A Westerner Looks East for the Truth

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Stanley ( Barnabas) Dickinson

+ Memory Eternal!

Kalo Paradeiso! Kali Synandisi! [Greek wishes on a funeral]
May you enter Paradise! May we meet again there!

October 10, 2017
Acts 11:22-24
22 Then news of these things came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent out Barnabas to go as far as Antioch. 23 When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord. 24 For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord.

It is with gladdening sorrow that we have composed and dedicated this issue of the Stavronian to our beloved elder Barnabas, founder of the Parish of Holy and Life-Giving Cross and Normandy veteran. Our brother Barnabas peacefully fell asleep in the Lord at 21:40, October 10, three days before his 94th birthday. He was not alone when he passed into God’s keeping. Apart from the angels that attended his repose, members of the Parish, his spiritual family, were there as well as his own family were at his bedside. He was holding my hand when he breathed his last breath. He received Holy Unction the same morning. He even drew energy to make the sign of the cross. We asked him for a word from the Lord and he said “Love”! It was a holy repose with the faithful holding lighted candles. I thank God that he entrusted to me the unworthy priest this holy soul and brave soldier of Christ as an example of the Christian life. As a founder of the Orthodox Community of the Holy Cross he will remain forever inour prayers. May angels take him to his just reward in the Heavenly Kingdom of Our Lord Jesus Christ. May his memory be eternal. Christ is Risen!”

Fr. Jonathan
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HEAVEN: FROM PROTESTANTISM TO ORTHODOXY 
A Westerner Looks East for the Truth
By Barnabas Dickinson
 
“When God the Holy Spirit says ‘Dsomething, you jolly well do it, or else…’,but what? Our loving Saviour had some stern words about lukewarmness, about turning back, having put one’s hand to the plough. … During the years of strife in the Church of England over this matter, pressure groups formed on both sides of the divide, and I attended rallies of the opposition in the Blackburn diocese. …What happens next? What do we do? Where do we go? What is our place in the Church? Speeches and discussion led nowhere… People were bewildered, defeated, hurt. Then, for me, God the Holy Spirit took a hand. Right at the end, in the question and answer session, a priest I did not know [ie. Father Jonathan Hem-mings] said very simply, ‘If anyone is wondering where to go’, they should be aware that Orthodox Church services in English are becoming available’, or words to that effect. Option (7) had come out of the blue, completely unexpected, and when the rally broke up for a cup of tea, I approached him. …
… One Saturday in the Spring of 1995, Fr Jonathan took me to the railway station for my train back to Chorley. He said to me, ‘It’s decision time’. The Patriarch of Antioch, who had taken personal oversight of this English group in May 1995, and the Holy Synod, had decided to accept us into membership of the Orthodox Church. ‘Are you coming, or are you not?’ Father Jonathan said. I said that I would …Grass did not grow under our feet, and quite soon, on Wednesday of Bright Week I was received into the Church, along with half a dozen others, including Fr Jonathan, now a lay member of the Church, having resigned his Anglican priesthood after Easter Day; eastern and western coincided that year. Our baptism in the Church of England was accepted as valid, having been in the threefold Name, and we were chrismated at the hands of Father Alexey, with Holy Oil consecrated by the Patriarch. For the first time I received the true Body and Blood of our Saviour. Now, twenty six years later I would not be anywhere else.

Thanks be to God for bringing Fr Jonathan into my life, and for all things. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”

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Barnabas’ icons have been bequeathed to our parish. Barnabas’ legacy of icons by the hand of Dimitrios Hakim perfectly compliment the parish icons by the same artist.

To find out more about Barnabas, a most dear father to this poor little city hermit, please have a look at the November Stavronian which this month is dedicated to our beloved elder and co founder of the Church of the Holy Cross, Stanley ( Barnabas) Dickinson at
http://www.orthodox-lancaster.org.uk/newsletter

 

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The Little Orphan

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The Little Orphan

an autobiographical poem

by St. John Jacob (the Romanian)

Blessed John (Jacob) of Neamts, the New Chozebite

“the child of zero” who “followed the One”*

 

Resurrection Day!

The bells are ringing!

Old men sit at their verandas,

Others are at their doorsteps.

 

The young and the children

Go out in their best clothes

To meet their friends at the church

Of the cemetery.

 

This mystical fragrance

Of the Holy Feast!

They take it in … like incense,

From herbs and flowers.

 

The Fields are robed

In a beautiful dress

And everything looks now

Renewed on the earth.

 

Near the Holy Altar

Of the wooden church

A little child offers

Candles and oil.

 

He kisses the Holy Cross

In front of the fresh tomb

And kneels crying

With sighs.

 

When the bells are ringing

In a jubilant tone

Near the Cross the little orphan

Sheds tears with pain.

 

Suddenly, while absorbed in his tears

And his deep sighs,

At the ringing of the bells

A sweet voice he hears :

 

“Cry Not, my child, today

Feel not sad, because, look!

By your side am I

Christ is Risen!”

 

Was this his mother’s voice

Coming from the tomb

His sadness to dispel

From his broken bosom?

 

Immediately the orphan

Rises and ecstatically looks up,

Searching to find

Who was speaking to him.

 

Then, from the Altar most Holy

By the smoked wall

He sees the Risen Christ

Sweetly smiling to him.

 

His little heart is lit

His face calms

His pain leaves him

And such is his mind:

 

“If I see here

The Risen Lord

Then my mother too

Is risen with Him.”

 

Speaking thus to his mind

Humbly he bows

And kissing the tomb

Returns to his ‘home’!

 

Alone, lonely, he lives

At his earthly lodgings,

His poor father

Died at the war.

 

Often at nights he sleeps

By the tomb with them.

Crying in the morning he returns

Back to the deserted house.

 

But the bells ring!

Again at the cemetery

His mother’s voice

Is heard to say:

 

“Cry not, my child, today

Do not be sad,

Because, lo, I am with you

Christ is Risen!”

 

Since then our little orphan

Stopped sighing.

And whenever the bells ring

His heart is consoled!

 

* A Hermit from the Holy Land with complete Incorruptible Relics at the monastery of St. George Choziba! He was a great ascetic and a poet. He called himself “the child of zero” who “followed the One”. After his all night- vigils, he would briefly rest in the verandah of the monastery and write his so moving poetry, sadly not translated yet in English.
* The painting is by the Serbian artist Uroš Predić, Siroče (Orphan), oil on canvas, 1888. National Museum

Monastery of St. George of Choziba

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When you first catch a glimpse of the magical St. George’s Monastery in the Judean desert, the Desert Fathers’ Wisdom is brought to life in its uncompromising, breathtaking asceticism. This amazing cliff-hanging monastery, one of the world’s oldest and definitely one of the most inspiring churches in the Holy Land, is a must-see for the desert / archeological fans  / devout Pilgrims.

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St. George Orthodox Monastery, or Monastery of St. George of Choziba is a monastery located in Wadi Qelt, in the eastern West Bank, in the occupied territories. The sixth-century cliff-hanging complex, with its ancient chapel and gardens, is active and inhabited by Eastern Orthodox monks. It is reached by a pedestrian bridge across Wadi Qelt, which many believe to be Psalm 23’s Valley of the Shadow. The valley parallels the old Roman road to Jericho, the backdrop for the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37). 

Here’s some beautiful aerial video footage to give you a taste of the area around St. George’s Monastery…

 

St George’s Monastery can be reached via the main Jerusalem – Dead Sea highway (Road 1). Take a left at Mitzpeh Jericho (or a right if you’re coming from Jericho) and follow the brown signs for Wadi Kelt. You can hike the Wadi all the way to the monastery but it will take lots of hours of arduous trekking in the desert under the blazing sun!  Up and down, for hours, a windy path! Not so easy for seniors or people with disabilities, but there are usually plenty of locals offering their donkeys for the ride (at a cost of course).

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Check out the clip below for a real taste of the walk to St George’s Monastery … When I look at these photographs or watch the videos, I cannot believe I did all this walking!

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St. George’s Monastery was originally started in the fourth century by a few monks who were looking to immerse themselves in the lifestyles and desert stories of  John the Baptist and Jesus. The monks, and perhaps most notably the hermit John of Thebes, eventually settled on the spot around a cave where it is believed the prophet Elijah was fed by ravens (1 Kings 17:5-6). The traditions attached to the monastery include a visit by Elijah en route to the Sinai Peninsula, and St. Joachim, whose wife Anne was infertile, weeping here when an angel announced to him the news of Mary’s conception.

 

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The monastery became an important spiritual centre in the sixth century under Saint George of Choziba. Hermits living in caves in nearby cliffs would meet in the monastery for a weekly mass and communal meal.John of Thebes became a hermit and moved from Egypt to Syria Palaestina. The monastery was named St. George after the most famous monk who lived at the site. Destroyed in 614 A.D. by the Persians, the monastery was more or less abandoned after the Persians swept through the valley and massacred the fourteen monks who dwelt there. The bones and skulls of the martyred monks killed by the Persians in 614 A.D. can still be seen today in the monastery chapel. These 3000 and more martyrs’ relics are so alive that during their Supplication canon every week an exquisite fragrance and raw smell of fresh slaughtered blood are alternately exuded from them!

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Monastery of Saint George

The Crusaders made some attempts at restoration in 1179. However, it fell into disuse after their expulsion. In 1878, a Greek monk, Kallinikos, settled here and restored the monastery, finishing it in 1901. Father Germanos, born Georgios Tsibouktzakis, who came from Thessaloniki, Greece, to St George’s in 1993 and lived there until he was murdered by Palestinian terrorists in 2001, was for many years the sole occupant of the monastery, he was named Abbot in 2000. Emulating the Wadi Qelt monks of late antiquity, Father Germanos offered hospitality to visitors, improved the stone path used by pilgrims to climb up to the monastery, repaired the aqueducts, and improved the gardens of shade and olive trees.

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This is probably the most stunning discovery in the monastery: St. John Jacob (the Romanian) – a Hermit from the Holy Land with complete Incorruptible Relics! He was a great ascetic and a poet. He called himself “the child of zero” who “followed the One”. After his all night- vigils, he would briefly rest in the verandah of the monastery and write his so moving poetry, sadly not translated yet in English. In the next days I plan to translate and post here some of his most moving autobiographical poems. This Saint is famous for his miracles, from the discovery of his relics to nowadays.

This discovery was even more stunning for me personally because my spiritual father had introduced him to me the last day before flying from Lancaster to Greece and then to Tel Aviv. He also gave me a tiny piece of a secondary relic of him. What a ‘coincidence’! I knew nothing about him, other than his name, and then a brief google search, and here I found him most alive and incorruptible! 

Greek Orthodox St. George of Koziba Monastery in Wadi QeltMonastery_of_St._George_of_Choziba_27Monastery_of_St._George_of_Choziba_31

 

Let me close with Archimandrite Konstandinos, a holy Elder, very special in his hospitality and famous for his clairvoyance gifts.

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For more photographs, go here

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Monastery-of-St-George

 

 

 

 

 

A Holy Beggar

*A personal witness by Maran Ata, a person who had the joy to meet this 

This is one part of the film “Mite” produced by the Pokrov Foundation in the year 2000, showing the Bulgarian Elder Dobri, who is considered a holy man of God.

“Four years ago, I had the pleasure to meet him and directly delight in his innocent kindness and simplicity. People from Sofia know him as Elder Dobri Dobrev from the village Baylovo. He is a 96 year old elder who could often be seen standing in front of the church St. Alexander Nevsky or St. Methodius and Cyril and their five disciples with his metal cashbox and begging for money. He gives the collected money for renewing of the monasteries and churches or to poor people.

I met him at the Church of St. Kyriaki, when I was attending the Holy Liturgy which was led by several bishops, in the presence of the graceful relics of St. Stephen Milutin the King. Simply, he entered through the church gate, stood in front of the relics and, as a young boy, made a few deep bows [prostrations]. That was an amazing scene, especially because of the feeling of unworthiness when God crosses our life-path with one of His righteous men.

Kind eyes, pleasant smile, humble look… all that makes him bright in the eyes of those who have met him and without hesitation hurry to get a blessing from this sagacious elder. He wears traditional shoes from raw skin and he all the time rushes somewhere, but he never uses modern transport vehicles. Simply, he loves the ascetic walk. He eats whatever the good people give him and he never repines for his condition. His face shines with heavenly light which at one point of the moment makes people unconsciously to understand that he really is like someone out of the Bible.

I hope that I’ll be vouchsafed by God to kiss the elders merciful right hand for third time in my life.” (Maran Ata)

“Man should keep righteousness and the truth. That’s God’s path!”

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Source: Mystagogy
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A Smile from Eternity

Honorable Mr. Papanikolaou,

A few hours after the entombment of elder Joseph, you posted at your website an article with the title «Funeral of Blessed Elder Joseph of Vatopedi – A Smile From Eternity«, describing in a few words the event aided by a few pictures.

The photograph of the reposed, who is smiling not only with his lips but with all the expression of his face, made  a great impression on people, which we can see  from the articles and comments in numerous web-sites.

One can indeed come across dead people with a glowing face, a peaceful expression, but with never a smile. On the one hand all the spiritual fathers say that the time of death is horrifying for man. On the other hand we read in the book of the Sayings of the Desert Fathers that even the most advanced ones , out of humility, did not let down their guard before entering eternal life, where there is no longer any danger.

In addition, Elder Joseph had a major heart problem and he was very debilitated by this illness. So how did he repose smiling?

The answer is: NO, he didn’t repose smiling, but HE SMILED AFTER HIS REPOSE.

After a conversation of us with some fathers of the monastery, we convey to you the story of the event.

The two monks that were with him until the very last moment, sprinted to the abbot, Elder Ephraim, to let him and the rest of the fathers know about the repose of Elder Joseph and the former two didn’t pay attention to the reposed, who was left with his mouth half-open.

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Thus, they came back to the cell, to prepare the reposed according to the monastic order. Elder Ephraim ordered them to leave his face uncovered. The fathers tried to close his mouth, but as it was quite late, his mouth remained open. They even tied a gauze around his head, so that his mouth would remain closed, but after they removed it his mouth opened up again. About 45 minutes had already gone by, since he had passed away.

-Elder, what should we do, it looks bad with the  mouth open?

-Leave him as he is, do not cover his face!

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They sewed him inside his monastic mantle as according to monastic custom. The whole procedure so that he was put inside the mantle and sewed in took another 45′. Then, they cut off the cloth around his face –according to the order- and found the elder as everybody can see him now, smiling.

Did he listen to them and granted them this litle favour, so that he didn’t hurt their feelings? Or, was it that he wanted to grant us an indication what he saw and let us know the state in which he is now?

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The smile of elder Joseph of Vatopedi, is the First supernatural event after his repose and has become a great consolation for everybody.

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Panayiotis Koutsou

Source: Diakonima

 

Journey of a Young Artist

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Jonathan Jackson and The Seeds of “The Mystery of Art”

 

Whoever wants to become a Christian, must first become a poet— Saint Porphyrios
When I was young, they brought me to Babylon
And the night hung over my head
The smoke came into my dreams 
In the valley of dry bones

It was under the skies of Babylon 
Where my soul fell in love with God
My eyes were seared and my blood was bruised
But I was hidden within a song

All around were the sounds of Babylon
But all I heard, were the hymns of heaven

It was under the skies of Babylon 
Where my soul fell in love with her 
I was barely coming clean and she had already seen
A war on her innocence

I spoke of the Christ underneath the clouds 
And woke her from the sleep of death

She took my hand and walked me through the crowd
Why, is anybody’s guess?

All around, was the gold of Babylon
But all I saw, was an angel of heaven

You can shut me up but you cannot quiet
The silence of the Mystic Church
You can shut me up but you cannot quiet
The silence of the Mystic Church

 

I would like to start with the journey of how this book, “The Mystery of Art” began. It was not an intellectual or abstract search. The questions and explorations on this subject were immediate and crucial for me growing up. I began working as a professional actor at the age of 11 on General Hospital. At The age of 12, by God’s grace I had a profound encounter with Christ. My father would give us cassette tapes of sermons to listen to and one night, I heard a sermon on “The holiness of God and the pride of the human heart.” I don’t know why and I don’t know how these things occur, but I was cut to the heart. I suddenly realized how far away from God I truly was. How prideful and full of selfishness and egoism I was. It scared me to be honest. And yet, paradoxically, in that very moment of feeling the weight of my sinfulness—how my supposed righteousness is like “filthy rags” before the holiness of God, as Isaiah says—a Divine Presence also overwhelmed me. I felt like a great sinner who was also mysteriously loved beyond comprehension.

Around the same time, I read C.S. Lewis’ chapter called “The Great Sin”, which is all about Pride. I read Matthew 25, the Last Judgment and Matthew 5 when Christ says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” I knew I could never impress God with my self-righteousness, so I cried out for mercy, I cried out for grace. And the compassions of God washed over me.

This was a turning point in my life. Nothing was the same after this encounter. I began to hear and perceive my own thoughts with great clarity. This was frightening too because I was suddenly aware of all the judgments and horrible thoughts I had about people. But the Holy Spirit was so merciful in this process. He never made me feel condemned. Convicted, yes. But never condemned. He would always whisper, “I’m not showing you this to condemn you, I’m showing you this darkness, so you can be healed.”

I began to think about God all the time. Throughout the following years there were many struggles and trials but the mystery of God became the most beautiful, the most attractive, the most intriguing and important pursuit in my life.

Naturally and organically, I had a desire to incorporate the Holy Spirit into the work I was doing. I had studied a few different acting methods but for the most part, my own personal method was being birthed through experience. Working with Anthony Geary and Genie Francis and other incredible performers like Michelle Pfeiffer and Sir Ben Kingsley. It was very much like Orthodoxy in the sense that I was a sponge, soaking everything in through experience and not through theory.

Within a short period of time after this initial encounter of grace, I was given some very heavy storylines to portray. I was about 15 years old and my character Lucky Spencer finds a young girl in the woods, who has just been raped. It is winter and the poor girl is freezing out in the cold, left for dead. He rescues her and they develop a friendship. He spends months taking care of her and being by her side as she tries to heal from this horrific event.

On a Soap Opera, you are on TV almost every day; especially when your storyline in prominent. In a more direct way than most artistic mediums, you are living the day-to-day story of your character. I was portraying this storyline for months. It was during this time that I first remember bringing God into my preparation as an actor. I began to ask Him, “How could you allow this innocent creature to suffer in this way?” “How can anyone be healed from such a wound?”

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They were questions my character could have been asking God and questions most of us have asked before. What it began to do for me, was nudge my work towards something inherently spiritual and although I would not have known it at the time, something sacramental.

Over the following years I portrayed a lot of dark and tragic roles: someone struggling with suicide, a heroine addict, a murderer among others. It was around this time when I began to ask God, “How can I portray these dark and troubled characters dynamically and truthfully, without being consumed by the darkness myself?” There are many tragic stories of young actors who become drug addicts after playing one in a film. The stories of drug overdoses and suicides among young actors and actresses are too many. I instinctively steered away from “Method Acting” and sought a different path, even though I didn’t know exactly what that would be.

It was around this time when I discovered Dostoevsky. It’s amazing to me now, being Orthodox that I wasn’t able to comprehend anything about the Orthodox Church as I read his books. It was like a veil, I suppose. But what I did discover was a kindred soul. Here was someone who was writing about very dark and tragic characters and themes but from a place of beauty—from a place of the Light of Christ. Prince Myshkin, from the “The Idiot”, changed my life. I clung to Dostoevsky in my heart as I approached portraying these dark characters and prayed, “Lord, please help me to portray the darkness of this world from a place of purity and light. Please, help me not to be overcome by the darkness, but to infiltrate the darkness with Your Light. Without you I can do nothing. I am nothing, I have nothing and I can do nothing without You, Lord. Amen.”

This is a snap shot so to speak, of the journey towards writing, “The Mystery Of Art”. These were the seeds, which by God’s grace, grew over time. There were so many important and profound spiritual realities that I wasn’t exposed to at the time, because I had not encountered the Holy Orthodox Church. I was grasping in the dark, looking for answers, feeling my way towards Christ, as best I could, but I always knew that something was missing; something significant and crucial to my relationship with God. There is a beautiful Scripture in the Gospel of John where Christ says,

“And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” (John 10:16)

I was one those lambs who was not of this fold. But through the grace of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd and your prayers, He found me and brought me home. My journey to the Orthodox Faith took many years and was paved with blood and heartache. I carried all of these artistic questions and experiences with me as my family and I came into the Church for salvation, deliverance and healing.

See also: Jonathan Jackson’s Orthodox Acceptance Speech at the Emmy’s

See photos from his visit to Mount Athos for the first time with his 11 year-old son Caleb (2015), where they stayed  for five days visiting Simonopetra and Xenophontos monasteries, and spent most of his time at Vatopaidi Monastery (Friday till Tuesday) where he met the Abbot, Elder Ephraim, and attended an all-night vigil on Saturday night.

While at Vatopaidi Monastery, Jonathan also gave a testimony of how he converted to Orthodoxy for Pemptousia, which can be seen here.

A Conversation About God

With Actor Jonathan Jackson & Dr. Norris Chumley

While Jonathan’s views about Art in his book The Mystery of Art: Becoming an Artist in the Image of God are quite controversial, as two opposing book reviews below indicate(*), the narrative of his conversion and finding the true Church in “A Conversation About God” is captivating.

Watch a fascinating conversation about God, Conversion and Art, with Actor Jonathan Jackson and Dr. Norris Chumley:

Orthodox Christian Network

 

(*) Moses Benjamin Cabe (Ben Cabe) is praising Jackson’s views here, while  Richard Barrett (Orthodox Arts Journal) urges caution in

The problem of art in Anglophone Orthodoxy: a review essay” .

As for me, I am undecided yet and still studying the matter. Jackson invokes Dostoyevski‘s  quotation “Beauty will save the world.” and quotes Elder Porphyrios’ words in Wounded by Love“Whoever wants to become a Christian must first become a poet.”, both  central in my life and this blog.

Indeed, you do not have to be a Christian to create true art.  In fact, it may be that you have to become an artist before you are able to truly become a Christian. Jackson adds  that, when someone is drawn to the beauty of a certain piece of music or painting, he is really being drawn to Christ.  Far removed from Christ is anyone who does not, and cannot, appreciate beauty.  “It is an incredible thing to discover that Christianity is an experience of saying yes to what is truly beautiful. …  From the beginning, the pure and ancient faith of Christ, which is still alive today, proclaims that God is beautiful!”

While Jackson is surely right in all this, there are other claims he makes in this book which may be problematic and will hopefully be addressed in future blog posts, when this whole matter is clearer in my mind…

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