Pilgimages, Pascha, and an Orthodox Political Economy

OrthoAnalyika Shownotes: 21 March 2010

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An Exhortation to Prepare for Pascha

The Prologue of The Canterbury Tales, by Goefrey Chaucer

Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote

And bathed every veyne in swich licour,

Of which vertu engendred is the flour;

Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth

Inspired hath in every holt and heeth

The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne

Hath in the Ram his halfe cours yronne,

And smale foweles maken melodye,

(That slepen al the nyght with open eye)

So priketh hem Nature in hir corages

Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages

And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes

To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;

And specially from every shires ende

Of [New] Engelond], to Caunterbury [Woonsocket] they wende,

The hooly blisful martir [risen Godman] for to seke [find]

That hem hath [would] holpen, whan that they were seeke [had died].

I tweaked his work a bit to foreshadow my point, but the great poet [no, not Shevchenko, the other great Ukrainian poet: Chaucer!] here is writing of the way the coming of Spring awakens in our hearts a desire to go on pilgrimages. And you must admit, that when the birds begin to sing and walks turn from brisk battles with the chill to a chance to bask in the sun’s warm caress, that our hearts do become restless in yearning for a noble quest.

Our popular culture knows this, too, and romanticizes it as the call of youthful passion. But I think the Spring brings more than “twiterpation” [Disney] – there is the longing for a release from the hold of winter; the longing to give up the mundane burdens of this world and seek out some joy.

Chaucer’s words have always resonated with me this time of year, but I have never appreciated Spring so much as I have since I moved here; Nature hath pricked me in “hir corage;” and I long to go on a pilgrimage. And I want all of you to come with me.

The Joy of the Road

You feel the desire don’t you? You want to feel the warmth of the sun on your face, to lay aside all of your earthly cares, to live for a time on the glorious path as we move together toward an even greater destination. Please come: like the pilgrims in every tale, we will rest beneath the moon and stars; sharing our fondest dreams and darkest struggles; retelling cherished stories of the road; singing songs from days gone by; and whispering of our expectations about our journey’s end.

Will you join me for this? Will you set aside your dreary routines for the promise of fellowship and adventure? Are you ready for a serious road trip?

No, I’m not talking about driving to Florida. And no, you cannot ride shotgun in my Jeep. No, we’re not going to Naragansett, or South Bound Brook, or even to the Cape… and although it is a place you have been before –perhaps even many times – … word is that you have never seen it like it will be this year; that this year it will really be something very, very, special.

So are you up for it? Are you ready to sing traveler’s songs and greet the dawn together on the road? Are you ready to stay up all night basking in the realized promise of Spring? Are you ready to feast on the banquet that rewards all pilgrims who make it to their goal?

Then let’s get a move on, because we’ll be there in less than two weeks, and we’ve got some walking to do and stories to share if we are going to get there right. And we want to get there right, don’t we? If we don’t – I mean, if we don’t take the time to share the stories, to sing the songs, to build up and revel in our anticipation… then this Spring will be wasted; Winter will stay in our hearts; and Pascha will shine as just another Sunday morning… Just another day on the dreary road towards our demise.

Why would you prefer that gloomy road to the one that I’m offering you now? Don’t you want to be giddy again? Don’t you want to feel the blush of young love moving unbidden across your cheeks once again? Don’t you want to experience the profound tragic depth of Passion Week, reliving step by step the agony of Our Lord… the pain… the betrayal… the humiliating death on the Cross. Don’t you want to hear the hymns and sagas of our greatest bards as our choir and cantors bring this all through your ears and down into your heart… knowing all the while [as you hear and relive this ancient heartbreak] the wonderful and pregnant secret waiting to rise out into the full light of day – [knowing] that this painful walk up Golgotha was bringing an end to all pain and suffering. [Knowing] That Christ is risen – as He foretold – and knowing that this is not just His story; but that it is our story, too?

The journey is more than the shortest distance between two points

Every pilgrimage is defined by both the journey and the destination. This is no different; your enjoyment of the road’s end will be determined in large part by the way you made the journey. You ability to take in the effervescent delight – the meaty aroma – that is Our Lord’s Pascha will be determined by the extent to which you have allowed the Road – our shared journey – to prepare you for it.

As St. John Chrysostom will remind us early Pascha morning: ALL are invited to the Paschal feast – those have journeyed long and toiled well… as well as those who skipped the journey and had someone drop them off at the door right before the service. All will be invited, and all will be able to enjoy it to the extent their hearts have grown to accommodate it. But it is one of those facts of life – one of those SALVIFIC facts of life – that we really only appreciate that which we have earned.

We earn the enjoyment of Pascha – we earn the enjoyment of our Risen Lord – by participating in His life. By walking the same road of selfless service, unconditional love, and sacrifice that He walked (and continues to walk) for us. As on any road trip or pilgrimage, we also earn the joy of our goal by immersing ourselves in the camaraderie and shared stories of fellow travelers, but mostly, we earn the joy of Pascha and the Resurrection by taking the hard road there.

I will walk this road with you. Will you join me?

[Or would you prefer Pascha to dawn as just another morning on the broad and easy road the fallen world has built for itself as it moves inexorably towards its destruction?]

Pascha is coming. Do not let the days between between then and now pass as ordinary days. Do not let Pascha itself be just another day.

Pack your bags, leave your cares, and pick up your cross: we’re going on a pilgrimage.


Doesn’t forgiveness require repentance? What are we to do with those who refuse to acknowledge their sin, much less repent, recompense, or reconcile?

What is “vol’ya”?


Did I mention that I love Spring?

The Fifth Week as Holy Week Prep: Presanctified Liturgy, class, Great Canon, Akathyst, lock-in, Vespers, Vigil, Liturgy, Typika, Coptic Vespers.

This week: less (includes Annunciation patronal feast in Cranston)

The NY Times raises the point of married clergy… in the Ukrainian Catholic Church.

Vol’ya Segment

Notes from a talk on poverty for the Faith and Order Commission of the Rhode Island Council of Churches.

On Sin and Poverty: Three Reflections

One: the Cause of Poverty – and it’s solution (an Eastern Orthodox approach)

[For a comprehensive treatment, see the Moscow Patriarchate’s
Bases of the
Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church]

1) We were created to experience and grow in unity with one another and with God; the rest of creation was designed to be stage, facilitator, benefactor, and even participant in this eternally progressing fellowship. The human in such a state would naturally live to love and serve others. Earthly “government” in such a state is unnecessary; providence, prudence, and sacred bonds of love allow a kind of horizontal anarchy (think Kropotkin, not Bakhunin) to thrive; all under the tutelage of the Holy Trinity and the (good) angels. Corporatism (where people are distinguished by roles and gifts rather than domination) is the norm.

2) Our sin – and especially our love of self – broke our fellowship with one another and God, and distorted our relationship with creation. Death, scarcity, and a new kind of toil are the perverse hallmarks of this new relationship. The human born into this fallen state instinctively lives to love and serve himself. This instinct is reinforced and encouraged by a hegemonic “matrix” of selfishness and the prodding of the fallen.

3) Poverty – defined as the deprivation of necessities – results when the new situation earthly situation of scarcity and the new kind of toil combine with the love of self (and apathy towards others). The commodification of persons, the alienation of men from their labor, the stigmatization of the poor (and others), envy, and possessiveness reinforce and increase our fallenness/separation. Man fails to see “the other” as himself, or as someone made in the image of God.

4) Life in this fallen world matches Hobbes’ “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”, with earthly institutions (to include government) at best ameliorating some its wicked effects, and at worst magnifying and perpetuating them. The influence of the “ruler of this world” and his accomplices always entice and prod us towards the latter. Almost all of our social science and philosophy describes life within this fallen sphere.

5) Through Christ, an increasingly perfect unity with one another and with God is made possible. Our proper relationship with creation is restored, and the healing begins (as a foretaste of the eschaton, when the harmony will be perfect).

6) Through Christ we are to again live to love and serve others. The hold of scarcity is challenged (Mysteriously/Sacramentally and “practically”), creation responds to sanctified man as originally designed, and philanthropos is restored. Man no longer desires only to please himself and is able to treat things (and people) rationally and objectively (i.e. based on real love). This leads to personal and communal sanctification.

7) The practical path to this restored unity and personal perfection is:

a) (Christian) asceticism. Asceticism teaches us to deny our love of self, resist the temptations of a fallen world, and begin to spread love and experience true and lasting joy.

b) Participation in the life and Unity of the Church. Sacraments. Prayer. Worship. Charity. Reconciliation. Virtue.

8) Political and economic systems that are not centered on Christ seek only to adapt people and creation more efficiently to the logic of fallenness. Even ones based (explicitly or implicitly) on God’s moral teachings “improve” the conditions within fallen creation. True transformation can only occur through Christ.

a) The classic challenge of government remains (selection of leaders, definition of scope, etc.), but an Orthodox anthropology fits in with neither the notion of humans as “deprived” (naturally selfish) or of being “perfectable” (romantics), so the systems derived from these assumptions are seen as flawed (but useful).

b) Theocracy is a noble temptation, but always subject to the influence of the “ruler of this world”, pride, incompetence, and subsequent perversion. And the result of this is even worse than before.

c) There are monarchist Orthodox who still desire the objective of Greek (or Russian) symphonia, but history (i.e. case studies, comparative analysis) and theology lead me towards a personal philosophy (theolegoumenon) of limited government.

i. Limited scope: because the Orthodox only agree with other well-intentioned people on a small set of things, increasing the scope leads the government into policies we see as immoral (i.e. harmful). I do not accept the “will of the people” as being either possible or desirable when the people are not objectively virtuous. Aristotle was right on the money here.

ii. Limited duration: because this at least provides some protection against tyranny and totalitarianism (Schumpter and Riker).

iii. The real work of perfection is best done in face-to-face community. The Liturgy as a model.

[I had started to put in Scriptural citations for each of the points, but ran out of time – forgive me!]

Two: The Eastern Roman (“Byzantine”) approach towards Poverty and Philanthropy (Reflection based primarily on Demetrios J. Constantelos Byzantine Philanthropy and Social Welfare)

An explicit attempt to create a Christ-centric system. Experiment lasted for roughly a thousand years. Leaves us some positive and negative examples.

Representative data comes from Apostolic Constitutions, Canons, Teachings of Fathers like Sts. John Chrysostom, Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Pseudo-Dionesius the Areopagite, Basil the Great, and the laws and institutions of the (eastern) Roman Empire.

Philanthropia – the deliberate, religious, and purposeful expression of love and compassion for others – was a central virtue/principle of Eastern Christianity. The model of Philanthropia is Christ (e.g. St. Matthew 20: 28; St. John 15:12). This changed the pagan notion into one that encompassed all persons. [Sociologists (e.g. Stark) and historians (e.g. Constantelos) It was the resulting culture of service that made Christianity so popular.]

The Byzantine theologians warned against the dangers of wealth (following St. Matthew 19:23); embraced poverty (while recognizing the temptations it brought); and often saw being “middle class” as the ideal: it avoided the temptations of wealth, but still allowed one to offer charity to the poor.

All Byzantine institutions were part of the Christian Ecclesia; there was no division between Church and State. It was a “symphonia”. So even the charitable support of monastaries and churches was public… and the state philanthropia was spiritual. Church Canons called for private philanthropy by priests and bishops, as well as institutional philanthropy (like hospitals in all cities). St. Basil reformed monasteries to match this ideal. Charitable institutions were the norm (e.g. poor houses, hospitals, old-age homes). An entire priestly ministry was created to facilitate this (the deaconate).

For the State, the mechanism that led to the adoption of philanthropic laws was the calling of the emperor to be virtuous and “God-like”. This led him/her to do “private” charity and to pass laws in support of social justice (note: this spread to other “Greek” nations. E.g. St. Volodomyr built the “church of the tithes” and abolished the death penalty). [does this affect us now? Liberals like public welfare but deny public morality… conservatives like public morality but deny public welfare… totalitarians like both and libertarians deny both. What is the answer?]

There is a balance: St. John Chrysostom points out the need to include notions of justice with charity in order to avoid sentimentality. Pseudo-Dionesius the Areopagite included the punishment of the Israelites as an example of Divine philanthropia. There is also the consistent embrace of (voluntary) poverty and the description of how poverty is sanctifying… without ever implying that poverty should be imposed or allowed!

Was the experiment successful? One lesson is that the restoration of Unity cannot be imposed from the Capitol, but that the Capitol can facilitate and protect its growth within face-to-face communities.

Three: a warning from recent Orthodox experience

The Ukrainian/Russian case study(ies) in how to do/not do Christian symphonia began in 988. Many lessons there, too. Among these are the dangers of theocracies and state control over religious institutions. As the government grew in scope and turned the local Church into a part of its bureaucracy, civil society (i.e. the true engine of Christian Unity) was stunted and the true mission of the Church compromised.

While there are many lessons here, the main one came later; after “church” and “state” were disentangled. The state (i.e. the government and all its bureaucracies) continued to increase in scope and devote itself to policies that were explicitly moral (e.g. equality, the development of communalism), but separated from Christ. So the result was a goal-oriented, maximalist state, with no civil society (or Christian conscience) to limit it.

The Ukrainian witness of martyrdom – the Holodomor – speaks to the dangers of such a combination. Millions suffered and died of starvation due to the explicit policies of the state (i.e. for the creation of a more “moral” world). This was understood to be worth it by many. The voices of martyrs to worldly ideologies (to include our own ideology of comfort and hedonism) should not be silenced or ignored.