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A Prayer to Sts. Joachim and Anna

Akathist Hymn to Joachim and Anna, Ancestors of God

Kontakion 1

To the holy and righteous Joachim and Anna, forbears of Christ and elect among the human race, who gave birth to the holy Maiden of whom the Son of God was born in the flesh. Since you have great boldness before Christ our God and stand before His heavenly Throne, earnestly entreat Him that we may be delivered from all misfortune and thus may unceasingly cry aloud to you:

Rejoice, holy and righteous Joachim and Anna, Ancestors of God.

Ikos 1

An angelic messenger was sent to you by God, O holy and righteous Ancestors of God, when you both expressed your sorrow — you Joachim in the wilderness, and you Anna in the garden — offering up supplication to God. Thus, the incorporeal one brought the joyful tidings that you would give birth to an all-blessed daughter in whom the whole human race would be blessed, and with the angel we also offer you joyful praise:

Rejoice, branches of the vine of life who blossomed forth holiness from the root of David.

Rejoice, for you gave birth to a daughter more blessed than all generations of men.

Rejoice, most honored forbears of the Incarnate Son of God.

Rejoice, most excellent disclosers of the mystery hidden from before time began.

Rejoice, closest relatives in the flesh to the Consolation of Israel.

Rejoice, blood relatives of the Redeemer Who was promised to the world.

Rejoice, holy and righteous Joachim and Anna, Ancestors of God.

Kontakion 2

Seeing himself belittled by the high priest in the Temple of Jerusalem because of his lack of children, the holy Joachim was sorely distressed. In bitterness of soul he withdrew to his flocks in the wilderness. There he offered fervent supplication with tears, that the Lord would grant him to be called “father” by a child of his own. He therefore added fasting to prayer, and in the contrition of his heart cried aloud to God Almighty: Alleluia.

Ikos 2

Knowing the extent of her husband’s grief, the holy Anna wept bitterly in her house and prayed that the Lord would remove from her the reproach of barrenness. Rightfully remembering the patience of the righteous ones, we humbly cry out thus:

Rejoice, divinely chosen pair who gave birth to the one who would become the Mother of One of the Trinity.

Rejoice, for you brought forth an immaculate Mother for your Creator.

Rejoice, blessed pair who raised a daughter who is most blessed among women.

Rejoice, for God heard your petitions amid your barrenness.

Rejoice, for your tearful entreaties passed up to Heaven and reached the ear of the God of Israel.

Rejoice, for your temporal reproach has been transformed into eternal glory in Heaven and on earth.

Rejoice, holy and righteous Joachim and Anna, Ancestors of God.

Kontakion 3

Filled with the power of God, the angel of the Lord appeared to the holy Joachim in the wilderness and spoke to him. “God has heard your prayer and has been pleased to grant you His grace. Behold, Anna your wife will conceive and bear you a daughter who will be the joy of the whole world.” Having said these things, the incorporeal one commanded Joachim to return to the Temple of Jerusalem. There he would find his spouse praying, that with her he might also chant the hymn of praise to the God of Israel: Alleluia.

Ikos 3

Having great sorrow in your heart, O holy Anna, you entered the garden of your home where your eye saw little chicks lying in a bird’s nest in a tree. You immediately added supplications to your prayers, that the Lord might permit you to become the mother of a child. And, lo, the angel of the Lord appeared and spoke to you. “Your prayer has been heard, your sighs have passed beyond the clouds and your tears have come before God. Behold, you will conceive and bear an all-blessed daughter in whom all the peoples of the earth will be blessed, and through whom salvation will be given to all the world. Her name will be Mary.” Mindful of these most angelic tidings, let us chant these things to the Ancestors of God:

Rejoice, for you were chosen for ineffable glory.

Rejoice, for you walked blamelessly in all the Commandments of the Lord.

Rejoice, for you received eternal consolation amid your fleeting sorrow.

Rejoice, for you were exalted beyond expectation by the Right Hand of God.

Rejoice, for you showed humility in your tribulation, and the Lord God remembered you.

Rejoice, for you were chosen to become the forbearers of the Son of God.

Rejoice, holy and righteous Joachim and Anna, Ancestors of God.

Kontakion 4

Beset by a storm of doubt and perplexed by the angel’s tidings to him, the righteous Joachim immediately set out for the city of Jerusalem. There he found before the gates of the Temple the holy Anna, greatly glorifying the Lord. She declared to Joachim the joy of the angelic appearance and the prediction of childbirth. After Joachim had told his spouse of his own vision, he then cried with her to the Lord: Alleluia.

Ikos 4

When Anna’s relatives and friends heard of her all-glorious conceiving, they glorified the God of Israel. The divinely wise Anna promised the fruit of her womb to the service of God, and offered up fervent thanks to the Lord. In the same manner, earnestly singing the most glorious conception of the holy Maiden Mary, we say to her blessed parents:

Rejoice, joyous heralds announcing the Redeemer Who is come into the world.

Rejoice, grandparents of God Who in His mercy assumed our form.

Rejoice, through your blessed daughter, you provided flesh for the Word of God.

Rejoice, for you called the Incarnate God your grandson.

Rejoice, worthy servants of the great mystery of piety.

Rejoice, most excellent means of God’s condescension to men.

Rejoice, holy and righteous Joachim and Anna, Ancestors of God.

Kontakion 5

You were chosen to give birth in the flesh to the all-holy Birthgiver of God, the divinely radiant star who showed forth Christ God, the Sun of Righteousness. O most blessed Joachim and Anna, you have thereby received the enviable title of Ancestors of God. Upon her holy birth, Heaven and earth rejoiced and the entire human race was sanctified, crying to the God of Israel Who is wondrous in His saints: Alleluia.

Ikos 5

As parents, O righteous Joachim and Anna, you gazed tenderly at the Mother of the Creator, the holy Maiden Mary who was born of you, and you reverently ministered to her as the ark of God. We therefore beseech you not to turn away from us who fall down before you in prayer, but also attend to us who say:

Rejoice, for you were filled with radiant jubilation at the birth of the holy Maiden Mary.

Rejoice, for you were filled with delight at the sight of your most blessed daughter.

Rejoice, for you were moved to compunction at the sound of her voice.

Rejoice, for after these things, you were blessed by the high priest of God.

Rejoice, for you nurtured the unblemished ewe-lamb in your pious home.

Rejoice, for you received the Mother of the Lamb and Shepherd as your daughter.

Rejoice, holy and righteous Joachim and Anna, Ancestors of God.

Kontakion 6

You were shown to be proclaimers of the wonders of God, O Saints, when you fulfilled your vow to God and with glory brought the three-year old holy Maiden Mary to the Temple of God, so that she might abide in the Holy of Holies. Because of these things, you hastened with joy to chant to the God of your fathers this glorification: Alleluia.

Ikos 6

The divine Maiden shone forth like the full moon at her honored entry into the Temple of the Lord, and the angels marveled at her beauty. Taking her from your hands, O holy Joachim and Anna, the high priest Zachariah led her into the Holy of Holies with honor, for she was truly the living ark of God, and he blessed you as is proper with such praises as these:

Rejoice, for you have given birth to the universal joy of the human race.

Rejoice, for you have nurtured the cause of the restoration of mankind.

Rejoice, for you brought the living ark of God to the Temple of the Lord.

Rejoice, for you gave your holy daughter to dwell in the Holy of Holies.

Rejoice, for you are revealed as the relatives of God Who will become incarnate.

Rejoice, for you conversed with the angels.

Rejoice, holy and righteous Joachim and Anna, Ancestors of God.

Kontakion 7

Having fulfilled the desire of your soul and given your promise to God, O all-blessed Joachim, you departed this earthly life in holiness and righteousness, passing on to the Lord. We therefore ask you to petition Him that we also may be counted worthy to receive a peaceful and unashamed end, crying to Him: Alleluia.

Ikos 7

You led a new and God-pleasing life in your widowhood, O holy Anna, abiding in the Temple of God and ministering to your all-blessed daughter. For this reason, we praise you as a true and God-pleasing widow and the grandmother of Christ. With love we fervently honor you and your husband, Joachim the grandfather of God, and offer you such hymns as these:

Rejoice, just ones whose righteousness shines like the sun forever.

Rejoice, friends of the angels, who truly dwell with the saints in the presence of God.

Rejoice, for you stand near the Throne of Heaven.

Rejoice, for you have great boldness before Christ God.

Rejoice, adornment of the Church Triumphant in Heaven.

Rejoice, good support of the Church militant on earth.

Rejoice, holy and righteous Joachim and Anna, Ancestors of God.

Kontakion 8

Holy and righteous Anna, having reached the end of your earthly journey in the arms of your holy daughter, the Birthgiver of God Mary, you slept the sleep of death and were transported to God with hope. Glorifying your holy dormition, we entreat you, O most honored grandmother of God: When we also begin to fall into the sleep of death, beseech Christ the Savior that our soul may part gently from our body and escape the power of the demons, that we may be granted eternal salvation and may cry to Him in the joy of the saints: Alleluia.

Ikos 8

The whole Christian world blesses you as is proper, O holy and righteous Ancestors of God, Joachim and Anna, and in prayer glorifies your honored names. The Church of Christ celebrates your memory with splendor and offers hymns of praise to you.

Rejoice, beacons who graciously illumine the darkness of our soul.

Rejoice, for you mercifully look down upon mortals from the heavenly heights of your glory.

Rejoice, for you ever pray with Mary the Birthgiver of God.

Rejoice, for you thereby move Christ God to great mercy.

Rejoice, for you save from all misfortune those who cherish the Faith and who love one another because of you.

Rejoice, for you deliver those who call on your help in prayer from a violent and sudden death.

Rejoice, holy and righteous Joachim and Anna, Ancestors of God.

Kontakion 9

All the angels of God and the choirs of the saints of God in Heaven greet you, O holy and righteous Ancestors of God, Joachim and Anna, and on earth the generations of men praise you with prayerful hymns and cry to God in thanksgiving for your intercession: Alleluia.

Ikos 9

Our eloquence does not suffice to praise you fittingly, O holy forbears of Christ. Yet, knowing that you are merciful, we trust that you will not reject our inadequate praises. Rather, be fervent intercessors and advocates for us before the Lord, fulfilling the deficiency of our soul with your holy supplication, that we may cry to you this hymn of thanksgiving:

Rejoice, mediators who win for us the joy and eternal glory we desire.

Rejoice, fervent advocates before the Lord who acquire temporal and eternal blessings for us.

Rejoice, by your intercession, you preserve the faithful from deadly pestilence.

Rejoice, by your supplication, you dispel deadly plagues.

Rejoice, by your mediation, you cause earthquakes and violent storms to cease and you restore calm.

Rejoice, for amid all tribulation and misfortune, you hasten to our aid.

Rejoice, holy and righteous Joachim and Anna, Ancestors of God.

Kontakion 10

Holy and righteous Ancestors of God, Joachim and Anna, you have shown yourselves to be beneficial helpers of those who desire salvation of soul and diligently strive for this. O holy forebears, you are the guardians of monks and nuns, and you likewise offer supplication to God for all the faithful. For this cause, in thanksgiving to Christ the King of Glory, Who has glorified you throughout the world, all people may cry out: Alleluia.

Ikos 10

With the bulwark of your prayers, O holy and righteous Ancestors of God, Joachim and Anna, preserve and protect us from the temptations of the diabolical one that seeks the destruction of our soul. We know that your petition before the face of Christ our God, your Grandson according to the flesh, is able to accomplish much. Never cease to make supplication to Him in behalf of all who lovingly honor you and cry aloud:

Rejoice, fruitful olive trees pouring forth the oil of the mercy of God upon us in abundance.

Rejoice, cypress trees of excellent foliage who turn the burning heat of our passions into the stillness of dispassion.

Rejoice, purple and fine linen of which the tabernacle of God’s dwelling place was wrought.

Rejoice, turtle doves mated for life, who brought forth the immaculate dove.

Rejoice, for you reign eternally with your daughter, the Queen of all.

Rejoice, for you celebrate with her in splendor in her heavenly mansion in Zion on high.

Rejoice, holy and righteous Joachim and Anna, Ancestors of God.

Kontakion 11

Mercifully accept our hymns of praise and do not deprive us of your compassion, O holy Joachim and Anna, Ancestors of God. We are unworthy of your holy intercession because of our sins. Knowing that you are good and full of pity, however, we implore you to grant us mediation and to help us cleanse ourselves from defilement of sin through repentance. Thus, in purity of heart we may chant to our Creator the hymn of praise: Alleluia.

Ikos 11

Brethren, let us recognize the holy Ancestors of God, Joachim and Anna, as two radiant candles which lit the universal lamp. Mercifully illumined with the brightness of their heavenly glory, let us endeavor to become worthy by singing to them such words as these:

Rejoice, for you were counted worthy to raise her who is beyond compare more glorious than the seraphim.

Rejoice, for you were resplendent with heavenly brightness.

Rejoice, for you were filled with the sweet fragrance of the Spirit.

Rejoice, for you bear to God the incense of your prayers for the whole Christian world.

Rejoice, for you ever stand before the Throne of Christ with Mary the God-bearer and John the Baptist.

Rejoice, for we fall before you and honor the power of God in you.

Rejoice, holy and righteous Joachim and Anna, Ancestors of God.

Kontakion 12

Holy Ancestors of God, Joachim and Anna, ask the Lord to grant us divine grace and mercy, forgiveness of sins and correction of life. Never cease to entreat the countenance of Almighty God in our behalf, for you have acquired great boldness before Him. Falling down before you with fervor for this purpose, we beseech you as our true intercessors and helpers, and with real compunction we cry to the Creator of all: Alleluia.

Ikos 12

Singing of the great might of your intercession before God, O righteous Joachim and Anna, we sing also the praises of His all-immaculate Mother who was born of you. In our zeal we offer you these right-fitting praises:

Rejoice, for you are glorified from the East even to the West.

Rejoice, our protectors whose vigilance in intercession is never-waning.

Rejoice, for you grant your gracious help to every Christian soul.

Rejoice, most excellent healers who attend to those in pain and sorrow.

Rejoice, for you fulfill the entreaties and petitions of the pious.

Rejoice, most diligent and pleasing mediators who obtain for us temporal and eternal good things.

Rejoice, holy and righteous Joachim and Anna, Ancestors of God.

Kontakion 13

Holy and righteous Ancestors of God, Joachim and Anna, we entreat you with zeal and love, falling down before the footstool of your feet. We ask that you beseech the Lord God to deliver us from the everlasting damnation prepared for sinners. Saved therefore by the loving-kindness of our God and aided by your holy prayers, we may sing in thanksgiving to Him the angelic hymn: Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia.

(Repeat Kontakion 13 three times.)

Kontakion 1 (repeated)

To the holy and righteous Joachim and Anna, forbears of Christ and elect among the human race, who gave birth to the holy Maiden of whom the Son of God was born in the flesh. Since you have great boldness before Christ our God and stand before His heavenly Throne, earnestly entreat Him that we may be delivered from all misfortune and thus may unceasingly cry aloud to you:

Rejoice, O holy and righteous Joachim and Anna, Ancestors of God.

Ikos 1 (repeated)

An angelic messenger was sent to you by God, O holy and righteous Ancestors of God, when you both expressed your sorrow — you Joachim in the wilderness, and you Anna in the garden — offering up supplication to God. Thus, the incorporeal one brought the joyful tidings that you would give birth to an all-blessed daughter in whom the whole human race would be blessed, and with the angel we also offer you joyful praise:

Rejoice, branches of the vine of life who blossomed forth holiness from the root of David.

Rejoice, for you gave birth to a daughter more blessed than all generations of men.

Rejoice, most honored forbears of the Incarnate Son of God.

Rejoice, most excellent disclosers of the mystery hidden from before time began.

Rejoice, closest relatives in the flesh to the Consolation of Israel.

Rejoice, blood relatives of the Redeemer Who was promised to the world.

Rejoice, holy and righteous Joachim and Anna, Ancestors of God.

A Prayer

Ancestors of God, Joachim and Anna, your distress and reproach were overcome by the Almighty God, and thereby the Savior of the world came into the world through your holy daughter, Mary. Your prayers were abundantly answered by our merciful God Who rewards patience, humility and compunction. We praise you for your faith and for your commitment to prayer, and we implore your compassion upon our lack of fruitfulness in the Christian virtues. Holy and righteous Joachim and Anna, teach us to be living temples of the grace of God, so that we also may devote ourselves to holiness and bring forth treasures which are pleasing to Him. Growing older with each passing day, we ask your guidance that we might reach a peaceful end on this earth and thereby be united with you forever in the Kingdom of Heaven. Amen.

Courtesy of here.  An akathist is a traditional prayer in the Orthodox Church which is addressed to one of the Persons of the Trinity, or to a saint.  “Joachim” and “Anna” or “Anne” are the names traditionally attributed to the parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Today is their feast day.

Which Yana?

There were a couple of points I wanted to make in my previous post about my decades-long flirtation with Buddhism, but which I totally forgot.  That’s just as well; it’s grist for a new post, and it will allow me to expand at greater length on what I was going to say there.  In order to do that, I’ll need to do some groundwork and unpacking of just what I mean.

All major religions consist of numerous sects.  Many faiths claim to be universal, the One True Faith, the only accurate portrait of reality, the great path meant for all mankind.  Mankind, however, is a contentious thing, and one of the very most characteristic traits of human beings is their tendency to disagree.  This is as much true in the realm of religion as in politics, culture, language, and any other areas of human life.  As much as religions may preach a message of unity, in actuality they all manifest, to various degrees, disunity.

In the case of the more familiar religions, the divisions are well-known.  Christianity, for example, consists of the Catholic Church, the various branches of the Eastern Orthodox Church, and the various Protestant churches, as well as a few other smaller groups (those who are into mind-numbing detail as to the various divisions of Christianity may go here for quite a bit of religious inside baseball, if they so wish).  Judaism is divided into Orthodox, Reform, and (in the US) Conservative branches, as well as some smaller groups (Reconstructionist, Karaite, and so on).  Though Islam is less familiar in the West, the politics of the Middle East have given Westerners at least a passing awareness of the Sunni and Shi’ite sects of Islam.

Buddhism is a bit of a paradox in this respect.  Though sources vary, Buddhists probably represent no more than one percent of the population of the United States.  Despite this, it has become highly visible in the U.S. since the 80’s.  This is partly because of increased recognition of the plight of Tibet along with the concurrent popularity of the present Dalai Lama.  Moreover, many high-profile celebrities, not least of them Richard Gere, have embraced and promoted Buddhism.  Also, secularized forms of Buddhist meditation, such as Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (among others), have come to be widely practiced even by people who do not consider themselves Buddhist at all.  Despite all this, the denominations and divisions of Buddhism are not very well-known in this country.  That, then, is where I’ll start.

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Quote for the Week

Faith both in the Immaculate Conception and in the bodily Assumption of the Virgin was already present in the People of God, while theology had not yet found the key to interpreting it in the totality of the doctrine of the faith. The People of God therefore precede theologians and this is all thanks to that supernatural sensus fidei, namely, that capacity infused by the Holy Spirit that qualifies us to embrace the reality of the faith with humility of heart and mind. In this sense, the People of God is the ‘teacher that goes first’ and must then be more deeply examined and intellectually accepted by theology.

–Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience 7 July 2010 at the Vatican web site; courtesy of Wikiquote

Marian Music for the Weekend

Slightly belated, but enjoy anyway.

Confessions of a Failed Ascetic

I’m more like the guy on the right than the one on the left….*

I have a girlfriend now, myself, which is weird, because I’m probably gay based on the way I act and behave…. I think like in heaven they build like three-quarters of a gay person, and then they forgot to flip the final switch. And they just sent me out, and it was like, “You marked that one gay, right?” and it was like, “Oh, no–was I supposed to?” and they were like, “Oh, man–well, this will be a very interesting person!”

–John Mulaney, New in Town

Mutatis mutandis (a fancy Latin phrase meaning “All appropriate changes having been made), I have sometimes thought this applies to me.  Change “gay” to “ascetic” or “monk”, and it strikes me as appropriate to an extent.  In heaven, someone made three-quarters of a monastic and then forgot to flip the final switch and just sent me out.  I did turn out to be a very interesting person (or “eccentric as hell”–take your pick).

As regular readers know, I grew up as a non-churchgoing cultural Protestant in small-town Appalachia.  The only churches I even knew existed until I was nearing my teen years were “Baptist” and “Methodist”, and I was none too sure about the differences.  I remember seeing some nuns outside the Catholic hospital in the next town south from my hometown.  Nuns, let alone a Catholic hospital, were anomalous there; and this random memory must be from when I was no older than six or seven (1969 or 1970), since most nuns abandoned habits by the early 70’s.  In any case, aside from that one sighting, nuns–and monks–to me were mostly something you saw in Robin Hood stories or histories of the Middle Ages.  I didn’t have any clear concept as to what they actually were, nor did I have more than a vague notion of what the Catholic Church was.  In fact, as I grew older and learned a bit about the Middle Ages and the Reformation, I developed a mild, somewhat genteel, anti-Catholic attitude–the “I have nothing against the Church, but it’s good that the Reformation swept away all that superstitious Medieval folderol!” type.  In any case, the point of all this is to note that, far from having a vocation to monastic life, I didn’t even clearly know what it was, let alone having sympathy for the church with which it is most closely associated.

That makes the following somewhat bizarre.

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Confessions of a Pseudo-Buddhist

A few years ago I was shopping in the local grocery store.  As I was walking down the aisle, I passed another guy, whom I noticed was looking at me.  He called me by name, and I recognized him–he’d been my best friend’s roommate in college some thirty years before.  It turned out that we both lived in the same small town now.  We talked for awhile, catching up.  At one point, I mentioned in passing that I was a member of the local Catholic parish.  He looked at me somewhat askance, and then said, “I always thought you were Buddhist!”  I don’t remember how I responded to that at the time.  Thinking about it later, though, I decided, upon looking back, that I probably did come off as a Buddhist in those halcyon days of yore.  Since then, I sometimes describe myself at that point as a “quasi-Buddhist” or a “functional Buddhist”.  Maybe “Buddhist fellow-traveler” would be better.  Best of all, perhaps, as with the title of this post, “pseudo-Buddhist”.

I’ve discussed here how reading the Dhammapada caused me to become interested in Buddhism.  I read voraciously about Buddhism in the sources available to me at that time–principally books on Zen, though there were some others, as well.  In particular, I read and re-read D. T. Suzuki’s An Introduction to Zen Buddhism, a book I need to write about in detail in the future.  In conversations I’d often quote the Buddha or refer to Buddhist concepts.  I can easily see why my friend thought I was, indeed, Buddhist.  On the other hand, there was no real depth to it.  Except for brief attempts on maybe one or two occasions, I never really tried meditation (much later, after I became Catholic, I’ve done Buddhist and other forms of meditation relatively extensively).  I certainly never took refuge, the official way of converting to Buddhism.  I was vaguely aware of a Buddhist study group in the city were I was living at that time; but for reasons of which I’m unsure even now, I never made contact (I did do mediation at their meditation center many years later, once more, after I came into the Church).  You might say that such Buddhism as I exhibited was all saffron and no substance.

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Arguments Against Universalism: A Personal Encounter

Back here I discussed two forms of argument against universalism, both of which I considered to be red herrings–that is, arguments that don’t actually address the issue at hand.  The first argument boiled down to saying, “Don’t worry about the fate of others–worry about yourself.  Your main goal is to keep yourself from going to hell–God will take care of everyone else.”  This altogether avoids the issue of whether eternal damnation is just, or congruent with God’s infinite goodness, so it’s certainly a red herring.  I had this further to say about it, though:

In the interest of full disclosure, I am personally very, very allergic to the “worry about yourself, never mind about others” argument–or “pseudo-argument”, I should say–for personal reasons. I’ll elaborate those in a post soon to follow, since it would take up too much of the current post if I related them here. Keep tuned for that story.

Well, I want to relate that story now.

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The Mysteries

Remains of Mithraeum in Ostia, Italy

The genesis of this post is an odd one.  I was talking to a friend about mythology the other day, and he asked what my favorite ancient Greek deity was.  Without hesitation I answered that it was Athena.  I went on to say that my favorite figure from Norse mythology was Odin, and from Egyptian, Isis.  Thus, if I’d been an ancient Greek, I’d have worshiped Athena, and so on.  I got to thinking about this a little later, and with the usual flow of stream of consciousness, where one topic leads to another that is sometimes only marginally related, I ended up with something I decided was worth blogging about–hence, the current post.

The title of this post does not refer to Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot or any such thing, but to a specific type of religion prevalent in the Mediterranean cultural zone from about the middle of the first millennium BC to the fifth century or so AD.  These religions were referred to as “mysteries”, usually with a qualifier (“Mysteries of Eleusis”, “Mysteries of Isis”, “Orphic Mysteries”, and so on), by the people of the time.  Scholars of religion in modern times refer to them as “mystery religions”.  In order to examine them, we need to back up a bit and look at the broader picture.

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Līlā; or, It’s Just a Ride

One of the perennial questions of religion is raised by the existence of evil.  The world, as is apparent to  anyone with eyes to see, is a rough-and-tumble place, a place where huge amounts of extremely nasty things occur.  In and of itself, this obvious fact is, while unpleasant, also unremarkable.  For a non-believer, the evil in the cosmos just is.  There’s  no particular reason for it, any more than there is for any other observed phenomenon.  The universe is a quirk of random chance, and it is as it is, a mixture of good and bad.  Much of the badness, in fact, is a function not of any cosmic principle, but of our perspective as humans.  Disease, suffering, and death are very much meaningful–and unpleasant–to us, since they affect us in ways we don’t at all like.  For the disease-causing pathogens that live on us, though, we’re a veritable smorgasbord, a means by which they prosper, albeit at our expense.  Things like earthquakes, hurricanes, and such are impersonal phenomena that just happen with no motivations at all, either good or bad.  They occur merely because of natural processes, and the fact that we are sometimes in their way is our problem, not theirs. It’s all a matter of perspective.

Even for believers of various stripes, not all religions give any particular answer to the “problem of evil”.  Buddhism famously begins with the assertion that the cosmos is irremediably screwed up, to wit, the First Noble Truth, which declares that “all existence is suffering”.  In short, the world is a cesspit of misery that will never be any better than it is.  We may have better or worse experiences in the course of manifold reincarnations, but in the end, it all boils down to suffering, even if it’s deferred for a bit.  Thus the goal of Buddhism is to leave the wheel of birth and rebirth–samsara–for good by attaining nirvana.  At that point, one is no longer reborn into this universe of misery.  Jainism takes a similar viewpoint, in which the ultimate goal is the cessation of rebirth through moksha (liberation) at which point one’s jīva (soul) leaves the phenomenal cosmos for the Siddhashila, a place of perfection in which the now-purified and omniscient jīva dwells eternally in perfect bliss.  As with Buddhism, the idea is that evil, suffering, and nastiness are baked into the cake of the universe, so that the idea is to escape the universe.

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Quote for the Week

Mercy is a sweet gracious working in love, mingled with plenteous pity: for mercy worketh in keeping us, and mercy worketh turning to us all things to good. Mercy, by love, suffereth us to fail in measure and in as much as we fail, in so much we fall; and in as much as we fall, in so much we die: for it needs must be that we die in so much as we fail of the sight and feeling of God that is our life. Our failing is dreadful, our falling is shameful, and our dying is sorrowful: but in all this the sweet eye of pity and love is lifted never off us, nor the working of mercy ceaseth. For I beheld the property of mercy, and I beheld the property of grace: which have two manners of working in one love.

–Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love (c. 1393), Ch. 48; courtesy of Wikiquote.