Can These Bones Live?

Source: http://www.aranislands.ie
Source: http://www.aranislands.ie
30.03.2017

[1] The hand of the LORD was upon me, and carried me out in the spirit of the LORD, and set me down in the midst of the valley which was full of bones,
[2] And caused me to pass by them round about: and, behold, there were very many in the open valley; and, lo, they were very dry.
[3] And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live?

Ezekiel 37:1-3, KJV

These weather-worn stones are some of the remnants of the remarkable Orthodox civilization that thrived in Ireland before the dreadful forces of the Vikings, the Roman Catholics, the Protestants, and then the secular liberals visited their devastations upon it (a like pattern of events occurred in nearly every Western European country).

If these bleak landscapes are all that remain of true Christian culture in Western Europe, where the Orthodox Faith once flourished, what hope is there for the South, which has only ever breathed the less than wholesome air of post-Orthodox Europe?

But all is not lost, for the Orthodox Church is a living reality.  It is not dead.  The holy saints who created and sustained the Orthodox culture of Ireland, England, Spain, etc. through their union with God are very much alive and waiting for their kinsmen at the South to call out to them for help.  They are their bridge and their gateway back into the Christian civilization of their forefathers that so many admire but who also seem to believe (or at least act as though they believe) is lost forever.

And the South must return to that Orthodox civilization or else she will remain trapped between the crushing pillars of appetite-driven mass democracy on one side and ruthless science-empowered dictatorship on the other (Richard Weaver, The Southern Tradition at Bay, edrs. Core & Bradford, Regnery Gateway, 1989, pgs. 376-8).

Richard Weaver, a faithful guardian of the Southern tradition, thought that the Southern civilization that existed prior to the cataclysm of the War (and the beliefs that undergirded it) was an answer to Modernity because of its adherence to ‘revealed Christianity’, ‘humanism’, and ‘sentiment’ (p. 376); because it believed ‘in holiness and heroism’ and was ‘humane, enlightened, and’ had a ‘regard for personality more than do modern forms of statism under liberal and social-democratic banners’ (p. 379).

To the length that Modernity is almost completely barren of virtue, he has a point:  The fore-Modern ways that survived in the Old South are better than what it offers.

But that betterness is only relative; for the South had also mixed within it a good portion of the poisonous theology of Modernity:  her Protestantism, the insistence of most on popular government while forbidding kingship, and so on (though there was and is significant dissent on those matters).

The South must go deeper within her history to secure her survival, to tear out the last stubborn roots of Modernity that have become intertwined, unnoticed, in her thinking, working, and praying.

By humbly approaching the saints of her Orthodox forefathers in Western Europe and Africa - reading their lives and teachings, putting them into practice as best they can, praying to them often, keeping their feast days, and so forth - Southerners will begin to see their works arise again in their beloved Dixieland.

But it is important to note that this will not be a replacement of Southern culture with another from outside.  No people that has embraced the Orthodox Faith has ever had its culture erased.  Rather, they have seen them purified of their evils and brought to their full stature as the leaven of true Christianity spread into every part of them.  So what would arise would be a manifestation of Orthodox culture new to the world, Southern Orthodoxy, which would take its place in eternity beside all the other manifestations of Orthodox culture:  English, Russian, Romanian, German, Greek, etc.

But first the South must fulfil a prediction of Prof Weaver:

Now that truth can once more be told, let us admit that fascism had secret sympathizers in every corner of the world and from every social level.  It attracted by its call to achievement, by its poetry, by its offer of a dramatic life.  It attracted even by its call to men to be hard on themselves.  Social democracy will never be able to compete with this by promising to each a vine-covered cottage by the road and cradle-to-grave social security.  People who are yet vital want a challenge in life; they want opportunity to win distinction, and even those societies which permit distinction solely through the accumulation of wealth and its ostentatious display, such as ours has been, are better than those that permit none.  From the bleakness of a socialist bureaucracy men will sooner or later turn to something stirring; they will decide again to live strenuously, or romantically (pgs. 379-80).

Mr Weaver was no lover of fascism.  Over against it he upheld the Southern tradition, but that in itself is not enough of a shield against Modernity, as the collapse of the Southern people largely into the same pattern of living as their Yankee conquerors after the War amply shows.  Another bulwark is needed to guard against harmful ideologies like fascism.  Another way of approaching life is needed to fortify Southerners.  They do indeed need ‘something stirring’, that strenuous life that Mr Weaver spoke of.  And it is to be found precisely in the ascetic practices handed down in the unbroken Tradition of the Holy Orthodox Church.

Let us look at how they were manifested in the life of a very blessed saint from Wales (her patron saint, in fact), St David (+600):

     The first full-length Life of St. David was written by Bishop Rhigyfarch of St. David’s towards the end of the 11th century, only a few years before the Church of Wales became subject to Archbishop Anselm of Canterbury and, through Canterbury, to the heretical Roman papacy. As such, it represents a kind of “swan-song” of British Orthodoxy, a last witness to the greatness of the old Celtic tradition by one of the last independent bearers of that tradition.  . . .

     “Such an austerity did the holy father decree in his zeal for the monastic system, that every monk toiled at daily labour, and spent his life working with his hands for the community. “For who does not work,’ says the apostle, ‘let him not eat’. Knowing that carefree rest was the source and mother of vices he bowed down the shoulders of the monks with pious labour, for those who bow heads and minds in leisurely repose develop a spirit of instability and apathy with restless promptings to lust.

     “Thus they work with feet and hands with more eager fervour. They place the yoke upon their shoulders; they dig the ground unweariedly with mattocks and spades; they carry in their holy hands hoes and saws for cutting, and provide with their own efforts for all the necessities of the community. Possessions they scorn, the gifts of the wicked they reject, and riches they abhor. There is no bringing in of oxen to have the ploughing done, rather is every one both riches and ox unto himself and the brethren. The work completed, no complaint was heard: no conversation was held beyond that which was necessary, but each performed the task enjoined with prayer and appropriate meditation.

     “Labour in the fields once ended they would return to the cloisters of the monastery, and they spent the whole of the day until evening in reading, writing, or praying. When evening was come, and the stroke of the bell sounded in the ear of any one, when only the tip of a letter or even half the form of the same letter was written, they would rise quickly and leave what they were doing; and so, in silence, without any empty talk or chatter they repair to the church. When they had finished chanting the psalms, during which the voice and heart were in complete accord, they humble themselves on bended knees until the appearance of the stars in the heavens should bring the day to a close. After all had gone out, the father remained alone to pour forth his prayer to God in secret for the condition of the Church.

     “At length they assemble at table. Everyone restores and refreshes his weary limbs by partaking of supper, not, however, to excess, for too much, though it be of bread alone, engenders self-indulgence: but at that meal, all take supper according to the varying condition of their bodies or age. They do not serve courses of different savours, nor richer kinds of food: their food is, in fact, bread and herbs seasoned with salt, whilst they quench a burning thirst with a temperate kind of drink. Moreover, for either the sick, or likewise those wearied by a long journey, they provide some dishes of tastier food, since it is not proper to apportion to all in equal measure.

     “When thanks has been returned to God, they go to the church in accordance with canonical rule, and there they give themselves up to watchings, prayers, and genuflexions for about three hours. Whilst they were praying in the church, no one unrestrainedly dared to yawn, no one to sneeze, no one to spit.

     “This done they compose their limbs for sleep. Waking up at cock-crow, they apply themselves to prayer on bended knees, and spend the remainder of the night till morning without sleep. In like manner they serve throughout other nights.

     “From Saturday evening until daybreak at the first hour of Sunday, they give themselves to watchings, prayers, and genuflexions, except for one hour after matins on Saturday.

     “They reveal their thoughts to the father, and obtain his permission even for the requirements of nature. All things are in common; there is no ‘mine’ or ‘thine’, for whosoever should say ‘my book’ or ‘my anything else’ would be straightway subjected to a severe penance. They wore clothes of mean quality, mainly skins. There was unfailing obedience to the father’s command: great was their perseverance in the performance of duties, great was their uprightness in all things.

     “For he who would long for this manner of saintly life, and should ask to enter the company of the brethren, had first to remain for ten days at the door of the monastery, as one rejected, and also silenced by words of abuse. If he put his patience to good use, and should stand there until the tenth day, he was first admitted and was put to serve under the elder who had charge of the gate. When he had for a long time toiled there, and many oppositions within his soul had been broken down, he was at length thought fit to enter the brethren’s society.

     “There was no superfluity: voluntary poverty was loved: for whosoever desired their manner of life, nothing of his property, which he had forsaken in the world when he renounced it, would the holy father accept for the use of the monastery, not even one penny, so to speak: but naked, as though escaping from a shipwreck, was he received, so that he should not by any means extol himself, or esteem himself above the brethren, or, on grounds of his wealth, refuse his equal share of toil with the brethren; nor, if he should throw off his monk’s robes, might he by force extort what he had left to the monastery, and drive the patience of the brethren into anger.

     “But the father himself, overflowing with daily fountains of tears, and fragrant with sweet-smelling offerings of prayers, and radiant with a twofold flame of charity, consecrated with pure hands the due oblation of the Lord’s Body. After matins, he proceeded alone to hold converse with the angels. Immediately afterwards, he sought cold water, remaining in it sufficiently long to subdue all the ardours of the flesh. The whole of the day he spent, inflexibly and unweariedly, in teaching, praying, genuflecting, and in care for the brethren; also in feeing a multitude of orphans, wards, widows, needy, sick, feeble, and pilgrims: so he began; so he continued; so he ended. As for the other aspects of the severity of his discipline, although a necessary ideal for imitation, this brief abbreviation forbids us to enlarge upon it. But he imitated the monks of Egypt, and lived a life like theirs.”

Source:  Vladimir Moss, http://www.orthodoxchristianbooks.com/articles/678/st.-david,-celtic-churches-eastern-orthodoxy/, opened 27 March 2017

This is the fulfilment of what Mr Weaver was searching for.  For all its agrarian and martial mindedness, the South does not have this notion of Christian asceticism.  Both Roman Catholicism and Protestantism have thrown it out, as they have rejected the doctrine of God existing as both unknowable essence and knowable energies, choosing instead to follow St Augustine’s mistaken teaching on God as simple essence.  The Orthodox strive for union with God by uniting with His energies (one may never know, much less unite with, His essence) through the various ascetic disciplines: fasting, prayer, almsgiving, forgiveness, etc.  But the heterodox, who reject God as He is known in His energies, have no need for asceticism, as their external, rational and/or emotional relationship with a God Who is simply an unknowable essence can be experienced just as well without it as with it.

As much as possible, all Southerners should follow the asceticism handed down in the Orthodox Church at home, at work, in government, in school, and so on. 

But the South is also blessed with many places where the extraordinary asceticism of our holy, Grace-filled forefathers and mothers like St David could be practiced - swamps, bayous, beaches, islands in lakes, rivers, and seas, mountain crags and caverns beneath the earth, forests, plains, valleys.

If this divine-human way of life that brings forth holy men and women is not present in the life of a people today, they will reject Christianity altogether.  As Father Seraphim Rose of blessed memory (+1982) has said, man desires to overcome his fallen state.  The Orthodox life is the only way to truly do this.  If it is rejected, a substitute of some kind will be put in the place of Christianity that offers hope of a real transformation of man:

Nietzsche [had] a very romantic temperament very open to all kinds of higher ideas, struggle, sentimental. In his youth he was a Protestant seminary student and came to hate Christianity because he saw in it the principle of weakness which, of course, was true because Luther had taken out of Christianity the idea of struggle and left it something very weak which does not satisfy either the mind or the heart, something which could be totally dry and rational on the one hand, or totally sentimental on the other hand. Nietzsche could see no one who was struggling, no great ascetics, no heroes of Christianity; and from that he concluded that the whole of Christianity was a monstrous farce, a deception practiced upon humanity that does not satisfy the reason which wants Truth; and this is full of superstition because he is full of the idea you can only know what is rational and therefore he rejects everything above the rational; on the other hand, it says nothing to the heart because it becomes so watered down that it is feeble. And he saw it was simply a way of keeping people quiet and satisfied with their lot and he said that was for the herds.

 . . .

Man is only something which is temporary and has to be superseded because he’s too weak. He’s going to become a Superman.

 . . . someone like Nietzsche says the Superman is to come. We have to be overcoming mankind, mankind is too weak.

Actually if you compare -- today’s the day of St. Anthony the Great [1980]-- the answer to Nietzsche is Anthony the Great because Anthony the Great did overcome mankind, his own human nature. He was like an angel on earth, and these people, thinkers totally lost contact, because they lost Christianity, they lost contact with these saints. And therefore they didn’t realize that there is a whole family of people who are in this process of overcoming human nature with the grace of God. Not knowing that, he saw that men, human nature by itself is so small and weak, that it’s not worth fighting for. Therefore it has to overcome but by some other, some kind of external thing.

Source:  Fr Seraphim Rose, ‘Lecture 10: New Religion’, Orthodox Survival Course, https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6SBg9Qgz94oMHpLMVF4SGZ4eG8/view, downloaded 12 Feb. 2017

The Southern tradition will not survive apart from the Orthodox Church.  If the attempt continues to be simply to hold on to what has been before, some revolution or another of Modernity will overthrow it in the end, whether slowly and quietly as is being done today, or quickly and loudly as happened during the War and Reconstruction.

But thanks be to God that the Orthodox saints of the South’s forefathers in Western Europe and Africa, especially her patron saint St Alfred the Great of England, together with Sts Hilda of Whitby, Octavian and all the holy martyrs of North Africa, Kessog of Scotland, and so many other wonderful, holy kinfolk, are waiting to lend her their help, to welcome all Southerners into the fulness of God’s Grace, that thereby made strong, they may save their souls and bodies and preserve and bring to a higher state of being all that is good in their culture.

[3] And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord GOD, thou knowest.--Ezekiel 37:3 KJV