An Update, a Wish, and a Church Father


Christ is born! My apologies for no post last week, but with Christmas and everything else I’ve been far too busy. Theophany is within a week as well, so there’s nothing major for today. Furthermore, I want to finish my last post on Madoka, which is looking to be a long one, and as such I’ll probably halt my posting until that’s done (otherwise I don’t know if I’ll ever finish it).

That being said, tomorrow is New Year’s Day, the day in which the Orthodox Church celebrates both the circumcision of Christ as well as St. Basil the Great. For those of you who don’t know, St. Basil is one of the three Cappadocian Fathers (the other two being his close friend St. Gregory the Theologian, and his younger brother St. Gregory of Nyssa) who helped to further develop the doctrine of the Trinity. St. Basil himself was also a large player in the development of monasticism, laying down his cenobitic rule,1 and was also a large advocate for social welfare, setting up monastic-ran basiliads in which the poor were treated for no cost at all. His theology courses throughout the life of the Church and beyond; the basiliads of the fourth century would evolve into what is our modern day hospital. CCEL offers the NFPF translation of his works: at the very least, every Christian – Orthodox or not – should read De Spiritu Sanctu (“On The Holy Spirit”).

I hope you all the best during the coming year!

Footnotes
1 Cenobitic monasticism is the form in where monastics are more communal and live together, as contrast to anchoritic monasticism in where monks are more hermitic in practice.

Pornoviolence

The sound of Caribbean music bounced its way through the air, popping life into a vibrant décor of menus, neon lights, and red counter-tops. Across from me was my father confessor, listening intently to my debacle. I had recently just played the game Bayonetta, and while the violence itself didn’t get to me, its throwing around of religious symbolism did Having angels as enemies bothered me too greatly, though by no means was I trying to judge anyone who felt differently. However, upon putting down the game and going online to actually read how others felt, I had come across one poster who greatly berated video games for their excessive violence, and that merely viewing, not to mention participating, in such things could not be good for the soul. Whether they said this next comment or not (I don’t remember) I left the computer with the following dilemma: it is, for Christians, undeniable that viewing and watching pornography is a sin. However, the act of killing another, whether murder or not, is also a sin, but so many of us have no problem watching this, let alone play a video games where we commit the act ourselves. This felt like a double standard, but at the same time there was something wrong with the comparison, but I couldn’t quite figure out what.

The term ‘pornoviolence’ is a term from the same titled essay by Tom Wolfe in which he essentially argues (at best as I can remember) that violence had become a new kind of pornography for our media, that it was used as a means to excite and gratify its viewers, and to entice them. Scenes of bloodbaths, of evisceration, of death is what sold and thus what was crafted. I personally find it hard to argue against such a critique; how many games can we all call to mind where the objective is ultimately to kill someone or something? Now, this may not of itself be gratuitous as even a game as tame as chess has the routing of the enemy as its primary objective. Yet, how many video games are saturated with visceral and gruesome scenes of death? God of War, Manhunt, Grand Theft Auto, Team Fortress II, Diablo III, Doom, Quake, Unreal Tournament, etc. Again, that’s not to say all these games are equal in this facet: Diablo III and Team Fortress II are not even close to the level of sheer brutality as something like God of War or Manhunt, but nevertheless your still seeing enemies – whether it be a ‘Heavy Weapons Guy’ or some infernal beast from the pit – get blown up into a pulp of sinew and ‘gibs’. I’d like to reiterate that I’m not passing judgment in writing this: I’ve played all of those games listed above, bar Manhunt, and many others, and I still continue to play most of them. To me, as long as violence stays a relatively low level (and I stress the use of that word since I have that the feeling that today’s ‘tame’ is yesterday’s ‘excessive’), it doesn’t bother me. Get to something like God of War, and I start to find it hard to enjoy.

I’ve been focusing so far on video games, but this same phenomenon is in anime; violence permeates almost every show that I’ve watched, and is almost always the modus operandi for solving a problem. But this is where violence need not be as negative; my favorite part of any story is the theme, the central ideas that weave throughout the plot and characters, and ultimately deliver some of kind of deeper message than what is on the surface. As such, violence can often be a metaphor that represents the conflict between good and evil, of light and darkness.1 Christian authors have often used violence in this regard, I need only mention the names of C.S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. But there is always a fine line; while violence can represent this conflict, the temptation is to focus too heavily on the violence, having the means become the point, and thus descending into a glorified view of violent acts – pornoviolence.

This is how I felt about last Saturday’s episode of Sword Art Online. I’m going to assume that those reading the post have seen the episode, and thus already have some idea of what I’m talking about. Asuna’s being hung up like a doll while Sugou rips off her clothes and taunts Kirito, sexually harassing our heroine while taking delight in the tears shed by both (to the point where he actually licks Asuna’s tears. What is this, SouthPark?). Kirito curses him, Asuna cries as she’s being violated, and Sugou is laughing just as you would expect this one-dimensional, really superficial villain to do (crazy eyes included). I know that there are some themes going on here, the idea of sexual anonymity in the internet, and that Sugou’s rape of Asuna may act like this on some level (though its hardly explored if so at all). But in reality it was nothing more than shock, nothing more than using sexuality as a way to make the viewer see Sugou as a deranged pervert and nothing more.

Rape in a story can be used to make a powerful point, to discuss the horrors of our world and examine them (and hopefully learn how to overcome them). I posted awhile ago on the show Now and Then, Here and There, and how the character Sara was used as a sex slave for the soldiers of Hellywood as an allusion to the use of young girls as sex slaves for guerrilla armies. There is an incredibly powerful scene where she, about to be raped again, fights back and actually kills her attacker. There is blood, there is screaming, there is violence – and yet the result is a far cry to what happened in SAO. The music, the expressions, the entire direction of the scene is highlighting the horror of what is happening, and that it happens all the time in the world. The viewers reaction is almost to look away, to not want to acknowledge it because it is so sad, so terrifying, and so brutal. Yet at no point is there a sense of gratification, a sense of filling one’s lust for pornoviolence. Asuna’s rape on the other hand is nothing more than a kind of plot device, a way to artificially make up for the fact there was no tension at all during the ‘Rescue Asuna’ arc. It works as fanservice, and a pretty twisted version of it at that.

The episode did have something to say thematically: the triumph of the human will (whose profoundness is loss since we live in a culture who assumes such a theme, as opposed to the more fatalistic mindset of the Japanese). However, it seemed to do nothing more than repeat what happened in the finale of the first season, which is entirely unfortunate given the memory altering technology Sugou espoused, and how that could have brought the theme to a new level of depth – imagine Kirito rescuing Asuna, just to discover that she loves Sugou instead, albeit artificially.

Understandably, Kirito’s resolution to the problem was also gruesome; he dislodges multiple appendages of Sugou’s body before flinging his torso into the air, and impaling it as it falls, cybernetic blood spewing forth from his wounds. He saves Asuna, and then heads off to see her at the hospital (I’m sure there’s some twist awaiting us in the epilogue). At the end of it all, this was just a poor way to wrap up the season, a quick fix job that had no tension, no real depth, no real emotional power – just scenes of pornoviolence that did little other than flaunt sexuality and brawn. The only words that came to my mind where those of Asuka: “How disgusting.”

References
1 This is essentially the answer my father confessor gave me. Pornography is perversion through and through, but violence – in it’s proper context – need not be so.

Picture References
1 – http://www.wallpapervortex.com/anime-sword_art_online-wallpapers.html

I Am Not My Sin

I am not my sin. It’s a simple statement, but we often forget it; when in the midst of lust, anger, or any other inflamed passion, not just our body, but our thoughts and soul, all try to gravitate to the carnal. We imagine things or distort reality all into a paradigm that we on a moment to moment basis may not even recognize. Lust, perhaps, is the easiest example; a man may completely be against the sexual objectification of women that has become so prevalent, but when the blood runs strong and he caves to his temptations – and I don’t necessarily mean fornication – the very things that usually sicken him become delightful and all encompassing. Greed is another obvious example that can come in more subtle forms than we think; one’s vocation can sometimes replace Christ as the center of our life, and not necessarily in the aspect of making money. Our job can become the locus of our identification, how we present ourselves to others, and especially to ourselves.

What can help us when we stumble and need to repent (the Greek word metanoia meaning to ‘change one’s path’ or ‘one’s mind’) is to remember that we are not our own sin. Even after losing a battle to the throes of anger, anger does not define us. Yes, it is a passion that we struggle with, and if unchecked it can seriously dehumanize us, but is not the content of who we are. Though fallen man has an inclination to sin, sin is not inherent in his nature. Don’t worry, there’s an anime connection.

In the midst of the ‘desires unleashed’ arc of Kokoro Connect, there is a scene where the main characters all show up at Yui’s house to confront her about her continuous absence from school. Yui explains that it was her reaction to having her desires released uncontrollably, beating up a group of men that were being too aggressive when hitting on some schoolgirls, and that her self-imposed isolation was a protective measure to prevent any more episodes of violence. One of her friends, Inaban, not only castigates her for this, reminding her the danger that she’s putting the others in, but is merciless in her criticism, ignoring Yui’s fragile and scared state, even saying that she’d provide no comfort if Yui broke down, essentially hinting that she thought her utterly pathetic.

Inaban, of course, was in the midst of having her own desires released, hence her escalating voice and unwarranted harshness in tone. She realizes this an apologizes to Yui immediately, having returned to a far more soft and melancholic level. Yui, through her sobs, replies, “but that’s how you really feel.” Inaban leaves, thoroughly disgusted with herself.

This scene bothered me the first time I watched it because it reflects a mentality that has become common in societies today: we are our emotions and opinions. “How I feel is how I feel, and that’s it.” “If it feels right, then it must be right.” “I have a right to my opinion.” Yes, these are common mantras, but nevertheless the vox populi reveals something about the people themselves. We have a notion that what is most sacred to us are our feelings and opinions, and that if these are criticized, then it is a criticism on our very substance, our being as a person.

Of course other societies, even those that were or are not Christian, would shake their heads at such a statement. The ancient Greeks believed in cultivation of virtue, and that a man who simply threw himself into every desire that came his way was no better than an animal, and that the true anthropos was the one who could control himself, who would not be swayed by each internal movement inside the soul. This idea continued throughout Christianity, albeit in a Christianized form, and can be found in almost any ascetical writing. The monks of the desert went not to punish their bodies to fulfill some kind of sadomasochism, but learned to truly bring it under control, to focus more on Christ and the Kingdom than this present world where all is passing away. Hence the canons that bring strict penalties on those who would actually castrate themselves to be eunuchs for the kingdom.

Inaban need not be defined by an outburst where submerged feelings, ones she may not even entirely agree with, are uncontrollably brought to the surface. Yes, those feelings are there at some level, deep within the soul, and yes, she currently doesn’t have full control over their expression. But normally she has a choice, she has her own will, and she can choose whether to obey them or to struggle, to fight against them and bring them under control. As Neo put it, “the problem is choice.”

And thus we find ourselves back in the Garden.

Picture References
1 – http://www.emptyblue.it/post/2012/07/15/Kokoro-Connect-Nagase-Iori-idea-does-make-sense.aspx

St. Nicholas of Myra

Today is the feast day of St. Nicholas of Myra for the Orthodox Church. As such, I’ve posted his Troparion as well as his Kontakion, as well as this link to Mystagogy that has an abundance of information on one of the best known saints of all time. St. Nicholas of Myra, please pray to God for us!

Troparion (Tone 4)

In truth you were revealed to your flock as a rule of faith,
an image of humility and a teacher of abstinence;
your humility exalted you;
your poverty enriched you.
Hierarch Father Nicholas,
entreat Christ our God
that our souls may be saved.

Kontakion (Tone 3)
You revealed yourself, O saint, in Myra as a priest,
For you fulfilled the Gospel of Christ
By giving up your soul for your people,
And saving the innocent from death.
Therefore you are blessed as one become wise in the grace of God.1

References
1 http://orthodoxwiki.org/Nicholas_of_Myra

What’s In A Name?

Edit: Cytrus of Yaranakya pointed out that Shu’s name uses and extra syllable, and is thus Shuu and not Shu. This renders the homophones I commented upon useless when it comes to his name. You should check out his post which is far superior than to mine.

So as of late I’ve picked up learning Japanese again, and unlike the two semesters I took in college, I’m forcing myself to actually learn the Kanji this time around (which has been very rewarding in and of itself). However, as I was studying I came across the figure gai (外) which can mean ‘outside’.1 This had occurred soon after I had finished watching Guilty Crown, so immediately I thought of Tsutsugami Gai (恙神 涯). Gai was always on the outside of Shu and Mana’s relationship, even after his resurrection, not to mention that he always kept an emotional distance from Funeral Parlor in order to not compromise himself as their leader.

However, the kanji character used for Gai is 涯 and not 外, the former means ‘horizon’ or ‘shore’2 – and where was it that Mana and Shu found Gai? Oh right, a shore. Interestingly, even though the kanji for Gai isn’t the one I was studying, the fact that they are homophones allows for numerous connections to be made; there’s nothing inherently contradictory using both meanings of Gai as he was both an outsider and discovered on a shore (not to mention he had his own personal ‘horizons’ in a metaphorical sense). An even better example is Shu (集), whose name, as his step-mother explains, means group. However, Shu can also mean ‘lord’ (主) (as it is by the Japanese Orthodox Church; Shu awareme yo translates to ‘Lord have mercy’)3 as well has ‘hand’ (手). Shu was not only seen as the lord of the school, but was meant to be the Adam of Mana’s new creation (oh gosh, the theological monsters that anime can concoct), and he himself forged a new hand with his own void, in which he would slowly take on the diseases of others, becoming a Christ-like figure as opposed to the more tyrannical 主 he was previously.

Names are powerful things, and carry with them a history that we are usually unaware of; I had no clue just how many names in English had some sort of Biblical connection until I had converted to Orthodoxy. Some of them are more obvious, such as Michael, Susan, David, etc., but others are more subtle. The name Irene4 comes from the Greek word eirēnē (εἰρήνη) which means ‘peace’, the phrase ‘Ειρήνι πᾶσι’ meaning ‘Peace be unto all’ as Christ announced to His disciples after His Resurrection (this phrase is also said multiple times by the Priest during the Divine Liturgy). My own name Nicholas5 comes from the Greek word Νικόλαος which means ‘victory of the people’ as it is a combination of νίκη (victory) and λαὸς (people). However, I kept my name after I was baptized because of St. Nicholas of Myra, my patron saint, and for anyone who knows the life of the actual Santa Claus understands why it is entirely appropriate (his feast day is this Thursday, December 6th).

On a more anime related note, I wonder just how many more connections one could pull if they actually knew Japanese (which isn’t the majority of us, but certainly not all), and how much subtlety one misses on an episode-by-episode basis. I know, I know, 日本語を勉強する!6

Footnotes and References
1 At least according to Genki. Kanji power lists the definitions as: external; other; to remove.
2 http://jisho.org/kanji/details/%E6%B6%AF
3 http://www.orthodox-jp.com/maria/English-index.htm
4 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irene
5 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicholas
6 ‘Study Japanese!’ though I’m sure there’s some tense I’ve failed to conjugate to.

Picture References
1 – http://www.emptyblue.it/post/2011/11/17/Guilty-Crown-Prologue-complete-Inori-is-a-bit-scary-sometimes.aspx

Thomas De Wesselow’s Shroud of Turin Talk

Picture from Rolfe’s post

David Rolfe of Shroud Enigma has recently posted medieval art historian Thomas De Wesslow’s talk on the Shroud of Turin. While many, including myself, disagree with De Wesslow’s interpretation of the Shroud and the birth of Christianity, he does a fine job explaining the evidence as to why the Shroud of Turin is likely not a medieval forgery. I have yet to watch the video, but I plan on doing so soon.