The Three Hermits by Leo Tolstoy is a masterpiece in story telling. I am still mesmerized and fascinated by the elegance and simplicity of its simple message of mercy and humility.
‘Three are ye, three are we, have mercy upon us.’ Indeed Lord have mercy on us!
Three Hermits by Leo Tolstoy
‘And in praying use not vain repetitions, as the Gentiles do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask Him.’ — Matt. vi. 7, 8.
A BISHOP was sailing from Archangel to the Solovétsk Monastery; and on the same vessel were a number of pilgrims on their way to visit the shrines at that place. The voyage was a smooth one. The wind favourable, and the weather fair. The pilgrims lay on deck, eating, or sat in groups talking to one another. The Bishop, too, came on deck, and as he was pacing up and down, he noticed a group of men standing near the prow and listening to a fisherman who was pointing to the sea and telling them something. The Bishop stopped, and looked in the direction in which the man was pointing. He could see nothing however, but the sea glistening in the sunshine. He drew nearer to listen, but when the man saw him, he took off his cap and was silent. The rest of the people also took off their caps, and bowed.
‘Do not let me disturb you, friends,’ said the Bishop. ‘I came to hear what this good man was saying.’
‘The fisherman was telling us about the hermits,’ replied one, a tradesman, rather bolder than the rest.
‘What hermits?’ asked the Bishop, going to the side of the vessel and seating himself on a box. ‘Tell me about them. I should like to hear. What were you pointing at?’
‘Why, that little island you can just see over there,’ answered the man, pointing to a spot ahead and a little to the right. ‘That is the island where the hermits live for the salvation of their souls.’
‘Where is the island?’ asked the Bishop. ‘I see nothing.’
‘There, in the distance, if you will please look along my hand. Do you see that little cloud? Below it and a bit to the left, there is just a faint streak. That is the island.’
The Bishop looked carefully, but his unaccustomed eyes could make out nothing but the water shimmering in the sun.
‘I cannot see it,’ he said. ‘But who are the hermits that live there?’
‘They are holy men,’ answered the fisherman. ‘I had long heard tell of them, but never chanced to see them myself till the year before last.’
And the fisherman related how once, when he was out fishing, he had been stranded at night upon that island, not knowing where he was. In the morning, as he wandered about the island, he came across an earth hut, and met an old man standing near it. Presently two others came out, and after having fed him, and dried his things, they helped him mend his boat.
‘And what are they like?’ asked the Bishop.
‘One is a small man and his back is bent. He wears a priest’s cassock and is very old; he must be more than a hundred, I should say. He is so old that the white of his beard is taking a greenish tinge, but he is always smiling, and his face is as bright as an angel’s from heaven. The second is taller, but he also is very old. He wears tattered, peasant coat. His beard is broad, and of a yellowish grey colour. He is a strong man. Before I had time to help him, he turned my boat over as if it were only a pail. He too, is kindly and cheerful. The third is tall, and has a beard as white as snow and reaching to his knees. He is stern, with over-hanging eyebrows; and he wears nothing but a mat tied round his waist.’
‘And did they speak to you?’ asked the Bishop.
‘For the most part they did everything in silence and spoke but little even to one another. One of them would just give a glance, and the others would understand him. I asked the tallest whether they had lived there long. He frowned, and muttered something as if he were angry; but the oldest one took his hand and smiled, and then the tall one was quiet. The oldest one only said: “Have mercy upon us,” and smiled.’
While the fisherman was talking, the ship had drawn nearer to the island.
‘There, now you can see it plainly, if your Grace will please to look,’ said the tradesman, pointing with his hand.
The Bishop looked, and now he really saw a dark streak — which was the island. Having looked at it a while, he left the prow of the vessel, and going to the stern, asked the helmsman:
‘What island is that?’
‘That one,’ replied the man, ‘has no name. There are many such in this sea.’
‘Is it true that there are hermits who live there for the salvation of their souls?’
‘So it is said, your Grace, but I don’t know if it’s true. Fishermen say they have seen them; but of course they may only be spinning yarns.’
‘I should like to land on the island and see these men,’ said the Bishop. ‘How could I manage it?’
‘The ship cannot get close to the island,’ replied the helmsman, ‘but you might be rowed there in a boat. You had better speak to the captain.’
The captain was sent for and came.
‘I should like to see these hermits,’ said the Bishop. ‘Could I not be rowed ashore?’
The captain tried to dissuade him.
‘Of course it could be done,’ said he, ‘but we should lose much time. And if I might venture to say so to your Grace, the old men are not worth your pains. I have heard say that they are foolish old fellows, who understand nothing, and never speak a word, any more than the fish in the sea.’
‘I wish to see them,’ said the Bishop, ‘and I will pay you for your trouble and loss of time. Please let me have a boat.’
There was no help for it; so the order was given. The sailors trimmed the sails, the steersman put up the helm, and the ship’s course was set for the island. A chair was placed at the prow for the Bishop, and he sat there, looking ahead. The passengers all collected at the prow, and gazed at the island. Those who had the sharpest eyes could presently make out the rocks on it, and then a mud hut was seen. At last one man saw the hermits themselves. The captain brought a telescope and, after looking through it, handed it to the Bishop.
‘It’s right enough. There are three men standing on the shore. There, a little to the right of that big rock.’
The Bishop took the telescope, got it into position, and he saw the three men: a tall one, a shorter one, and one very small and bent, standing on the shore and holding each other by the hand.
The captain turned to the Bishop.
‘The vessel can get no nearer in than this, your Grace. If you wish to go ashore, we must ask you to go in the boat, while we anchor here.’
The cable was quickly let out, the anchor cast, and the sails furled. There was a jerk, and the vessel shook. Then a boat having been lowered, the oarsmen jumped in, and the Bishop descended the ladder and took his seat. The men pulled at their oars, and the boat moved rapidly towards the island. When they came within a stone’s throw they saw three old men: a tall one with only a mat tied round his waist: a shorter one in a tattered peasant coat, and a very old one bent with age and wearing an old cassock — all three standing hand in hand.
The oarsmen pulled in to the shore, and held on with the boathook while the Bishop got out.
The old men bowed to him, and he gave them his benediction, at which they bowed still lower. Then the Bishop began to speak to them.
‘I have heard,’ he said, ‘that you, godly men, live here saving your own souls, and praying to our Lord Christ for your fellow men. I, an unworthy servant of Christ, am called, by God’s mercy, to keep and teach His flock. I wished to see you, servants of God, and to do what I can to teach you, also.’
The old men looked at each other smiling, but remained silent.
‘Tell me,’ said the Bishop, ‘what you are doing to save your souls, and how you serve God on this island.’
The second hermit sighed, and looked at the oldest, the very ancient one. The latter smiled, and said:
‘We do not know how to serve God. We only serve and support ourselves, servant of God.’
‘But how do you pray to God?’ asked the Bishop.
‘We pray in this way,’ replied the hermit. ‘Three are ye, three are we, have mercy upon us.’
And when the old man said this, all three raised their eyes to heaven, and repeated:
‘Three are ye, three are we, have mercy upon us!’
The Bishop smiled.
‘You have evidently heard something about the Holy Trinity,’ said he. ‘But you do not pray aright. You have won my affection, godly men. I see you wish to please the Lord, but you do not know how to serve Him. That is not the way to pray; but listen to me, and I will teach you. I will teach you, not a way of my own, but the way in which God in the Holy Scriptures has commanded all men to pray to Him.’
And the Bishop began explaining to the hermits how God had revealed Himself to men; telling them of God the Father, and God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.
‘God the Son came down on earth,’ said he, ‘to save men, and this is how He taught us all to pray. Listen and repeat after me: “Our Father.”’
And the first old man repeated after him, ‘Our Father,’ and the second said, ‘Our Father,’ and the third said, ‘Our Father.’
‘Which art in heaven,’ continued the Bishop.
The first hermit repeated, ‘Which art in heaven,’ but the second blundered over the words, and the tall hermit could not say them properly. His hair had grown over his mouth so that he could not speak plainly. The very old hermit, having no teeth, also mumbled indistinctly.
The Bishop repeated the words again, and the old men repeated them after him. The Bishop sat down on a stone, and the old men stood before him, watching his mouth, and repeating the words as he uttered them. And all day long the Bishop laboured, saying a word twenty, thirty, a hundred times over, and the old men repeated it after him. They blundered, and he corrected them, and made them begin again.
The Bishop did not leave off till he had taught them the whole of the Lord’s prayer so that they could not only repeat it after him, but could say it by themselves. The middle one was the first to know it, and to repeat the whole of it alone. The Bishop made him say it again and again, and at last the others could say it too.
It was getting dark, and the moon was appearing over the water, before the Bishop rose to return to the vessel. When he took leave of the old men, they all bowed down to the ground before him. He raised them, and kissed each of them, telling them to pray as he had taught them. Then he got into the boat and returned to the ship.
And as he sat in the boat and was rowed to the ship he could hear the three voices of the hermits loudly repeating the Lord’s prayer. As the boat drew near the vessel their voices could no longer be heard, but they could still be seen in the moonlight, standing as he had left them on the shore, the shortest in the middle, the tallest on the right, the middle one on the left. As soon as the Bishop had reached the vessel and got on board, the anchor was weighed and the sails unfurled. The wind filled them, and the ship sailed away, and the Bishop took a seat in the stern and watched the island they had left. For a time he could still see the hermits, but presently they disappeared from sight, though the island was still visible. At last it too vanished, and only the sea was to be seen, rippling in the moonlight.
The pilgrims lay down to sleep, and all was quiet on deck. The Bishop did not wish to sleep, but sat alone at the stern, gazing at the sea where the island was no longer visible, and thinking of the good old men. He thought how pleased they had been to learn the Lord’s prayer; and he thanked God for having sent him to teach and help such godly men.
So the Bishop sat, thinking, and gazing at the sea where the island had disappeared. And the moonlight flickered before his eyes, sparkling, now here, now there, upon the waves. Suddenly he saw something white and shining, on the bright path which the moon cast across the sea. Was it a seagull, or the little gleaming sail of some small boat? The Bishop fixed his eyes on it, wondering.
‘It must be a boat sailing after us,’ thought he ‘but it is overtaking us very rapidly. It was far, far away a minute ago, but now it is much nearer. It cannot be a boat, for I can see no sail; but whatever it may be, it is following us, and catching us up.’
And he could not make out what it was. Not a boat, nor a bird, nor a fish! It was too large for a man, and besides a man could not be out there in the midst of the sea. The Bishop rose, and said to the helmsman:
‘Look there, what is that, my friend? What is it?’ the Bishop repeated, though he could now see plainly what it was — the three hermits running upon the water, all gleaming white, their grey beards shining, and approaching the ship as quickly as though it were not morning.
The steersman looked and let go the helm in terror.
‘Oh Lord! The hermits are running after us on the water as though it were dry land!’
The passengers hearing him, jumped up, and crowded to the stern. They saw the hermits coming along hand in hand, and the two outer ones beckoning the ship to stop. All three were gliding along upon the water without moving their feet. Before the ship could be stopped, the hermits had reached it, and raising their heads, all three as with one voice, began to say:
‘We have forgotten your teaching, servant of God. As long as we kept repeating it we remembered, but when we stopped saying it for a time, a word dropped out, and now it has all gone to pieces. We can remember nothing of it. Teach us again.’
The Bishop crossed himself, and leaning over the ship’s side, said:
‘Your own prayer will reach the Lord, men of God. It is not for me to teach you. Pray for us sinners.
And the Bishop bowed low before the old men; and they turned and went back across the sea. And a light shone until daybreak on the spot where they were lost to sight.
It has been a buys month. So my time for blogging has been very limited. Instead of writing something for my blog I decided to “make up” my top 10 favorite Radiohead videos and for what ever is worth share them with you. The list is very subjective and I only considered those videos that realize the spirit of the song the best.
What would be your top 10?
Here are my top 10 Radiohead videos
10. Just from The Bends
What is he saying! Anyone?
9. Knives Out from Amnesiac
8. Fake Plastic Trees from The Bends
7. Daydreaming from A Moon Shaped Pool
A heartfelt plea for the environment…
6. House of Cards from In Rainbows
5. Karma Police from OK Computer
Moody and enigmatic classic Radiohead!
4. Burn the Witch A Moon Shaped Pool
A love letter to all the Trumpkins? Probably not…
3. No Surprises from OK Computer
The panic in his eyes was real.
2. Paranoid Android from OK Computer
1. Street Spirit (Fading out) from The Bends
Haunting melodies against the background stunningly visual imagery.
Now is my way clear, now is the meaning plain:
Temptation shall not come in this kind again.
The last temptation is the greatest treason:
To do the right deed for the wrong reason.
Archbishop Thomas Becket
Murder in the Cathedral by T.S. Elliot
O Freunde, nicht diese Töne!Sondern laßt uns angenehmere anstimmen,und freudenvollere.
Freude, schöner GötterfunkenTochter aus Elysium,Wir betreten feuertrunken,Himmlische, dein Heiligtum!Deine Zauber binden wiederWas die Mode streng geteilt;Alle Menschen werden Brüder,Wo dein sanfter Flügel weilt…
Few composers have enriched and delighted my life as the great master Ludwig van Beethoven.
May the light of God shine upon his face!
You yearned for fulfillment
but there is no meaning
in the light of your eyes
just thoughts whispered in the sand.
For you ripped apart the law written in your heart
and made for yourself an idol
out of your own desires.
You grew weary and pretended
that everything is alright
closing your mind ever so deeply
to the storm stirring in your heart.
A feeling you can’t loose.
A yearning you can’t ignore.
For you never felt at home in the muck.
Still a small voice that whispers
into your heart:
You were made for more.
A small voice that trembles
through your bones
Tear down all you got.
For you are not the sums
of your failures…
but the sum the Father’ love for you*.
*Authors note: The last two verses are straight from Saint John Paul II 17th World Youth Day homily. A moving exhortation to today’s youth facing what Pope Benedict XVI called the dictatorship of relativism embedded in today’s culture.
There is something especially about the broad, open, and moving canvas that a film provides artists to tell their stories. Its ingenuity is that it combines multiple art forms into a unique conveyor of fierce and gentle emotions that is the human experience. In that, a single frame can be a view as a painting, its musical score can be listened as a symphony, and the cries of its characters permanently records the drama of theater. Great films can do that; lesser makes you wonder about the decline of civilization and question your sanity for having spent money on them.
Every summer there is a film that I can hardly wait to see. This past summer was sort of an exception. There wasn’t a movie that I couldn’t wait to see. I was cautiously optimistic about How to Train Your Dragon 2, mildly excited about X-Man: Days of Future Past, curious about Guardian of the Galaxy and indifferent about the rest. Unbeknown to me was that there were movies like “Boyhood” waiting to be discovered.
Boyhood is the passion project of Richard Linklater (Daze and Confused), filmed over 12 years with the same cast. It is a painfully honest and beautiful film about a family living in an ever-increasing secular society. The film is a coup in filmmaking. The high-risk idea of filming a kid grow-up over the span of 12 years immensely pays off. It not only adds such a subtle familiarity with the character, but a deep texture of realism unmatched by any especial effect. It not only adds such a subtle familiarity with the character, but a deep texture of realism unmatched by any especial effect. Its visual and musical cues play a central role in the narrative while the script manages to captivate your attention by portraying ordinary life with simplicity, honesty and wit.
What I found interesting about this film was that although it is obviously narrated from a post Christian point of view its message led the audience, in my opinion, to question the vanity and futility of such world view. This was clear to me towards the end of the film (spoiler alert) when the mom goes through what seems to be a nihilistic crisis after her youngest child Mason and the main character goes off to college:
Mom: This is the worst day of my life. I knew this day would come, except why is it happening now? First, I get married, have kids, end up with two ex-husbands, go back to school, get my degree, get my masters, send both my kids off to college. What’s next? My own fucking funeral?
Mom starts crying.
Mom: I just thought it would have been better.
That last line stroked a nerve. It was brutally honest and painful. On one hand it shows the vulnerability of hard working mom facing an empty nest and a new way of life; on the other hand it exposes a deeper longing for fulfillment. The apparent dissatisfaction reveals a paramount reality of today’s secular world. That is the lack of objective truths. In such world-view the meaning of things and the value of actions are delegated to subjectivism. I think this is why I like this movie so much. It touches on some fundamental questions about the human experience. Is it all worth it? Do all the sufferings and joys of life have any transcendent and objective meaning or are they subjugated to our own capacity to rationalize them? As a Christian I believe so. All I have to do is to look at the Cross.
Every summer there is always a movie that surprises me and turns out to be an unexpected gem. A few summers ago, it was How to Train Your Dragons. I didn’t think much of it as I walked into the movie theater, but a quarter into the film I fell in love with the phenomenal world of Vikings and dragons that it created. This summer the honors went to The Giver, a passion project by Jeff Bridges, who originally wanted his father to play one of the main characters, the giver of memories.
The movie does a fairly good job, in portraying the world that Lois Lowry created in her award winning children’s book “The Giver”. In this dystopian future there are no wars, hunger, diseases, or social unrest. Everyone seems to be contempt and safe living in a technologically advanced society that provides health care, nutrition, and housing for free, but that is devoid of religion, ideology, or even objective morality.
Aptly the landscape of this dystopian future is literally viewed in black and white by its citizens. Differences are only acknowledged once in an individual lifetime. Sameness is the central paradigm of this society. To this end emotions and distinctions are highly regulated through daily injections and precise use of language. Life altering decisions are made for you, like your career or even your “family unit”. Memories of history, cultures and past civilizations are sandboxed to one member of the community called “The Giver”. The movie centers on the transition of these memories from an old man, the giver, to a teenage boy, the receiver.
From the cinematography point of view the movie adaptation didn’t fully exploited its potential but it did a great job in affirming the values of life, liberty and the pursue of happiness. Simply put it, in my opinion, this is one of the best pro-life films that I have seen in recent memory. The film deftly combines its narrative with visual imagery of memories of a world long gone. Sometimes this memory is joyful, others they are painful, but they convey a transcendental truth about our human condition. That is, we were made for love and without the ability to freely choose it there cannot be love.
The movie as well as the book works at least at two levels. First, as a political commentary it warns against the false promise of humanism; that deludes its self in its ambition to create the perfect society. History shows us that such attempts leads to the denigration and the devaluation of human life. National Socialism and Communism being the two prime examples of such grievous ideology. One caused the death of about 12 million people during WWII while the other the death of ~200 million people during the 20th century.
In the world of “The Giver” human life is valued according to its potential to serve society. Ineffective individuals, non-conformists, the elderly and the ill adapted babies are discarded to elsewhere, a euphemism for euthanasia. Political correctness are disguised as politeness. Language is used to manipulate the morals. This is not so different from our own society. We refer to the killing of a baby as a choice and to same sex partnership as marriage.
On another level “The Giver” is introspection on what it means to be human. Can humanity devoid of emotions and free will be truly alive? As the main character Jona awakens to the reality of his world he feels more alive than ever, but at the same time more lonely than ever. He feels alive because his search for truth and found it. More isolated and lonely than ever because he realized that nobody else is seeking truth. This rings so true for Christians. We seek for truth in Christ and found it but find our self so lonely when we realized that most are not even seeking.
Finally the last stand out film of the summer was… if you are still reading. Thank you. Really thank you! It was a toss up between Rise of the Planet of the Apes, extremely well made action packed drama, How to Train Your Dragons 2, which arguably has one of the best family scenes of any recent movie, and X-Men: Days of Future Past (Godzilla did not make the list since there was so little Godzilla in the whole movie and Guardian of the Galaxy was meh). X-Men won. I really love the lack of ambiguity of this movie. There is evil and it has to be stopped. Full stop. The combination of the old and new casts was very well done and exciting to see. The especial effects were great and the one scene with Quick Silver was worth the admission price. I had great fun watching it. After all, movies are supposed to be fun. Right?
Naval Battle of Lepanto 1571: A battle for the heart of Europe against the invading Ottoman Empire fleet. It was fought by the Holy League, a coalition of southern European Catholic states led by Don John of Austria.
Excerpts from Lepanto:
Put down your feet upon him, that our peace be on the earth.”
For he heard drums groaning and he heard guns jar,
(Don John of Austria is going to the war.)
Sudden and still–hurrah!
Bolt from Iberia!
Don John of Austria
Is gone by Alcalar.
Crying with the trumpet, with the trumpet of his lips,
Trumpet that sayeth ha!
Don John of Austria
Is shouting to the ships…
Don John of Austria
Has set his people free!
In the 1953 movie The Wild Ones Marlon Brandon plays the leader of a group of riders out for trouble in California. The movie is a landmark of 1950’s genre of youth disaffection and rebellion. In an iconic scene the main character Johnny Strabler is asked:
What are you rebelling against?
To which Johnny replied:
What’ve you got?
Generations later three friends from California picked up that spirit and channeled it into one of my favorite rock bands of all time: Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.
Taste in music can be very subjective, but there is something about them that has captivated me since the first time I listened to them. Their sound is quintessential Rock & Roll with its roots firmly planted in the American landscape of open roads, rugged individualism, sin and redemption.
“Fault Line” by BRMC
I’ve been waiting on the fault line
Living evil take me on
I’ll be standing with my dying bed
If you care to come along
Racing with the rising tide
To my father’s door
I been lying in the bright light
See my shadow from below
Never wanted from another man
Never wanted for my own
Drowning in the rising tide
At my father’s door
Through a window to the last mile
My living picture on a wall
From the banks of the far side
I see the lights come ashore
Racing from the rising tide
To my father’s door
Racing from the rising tide
To my father’s door
Racing with the rising tide
To my father’s door
They remind me of good old country music. In that their songs often captures the struggle between the desire of the soul and the pull of the world. The great masters of Country music like Roy Acuff, Hank William and Johnny Cash did this brilliantly. They walked the fine line between human frailty and redemption. They acknowledge human weakness, but never glorify it, instead they tried to redeem it. It is the struggle between the good and the bad of human existence that fueled all those great songs. BRMC follows in that tradtion in their own post modern oblique way…