Fr. John, St. John, and εξουσια

Fr. John at Holy Trinity is a fine homilist, in very different way then Pastor John at NWBC is. Whereas Pastor John generally tells sermons in the style of a public lecture, with a well considered structure, and introduction and Bible passage, exegesis, application, and conclusion – Fr. John has a style of what I would call lucid theological enthusiasm. That is, his homilies aren’t so much about what a passage means, or what we should do (though he certainly talks about both), as why it is that this passage or that saint is so delightful that he just has to tell us about it.

A few weeks ago he gave a homily on St. John Maximovitch (an acquaintance asked whether I had noticed the popularity of the name John among pastors – he’s got a point there); it involved serving Liturgy barefoot, then telling stories about St. John, how he looked after his orphans, visited people in miraculous ways; visiting the cathedral where his relics were, and his son yelling out the window near the cathedral “St John, help!” in order to find a place to park so they could get in on time. Another week he talked about St. Nicholai of Ochrid Serbia (and America – he was also dean of St. Tikhon’s Seminary, and wrote the Prologue of Ochrid, a book of saints’ stories by day); mostly he quoted poetic prayers by him, talked about his life, and explained why the prayers were so lovely, how he was such a good person, and that he had met and recognized (the aforementioned) St. John’s sanctity as well. It was delightful and charming how much Fr. John likes these saints. The “practical application” was something to the effect that we should also love the saints, because they’re just so lovable, and they’re looking out for us, too.

These last three weeks have been vaguely related to “εξουσια” (exousia), first in the context of the centurion who went to ask Jesus to heal his servant. When he said that he was “under authority,” as was Christ, the word he used was exousia – which means not only authority, but literally “receive being from.” And Jesus receives being from the Father – exousia – as the Centurion did from God, and perhaps also from some good father or leader

Yesterday was the Sunday of the Fathers of the Fourth Ecumenical Council, so he was enthusing about how beautiful their theology of union without confusion, also phrased as differentiation without sepparation was (you’re probably in an Orthodox church when the pastor is enthusing about hypo-static unions, and it’s not boring). Anywoy, somehow he got from there back to exousia, and was telling a story about a British doctor in India – he was training medical students there, and one day as he watched one of his students talking about some particularly sensitive issues with a patient, he gasped – the way the man moved, the way he phrased his questions, looked at the patient, his expressions and manner were exactly like the doctor’s own teacher back in England – and yet he and this student had never met! He excused himself from the room, so that the student doctors could complete their diagnosis, but later they asked him why he had reacted so strongly. He explained that the young doctor had expressed himself so very like his beloved teacher, even though they had never met – this phrase, that movement, his eyes did this, his voice did that, and so on. When he had finished, the students all began to laugh. “What?” the doctor asked. “All those things you’re describing – that’s just how you are!”

Fr John then went on to connect his story to our potential for union with Christ – if the disciples were to look at modern Christians, would they ever go “Oh! That’s just how Jesus was!”? In Fr. John’s words – the doctor to a limited extent received not only training, but ousia from his teacher, as his students did from him. That reminded me of my previous discussion with Joe on whether teachers are born or made, and what the difference is. I was wondering if there weren’t something there of exousia going on – Dr. Wood received, to a degree, teaching ousia from OK Bouwswa, in the way that Fr. John was describing the Centurion not only receiving but possessing authority of that kind, or the doctor and the medical students.

And that made me wonder about something I had observed a while back regarding education colleges – that it’s not uncommon for them to expect us to teach things we’ve never really learned, or in ways that we have never learned by, with which they cannot themselves properly teach us. The expectation that because research has found that teachers who do a certain thing are more effective, we can therefore immediately do that thing and get their results. It’s something like the supposition that if research showed that Michelangelo didn’t so much create a form as reveal the stone that was already in the marble, and therefore what I have to do is stop trying to create form, and start trying to liberate it – and that following Michaelangelo around and watching him work is irrelevant to being able to do what he did. And if I fail – well, I guess I’m just not a born Artist!

Of course students recognize and respond to authority. We all do. How do people get that kind of authority? Are they just born with it? Or do they learn from authoritative people; exousia? Many of us have authority within a small sphere – on such-and-such a topic, with such-and-such an audience. Probably not on every liberal art, with 20 bored teens blowing spit wads our way. Here’s one thing that never happened – not once – in all the “teacher credentialing” bosh – never once did they send a student to a really difficult school where a teacher was succeeding (preferably without becoming some kind of unbalanced workaholic), and watch what that looked like. Not as a student, nor as a teacher, nor as an observer. For student teaching I got to watch a good, talented teacher in a good school with interested students teach studio art. Given that situation, I could no doubt teach quite decently. I don’t even have a question on that. It’s not the same thing. Teaching is not the same always and everywhere. Not even close.

And speaking of education – take that ExC-ELL! Fr John managed to teach us all a Greek word by straight lecture, without once asking us to learn it, nor did he use a visual aid, a smartboard, a manipulative, nor a special “method;” there was no test, no shame in not knowing it, no notes, and no link to popular culture. Seriously. What is wrong with us. Unamuno is intent on teaching what apacotastisis without ever bothering to define it. I’ll let you know if it works. So far he’s done pretty well – we had a brief conversation over lunch on whether anyone there knew it, and whether there was, in fact, a definitive meaning at all (apparently various saints have disagreed on that point).

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