Posts Tagged ‘St. John Climacus’

Twisted Marketing at Restoration Hardware

December 26, 2008

Somebody needs a good smiting and I think it ought to start with the marketing or advertising department at Restoration Hardware.


This gem of spiritual advice was in the window of the Restoration Hardware store in the Alamo Quarry shopping center.  I was driving around looking for a parking place on Monday and this caught my eye.    The sad thing is that for most of the scripturally illiterate people in this country, this ad might register something slightly familiar with them.  Kind of like a few words from a song they know they’ve heard before but just can’t remember where.  We have now come down to twisting our Lord and Saviour’s own words to sell s#$@! to people who may or may not be aware of the true significance of Christmas, aside from shopping, presents, and feasting.  It’s all about giving so you can get in on the receiving.

(My ranting rings a bit hollow I think as yours truly shoves Christmas cookies and tamales into her mouth for breakfast, and is surrounded by the detritus of wrapping paper and toy carnage.)

The original context for this bit of propaganda is the Gospel of St. Luke, Chapter 11:9-11.

So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish?


St. John Climacus in the Ladder of Divine Ascent spells out clearly what this passage means and why and how we petition God through our prayers.

Ask with tears, seek with obedience, knock with patience. For thus he who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him that knocketh it shall be opened…[but] all who ask and do not obtain their requests from God, are denied for one of the following reasons: because they ask at the wrong time, or because they ask unworthily and vaingloriously, or because if they received they would become conceited, or finally because they would become negligent after obtaining their request.

God knows exactly what we need even without our prayers, but it’s through prayer that we we are trying to understand His will and communicate with Him in a united, cooperative manner.  In the passage from Luke above, Jesus is speaking about our boldness before God through prayer, but that doesn’t mean you should ask Him for retro door knobs and 700 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets.   That’s the same heresy the health-and-wealth gospel preachers have been passing off for years.   Jesus doesn’t owe you anything, certainly not a new set of furniture, a new car or designer clothes.  You want stuff like that,  ask Santa Claus.

How Long Can Mount Athos Resist?

November 18, 2008


If you’ve ever wondered at the ability of dripping water to wear down solid rock, just imagine how the Orthodox monks of Mount Athos must be feeling.  Daniel Flynn at Reuters Faithworld blog writes about his recent trip to Mount Athos and wonders why someone doesn’t turn the tap on full blast. 

On a par with the force of running water, there has to be nothing more relentless and annoying than the whining of aggrieved feminist taxpayers who feel their money and their gender have earned them access to, well, everything.  Since the founding of the first monastery, the Great Lavra, in 963 AD by St. Athanasius, this has been a males-only monastic peninsula, where at least in theory, even the domestic animals are male (with the exception of cats and chickens, which lay eggs for the tempera paints used in iconography). 

In the new genderless, sexless, religionless EU, there is no room for religious belief and practice that would actually call for women to deny their self-gratification and tourist holidays for the spiritual tradition of active Christian communities.   It’s only too apparent where this attitude comes from when most of the churches in Europe have been turned into cultural symbols with a religious flavor.   Many European women apparently feel that their tax dollars and millenia of subjugation at the hands of men has earned them the entrance price to Mount Athos.  

What is odd about these feelings of feminine injustice is how they feel that their banishment is a reflection on their value as women, when in fact, their exclusion is due to the weakness and sinful nature of the men inside those monasteries.   The monks have simply leaned that the key to saving their souls is to reduce temptation.  And if you’ve ever seen the Greek beaches of half-naked, drunk European vacationers, can’t you understand why they don’t want things to change.  As St. John Climacus instructs his monks in The Ladder of Divine Ascent,

We should strive in all possible ways neither to see nor to hear of that fruit we have vowed never to taste.

This kind of chastity and denial of the flesh has worked on Mount Athos for more than 1000 years and Mr. Flynn is short-sighted in believing you can apply the “equality for all” logo to every institution and practice that has accepted EU and UNESCO funding.  The short-sightedness may have been on the part of the monks, who were caught between a rock and a hard place.  Their Faustian bargain was to accept renovation money with unknown strings or watch as the buildings deteriorated around them.  Long gone are the days of royal patronage and income from monastic landholdings.   

Nevertheless, the monks  of Mount Athos aren’t worried about equality, only salvation.   Their problem will be to resist the drip, drip, drip of the modern world that for some reason sees a closed door as an invitation to barge in.  But I believe there are some things in this world that should be respected and left alone.  If you want to see beautiful artwork, go to a museum.  The monasteries of Mount Athos are not museums; they are battlegrounds of the spiritual life.  If you want to see treasures, open the Bible and read the Word of God.


Slap me upside the head – I’m feeling vainglorious

September 19, 2008

This is my very first blog post -ever.  Which is why it might seem odd for me to say, maybe it should be my last. 

I’ve been a compulsive blog reader for years and an on-again-off-again writer and poet with just enough self-confidence (or delusion) about my literary abilities to continue the practice, and go so far as to register a blog for the world to read.   In my opinion, the best bloggers seem to have an ability to make observations without sounding pompous and ill-informed.  Their personal anecdotes are relevant.  They write in a straightforward style as opposed to others that write with such tooth achingly sweet self-indlugence you wish their DH, DD, DBF or WTHC would kick them in the emoticon just to get them riled up.   This would not be one of those blogs.  I don’t do cute.

But it is self-indulgent to think I have anything more relevant or insightful to add to the trillions of electronic words that do not even have the permanence of a bargain bin paperbook at the dollar store.  I will feed this blog with relevant words and in turn, I am hopefully to be fed with a few self-affirming comments.  That is the nature of an interactive art form like writing – it requires the symbiotic act of reading.    A musician can play for the sheer joy of music, but you’d be hard pressed to find a writer who actually enjoys reading their own words.  The pleasure and reward of writing is in the audience and their favorable response to your work.   This is the addiction that has its roots in vainglory.

Vainglory is an odd word that today seems to be almost exclusively thought of in religious terms, although it had a perfectly secular usage until fairly recently.   The straight up definition of vainglory is a boastful, unwarranted pride in one’s accomplishments or qualities.  

The Holy Fathers and the saints have had a lot to say about vainglory.  St. John Climacus (ca. 579-649), Orthodox monk, ascetic and abbot of St. Catherine’s Monastery at Mt. Sinai, wrote a book that to this day remains one of the most widely read works on the spiritual life and the taming of the passions.  The Ladder of Divine Ascent was originally written for monastics, but has become hugely popular with the laity – those in the world who are trying to live a fully realized, God-pleasing faith.   St. John uses the image of climbing the rungs or steps of a ladder as an upward – heavenward- movement in one’s spiritual life.

St. John has this to say about rung 22:  Vainglory:

A man who takes pride in natural abilities – I mean cleverness, the ability to learn, skill in reading, good diction, quick grasp, and all such skills as we possess without having to work for them – this man, I say, will never receive the blessings of heaven, since the man who is unfaithful in little is unfaithful and vainglorious in much.

Sounds like writing a blog would fall within St. John’s parameters.  Am I consciously walking down the path of sin by undertaking this blog?  Trying to write well; trying to impress.  The writer in me says ‘you can’t post anything that sucks’; the vainglorious sinner says ‘if you just have humility when you receive your praise, it’s ok’.   False humility can be as deadly to the soul as boasting.   So what is one to do?

St. John puts forward three sure fire solutions to the seeking of glory and the pleasure that comes from praise.  First, the remembrance of God during prayer – the contemplation of “blessed fear”.   Failing that, the remembrance of death (the cold bucket of water approach).   And if you’re really stuck in the vainglory trap, St. John warns you of a holy gotcha – “the shame that always comes after honor…for he who exalts himself will be humbled…”   Squashing the sin of vainglory is essential if one wants to prevent the development of an even greater sin – pride.   While the dictionary definition of vainglory makes it seem analagous with pride, St. John distinguishes vainglory from pride.  He pictured vainglory as a little worm, maturing, sprouting wings and flying higher and higher in the sky.  “Pride begins where vainglory leaves off”   Pride is an even rougher road – so nip vainglory in the bud right quick.

So there you have it.  My dilemma.  I hope with prayer to stop this blog from turning into a source of vainglory and to prevent my entering the realm of pride.  To make some edifying contribution or at least not lead anyone into sin.  And I would certainly appreciate it if anyone would take it upon themselves to knock some true humility back into me if I seem to be getting too big for my britches.  St. John would expect no less.