Friday, May 04, 2007

Four Saints Meme

The Faith and Works post has kept me busy as of late -- read with pleasant surprise that I'd been tagged here by Owen to answer a meme regarding a favorite blessed saint, four favorite saints, and someone I'd like to see glorified as a saint.

1) My favorite blessed saint would be the blessed Augustine of Hippo. This, I know, will scandalize some, but I see in Bl. Augustine a true grasp of divine Justice and Mercy, a love of God's sovereignty and an understanding of the divine humility. In the words of Patrick Barnes, "There is unfortunately within the Orthodox Church a minority of teachers who, in their zeal to guard the Faithful from some of the errors in St. Augustine's teachings, have gone to the extreme of maligning him and impious heresy-hunting. In their often legitimate criticism of the writings of this blessed Church Father from Hippo, they irreverently seek to prove that he was never, nor should be, considered a Saint of the Orthodox Church. They admonish the Faithful to disavow him as a Father. Moreover, they often wrongly attribute heretical teachings of later "Augustinians" to St. Augustine himself. In this way a few of these people even try to show that he was a heretic. This is shocking and absolutely incorrect..."

2a) I must ditto Own here and offer first place among the four saints to the Most Holy Theotokos and Ever-Virgin, Mary. Not only do I honor her as the new Eve whose "yes" loosed the knot that the first Eve's "no" tied around our race (Saint Irenaeus), but I thank God that she was there--a bit of a shock for me, admittedly--to greet me in the icon you see to your left. The first Divine Liturgy I ever attended was on Sunday, November 21st, 1999 -- a date many will recognize as the Feast of the Presentation of the Theotokos in the Temple. She greeted me on my entrance into one temple on the day she entered another. Her virtue of keeping and cherishing within her heart the amazing story of the angel stands to convict this loquacious rambler, as does her absolute fidelity to Christ when few others remained. May I remain at the foot of the Cross--may I remain on the Cross her Son and our God has given me--even when the sky is dark, the earth quakes, and all seems abandoned. Most holy Theotokos, save us.

2b) Again following Owen's example, my next favorite saint goes to my patron saint, the Prophet David, the holy one for whom I was named by my God-fearing mother and whose name I (re)took upon being tonsured a reader. My birth was two and a half months premature, and happened to be very close to the day David is commemorated in the Church (Sunday after Nativity). I am honored beyond words to read his God-breathed psalms in the Assembly of the faithful. He was called a man after God's own heart -- I'm not sure what else would need to be said about him after that. The man was subject to his passions at times, but knew how to repent, and repent gloriously. The psalm that lauds him most, imo, is Ps. 131 (LXX), and speaks much of the call that we as parents, as those who have been blessed with fruitful marriages, have: The LORD has sworn in truth to David; He will not turn from it: “I will set upon your throne the fruit of your body. If your sons will keep My covenant And My testimony which I shall teach them, their sons also shall sit upon your throne forevermore." Indeed, we are called to pass on the faith to our progeny, so that the humanity we've given them will continue on its path of redemption through incarnation and purification. This is only possible, of course, through the One that came from David's loins: "There I will make the horn of David grow; I will prepare a lamp for My Anointed. His enemies I will clothe with shame, But upon Himself His crown shall flourish." Holy Prophet, pray for me, a sinner.

2c) Long-time readers of my blog will find the icon to your left very familiar. Said readers will also most likely remember that the name of this blog was not always "Oh Taste and See," but was originally "Stumble on Water," dedicated to my original heavenly patron, the chief of the Apostles, Simon Peter. I find it ironic that this post comes on the heels of a lengthy and much discussed post on faith and works, for, like many Evangelicals looking into Orthodoxy, this was the issue I had so much trouble with in coming to grips with the faith. I still remember the night in the ORU tower dorms when, while walking down the hallway to the elevators that would take me to my room and contemplating the whole faith-and-works issue, I stopped dead in my tracks. I still distinctly remember my mouth falling wide open as something dawned on me: as we seek to exit this sinking world and journey out to where Christ is, we are called to do what is impossible for man to do. For those sharing in a fallen human nature to attempt to undergo self-deification is as futile as said fallen humans attempting to walk on water. We must exit the boat, and yes, we must walk towards Christ, but St. Peter is not known for being someone walking on water under his own power, stumble or no. His cooperation with grace, perfect or not, has served as a literal icon of theosis for me and was an immense help in my embracing of this doctrine he preached.

2d) Finally, there is a saint who exemplifies, in my opinion, all that is good about missionary endeavors. St. Herman, the Wonderworker of Alaska, labored for years in the Kodiak islands, cultivating prayer out of a joyous heart, living a life of radical self-denial, and defending the poor and needy amongst the indigenous Alaskan Aleuts against the indifference of the Russian traders. My favorite story, which is partially quoted on the scroll held by St. Herman on the right, is as follows: "Father Herman gave [all the Russian officers] one general question: 'Gentlemen, What do you love above all, and what will each of you wish for your happiness?' Various answers were offered ... Some desired wealth, others glory, some a beautiful wife, and still others a beautiful ship he would captain; and so forth in the same vein. 'Is it not true,' Father Herman said to them concerning this, 'that all your various wishes can bring us to one conclusion - that each of you desires that which in his own understanding he considers the best, and which is most worthy of his love?' They all answered, 'Yes, that is so!' He then continued, 'Would you not say, Is not that which is best, above all, and surpassing all, and that which by preference is most worthy of love, the Very Lord, our Jesus Christ, who created us, adorned us with such ideals, gave life to all, sustains everything, nurtures and loves all, who is Himself Love and most beautiful of all men? Should we not then love God above every thing, desire Him more than anything, and search Him out?' "

All said, "Why, yes! That's self-evident!" Then the Elder asked, "But do you love God?" They all answered, "Certainly, we love God. How can we not love God?" "And I a sinner have been trying for more than forty years to love God, I cannot say that I love Him completely," Father Herman protested to them. He then began to demonstrate to them the way in which we should love God. "if we love someone," he said, "we always remember them; we try to please them. Day and night our heart is concerned with the subject. Is that the way you gentlemen love God? Do you turn to Him often? Do you always remember Him? Do you always pray to Him and fulfill His holy commandments?" They had to admit that they had not! "For our own good, and for our own fortune," concluded the Elder, "let us at least promise ourselves that from this very minute we will try to love God more than anything and to fulfill His Holy Will!"

3) Finally, there's this man. Fr. Alexander Schmemann, of blessed memory, has done more for Orthodoxy in America and the world, in my opinion, than just about anyone else in recent years (Although honorable mention should go to Metropolitan Anthony Bloom, also of blessed memory, who came in a close second for this spot in my meme). Fr. Alexander's absolute devotion to Christ revealed in sacrament and Eucharist above all else has proven to help make the Body and Blood we're given every Sunday the very center of my life. His adamant belief in frequent communion and confession--indeed, in active and vibrant participation in the whole life of the Church!--is something that was absolutely needed in our day and age...still is in places, sadly...

I've quoted several journal entries from the man -- most notably here w/regard to the "one thing needful," and here regarding Christ as the center of our Faith. A quote from the latter post:
"In our world, any religion without Christ (even Christianity and Orthodoxy) is a negative phenomenon, even frightening. Any contact with such a religion is dangerous. One can study it to better understand Christianity, or Christ. But by itself, it cannot be salvation, however one understands this word.

"For the early Christians, the Body of Christ is on the altar because He is among them. For the contemporary Christians, Christ is here because His Body is on the altar. It seems to be analogous, but in fact, there is an essential difference between the early Christians and us. For them, everything is in knowing Christ, loving Him. For us, everything is in the desire to be enlightened. The early Christians came to Communion to follow Christ, whereas now Christ is not the unique reason for partaking of Communion."
May his memory be eternal.

Whom to tag, whom to tag...Oh, heck, let's just go for broke...Fr. Joseph, Fr. Stephen, Sky, Barnabas, Dixie, Joshua, Mimi, John, Eric, Stacy, and Steven.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing these.

And I can understand Augustine of Hippo: we have a fellow at church who similarly loves Augustine and his writings -- I do stir him up at times, in jest, but he does try to correct the poor image Augustine often has.

Rhology said...

Hey! That was like 6!

And I had totally forgotten your given name at birth was "David Bryan". I'm pretty lame sometimes.

And this from Fr Schmemann:

"In our world, any religion without Christ (even Christianity and Orthodoxy) is a negative phenomenon, even frightening. Any contact with such a religion is dangerous. One can study it to better understand Christianity, or Christ. But by itself, it cannot be salvation, however one understands this word."

That is GOOD stuff. He shoulda been Reformed. ;-)

Arielle said...

Maybe this is a stupid question but...what is the distinction of a saint being "blessed"? I'm not sure the difference between the "blessed" saint, and the four other saints you list in the meme.

Thanks for this, by the way. I might steal it :)

David Bryan said...


You can check here for a breakdown of blesses saints.

Glad you like it. Steal away.

David Bryan said...

*blessed --

"Hey! That was like 6!"

- Read initial instructions for meme, Alan-san...

"And I had totally forgotten your given name at birth was "David Bryan". I'm pretty lame sometimes."

- 'Scoo'.

"He shoulda been Reformed. ;-)"

- Yeah, yeah...reformed

John said...

It took me a while, but I have posted my list.

Mimi said...

Mine is up as well.

Yvonne said...

Here's my list.