That Which is Bread

Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? – Isaiah

Month: June, 2010

Dangerous Talk

St Basil Cathedral, Moscow

Not long ago I read Talking About God Is Dangerous: The diary of a Russian dissident by Tatiana Goricheva. It’s a powerful account of her life in Soviet Russia as she and some of her friends discovered and converted to Christian faith at a time when open profession of Christianity would surely destroy a person’s career and could easily land him in prison. Eventually Goricheva was exiled to the West and took up a new life in Europe.

The title of the book has a twist hidden in it. Naturally we assume (I assumed anyway) that it refers to the practical dangers of talking about God under the Soviet regime. But late in the book, after Goricheva has been exiled to the West, we read this account of her first experience with a “TV Christian” (it seems they have those in Europe too!):

I saw my first religious broadcast ever on the television. I thank God that we have atheism and no religious education. What this man said on the screen was likely to drive more people out of the church than the clumsy chatter of our paid atheists. Dressed up in a posh way, the self-satisfied preacher had to talk of love. But the way in which he presented himself excluded any possibility of a sermon. It would have even got in the way of a simple conversation with another person. He was a boring bad actor with mechanical and studied gestures. He was faceless. For the first time I understood how dangerous it is to talk about God. Each word must be a sacrifice — filled to the brim with authenticity. Otherwise it is better to keep silent.

(emphasis added)

Bright as crystal

Olivier Messiaen

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. — Revelation 22: 1,2

Somehow my son and I have gotten into the music of Olivier Messiaen, the eccentric 20th-century French composer. He’s not performed much, partly because his music is, frankly, pretty strange — and I think partly because he was a traditional Christian mystic during a time when the modernist musical world was unable to absorb overtly Christian music.

At least two of his works — Quartet for the End of Time and Illuminations on the Beyond — are based on the Book of Revelation. For Messiaen, Revelation seems to be a joyful book, a tapestry of radiant visions far from the nightmare images of too many popular views.

Just listening to these pieces made me want to re-read Revelation, and in doing so I expect that my eyes will be better opened to its ecstatic, triumphal essence. An example of music (without words, by the way) as Gospel proclamation and scriptural interpretation.

“Keep the humility of the Lord in your heart at all times”

St. Mark the Ascetic

Saint Mark the Ascetic on overcoming anger:

This passion is especially strengthened by pride and, when it grows strong, becomes indestructible, until the diabolical tree of bitterness and anger and fury, its roots moistened with the foul water of pride, blooms and flowers and produces a great crop of transgressions. In this way the edifice built by the Evil One in the soul becomes indestructible as long as it has for its support and stay foundations made of pride. …

If, then, you want this house to be torn down and razed to the ground, keep the humility of the Lord in your heart at all times. Remember what he was and what he became for our sakes. …

All the punishments imposed upon humankind by divine decree for the sin of transgression — death, toil, hunger, thirst, and the like — he took upon himself, becoming what we are so we might become what He is.  The Word became Flesh so that flesh might become Word. …

So then, if you keep the remembrance of these things in your heart with unflagging desire and purpose, the passion of bitterness and anger and rage will not master you. When you undercut the foundations of the passion of arrogance by recalling Christ’s humility, the whole structure of iniquity, of rage and anger, easily and automatically collapses.

— from “A Letter to Nicholas”

This is a heavily edited excerpt from a longer passage that reviews all that the Son did for us in becoming man. “The Word became flesh so that flesh might become Word” is an especially potent restatement of St Athanasius’ “God became man so that man might become god.” Mark the Monk: Counsels on the Spiritual Life, pp. 69–73