Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Most of all, trust

So it's easy, you say, to not believe in God, to tell people you don't believe, and to say you don't care what others think. Do you really think it's as easy as that? Without knowing for sure whether something or someone does or doesn't exist, to just say, 'I don't believe'? Do you think that by not believing in God, He (or she, or it) will just go away? Well, if God doesn't exist, yes, that works just fine. But, what if He does?

You can no more throw away the floor that you're standing on than throw away God. Whether or not you can see Him, or hear Him, it is He that is holding you up, He that is the ground under your feet that lets you stand at all. Ever try to stand on thin air? It simply doesn't work. If you've nothing to stand on, you don't stand at all. But aha! you are standing, I see! So, there has to be something under you.

True, if you're blind you can't see the floor, but you're still standing on it, and if you just bend down, you can touch it. You can feel its texture. You can't know its color, maybe, but you can tell if its hard or soft, hot or cold, wet or dry. Yes, even a blind person can tell a lot about something just by feeling it.

But there's sound too. The floor doesn't make much sound when you walk on it, just a squeak here and there, now and then. But if you fall flat on your face against it—now, there's something more than just sound! Ouch! Yes, you can feel the floor very well when it meets you face to face, even if you can't see it, and there's the sound—actually two sounds: the thud of you hitting the floor, and your own voice cursing the darkness.

So much for floors. God, if He does exist, is certainly more than a floor. The bible says He is the ground of our being. If you'd ever read the book and take what it says seriously, you might be in for a surprise. Almost everything about God that makes you not like Him, not be interested in Him, not want to believe in Him, is simply not there.

Oh yes, you can read your own ideas into those ancient words, and pat yourself on the back, and be smug and tell Him 'I told you so' and 'I knew it all along—you hate me.' But you've muzzled the ox while it's treading out the corn, and you're the ox! Everything that God has placed in the manger is for us, His animals, to eat. If it were just ordinary corn, we should've been satisfied. But no, He has filled the manger with—Himself!

So that old, dust-covered book that someone (maybe a parent who loves you) gave you and which you've been using as a book-end or a coaster for your drink is actually a manger full of food, full of the most delicious food, but all along you've believed it was just full of damp straw and maybe a moldy turnip or two, and you're still not about to eat from it, because that's all you believe is in there.

Ah yes, back to not believing in God. Anyone can say that, but if you actually try to walk that road you'll find, not that it leads nowhere, but that it declines into oblivion, not like a smudged impressionist painting of God-knows-what, but a mental tunnel that gets narrower and darker as you are pulled into it. Yes, I did say pulled. Black holes are not only found in the depths of outer space, but inside our depths as well.

That's because—I know you didn't ask and could care less, but—everything that we can see, hear, taste, feel and touch outside ourselves has a counterpart, a mirror image, inside us. Even that dusty old book I mentioned is inside you, even though you're not interested in reading it, outside or inside. But that's okay, because like the God you say you don't believe in, that book isn't going to go away either. It can't. If it did, you'd have nothing to stand on. And here you are, still standing.

So the time is Easter, and the tra-la-la of spring and chocolate bunnies and colored eggs rolling down grassy slopes has infiltrated and camouflaged the event that remakes all of time and space, all of nature, everything visible and invisible, yes, even you. Everyone fails in their flying leap to adulthood the first time they try—everyone. And most people continue failing on and off for a long while, but that's part of the training. Yes, the God you say you don't believe in is, has been, and will be training you for a very long time.

You're in something more than a foreign language class that you can pretend to take and then forget as soon as you graduate. No, you're going to be learning His language for a very, very long time. You'll never be able to speak it fluently by just reading the dialogs to yourself. You actually have to try speaking what you want to say, and to Him. Not too soon nor too late, one of these days, the God you don't believe in will start talking to you because you've learned enough of His language to start to understand.

I hope when that happens you won't do what I tried to do—tell Him I knew He was there but didn't want to believe because I had too much invested in things I liked that I didn't want to give up. If you hear such things going through your mind or passing your lips when you finally stand before Him and not only hear but feel His voice, you'll know what to do. I did, and I'm no different from you. I couldn't believe in Him until I knew for sure that He believed in me. After that, it wasn't a question of belief anymore at all. Knowing, yes maybe, but most of all, trust.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

But whom do you trust?

Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the Feast. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request.
“Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.”
John 12:20 NIV

For most church-going Christians, the main service on a Sunday is usually our only opportunity to hear the Word of God in the context of worship. This is a matter of the highest importance for the Orthodox Christian, because according to our belief, the Word of God can only be fully and correctly understood in the context of worship. That’s why Orthodoxy has two primary meanings to us, right-thinking, and right-worshipping.

For any Christian who goes to church, the main service is where you go “to see Jesus,” or as Bonhoeffer puts it, to bring yourself to a place “where faith is possible.” In many churches, the proclamation of the good news, the gospel, consists either in a combination of bible readings and a sermon, or a sermon alone containing a series of bible texts along with their explanation. In either case, the preacher must realize what great responsibility he has to show the people Jesus, and how brief a time he has to do that.


One Sunday morning at Aghía Triás, my family church, the scripture texts were Galatians 2:16-20 and Luke 8:41-56. As an added bonus, we were commemorating Nektarios of Ægina, a recent “canonized” saint famous for his gift of healing, especially cancer. The message of the Galatians portion can be summed up in verse 21 which was not read, “If the law can justify us, there is no point in the death of Christ.” The gospel reading was the story of the woman with the hemorrhage, and the raising to life of the dead daughter of Jairus, a Jewish synagogue official. The final verse of the Luke portion was “Her parents were astonished, but He ordered them not to tell anyone what had happened.”

Well, as it turns out, our preacher that morning listened to Jesus’ instructions, and didn’t tell us anything about the raising of Jairus’ daughter, or even enlighten us further on what holy apostle Paul wrote about the place of the law in a Christian’s life. No, he didn’t preach anything as homely as that. Instead, we were treated to a session on self-realization, finding out who we really are, and then sticking to our guns through thick and thin, no matter what people might think of us.

What did I learn from the sermon? A lot of things, actually.
Our preacher had been to Greece, where he tried to buy an iced coffee milk at a kiosk, but ended up asking the woman if he could sell her a cup of coffee. Bad Greek! He also was at the school in Athens that Nektarios, the saint of the day, had once directed. While there, he was attacked by a giant cockroach just as we was beginning to pray at a proskynitárion (prayer station). Bad bug!


When he finally finished his stories and started preaching, we were treated to a profound verse from the poet Hafiz, “of the Muslim tradition,” who wrote that we should have our chairs pulled out from under us, so that we could fall on God, and find out who we really are. Amazing! I didn’t know that Islam had so much to offer us Christian Orthodox.

From there, the sermon led us onwards and upwards to the feet of Nektarios the saint. Not mentioning anything, really, about the saint’s life of intercession for the sick, our preacher told the story of Nektarios from a political angle, how he was the promising successor to Patriarch Sophronios II of Alexandria but through court gossip and slander was demoted and exiled, even though “the people of Alexandria loved him.” Nektarios showed his mettle, though, in being himself, knowing who he really was, and wasn’t bothered in the least by his wrongful dumping by the patriarch. He went to head the school in Athens. Later, he quietly ordained the first two Greek Orthodox deaconesses in modern times, an abbess and a nun from a convent that he was in charge of. He actually took them “into the altar,” where women must not go according to church rules, and ordained them, putting the deacon’s vestments on them and everything. Of course, that got him in trouble, but he didn’t care, and he didn’t back down. He was right, and the church of those days was wrong. This happened long before any other churches were ordaining women to the ministry.

As far as I could tell—and I was listening to the preacher while praying the psalms as I often do during sermons—the message our preacher decided to use his precious twenty minutes with us per week on, was that (1) we should discover who we really are, (2) follow whatever we know is right, (3) stand our ground and (4) not back down in the face of opposition from the world. Nektarios was an example of that. Hafiz demonstrates that even the Muslims do as much. Did I get the message right? I hope so.

But what I really wanted to hear was Jesus’ word to me that day. And maybe I did!

Towards the end of his sermon, the preacher took us back to the gospel account. He encouraged us with the words that Jesus spoke to Jairus, “Do not be afraid, only trust…” So that’s what it all boils down to, trust. And I thought to myself, and asked again my old question, “But whom do you trust?”

Monday, July 21, 2014

Not quite ready-made

Πιστεύω εις ένα Θεόν, Πατέρα, Παντοκράτορα, ποιητήν ουρανού και γής…
I trust in one God, Father, Almighty, Poet of heaven and earth…
Symbol of Nicaea

People can be beautiful, well-born, well-connected, well-educated, healthy, prosperous, popular. They can be loved, respected, obeyed and even feared (if that’s their wish). They can have everything that they have ever wanted, dreamed of, desired and adored. In spite of all this, they can still be unhappy, depressed, dissatisfied, and even desperate (cf. Ecclesiastes 2). We’ve seen it in novels and movies, heard it sung in songs, met it firsthand in the people around us and, worst of all, experienced it in ourselves. Whether we are beautiful or not, noble or not, famous or not, sophisticated or not, healthy or not, wealthy or not, loved or not, we still find ourselves unhappy, depressed, dissatisfied, and even desperate at times.

This is no accident, as if the Poet of heaven and earth had failed to write us as perfectly complete poems. His poetry, unlike ours, does not simply get written on a page and then wait for a voice to bring it to life. No, His poems once written are living beings, taking on His life, having voices of their own. Voices and, yes, wills, of their own. The poems of the Poet of heaven and earth are alive with His life, and He writes them not quite ready-made. Why is this? Because He wants to see how His poems will fulfill themselves, what lines they will add to present themselves, complete and, yes, perfect before Him and before the whole Universe.

Given everything we need, we are commanded to be fruitful and multiply (cf. Genesis 1:28). Handing over to us His treasures (cf. Matthew 25:14-30), we are commanded to invest them. He goes away, He steps back, He opens for us a room in time and space from which He withdraws, and He watches from behind our wall (cf. Song of Songs, 2:9), to see what we will do. He watches, not waiting for mistakes to correct and punish, but to see what we will do with what He has bestowed on us, each of us receiving a completely unique nature. He wants to see what we will do with that nature, how we will fill the absence. Will it be with a longing for His presence, or with a lust for nothingness. For only He can fill the place in our lives from which He has withdrawn Himself.

What a love, what a trust the Poet of heaven and earth has, that He writes His poems with such life that they become living themselves, that He writes them unfinished, so that they may finish themselves and return to Him a gift that only they can offer. The Poet of heaven and earth is like a husband who withdraws, giving his bride the freedom to love him because she wants to, not because she must, waiting to see her response when he puts his hand through the notch in her door. “My lover thrust his hand through the latch-opening; my heart began to pound for him” (Song of Songs, 5:4). Will she get up quickly, and run to open to him? Will she delay, and then have to search for him?

Yes, Father, Almighty, the Poet of heaven and earth, and the Divine Logos, and we His poems, written unfinished, so we can complete ourselves by the Voice of the Spirit, the audience hall the Universe, the angels waiting for the Recitation to begin, wondering, hushed in expectation, what will be heard from us on the Last Day (cf. 1 Peter 1:12), what missing lines will be found, what hidden treasures brought to light?

Glory to You, O God, glory to You, who have shown us the Light!
Δόξα σοι ο Θεος, δόξα σοι τω δείξαντι το φως!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Rescued by wedding guests

Whenever I return to a stint of reading the early fathers, that is, those before and just after the peace of the Church wrought by Constantine, I’m always struck by their modernity and the freshness that leaps out at me as I read. It makes me wonder just what ‘modern’ means.

I’ve read somewhere that the beginning of ‘modern’ times occurred in different centuries in different places. Some say in Europe they began in AD 1300 with Dante, others that Francis of Assisi is the first ‘modern’ man in the West: it all depends on when the writer thinks the medieval age ended. In the Far East, modern times are said to have begun during the Northern Sung dynasty, around the year AD 1000, and the criteria are such things as the appearance of printing, paper money, and machinery.

In my view, what I mean as ‘modern’ has to do with machinery definitely, but even more with the frank and unafraid willingness to question everything to get at the root of truth. This is something that I think we lost during the ‘Church Age’ in the West, when other priorities were substituted for it. The religiosity of medieval Christianity did not even make room for real questions to be asked, hence, the stagnation that took centuries to overcome.

Back to my topic, the written testimonies of the early Christians.

Eusebius’ History of the Church was my leisure reading matter this morning. His text reads as fluently and frankly as if it were written just yesterday, and the events he recounts are both easy to picture and believe as accurate. What a far cry from the miracle stories of Christian piety, always avid to believe anything as long as it’s monstrous—like St Nicholas of Myra reassembling and revivifying the bodies of some boys who had been hacked to pieces and concealed in barrels of pickles—or was it wine?

I read for a long while about the Church Father Origen of Alexandria who escaped being canonized as Saint Origen for some of his eccentricities of belief or at least of expression. One of his funnier speculations was that our resurrection bodies would be perfect spheres, but he also speculated on pre-existence of the soul and other ideas bordering on pagan philosophy. This speculation, in spite of his sufferings in the Decian persecution, earned him the indignity of being a suspect of heresy. Looking at him through the ‘modern’ approach that one finds in Eusebius’ history, I’d say that Origen deserves better from his ‘carping critics’ as Eusebius calls them. I guess Origen will just have to be classed with Martin Luther, who also falls under the axe of true piety, as he cries out,Let the saints canonize themselves!’

Now, for the real topic, a story that I found both exciting and interesting, written in History of the Church, Book 6, Chapter 40, entitled What happened to Dionysius. The account itself was written in a letter by Dionysius, and it is quoted in the book.

I speak as in the presence of God, who knows whether I am lying. I did not act on my own judgement or without God when I made my escape; but even before that, when Decius announced his persecution, Sabinus then and there dispatched a frumentarius to hunt me out, and I stayed at home for four days waiting for him to arrive. But though he went round searching every spot—roads, rivers, fields—where he guessed I was hiding or walking, he was smitten with blindness and did not find the house; he never imagined that when an object of persecution I should stay at home! It was only after four days, when God commanded me to go elsewhere, and by a miracle made it possible, that I set out along with the boys and many of the brethren. That this was indeed a work of divine providence was proved by what followed, when perhaps we were of use to some.

Let me interject two observations:

Dionysius tells, almost casually as if it were nothing remarkable, that God commanded him to go elsewhere. These early Christians like us had, and knew they had, direct access to God, without having to resort to a chain of command as later develops in the Church, eventually making it unimaginable in the Dark Ages that anyone but a perfect saint could actually talk to God and get His personal attention, as does Dionysius. This, to me, is a sign of modernity.

The other thing I want to notice is his use of the word miracle. As he continues to tell his story, the miraculous aspect reveals itself to be the acknowledgment that God was personally and intimately directing the flow of events. This too strikes me as modern, that is, frank and honest, not given to exaggeration or tale-spinning.

Now, to finish the story, Dionysius continues…

About sunset, my companions and I were caught by the soldiers and taken to Taposiris; but by the purpose of God it happened that Timothy was absent and was not caught. When he arrived later, he found the house empty except for a guard of servants, and learnt that we had been captured without hope of release…

And how was God’s wonderful mercy shown? You shall hear the truth. As Timothy fled distracted, he was met by one of the villagers on his way to attend a wedding-feast—which in those parts meant an all-night celebration—who asked why he was in such a hurry. He told the truth without hesitation, whereupon the other went in and informed the guests as they reclined at table. With one accord, as if at a signal, they all sprang to their feet, came as fast as their legs could carry them, and burst in where we were with such terrifying shouts that the soldiers guarding us instantly took to their heels. Then, they stood over us, as we lay on bare mattresses.

At first, God knows, I thought they were bandits who had come to plunder and steal, so I stayed on the bed. I had nothing on but a linen shirt; my other clothes that were lying near I held out to them. But they told me to get up and make a bolt for it. Then I realised what they had come for, and called out, begging and beseeching them to go away and let us be. If they wanted to do me a good turn, they had better forestall my captors and cut off my head themselves. While I shouted like this, they pulled me up by force, as my companions who shared all my adventures know. I let myself fall on my back to the floor, but they grasped me by hands and feet and dragged me out, followed by those who witnessed the whole scene, Gaius, Faustus, Peter, and Paul, who picked me up and carried me out of the village, set me on a donkey bareback, and led me away.


Now, in conclusion I ask you, brethren, isn’t this a great story? Doesn’t it ring true, and even entertain us in a way that doesn’t offend true piety, by the candid artlessness of the author? Here we have an example of what a Christian was like in the third century, before the beginning of the Church Age. There’s a lot here to be learned, and also to help us examine ourselves, to make sure that the faith that we have is the same as that of these early Christians. Reading books like these makes me think that what we have known as the ‘modern’ age has not so much to do with an era of chrónos time, but rather with moments of kairós time scattered through human history.

If this be true, what of those who call the present ‘post-modern’? Must we, like Dionysius, have to be yanked out of our resignation by Christ’s wedding guests, flung bareback on an ass, and set free?

She points the way

Mary of Nazareth was invited to the wedding in Cana. Her son Jesus and His disciples were also invited. This shows that if you invite Jesus into a situation, anything can happen. This shows that Jesus will come to as mundane a thing as a village wedding. This shows that no one and nothing is unimportant to Him.

Things don’t go as expected. They run out of wine. Mary turns to Jesus and says, “They have no more wine.” She knows her own son. She knows what He can do. She bore Him, she raised Him. It wasn’t as if she was going to force Him to do anything, but three things are being demonstrated here.

She is His mother, so as a son He will honor her by doing what she asks. She trusts Him to do what is right. Without even having to ask Him, she merely brings it to His attention, saying in effect “Thy will be done” in this situation. She believes that He is the Son of God, and that He can do all.

His response, “What has this got to do with you and me?” draws out the fact that what happens next is the result of man (in this case woman) and God working together. When He says, “My time has not yet come,” demonstrates that faith can even move mountains, “If you undo your will for the will of heaven, heaven will undo its will for yours.”

John has to record this miracle, because it’s the first of the miracles of Jesus, and the first of anything always shows the characteristics of all the rest: A miracle of Jesus always has an objective beyond itself. It is never done just for show, as a magic trick is. It never does anything that is not already being done in the natural world, though in a different way, as regards time or sequence.

In the miracle of changing the water to wine, the objective beyond itself was to reveal the Son of God to His disciples, to initiate their faith in Him. The miracle was not made into a spectacle. Only the man who brought the new wine to the master of ceremonies knew exactly what had happened. The disciples would have noticed something had happened, and the truth of it would have circulated only among them. Water does not normally change into wine without going through several more natural steps: being absorbed into the grape vines, being stored in the grapes, being fermented with the juice of the grapes, and being stored in wineskins to preserve it from changing further into vinegar. Jesus merely eliminates some of the steps.

Is the focus on Mary or on her divine Son Jesus of Nazareth in this story? Or is the focus on the miracle? Each part of the story—a true story by the way, not a didactic myth—is of equal importance.

What is important here is to understand that nothing happens without the synergy between man and God. If God willed to do all without man’s participation, we would not have been created. God has chosen to include us in His divine plan so intimately that He comes to dwell in our midst, not a spiritual presence only—a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night—but as one of us. When He comes to live as one of us, He follows His commandments perfectly, even to the point of honoring his mother. What draws Him into participation in the life of man is… our invitation, our trusting His righteousness, our bringing to His attention our concerns, our belief that He can do all, our doing what He asks of us.

As always, Mary of Nazareth, the first Christian, shows us the way, shows us her Divine Son, who He is, what He does, what He wills. That is why one of the ikons of Christ’s humanity showing His mother holding him in her lap and pointing towards Him is called Οδηγήτρια, Odigítria or “She points the Way.”
True to her prophecy, we are among those generations who call her “blessed” till the end of time, and for good reason. She has followed Him to the uttermost, and so He has glorified her in Himself, just as He will glorify all those who, imitating her faith, will be glorified above the denizens of mere earth, and raised on high, will live in the family of the Holy Triad forever.

Life shall go for life

And thine eye shall not pity; but life shall go for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.
Deuteronomy 19:21

Things take time. The saying goes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Another saying I learned from my mentor when I was catechized into the Church, “A fast change in Orthodoxy is one that takes about four hundred years.” I noticed, when studying Rabbinical Judaism, that converts are not readily received. A man approaches the rabbi and says, “I want to become one of you,” and the rabbi rebuffs him, scorns him even, and tells him to go away. The man is undaunted; he comes back, gives it another try. The rabbi receives him a bit more kindly, but explains to him that becoming a Jew won’t be good for him: Jews are plagued by so many persecutions; he surely won’t be able to take it. Again, he is rebuffed, and sent away. The man is confused, but determined. He returns, insisting to the rabbi that he is serious and begins to show reasons why he wants to be one of the chosen people. The rabbi listens a little longer, challenges him again, but lets him stay, just this once. Gradually, the persistence of the convert and the reluctance of the rabbi results in either final acceptance or final rejection. The process takes time.

The Orthodox Church in America, not the jurisdiction but the fact, also by and large throws obstacles in the way of converts racing to the finish line, to slow them down a bit, while at the same time offering hospitality, the “love of strangers” to those who come hesitantly, meekly, to observe the ways of Orthodoxy. It is not as some have unjustly criticized, a convert-hungry, mechanical contraption that sucks in converts like a whale feeding on plankton. A true convert coming to Orthodoxy is often like Jonah, fleeing from God only to be swallowed and caught in the belly of a whale—and that’s no plankton! Unlike Jonah, however, the convert is not spewn out to languish in self-pity under a withering vine, upset because “outsiders” are repenting and being saved. Rather he or she is spewn out of the Orthodox incubator, the process of formal and informal catechesis, to be sent to others, as they are now “in Christ,” as His witnesses.
We are all familiar with the high profile evangelistic crusades wherein a preacher comes and exhorts the audience to turn from their sins and accept Christ, and then people start streaming up to do just that, and to be prayed over, and ostensibly start their new life in Christ. Whatever is really happening in these crusades, God knows. But the world looks on, uncomprehending, because what it often sees is what Christ described as “seed falling among thorns,” and it is not convinced. The world wants it all right now, and expects that if Christ is the God that His followers claim He is, that’s how it should work. The truth is quite different. Conversion to Christ and life in Him may be instigated by a lightning strike, but that isn’t how it is maintained, grows, and bears fruit. Salvation is a process.
It takes time.

The law of Torah cited above from the book of Deuteronomy is a familiar one. We’ve all heard it at least in its shortened form, “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” We all know this has something to do with crime and punishment, or with justice, but certainly not with mercy. It seems very unmerciful, in fact. If we know our bibles, we remember that Christ used this scripture to build upon it His teaching that we should “turn the other cheek” if we are struck on one. We think that is the end of it. Nothing more needs to be said. It’s just an ideal we are supposed to strive for, but rarely succeed. We’re all too ready to smite the offender, give “eye for eye and tooth for tooth,” and Christ will just have to put up with us, so we bring the issue to happy closure by asking for His forgiveness.
“Lord, have mercy.”

Why do I cite this bible verse? Well, it means something entirely different to me. To me, it is linked to what holy apostle John writes, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers” (1 John 3:16). To me, this is what life for life means, indeed, even what the other incidentals mean, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. Since Christ gave life for life, saving us, we too sharing in His forbearance, mercy and love, can also give life for life. Ours.
What does this mean?

Things take time. The world teaches us that “time is money,” and most of us, unconsciously at least, have believed this saying. We think we own our time, that we own ourselves, but scripture says, “You are not your own, you were bought at a price.” This buying of souls for eternal life goes on even today, because Christ is in our midst, He is among us. In us, He walks through the world seeking His lost sheep. When He finds them, He cares for them. He doesn’t just pick them up, hurry over to the sheep pen, and drop them in. No, He doesn’t treat us like that, but He remains with us, at our side, to guide and restore us, to save us.

Following Jesus, this is what we also do, no matter how long it takes.

Love is like the feet

Love is the hallmark of the true Church—nothing else!—and where love is, God is, Christ is, the Holy Spirit is. Christ does not tell us in the gospels, "Make sure each other is believing in exactly the right doctrine," but rather ‘Love one another as I have loved you.’

I am not saying that doctrine is unimportant, but that it is secondary.

Love is like the feet, very humble, but they're the parts of the body that enable you to follow Jesus, they lead you to Him.

Doctrine is like the head, full of itself, often lost in the clouds of speculation, often misguiding the feet, often putting up "mental roadblocks" where the feet know better, where the feet would go if not restrained.

No one has ever walked by using his head as the organ of locomotion. If you don't have feet, then you must use a wheelchair, but you still don't hop along on your head.

The church I belong to is the one where we are all of one mind because we are all of one loving heart.

The mind of Christ is the only mind that is not flawed, the only mind that does not fantasize, lie or lead astray, or prevent the blessed feet from walking after Him.

The church I belong to is really that one, you and me, and our Lord, Master and Savior is here with us, among us, and within us,
He pitched His tent among us and became man,’ so that we might pitch our tent in the heavenlies, and there abide forever in the wedding feast of the Lamb.

What does Christ see when He looks upon the Church?

Nothing and no one that He hasn't placed there.
Whatever and whoever is of the world is as invisible to us, as we are to it and to them.

The work of an historian

Since when is the Gospel a guardian of the one true faith, the opponent of all false religions, the tool of God’s vengeance and wrath on the pagans? Yet in the historical record, we find that Christianity, which owes its very existence to the Gospel, is often found ‘beating… plowshares into swords and… pruning hooks into spears,’ and ‘weaklings’ saying ‘that they are warriors’ (Joel 3:10). While it aggresses, it seems to forget that the Gospel is ‘good news’ and that Jesus came ‘to seek and save those who are lost’ (Luke 19:10). This happens not only on a grand scale, nation against nation (Christians against Jews or Muslims), even confession against confession (Christians ‘crusading’ against each other) under institutional direction, but even more often on a small scale, man against man, under no leadership at all.

What do I mean by this? What I mean is, Christianity is whatever people call Christianity. Sometimes it has little or nothing to do with the Gospel or with Jesus Christ at all. Often it is just a cover for other motives, none of them honest, though usually hidden from their owners by what can be called ‘invincible ignorance.’

Ironically this ignorance comes from people reading the Bible and fitting its contents to what they already have in mind, whether doctrines only or actions as well, since the one often leads to the other. How is this possible? The Bible is supposed to be the source of all wisdom, knowledge and blessing. How can reading the Bible result in the kind of ignorance that produces fanaticism? Easy, ‘the Bible says what I want it to say,’ and it’s infallible, so if you disagree, you’re wrong.

The historian, especially the Christian historian, has his work cut out for him. If there is a Christianity different from the one that writes big in the world, where is it? How do you find it? Is it documented? ‘Because, if it isn’t documented, it didn’t happen.’ No, not really. This popular but cynical saying is absolutely false. Lots of things happen that are never documented. In fact, most things aren’t, yet they happen anyway. The historian, though, does have a real job to do, if he is honest. To collect the facts and interpret them in a constructive and honest way.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

επι της γης … εν τοις ουρανοις

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah. 
Matthew 16:13-20

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” 
Matthew 28:16-20

Upon the earth… in the heavens. What kind of power the Son of God has granted to us! Who is He giving this power to? Is it just to the apostle Peter, or is it to the Pope (who some say is the successor of that apostle), or is it to all of us? On this question hinges not only the history of Europe for the last two thousand years, but the history of everyone of us, not just in Europe, but all over the world.

We can take a very literal view of this and conclude that it is only the apostle, or we can accept the historic view and conclude that it is to the Church in all its forms, especially in the form we personally adhere to. Many of us will excuse ourselves and be resigned ‘not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.’ ‘After all,’ we think, ‘Christ commanded this,’ forgetting that He had yet to be risen from the dead.

The gates of Hades. ‘How does this fit into what Christ is telling us? Didn’t He demolish those gates by His resurrection? If He did, how could they overcome the Church?’ We can play this game all day long, all our lives, batting around bible verses, thinking that we are saved or even just safe, enclosed within the strong walls of the Church, because someone has been given the keys of the kingdom of heaven.

Someone else, not us. We are not worthy. We don’t have enough faith. He can’t be speaking to us. Otherwise, there would be no need for pastors, preachers, popes and presidents. History is history. We absolve ourselves and disappear into the kingdom of crowds, having exchanged our glory for shame. Whatever else is true about Christ, the Church, or ourselves, ‘that man is you’ doesn’t apply to us.

The unbelieving world is happy with this, and with us. They can feel justified by their own righteousness, having rejected the righteousness that comes from faith. They need neither Christ nor the Church. Being a Christian is just belonging to another club. We’ve given them the proof by not giving them ‘the Truth, the whole Truth, and nothing but the Truth.’ How could we have, if the Truth is not in us?

Yet, in spite of what we have done or have not done with the good news that Christ gives, not gave, into our hands, and whether or not we recognize Him who stands in our midst among the golden lampstands, He still walks in the world seeking His lost sheep, still sows His good seed in fields we sow with tares, still buries the treasures of the Kingdom of Heaven where they will be found by those who seek.

His commandments are still with us, they are living, not dead, written in our flesh, not in stone, waiting for our resurrection at the sound of the trumpet, the same which sounded for John the Revelator, summoning him to attend to the vision of Him who was, who is, and who is to come, the same who says to us, ‘surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’ He is here, with us, now, everywhere.

Upon the earth… in the heavens, ‘…whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’ It is the picture of progression. It is sown as a fleshly body, it is harvested as a spiritual body. These are words spoken to us, by Him who is ‘in the heavens’ yet walks ‘upon the earth’, that whatever we do upon the earth is done in the heavens.

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…”

By Your love and Your faithfulness

There are many whom the Lord has called to be saints and who accepted His call, and He was faithful to make them what He called them to be—saints. We tend to prefer reading about the more famous of these, rather than to be saints ourselves, and often console ourselves with these stories for not being what or who we think we should be, that is, if we are Christians.

The truth is really quite different, and the path of sainthood has nothing directly to do with our self-improvement. While we watch ourselves minutely, we overlook both our real faults and God’s actual work on what He knows them to be. We think we rely on His mercy to forgive our imagined sins, while He in His mercy is building the new man in us.

Looking at our old man and hoping to reform him, we miss the truth that our old man has only one destination—death—and that the new man is created, formed and born in us by God’s creative love without our help, and as complete as Adam was on the day He was made of soil and inbreathed soul. What we do as the new man matters. It is to obey the commandment.

The old man is given but one commandment which he cannot keep, and he is exiled from Paradise. The new man is given but one commandment which he can keep, and he is admitted into Paradise. We look in vain for ladders of attainment to climb over a wall that is for us unscalable, when the gates are thrown open wide to them who have been sent, and only to them.

A common criminal—some say a robber, some say a thief—was admitted into Paradise on nothing more than a few words’ pledge. To catch the ear of the Lord of all, we must be scaffolded somewhere near His throne, so He can hear the words we speak. Never mind the deeds. He knows them all. He too is surrounded by a pack of dogs, the same that cornered and ravaged us.

A taunt to come down and save himself does not degrade Him who is raised on high of His own will, whether it comes from the barking dogs below, or from one whom luck or fate has also raised, unwilling, on high. Death is the only way out, the release from fate, from the machinery of the Law that snares all who live, as they fall into its ever meshing teeth, to be crushed.

Some must labor from the first hour, some from later, from midday, or even only from the start of the eleventh hour, and some receive their wages, it seems to us, without doing a thing. We want to be with these last, if we can, or at least with those who labor from the eleventh hour. Whether robbers or just thieves, we hope to be on the right side of majesty, to catch the Lord’s ear.

But He has found us out, and He meets us where He chooses. Our plans are not His, and our righteousness is but filthy rags. What He wants to give us we do not desire, and yet His mercy waits. He wants to clothe us in Himself, but He will not clothe corpses, only living men. He will not pour His new wine into our old wineskins—He does not want us to burst—but only into new.

Father, everything is in Your hands. We do not see those hands, nor do we see You, and so we falter day by day, grumbling amidst Your blessings which we do not desire, because our treasures are stored in another kingdom, not in Yours. Saying we believe, we form ourselves in our own image, because we do not trust You to form us in Yours. Religion is our protection, against You.

As You know everything about us, the falseness of our prayers, the vainglory of our good deeds, the insincerity of our worship, our misguided intentions, our carefully concealed evasions, our private fantasies, everything that we do under cover of night, how can You still love us? How can You bear our shame with us, and for us? Yet You do, and for this we cannot even thank You.

Because even our thanks is only a lesson memorized. And yet You love us. Our words, our vain musings, catch Your ears, yet You promise Paradise to us who have done nothing to deserve it. All things You have arranged so wisely, even Your Divine Nature You have distributed among us so amply, raining Yourself down upon our deserts like manna. Though One, You enter our tent as Three, and we call you ‘Lord.’

Crying ‘Lord, have mercy!’ we deny Your mercy already bestowed. Praying ‘Hear our prayer’ we confess that we believe but do not trust that You hear us before we call. All our worship is without spirit and truth, O Lord, until we know for sure that thanksgiving is the only sacrifice of praise we are capable of, for all You have done, all You are doing, and all You shall do as long as the age endures.

‘Not by us, Yahweh, not by us, by You alone is glory deserved,
by Your love and Your faithfulness.’

Friday, July 18, 2014

The life of the Holy Triad

Human society has been evolving over the centuries from very integrated, homogeneous populations with little or no individual liberties under authoritarian rulers, to very diverse populations with almost unlimited individual freedoms under representative, limited rulers.

The first model of society, a patriarchal monarchy, was an enlarged version of the patriarchal nuclear family. Father rules, mother supports and advises, children obey and are mentored by both. Father’s religion, his political beliefs, his ethics are passed on to mother and children, all questions barred. Hence, the early states of human culture.

Hebrew society, homogeneous, and kept so by pruning, as needed. Greco-Roman society, far less homogeneous, but still held uniform by use of force, even brutal force. Christian society, again more homogeneous like its Hebrew ancestor, and kept so by authoritarian structures modeled on the nuclear family, as before.

Christian society, having within itself something new that was also nascent in Hebrew and Greco-Roman society, the concept of individual as opposed to group identity, evolved and continues to evolve into a society which grows more diverse and individualistic, undermining the bases of all prior human societies.

It has been assumed since the beginning of the age of revolutions (probably the Puritan revolution in England, perhaps earlier) that there is such a thing as human rights, and by that it is assumed, individual rights. With each succeeding revolution, 1688 in England, 1776 in America, 1789, 1830 and 1848 in France, this concept of the individual as paramount, even over every earthly power or authority, has grown in strength and momentum.

Most of these ideas of individual liberty find their origin in the bible, specifically the New Testament. Why, then, the rise of Christian societies that were still every bit as authoritarian and ignorant or contemptuous of human rights as their predecessors? There is a tension in the gospel which is in fact inherited from the Hebrew prophets between the individual and society, both seeming to make demands on us, ethically. It’s this tension, or ambiguity, that lies at the root of what is currently happening in modern society.

Traditional society is based on the family. Modern society is based on the individual. Where does Christian society fit into this, and is there even such a thing?

It goes even further back than this. Traditional societies are organic in the same way that the bodies of complex life forms are organic. The individual cells in a human body have different functions, but none of them has the right to go its own way. None can leave the body, except by death. Dead cells are excreted and replaced by new. Again, the cells in a complex life form have no free will. They are what they are by coming into being as part of an organism.

Modern societies are, from this viewpoint, inorganic. They are something like clusters of single celled organisms that can stay together, creating an illusion of society, but which can go their own way, or even operate against an enveloping cluster in which they find themselves engulfed.

The seemingly unstoppable momentum of modern world society, evolving from traditional, organic societies with little individualism, to a single inorganic one in which individualism is the priority, is actually an illusion. What is happening is, non-individuals are being converted into individuals momentarily, so that they can be reincorporated into a new authoritarian anti-individualism even more brutal than the worst of those seen earlier in history.

The world wants to be a society of individuals with total liberty, and that makes true society impossible, because individual wills seek their own good, not the good of society. The only way, then, to have any semblance or illusion of society at all is to impose authority once again, and there is no way to do this other than by violence to the individual in one form or another.

Nascent within Christian society, even from its beginnings, is the society described by the prophets of Israel, and realized by the first disciples of Jesus Christ. For lack of a better term, I will call this ‘true society.’ Later on, I will give it its proper name.

True society looks like traditional society because it is organic, based on nature, but that is only the beginning. True society has perfect individual liberty, because every individual will is attuned to and voluntarily in agreement with one Mind. Individual wills seek the good of society because they want to, not because they must. Why would they want to? Because love binds them together, not force. Where is there such a society, if it exists?

The life of the Holy Triad is exactly that kind of society. That life was hidden from mankind until the coming of one of the divine Persons in that Triad, namely Jesus Christ, to earth. In His life and commandments we see the possibility of true society, of living the life of heaven on earth, which is the life inherent in the Holy Triad.

This is the society that we were made for, at once patriarchal, familial, ordered, yet providing the greatest degree of personal, individual liberty. Christ came to free us from our passions, and He has accomplished that work in those who follow Him.

This is no ‘giving us freedom to take it away again.’ That is the game of religion. No, the very life of the Holy Triad is open to us, we too can be One just as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are One. That is the essence of Jesus’ high-priestly prayer for us.

The world will continue moving in the direction of greater and greater ‘freedom’ towards a destination of totalitarian chaos, as organic and living society devolves into inorganic and dead society. It has already realized that it cannot have it both ways, and so the machine has begun to take over the functions of the living man.

We who are in Christ, brethren, are moving in the opposite direction, as death is being put to death in us, and we are being raised to life like the son of the widow of Nain.

That procession was heading for the graveyard. Jesus and His disciples were going the other way, and He took death captive, releasing a dead man to life. Let us love one another, and insist on nothing less than living the life of the Holy Triad, the only true society unto the ages of ages.

Names

What we call something, or someone, is very important. This has been known since the dawn of mankind, everywhere, by every people. Hence, the sacredness of one’s personal name. Hence, the prohibition of the taking the Name in vain. Yes, this applies to the Name of G’d as expressed in the third of the Ten Words (Exodus 20:7), but as we have been created in the Image of Him who is, everyone knows this has something to do with our own personal names. We are patterned on Him. We are His being uttered in a different key, as we might say ‘on a lesser scale’ bringing our perceptions into it.

This is not about personal names, but about the names we give things and ideas. We little suspect how much the language we speak and the names we give things affects what we believe or think we know about them. Terminology is not a trivial science, but a pivotal one in defining and setting up our world. This is why it was an unheard of privilege for Adam the First-created to be given the task of naming—first, naming the animals and, by extension, all things that weren’t himself, and finally, even naming his helpmate, “This is to be called Woman (ishsháh), for this was taken from Man (ish)” (Genesis 2:23).

Every word that is the name of something is a loaded entity. As soon as we hear it, we usually find that our minds have already been made up. Why is this? Well, firstly because we have learned the dictionary meaning of the term. Secondly, from seeing how the word is applied in our culture and day to day lives, we also have a fluent understanding of many of its undocumented meanings. Finally, often the word has very personal meaning to ourselves: we have defined it in relation to our own being.

A good example of what I mean can be drawn from Christian terminology. Many of the words that are used in the Western world to describe things and ideas pertaining to life in the Church (for that is what being a Christian seems to mean) are drawn from Latin, and they have an immediate mental impact on those who use them. “Sacrament” is one of these. This word has a strict dictionary definition, and if it stayed there it might be a fitting word to use. Instead, it has accrued to itself meanings and connotations which have contributed to the religious sickness of Western society, both feeding into it and drawing from it, divorcing itself from its scriptural meaning. For that reason, it is best to return to the Greek term mystírion or mystery.

True, “mystery” has its own set of suppositions and meanings, but it has existed in its original, scriptural meaning for two thousand years, hidden from the eyes of most Christians in the West, and as such, it can now resurface into the culture with its ancient meaning intact. It removes the idea of what it represents from the devolution that the word “sacrament” has experienced for fifteen hundred years. It returns us to the gospel, not to a religious category. And the gospel, evangélion, is not “religion,” it is “the good news.”

In a different frame of reference, one more secular but which may illustrate my point better, are the words we use to define sexuality. These are very loaded words. “Gay” versus “straight” is the common parlance of the day, with the first term infiltrating languages other than English. As soon as we hear these words, we know what they mean, and we have decided already what we think about them. They provoke no questions in us to search for truth. They simply tell us what’s what, and then proceed to categorize us to ourselves.

If we hear the words, “homosexual” and “heterosexual” some of us feel like we’re on more solid ground, we feel somewhat scientific. We think we know what these words mean, what they tell us about other people and what they do, but do they really allow us a little freedom and incentive to ask questions, to try to arrive at truth? I don’t think so, for they still assume things about people that may not in fact be true. They insist that given a set of facts, another well-defined set of acts will result. Again, a false assumption.

Finally, a phrase like “same sex attraction,” which seems on the surface to mean “homosexual” but actually doesn’t. This phrase doesn’t have an opposite partner in everyday speech, apparently because none is needed. This phrase is not loaded like the previous terms that seem to be its equivalents. You can use this phrase and give it the meaning of the other two, but you don’t have to. Instead, you can let it provoke questions in you, to launch your mind on a quest, for the truth. What does it mean? What does it imply? What are its conditions? What are its results? Instead of being told, as you are with the other terms, that if you “suffer” from this, you will do this, and be that, it lets you discover for yourself, apart from the dominant “culture,” what it really means. And that might be quite different. And in fact, it is.

We must be very careful in naming ourselves and others, as well as naming our conditions, objectives, principles and so on. You can call yourself a Catholic, a Protestant, or an Orthodox, but what does this mean? Is there anything you can depend on in a person who is identified as one of these? Very little, I think. Very little that really matters, anyway. We can look up the words in a dictionary, and go from there, but until we actually meet one of these self-named creatures, we won’t have a real understanding of what these words mean. Even when we do meet them, we will be utterly confused. Why? Because these are mere labels thrown over what cannot be defined that way. Isn’t this nothing more than saying the obvious, that you can’t categorize and judge people? Bingo!

Still, names are important, otherwise Adam would not have been told to start the process of naming that continues down to the present day. It’s too bad that very few names can hold on to their original meanings as well as “pick” and “shovel.” Wait a minute! pick! What did you mean by that?

Do the words we use to name people, things and ideas cause our minds to fall into a groove of thoughtless conformity and our day to day lives into equally mindless actions? Or do we use words that provoke thought, questioning, and questing for what really is true about people, things and ideas? The world that results from the first is the broken world we see around us. The world that arises from the second, well, what can I say better about it than what Aslan said to Mr. Beaver in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,

“All names will soon be restored to their proper owners. In the meantime we will not dispute about noises.”

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Brothers of the Revelator

It is precisely where the Church exists in an openly hostile environment that it truly lives. Yet in every environment there are still individual followers of Jesus, or sometimes small pockets of them, both in church and out of church, whom the world hates and despoils, knowing Whose they are. And these one or two, two or three, are usually associated with an extended group who do not know their struggles (yet) but who stay near them and support them in various ways. Some of these, as they wake up, get pulled into the arena with the others already there, where the witness of Christ is undefeatable, right up to their physical deaths. These are those who with John the Revelator can be called συγκοινωνοι εν τη θλιψει (synkinoní en ti thlípsei > Greek, “companions in suffering”)… “because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.” (Revelation 1:9 NIV) Do you see the churches full of these? How would you know them if you met them there? Are you one of them yourself?

Exiled to the isle of Patmos, that’s John the Revelator and those who, like him, are “brothers and fellow partakers (συγκοινωνοι) in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus.”

Mother Gavrilía in India

God had sent her to India. At the time, she herself did not know why. What is important, though, is that all who came to know her, whether Indians or Westerners, saw and recognized in her a completely different way of life. They saw and discovered the ascetic character, the humility and deep spirituality that Orthodoxy has preserved through the centuries. Those of the East saw another West. Those of the West saw their own East, the existence of which they did not even suspect. Had any other «missionaries» identified themselves, to such an extent, with those they served? Who had ever eaten, drunk, slept or traveled the way these people ate, drank, slept or traveled? Who else had done that? In those days, too, almost all the «missionarizing» lived, wherever they went, under exceptional conditions—good hotels, special food and water, comfortable travelling arrangements—so as to care better for «their» Locals. Who were these people they were calling «theirs»? By never assuming this (sometimes imperceptible and latent in Missionary work) attitude of superiority towards those one is ministering [to], she always tended and helped without hurting… Yes… This is why her passage left a deep mark. «Indeed, I have become everything in turn to men of every sort» (1 Corinthians 9:22). Actually, she never preached Orthodoxy, but rather, catechized with the heart, without words, with the unique example of her own life.

The Ascetic of Love, p. 47,
a biography, with her sayings and personal testimonies,
of Gavrilía Papayánni (1897-1992)

Some of the sayings (numbered as in the book)…
4. Orthodox spirituality is knowledge acquired through suffering, rather than through learning.
7. There is nothing cheaper than money.
29. True inner progress begins only when a person stops reading anything but the Gospel.
45. The faculty of judgment (Greek, krísis) comes naturally to man. Criticism (Greek, katákrisis) and reproval spring from malice. Discernment (Greek, dhiákrisis) is a gift from God, and we should pray for it; it is essential to our protection and progress.
48. When we must be helped, God will send someone to us. We are all fellow-travelers.
58. We are the first to feel the joy we give to others.
63. Miracle is the normal course of events according to God's will. What we call a Miracle is only what is natural to God.
81. Do what you must do, and God will do what He must do.
85. We must not «surrender» to His will. This is what soldiers do. We, who are His children, must offer Him our own will along with all our being—and tell Him: «Lord, take all my faults and imperfections and set them right».
99. Some of the sailors on a ship may quarrel and fight each other, but the ship sails on and reaches its destination. The same is true of the Church, because Christ Himself is at the helm.
101. Love alone is enough to make a miracle happen. Neither prayer nor the komboskini (prayer rope) have such power.
115. If we are interrupted while speaking, we must not continue. It means that what we were about to say should not be heard. The Angels do this.
124. To love someone with all one's soul is to pray for him. Whoever has this experience is in Paradise.
157. Never take part in a conversation when someone is being criticised or commented upon.
173. If you want to do something, do not announce it openly. In this way it will materialize in words rather than in reality. So, keep it secret from everybody until the last moment.
175. Speaking spontaneously about God comes truly from God, whereas in «preaching» the Ego comes first. In the first case, the seed takes root, in the second it does not.
201. Two things are of great importance: «Love one another» and «Do not be afraid; only have faith».
244. Only men of God who make no compromises can recognize each other.
258. Every person is «sent».
386. We should be interested neither in the other person's response nor in the results of our efforts. We must simply try—God will do the rest.

Where would we be without Judas?

I run the risk of alienating some with this title, though it is a 'matter of fact' question, and not intended to startle, shock or annoy. This question is not to be taken lightly either, because Judas Iscariot was, after all, one of Christ's disciples and, yes, even an apostle during His earthly ministry. Not only this, but Christ loved him as He loved His other followers, and He would lay down His life for him too, if he had only accepted it. "I have watched over them and not one is lost except the one who chose to be lost, and this was to fulfill the scriptures" (John 17:12 JB).

Yet, here's the mystery:
That someone whom Christ called, someone He loved, someone who loved (or thought he loved) Christ and even believed in Him, was capable of turning his back on the Light of the world, to go back to the darkness "spiritually called Sodom and Egypt" (Revelation 11:8), and sell the One he called his Master for a mere "30 shekels of silver" (Zechariah 11:12). How could anyone do such a thing, and why? The poetry of the Greek services blames it simply on avarice.
Could it be that simple, is it that simple, even today?

What I'm thinking about is this "spirit of Judas", if it can be named at all, and how it has followed us all through history since that Day like the proverbial Kartóphilos, the "wandering Jew," except that it's no Jew, but our Christian brother who sometimes worships with us one day and betrays us the other six.
Where would we be without him?

As a young man just born again in Christ, I was sent to work in a furniture factory where the conditions were extreme. (See Love without limits.) The man I worked under was a true Christian man and my first mentor, 32 years my senior. Working with him was an unlooked for blessing but, thank God, we worked together in an environment where co-worker abuse and even near homicidal violence often erupted. Thank God? Well, yes, thank God!

It was working there and living, sometimes, in fear of getting beaten up or ambushed on the way home (I rode the bus in those days), that began to draw my life into the Word of God, that filled the pages of the Book I carried with me everywhere every day with living words. It was living in "the world as a jungle" that opened the words of holy scripture to me, making me read about my own life in its pages so that, after so many years, I could honestly say, "my name is written on almost every page." Sometimes I still wonder, is that what is meant by saying our names are written in "the Lamb's Book of Life" (Revelation 13:8)?

Back to my question, where would we be without him?

I know a company where the good workers, the productive workers, are kept in subordinate positions and paid low wages. Periodically, they are called into closed door meetings by their supervisors, accused of misdemeanors (many of them unjustified or hearsay), and threatened with termination. Of course, these workers are never terminated, but they are bullied and humiliated so they don't dare to ask for raises or promotions, since they're conditioned by this treatment to consider themselves "lucky to have a job." This is, of course, criminal, but it's happening here in America and throughout the world every day.

What really pains me is when it is managers who are or claim to be Christians, or who are non-practicing offspring of Christian parents, that do this bullying. I remember how disappointed I was the first time a Christian employee I had hired and mentored made a conscious choice to subordinate the Truth in a situation and fall in line with the corporate cult. I knew this happened to unbelievers, but I really had a hard time accepting that Christians could act this way. That incident happened years ago, and it's been repeated since then. I've historianed my memory, and I notice the pattern has always been there, in my lifetime, and throughout history. The "spirit of Judas" is still with us. But what for?

It squeezes us out of the world system, those of us who are trying "to keep our robes from being dirtied" (Revelation 3:4). It makes us "still hold firmly to Christ's name and not disown our faith in Him"
(Revelation 2:13) even when we live or work "where Satan is enthroned". It gives us the opportunity to suffer with Christ, "to keep His commandment to endure trials" (Revelation 3:10), and thereby be kept
"safe in the time of trial which is going to come for the whole world, to test the people of the world."

Right up to the end, to the last second of the last minute of the last day, the lure of riches will continue to seduce men, even those whom Christ has called.

"It is not those who say to me, 'Lord, Lord,' who will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the person who does the will of my Father in heaven."
Matthew 7:21

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Do you want to be well?

It is the complete lack of freedom in the workplace that bothers me, in a country where freedom of speech is a supposed basic right, coupled with the almost universal compliance by most Christians with the world's determination to eliminate God from every aspect of public life.

It is not unlike what happened with the Orthodox Church in Russia in the Soviet era, when the clergy were forced to sign a document pledging their loyalty to the Soviet system, making ‘the victories of the motherland our victories’—seemingly a harmless, patriotic affirmation—yet, the professed aim of the Soviet-ruled motherland was the complete triumph of atheism! Hence, the bishops signed a document that made them say that it would be their victory if all belief in God were exterminated. Those who didn't sign became martyrs—witnesses—of Christ.

We read books about the history of Christianity, and its triumph in various countries, and they make it sound as if there were whole periods when Christianity was strong, vibrant and dynamic. Perhaps this has been true in local instances at various times for very short periods.

But I am beginning to suspect that at almost all times and in almost all places the Church has never been more than an ill-equipped, no, I should say, poorly-staffed, hospital for the sick human race, where the doctors were few, and few the patients who ever made it to health, while the rest were satisfied to remain mere patients, satisfied to let death be the cure for their miserable lives.

This is not the life which is the cure for our miserable death, that Jesus Christ the Physician of our souls, won for us on Calvary. He walks among the seven golden lampstands (cf. Revelation 2:1) as John the Revelator saw in his visions, He walks among them unceasingly from the beginning to the end, seeking those to whom He will present all the prizes of victory described in His letters to the seven churches.

This is not dead letter of a forbidden and mysterious book, but living words that will fall on our ears if we are among those of whom the Book itself declares, He who has ears, let him listen, to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.’ (Revelation 2:7, et al.)

Courage, brothers! Either our lives in Christ are afire, or they are nothing. What do we want, whom do we want, what do we answer when Christ asks us, ‘Do you want to be well?’ (John 5:6)

Who can we trust?

“All those things which can be thought with the heart, or spoken with the tongue, or seen with the eyes, or felt with the hands, are as nothing in comparison with those which we can neither think, nor see, nor touch. All the saints and wise men who have passed away, and all those who are now in this present life, and all those who shall come after us—all those who have spoken or written, or shall speak or write of God—shall never be able to show forth so much of Him as a grain of millet in comparison with the whole extent of heaven and earth; nay, a thousand thousand times less.”
—The Sayings of Brother Giles of Assisi, Ch. 2

“I went up to space, but I didn’t encounter God.”
—Attributed to Yuri Gagarin, 
the first man to go into space,  but now known to have been fabricated and used as propaganda by Nikita Khrushchev. Gagarin was a faithful, baptised Orthodox Christian.

“The visualization of the cosmos presented from the center outward is:

The Isle of Paradise — the most gigantic organized body of cosmic reality in all the master universe.

The Sacred Spheres of Paradise — twenty-one enormous worlds, three circuits of seven worlds each — the Worlds of the Father, the Worlds of the Son, and the Worlds of the Spirit orbiting in three processions on the inner margin of space.

Havona — one billion (1,000,000,000) perfect worlds across seven circuits, with upwards of thirty-five million worlds in the first or inner circuit, over two hundred and forty-five million worlds in the seventh or outermost circuit, and proportional numbers of worlds in the intervening circuits.”

The three quotes above are about "what we can know" about reality, about God (if there is one), about our place in the universe. Most of the indifference of modern man to God and specifically to the claims of Jesus Christ hinges on the idea that it is impossible to know for certain anything at all about these things, and therefore they can have no application or relevance to modern life. What we cannot know for sure can't help us or, in existential terms, can't save us.

Philosophers and theologians, what do they say? Is there anything that can guarantee for us that the teachings, the theories, the speculations of such historical figures as Moses, Plato, Gautama, Jesus, Augustine, Muhammad, Francis of Assisi, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, Blaise Pascal, Dietrich Bonhoeffer or C. S. Lewis are true in any real sense? Aren't they, after all, just words that you can read, think about, try to practice, or even just decorate your mind with? Sure, some of these people lived exemplary lives. Some are said to have performed miracles, well… hmph, who can know if they really did? Aren't we still just reduced to sorting out opinions about reality? Where are the irrefutable proofs?

Like the cosmonaut who was supposed to have said, “I went up to space, but I didn’t encounter God,” we want to be able to see and experience, empirically, the reality, the ultimate reality, God or whatever, that is supposed to be there. Or like the mysterious author of The Urantia Book, do we want to simply skip over the existential encounter, since it is probably not possible anyway, and just dream up something so intricate, so detailed, that entering into it we need never come out again to answer the question?

The easy answers, atheism—“I didn’t encounter God”—and fantasy—“The Isle of Paradise — the most gigantic organized body of cosmic reality…” turn out, of course, not to be answers at all. Only the realist, the honest philosopher who like Brother Giles says, “All those things which can be thought with the heart… are as nothing in comparison with those which we can neither think, nor see, nor touch,” only that man stands at the threshhold of knowing the Truth. Why? Because he has honestly realised the only thing anyone can, that we are in fact unable to know the ultimate Reality in a human way, from our end of the range of being.

Who, then, can help us? Who can we trust, since it seems we can't trust ourselves?
So now it comes to this, that we want to know the truth, and we're told to trust?

Knowing that I can know so little, knowing that in an everyday manner I do actually trust more than I know, even that doesn't help me. The teachings and even the example of Jesus Christ, transmitted to me after two thousand years, in themselves these cannot assure me that His claims are true. If I am honest and not trying to protect my "religious" heritage, I have to say, though the Christian faith in content is the best I can find, it still contains no guarantees. I have to trust more than I can know.

And that trust devolves to a single thing being literally true, without which nothing else can be certain—Jesus Christ, risen from the dead.

This is something that has to have happened about two thousand years ago, if it happened at all. The event is very poorly attested in writing, just whatever has survived in a few passages in the New Testament. It is on something of such scant witness and reliability that I am reduced to wagering my life.
Yes, I wager my life.
I didn't see it happen, and I'm just taking it on trust.

The only proof I have now is, not scientific, not philosophical, not speculative, but historical.
I didn't see the resurrection with my own eyes, but not many have.
The honest ones have said over and over again, "We can know so little…"
But almost from the very moment of that supposed event, the rising of Jesus from the dead, we find men and women willing to wager their lives, their physical, earthly lives, their livelihoods, their reputations, their families, all that they were, all that they possessed, to attest the truth of it. And though they may have known so little, they received so much.


"But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him."
1 Corinthians 2:9 KJV