Thursday, April 24, 2014

A Christian asks himself

How can I be living my life as though the resurrection didn’t really happen?
I say, “Christos anesti” with my lips, but what do I say with my heart?
What do I say with my life?

What is belief?
Is it just the mental agreement that a statement is true without experiencing the truth it expresses?

Can I live my life in the resurrection of Jesus while living it as though He did not die on the cross, and die on the cross for me?
I can humbly bow and cross myself with my body and kiss His image, but what worship does my spirit offer?

But the hour will come—in fact it is here already—when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; that is the kind of worshipper the Father wants.
John 4:23 JB

Can I believe in the resurrection without believing in the Lord’s death?
How can I believe in the Lord’s death without experiencing it?
Can I believe in it by attending the services, or reading the bible, or is there more to believing than being a “good Christian”?
And what is a good Christian?

Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me. For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it.
Matthew 16:24-25 JB

“He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
—Jim Elliot, Martyr of Ecuador

Can’t I be a follower of Jesus without dying?
Isn’t all the talk about being buried with Christ in my baptism just a metaphor?
But if it is, what is there to do?

Back to my original question, why am I living as though the resurrection didn’t really happen?
Is it really because I don’t believe in the death of Christ and in the power of His life-giving cross?
What is this “power” of the cross?

All I want is to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and to share his sufferings by reproducing the pattern of his death.
Philippians 3:10 JB

Living as though the death of the Lord did happen will give you the power to live your life as though the resurrection did happen.
There is not one without the other.

You cannot live as though Jesus Christ died on the cross,
and still lie, steal and kill.
You cannot live as though He died for you,
and still treat others with disrespect.
You cannot live as though He endured temptation,
and still fornicate, alone or with another.
You cannot live as though He said from the cross,
‘Father, forgive them,’
and still hold grudges, envy the good fortune of others,
and judge your neighbor.

You cannot live as though He endured being stripped naked
and beaten,
and still look the other way and wink at wickedness,
and let the innocent be slaughtered.

You must give up your old way of life; you must put aside your old self, which gets corrupted by following illusory desires. Your mind must be renewed by a spiritual revolution, so that you can put on the new self that has been created in God’s way, in the goodness and holiness of the truth.
Ephesians 4:22-24 JB

“Christ says ‘Give me All. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half measures are any good. I don't want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down. I don’t want to drill the tooth, or crown it, or stop it, but to have it out. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked—the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: My own will shall become yours.’…”
—C. S. Lewis

So, this is the way to live a resurrected life, to live as though the resurrection of Christ really happened, to know that it happened, not just to say I believe in it:
To live a dying life, to let Christ nail not only my sins, but also my very self, what I think is me, what I think I want, to the cross.

…the thing that is sown is perishable but what is raised is imperishable; the thing that is sown is contemptible but what is raised is glorious; the thing that is sown is weak but what is raised is powerful; when it is sown it embodies the soul, when it is raised, it embodies the spirit.
1 Corinthians 15:42-44 JB

If we have died with him, then we shall live with him.
2 Timothy 2:11 JB

Lord, let me live as though You really rose from the dead, by living as though You really died for me.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

By faith and not by sight

What this strange, ‘tremblesome’ quality of my life means—I am beginning to understand. I am living forward, one day at a time, like a blind man who cannot see what's ahead, but can only feel his way, taking short, deliberate steps, groping into the next moment, listening to a barely audible voice that's calling me. By faith, not sight. And faith comes by hearing. And hearing by the Word of God.

This quality has been growing, and I, sensing it growing, am surprised that the initial fear has lessened somehow. But the meaning of ‘living one day at a time,’ that I once glibly repeated along with others, has truly become the nature of my life.

There's no wonder, then, nor merit, in the fact that every morning I am surprised, yet usually happy, to wake up, and find myself still alive. No wonder, then, that when I see the sun rising as I drive to work, I am happy and thankful beyond measure. One more day. I remembered my first elder, Philip the cabinetmaker, who taught me when I was in my young twenties, how to saw up boards and make furniture. I remembered how he would confess to me, on a bright sunny morning, how he wept as he drove to work. I couldn't understand it then, but I'm beginning to understand it now. I too have wept on the way to work. Sometimes for sadness, sometimes out of gratitude inexpressible any other way. God is good.

I think to myself, Has it always been like this, only I didn't notice?

When you're ‘young’ the thought of death (as the end) never crosses your mind. Life extends limitlessly before you. You can plan things far in advance and expect to do them when you get there. When you're ‘older’ the thought of death starts intruding on this scene of self-confidence, and you begin to understand what ‘pride of life’ means. Is this when some people have their mid-life crisis?

You'd probably expect that life will always go on in the same seamlessly perfect way, though, like it did when the world was new. 
Perfect in that it's in your control. But thank God, for at any chronological age, He is always there and willing to let us give our lives to Him, a little at first maybe, and then more later, and at some point, maybe all of it. As we approach that point of no return, the giving up of all, time begins to ‘stretch out.’ Limited time, chrónos, becomes limitless time, kairós, which also means acceptable time.

Every day means more, every hour, minute, second. Every particle of being, of life, takes on the quality of being in the center, of being important beyond measure. The beetle that crossed my path as I fumbled for the key to unlock my door, God's handiwork, down to the least barbed leggy. The coolness of the empty warehouse I walked through on the way to my office, God's gift, at the beginning of a day that promises to be very hot.

When it comes to lunch, there's no question of ‘saying grace’ wherever I am or with whom, He feeds me and I thank Him. Every mouthful of ten-cent-a-bag ramen tastes as luscious as my favorite food. It's all manna. And if I'm with a friend, it doesn't matter if I eat at all, because the warmth of a friendly smile feeds more than any food. All from God's hands.

To know with every fibre of my being, He is here, He provides, in His hands are life and (what we call) death, as in the old spiritual ‘He's got the whole world in His hands,’ did this knowledge come first? Or was it the willingness to follow Him blindly, and to accept each next moment as His free gift, that ushers in the leading edge of His parousía?

"Let us go where He is waiting and worship at His footstool."
Psalm 132:7 Jerusalem Bible

Tuesday, April 22, 2014


Faith is faith. Nobody can have faith for us, not even God. If we want Christ to do something for us, we must have faith.

What a powerful thing faith is, real faith, not hypothetical faith.

He replied, "Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you."
Matthew 17:20

Jesus replied, "I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and it will be done."
Matthew 21:21

"I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours."
Mark 11:23-24

A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, "If you are willing, you can make me clean." Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out His hand and touched the man. "I am willing," He said. "Be clean!" Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.
Mark 1:40-42

Every English translation of these verses about the healing of the leper that I have consulted uses the word ‘willing,’ both in the leper's request and in the response of Jesus, linking the idea of what is going on here with ‘the will of God.’ But this is how I memorized this passage:

A leper came to Him and pleaded on his knees, ‘If you want to’ he said ‘you can cure me’. Feeling sorry for him, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him. ‘Of course I want to!’ He said. ‘Be cured!’ And the leprosy left him at once and he was cured.

This translation is from the Jerusalem Bible (1966 version, as the Book has been ‘corrected’ since then by the ‘authorities’), and this may be why I have kept this bible with me constantly from the first day I found it. “Of course I want to” may not be literally what is meant by the Greek θέλω, but is there any sense in translating the Word of God if not to evoke faith in us, the kind of faith that “moves mountains”?

Faith is faith. Nobody can have faith for us, not even God. If we want Christ to do something for us, we must have faith.

The leper came to Jesus, with faith. His faith moved a mountain.
What was that mountain? Was it his leprosy?
Or was it ‘the will of God’?

God knows us. He knows everything about us.

But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.
Matthew 6:6-8

Though He knows everything about us, and His will is a mystery, His will is not fixed, it is not static. The might of the Almighty proves His power in that He is willing to undo His will for the sake of His creature who asks. He is the Living God, in Whose Image we are made and into Whose loving Heart we have been drawn, sitting at table with Him, given leave to speak to Him face to face, and yet live. His will for us is His will with us. The Holy Triad welcomes us into His company, invites us to approach boldly in the company of Jesus, through Whom we have become partakers of the Divine Nature.

“Of course I want to”
is the will of God to those who ask, coming with faith. But faith is faith. Nobody can have faith for us, not even God. If we want Christ to do something for us, we must have faith.

During his conversation with Abba Serapion, Abba Mark the Anchorite inquired how things stood in the world. He asked about the Church of Christ, and whether persecutions against Christians still continued. Hearing that idol worship had ceased long ago, the saint rejoiced and asked, "Are there now in the world saints working miracles, as the Lord spoke of in His Gospel, 'If ye have faith even as a grain of mustard seed, ye will say to this mountain, move from that place, and it will move, and nothing shall be impossible for you'?" As the saint spoke these words, the mountain moved from its place 5,000 cubits (about 2 miles) and went toward the sea. When he saw that the mountain had moved, Abba Mark said, "I did not order you to move from your place, but was just conversing with a brother. Go back to your place!" After this, the mountain actually returned to its place. Abba Serapion fell down in fright. Abba Mark took him by the hand and asked, "Have you never seen such miracles in your lifetime?" "No, Father," Abba Serapion replied. Then Abba Mark wept bitterly and said, "Alas, today there are Christians in name only, but not in deeds."

Faith is faith. Nobody can have faith for us, not even God. If we want Christ to do something for us, we must have faith.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Bright Monday News

This post is very, very long, but forgive me, I couldn't help myself. It is just too good to tantalise you with fragments. The following is a talk given by Archimandrite Elias Morcos in 1964, which I discovered posted here in English translation of the original Arabic.

The Revival as a Return to God

The Church in her human reality is always something less than her perfect true reality. We must always surpass our human weakness within her in order to arrive at her perfect true reality. This is the revival: this constant effort, this continuous movement from the way we are to the way we should be.

The Church is the salt of the earth and completes the work of Christ in the world. The Church works, she is present, for the sake of the salvation of the world. We can say that she is the center of being, in her its destiny is achieved. The world corrupts and ages, but the Church is continuously renewed for the sake of the salvation of the world. But if the salt is corrupted, then how can it be salty?

The Church is the group of those who believe in the Lord Jesus and who have united around him to live the life of the Gospel, the life of God. They have no concern except to follow the Lord’s teaching and to follow in his footsteps. The group is in the world and for the world, but at the same time it is not of the world. From the beginning, from the ascension of the Lord to heaven, it is oriented toward the age to come, awaiting the return of the heavenly bridegroom and hastening him on. From now on, it lives in the last days, in the fullness of time, “it uses this world as though it doesn’t use it, and buys as though it doesn’t own.”

However, the coarseness and weakness of human nature weigh upon the Church, since she is made up of humans. Sins and failings and imperfections remain, and doubles will continue to remain as long as human beings are human. But the Lord has born all things and taken them all upon himself, and as a result there is no barrier.

The Lord Jesus has passed over our life and has cleansed us and taken us from weakness to strength and from corruption to life. In order for the Church to continue to be the Church, she must follow the Lord and cleave to a continuous Pascha, surpassing the self and constantly passing from the weight of the world and its many varied temptations to the victory of the Lord and the purity of the divine life.

Everything that exists is in a state of motion and progress. Vegetable, biological, and social life, the sciences… everything grows and is perfected. And how much more so the spiritual life. It is progress and growth, an infinite reaching toward God’s life. For that reason it is said that, “one who looks back is not suitable for the Kingdom of Heaven.”

The temptations of this world are many and varied. They take an evil appearance just as they take a good appearance. All of them are clear in their result, in that they are a stopping in the world, a stopping along the way, a stopping in the exodus, the passing over, Pascha. They are an obstruction to God’s eternal Pascha. The journey to God is a journey without end. Every stopping along it leads us to the corruption of the world.

We acquire upright faith. We build churches. We hold services and prayers. We celebrate the feasts. We have all the richness of Orthodoxy, its liturgical and spiritual and ascetic treasures… But naturally, if all this remains external it is not enough. There is no doubt that the journey towards God is at its base an inner striving of the heart, in God’s being a God to us, living, personal, inner. It is said, “If you want to kill God, then kill man’s inner life.”

No, the Church is not in the externals, it is in the heart. As the Bible says, “One who does not meditate in his heart has no knowledge and no understanding” (Isaiah 44:19). We know this, but in our habitual action we very often forget it. We know that the Church is not in the stone and not in the chants and not in the institutions and what is visible, but all its beauty is from within. If we are satisfied with the externals and we do not understand them and do not enter into their deep, living meaning, then the externals become something dead and superficial that comes between us and God rather than leading us to Him. It turns into an absolute value or an obsession or a reason to be distracted from God. Then we confuse the externals and the true, unseen glory, forgetting the words of the Bible, “On that day the glory of Jacob will grow lean” (Isaiah 17:4).

But if we transcend appearances and desire to live and enter into the essence, there is a Gospel that we must follow. There are teachings and divine commandments that we have abandoned for the sake of the commandments of men. Unfortunately, not only have we abandoned them, but often we have mocked them and we have mocked those who keep them. The logic of the world here is the logic of wealth and lust and it glorifies a lifestyle that dominates our entire life.

No, the Church is not in hearing the Gospel but in applying it. If we do not maintain our chastity, our poverty, our humility, our mercy, then where is the Church? If we do not desire righteousness and purify our hearts and we do not do good works, but rather tear each other apart, then where is the Church? Is it something difficult and ineffective? But have we tried? Have we experienced the Lord’s commandments to the very end in order to taste their sweetness and effectiveness? Or have we preferred the bitterness and emptiness of the pleasures of the world to the very end?

The Lord put a great deal of emphasis on keeping his commandments and he strongly urged this in his final sermon since he knew that “the prince of this world” will prevail over hearts. But if we are of the Lord and not of the prince of this world, should our faith not start from this? Does our Lord not deserve that we trust in his word and try to act according to his commandments so that we will be blessed? “If one loves me, he will keep my word. If you keep my commandments, then you shall be established in my love.”

But the Church herself is not commandments and ordinances so much as Love of the Lord and striving for his face. For this reason we do not understand the commandments if we see them as dry ideas, devoid of their marrow and their taste. Virtue is not in actions but in the movement of the heart within the actions. It is through actions oriented toward the Lord, cleaving to him and longing for him.

How can the Church be commandments when the Lord said through the mouth of the Prophet Isaiah “Precept upon precept, precept upon precept. Line upon line, line upon line. Here a little, there a little. For with stammering lips and another tongue He will speak to this people, to whom He said, ‘This is the rest with which you may cause the weary to rest,’ and, ‘This is the refreshing’; yet they would not hear. But the word of the Lord was to them, ‘Precept upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little, there a little,’ that they might go and fall backward, and be broken and snared and caught” (Isaiah 28:10-13).

And to the youth who had kept the commandments from his infancy, the Lord said, “You lack one thing.” That one thing remaining is love: to long for the Lord in our heart and to desire him alone.

This is not for some people and not for others. It is a call, it is an invitation, to all. All of us are called to love the Lord with the love of life. All the life of the Church is the life of invitation: “‘I have redeemed you and I have called you by your name. You are mine,’ says the Lord to his people” (Isaiah 43:1). Likewise the Apostle Paul says, “We also pray always for you that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness and the work of faith with power” (2 Thessalonians 1:11).

The people without a calling and love is “a people ravaged and plundered,” the Bible says. The Church does not exist without the visible Church, the Christian people. Our religion is a religion of incarnation. If we do not embody it, if we do not follow the Lord, then where is the Church?

“Our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power”
(1 Thessalonians 1:5), says the Apostle, but out of habit and the passing of time, we often take the words without their true meanings, the shadow instead of the person and thus we mock the Lord. We might hear the call and do something. We might go for a part of the way. We might be given the grace of prayer if we ask for it, the fathers say. But if we do not do all the Lord’s will, there will come a day when we discover that we have no faith and no forgiveness.

“Woe to the person whose reputation surpasses his reality,” says Fr. Silouan. But the Lord says, “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God” (Revelation 3:1-3).

In order for us to truly follow the Lord, we must have force and self-emptying. Jesus came to be crucified, not to talk. If talking was enough, then Jesus would not have been crucified. He said, “He who wants to follow me, let him take up his cross and follow me.” This total commitment, the commitment of the cross is doubtless painful and scandalous. But it is the only way in the Church.

Pain here is a birth pang, and a birth pang is the beginning of any existence. We have no existence in the Church and the Church has no existence in us without the cross of commitment and its pains. But those who abide will be wiped out: “They slept a heavy sleep,” says the Psalmist, “and they found their hands empty” (Psalm 72:18). The issue is the issue of true commitment that we plunge ourselves into. We do not love our life to the point of death, a commitment in which we break the barriers of our freedom like breaking the sound barrier: in our freedom, we empty ourselves of our freedom in order to follow the Lord, and only then does he open before us the way into space.

This ultimate commitment is what makes the Church the Church. Everyone can contribute in this commitment to the Church of Antioch, each one in his field and surroundings and profession, fathers and sons according to the gift of the Lord. It is within the ability of fathers to offer the best and most precious gift, if the Lord wills.

I would like to repeat to you what a Coptic monk, a friend of mine, wrote, “O people of Antioch, the voice of the Lord to you, as from the voice of the great prophet Samuel: offer, offer the good vessels that you have, which through all these years have become empty. Offer them so that they can be filled with God’s oil. Do not be stingy with your sons and daughters, so that they can become your vessels of salvation on your day of hardship and so that they can become oil of joy and gladness in the time of war. The Lord will be pleased with you and your times of relief will come from him. Do not say enough, enough. The world looks upon you. Yes, enlighten once more, O Lord, Antioch so that the world will be enlightened by its light as in the first days.”

As for those who have truly committed to the Lord and have gone into the great depths—and among you are many of them—they do not stop along the way. If we have done something, we are not satisfied with it, as every stopping is a fall. No one is better than another.

“All the Church is a Church of penitents. All the Church is a Church of mortals,” says Ephrem the Syrian. We have not yet begun to repent. We have not struggled against sin to the point of blood. If we stop and we haven’t bled, then we have not brought it to the end and commitment, the revival, and the Church become mere expressions and empty clichés that we repeat in order to quiet our conscience. Our giving must increase in order to remain. May the spirit’s be to vigorously move forward and not stop short like Lot who remained alive while his wife looked back and died. We must renew our will like the stroke of a hammer in the soul so that it arrives at the profundities of existence.

“So the craftsman encouraged the goldsmith; He who smooths with the hammer inspired him who strikes the anvil, saying, “It is ready for the soldering”; then he fastened it with pegs, that it might not totter” (Isaiah 41:7). The danger of lethargy confronts us at every moment, “Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall, but those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles” (Isaiah 40:30-31).

Brothers, if we understand the revival on this basis, and we walk in it with faith, steadfastness, and alertness, by His grace, He, for the sake of His glory, for the sake of His love and the Love of His holy Church which is above all and for all, He will allow the revival to be. At that point the revival will be at its true extent, proceeding after the Lord risen from the dead. Then each one of us will rise from his death. In an eternal exodus we shall follow him in his Pascha, he whose life has no end, amen.

Day without night

I saw that there was no temple in the City since the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb were themselves the Temple, and the City did not need the sun or the moon for light, since it was lit by the radiant glory of God and the Lamb was a lighted torch for it. The pagan nations will live by its light and the kings of the earth will bring it their treasures. The gates of it will never be shut by day, and there will be no night there…
Revelation 21:22-25 Jerusalem Bible

The whole of the message of Christ is contained and taught in two yearly feasts: Christmas, the nativity of Christ, at the time of the winter solstice, and Easter, Pascha, the resurrection of Christ, at the time of the spring equinox. This isn’t the Church taking over two pagan religious festivals and converting them into Christian ones. This is Nature itself pointing to the truths of faith and existence given a place within the New Creation, demonstrating that there is only Christ, who is in all, and in whom all ‘live and move and have their being’ (cf. Acts 17:28).

The world wants to localize these holidays, wants to contain them within calendar dates, wants to milk us for money as ants stroke and milk their aphids for nectar, giving us short respites between ‘holidays’, between milkings, so we can sufficiently recover. It doesn’t matter to the world whether the holidays are real or not. We tend to blame commercialism for spoiling the holidays, especially Christmas but to a lesser extent Easter, but it’s not their fault. ‘It’s not against human enemies that we struggle, but against fallen spiritual powers’ (cf. Ephesians 6:12).

So, they make Christmas end with a splash of presents and crumpled, glittering wrapping paper on the afternoon of December 25th, and they’d just as soon like to see Easter disappear under mountains of discarded candy boxes and deflowered Easter lilies: all very valuable and costly in the days leading up to the holiday, and suddenly transformed by studied consumption into garbage before sundown of the Lord’s Passover. Just as there is no mention of the birth of the God-Man during official Christmas, there is no mention of His resurrection during official Easter.

For the disciples of Jesus Christ whom He has ‘set free like birds from the fowler’s net’ (cf. Psalm 124), the great and holy Pascha does not disappear after the day of Resurrection, nor does the God-Man’s taking birth from the Theotokos retreat into mere myth and folklore after the day of Incarnation: These holidays are not days that inhabit one number on the world calendar. They are not days at all, as we experience them, but entrances into the Divine Nature, into the life eternal, the life of the Holy Triad, which begins in time but proves to contain even time itself.

In Christ’s birth, God becomes Man, not once, but forever, taking human nature up into the Divine Nature, divinizing the whole Tree that Man is, Himself one of us, by hanging on that Tree as its first fruit.

In Christ’s resurrection, Man becomes God, not once, but forever, reopening to us the gates of Paradise, a Serpent raised on a stake, inviting us to partake of the Fruit of the tree of life, renewing all creation.

In Christ’s birth, the two greatest commandments, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself’ (Luke 10:27) become One commandment: to love your neighbor is to love God, thus brotherly love is theological.

In Christ’s resurrection, His entire life as Man becomes the pattern of our life, and only by following Him, by doing what we see Him doing, ‘Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill’ (Matthew 5:17), can we fulfill the One commandment, becoming by grace what He is by nature.

Tradition mandates twelve days to celebrate the birth of Christ, and after the day of His resurrection an entire week is gathered up into a single liturgical day, and a total of forty calendar days will hear the greeting ‘Christ is risen! He is truly risen!’ But after celebration, life must go on. We still must live our day to day lives. Tomorrow, I must return to the office and deal with what I find there, pretending to be ‘only human’ when I know by the testimony of His rising from the dead, that Christ is with me, even as He stands in the Presence of His Father, for He says ‘where I am, there will My servant be also’
(John 12:26).

In your minds you must be the same as Christ Jesus: His state was divine, yet He did not cling to His equality with God but emptied Himself to assume the conditions of a slave, and became as all men are; and being as all men are, He was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross. But God raised Him high and gave Him the name which is above all other names so that all beings in the heavens, on earth and in the underworld, should bend the knee at the name of Jesus and that every tongue should acclaim Jesus Christ as Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Philippians 2:5-11 Jerusalem Bible

This, beloved brethren, is the Day of Resurrection,
the Day without night,
the Life without death,
and the Love without end.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

If not now, when?

If I am not for myself, who is for me?
And if I am only for myself, what am I?
And if not now, when?

Pirkei Avot (Talmud, Ethics of the Fathers) 1:14

Resurrection, or reincarnation? The modern world—no, just the world, even from ancient times—has a hard time believing in what we confess in the Symbol of Nicæa, προσδοκουμεν ανάστασιν νεκρων, και ζωην του μέλλοντος αιωνος, ‘we expect the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.’

The two major views of human mortality and immortality—there is a third, but it can be a variation of these two—are the concepts of resurrection, and of reincarnation. In the first, the human soul and body are halves of an indivisible whole. In the second, the soul transmigrates from one bodily form to another.

It’s difficult to say which belief has historical priority. We find prehistoric graves, often well-stocked with goods for use presumably in an afterlife. This probably is evidence for the third major view mentioned above: The human person, with accessories, continues living in another world, perhaps in the sky.

Resurrection seems to be the native belief of Semitic peoples and their proselytes, specifically, Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Reincarnation seems to be the native belief of Indo-European peoples and their proselytes, specifically, pre-Christian Europeans, Hindus, and Buddhists. There is also some cross-over.

Judaism seems to believe in transmigration of the soul, at least in its literature, yet resurrection of the dead is still a major tenet of this religion. Some Christian and Muslim mystics believe in it as individuals. There is also a growing body of post-Christians who believe in reincarnation from reading about it.

Resurrection, or reincarnation? The adherents of both views point to nature to prove their beliefs, speaking for nature, which cannot speak for itself—except to humans who can hear beyond language. That exceptional group—I hope I am one of them—appears in China in books like 道德经 Dao De Jing.

The ‘resurrectionist’ looks at nature and notices that the cycle of earthly seasons gives example of dying and resurrecting in the annual cycle of plants. The ‘death’ is not really a mortality, only a ‘sleep’ of sorts. In winter, trees lose their leaves and sleep, and spring come alive again with flowers and leaves. The tree is still the same tree year after year. Its visible and invisible parts inseparable like the human body and soul.

The ‘reincarnationist’ looks at nature and notices how living things not only cycle, as trees through the seasons, but actually die and are utterly dissolved and then reappear through reproductive cycles. They experience or only imagine personalities in living things, and make personality the surviving entity which lives on from one body to the next. The body itself only appears to be alive because inhabited by the soul.

Understanding this broad dichotomy, we can see why burial of the whole body after death is mandated in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and why cremation of bodily remains is the logical way to dispose of the body in Indo-European religions, especially Hinduism and Buddhism. In each group, the treatment of the body after death is appropriate to the belief system. Cremation in the West is more expedient than respectful.

Resurrection, or reincarnation? The age old question has no logical answer any more than the other perennial question, ‘Is there a God?’ at least not in a form that can be accepted without ‘strings attached.’ For until you make one of two encounters, you can believe whatever you like.

Which of these will you encounter first, your own physical death, or the Lord Jesus Christ, ‘who was dead and is alive forever’? What kind of invitation is that? Whether you believe in the resurrection of the dead or in reincarnation, you must meet death: there is no choice.

Unexpectedly, the same is true of meeting Jesus Christ. I am not now speaking of religious beliefs about Him that you may have been handed by your parents or teachers. Whatever you believe about death or about life, you must meet Jesus Christ: but there is a choice. When will it be?

Now, when He says, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die’ (John 11:25), or after your body and soul have been separated, of which He says, ‘Night is coming, when no one can work’ (John 9:4)?

Christ is risen · Χριστος ανεστη · المسيح قام

Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling down death by death,
And on those in the tombs
Bestowing life!

Χριστος ανεστη εκ νεκρων,
θανατω θανατον πατησας,
και τοις εν τοις μνημασι,
ζωην χαρισαμενος!

المسيح قام من بين الأموات
و وطئ الموت بالموت
و وهب الحياة
للذين في القبور

Ανάστασις - Resurrection

Real belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ is what divides the Church right down the middle, separating ahead of the Day of Judgment the sheep from the goats. ‘My sheep recognize My voice’ (John 10:27), says the Lord Jesus, ‘who is, who was and who is to come’ (Revelation 1:8).

Those who really believe in the Resurrection know for sure that Jesus is alive, alive as Man, alive as God, as one ‘who became dead, but is alive forever’ (Revelation 1:18), and so they cannot speak of Him in the past tense, ‘Jesus was, Jesus said,’ except when describing an action of His that He did once on earth, and yet even there, they draw the line very close.

They may say, ‘He was crucified, suffered and was buried, and on the third day rose according to the scriptures’ (Symbol of Nicaea), but in everything else they speak of Him as if He were with them, in their midst, even now, at this present moment, because He is‘Christ is in our midst! He is and ever shall be!’

For those who live in the knowledge of His real Presence with us, because of their belief in the Resurrection, to hear His voice, to receive His call, to follow Him today and to say and do what they hear Him saying and see Him doing in the scriptures and in the world, these are mystíria, yet not mysterious.

This knowledge and what flows from it is not esoteric (hidden) unless you want it to be, as holy apostle Paul writes, ‘There are no hidden meanings in our letters besides what you can read for yourselves and understand’ (2 Corinthians 1:13 JB).

This is the foundation stone of Orthodox faith: that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, and that He is with us now, and to the ages of ages, and where this Jesus is, there also His disciples are. For this reason, we speak not only of Christ in the present tense, e.g., ‘Jesus says,’ but also of His holy apostles and beloved saints, His sheep, e.g., ‘Paul writes.’

Why is this?

Because in Jesus, all who believe in Him are alive, just as He is.
This is the Communion of Saints, forever alive in the Living God.

Like the Jews who to this day cannot accept Y’shua ha-Mashiach as their Messiah, because they do not believe in His resurrection and for no other reason, ‘They hated Me for no reason’ (Psalm 69:4, John 15:25), so also the Christians and non-Christians who cannot accept Jesus Christ and believe in Him for who He really is.

It’s not because of what He did or didn’t do, what He fulfilled prophetically or didn’t fulfill, what He taught or didn’t teach, ‘the sabbath was made for man not man for the sabbath’ (Mark 2:27), but because they do not or will not believe that ‘Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more’ (Romans 6:9 KJV). To do so would immediately and irrevocably turn their world upside down.

Hence, within the Church enclosure, religion, outside it, derision, is how the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ is tamed for the safety of the world in place of its salvation.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.
John 3:16-21 NIV

I am the Resurrection and the Life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?
John 11:25 NIV

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Only one Passover

The world is quite happy to oblige us in helping us celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, as if we needed any help. In its grosser, more obvious forms, the pre-Easter deluge of candy, cards, flowers artificial and natural, and the rest is in our faces long before the world is really ready for them. It’s as if it wants to fool itself as well as us, into thinking that Easter is a springtime renewal holiday, a sort of ‘out with the old, in with the new’ holiday, at best a kind of spiritual spring cleaning, as if we could ever really clean ourselves.

But that’s what the world likes to think, and it’d be only too happy if the Christians, for whose sake the world goes to all this trouble, would just settle down and get with the program. Unfortunately, there’s a fringe group of these ‘incredible Christians’ that seems to want to push something else at the world. Well, patience and forbearance isn’t the monopoly of these fanatics. The world can be patient too. Along with its helpers, satan, and the flesh, the world never seems to tire of taking over our lives, even the smallest details.

So we find ourselves going to church services to celebrate Easter, after which many communities have fun activities for the children like Easter egg hunts, and of course, there’s plenty of chocolate bunnies and marshmallow chickies to go around. Those Christians who belong to communities that try to take the season more seriously, prepare themselves with fasting, prayer, confession and good works, then trade all this abstinence for an extravaganza on the night of Pascha.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with celebrating Pascha, the Lord’s Passover, with feasting and other delights. In fact, Holy Church has been encouraging us to do this at least ever since John Chrysostom preached his famous sermon that we still read in Greek and English at the end of the Resurrection service…

Do you honor God? Do you love Him?
—here’s the very feast for your pleasure.
Are you His servants, knowing His wishes?
—be glad with your Master, share His rejoicing.
Are you worn down with the labor of fasting?
—now is the time of your payment.
Have you been working since early morning?
—now you will be paid what is fair.
Have you been here since the third hour?
—you can be thankful, you will be pleased.
If you came at the sixth hour,
you may approach without fearing:
you will suffer no loss.
Did you linger till the ninth hour?
—come forward without hesitation.
What though you came at the eleventh hour?
—have no fear; it was not too late.

God is a generous Sovereign,
treating the last to come as He treats the first arrival.
He allows all His workmen to rest—
those who began at the eleventh hour,
those who have worked from the first.
He is kind to the late-comer
and sees to the needs of the early,
gives to the one and gives to the other:
honors the deed and praises the motive.

Join, then, all of you, in our Master’s rejoicing.
You who were the first to come, you who came after,
come and collect now your wages.
Rich men and poor men, sing and dance together.
You that are hard on yourselves, you that are easy,
honor this day.
You that have fasted and you that have not,
make merry today.

The meal is ready: come and enjoy it.
The calf is a fat one: you will not go hungry away.
There’s kindness for all to partake of
and kindness to spare.

Away with pleading of poverty:
the Kingdom belongs to us all.
Away with bewailing of failings:
forgiveness has come from the grave.
Away with your fears of dying:
the death of our Savior has freed us from fear.
Death played the master: He has mastered death.

The world below had scarcely known Him in the flesh
when He rose and left it plunged in bitter mourning.
Isaiah knew it would be so.
‘The world of shadows mourned,’ he cried, ‘when it met You,
mourned at its bringing low, wept at its deluding.’

The shadows seized a body and found it was God;
they reached for earth and what they held was heaven;
they took what they could see: it was what no one sees.
Where is death’s goad? Where is the shadows’ victory?

Christ is risen: the world below is in ruins.
Christ is risen: the spirits of evil are fallen.
Christ is risen: the angels of God are rejoicing.
Christ is risen: the tombs are void of their dead.
Christ has indeed arisen from the dead,
the first of the sleepers.

Yes, there is certainly nothing wrong with celebrating Pascha, the Lord’s Passover, Easter (as it is called in English and other Germanic tongues) with feasting and celebration. This is what the Lord wants us to do, though He celebrated it with His disciples at a campfire on a beach, grilled fish on the menu. The world, when it can’t distract us with cheap tricks, still goes in for the big illusions, still hopes to snare us, to make us forget the Truth—or has it already succeeded? There’s a fine line between happiness and joy, between indulgence and celebration.

Let our feasting, like our ikons, be windows into the life of the age to come, reminding us of our destination, letting us see glimpses of it, like the first rays of a sun still below the eastern horizon. Let our feasting not be commandeered by the world, the flesh and the devil, the three of whom delight in deluding us, in denuding us of our covering, the Lord Jesus, turning our anticipation of the Wedding Feast of the Lamb into just another gorging ourselves on the flesh of lambs. We must not be found without our wedding garment, lest we be cast out into the outer darkness.

Brothers, let’s celebrate the Lord’s Passover with spiritual rejoicing and not be satisfied with mere mortal happiness. Let our hospitality toward one another be real and from the heart, for the One who was dead and is alive forever is really in our midst. If we are Jews, let’s live as though the Passover Night and the Exodus from Egypt really happened, for in truth they did, and they still do. If we are Christians, let’s live as though the Passover Night and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ really happened, for in truth, ‘Christ is risen from the dead, by death trampling down death, and to those in the tombs, bestowing Life.’

There really is, after all, only one Passover.

Because the King is asleep

Saturday is the Sabbath of the Lord's Rest, when His body sleeps in the tomb and His Spirit-filled soul descends to Hades (or She‘ol, in Hebrew) to destroy its power over mankind, and lead the captives held there to safety and salvation. It is the work that Christ does on the seventh day that is the most paradoxically powerful act of sleeping that ever was, as the Psalm declares, ‘He provides for His beloved as they sleep.’

Yes, and what a sleep! Both His, in the new tomb, and ours, when we sleep in Him, which is the only way we or anyone can truly awake.

Brethren, let us give glory to the Victor over death whose work is hidden from the world that He has saved, yet He saves them all the same.

Something strange is happening.
There is a great silence on earth today,
a great silence and stillness.
The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep.

The earth trembled and is still
because God has fallen asleep in the flesh,
and He has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began.
God has died in the flesh and she’ol trembles with fear.

He has gone to search for our first parents,
as for a lost sheep.
Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
He has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve,
He who is both God and the son of Eve.

The Lord approached them bearing the cross,
the weapon that had won Him the victory.
At the sight of Him Adam, the first man He had created,
struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone,
‘My Lord be with you all.’
Christ answered him, ‘And with your spirit.’

He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying,
‘Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead,
and Christ will give you light.
For I am your God,
who for your sake have become your son.
Out of love for you and for your descendants
I now by My own authority command—
all who are held in bondage to come forth,
all who are in darkness to be enlightened,
all who are sleeping to arise.

‘I order you, O sleeper, to awake.
I did not create you to be held a prisoner in she‘ol.
Arise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead.
Arise, work of My hands.
Arise, O My likeness,
you who were created in My image.
Rise, let us leave this place,
for you are in Me and I am in you.
Together we form only one person
and we cannot be separated.

‘For your sake I, your God, became your son;
For your sake I, the Lord, took the form of a slave;
For your sake I, whose home is above the heavens,
descended to the earth and beneath the earth.
For your sake, for the sake of man,
I became like a man without help,
free among the dead.

‘For the sake of you, who left a garden,
I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden,
and I was crucified in a garden.

‘See on My face the spittle I received
in order to restore to you the life
I once breathed into you.
See there the marks of the blows I received
in order to refashion your warped nature
in My image.
See on My back the marks of the scourging I endured
to remove the burden of sin
that weighs upon your back.
See My hands, nailed firmly to a tree,
for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand
to a tree.

‘I slept on the cross
and a sword pierced My side for you
who slept in paradise
and brought forth Eve from your side.

‘My side has healed the pain in yours;
My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in she‘ol.
The sword that pierced Me
has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.

‘Arise, let us leave this place.

‘The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise.
I will not restore you to that paradise,
but I will enthrone you in heaven.
I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life,
but see,
I who am life itself am now one with you.
I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded,
but now I make them worship you as God.

‘You hid yourselves, as if naked, from God:
but behold—
hidden within you is the naked God.

‘The throne formed by cherubim awaits you,
its bearers swift and eager.
The bridal chamber is adorned,
the banquet is ready,
the eternal dwelling places are prepared,
the treasure houses of all good things lie open.
The kingdom of heaven
has been prepared for you
from all eternity.’

King of Glory

Anger can be replaced with love, and ‘warning against’ can be replaced with ‘inviting to,’ but what is most important, is to follow the Lord's instructions every day, as you follow Him in the world.

As for me, I am a servant who has been told, ‘Go to the highways and byways and find wedding guests to fill My banquet hall.’

Loving the stranger may not be as effective in fighting evil in the world in the short term, and you may even have to pay with your life, but in the long term, love wins.

Christ going down to Hades, to She’ol, is no ‘frog in a well’. He went down there and emptied it of its captives, bringing them to Paradise.

The more closely we follow Him, even in His descent into hell, the more miracles and resurrections we will see happening around us, by His power, and the more certain and faithful we will become, as His witnesses.

There is a saying, ‘not the world, my parish, but my parish, the world.’

What you know, what you have learned from your experiences in this world, is part of the armory which the Lord, the King of kings of kings (blessed be He!), has given to you, but the battle is still His.

Let Him direct you in what weapons to use, as you follow Him into battle. You witness by living as though the resurrection were a fact, and the victory already won. Why?

Because He did rise from the dead, and the victory was, and continues to be, won, but only from the throne of His cross, where He is seen to be ‘the King of Glory.’

This is hard for us to assimilate, and to accept, but Jesus said to Peter, ‘Don't you know that My Father could send myriads of angels to defend Me? Put away your sword, for all who take up the sword will perish by the sword.’

How will the world know who Christ is?

By seeing His disciples loving, not just each other—that is a given—but also those who are not yet one of them, even… their enemies.

The world and life wear down our sharp and cutting edges, and Christ lets the experiences of our lives polish us to a very bright sheen, but He rounds us, and makes us worthy stones to be built into His spiritual temple, His Body.

That is so we will be found worthy to be one of the building blocks of His heavenly City when it finally descends to earth, and the kingdoms of this world become the Kingdom of Christ and His saints.

Love to you, and peace, brothers and sisters in Christ, love and peace, in the midst of this world of war.

Christos anesti. Christ is risen.

Let's live today as if He really did rise, because He is with us right now, in this very room, to accept our faith, and by means of it, to transform us into creatures worthy of eternal life.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Cease from struggle

When I am confronted by Christians, well, by anyone but particularly by Christians, who are anything from indignant to militant and antagonistic as they report to me this or that latest outrage against morality, or freedom, or the faith, or the church, I cannot help but become very calm and, though I see I do not speak, I think of the words of Jesus Christ, 'Offer the wicked man no resistance…'

This is not the verse I remember when I read in history or in the news all sorts of accounts about wars between nations, or people defending themselves against violent crimes. Though many kinds of struggle look the same, often they are very different and require very different responses. The words of Jesus are always there to aid us, and though they seem to be saying one thing now and later the opposite, this is why.

The truth is, we seem to be a contrary and contentious people, the human race as a group, but I don't think we are born that way. It is something we learn to be. Argument and confrontation surround us, and almost nowhere in human society can we find peace. One would hope that peace might be found within the Church enclosure but, alas, it is not. Instead, that seems to be where the worst bickering and backbiting occurs.

Lord, help us! So an American Christian missionary of Iranian origin goes back to his ancestral country and gets in trouble somehow. He is put under arrest and confinement, and hundreds of thousands of people sign a petition to induce the American government to press for his release. The State department doesn't even show up when the petitions are presented. That's what I heard from a fellow Christian 'struggler' anyway.

I get quiet inside. I suffer inwardly, knowing a man is wrongly held somewhere, but then, he's one of many millions who are now, and through time, wrongly accused, held, punished, even executed. I can't rouse myself to the indignation my informant feels as he adds, 'We have to protect the brothers!' His words remind me of Charlemagne's knights declaring, 'We wouldn't have crucified Christ like those Jews did, if we'd been there!'

I think of the words of Saint Basil, 'We are all deceived.' I think of my own life, my own situation. I joke with my friend, 'Who will sign the petition to get me released from my imprisonment?' nodding at the workshop where I spend most of my day, making machinery parts. He doesn't get it, but continues his diatribe with another co-worker who listens and adds a bit of affirming chit-chat. The struggle goes on. Us against them.

When really, this is not a struggle we can win. I mean, we almost never win these kinds of conflicts. True, sometimes we do win, or at least appear to; taking the long view which is denied us by the present moment but which history affords us in retrospect, very few of our wins, even when the winners are righteous, can be maintained. All victories but one include concealed slippage. All must pay the piper in the end.

That one victory, though, didn't look anything like victory when it was won: A naked corpse that was once a man, so disfigured we couldn't even tell who He was to look at Him. No one knew what struggle was being fought in His hanging on the Tree, nor what was won when He spoke, 'It is finished' and breathed His last. Even now that we think we know, we really do not. Otherwise we would not be fighting, struggling as we do.

Causes, there are always causes that we must support, wars we must fight, whether with swords or words only. Now, in this enlightened age, it's a wonder we don't wear our tongues out with incessant complaint or lose our voices by raising the hue and cry every morning and evening. What of the real struggle, the one that goes unnoticed within us and ingloriously? He revealed it to us and showed us the way to win: the Cross.

Hanging on the Cross, we cease from struggle. The war of words falls silently on deaf ears. To see all, and yet to say nothing. 'As a Lamb is dumb before its shearers,' that is our model. Peace there is in this, to cease from struggle. Wars wear themselves out around us, finding in us no enemy, no one to attack, no one to subdue. Morning and evening, ours is the victory song, 'Holy, Holy, Holy Lord of Sabaoth…'

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Nothing less than the Cross

Photo from The Dwelling Place blog
‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God’ (Matthew 5:9), a saying of Christ we all know by heart and give lip service to, but if it comes right down to it, none of us really wants to be that blessed, though we’d love to be called ‘sons of God’ as long as it required nothing more of us than to say, ‘Jesus is Lord!’ We don’t reflect on that fact that the only One who really was ‘Son of God’ by nature and not merely by name, was a peacemaker, in fact the ultimate peacemaker, for He makes peace between God and man, and between man and men—if we let Him.

Yes, I know He also says, ‘Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword’ (Matthew 10:34), and I think I know why He says it. If we follow Him, if we do what we see Him doing, say what we hear Him saying, yes, if we decide once and for all that we want to be peacemakers, we will be cut off from the bulk of humanity, yes, cut off, with a sword that will not be put away from us until we surrender.

We work for peace, yet we are denied peace. It is when we work for war, between people, between nations, that we are approved—not by God, of course, but by man.

No, there will always be people who say they want peace, and some of them may even give those who do work for peace a nod of approval, but they do not lift a finger to help. Peace is too threatening, because in that environment, our every failing is laid open to the eyes of all, and we would rather not be discovered. In war all crimes can be hidden, even ours, and so war is what we wage with our tongues and sometimes our bodies, the better to hide what we are, and what we have chosen.

When you choose to be a peacemaker, the world no longer looks the same. You can see ‘the sin of the world’ in a way you could not before, in the world, and in yourself. It is an awakening, but one without worldly glory. To work for peace does confer enlightenment, but not of religion. It is the enlightenment of Christ, which He shares willingly with you, to see whether or not you will accept it. And why wouldn't you? Because it is nothing less than the Cross.

‘He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near’ (Ephesians 2:14). ‘For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through His blood, shed on the Cross’ (Colossians 1:19-20).

Yes, ‘blessed are the peacemakers, 
                          for they shall be called sons of God.’

Wednesday, April 16, 2014


Like everything else he said and did, it didn’t make sense at the time, and we began to understand the significance of his words and deeds only much later, only when it was too late.

Yochanan, the youngest of his disciples, the one who gave me the name by which I was to be forever known after that day, Ari, had given me the instruction to do the impossible. On the Master’s orders, to find and buy a large leavened loaf and bring it before sunset to our upper room, where he would eat the Passover with his disciples. His exact words were, ‘The Master says, my time is near. It is at your house that I am keeping Passover with my disciples.’ I was standing right there when Yochanan delivered the message to my widowed mother. The Master to share the seder with his talmidim at my house? I was stunned, but not for long. Yochanan took me aside and gave me his astonishing instructions.

‘Where am I to find unleavened bread on a day like this?’ I protested. ‘We just burned every last bit of chametz we had in the house, and no baker will have anything but unleavened matzah on the first day of Unleavened Bread!’

‘Ari Shim’on! Come on, I’ll go with you. If the Master has instructed us to do the impossible, we can do the impossible. He never sets anything before us we can’t handle.’ I always marveled at Yochanan. No matter what Jesus asked of him, he always rose to the task with a confidence I wish were mine. The other disciples, well, they might sometimes doubt, some of them, but never Yochanan, and never me, either. He’d never let me. As the youngest disciple of Jesus, the others wouldn’t listen to him, but I was even younger than he, and scrawny and timid at that. Yochanan had noticed me following them all at a distance whenever they were in my street, and one day he took me by surprise and cornered me. I thought I was in for a beating. That was the story of my life.

My father—may he rest in the peace of Hashem—died before I was old enough for him to teach me how to defend myself, and in my boyhood, brotherless, there were many who mocked and even beat me. One day—may the name of Hashem be forever blessed—I was following after the talmidim of the man from Nazareth, and one of his disciples broke ranks and approached me. ‘Who are you? And why do you keep tagging along behind us? If you want to be with us, just join in!’ Instead of running away, which is what I wanted to do, I stammered, ‘Sh-shim’on, I am called Shim’on.’ Yochanan suddenly laughed. ‘Here it comes,’ I thought to myself, ‘he’s going to mock me for not even being able to say my name.’

‘Ari! Ari’el! God’s little lion, that’s the name for you! Look at that head of hair, like a lion’s mane! I bet you can really roar, and take down a whole gang of elilim that came against you!’ And he grabbed me by the shoulders, looked me squarely in the eye, and said, ‘Brother, I like you! Come on, join us!’ I couldn’t believe my eyes and ears, but here was a boy just a few years older than me, like all the others, energetic, handsome, confident, only he wasn’t shaking me and then knocking me to the ground with a cruel guffaw. It was at that moment, that my constant feeling of dread vanished, and the world suddenly looked new and different to me. I liked him. No, I loved him, even then, and now, years later, even more.

These memories always assail me when the year comes round to the days before Pesach, the Passover. From that first encounter with my new brother, the one I never had, my life began to change. It wasn’t just having Yochanan as my friend, my special friend, but watching how the Master’s love for him, he passed on to me in exactly the same way. My father and mother loved me as best as they could, but the love that Jesus and his disciples had for each other, and for me, was different. It wasn’t a sour kind of love, always judging, always bossy, hateful of the stranger, bullying. No, it wasn’t that kind of love at all. In fact, I never knew what love really was, until I saw how the talmidim of Jesus from Nazareth loved each other, and how he loved them.

But it is getting close to the Passover, and my heart is full of dread. Remembering that day when I was sent on the errand to find the impossible, at the time full of wonder, ‘What’s he going to do with that? It’s the Day of Unleavened Bread!’ I didn’t understand, but I did it, we did it, anyway, we did what Jesus commanded. I can’t even remember where we found that loaf, but Yochanan made me promise to bring it safely home and place it on the seder table that my mother was getting ready. He had to run, no doubt, to fulfill a mitzvah that the Master gave him. Jesus was always full of love for us, but mitzvot, commandments, too.

My heart is full of dread, not remembering that night—what happened after the seder is too awful for the eyes of my mind to look upon. My heart is full of dread, remembering the Master’s eyes and voice, after he raised his friend Lazarus from the tomb. At the supper that Martha prepared to celebrate her brother’s resurrection, Jesus should have been full of joy, but the same look he had when, seeing the tomb of his dear friend, he wept, never quite left him from that moment. I could sense, though I did not understand, that there was some dark cloud advancing towards him, and toward us. Once again, as it was with me before I met Yochanan and Jesus, there was dread.

Yochanan is the only one remaining of the Twelve now, though he left to follow the Lord Jesus to Ephesos in the north, to follow him in a land far from our home in Jerusalem. The world is changed forever after what happened the third day after that strange seder. At least, it changed forever for me. Yochanan did not abandon me. His love for me is as secure and true as Jesus’ love for him. He joked with me that day I saw him off at Joppa, when he took ship with Miryam of Nazareth, to follow her son beyond Galilee of the Gentiles, to the Greeklands.

‘You know, Ari, how the Lord’—yes, now we call him not only Master, but Lord, for that He was proven to be by his rising from the dead—‘you know how the Lord told big Shim’on’—that’s Kephas. With so many named Shim’on among his followers, we all had nicknames—‘you know how he told Shim’on “Feed my lambs”? Well, brother, I will tell you a little secret. He may have told Kephas to feed the little lambs, but he told Yochanan to feed his little lion—and that is you! Remember, brother, that wherever I go, I will always love you and feed you by my prayers, because Jesus said so, and because he loves us, always, and for ever.’ And after sealing me with the love of God, and with his own love, he thus departed.

And remembering that love, the dread that dismayed me
too has departed.

Follow behind Jesus

Miracles are not seen. The human eye is not large enough to ‘see miracles.’ What the religious person thinks of as miracles are sometimes not miracles at all, but the effect that the presence of the miraculous has on people and things. For example, what is miraculous in a weeping ikon?
Is it the mysterious liquid that oozes out of the wood (or even out of the paper) of the ikon’s eyes? Or is it the opening of a unique doorway to a moment of real faith?

Some Orthodox Christians want to venerate every ‘miracle-working ikon’ that comes their way. Some want to pray before it as well. Some want a miracle in their lives. Some just want to be there, in the presence of the miraculous; for them, that is enough, not even their eyes could ask for more. Others don’t go; they don’t find anything to add to what they already have. For them, the present moment and the place they are standing seems enough.

‘I think I could stop here myself, and do miracles.’
Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass, Song of the Open Road

As for Christians in general, history writes no tall tales about miracle when it writes the truth. Hoping to force God to mimic His mighty acts in the book of Exodus by their ‘faith,’ the children’s crusaders waited in vain for the Adriatic sea to part so they could walk dry-shod to Jerusalem. Compliant helpers were found to transport the infant armies in sea-worthy ships to the slave markets of North Africa, whose harems for decades heard French folk songs sadly sung.

And today, we have faith healers, but to what avail? Do they heal men’s bodies, their minds, or just their souls, or none of these? I have known enough healed, and heard enough testimonies from them of miraculous healing by the likes of these. One sister told me confidently that her extreme nearsightedness was instantly cured when she placed the palms of both her hands against the television screen, while an Oklahoma faith healer cast out the demon in her.

Not long after this, she was also instantly killed along with her innocent daughter, in a head-on collision with a dump truck on the narrow coast highway. Their Pentecostal sisters sang beautifully and in strange tongues over their coffins at the cemetery the morning their bodies were consigned to the earth. She called her instant healing from nearsightedness a miracle. What would she call this?
Yet the Lord was fully present in both moments, all His acts.

Yes, I too want miracle in my life. I want my faith to move the hand of God. I used to pray with the pleading father in the gospels, ‘I believe. Help my unbelief,’ but I pray so no longer. For me, the miracle is to trust God to act according to His will, which is always the best for us. If He should ‘tear the heavens open and come down’ as Isaiah pleads, I am content, no, more than content, for that means it is the end of all things. That, to me, would be the greatest miracle.

Because the end of all things is the end of sin and death, for that is what we are, by our weakness and our bad choices. Miracle springs from the beginning and the end of God’s work in us, and between the First and the Last, all time is filled with His presence. If we do not in fact ‘stop here… and do miracles,’ in whom have we doubted? Of whom have we been afraid? ‘I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more…’

The miracles we seek will always proceed from the miracle that eyes cannot see, that ‘two of you on earth agree about anything…’ That is the hurdle to get over. That has more to do with love even than with faith. That is where all true and permanent healing comes from, from that love, because that is the source of all miracle from beginning to end. By love the universe was made out of nothing. By love, what was lost in the First Adam was restored in the Second.

‘Miracles’ that do not begin in love and end in love are no miracles at all, only magic. The faith that moves mountains is nothing less than the confidence that God can do all things, and that everything He does is for the best.

‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him’
(1 Corinthians 2:9). Yes, we walk by faith, not by sight, and yet miracle follows us and precedes us wherever we go, because we follow behind Jesus.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


Αγιος ο Θεός, Αγιος Ισχυρός, Αγιος Αθάνατος, ελέησον ημάς.
Aghios o Theós, Aghios Is’chyrós, Aghios Athánatos, eléïson imás.
Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us!

One only is Holy, but He is God, He is Mighty, and He is Deathless. Not three Holies, but One, we know Him as God the Father, as His Mighty Son, and as His Deathless Holy Spirit. Even in this most ancient of all prayer cries, the undivided Triad is manifest. The undivided Trinity, as believed in and lived in the Holy Church for, yes, we do not presume to know the how, but the Who, of God.

We know that God is One. This is no secret even to the polytheist if he is a thinking man. Humankind did not evolve an idea of One God by gradually adding spirit to spirit, god to god, by a sort of mathematical reduction. If anyone has arrived at the idea of such a ‘one god’ in this fashion, that ‘god’ is certainly not the God of the Bible, not the God of Jesus Christ.

No, for the only God that is, the self-existing Divine Nature, revealed through His manifold works, the material universe and seen by the mind of rational men, was at the beginning with man, just as the Bible tells in the story of Adam and Eve and the original paradise. ‘The man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as He was walking in the garden in the cool of the day…’ (Genesis 3:8).

It was the devil’s envy that brought death into the world, as well as the worship of many gods. Man devolved from relational monotheism to religious polytheism. Religion in the Garden of Eden? Hardly! What would be the need? There God walked with man and spoke to us face to face. Religion only came upon our race as sickness comes, a sickness called sin that brings death.

Human beings the world over have always believed in the immortality of the soul, but this is an unfounded belief. It is more of a hope, and a vain hope, as there is no proof in nature of our personal survival of death. ‘Who knows if the spirit of man rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?’ (Ecclesiastes 3:21). We find ancient graves well-stocked for living somewhere.

Almost all religions believe something like this: ‘The soul of man is immortal and cannot die.’ This is what you find among Hindus, for example, who believe what is taught by their god Krishna, ‘That which pervades the entire body you should know to be indestructible. No one is able to destroy that imperishable soul’ (Bhagavad Gita 2:17). For them, the ‘imperishable soul’ lives on through reincarnation.

For others, especially in East Asia, the souls of their ancestors are alive ‘somewhere’ and must be appeased, cared for, and helped. This is the most prevalent belief of most of humanity. In the three ‘Abrahamic’ faiths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, this belief takes on added content: the good ‘go to heaven’ at death, the bad ‘go to hell.’ This is, of course, at the level of popular religion.

As C. S. Lewis has written, ‘To believe in the popular religion of modern England is retrogression — like believing the earth is flat’ (Mere Christianity, Book 4, Chapter 1), and the same is true of the popular religion of the biblically illiterate everywhere. For many people, it’s just not worth the time and effort to learn and understand the truths of faith, what man is, who God is, and how He deals with us.

The soul of man, despite our wishful thinking, our pious hopes, and our individual speculations, is not immortal by nature. Only One is Immortal, just as only One is God, and only One is Mighty. Having been originally made in His image, our first parents shared in the Divine Nature, in Might, and in Immortality, but by their rebellion, the image of God in them and us was broken.

We are born into a fallen world, disfigured, that is, dis-imaged, damaged, and what would have been an immortal soul in us, is immortal no longer, by nature.

We live and move and have our being only in God, only by His grace, only by His gift, only by His remembrance of us. Why else do we find in the psalms the petition to ‘remember us’, why else did the thief say to Christ, ‘remember me’?

We are living souls only by the good will of our Creator, who remembers us in life and in death. The soul of man, as it turns out, is immortal after all, but not by nature. Our lives are in His hands. Whether we are alive in the body or gone to ‘be with the Lord’, it is all by His will, by His mercy. How totally we are dependent on Him for everything! Knowing He loves us removes the fear of death.

When we pray the Trisagion, ‘Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us!’ how true this prayer is, how wonderful that it has been revealed to us! We can depend on God, in fact He expects us to depend on Him, for everything, especially for our earthly life, and for the immortality that only He can grant us. There is so much more I would say if I could, but all I can say is, Thank You, Lord.