Monday, October 20, 2014

Only

And the LORD said unto Gideon, The people are yet too many; bring them down unto the water, and I will try them for thee there: and it shall be, that of whom I say unto thee, This shall go with thee, the same shall go with thee; and of whomsoever I say unto thee, This shall not go with thee, the same shall not go. So he brought down the people unto the water: and the LORD said unto Gideon, Every one that lappeth of the water with his tongue, as a dog lappeth, him shalt thou set by himself; likewise every one that boweth down upon his knees to drink. And the number of them that lapped, putting their hand to their mouth, were three hundred men: but all the rest of the people bowed down upon their knees to drink water. And the LORD said unto Gideon, By the three hundred men that lapped will I save you, and deliver the Midianites into thine hand: and let all the other people go every man unto his place.
Judges 7:4-7 KJV

God is not interested in numbers but in the quality of our faith, as has been demonstrated by the action He commanded of sending the army to drink, and then accepting only the minority who lapped up the water like dogs.

I often wondered what was the meaning of that decal I see on the rear windshield of cars, especially minivans, that says "Only God" in white letters.

Myself, I don't hold by decking my vehicle with stickers or decals proclaiming my faith. To my way of thinking, that's not a witness—it's impersonal—and witnessing can never be impersonal. It just seems like a numbers game. "If enough of us Christians slap Jesus is Lord stickers and Ichthys fish on our cars, the world will know we're out there, and that there's lots of us."

So that's what's behind the slogan “Only God,” the idea that “only God could do something like that.” The idea is talked about in a book called Axioms, by Bill Hybels (which I haven’t read, but heard about).

What I thought it might mean is, "For me there is only One priority, only One ultimate concern, and that is God."

It reminded me of the Bible study sessions we used to have with our former pastor, Father Jim. He called the sessions, "Only Christ," and the emphasis was this: That when we met together to study the Word, we each and every one decided ahead of time to put away our own thoughts and opinions, and be ready to hear what Christ Himself, the Divine Word, would speak to us as we read the bible together.

Having this attitude had a tremendous effect. There was very little time wasted by people opining and speculating, or worse yet, pontificating. It's like, when you know in Whose presence you are sitting, at Whose feet (that's the meaning of session) you are waiting open-eared to hear His voice, like Mary the sister of Martha and Lazarus. Those bible studies were the best I'd ever been too. We were really taught by God, not by men.

A reggae song has this lyric: "Gi' me a session, not another version" (Bob Marley, Mix Up Mix Up).
This is what divides the "Only Christ" from the "Only Man" attitude.

To whose voice are we willing to listen, to His, or to our own?

From the 'Golden-mouthed'

Your Master loved those that hated Him, and called them to Him; and the weaker they were, the greater the care He showed them. And He cried and said, “They that are whole need not a physician, but they that are sick” (Matthew 9:12). And He deemed publicans and sinners worthy of the same table with Him. And as great as was the dishonor wherewith the Jewish people treated Him, so great was the honor and concern He showed for them—yea, and much greater. Emulate Him.


Yes, just follow Jesus!

Kindred spirits

One asked, "Why, Father, do you find more joy in the psalms than in any other part of divine Scripture? And why, when quietly chanting them, do you say the words as though you were speaking to someone?"

Abba Philemon replied, "My son, God has impressed the power of the psalms on my poor soul as He did on the soul of the prophet David. I cannot be separated from the sweetness of the visions about which they speak. They embrace all scripture."

He confessed these things with great humility, after being much pressed, and then, only for the benefit of the questioner.

Philokalia, Book 2, "A Discourse on Abba Philemon," p.347.

Full freedom

There is a brand of Orthodoxy where following the rubrics seems to be the major focus, the teaching of doctrines and the pushing of morality the emphasis, where what we do to please God takes the place of what God does to release us. Words are mouthed, actions performed, ostensibly to glorify God and the saints, and everything holy stays in the holy place. Outside the doors, life goes on as always, sometimes even a little worse for wear, and perfectionism and scrupulous rigor replace walking in the spirit. This is not the Orthodoxy I received from the saints. Their lives were, for me, an unwritten rubric that infected my life with the goodness they had received from Christ. Their faith, instilled into me (I hope) the trust in the Spirit who is the one sent by Christ from the Father to be with us always, that we never become orphans. And that faith and trust in love has been the certainty that makes full freedom possible.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

His merciful face

We cannot do wrong, I think, when we judge with the scale weighted in favor of mercy, because God does not judge without mercy those who judge with it.

On the other hand, we can do wrong when we judge with severity, and that also puts us personally in very grave danger, for what can we appeal to in our defense, when we are judged by God?

Christ says, ‘How blessed are the merciful, for they shall have mercy shown them.’
He never says, ‘How blessed are those who judge justly…’ and well could He have quoted reams of laws out of the Torah, or even verses from the psalms, about judging justly if He had so desired. But no, He knew we didn’t need any help there.

As He Himself says, He came not to condemn the world, but in order that the world would be saved through Him. Since all that the world had seen of God up till then was His face of judgment—because that’s all they wanted to see—He had to come in person to show His merciful face.

From now on, no one can ever again put a man-made mask on the face of God, whether too severe or too lax: God Himself has shown up, and shown us ‘the light of His face’ and that is, above all, mercy.

What do you mean? ‘Show us the Father!’
I’ve been with you all this time!
Don’t you know that to see Me is to see the Father?

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Filioque


Και εις το Πνευμα, το Αγιον, το Κυριον, το Ζωοποιον,
το εκ του Πατρος εκπορευομενον

Et in Spíritum Sanctum, Dóminum et vivificántem:
Qui ex Patre Filióque procédit


And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Creator of Life,
who proceeds from the Father
and from the Son

Filioque, ‘and from the Son,’ is more than a word, represents more than such a short phrase should imply; it has affected the whole life of the Church, has driven a wedge between Christians for more than a thousand years, and continues to do so. It shouldn’t have this power, but such power we have given it. Those who accept it have accepted a whole history and an entire mindset that has relegated the place of holy and divine scripture to the tool of man, to something he can play with. Those who reject it have paid the price of fidelity to the Word of God, to the testimony of Jesus, but often that rejection has colored their thoughts and actions in such a way that they become blind to the plain meaning of other words of Jesus. Yet the fact remains, that the rejection of the filioque is important because it is a kind of ‘red flag’ that we are breaking with the plain words of Jesus in the Gospel of John if we accept it, and the ground zero of faithfulness to the Word of God begins here.

Holy apostle and evangelist John writes in his second letter: “Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.” (2 John 1:9)
Adding the filioque is “running ahead and not continuing.” This is by far the major problem that Orthodoxy has with Rome. They have run ahead, and they’re proud of it.

Orthodoxy, and I mean real Orthodoxy (not the kind that can be sold either ideologically or culturally), is a strange ‘something,’ that you seem to be able to see more clearly as you approach it from afar, but when you get closer, it almost seems to dissipate, as you realise that what it looked like from the outside and could be given a name,
‘Orthodoxy,’ yields to something that is too close to us to be able to extract, throw on the table and examine.

And Jesus Christ, who once seemed a Being great, mighty, loving, faithful, whatever it is we experienced of Him, and which we wanted somehow to ‘tabernacle’ as Peter wanted to tabernacle Him on the mount of the Transfiguration, is no longer something or Someone we can glibly think or speak about. He too has become too close.

A song I love, runs “We were so close, there was no room. We bled inside each other’s wounds. We all had caught the same disease, and we all sang the songs of peace.” Even that song had a different meaning before than it has now. Before, I could explain its meaning, now, I can less so, I almost can’t, because as soon as I try, I break into tears. This is how it is with real Orthodoxy and with Jesus Christ who lives among us.

Truly, Christ is in our midst; He is and ever shall be. But what do these words really mean, what can they mean, for us, for today?

Prepare to meet your Maker, and more than that, to be unmade, and remade in an image both strange and beautiful, but to which you will be forever blinded, as you will be standing in the Light Uncreated that shone, that shines, on Tabor.

Again and again, Christós anésti! Christ is risen!

To every creature

Και ειπεν αυτοις, Πορευθέντες εις τον κόσμον απαντα, κηρυξατε το ευαγγέλιον πάση τη κτίσει.

And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.
Mark 16:15 KJV

‘To every creature,’ a charming, even romantic idea, bequeathed to the English-speaking culture by the Bible version which has been its mainstay for four centuries and almost four years (1611 to 2014). The literal Greek says ‘to all creation,’ a somewhat less poetic concept, but one that ties in, scripturally, a lot better with the rest of the New Testament, the ‘old creation’ versus the ‘new creation,’ the defining movement in the plan of salvation. ‘Behold, I make all things new’ (Revelation 21:5). People sometimes forget that movement, narrowing the Message down to personal salvation, ‘Are you saved?’ when the work of Christ, salvation, yes, but the universal re-creation of all things, was perfected on the Cross, ‘It is finished!’ (John 19:30)

‘To every creature,’ makes me think of St Francis of Assisi preaching to the birds, or reprimanding and converting the wolf of Gubbio. His ‘simple-minded zeal’ landed him not at the fires of the Inquisition, as he was warned by an unconverted friend, but in the company of the Saints, and only two years after his repose. By some who think about such things, he is considered to have been the first ‘modern’ man. It’s not hard to see why. Though we’d rather have statues of him in our gardens, his radical approach to ‘all creatures’ is what we should have, not in our gardens but in our minds. Yet St Francis was only saying and doing what he saw his Lord, Jesus Christ, saying and doing in the gospels. That is what makes a truly ‘modern’ man.

Recently the Roman Catholic Church convened a synod to consider ‘the family,’ and how best the Church can support and save it in this modern world. (I am using the word ‘modern’ here and everywhere in its most basic meaning, not in a philosophical one.) Everyone was waiting to see if, how and when the current legalization of homosexual marriage in many places would be integrated into the Church. Since the Church is not the world, but the world is the mission field of the Church, what would it do with this new territory? When its documents were issued by the synod, the English, and only the English, translation of the topic ‘Welcoming homosexual persons’ was edited to ‘Providing for homosexual persons.’

This is an important first step for the largest Christian communion in the world to take, and I am not surprised that it has been taken during the pontificate of a pope named Francis. To me, both would have been unthinkable considering the projectile along which the Catholic Church had been traveling since the two Vatican Councils, but then, if God is real, and if the Church is in some way guided by Him, one should expect such things from a Christ who says, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’ In fact, it is only because of human resistance to Divine order that it has taken so long. Now, perhaps, we are finally on the threshold of that ‘next step in human evolution’ that was commanded two thousand years ago by the first truly ‘modern’ man in history.

That is, Jesus Christ, who says, ‘Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.’

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Back to beginnings

The beginning of the Good News about Jesus Christ,
the Son of God.

Mark 1:1 Jerusalem Bible

This is how the gospel according to Mark begins—the beginning of the Good News. But notice that this beginning is actually the fulfillment of the prophecies of the Good News, spoken long before by the Holy Spirit of God through the prophets, especially through Isaiah.

John the evangelist says, "A man came, sent by God. His name was John" (John 1:6).

Mark says that this man "appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins" (Mark 1:4).

The beginning of the Good News, though, could be said to have started with the prophesying of Isaiah, centuries before its fulfillment. John the honorable Forerunner and Baptist "appeared in the wilderness."

He had fed upon the prophetic Word of God and was full of it.

"He came as a witness," says John the evangelist, "as a witness to speak for the Light" (John 1:7). What Light? "The Word," says John, "was the true Light that enlightens all men, and He was coming into the world" (John 1:9). As for the man, "sent by God whose name was John," he knew the Light was coming, because he was a man full of the Word. He didn't have to read the scroll of Isaiah. He had eaten it. "The people that walked in darkness has seen a great light" (Isaiah 9:1) reverberated in his spirit and even in his flesh. That's what made him jump even in his mother's womb when the mother of the Light came near. "As soon as Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child leapt in her womb" (Luke 1:41).

John's word did not depart from the Word, but faithfully recounted all that he heard by the Spirit Holy that lived in him. Did he know or understand how he was the book of the consolation of Israel in human form? His every word and action was that Word set into movement to fulfillment. Isaiah prophesied. John enacted.

"Console My people, console them,
speak to the heart of Jerusalem
and call to her
that her time of service is ended,
that her sin is atoned for,
that she has received from the hand of Yahweh
double punishment for all her crimes."
(Isaiah 40:1-2)

"A voice cries, 'Prepare in the wilderness
a way for Yahweh.
Make a straight highway for our God
across the desert.
Let every valley be filled in,
every mountain and hill laid low,
let every cliff become a plain,
and the ridges a valley;
then the glory of Yahweh shall be revealed
and all mankind shall see it;
for the mouth of Yahweh has spoken.'"
(Isaiah 40:3-5)

"A Voice commands, 'Cry!'
and I answered, 'What shall I cry?'
—'All flesh is grass
and its beauty like the wild flower's.
The grass withers, the flower fades
when the breath of Yahweh blows on them,
but the Word of our God remains forever.'"
(Isaiah 40:6-8)

God spoke through Isaiah, enacted through John,
and fulfilled, in a mystery, through his Only Son.
"Shout without fear,
say to the towns of Judah,
'Here is your God.'"
(Isaiah 40:9b)

"Look, there is the Lamb of God
that takes away the sin of the world."
(John 1:29b)

"Here is the Lord Yahweh coming with power,
His arm subduing all things to Him.
The prize of His victory is with Him,
His trophies all go before Him.
He is like a Shepherd feeding His flock,
gathering lambs in His arms,
holding them against His breast
and leading to their rest the mother ewes."
(Isaiah 40:10-11)

John cried, echoing the prophet Isaiah who was alive in him,
"Did you not know?
Had you not heard?
Was it not told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood how the earth was founded?"
(Isaiah 40:21)

He announced with every particle of his being,
having fed on the sweetness of the Word,
"Here is My Servant whom I uphold,
My Chosen One in whom My soul delights.
I have endowed Him with My Spirit
that He may bring true justice to the nations.
He does not cry out or shout aloud,
or make His voice heard in the streets.
He does not break the crushed reed,
nor quench the wavering flame.
Faithfully He brings true justice;
He will neither waver, nor be crushed
until true justice is established on earth,
for the islands are waiting for His Law."
(Isaiah 42:1-4)

This is the Word which nourished the flesh and spirit of prophets
through endless ages leading forward not to the end
but to the true beginning of all things,
which is the Good News
of Jesus Christ,
"I, Yahweh, have called you to serve the cause of right;
I have taken you by the hand and formed you;
I have appointed you as covenant of the people
and light of the nations,
to open the eyes of the blind,
to free captives from prison,
and those who live in darkness from the dungeon.
My name is Yahweh,
I will not yield My glory to another,
nor my honor to idols.
See how former predictions have come true.
Fresh things I now foretell;
before they appear I tell you of them."
(Isaiah 42:6-9)

The beginning of the Good News—when is this beginning? When did it happen? Was it in the days of the prophets who, moved by the Holy Spirit, prophesied what was to come?

Was it in the days of the earthly life of our Lord Jesus Christ whose life-giving death and glorious resurrection and ascension, were a single act of victory, granting the world great mercy?

Yes, but there is more. The beginning of the Good News is that moment when a human soul entrusts itself utterly to the providence of God, believing the Word without reserve, receiving, accepting Christ the Word as He is, as He is revealed, for "to all who did accept Him He gave power to become the children of God, to all who believe in the Name of Him who was born not out of human stock, or urge of the flesh, or will of man, but of God Himself" (John 1:12-13).

To receive power to become a child of God is no small thing. Therefore, let us "throw off everything that hinders us, especially the sin that clings so easily," and "let us not lose sight of Jesus, who leads us in our faith and brings it to perfection" (Hebrews 12:1b-2a).

The beginning of the Good News is,
was, and is to come.
And the Good News is Jesus Christ.

Start from here…

Mercy


Chaneyni, Adonay, chaneyni!
Have mercy on me, Lord, have mercy!


The cry goes up from all of God’s people,
from the most high king, David,
to the lowliest of his subjects,
from the fearsome prophet Elijah
to the honorable forerunner of the Ever-King of Israel,
from our first forefathers Adam and Eve,
down to the mother of our last Forefather
the New Adam,

all of them—except the New Adam
sinners,
all of them hating the net in which they are caught,
all of them looking with unwearying eyes
for the redemption,
for the Redeemer,
not knowing, but only hoping,
in what they believe,
waiting and crying out,
endlessly falling like ripe wheat before the reaper, 

‘Chaneyni, Adonay, chaneyni! 
Have mercy on me, Lord, have mercy!’

And the Voice finds a body
and speaks the Answer to their cries: 
‘Blessed are the merciful, 
for mercy shall be shown to them!’

All generations waited for the mercy of the Being
and only the last,
and only a very few of them,
heard the Voice proclaim, ‘mercy is within your grasp, 
it has always been in your hands, 
what you asked for was always with you, 
not judgment and condemnation, but mercy. 
Blessed are the merciful…’

He has come to give back to us what we lost
by our betrayals,
by our unfaithfulness,
by our unmercy,
by our sins,
to give back to those who not only ask for it
but who also give it,
mercy.

All the islands have awaited His true Law,
and all generations,
and here we are,
we hear it from the ends of the earth,
His eternal gospel, angel-borne,
yet from His own lips,
endlessly.

We hear it, and we know it, 
but do we have hope, 
will He find faith on earth?

No question of right or righteousness,
for only One is without sin,
His righteousness is an everlasting righteousness,
and His Word is Truth.

But will He find faith on earth 
among those who hear the Word awaited for ages, 
who speaks for ever now?

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.
Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven,
for in the same way they persecuted the prophets
who were before you.

Matthew 5:3-12


Chaneyni, Adonay, chaneyni!

Have mercy on me, Lord, have mercy!

City of Light



The Word of God. What more ambiguous, what more dangerously ambiguous, expression in any language can there be? For, harmlessly we think, and habitually, and not without cause, we refer to the Holy Bible as ‘the Word of God.’

‘The Word of God declares,’ begins the assertion of many a preacher and writer (I myself have spoken and written thus), and then follows anything from a direct quote to a personal paraphrase, often deeply biased or out of context. Even the Church fathers, even the epistle and gospel writers, have sometimes written this way, quoting from memory, not always flawlessly. Yet, the Truth is not necessarily skewed.

The ancient fathers and saints, however, rarely open their instructions in quite this way, ‘the Word of God declares.’ They knew too much, most of them. They were still aware too readily and constantly that the Word of God was a person, the God-man Jesus Christ, and not some body of writings, no matter held how sacred. Yes, they all knew of the ‘the Law and the Prophets’ and the Writings.

What else did they have to go on, except their own personal experience of Jesus Christ, or the memoirs of the apostles and disciples who walked with Him? They respected the scriptures of the Jews, whether known to them in the Palestinian Hebrew heard in the synagogues of Galilee and Judaea, or in the Greek translation made for those whose contact with the original tongue had waned.

They respected and, yes, loved, these scriptures, because the only Lord they knew had respected and loved them, even identified Himself with them in His veiled sayings. With good reason, then, did this notion of ‘the Word of God’ expand to cover both the written scriptures and the Lord Himself who was the uncreated ‘scripture.’ They remembered, ‘The Word of God came to the prophet…’

All this, we must understand, takes place within a living community of people, the followers of Jesus, complete as a society with structures of authority handed down from the original apostles, from Christ Himself. Christians who believe in history (we who speak English read it as ‘His story,’ a useful pun) know this society as ‘the Church’ and make our best efforts at being members of it.

In a technical sense, it is only those who know the written scriptures as members of ‘the Church’ who can safely call them ‘the Word of God’ because they have agreed with one another since the beginning, that only Jesus Christ is ‘the Word of God’ and He alone the only Teacher of mankind. Having this knowledge, we are safeguarded from the legalism of the Pharisees and literalism of the Sadducees.

Or, at least we should be, yet we find throughout the long history of the Church various instances of human nature taking back what it had turned over to the Divine Nature for transformation, perpetuating ‘the old Adam’ again camouflaged in fig leaves, and delaying the coming of ‘the new Adam’ in the transformation of humanity, Jesus Christ being the ‘first-born’ of that new race.

First-born of the Father, first-born from the dead, first-born of the new race of mankind, Jesus Christ is literally, and not just figuratively, ‘the new Adam.’ That He is also declared to be ‘the Word of God’ in human form, we should then study His holy actions and divine teachings as our primary vision, since to see Him is ‘to see the Father,’ to have that ‘single eye,’ so the Body of Christ ‘will be full of light.’

The time is come ‘to cast off the works of darkness, and to put on the armor of light.’

Who do you trust?

Lord, help me always to tell it like it is.

We witness to the Lord Jesus Christ wherever we are, as second nature, without thinking about doing it, without personal intention or expectation, only the unspoken prayer, “Give the increase.”

A co-worker calls to me from over the cubicle wall. “You gotta see this!” I get up immediately, drawn by the hint of incredulity in the speaker’s voice. I round the corner and sit in an empty chair near the PC screen, as my friend reads aloud to me what he’s found on the internet, “Man is willing to pay $50,000 to Jews willing to relocate to Dothan, Alabama!” and then, “Hey man, this is for you!”

Even though he knows I’m a Christian, there’s just something about the label “Orthodox” that makes this friend, and many other people I’ve known over the years, think that I’m some kind of Jew. It doesn’t help that I’m bearded. A short conversation sprang up between us on the subject of the news story that concatenated a whole string of facts and ideas. Jews leaving small town America for the big cities, then, the depopulation of Polish Jewry, leaving hundreds of abandoned synagogues and cemetaries all over Poland, then the instant celebrity of any Polish Jewish boy who actually wants to be bar mitzvah’d. Then, as invariably happens, food comes up. “Yeah, aren’t rubens tasty with kosher corn beef and swiss cheese? Uh, wait a minute, even though the ingredients are kosher, that combination isn’t. Why?”

Then the conversation moves along as to how the rabbis added layers of “kosher” laws to the original single injunction “You must not boil a kid in its mother’s milk,” and how ridiculous this is, in view of what Abraham and Sarah offered to God the Holy Triad at their campsite at Mamre. Maybe God didn’t like the taste of meat and dairy at the same dinner (which is what He was served up), and so the next chance He got, He laid down the law about the “mother’s milk and kid’s meat don’t mix” thing.
Then the talk moved on to what happened to the two angels that visited Lot in Sodom, and then what happened to the city, and how Lot escaped with his two daughters, his wife having looked back and been morphed into a salt pillar. And then how what happened next gave rise to the Orthodox saying, “Do not defile yourself in the wilderness, where in the city you were pure.”

I can’t remember the rest of the conversation, but I have to remark on the faithfulness of God, who does not let His Word go forth and return to Him void. Whether my friend identifies himself as a Christian or not, he could find meaning in, and welcomed the exchange of ideas and stories recounted on a colloquial level, in fact he initiated it. This is how we witness. We just remain willing to defenselessly and joyfully deliver the Message that He wants to send. He appoints the rendezvous, and it’s always, as Sergei Fudel calls it, “a miracle of unexpected joy” (Light in the Darkness).

Did I bring Christ into the conversation? Did I announce the “four spiritual laws?” Did I ask my friend if he is saved? No, that isn’t how it works. I have no agenda. But I am ready to say whatever I hear the Lord saying, and whenever the Lord commands it. “Not my will, Lord, but Thine!”
Another co-worker showed up with a question, and as I was actually on my way out the door when this conversation occurred, I just let it go with a “Good night, guys, have a good evening! See you tomorrow!”

On the drive home, I got to thinking. All these folks I work with are very nice people, and at least a couple of them have told me they were or are Christians, and in the past (I’ve known them several years) we’ve sometimes shared a little about our Christian lives, or at least our upbringing. I know what some of them reject. In fact, almost no one in my office “goes to church” except me. Yet, they’re all nice people. This is the product of religious Christianity. When C. S. Lewis said that Christ came not to make nice people but new men (Mere Christianity), he was writing about this very thing.
So, as I was driving home, I was turning over in my mind, what is the source of my belief, what does my life in Christ grow out of (for this is the only thing Christian life can really mean)?
I thought back to one of my favorite concepts, that though we have five sense organs to give us knowledge of the natural world, we have one sense organ to give us knowledge of God (I should say spiritual world, but that would not be enough). That sense organ is the brain, in which resides the mind. The mind is the eye with which we can see God—everything else we use it for are like “extras” thrown in by the Maker. The problem is that most people use the mind for very opposite purposes, either because they don’t know any better, or because they do, and they don’t want to see God (Romans 1:20-21). When people have asked me why I believe in God, I sometimes say, “Honestly, it’s not really belief per se. I just know He’s there. In fact, He’s here with us right now in this very room, as we’re talking. It’s like I can see Him, not with my eyes, of course, but with my mind. I guess you could say, with the eye of faith.”
Then as I drove along, I started wondering how people must see me, and others whom they know are followers of Jesus, or at least call “religious” folks. They sometimes know that we pray, or say prayers, or talk to God, or whatever. But they, even when they claim “to believe in a God,” simply don’t pray. They don’t really think that there’s Anyone there listening. I can see their point. On the purely natural level, there’s no evidence of anyone or anything that “hears” all our thoughts and words, and “sees” all our actions.

So where do we, where did I, get that notion in the first place?
I can see how people can accept the concept that there is a God, but not know anything about Him, because there’s nowhere to find “more information” except—in the Bible! And that Book has had the most wild history of promotion and defamation of any book known to man, not to mention a whole slough of writers intent on making us believe that though it’s God’s Word, it’s not perfect (implication, not reliable), and that it must be studied in the context of its time and place.

Back to the notion that Someone is there that knows everything about us, hears all we say and think, sees all we do. For me, that has come primarily from the book of Psalms, which is rich with detail on the nature of God, Who He is, what He loves, what He hates, what He does and can do (there’s nothing He can’t do, but there are things He won’t do). I’m sure there are many places in the Bible where God’s nature is revealed simply enough for anyone to understand, but for me the Psalms are that place.
Now this is where “faith” actually does kick in, even for me. It is by faith that I accept and believe that what the Bible says about God is true in the first place.

Yes, faith—this is the stumblingblock for those who may claim to “believe in a God,” but cannot bring themselves any closer, let alone confess Him before men. They may justify their disinterest by their agnosticism, and their agnosticism by their biblical illiteracy, and their illiteracy by the corruption of the institutions representing Christianity. But without taking the personal initiative to seek the Lord where and when He can be found (Isaiah 55:6), that is, in the Word of God, they cannot hope to be justified or become children of the Promise, putting false hope in the “goodness” they attribute to the “God” in whose existence they say they believe, but of whom they have no objective knowledge.

So then, though the mind can “see” God, only faith can tell us of His attributes, and “can guarantee the blessings that we hope for, or prove the existence of realities that at present remain unseen” (Hebrews 11:1). And that faith cannot be arrived at by any amount of human thinking or speculation. That was the heresy of the false gnosis of ancient times. Instead, we have been given (as the Jews say) “the precious Implement by which the world was created,” that is, the Word of God. We have been given it (again, as the Jews say) “not to be made into a spade to dig with,” in other words, not something to serve us, to bolster our opinions and thoughts. Instead, we have been given the precious Implement “through Whom all things were made” (Symbol of Nicæa), and Who alone can remake us, as the Psalms declare.
What is faith then?

Of course, in an everyday sense, it really comes down to trust. Without realising it, everyone lives their life day by day based on trust that “things are as they think they are.” This is like not being afraid to enter the highway and jump into a lane of fast-moving cars, because you trust that the fear of instant chaos, damage or death will keep everyone on the road in their lane. This is like not being afraid to fly to Japan on a jet airliner because you trust what the scientists have discovered about the laws of physics, you trust the pilots to know how to fly the plane, and you trust the entire apparatus of the airport maintenance system to make sure there’s fuel in the plane and so on.

In various other areas of life, we have come to trust, or have faith in the reliability of various human institutions, and so we are able to live our earthly lives and function in relative peace and stability. We know we can trust scientists, as long as they stay scientific. We know we can trust doctors and other professionals, as long as they stay true to their various disciplines. Why then this lack of trust, this absolute disdain of theologians and clergy, and of “organized religion”? Sorry to say, a large proportion of these people have not stayed true to their discipline, wandering where they don’t belong, or bending the Bible to fit their agendas. However, there’s nothing more I need say about it here.
What I want to say is one more thing. Just as we trust a scientist when he stays scientific, we should trust a theologian when he stays theological. What is the discipline of the scientist? To study the natural world, do experiments, get results and publish them, so others can duplicate them. What is the discipline of the theologian? To study the Bible, do experiments (follow Jesus), get results (the life of salvation) and publish them (make disciples of all nations). If a theologian can’t be found where you live, find them among the Church fathers, or become one yourself!

True science requires honesty, study and hard work, but it’s worth it. True theology, the same.

The true scientist trusts the natural world to be true, takes it at face value, tests it, confirms its truth, and himself can be trusted. The true theologian trusts the Bible to be true, takes it at face value, tests it, confirms its truth, and himself can be trusted.

Who do you trust?

Even in hell

‘The point of all our toiling and battling is that we have put our trust in the living God, and He is the Savior of the whole human race, but particularly of all believers’ (1 Timothy 4:10) has always intrigued me ever since I first read it. This verse, considered in combination with the more famous John 3:16, that ‘God so loved the world’ tends to remind me of the little known concept that when Christ descends into Hades, He empties it. Who wouldn’t go with the living God when He finds you where you are, even in hell, and bids you, ‘Come forth!’

For the fundamentalist Christian, you must accept Christ as personal Lord and Savior or you go to hell for your sins.

For the Orthodox, the personal Lord and savior ‘of the whole human race, but particularly of all believers’ even harrows hell to rescue the soul that nailed Him to the cross, ‘for God so loved the world, that He sent His only-begotten Son…’

God is mercy.

Free

Every believer is called to live theologically, and the whole body of the Church is creating theology in its life and its struggle.

Thus the ex cathedra of Orthodoxy, the way in which it expresses itself infallibly, is from the Cross.

The responsibility that is spread over the whole body of people is a cross. Apophatic theology is an ascent to Golgotha. The spiritual life of each believer which provides the overall balance is a cross. On the Cross, the Lord ‘stretched out His hands and united what had previously been sundered.’

From all this we see why every term has a different meaning in the mouth of a saint, a different weight and force; it is because he is born and lives in another world.

What commands his enthusiasm and concern is something altogether non-essential and unimportant to the present age, which comes and sees it, and passes by on the other side.

That which is the life, the joy and the certainty of the Orthodox, does not exist for the world: ‘The world will see Me no more, but you will see Me’ (John 14:19).

We are bound together by the common faith which, in accordance with tradition, each of us has found and finds personally through the exercise of his own responsibility—so each of us shall give account of himself to God’ (Romans 14:12)—and through the communion of the Holy Spirit.

The Church leaves the believer free to feel Christ dwelling within him;
free to live in fear on the sea of this present age;
free to be crushed by his responsibility;
free to cry out to the Lord, ‘Master, we perish,’ and to see Him in the night of the present age, walking on the waters for him personally and for the whole Church;
and free to hear the Lord say to him, ‘It is I.’

Archimandrite Vasileios, Hymn of Entry, pp. 50-52 passim

This is the Orthodoxy that we adhere to. This is the Orthodoxy that is the foundation of the world, as we proclaim on Orthodoxy Sunday.

This is the unchanging Orthodoxy of Jesus Christ, the holy apostles, the fathers, the martyrs and all the saints, of former ages, in this present time, and in the age to come.

This is not an Orthodoxy one can convert to. This is an Orthodoxy one finds enfolding him when he comes to Jesus.

Glory to You, our God, and our hope,
glory to You who have shown us the Light!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Let us be Yours

The ‘prosperity gospel’ and ‘Christianity as a self-improvement regimen’ make their home in the minds of many Christians of all denominations, even the Orthodox Church. And how can they not? The Church, like the world, is full of humans, those inside just as fallen as those outside, and both sides polishing themselves to shiny splendor, even when sincerely serving the Lord, or serving Mammon. Well did the Lord’s brother, James, write to admonish us not to make distinctions between classes and types of people. ‘Don’t say to the rich man, “Here’s a nice seat next to me up front,” and to the poor man, “You can sit down there at my feet,”’ but perhaps he writes us in vain, for we have learned to observe the letter and escape the meaning. We rather pursue our own interest, even when we condescend to sit near or speak to our obvious social inferiors.

But the Church is forgiveness incarnate. We start by forgiving ourselves even while we are unashamed to parade our wealth, race, learning or good looks before others to impress, entice, humiliate or shame those whom we feel obligated to be ‘nice’ to because Christ said so. Then we forgive them who haven’t made it in life like we have, you know, the failures. I know how it is because I myself am a failed human. I tried my best to follow Christ and become what these others are, righteous, rich, learned, successful, happily married, brimming over with grandchildren, with degrees in the family from Princeton or Yale. It didn’t work for me, but I haven’t given up. I still try my best to follow Christ, only now I know, it isn’t so that I can be crowned on earth. Thankful am I to God for His great mercy in letting me know His Son and the Holy Church He has established. ‘Seek first the Kingdom of God…’

The blessing of God can be the blessings listed in the Bible, in Psalms and elsewhere. It can also be a secret blessing. ‘What kind of blessing is that,’ you ask, ‘if others don’t see it?’ What is the point of being blessed, or for Pete’s sake, even saved, if you can’t boast about it in one way or another? But that is not the kind of boasting that God wants. ‘What! Does He want us to boast? Great! Then let Him bless me more, and I will boast for all I’m worth!’ I don’t know, but the things that I’ve heard the apostle Paul say he boasts about, are not the kinds of things I mentioned above, that the ‘successful’ Christian thinks are his trump card. I knew there was a reason that Second Corinthians is my favorite Pauline epistle. ‘If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness’ (2 Corinthians 11:30). For me, that’s an easy task. Maybe not so for some of the others. It must be hard being so strong.

‘The poor you will have with you always. You won’t always have Me,’ says the Lord Jesus Christ, justifying the wasting of human resources on His person, or is there more to His intention? For He also says, ‘Whatsoever you do to the least of these, that you do unto Me,’ and, ‘Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’ What a confusing Jesus! No wonder people get perplexed with His sayings, and move on to seek truth among gurus they can understand, teachers who don’t ask for much, but deliver plenty. So we have it, from the beginning of the Church’s life up till now. Humanity in the rough, unchangeable because we don’t really want to be changed, satisfied to continue as we are because ‘grace has been given, the price has been paid,’ so we can forget to repent, or better yet, repent of imaginary sin to satisfy custom, because we don’t really believe we sin at all.

I wonder if we ever think of what we look like to the world that actually sees us. Perhaps we think of that too much, as we try to keep up appearances with it, to fit in nicely while we still retain God’s favor by church attendance and other pious works. If we belong to a sect or fellowship, we make sure our witness to the world conforms to righteousness, because ‘a city set on a hill cannot be hid,’ and we don’t want to be the cause of the world’s damnation. We show just the right amount of disdain for the world and its filthy practices, so they can see the benefits of following Jesus from our ‘straight and narrow’ lifestyle. If we belong to ‘the Church’ it’s really quite enough to let others know this about us, and come a-running, in our direction, of course, since we have the true faith. We don’t even have to open our mouths, really. Our fasting, bowing, babushkas and beards tell it all.

Lord, help us! 
You descended into Hades to loose the bonds of those who were chained. 
You trampled down death by death. 
You emptied the tombs. 
Call us, Lord! 
Call us out, by name, as You called out Lazarus. 
Let us truly obey You, truly follow You. 
Save us, Lord! 
Let us be Yours.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

No waiting

As mankind comes to the threshold of the most amazing scientific accomplishments, his cruelty and self-destructive behavior escalates as well. We cannot be trusted, in our natural state, with our own 'perfections', which are not perfections at all but only more liabilities.

No matter where I look, there is no hope, no love, no wisdom, no accomplishment, no perfection outside of Christ, only death, death, death. They say we are escapists to have faith in the only-loving God, and that salvation is a mercenary incentive, that if God were loving and good, He would accept us all as we are, perfect and imperfect.
Do they really know what they are saying?

Only human perfection could be that incredibly stupid, not to know that heaven, or hell, is in our pockets, depending on which we have put there.

This is one of those moments for me where with Isaiah I want to cry out, 'Oh that You would tear the heavens open and come down…'
but I must confess that I cannot.

Isaiah could cry out because the Christ had yet to appear.
As for me, He is standing outside my door daily, knocking to be let in.

Always, and already, here. No waiting.
No one in the line ahead of me, only the old man.

Why can't he just get tired of waiting and leave the line.
Then, I would be next.
And the One at the wicket would not put up a sign,
'Next window please.'

Sorrow, and gladness

Fruitless, even dead, trees in the landscape,
like the fig tree withered by Christ’s curse.
There are almost no other instances in the gospels,
maybe even no others, where Christ actually curses.
He sorrows. He chides. He calls to sanity and truth.
He feeds. He forgives. He sympathizes. He sorrows.
Yes, He sorrows, almost more than anything.
For our ignorance, our hatred, our greed.
He sorrows for the dead. He sorrows for us.
He even sorrows for Himself.
But He curses only that fig tree to its very barren branches.
Even unbelief, He does not curse, but warns, and laments.
‘Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! 
For if the mighty works done in you 
had been done in Tyre and Sidon, 
they would have repented long ago…’
Such is the work of the pre-crucified Christ.

Now He who was dead and who lives forever cries,
‘Awake, and let the Light shine on you…’

Φωτίζου, φωτίζου, η νέα Ιερουσαλήμ, 
η γαρ δόξα Κυρίου επι σε ανέτειλε. 
Χόρευε νυν και αγάλλου Σιών… 
Shine, shine, O new Jerusalem, 
for the glory of the Lord has arisen on you. 
Dance now and be glad, O Zion…

Asleep, and awake

I used to avoid Thomas Merton because I thought he had evolved out of Christianity and Christ by his explorations and experimentation with Eastern religious and philosophical thought. Consequently, I've read very little of what he wrote. In the final analysis I think what he did was confuse a lot of people, and blur the distinction between following Christ and merely believing in Him.

Now, I don't avoid Merton for any such reasons, but just because our paths are not probably going to cross. I have found Christ sleeping in the boats of the non-Christian religions and cultures, and all I want to do for the crews of those boats is awaken Him for them, and let Him awaken them to the Truth.

Now, I also find myself written off by some people because I am not afraid to go among the non-Christians and learn of them and from them. It startles people that I should know about the gods of India, for example, and that I don't think it is blasphemous to visit their temples or even to sing or hear their songs.

But there is only One Divine Nature, One God, to whom all paths do not lead from our end, but by Whom all things are possible from His end. And there is only One Lord Jesus Christ, the Word of God from before the ages who came to us as a little child, and as a young man died for us, and not only for us, but for the whole world.

And not the gates of Hades or its captors could keep Him down, or out, or defeat Him in any measure, for He takes it captive, and releases all who seek Him from its darkness, all without asking our leave. And where I walk, following Him, takes me on many journeys 'where angels fear to tread,' and yet I trust Him. As I often say, there is no loss with Jesus.

No loss, nothing and no one. ‘I have saved everyone You gave to me, except the one who chose to be lost,’ says Jesus.

Unwalled city

It seems to me, from my limited experience of sixty-three years, that if you really trust Jesus completely, you are unafraid to trust yourself to people, situations, and the world in general, as they come your way.

By this I don't mean that you entrust yourself into everyone's keeping. But you are somehow able to discern, even without giving it much thought, and without anxiety, what is appropriate in every encounter.

You seamlessly entrust yourself to others in exactly and only those areas where trust even has meaning at all. You can be fearless because there is no longer anything to gain or lose. Why? Because of Christ.

He has you, and you have Him. Beyond both need and want, unopposed and defenseless, you are an unwalled city defended, like Rome, by that invincible weapon, the peace of Christ.

Ha-Shamáyim

The perfection of anything solely human
consists in the fact that it must end.

The perfection and the glory of anything Divine
consist not in the fact that it has no end,
but that it has no beginning.

The raising of Lazarus from death was made perfect
when he died again.

The raising of Christ from death was made perfect
when He rose to die no more.

He not only opens to us the doors of paradise,
but shows us how we in Him were always there,
that we had no beginning as well as no ending,
that we were never solely human
but always partakers of the Divine Nature.


The captive is soon to be set free; he will not die in a deep dungeon nor will his bread run out. I am Yahweh your God who stirs the sea, making its waves roar, my name is Yahweh Sabaoth. I put my words into your mouth, I hid you in the shadow of my hand, when I spread out the heavens and laid the earth's foundations and said to Zion, ‘You are my people.’
Isaiah 51:14-16 Jerusalem Bible

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Even greater works

One of my favorite sayings, which I stole from a Belgian Roman Catholic priest (eventually he fell under that church’s displeasure) and added to the storehouse of Orthodoxy is this:
“Jesus is still the most active person in the history of the world.”

When I first read this in Fr. Louis Evely's wonderful book That Man Is You, it struck me like a bolt of lightning.

I’d always believed in Jesus' historicity as recounted in the Bible, and I believed along with the whole Church that He suffered, died, was raised from the dead, and ascended into heaven. That meant that He is ‘up there’ at the right hand of Divine Majesty interceding for us, and all the talk about ‘Christ is in our midst’ and ‘I have Jesus in my heart’ had to be just metaphorical, sort of a jumpstart for people's faith, using their imaginations.

But after nearly four decades as a follower of Jesus, my understanding has been transformed gradually. Yes, the Lord Jesus did ascend into heaven, but in a very real and actual sense, He is still in our midst, still among us. He is the truly undead God-Man.

Every other historical person, religious figure, prophet or philosopher, died and that's that.

Some of their believers may think that they can still help them from beyond the grave, but facts are facts, they died, and no amount of prayers to them will help anyone an iota.

But Jesus is different.
We don't have to reduce Him to some kind of ancient guru with powers of bi-location (being in two places at once); that’s what our limited human imagination wants to do. Christ Jesus is, again I say, the undead God-Man.

The dead are buried and gone (or dead and ascended as New Age masters are claimed to be). But this Jesus was dead and buried, but He didn't stay that way.

His presence before the Father now that He has ascended—whatever that means—is actually no different than when He walked the earth as God-Man.

Then, He was present before the Father, and present with us.
The first we (or rather, His original disciples) took on faith, the second they saw with their own eyes.

Now, He is present before the Father (at His right hand, really), and present with us. The first we take as a doctrinal fact, the second we must take on faith.

If Christ really is among us, or ‘in our midst’ as the Orthodox phrase it, then it makes sense for us to walk in His presence, and follow Him bodily into the world where He is going every day, every hour, every minute of every day.

If we exercise our faith, it will develop to the point where we can actually ‘see’ Jesus with us, leading the way.

This is our goal as His disciples, to follow Him as He goes out into today’s world ‘seeking that which is lost,’ and to do what we see Him doing there.

I tell you most solemnly, whoever believes in Me will perform the same works as I do Myself, he will perform even greater works, because I am going to the Father.
John 14:12 Jerusalem Bible

Why does Jesus say we ‘will perform even greater works, because [He is] going to the Father’? Does this ‘going to the Father’ inaugurate a Divine absence?

No, His ascension to sit at the Father’s right hand was a going up in power, inaugurating not a period of absence but, instead, one of hidden presence.

In His 33 earthly years in the old human body, Jesus was limited, self-limited,
‘emptying Himself to assume the conditions’ of our mortality.

Now that He has been raised in an imperishable body, He is limited no more, except by our failure to find Him among us, ‘in our midst,’ and to follow Him as He goes among us, seeking His lost sheep.