Half-hearted creatures

I knew some Orthodox podcasters who seemed to have a real fondness for Hank Hanegraaff, “The Bible Answer Man” — with whom I was otherwise completely unfamiliar until Tuesday. He must have risen to prominence after I ceased “day jobs” I could do while listening to Christian talk radio, which is roughly 45 years ago. (J. Vernon McGee’s Through the Bible radio I do remember — fondly!)

Well, here’s Hank, and I can find nothing to disagree with on this particular question:

The first minute or so, on Theosis, is quite sound and affirming, yet Theosis is the Orthodox doctrine that most troubled my late father between my conversion and his death. It sounded to him, from his frame of reference, like Mormonism’s “As man now is, so God once was; as God now is, so man shall be” (or something like that — they’re backpedalling hard from that these days). I’m glad that we’re not saved by right soteriology, because Evangelicalism has almost totally lost it.

But this part is just amazing:

If you look at Orthodox in general, I think that you find that it is well within the pale of orthodoxy — with kind of a play on words in a sense — but it is certainly compatible with the essentials of the historic Christian faith … absolutely!

Orthodoxy is fantastic in that it uses earthly, perceptible realities to point to spiritual verities, so it’s constantly pointing you to the worship of God through prayer, praise, the proclamation of the word; through the sacraments, the Liturgy pointing to the Eucharist … It’s the early church. That was the Church up until the split in 1054 between East and West, and essentially what the Church was teaching up until the time of the Reformation and even afterwards.

(H/T Journey to Orthodoxy) He’s right on the mark.

While I have no disagreement, I do have one pointed observation.

I know it is meant as approval to say that Orthodoxy is “compatible with the essentials of the historic Christian faith,”  and I have already taken it as so intended. But it reflects a half-heartedness that is a meta-theme of what’s wrong with the Evangelicalism from which I came.

If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

We are far too easily pleased if we settle for “the essentials of the historic Christian faith” — roughly translating as “What’s the minimum I must believe to go to Heaven?” I remain Orthodox, after having been drawn to it for other reasons, in substantial part because I want “the fullness.

I’m talking about the fullness to which great Praise Bands and exciting, edgy sermons and dynamite “youth programs” and even difficult-to-master doctrine (my special favorite in my Calvinist days) are irrelevant. They’re not even elementary principles from which we need to go on.

I’d tell you if I could, but I don’t have the words to “tell”

earthly, perceptible realities to point to spiritual verities … constantly pointing you to the worship of God through prayer, praise, the proclamation of the word; through the sacraments, the Liturgy pointing to the Eucharist ….

Why would you settle for less? Come and see.

* * * * *

Part of the fullness is feasts like Annunciation, which more historic Christianity celebrates today.

Annunciation.” The announcement, if you will, by a certain Angel, named Gabriel, to a certain young Jewish virgin, named Mary, precisely nine months before a certain favorite holiday which needs no introduction.

Chaste Mary’s earth-changing answer (in Latin familiar to those who haven’t overdone the STEM stuff) was:

Maria dixit: Ecce ancilla Domini;
fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum

(Franz Biebl, Ave Maria)

Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!”

But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”

Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?”

And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible.”

Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

Luke 1: 26-38, ending with the Ecce ancilla Domini.

I wish I could claim this ravishing verse for Orthodoxy, but — alas! — it is from one formed spiritually as a High Anglican back when Anglicanism and Orthodoxy seemed close to reunion:

Annunciation

Gabriel

Mary, in the dream of love
Playing as all children play,
For unsuspecting children may
Expressing comic make-believe
The wish that later they will know
Is tragic and impossible;
Hear, child, what I am sent to tell:
Love wills your dream to happen, so
Love’s will on earth may be, through you,
No longer a pretend but true.

Mary

What dancing joy would whirl
My ignorance away?
Light blazes out of the stone,
The taciturn water
Bursts into music,
And warm wings throb within
The motionless rose:
What sudden rush of power
Commands me to command?

Gabriel

When Eve, in love with her own will,
Denied the will of Love and fell,
She turned the flesh Love knew so well
To knowledge of her love until
Both love and knowledge were of sin:
What her negation wounded, may
Your affirmation heal to-day;
Love’s will requires your own, that in
The flesh whose love you do not know,
Love’s knowledge into flesh may grow.

Mary

My flesh in terror and fire
Rejoices that the Word
Who utters the world out of nothing,
As a pledge of His word to love her
Against her will, and to turn
Her desperate longing for love,
Should ask to wear me,
From now to their wedding day,
For an engagement ring.

Gabriel

Since Adam, being free to choose,
Chose to imagine he was free
To choose his own necessity,
Lost in his freedom, Man pursues
The shadow of his images:
To-day the Unknown seeks the known;
What I am willed to ask, your own
Will has to answer; child, it lies
Within your power of choosing to
Conceive the Child who chooses you.

(W.H. Auden, For the Time Being, A Christmas Oratorio, this portion of which is apt today)

I said “earth-changing answer.” Look at this again at those last four lines.

* * * * *

“It pays to increase your word power,” Readers Digest used to say. Today’s word it “typology.”

“When these days are over it shall be, on the eighth day and thereafter, that the priests shall offer your burnt offerings and your peace offerings on the altar; and I will accept you,” says the Lord God.

Then He brought me back to the outer gate of the sanctuary which faces toward the east, but it was shut. And the Lord said to me, “This gate shall be shut; it shall not be opened, and no man shall enter by it, because the Lord God of Israel has entered by it; therefore it shall be shut. As for the prince, because he is the prince, he may sit in it to eat bread before the Lord; he shall enter by way of the vestibule of the gateway, and go out the same way.”

Also He brought me by way of the north gate to the front of the temple; so I looked, and behold, the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord; and I fell on my face.

Ezekiel 43:27-44:4 (emphasis added), the 4th reading for Vespers of the Prefeast of Annunciation)

Glory to God for all things, as Fr. Stephen says.

* * * * *

In the history of Middle Earth

this is the day Sauron was defeated and Barad-dûr thrown down. Now I have not investigated the matter in any detail, but I think it is unlikely to be mere coincidence that Tolkien chose this major feast day – one of the four great medieval Quarter Days – as the day in which good triumphs over evil in The Lord of the Rings.  I can only conclude that he saw in the Incarnation of God’s only Son a similar triumph of good over evil.

That Tolkien fella was pretty shrewd.

* * * * *

The very least important news I’ll share today is that it’s Sir Elton John’s birthday. Believe me: I would not have know had Amazon not emailed me that he is taking over Song of the Day, an Alexa skill, for a week or so.

I suppose it’s too much to ask Amazon to take notice of the incarnation of God in the flesh since it can’t be monetized (in the usual Amazonian ways, anyway).

* * * * *

“Liberal education is concerned with the souls of men, and therefore has little or no use for machines … [it] consists in learning to listen to still and small voices and therefore in becoming deaf to loudspeakers.” (Leo Strauss)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

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