fragments of an attempted writing.

....the anti-human essentialism of the glow in the dark set...

But the release from catastrophy should be sought elsewhere. We should not seek the removal of this apparent discrimination of apparent injustice [that God grants nice things to the rich, etc., etc.]. The change should occur within us. We must become total strangers towards everything human, towards human logic and human thought, and towards all good things. We must be indifferent towards everything. When estranged from everything, then God can be everything for us, for God alone to remain with us. This will give us the deep peace from within. Otherwise, even if there is something in our heart which is not of the other life but of this one, we should know that we will be continuously tormented.

- from quackdoctor Archimandrite Aimilianos of Simonopetra, found here (a scary thing to find via Facebook first thing in the morning).

How dismal, and simultaneously how funny - that cadre of middle class white Americans living typical middle class American lives and committed to Dobsonista or Paulite politics who actually believe that an affirmation of this shit with a straight face is venerable.

I hope that I can instill in my children a love of everything human, a love of human logic and human thought, a love of all "good things" that are worth knowing and/or having.  I hope they grow to be indifferent towards nothing of earthly, material consequence to humans and that they are estranged from nothing of earthly, social substance to humans.  I hope they avoid the narcissistic gods who desire spiritually masochistic humans.  


  1. I hope the same thing for mine. It's interesting that contemporary Orthodox spirituality vaccilates between this abstracted beyond the world worship of the void-god totality that negates all of materiality and thought, and the material hyper-particularity of regional cults of the saints, sacred sites, and whatnot... and the superstition and nationalism that sometimes goes along with that.

    It'd be interesting if someone did a definitive study of the historical development of the ideology of hesychasm... you'd need a Foucault type.

  2. I just marked it as "funny" on Sandipulos' blog. Unintentionally funny.

  3. Words fail me. But then, they would, wouldn't they? They're human.

    How disincarnate and gnostic can one get. This is Christianity?? What about that God-became-Man thang? Oh, I forgot: He didn't really become Man. He just put on a Man Suit to fool us.

  4. That sounds an awful lot like monastics on both sides of the East-West divide. In fact, Simonospetra and Arch. Aimilianos himself are far and away the most friendly Athonites to Roman Catholics and regularly host Catholic leaders when they are denied entry or accommodation by all others.

    The critique is valid insofar as the audience of this quote are "middle class white Americans living typical middle class American lives and committed to Dobsonista or Paulite politics who [also] actually believe" this "affirmation" without experiencing at least some modicum of guilt and discomfort as they compare their lives to a monastic standard like this.

    Within the context of a monastic community, however, such language wouldn't be out of place - especially when noting the energy a typical Orthodox monastery puts into maintaining the beauty of its buildings, services, gardens, vestments, etc. The problem with quotes from Arch. Aimilianos is that he spoke to a wide variety of audiences, and he was often speaking to quite specific issues in a given community at a certain time and place. When he took over Simonospetra, for instance, it was almost empty. That's very different than speaking at a neighboring monastery off of Athos, to a parish, at a clergy event, at a seminary, etc. It must also be remembered that just about every ethnic Greek (whether Greek or American born) who translates from Greek into English translates horribly - don't know why (though I have a guess), but it's the truth.

  5. Well, in the course of my Catholic lifetime, I have visited Trappist abbeys, cloistered Benedictine convents, a Carthusian charterhouse (in Pavia, Italy), and assorted other Catholic monastic venues, and I have NEVER heard any monk or nun advise against redressing injustice. Redressing injustice is a Biblical mandate -- especially when the injustice affects other people.

    Submission to injustice may sometimes be imperative for ourselves. But it is never acceptable to ignore or spiritualize away injustice that affects others.

    I'm sorry, but that is simply NOT part of the Western Catholic tradition. Never has been. Never will be.

    Consult the Old Testament prophets for further insight. :)

  6. BTW, this quietistic strain within Orthodoxy is rather new to me. I hadn't encountered it much before interacting with one Jacobite at Venny's forum.

    As I say, it's new to me. My jaw is dropping.

  7. Well, I seem to remember reading more ancient Western authors saying things that amounted to "don't worry so much about why the rich are so rich and why the evil go unpunished". There are examples to the contrary of this in both Orthodoxy and Catholicism, of course.

  8. Sure, but that's different from saying: Don't do anything whatsoever about injustice; just save yourself. Which is how I read the Archimandrite's words.

    Thankfully, there are many other strains within Orthodoxy besides this one...right?

  9. That's exactly my point regarding the context of this teaching by the Archimandrite. Mystagogy doesn't give that information. To me, it sounds like advice to monastics in his monastery, and their jobs are to save themselves and to pray for the world, not to go out and change the world themselves. That may be some monastics' calling, but in the 70s and 80s, saving Mt Athos was likely seen as an equally, immediately important priority, especially for monastics.

    If one is looking for Catholic or Protestant style Social Justice theologies, you aren't going to find it. Of course, those are relatively new areas of focus in the western churches, too, over the past 100 years or so. Orthodoxy has been dealing with other issues over that same time period, and most of the free Orthodox lands remained highly rural until recently which shielded them from the excesses of industrialization and urbanization that led to the rise of the social justice movements. As this has changed, and as newly free Orthodox lands began facing post-Soviet social ills and problems stemming from their societies shock-opening to the West such thinking has begun to take place more deliberately. Orthodox in the West have tended to be politically liberal (e.g., Labour in the UK, Democrats in the US) along with other immigrants. Most of Owen's critique of the Orthodox penchant for the Right is most found in jurisdictions and regions of the country with significant, new Protestant convert populations (conservative Protestants, not more liberal mainline Protestant converts as are more common in the Northeast, for instance). In fact, there's a great piece on a naturalized US citizen from Greece who was a union leader in a mining camp massacre in Colorado around the turn of the century in the most recent issue of Road to Emmaus. It's also no accident that most Greek-American politicians are Democrats.

  10. I would also note that the full passage this section is taken from is clear that the problem being addressed is Christians who are scandalized by the apparent injustice of a God who allows the unrighteous to be rich and happy while the righteous are poor and suffering. This is a theme easily found in both the Old and New Testaments, the Fathers of the East and West, as well as more modern saints of the Orthodox, Protestant and Catholic churches.

  11. Ps-I,

    The themes you refer to in the scriptures are, in my opinion, not quite akin to the language used here. There is nothing in the Hebrew OT that even approximates the rhetoric in this passage, there are some "apocryphal" texts in the LXX which may come closest to what we have here, and the NT, with all of its anti-"world" language, its "whomever wants to save his life must lose it" language, its appeal to not cling to the things of this world, etc., does not ever present a so direct, rote, and banal an anti-humanity. There is a tension to be found in the scriptures between this world and the divine that I don't get any sense of in this text. All that is not to say that I don't believe that there are anti-human elements in the scriptures. Killing a woman because she is found to not be a virgin on her wedding night is pretty fucked up, though still quite 'earthy' in some sadistic sense.

    I could care less if this text was intended for monastics, though I am reminded of my standing joke about the elder who is denouncing sharing details of one's spiritual life with others while this same spiritual elder is sharing details of his spiritual life with a group of hundreds to whom he is speaking (in my time in the Byzantine slammer I came across at least 3 elder books which were lectures given to lay audiences in which the elder did both of the above). Orthodox monasticism is a hotbed of cult-like weirdness and cults of personality which are disturbing on a number of levels. I have met a few Orthodox monastics that were astoundingly human human beings, but they have been notable in that they were largely viewed as not so normal Orthodox monastics. If there is any value in Orthodox monasticism, it is, in my opinion, in the anomalies found within it, and not in the dominant paradigm itself. But, of course, that could be said of monasticisms outside of Orthodoxy as well.

    And yes, you are correct that my ire was here directed mostly at convert set embraces of this rhetoric. Cradle Greeks, etc., have a masterful ability to listen to this nonsense on occasion and then go on with their lives in a manner which grants a surface cultural veneration of the institutions which churn out this shit, but without altering their lives in any way which is oriented toward the vile content of anti-human monkishness or pro-little tyrant clericalism. Mature Christianity is, in my mind, a nominal Christianity, or, at least what most converts to Orthodoxy would consider nominal.

  12. If one is looking for Catholic or Protestant style Social Justice theologies, you aren't going to find it. Of course, those are relatively new areas of focus in the western churches, too, over the past 100 years or so.

    I dispute this. Social justice has a long and venerable tradition in the Catholic West. From medieval charity hospitals to Franciscan missionaries standing up to the conquistadores...the tradition definitely predates the 20th century. And it is not at all the same thing as the Protestant "Social Gospel."

  13. My own favorite Orthodox monastic is fond of saying the monks cause nothing but trouble and shouldn't be allowed out of their monasteries. He says monks have caused most of the big problems in the Church.

    Most of those familiar with Athos would agree that both Aimilianos and Simonospetra are anomalous for the Holy Mountain.

  14. OK, just thought of some other examples. Entire religious orders have been founded with social-justice apostolates -- and this was well before the 20th century. The Vincentians, the Daughters of Charity, the Blessed Sacrament Sisters, the Sisters of Saint Joseph, the Sisters of Mercy, and (to some extent) the Franciscans are just a few examples I can think of off the top of my head. Yes, they focused more on directly aiding the poor than on agitating; but they did some of the latter when called upon, too.

    The Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul used to go to the poorest sections of Paris, with their black bags full of food and medicines on their arms, to tend to the sick, dying, and desperately poor. This was in the 19th century.

    The only reason women's religious orders did not do this before the 17th century or so is that they were all cloistered. Saint Angela Merici tried to start an active order, but it was quickly cloistered. (Today it's active again -- the Ursulines.)

    Entire scholarly books have been written about the long and rich tradition of Catholic social-justice efforts. I would humbly suggest that yiu acquaint yourself a bit with this tradition. It's an eye-opener. :)

  15. I didn't say there weren't aspects of what has become known as Social Justice in the earlier Roman Catholic church - nor is that sort of thing absent from the Orthodox world (cf. "The Birth of the Hospital in the Byzantine Empire" by Timothy S. Miller, "The Hungry Are Dying: Beggars and Bishops in Roman Cappadocia" and "Wealth and Poverty in Early Church and Society" by Susan R. Holman, as well as "Byzantine Philanthropy and Social Welfare" by Demetrios J. Constantelos).

    However, the more developed theologies and movements in Social Justice as found in the Catholic and Protestant churches are relatively new. This sort of more formalized theology of social justice developed apart from the Orthodox world. That's not to say Orthodoxy shouldn't learn from those movements or that those movements are somehow wrong or lacking. But, it would be wrong to say there are not social justice activities in Orthodoxy - especially in the Old World and since the fall of Communism. Orthodoxy's small numbers, high numbers of nominal members, high numbers of immigrants facing their own issues, and relative newness overall has led to unexpectedly low numbers in the realm of social justice. Most Orthodox churches and institutions have a hard time paying their utility bills much less a living wage to their priest, so...

  16. Also, there's a long tradition of Catholic missionaries combining preaching the Gospel with building schools and hospitals and roads and wells and septic systems and stuff.

    One could argue that Protestant missionaries learned this sort of thing from the Catholics. :)

  17. Orthodoxy as a whole also lacks orders in both the priestly and monastic spheres, but that lack doesn't mean the Church lacked either priests or monastics. Same when it comes to charitable orders.

    Your distinction between the work of older charitable orders and agitation for social justice is the disctinction I was getting at when I said Orthodoxy is lacking the relatively new "Catholic or Protestant style Social Justice theologies" and movements.

  18. Yes, I am aware that Orthodoxy does engage in social-justice efforts nowadays. That's why I was surprised to see you seemingly dismiss such efforts as a 20th-c. Prot/Cath thing.

    And yes, the understanding and practice of social justice has evolved. But, as you say, that's not necessarily a bad thing. :) Modern social-justice efforts are not problem-free, by any means, but then, what is?

  19. I would humbly suggest you not read all sorts of baggage into every comment a non-Catholic makes.

    Questions help clear those sorts of things up. It's fun to assume we're all ignorant boobs of one kind or another, but it's tiresome, inaccurate and uncharitable.

  20. ^ Point taken, PS, and I apologize. I certainly do not think you are an ignorant boob by any REMOTE stretch!!

    Social-justice "agitation" certainly is much more crystallized than it was in earlier centuries. But don't you think it existed in some form well before the 20th century? Every time a missionary friar "spoke truth to power," he was agitating. Every time a bishop stood up for tenant farmers against the landlords, he was agitating. I'm sure it happened in the East, too. Injustice cries out for redress, as the OT repeatedly emphasizes.

  21. I agree, it's the more cyrstalized form that was lacking earlier and that is still lacking (mainly) in Orthodoxy. You are correct that both the charitable activities and more informal ('uncrystalized') agitation took place earlier in the Church, e.g., St. John Chrysostom and Basil the Great, among others.

    At the same time, there is a major strain within the Church that basically says the world is unfair and don't worry so much about what others have, be content with what you have. One can critique it, of course, my only point is that this is not primarily a failing of glow in the dark Orthodox gurus and their paunchy suburban patrons. The sentiments Elder Aimilianos expresses here can be found in traditional Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox writers, and one could even argue such sentiments are found in the Scriptures.

    Part of the problem in such discussions is the passage one prefers to treat as controlling all other passages. For instance, are we to driver the money changers from the Temple and to denounce as the Baptist, or are we to be the Suffering Servant and a Lazarus at the gate? Too often when making our points (or critiquing others' points) we choose one over the other, rather than both. It's easier and more enjoyable to be right while others are wrong and evil, and we choose accordingly. That's just a part of our common, fallen human nature.

  22. Ps-I,


    I recommend Walter Wink's reading of the "turn the other cheek" passage in which he argues that turning the other cheek was actually an act which ridiculed the other and invited him to get in trouble (an abbreviated version of Wink's argument is here: but in this shortened version he doesn't mention that in turning the other cheek you invite the oppressor to use his left hand which is inviting him to humiliate himself - a point Wink mentions in his Engaging the Powers). I'm not a pacifist like Wink but I still can appreciate his reading of those texts as encouraging resistance and not compliance. Or, for shits and giggles, one could turn to parsings like this: . The "my set of verses vs. your set of verses" is a battle between nitwits. The real fun begins when you take a passage commonly interpreted to support the oppressing classes or social stagnation, and use a hermeneutic which completely reverses the prior readings. Of course, the scriptures are ripe for such hermeneutic twists and turns and revolutions, because within the canon of scripture itself you find all sorts of hermeneutic tensions, the hermeneutic revolution that is the NT (not to mention some of the passages in the minor prophets which essentially provide a big fuck you to prior mainstream readings of Torah), and the fluid and rich types of narratives and didactic teachings found therein. Unlike the scriptures, to "correct" a text like this one from Aimilianos we'd have to get really creative and implausible.

    Then again, I also think that there is a danger in making the scriptures out to be completely revolutionary or radical texts - that would be sheer nonsense, they were texts clearly influenced by oppressing classes which in some ways defended even if mitigating systems of oppression. In my mind the Hebrew and Christian scriptures are texts which have within them an astounding amount and degree of hermeneutic tension and are such that, in and of themselves, incline toward dialectic engagement. They are wonderfully malleable texts and seemed to have in some sense introduced to the human mind those seeds which would result in modern forms of criticism and means of appropriating competing ideas while maintaining a grand narrative.

  23. PS, I don't think it's a matter of privileging a few Scripture verses over others. If there weren't so MUCH in Scripture about social justice, then, sure, your point would be well taken. But there's a ton...not only in the OT but also in the New (James springs to mind).

    As for Lazarus at the gate: I don't think the point is to go out of our way to be Lazarus. (Even St. Francis didn't go that far. He usually had a roof over his head, poor as that roof might sometimes be. ;)) I think Our Lord's point is that, if we see Lazarus at the gate and do nothing to help him, we're in deep doo-doo.

    Is this not an imperative for all Christians? Even monasteries have gatekeepers, one of whose jobs is to feed the needy who come to the monastery door.

  24. Owen, methinks that is a very sensitive and balanced analysis of Scripture.

  25. Just thought of something else: Matthew 25: 31-46. In this VERY important parable, Jesus indicates that our very salvation depends on how we treat "the least of these." Does this not tell us that we need to turn outward, not just inward? And is this not intended for every Christian?

  26. I know how you feel (I actually do), and I know that his words are impossible to hear, but they are unfortunately true.

    As long as you still crave, you cannot have peace, which only comes as a direct and implicit result of the cessation of craving.

    The Buddha spoke the same things: but, hey: he was a prince, so maybe he was only trying to scam us: who knows !? ;-)


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