Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Photios Kontoglou on Fyodor Dostoevsky

By Dr. Constantine Cavarnos

Having high esteem for the Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881), particularly impressed by his work The Brothers Karamazov, and knowing that I was like-minded, he invited me to join him one afternoon, together with his wife and daughter, Mrs. Despina Martinou, at a cinema on Stadiou Street, where this work was being shown. I gladly accepted the invitation, even though I was even less of a movie-goer than Kontoglou. After the show, he took us for a treat at a nearby shop where pastry was served. There we discussed our impressions about the film.

Both he and I were especially interested in "The Legend of the Grand Inquisitor" contained in The Brothers Karamazov. We were in accord with the opinion of the emigre Russian philosopher Nicholas Berdyaev, that "The Legend of the Grand Inquisitor is the high point of Dostoevsky's work and the crown of his dialectic" (See Berdyaev's Dostoievsky, trans. by Donald Attwater, ch. VIII). I had read this story as part of the reading that had been assigned by one of my teachers at Harvard, Professor Julius S. Bixler, in a course in Philosophy of Religion. The story made a great impression on me, as it had on Kontoglou when he read a French translation of the novel in the early forties. Seeing this film was expected to make this story and other parts of Dostoevsky's magnum opus more vivid for us. But to our disappointment, what interested us most, "The Legend of the Grand Inquisitor," had been left out.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Movie: "Papaflessas" (a film about the Greek Revolution)

After the conquest of Constantinople by the Turks in 1453, the Greeks were in slavery for 400 years. Until one day they decided to fight for freedom on 1821. Papaflessas the priest and Kolokotronis were the great heroes. And many more. Papaflessas, a Greek priest, took part in almost all the battles fought in the Peloponnese. In 1825 he fought with only 300 men against 6000 Turko-Egyptian soldiers in Maniaki near Kalamata, where he fell heroically on May 20. This is the true story of a man who was a real patriot. Includes English subtitles.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Photios Kontoglou on American Writers (Emerson, Poe and Dana)

Ralph Waldo Emerson

By Dr. Constantine Cavarnos

On November 21 [1958], the day after my first lecture on American philosophy, which was on Ralph Waldo Emerson, I visited Kontoglou at his home. He had not come to my lecture. As I noted earlier, he hardly ever left home in the evening. And, so far as I know, he never attended public lectures. He had some acquaintance with Emerson's essays and regarded him as a great philosopher. Emerson was one of the few American writers that really interested him. The others were Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) and Richard Henry Dana (1815-1882).

He asked me to tell him some of the things in Emerson's philosophy that I considered a special significance and which I discussed in my lecture. I mentioned Emerson's emphasis on the soul, his ethical and metaphysical idealism, his distinction between "beauty in nature", which is perishable, and "inward and eternal beauty", and his views on the fine arts, particularly his conviction that higher art is characterized by simplicity, universality, and spirituality. With all these features of Emerson's philosophy he was in sympathy, and he was glad I brought them to the attention of my audience.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Photios Kontoglou on European and Other Philosophers

Blaise Pascal

By Dr. Constantine Cavarnos

Kontoglou said:

I am a primitive man, I am not versed in philosophies and such things. The other day someone was telling me about Descartes, and mentioned his statement: "I think, therefore I exist." This assertion is absurd. For when I think, I do not simply "exist". It is when I am asleep that I "exist".

The person who was telling Kontoglou about Descartes - the 17th century Frenchman who is regarded as the "father of modern philosophy" - used the Greek word hyparcho for the French je suis, or the Latin sum, which mean "I am". Thus, the absurdity noted by Kontoglou does not occur in the French or Latin texts of Descartes. I explained this to Kontoglou. He had a point. When one asks a Greek how he is, and he answers: "I exist," he means that he feels that he is merely vegetating, is making no headway in life.

Kontoglou's statement that he is a "primitive man" was an expression of his humility. For he was a man of wide learning and was acquainted with the thought of a good many philosophers. He has authored a book on the celebrated French philosopher Pascal, who was a contemporary of Descartes. However, he showed little interest in European philosophy. Even Pascal interested him primarily as an apologist of Christianity and a critic of the rationalism of Descartes and others.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Photios Kontoglou on Ancient Greek Philosophers

Wall Painting, with which Kontoglou decorated a wall of his house, 1932; now in the National Gallery. The fifth portrait from the right on top is Pythagoras.

By Dr. Constantine Cavarnos

"Pythagoras," said Kontoglou, "was an important figure. He rose to great heights. He, Empedocles, and some other ancient Greeks were important."

"I believe you would include Heraclitos in your list," I remarked.

"Yes, indeed," he said.

Kontoglou did not explain in just what sense he thought that Pythagoras "rose to great heights", and that Pythagoras, Empedocles, and some others were "important". But from later conversations I had with him and from various writings of his it became clear to me that he believed, as did Saint Seraphim of Sarov and Saint Nektarios of Aegina, as well as earlier Saints, that some of the ancient Greek philosophers had grasped certain important truths, illuminated by God. Saint Seraphim, whom Photios esteemed very highly - as is evident from a long article he wrote about this great Russian Saint - says:

The presence of the Spirit of God also acted among the pagans who did not know the true God, although it did so less strongly than among God's people. Indeed, even among them God found for Himself chosen people.... Such were the pagan philosophers who, although they wandered in the darkness of ignorance of the Deity, yet sought the truth which is beloved of God. By this very God-pleasing search they were enabled to partake of the Spirit of God.*

Monday, March 16, 2015

Self-Control, and Lack of Self-Control, Is Contagious

January 18, 2010

Before patting yourself on the back for resisting that cookie or kicking yourself for giving in to temptation, look around. A new University of Georgia study has revealed that self-control -- or the lack thereof -- is contagious.

In a just-published series of studies involving hundreds of volunteers, researchers have found that watching or even thinking about someone with good self-control makes others more likely exert self-control. The researchers found that the opposite holds, too, so that people with bad self-control influence others negatively. The effect is so powerful, in fact, that seeing the name of someone with good or bad self-control flashing on a screen for just 10 milliseconds changed the behavior of volunteers.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Lent in Narnia

Would C.S. Lewis have renounced Turkish Delight from Ash Wednesday to Easter?

Devin Brown
March 10, 2011
Christianity Today

In his short essay "Some Thoughts," C. S. Lewis examines the paradoxical fact that the Christian calendar is as full of feasts as it is fasts, as full of fasts as it is feasts.

How did the Christian faith come to have this unique "two-edged" character, a stance which is both world-affirming and world-denying? Lewis explains that on one hand "because God created the Natural — invented it out of His love and artistry — it demands our reverence." But at the same time, "because Nature, and especially human nature is fallen it must be corrected and the evil within it must be mortified."

But make no mistake, Lewis writes, its essence is good, and correction is "something quite different" from repudiation or Stoic superiority. And hence, Lewis argues, all true Christian asceticism will have "respect for the thing rejected" at its center. "Feasts are good," Lewis concludes, "though today we fast."

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

A Healthy Lifestyle vs. an Ascetic Lifestyle (St. John of Kronstadt)

By St. John of Kronstadt

It is a wonderful thing that, however much we trouble about our health, however much care we take of ourselves, whatever wholesome and pleasant food we eat, whatever wholesome drinks we drink, however much we walk in the fresh air, still, notwithstanding all this, in the end we are subjected to maladies and corruption; whilst the saints, who despised their flesh, and mortified it by continual abstinence and fasting, by lying on the bare earth, by watchfulness, labours, unceasing prayer, have made both their souls and bodies immortal.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Postmodern Sacred

Emily McAvan’s interesting thesis, summarized in an issue of the Journal of Religion and Popular Culture, has now been expanded in her recently published thesis The Postmodern Sacred: Popular Culture Spirituality in the Science Fiction, Fantasy and Urban Fantasy Genres. Below is an abstract of McAvan's earlier thesis along with a link, together with a description of her book:

By Emily McAvan
Division of Arts
Murdoch University

Journal of Religion and Popular Culture
Vol. 22(1)-Spring 2010


I argue that the return of the religious in contemporary culture has been in two forms: the rise of so-called fundamentalisms in the established faiths—Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, even Buddhist—and the rise of a New Age style spirituality that draws from aspects of those faiths even as it produces something distinctively different. I argue that this shift both produces postmodern media culture and is itself always already mediated through the realm of the fictional. Secular and profane are always entangled within one another, a constant and pervasive media presence that modulates the way that contemporary subjects experience themselves and their relationship to the spiritual. I use popular culture as an entry point, an entry point that can presume neither belief nor unbelief in its audiences, showing that it is “unreal” texts such as Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, The Matrix, The Passion of the Christ and Left Behind that we find religious symbols and ideas refracted through a postmodernist sensibility, with little regard for the demands of “real world” epistemology. I argue that it is in this interplay between traditional religions and New Age-ised spirituality in popular culture that the sacred truly finds itself in postmodernity.