Okay, moving on…
Week 5 was a good lecture, but something caught my attention, and he even admits some Orthodox might not like it. He talks about how in our relationship, we should turn all images into words, or cure our hearts from images. All this starts at about an hour and a half.
The word "Abba Father", if you continue to keep those words in your heart without forming an image, you will reside in the heart of God. Keep the word of God in your heart, and God will keep you in His heart, as Abba Philemon once said. To form an image of the word is like an idol in the soul. It's fine to start with a picture but end with a word. Some simple-minded folks need images, but it won't lead to a deep relationship with God.
He proceeds to talk about the "3 levels of Orthodoxy" in regards to iconology, in which the first two he believes are "blasphemy."
First level is when people practice going to kiss the icon as if it was a real presence of Christ or the saints, and calls it "holy paganism." He also says the same about statues and the Catholic Church, but then says "maybe it's me and my Semitic mind."
Second level is a little bit better. He has been begging the Orthodox for more than 35 years, and not many people listen to him. Icons are nothing more than an arrangement of a holy banquet of the Kingdom with the iconostasis in its head. If you enter the Church knowing that these images point to the Holy Banquet, you will be fine. But if you enter the Church to venerate these icons separately, to satisfy your desire to touch, kiss, and light candles, the icons no longer become a useful tool.
He relates a story from Abba Philemon about him lighting a candle in front of an icon. "Why do you do this" he asks. Dr. George answers, "because it's a custom." "Does the Virgin Mary live in darkness needing your miserable light?…A child of God should not worship according to custom; it's a form of paganism. …I don't light candles, the saints don't need candles. … What you are doing is you're making a fool of God and yourself. The King invites you to His banquet, and you play with these icons, but you do not even look into the face of the King. … If you think this is THE banquet, then you are fooling yourself."
However, Dr. George does love icons, and he has a huge collection of them in his home. He also has a pictures of a bishop who was martyred he loved and Abba Philemon. But he doesn't kiss those icons or pictures. Every time he sees these icons, they become "words." For the picture of Abba Philemon, the words are what he talked about, his wisdom, his countless rebukes against Dr. George, his spirituality. His picture is not the center of veneration, but what he said is the center of veneration.
Another Abba Philemon story regarding vestments worn, which are very expensive (according to Dr. George, 5 grand a piece), "They made a fool of you. Put on these vestments, and you walk like a peacock, and you feel great. The fabrics give you a sense of greatness, isn't it? But if you discover the beauty the Holy Spirit gives to your soul, you won't need the fabrics." That radical understanding is a level of a mature person. For him, the image became a word.
Most of the time, images more so than words provoke anger, arguments, lusts, etc.
The third level of Orthodoxy, when you see an icon, you know these things are not everlasting, but it's a transient picture that should remind you of eternity, which is more beautiful than any icon painted by an artist.
When Dr. George was married in the Russian Orthodox Church, the choir didn't show up. Archbishop Anthony Bloom (who was his spiritual guide for 25 years in England) said to him that he was ashamed and sorry that he has to celebrate his wedding without a choir. So, after the wedding, as a wedding gift, he gave Dr. George an icon of the Theotokos made of Bronze with writings of Church slavonic. Apparently, it was a 17th Century icon that is very antique and lead others to offer him huge sums of money for it. Dr. George feeling bad that this might be the wrong icon went to give it back to the Archbishop, and the Archbishop replied,
"Are you a Christian man George?"
"I hope so."
"This icon belongs to my great grandmother, and I had many possessions of my mother's and this icon is the last possession of my mother that I had, and I gave it to you because I love you and I love your wife. And you know George, when you love someone, you give them the best and not the cheap. Take it back. If you don't take it back, don't come to Church anymore. Because if you don't take it back, you have no real dynamic love in your life."
"I learned a very hard lesson today. Thank you."
"I gave you this icon because I know how much it can give you in the market. If you feel you need to sell it one day because you need the money, go ahead. But when you are finished with it one day, give it to somebody you love."
This icon was given to Dr. George in 1968, and he is not finished with it yet.
Before his death, Archbishop Anthony Bloom gave Dr. George a bottle of perfume that belonged to his mother. "It probably lost its fragrance," he said, "but take it and share it with your wife. I know you're a man of vainglory and you like to smell nice. But as for me, I'm heading towards eternity, to have with me the fragrance of the Holy Spirit."
"Does this mean you reached the 3rd level of Orthodoxy?"
Therefore, what is eternal should be more important than what is transient.
Now my commentary:
Could this be a form of semi-iconoclasm, where people who kiss icons or light candles are committing paganism? Are churches without icons considered better than churches with icons according to Dr. George? When looking at the overall message, it is very worth listening to this message and to learn and benefit from it. But this radical thought against the customs of kissing icons seems to go against a very important tradition in the Church.
The rebuke against Dr. George by Abba Philemon is a good rebuke. If you do not understand the custom that you are doing, and you are just doing this for custom's sake, then indeed, it's paganism. But to make a sweeping argument and not turn this custom into understanding the symbols behind the custom and what it means for me to kiss an icon or to light a candle, then I think that goes against Orthodox iconology. And would Dr. George agree that icons are "windows to heaven", where the real presence might be there so long as you receive from their presence a certain blessing? What about the consecration of icons in the Church by the holy oil? Is Dr. George insinuating that getting a blessing from icons or consecrating them might be a form of blasphemy as well?
These are issues that need to be clarified or at least his wording needs to be less provocative. Hence another reason probably why he has become quite controversial in the Church. Despite all of this, this lecture was quite good and gave good lessons, which is why I needed to listen and quote it in its context here. Any comments are appreciated.
PS Around an hour and 53 minutes in, he does recommend one to read and to have patience to finish reading St. Augustine's work on the Trinity.
Week 6 was unfortunately cut off, but there was no controversy here. The general theme is expanding upon the idea of personhood vs individuality, as well as defining the Trinity in terms of self-sacrificial love, as Lover, Beloved, and Love, three-in-one, and that we are called to participate fully in this love, that the Church should be an icon of this love, an icon of the Trinity. In order to fully know the Trinity, it's not enough to just have ideas about the Trinity, but to immerse in a dialogue of love in the Trinity, to fully know the Trinity.
At around 27th minute: Can God in his divinity choose not to know? He admits giving a shock here and say "Yes," God may choose even in His divinity not to know. "In good Christian theology, God does not know anything about us until we tell him". (John of Damascus). God can know everything, and has the ability to know everything, but He can choose not to know. Abba Philemon, "Your biggest mistake George is you think God treats you according to His knowledge. God treats according to His love, but on the day of Judgment, He will treat you according to His knowledge."
Some people think how can this be, since choosing to not know means God isn't perfect in omniscience? However, this is a false dichotomy, for God is still perfect even if He chooses not to know.
What do you all think? Dr. George claims he gets this from St. John of Damascus, which I'd like to know the exact source. I don't think he said anything wrong, but still, would love to see your input.
Nothing controversial. But a very interesting lecture, and well worth the listen if you have time. Here, he gives an introduction to deification and how it differs from New Agism. He also talks about the dangers and pitfalls of Buddhism and Sufism, and how Christianity avoids those pitfalls.