Tuesday, December 31, 2002

Final Thought for the Year

"The World shall be saved by Beauty"
- Feodor Dostoyevsky, The Idiot

Dostoyevsky's great novel, The Idiot, or simply as it is called in Russian: Idiot, has always been one of my favorite novels - long before becoming an Orthodox Christian. Yet I was surprised to read that somewhere within Idiot, Dostoyevsky wrote "the world shall be saved by Beauty" - because I could not remember such a phrase.

Thus I was pleased to come across the complete text of The Idiot at The Gutenberg Literary Archives - because it would be much easier to search for such text in the novel.

Alas, I have done my search, and come to conclude that Dostoyevsky never said "the world shall be saved by beauty."

In fact, beauty is seen in the novel as a great distraction. On the one side there is the sense that "the world shall be saved by beauty" (as you shall see in my study below), but on the other side Prince Myshkin has some very interesting things to say about the opposite of beauty: suffering.

For starters, let me explain that Prince Myshkin is certainly preoccupied with beauty, espcially Nastasia Philipovna's beauty. And in fact what he says as follows below:


When the prince ceased speaking all were gazing merrily at him--
even Aglaya; but Lizabetha Prokofievna looked the jolliest of

"Well!" she cried, "we HAVE 'put him through his paces,' with a
vengeance! My dears, you imagined, I believe, that you were about
to patronize this young gentleman, like some poor protege picked
up somewhere, and taken under your magnificent protection. What
fools we were, and what a specially big fool is your father! Well
done, prince! I assure you the general actually asked me to put
you through your paces, and examine you. As to what you said
about my face, you are absolutely correct in your judgment. I am
a child, and know it. I knew it long before you said so; you have
expressed my own thoughts. I think your nature and mine must be
extremely alike, and I am very glad of it. We are like two drops
of water, only you are a man and I a woman, and I've not been to
Switzerland, and that is all the difference between us."

"Don't be in a hurry, mother; the prince says that he has some
motive behind his simplicity," cried Aglaya.

"Yes, yes, so he does," laughed the others.

"Oh, don't you begin bantering him," said mamma. "He is probably
a good deal cleverer than all three of you girls put together. We
shall see. Only you haven't told us anything about Aglaya yet,
prince; and Aglaya and I are both waiting to hear."

"I cannot say anything at present. I'll tell you afterwards."

"Why? Her face is clear enough, isn't it?"

"Oh yes, of course. You are very beautiful, Aglaya Ivanovna, so
beautiful that one is afraid to look at you."

"Is that all? What about her character?" persisted Mrs. Epanchin.

"It is difficult to judge when such beauty is concerned. I have
not prepared my judgment. Beauty is a riddle."

"That means that you have set Aglaya a riddle!" said Adelaida.
"Guess it, Aglaya! But she's pretty, prince, isn't she?"

"Most wonderfully so," said the latter, warmly, gazing at Aglaya
with admiration. "Almost as lovely as Nastasia Philipovna, but
quite a different type."

All present exchanged looks of surprise.

"As lovely as WHO?" said Mrs. Epanchin. "As NASTASIA PHILIPOVNA?
Where have you seen Nastasia Philipovna? What Nastasia

"Gavrila Ardalionovitch showed the general her portrait just

"How so? Did he bring the portrait for my husband?"

"Only to show it. Nastasia Philipovna gave it to Gavrila
Ardalionovitch today, and the latter brought it here to show to
the general."

"I must see it!" cried Mrs. Epanchin. "Where is the portrait? If
she gave it to him, he must have it; and he is still in the
study. He never leaves before four o'clock on Wednesdays. Send
for Gavrila Ardalionovitch at once. No, I don't long to see HIM
so much. Look here, dear prince, BE so kind, will you? Just step
to the study and fetch this portrait! Say we want to look at it.
Please do this for me, will you?"

"He is a nice fellow, but a little too simple," said Adelaida, as
the prince left the room.

* * *

"Yes, she is pretty," she said at last, "even very pretty. I have
seen her twice, but only at a distance. So you admire this kind
of beauty, do you?" she asked the prince, suddenly.

"Yes, I do--this kind."

"Do you mean especially this kind?"

"Yes, especially this kind."


"There is much suffering in this face," murmured the prince, more
as though talking to himself than answering the question.

"I think you are wandering a little, prince," Mrs. Epanchin
decided, after a lengthened survey of his face; and she tossed
the portrait on to the table, haughtily.

Alexandra took it, and Adelaida came up, and both the girls
examined the photograph. Just then Aglaya entered the room.

"What a power!" cried Adelaida suddenly, as she earnestly
examined the portrait over her sister's shoulder.

"Whom? What power?" asked her mother, crossly.

"Such beauty is real power," said Adelaida. "With such beauty as
that one might overthrow the world." She returned to her easel

It is especially interesting what he says about suffering. That thread is again picked up later, but this time not in reference to Nastasia Philipovna, but in reference to a painting of Christ - specifically "The Dead Christ" by Hans Holbein (can be seen here )

"When I arose to lock the door after him, I suddenly called to
mind a picture I had noticed at Rogojin's in one of his gloomiest
rooms, over the door. He had pointed it out to me himself as we
walked past it, and I believe I must have stood a good five
minutes in front of it. There was nothing artistic about it, but
the picture made me feel strangely uncomfortable. It represented
Christ just taken down from the cross. It seems to me that
painters as a rule represent the Saviour, both on the cross and
taken down from it, with great beauty still upon His face. This
marvellous beauty they strive to preserve even in His moments of
deepest agony and passion. But there was no such beauty in
Rogojin's picture. This was the presentment of a poor mangled
body which had evidently suffered unbearable anguish even before
its crucifixion, full of wounds and bruises, marks of the
violence of soldiers and people, and of the bitterness of the
moment when He had fallen with the cross--all this combined with
the anguish of the actual crucifixion.

"The face was depicted as though still suffering; as though the
body, only just dead, was still almost quivering with agony. The
picture was one of pure nature, for the face was not beautified
by the artist, but was left as it would naturally be, whosoever
the sufferer, after such anguish.

"I know that the earliest Christian faith taught that the Saviour
suffered actually and not figuratively, and that nature was
allowed her own way even while His body was on the cross.

"It is strange to look on this dreadful picture of the mangled
corpse of the Saviour, and to put this question to oneself:
'Supposing that the disciples, the future apostles, the women who
had followed Him and stood by the cross, all of whom believed in
and worshipped Him--supposing that they saw this tortured body,
this face so mangled and bleeding and bruised (and they MUST have
so seen it)--how could they have gazed upon the dreadful sight
and yet have believed that He would rise again?'

His thoughts seem to propose that there should be a beauty in the face of the suffering (and dead) Christ. Such beauty can be seen on other renniassance paintings of the Dead Christ.


Now, later the Prince is accused of saying that the world would be redeemed by beauty. (But I can find nowhere other than the above two conversations that he has discussed such things...) I would have to re-read the whole novel to see if he actually did say something like this somewhere, but he certainly didn't use the words "world" "saved" or "beauty" anyplace other than the above. (Unless some of the text is missing from this archive, but it doesn't seem to be...)

This is most likely where the main quote that I opened my final thought for the year is found:

"Look here, once for all," cried Aglaya, boiling over, "if I hear
you talking about capital punishment, or the economical condition
of Russia, or about Beauty redeeming the world, or anything of
that sort, I'll--well, of course I shall laugh and seem very
pleased, but I warn you beforehand, don't look me in the face
again! I'm serious now, mind, this time I AM REALLY serious." She
certainly did say this very seriously, so much so, that she
looked quite different from what she usually was, and the prince
could not help noticing the fact. She did not seem to be joking
in the slightest degree.


Aglaya is very mad at the Prince here, obviously. He tends to get everyone mad at him because of his unique simplicity of soul.

One last interesting and relevant excerpt. When Nastasia Philipovna is discussing the possibility of people having a deathbed conversion, she says:

How can morality have need
of my last breaths, and why should I die listening to the
consolations offered by the prince, who, without doubt, would not
omit to demonstrate that death is actually a benefactor to me?
(Christians like him always end up with that--it is their pet
theory.) And what do they want with their ridiculous 'Pavlofsk
trees'? To sweeten my last hours? Cannot they understand that the
more I forget myself, the more I let myself become attached to
these last illusions of life and love, by means of which they try
to hide from me Meyer's wall, and all that is so plainly written
on it--the more unhappy they make me? What is the use of all your
nature to me--all your parks and trees, your sunsets and
sunrises, your blue skies and your self-satisfied faces--when all
this wealth of beauty and happiness begins with the fact that it
accounts me--only me--one too many! What is the good of all this
beauty and glory to me, when every second, every moment, I cannot
but be aware that this little fly which buzzes around my head in
the sun's rays--even this little fly is a sharer and participator
in all the glory of the universe, and knows its place and is
happy in it;--while I--only I, am an outcast, and have been blind
to the fact hitherto, thanks to my simplicity! Oh! I know well
how the prince and others would like me, instead of indulging in
all these wicked words of my own, to sing, to the glory and
triumph of morality...

N.P. has lived an immoral life on this earth, because she was always falling prey to her passions. And her final anguish is that there is no way to enjoy the beauty in the world, because of the suffering.

What is the main point of "The Idiot" - that the world shall be saved by beauty?

Or that "beauty" is the most difficult stumbling block in the salvation of the world?

Or both?

~ Fly ~

More about Dostoyevsky...
Complete Texts...

Wednesday, December 25, 2002

Astrological Musings on Christmas
by Basil the Fly

Here it is Christmas, the Nativity in the Flesh of our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ, and yet we are striving again as week minded people to find some sort of rational and scientific explanation of the miraculous. Supposedly we believe that today we celebrate the coming-in-the flesh of the God of all the Universe. What a miracle this is: that the God who rules over all, in whom is all power and all majesty and all glory and all life, and yet he has humbled himself and taken upon Himself the lowly form of a servant, a man, made of clay, insignificant in all the universe, and yet made in the image and likeness of God. We proclaim this miracle today, and yet in weakness of faith we cannot believe other less significant miracles?

Take for instance the Star.

The Scriptures say such things as:
Matthew 2:2
"Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him."

Matthew 2:7
Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared.

Matthew 2:9
After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was.

Note that last one especially. We see here an actual moving star. One that has traversed some distance and then come to rest over the place where the Child was. Wow! Now that's amazing also.

If we believe in a God of Miracles, then why do we trivialize things by trying to explain them away? Oh, we are so enlightened now that we comprehend history. This star was not a miracle, it was not a comet that happened along thousands of years ago at just the right moment, no, it was simple astrology through which the Magi of the East learned of the event of the Birth of The Great King. Much like today we take up The Enquirer, and discover whether it is a day to wear a pink dress or a red one. Idiocy!

If the God who holds the Universe in the palm of His Hand wants to create a miraculous event in the heavens that cannot be ascribed to scientific circumstances, can He not? If the God who changed the chemical elements of water into that of wine wants to place a star in the Heavens, can He not? If the God who made water as if it were solid as earth and then walked upon it, wishes to send along a strange comet that instead of sweeping past the earth stops in one place, can He not?

We do not (like the Protestants? Muslims? Catholics?) believe in a God who is held prisoner by the laws of order he has built into this universe. Therefore, let us not trivialize His coming in the flesh by trying to scientifically explain insignificant little miracles that were a part of the Grand Announcement of that coming.

Christ is Born!
Glorify Him!

and Merry Christmas!


Monday, December 23, 2002

Some thoughts on confession

I just came across a fine article on confession at the Holy-Trinity (San Francisco) web site:


Here as an excerpt:

A young monk complained to the great ascetic Abba Sisoes: "Abba, what should I do? I fell." The elder answered: "Get up!" The monk said: "I got up, and I fell again!" The elder replied: "Get up again!" But the young monk asked: "For how long should I get up when I fall?" "Until your death," answered Abba Sisoes.

The process of confession is not a "requirement" to be fullfilled in order to be "a member in good standing" in the Orthodox Church. It is rather, an ordinary part of "walking" on the path of salvation. Often as we walk, we fall. When we fall, we must get back up again. This getting back up again, is confession.

There is the unfortunate circumstance today of certain diocese in the Orthodox Church "requiring" their parishoners to go to confession a certain number of times per year, or before certain feasts, and so on. This sort of trivializing the faith, by making it into a mere set of rules and requirements, has happened in parts of the Orthodox Church due to the unfortunate influence of Western (specifically Roman Catholic) theology in which everything in the Christian faith is seen from a juridicial perspective.

But it is not so in the Orthodox Church. Sure there are canons and rules for fasting and daily life, but such things are there to gently guide us along the path of salvation: rather like a hand-railing along the path, and not like the a heavy yoke placed upon us by a taskmaster.


Thursday, December 19, 2002

It turns out that I am "The Horse and His Boy"

The fifth book written, you're the third book chronologically and take place during The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. You tell the story of the humans Shasta and Aravis and the talking horses Bree and Hwin, all trying to escape from unhappy lives in Calormen to go to Narnia.

Find out which Chronicles of Narnia book you are.

Somehow that doesn't surprise me. That, and The Silver Chair, were always my favorite Narnia books.


William Blake
an expression of Apothatic theology

by William Blake

TIGER, tiger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder and what art
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand and what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? What dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And water'd heaven with their tears,
Did He smile His work to see?
Did He who made the lamb make thee?

Tiger, tiger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

Wednesday, December 18, 2002

Reflections on Apothatic Theology from St. John of Damascus

This is from the first two chapters of his "An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith"

The full text of this marvelous work is available for free on the internet at:


That the Deity is incomprehensible, and that we ought not to pry into and meddle with tire things which have not been delivered to us by the holy Prophets, and Apostles, and Evangelists.
No one hath seen God at any time; the Only-begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him. The Deity, therefore, is ineffable and incomprehensible. For no one knoweth the Father, save the Son, nor the Son, save the Father. And the Holy Spirit, too, so knows the things of God as the spirit of the man knows the things that are in him. Moreover, after the first and blessed nature no one, not of men only, but even of supramundane powers, and the Cherubim, I say, and Seraphim themselves, has ever known God, save he to whom He revealed Himself.

God, however, did not leave us in absolute ignorance. For the knowledge of God’s existence has been implanted by Him in all by nature. This creation, too, and its maintenance, and its government, proclaim the majesty of the Divine nature.

Concerning things utterable and things unutterable, and things knowable and thinks unknowable.

It is necessary, therefore, that one who wishes to speak or to hear of God should understand clearly that alike in the doctrine of Deity and in that of the Incarnation, neither are all things unutterable nor all utterable; neither all unknowable nor all knowable. But the knowable belongs to one order, and the utterable to another; just as it is one thing to speak and another thing to know. Many of the things relating to God, therefore, that are dimly understood cannot be put into fitting terms, but on things above us we cannot do else than express ourselves according to our limited capacity; as, for instance, when we speak of God we use the terms sleep, and wrath, and regardlessness, hands, too, and feet, land such like expressions.

We, therefore, both know and confess that God is without beginning, without end, eternal and everlasting, uncreate, unchangeable, invariable, simple, uncompound, incorporeal, invisible, impalpable, uncircumscribed, infinite, incognisable, indefinable, incomprehensible, good, just, maker of all things created, almighty, all-ruling, all-surveying, of all overseer, sovereign, judge; and that God is One, that is to say, one essence; and that He is known, and has His being in three subsistences, in Father, I say, and Son and Holy Spirit; and that the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are one in all respects, except in that of not being begotten, that of being begotten, and that of procession; and that the Only-begotten Son and Word of God and God, in His bowels of mercy, for our salvation, by the good pleasure of God and the co-operation of the Holy Spirit, being conceived without seed, was born uncorruptedly of the Holy Virgin and Mother of God, Mary, by the Holy Spirit, and became of her perfect Man; and that the Same is at once perfect God and perfect Man, of two natures, Godhead and Manhood, and in two natures possessing intelligence, will and energy, and freedom, and, in a word, perfect according to the measure and proportion proper to each, at once to the divinity, I say, and to the humanity, yet to one composite persons; and that He suffered hunger and thirst and weariness, and was crucified, and for three days submitted to the experience of death and burial, and ascended to heaven, from which also He came to us, and shall come again. And the Holy Scripture is witness to this and the whole choir of the Saints.

But neither do we know, nor can we tell, what the essence of God is, or how it is in all, or how the Only-begotten Son and God, having emptied Himself, became Man of virgin blood, made by another law contrary to nature, or how He walked with dry feet upon the waters. It is not within our capacity, therefore, to say anything about God or even to think of Him, beyond the things which have been divinely revealed to us, whether by word or by manifestation, by the divine oracles at once of the Old Testament and of the New.

Holy St. John of Damascus, pray to God for us!


A Reflection on Apothatic Theology from Terry Scott Taylor
(From "Darn floor - big bite")

In not-quite earth, in not-quite heaven
I'll imitate love like lovers do
In not-quite art, in not-quite living
I'll pray that writing it down is part of loving you

Darn floor - big bite
You are twilight, dark and bright
Darn floor - big bite
You are beautiful, terrible terrible sight!

I especially love that "I'll pray that writing it down is part of loving you" part.

The mystical theology of Terry Scott Taylor (Daniel Amos.com) had a profound influence on my ultimately becoming an Orthodox Christian.

Another good example is from the "Unattainable Earth"

In the unattainable earth
Amazed in these half-light days
In the unattainable earth
Language is weak, but I keep on speaking
Of the unattainable earth

I love that stuff!!!


Monday, December 16, 2002

Theistic Existentialism and Orthodox Christianity
some thoughts on Orthodoxy Christianity and Budism

Some time ago I started subscribing to little daily sayings from various religions at "Belief Net". I am using this stuff as food for thought while I am busy creating a universe filled with culture, history, dozens of fantastic creatures, a tradition of ancient philosophy and religion, in a novel I've been working on. Those who eventually read my novel (and who are familiar with Orthodox Christianity) will ultimately notice some similarities between many of the beings who populate the history of my world, and many of the strange, essentric and wonderful saints of Russian history, holy fools, and wonder working vagrants...

However, I wanted to get some glimps of other religions and their little sayings, so I subscribed to all these newsletters. I have discovered that, when it comes to the little sayings of saints, you could pretty much exchange one saying from somone in one religion with one saying from someone in another, and nobody would notice. Of course when it comes to theological, philosophical, and doctrinal differences that would not be the case. (The only real exception would be the muslim religion - where almost all the sayings of the "wise" are very legalistic and militant.)

Meanwhile, in the rest of my life I have a new friend who is a Budist priest. I began asking him questions about Budism several weeks ago, but something that he explained to me this weekend really made a light go on in my head. In fact, what he explained to me helped me further refine my own philosophical statement that Orthodox Christianity is existential.

He mentioned to me, quite simply, that while Western religions are often preoccupied with "being" (and "beings") Budism is, quite the contrary, preoccupied with processes instead. It is the processes that are both the means to an end and the end itself. In fact the concept of "being" is utterly unimportant to Budists - to such a degree that really to master Budism your goal is to divorce yourself from any conception of "being."

That really made sense to me, and a little light went on in my thinking on existentialism and Orthodox Christianity.

Quite the opposite from Budism, Orthodox Christianity is centered around "Being" - and not the "being" of each of us individually, but the "Being" of God. A basic understanding of existentialism can be found in the statement: "Existence preceds essense." What that means is that Existence is of prime importance, and the essence of that existence is of secondary importance - coming after the importance of Existence itself.

In Orthodox theology the Existence of God is the begining of our contemplation of God. The Existence of God is at the center of the cosmos and prevades every molecule that exists - giving it meaning and purpose. How do we "understand" that existence? How can we comprehend it?

In fact, we cannot. And that's what makes Orthodox Christianity existential. The "Existence" of God is fundamental to his "Essence" - or better put, His Being is fundamental to His Revelation. The "Existence" of God is explained by the Orthodox mystic as Divine Darkness, and unapproachable Holy Darkness in which we can see nothing, understand nothing, perceive nothing. This is known in Orthodox theology as "apothatic theology". It is the comprehension of God through what He is not. Meanwhile, the "Essence" of God is explained by the Orthodox mystic as Divine Light. The Light of God is his "essence" - His revelation of Himself to the world. All of what God reveals of Himself (His Esssence) to this world is based upon what He truly is within (His Being, or His Existence). And most importantly all of Christianity is based upon this fundamental concept of God's Existence. We perceive of His Existence because of His interaction in the world, but we must never lose sight that He cannot be boiled down to nothing but His interaction with the world. He Exists - and that makes our religion different from all others. The priest concludes the Liturgy (in the more accurate translations) with: "Christ Our God, the Existing One, is Blessed, Always now and ever and unto ages of ages amen." This parallels the title God has given himself in the Old Testament to Moses: "I AM THAT I AM." This is because all of our comprehension of Him, all of our hope of salvation, all of our every possibility of attaining His Glory, comes from the fact of His Existence.

Who is Blessed, now and forever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

~ Fly ~

Wednesday, December 11, 2002

a thought for the moment...

"If you don't have at least two alternatives,
you don't need to make a decision."

~ Fly
I got this quote today from my Jewish thought for the day:

Before he died, Rabbi Zusya said: "In the world to come they will not ask me, 'Why were you not Moses?'
"They will ask me, 'Why were you not Zusya?'"

It is an interesting philosophical question that the whole world is preoccupied with (and has been for many centuries): "Who am I?" "Be true to yourself" and so on...

You go to a psychiatrist - and what do they think is the final solution to all your problems? Self discovery.

It is something I find myself preoccupied with from time to time. Not just "who am I" but "who am I supposed to be?" What I think I mean by this question is: what gifts has God given me, and how can (or should) I best use them?

For the Orthodox Christian this question cannot remain in the superficial realm of self discovery. It must go deeper, because at the core of the human being is "humanity" and not just "humanity" as it finds itself in this world, but "humanity" in the quintessential sense - humanity as it was before The Fall in the Garden of Eden, and humanity the way Christ healed it through the incarnation - this is true human nature (not the sylized "fallen" human nature we see in Western Christianity) - and true self discovery can only come through discovering that human nature within ourselves.

We cannot simply ask ourselves: "what would Jesus do?" because we are not Divine as He is. But rather, we learn through the study of our own weaknesses to have compassion on others when they fail. We learn through the hard road that we trod in life, to be kind and generous to others. In a nut shell, we learn to "do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

Self discovery then, is actually quite simple, as is the discovery of God if we will only open our eyes and ears, to truly see and truly listen.

~ The Fly

Tuesday, December 10, 2002

Good news for insomniacs...

"The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament showeth his handiwork. "
Psalms 19:1

There's gonna be a pretty cool metior shower throughout this week - with the best times on Friday night.

What they say at NASA
(the above link includes a nice map of the sky for 2:00 AM on Friday - to help you get your bearings.)

Check out your weather conditions here...

The Fly

Monday, December 09, 2002

What is this Blogspot all about?

I hope this to become a curious and interesting blend of fact and fiction, poetry and prose, insight and absurdity, from an Orthodox Christian perspective.

Welcome, and enjoy!

The Fly
Sorry about all these meaningless posts. The web site could use some help. The "publish" feature does not work with some computers / operating systems / or web browsers - either that, or it does not work at certain times of the day. It turns out I can only make significant changes to the page design from my computer at work. Rather annoying. To make things worse, blogger does not offer "support" to customers unless they are paying customers.

It will probably all eventually go the way of yahoo.com - become something too difficult for the users to manage, and ultimately die a miserable death, one bolgspot at a time. But until then I will hang in there.



Well, this is great. After about 20 attempts to create this blogspot, it finally worked. This has restored my confidence in technological intervention in the human creative process.