himself as primary experimental subject. In one of his darkest tales, Notes from the Underground, his protagonist, in an utterly humiliating moment, observes, “I think it was a mistake to begin writing ... At least I’ve felt ashamed all the while I’ve been writing this story: so it’s no longer literature, but corrective punishment.”[1] Dostoevsky intends to strip the soul bare, to know himself at all cost.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Andrei Tarkovsky's "Andrei Rublev" (1966)

In 1932, the year of Andrei Tarkovsky's birth, Stalin declared that the Russian Orthodox Church would be wiped out within five years. Through forced closure of churches, seizure of Church property, imprisonment and execution of bishops, priests, and lay people coupled with anti-religious propaganda, the Soviet regime, since the revolution, had expended vast amounts of energy combating the “opiate of the masses”. Despite a 1927 decree in which the acting head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Sergius, declared the Church's allegiance to the Soviet Regime in an effort to mitigate persecutions, the Orthodox Church remained one of communism's main ideological adversaries. Spiritual life was seen as antithetical to materialistic communist dogma.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Power of Realistic Thinking

Sara Stewart
December 1, 2009
The New York Post

“IF you can’t say something good about someone,” a wise woman once said, “sit right here by me.”

Alice Roosevelt Longworth, daughter of Teddy and notorious curmudgeon, would have been awfully lonely if she’d come up with that personal motto during the past decade.

America’s mania for “The Secret,” team-building exercises, Oprah, vision boards, life coaches, antidepressants and inspirational terminal-illness ribbons has all but outlawed any manner of negative thought.

According to this philosophy, if you're not constantly generating positive brain waves, you’re dooming yourself to a life half-lived, and you deserve whatever hardships may come your way (obviously, as you’re the one who psychically invited them in).

Monday, January 27, 2014

Fifty Philosophers and Rhetoricians Who Converted to Christianity

On November 17 we celebrate the memory of 50 philosophers and rhetors who were converted to Christianity from Paganism following a debate with the wise Katherine of Alexandria, whose memory is celebrated on November 25. At this time the emperor Maximinus was himself in Alexandria for a pagan feast day and ordered its citizens to offer a sacrifice to the idols. Katherine refused and the emperor sought her conversion. Because of her God-given wisdom the emperor was unable to persuade her so he called for 50 of the most learned men. The emperors plan backfired. Following their conversion they were immediately martyred for their new Christian faith. Seven days later St. Katherine also was brutally martyred for her Christian faith.

Below is the account of the debate between St. Katherine of Alexandria and the 50 philosophers and rhetors who sought to persuade her to deny her Christian faith, as written by St. Dimitri of Rostov:

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Pop-Culture Wars, Music, and Character Formation (2 of 2)

Continued from part one...

What's Really the Matter With Pop Music?

By Carson Holloway

October 16th, 2009

Popular music shapes us and our culture, but not only through its lyrics.

Critics of popular music have pointed to its often violent, misogynistic, or sexually explicit lyrics in explaining why we should worry about what plays on our iPods. Defenders of pop music have countered this charge by pointing out that many listeners pay little or no attention to the lyrics, and when they do, they don’t take them seriously. As I argued in the first installment of this article, however, it is time this limited debate reckons with the voices of Plato and Aristotle, who claimed that people generally and the young especially are influenced most powerfully not by the words of a song but by the music itself—the rhythm, harmony and tune. For these ancients, the music itself, not the lyric, causes the stirrings of passion in the soul that show themselves in the movements of the body. Such experiences, repeated often during one’s formative years, leave a lasting mark. And the immoderation such music fosters, Plato and Aristotle remind us, can be harmful, whether or not the words of the songs are objectionable.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Pop-Culture Wars, Music, and Character Formation (1 of 2)

The Pop Culture Wars

By Carson Holloway

October 13, 2009

If we take seriously what is said by Plato and Aristotle, then we must also pay attention to what is being said by the likes of Taylor Swift and Kanye West.

A few weeks ago, rapper Kanye West made headlines by crashing Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech at the MTV Video Music Awards ceremony. Swift had won the prize for best female video, but West, believing that BeyoncĂ© should have won, took the stage and interrupted Swift to make his opinion known. Confronted with a torrent of uniformly condemnatory public commentary, West soon apologized. In all of the discussion his actions provoked, however, little thought was given to the significance of the connection between West’s self-absorbed music and his boorish behavior.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Sigmund Freud's Little Intimate Secrets

By Maksim Kondratyev

Sigmund Freud was born on May 6, 1856 in the Austro-Hungarian town of Freiberg, on the boarder of Prussia and Poland. His father was a poor wool merchant married for the third time to Amalie Nathansohn, who was old enough to be his daughter. They had children almost every year and Sigmund was their first one.

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Nature of True Philosophy According to St. John of Damascus

By St. John of Damascus

Philosophy is knowledge of things which are in so far as they are, that is, a knowledge of the nature of things which have being.

And again, philosophy is knowledge of both divine and human things, that is to say, of things both visible and invisible.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

National Healthcare and the Church-State Relationship in Byzantium

By John Sanidopoulos

July 25, 2009

"Dr. Miller is a learned and enterprising historian with a fascinating theme. He shows beyond a doubt that the Western hospital tradition goes back to the early Byzantine Empire in the fourth century." -- Medical History

Fr. John Romanides writes the following about the relationship between Church and State in the Roman Empire following the conversion to Christianity of Emperor Constantine the Great:

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Anthony the Great, the Philosopher of the Desert

Saint Anthony, the Father of monks, was born in Egypt in 251 of pious parents who departed this life while he was yet young. He began his ascetic life at a young age, and having learned from the ascetics outside his village, he departed deep into the Egyptian desert, where he lived in extreme fasting, unceasing prayer, and fierce conflicts with the demons. He reposed on January 17 in the year 356, having lived altogether some 105 years, attracting a multitude of imitators who admired him for his virtuous way of life and Christian example.

The following excerpt from The Life of Anthony by St. Athanasius the Great records a few of his encounters with pagan philosophers, by which he won over their admiration, despite his lack of education. He does this by demonstrating the futility of worshiping created things rather than the uncreated Creator, and the power and superiority of faith over reason.

By St. Athanasius the Great

And Anthony also was exceeding prudent, and the wonder was that although he had not learned letters, he was a ready-witted and sagacious man. At all events two Greek philosophers once came, thinking they could try their skill on Anthony; and he was in the outer mountain, and having recognized who they were from their appearance, he came to them and said to them by means of an interpreter:

"Why, philosophers, did you trouble yourselves so much to come to a foolish man?"

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Capitalism’s Ideology

By His Eminence Metropolitan Hierotheos
of Nafpaktos and St. Vlassios

Nowadays, two prominent ways of life prevail in mankind, which have been transformed into two ideologies respectively; that is, Western individualism and Eastern collectivism. In Western individualism, characterized by liberalism, an unbridled freedom of the individual prevails, along with competition which is a detrimental factor to society overall. In Eastern collectivism state dominance prevails, which undermines people’s freedom. In both instances, man is overlooked as a person, just as human society is not regarded as a society of human persons.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

On Faith and Reason - Selections From Saint John Chrysostom

Below are some excerpts from Saint John Chrysostom, found throughout his writings, that deal with the relationship between Faith and Reason. For Saint John, there is not a contradiction between Faith and Reason when used for their own purpose, since both are gifts of God, but he does demonstrate and drive home strongly that Faith is far superior to Reason. Moreover he continuously warns against misusing Reason to be an enemy of Faith. Reasoning should not interfere in matters of Faith, because Reason cannot even hope to comprehend the transcendent nature of Faith. Reason cannot enlighten Faith, but Faith can enlighten Reason. Reason diminishes Faith because it limits it and does not allow it to grow. And Faith that does not increase eventually withers and dies. At the same time Reason unenlightened by Faith is like being born and raised in a dark prison cell, confined and unaware of the world beyond your limited experience, sort of like Plato's allegory of the cave. Reason can never move us beyond its own ignorance and it serves its purpose only when it drives a person to deeper Faith. 

Saint John Chrysostom writes:

Monday, January 13, 2014

On Positive Thinking

By John Sanidopoulos

July 22, 2009

Recently Canadian psychologists published a study in Psychological Science Today, saying that when we repeat positive statements such as "I am a lovable person" or "I will succeed", it makes some people feel worse instead of raising self-esteem. It said that these mantras may prove helpful in the context of therapy, however when they are repeated on their own they tend to make things worse rather than better, simply because it rarely actually changes circumstances beyond our control.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Making Comedy of the Cross of Christ

By John Sanidopoulos

April 15, 2009

Wittiness has become something of a virtue in our day. Wit combines cleverness and humor to offer amusing insights. Though entertaining and often insightful, sometimes wittiness enters the realm of the ridiculous which could also be amusing, yet essentially pointless.

An example of such ridiculousness can be found in the April 10th edition of The Huffington Post in an article titled "Killing Jesus For Today's Market" by Spencer Green. The article is based upon the popular quote attributed to H.G. Wells that basically states: "If Jesus Christ had been hanged, the symbol of Christianity would be a noose." The author tries to make the point, albeit in a humorous way, that the cross of Christ has become too commercialized in our day and has become a symbol that may be powerful yet is unrelateable to the contemporary age. He then proceeds to give alternate tools of suffering and death Christ could have gone through to make the story more attune to twenty-first century ears. In doing so, he proposes alternative symbols for Christians that would make the story more relateable, such as the hammer and nails instead of the crucifix itself. Green further elaborates the hypothesis of H.G. Wells with a bunch of "what if's". For example, what if Christ had been hanged by a noose? "Would Christians today wear little nooses around their necks?" Green asks. Or if he was killed by a firing squad, would we wear little guns. After being creative with a bunch of death scenarios that could have been used for Christ, such as tying him to a boulder and pushing him off a mountain, or being kicked in the balls by Roman guards in a cage fight and other such tortures involving the penis, or tearing him to pieces in the arena which would make for a "kick-ass resurrection", the author then asks what symbol would Christians use if Jesus never died at all. His answer: not much, which means Jesus would get depressed, drunk and probably hang himself.

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Proposed "Statue of Responsibility"

By John Sanidopoulos

We all know the famous line of Eleanor Roosevelt: "With freedom comes responsibility". However, in public forums we hear a lot of talk these days about freedom, but not much about the responsibility that comes with it. Rather, when responsibility is brought into the discourse, it is usually taken to be more of an infringement on one's rights than a companion of freedom.

Monday, January 6, 2014

My Favorite Movies and Albums of 2013

Every January I share my list of favorite movies from the previous year, so I thought I would begin my postings in this new forum with my list for 2013, and from there move forward to a new year of new movies. Below is a list of what I consider to be the 25 best movies of 2013, and it represents about a third of the movies I saw. I usually rate my movies on Flixster after I see them to remember my initial impression of it, but unfortunately the movies from the first 8 months of the year erased, so I had to rely on my memory of them and compare them to my more recent memories, which was a bit difficult. Any of these 25 could have been in the top ten for one reason or another, but I put in my top ten the ones I was most impressed and most satisfied by, all for different reasons. I am fully aware that about half of my top ten will not even be considered among the best movies of the year by award shows and critics, but I'm not really interested in anyone else's opinion on what I should or shouldn't like after I already saw it. Without giving a long review of my top ten, I will just briefly say why I included each above others and offer a few comments.

Friday, January 3, 2014

What This Website Is About

Dear Readers:

Welcome to this supplemental weblog of my primary weblog, Mystagogy. I have titled it Honey and Hemlock, and here I will delve deeper into subjects and issues that cannot be adequately addressed and examined in Mystagogy, though I have hinted on these subjects there for a few years now. Here at Honey and Hemlock subjects such as Philosophy, Science, Politics, Society and Culture, Movies, Television, Music, Books and Literature, etc. will be examined in a way that probably would not fit into the direction where I am going with Mystagogy. This forum was created to move forward in this direction without taking away anything from the way I want to move forward at Mystagogy.

Dichotomies and paradoxes have long fascinated me. For this reason, I have titled this weblog Honey and Hemlock, not only for what the dichotomy has implied in history, but also how it can be applied today. Plutarch, in his Parallel Lives, wrote of the city of Athens:

But it appears to be truly said of that city that the good men whom she breeds are of the highest excellence, and the bad men of the most despicable baseness, just as her country produces the sweetest honey and the deadliest hemlock.

The Church Fathers, many of whom were educated in Athens, took this strange dichotomy and made it their own. The Athenian educated Saint Basil the Great, in his Address to Young Men on the Right Use of Greek Literature, when advising Christians how to study ancient pagan philosophy, religion, literature, rhetoric, history and poetry, warns: "Therefore the soul must be guarded with great care, lest through our love for letters it receive some contamination unawares, as men drink in hemlock with honey." For this reason, without dismissing the desire to study these things, he advised and encouraged:

But on the other hand we shall receive gladly those passages in which they praise virtue or condemn vice. For just as bees know how to extract honey from flowers, which to men are agreeable only for their fragrance and color, even so here also those who look for something more than pleasure and enjoyment in such writers may derive profit for their souls. Now, then, altogether after the manner of bees must we use these writings, for the bees do not visit all the flowers without discrimination, nor indeed do they seek to carry away entire those upon which they light, but rather, having taken so much as is adapted to their needs, they let the rest go. So we, if wise, shall take from heathen books whatever befits us and is allied to the truth, and shall pass over the rest. And just as in culling roses we avoid the thorns, from such writings as these we will gather everything useful, and guard against the noxious. So, from the very beginning, we must examine each of their teachings, to harmonize it with our ultimate purpose, according to the Doric proverb: 'Testing each stone by the measuring-line.' Since we must needs attain to the life to come through virtue, our attention is to be chiefly fastened upon those many passages from the poets, from the historians, and especially from the philosophers, in which virtue itself is praised.

This passage of Saint Basil has throughout the centuries been the measuring line for Christians who desire to read and participate in something that is either opposed to or ignorant of Christianity and the virtuous life each Christian is called to.

Saint Gregory Palamas, in his Triads, asks: "Is there anything of use to us in [pagan] philosophy?" He answers his question by combining Plutarch and Basil, saying:

Certainly. For just as there is much therapeutic value even in substances obtained from the flesh of serpents, and the doctors consider there is no better and more useful medicine that that derived from this source, so there is something of benefit to be had even from the profane philosophers - but somewhat as in a mixture of honey and hemlock. So it is most needful that those who wish to separate out the honey from the mixture should beware that they do not take the deadly residue by mistake, and if you are to examine the problem, you would see that all or most of the harmful heresies derive their origin from this source.

We are warned here of the great dangers that exist in dividing the honey from the hemlock, the good from the evil, the virtue from the vice, the true and beneficial from the false and profane. This is why Saint Gregory goes on to say: "But to divide well is the property of very few men."

Here at Honey and Hemlock I will attempt to do this with fear of this warning and guided by the thought and tradition behind it, but also from my own personal experience of living it on a daily basis as an Orthodox Christian in the world who does not desire to be of the world, but rather of Christ. The subjects mentioned above all indeed have elements of honey and hemlock, but it is rare if not impossible for them to be only honey or only hemlock. Without going into further details here, this is the basis upon which the website will move forward.

With love in Christ,

John Sanidopoulos