Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Axios!

Axios! Worthy! An acclamation we hear ringing in the Greek Church when someone is publicly honored. It may be a newly baptised and illuminated Christian, who hears these words after being anointed with holy chrism, been tonsured and the first offering of the hair of the head made, having the cross of Christ fastened around the neck. I cannot remember hearing this acclamation at the baptism of an infant, but of an adult, yes, we hear ‘Axios!’ or ‘Axia!’ depending on the gender of the newly illumined.

We hear it again, ‘Axios!’ at the acceptance of the call of Christ, to whatever special service or ministry, from acolyte and reader, to sub-deacon, deacon, monastic, presbyter, and bishop. It is the people who always acclaim, expressing the approval of Christ Himself, who speaks His prophetic utterances among us and upon us through His people.

He is a strange God, this Christ, who calls a man ‘brother’ even before he has accepted His call; who acclaims a man ‘worthy’ even before he has proven himself in the arena.

As conquering heroes we are welcomed by this strange, man-loving God into the arena, where He has already defeated our every fear, every failure, even our very defeat. We enter the arena that He has prepared for us, if we have faith, confident that there no harm can come to us, no loss can afflict us, nor any shame swallow us up in its mockery.

This is no God who can be denied by even an atheist, if he is a thinking man, because He has not contented Himself to remain invisible and high in the remote or mythical heavens. This God has Himself come down into even the atheist's soul, granting life and reason, unasked and unthanked. He rewards even those who do not honor Him, if they obey His commands, which are written indelibly on the soul, making it human.

Axios! Worthy! The sheep following the path to His right without even knowing His name, because they treated His poverty with mercy.

Axios! Worthy! Those who hungered and thirsted for righteousness, though they themselves were weak and lost their battle.

Axios! Worthy! The sons of God who worked for peace, whether or not they knew who is the Prince of Peace, who called them ‘brother’ without their knowledge.

Axios! Worthy! You are called, brother, to a life that you never knew existed, that you never heard tell of, except perhaps in shrouded half-truths passed from one pious mummer to another, stingily grasped and reluctantly bestowed, of whom Christ says, ‘Even what little he has shall be taken away.’ No, but He gives you yourself, worthily into your own hands, with His blessing, to spend in purchasing the field of hidden treasures.

You have only to receive it, to accept His call, to hear the acclamation ‘Axios!’ humbly but gladly, for He has captured your soul and taken you with Him on high, to present you as holy tribute to His Father, the Holy God. He has ransomed your soul from hell before you ever were born, and has restored to you what was lost without your knowing.

Axios! Worthy! The acclamation of the Lamb on His Throne, which He shares with us, seating us next to Himself. Do not refuse to follow, when He calls, for after darkness comes light, unending day after this brief night. He says to you, Receive now the Kingdom that was prepared for you before the foundation of the world. Enter into the joy of your Lord.’

Smoking flax

A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench, until he sends forth judgment unto victory.
Matthew 12:20

Amazing how an absolutely wonderful day can be set on edge and made tense by merely dropping an inopportune word in an insensitive way. The words (for they are many) may be spoken or even written to be read and, when heard or read, can wreak havoc in people’s souls, troubling their consciences unnecessarily, and ‘quenching the smoking flax.’

There are souls that the Father loves that He is drawing to His Son as only He can do. The angels and ministers of grace that He employs to harvest them for the everlasting Kingdom are not mainly those who are called priests and missionaries by the institutional Church, and who sometimes work as hirelings, not for money, but to win the approval of men.

No, it is those whom the Father chooses, and who are willing to be used by Him as ‘instruments of peace,’ that He employs in harvesting lost souls. They are, in actual fact, the only ones who know how to bring in the harvest. They have been taught not by men but by the Spirit of God, who is love. And they lay down their lives for their brothers out of love.

Speaking of the Christ who was to come, the prophet declares, ‘He shall not quench the smoking flax.’ Those who follow Christ do so by following His every move, from head to heart, with hands and feet, they imitate Him, they do for others and to others what they see Jesus doing in the holy gospels. Like Him, they also do not quench the smoking flax.

Instead, like Him, they fan the flame of faith they find in weary souls whom the Father has begun to draw to the Son, remembering Christ’s words, ‘I come to bring fire to earth… how I wish it were ablaze already!’ Like Him, they breathe hope, encouragement and strength into those whom the Father sends. Like Him they say to the Father, ‘I have lost none of them you gave me.’

In Holy Orthodoxy, the one place on earth and in human history that the incarnate Son and Word of God has from the beginning been welcomed, worshiped, and willfully followed, the only religion that regards sin as sickness, and mercy as medicine, the only faith that knows that love works miracles even more than prayer, still we find those who, like satan, accuse and divide.

The world, my brothers, already knows well how to quench the smoking flax, how to intimidate and threaten the souls for whom Christ died, how to extinguish their faith, how to suffocate their hope. The world, my brothers, does worse than not believe in the God in heaven. It does not believe in the God on earth. But what is wrong with us that we join the world in doing the same?

For Jesus says, ‘whatever you do to the least of these, you do unto me.’ And so the Church, that is, the communion of salvation on earth, cannot side with the world in condemnation of anyone, for Christ died to save all men, as He Himself says, ‘and I, when I am lifted up, shall draw all men unto myself.’ When anyone in the Church forgets this, out of weakness or fear, he hurts rather than heals.

I have asked this question before, ‘When will the Orthodox Church decide once and for all whether her mission is to follow Christ in bringing salvation and life to all who live on earth, or whether it is to set up a legalistic police state?’ We already know the answer to this question, but not all of us do, whether we are highly placed or low. Only one of these alternatives can be theocracy in Christ.

And so we return to the daily struggle. We live our lives in Christ locally, and it is here in the arena that we must suffer and, dying in mortal combat, win the prize of immortality. We must say to those whom the Lord has sent us and to whom we have been sent, ‘Courage, dear hearts! The words you heard today that vexed your minds and hurt your spirits were spoken against you in vain.

‘For He that is already in you is stronger than He that is in the world. For God so loved the world, that He sent His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life. Do not fear those who can kill the body, for they can do no more. The lover of your souls has appeared. The angel of the Covenant is among us. He does not quench the smoking flax.

‘You have been bought and paid for by the blood of a Lamb without spot. Though men speak with the tongues of men and angels, that is, however eloquently, if they have no love, they are nothing more than a clanging cymbal. Remember who your Shepherd is. Remember His voice and His words. Follow Him, not anyone else. For you, dear souls, are His, and He is saving you.’

The magic of existence

Some people talk as though it were totally barbaric and unworthy of Him that God should have created a world in which such a thing as sin exists, that has so corrupted His chief creation, Man, that He now must punish him with eternal torment in fire, unless he accept the bloody death of a unique Man, who is also somehow His only-begotten Son, who sacrificed Himself voluntarily to satisfy the requirement of His angry heavenly Father, whose Law demands blood to compensate for its violation, as a ransom for his sins, so that he can be regenerated in sinlessness as his first forefather Adam was originally created.

This is like saying that
God created a good universe
into which His chief creature, Man, was placed
with the expectation that he would always be of one will with Him,
while at the same time allowing an evil agent into it,
which He knew would corrupt Man’s will,
and then forcing Himself to eternally punish this Man
and all his descendents from their very births
to eternal damnation for breaking a Law
which He established and to which He is now bound,
when He could have either not created that Law at all,
or else overridden it for Man’s sake,
or else not allowed the evil agent to deceive Man
and cause the sin that must now be avenged,
since God is holy
and cannot tolerate sin.

Well, what would you have?
A good God who created a good universe
into which He placed a good creature, Man,
who sometimes acts against what he knows intuitively is right
by a standard he didn’t create
but which the good God did,
whose Son also entered that good universe
and somehow was accidentally put to death
but was rescued and resuscitated somehow,
so that His teachings could be learned and followed,
restoring Man,
if not to his originally perfect and righteous state,
at least to a state in which his moral failures
are somewhat in control,
allowing most men to live together in relative peace and safety
and to enjoy a reasonable level of freedom and happiness?

Religion.

That would be nice!
That is how Man would like it.
That is how Man in his natural state would like to see existence
and give it meaning.

That is how a civilised and worthy God
would have set things up,
that is, if He exists.

Let’s have none of this sacrificial talk!
Away with the barbaric demand for blood by an angry God,
who is unfit to be called Father
if He has to send His only Son
to a humiliating, bloody, excruciatingly painful death,
to save His creatures from a sinfulness
He almost willed them to have,
to save them from an eternal and fiery torment
that He imposes on all who reject His love.

His love?
Would a loving God have such a plan?
Would He create beings only to torture them
for not being His robot slaves?

With all due respect to those
who try to prove God
loving, righteous, rational, and worthy of our praise
by departing from the words
of holy and divine scripture
to paint a picture of Him
in colors that are pleasing to our sense
and standard of right and wrong,
of what we call love, and mercy,
and what we would honor as holy

—I know what they are trying to do,
to make God lovable
so that we will love Him and believe in Him


This strategy in the end
does not produce the effect in us
that the Word of God was revealed to produce,
does not raise us out of our mortal, human reason
to immortal, divine faith,
does not deliver us from death and bring us to true life,
does not equip us for and acculturate us
to what we can only call
—because it is just the other side of our ontological “event horizon”
and we cannot express it any other way—
life eternal.

The real universe,
not the one that scientists explore,
test, measure and define by human standards,
not the one that sociologists and historians archive
and try to understand,
not the one that moralists and would-be theologians
devise as a frame of reference
to interpret the results of the studies
of the other two groups,

but the real universe
—what really exists,
what really operates and animates
all that we can see, hear, touch, taste, smell, feel
and philosophize—
is so beyond our human capacities
as to be conveyable to us
only in what seems miraculous or magical,
or else so out of sync with what we should have expected
that it seems barbaric and primitive in the extreme.

Not that real universe,
but its Creator,
has told us about that existence
which lies just beyond our human nature’s “event horizon”
by taking up a literature as the vehicle of His Word,
and that is what we call the Holy Bible.

Why holy?
Because it is, like Him, totally other,
fully incomprehensible to those
who would fit it into the container of their minds alone.

The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not grasped it.


The Bible teaches us,
as a mother teaches her toddler using baby talk,
how to take the first steps into that real universe
where there is no other map that we can yet read,
where there are features
that could harm or even destroy us
in our present state of being and level of maturity
if we met them without warning.

We must listen very carefully,
mimic and memorize the instructions
just as we receive them
,
even in the limited language that we know thus far,

because for us,
where we are headed,
where we have no choice but to be headed,
is a state that now can only seem to be
the magic of existence.

It will only be magic
until we find out and understand what lies behind it,
until we find ourselves actually and even factually
crossing that “event horizon”
that limits our mortal, human vision,
until by faith we come to
immortal,
divine being.

Théosis.


But I, when I am lifted up from the earth,
will draw all men to myself.

John 12:32 NIV

Monday, August 18, 2014

Oneness, Ένωσις

‘What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder’ (Mark 10:9). Yes, yes, I know. Christ is here speaking about the indissolubility of marriage. Of course, He is, and I accept it. I agree with Christ, and with the prophets, who declare, ‘I hate divorce’ (Malachi 2:16). But there are more meanings to the word ‘divorce’ just as there are more meanings to ‘adultery.’ Just as adultery is taken to mean, unfaithfulness to the Lord, in addition to marital infidelity, so divorce can surely refer to the rending of the seamless robe of Christ, that is, the Church, dividing it. It can also mean driving a wedge between Christ and His Bride.

Christ prays to His Father, ‘I ask not only on behalf of these men, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their message, so that they may all be one. Just as you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be one in us, so that the world may believe that you sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, so that they may be one, just as we are one. I am in them, and you are in me. May they be completely one, so that the world may know that you sent me and that you have loved them as you loved me’ (John 17:20-23).

It has always baffled me, how we Christians can read these words in the Holy Gospel, and continue going our separate, even competitive, ways. Here we have the Son of God, whom we say we believe in, whom we claim to know personally, who we claim has saved us, who we testify lives in our hearts and in our midst, here we have Him speaking in our hearing—through the mercy of God disclosed to His beloved disciple John—a prayer that cannot go unanswered, a request that cannot be refused, the prayer of not just any son to any father, but of the Son of God to His Heavenly Father.

Do we just ignore this prayer? Do we pretend that it has nothing to do with us? Do we think Christ is praying for some other people to be one? He can’t certainly mean us, I mean, we are the Orthodox, ‘we have seen the true Light, we have received the heavenly Spirit, we have found the true faith, worshiping the undivided Trinity who has saved us.’ We are already one, just as He prayed. It’s not our fault if those others who say they’re Christians don’t join us. If they really believed in Christ, they would be standing here with us. We’re not working against His prayer; they are.

Doro doro doro doro doro…

I am a Greek Orthodox Christian, as many of you know, and I am a member of an Antiochian (Arabic) Orthodox parish. I write as a follower of Jesus, hopefully even as a disciple. Sometimes I write to my fellow Orthodox, but usually I write to all the brethren, to all who love and believe in Jesus. Of course I can’t help sharing the faith treasury of the ancient Church, because that’s what surrounds me. Triple immersion for me is not just the Orthodox triple dunk in the waters of baptism. It’s also immersion in the Holy and Divine Scriptures, in the Undivided Tradition, and in the Sacred Mysteries.

I am unashamed to call anyone ‘brother’ who offers worship to the God-man Jesus the Christ, even if they do not know the truths that I know. I am certain that Christ is, as Paul writes, ‘the Savior of the whole human race, but particularly of all believers’ (1 Timothy 4:10), but I am also not a Universal Salvationist, if only on the grounds that such trifling with the will of God approaches blasphemy. I keep the saying of my Orthodox mentors, ‘Let God be God.’ That includes letting Him be Savior as well as Judge. Yet, here we are making it hard for each other, instead of making peace.

Since the earliest times, doctrinal controversies have continued to prune away believers from the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. Of course, I know this phrase, used by Churches that claim the faith of at least the Council of Nicæa, did not exist at the very beginning. I know that those who have been pruned away all through history rejected the idea that they were pruned, and made the ‘big Church’ the culprit. So does it now boil down to who has the most members? Have we looked at that tree lately that we’ve been pruning for centuries? Could we have pruned off some of the more fruitful branches?

What bewilders me is, we have let doctrine divide us when Christ is here to unite us. How do we think we have been saved? Was it by doctrine? It’s true that Paul says, ‘The gospel will save you only if you keep believing what was preached to you. Believing anything else will not lead to anything’ (1 Corinthians 15:2), but just what is the gospel? Paul tells us, if we will believe him, ‘Remember the gospel that I carry: Jesus Christ risen from the dead, sprung from the race of David’ (2 Timothy 2:8), and, ‘I am not ashamed of the gospel: it is the power of God saving all who have faith’ (Romans 1:16). Can it really be that simple?

Yes, the Church has recognized a body of doctrine, starting with the simple, direct truth of the gospel that holy apostle Paul writes about. This should’ve been enough for us, but in combating heresies—yes, there are such things, though they would ‘not lead to anything’ (1 Corinthians 15:2) and if left alone would eventually self-destruct, as the psalmist declares, ‘He dug a pit, hollowed it out, only to fall into his own trap!’ (Psalm 7)—in combating heresies, we have unwittingly condemned generations of believers who came afterwards, because they merely differ from us, often on non-essentials.

Yes, I have said, continue to say, and keep believing, ‘The Church is not divided, never has been, and never can be.’ This is not my own saying, but I heard it once almost thirty years ago at a retreat given by an Orthodox priest. It seems to agree with scripture. It seems to affirm and believe in the priestly prayer of the Lord Jesus Christ. Whatever the Church looks like, however we have jurisdictionalized it, regardless of what we say the Bible means, despite our doctrines and dogmas however true, the reality of Oneness, Ένωσις (énosis), prevails in the Church. Christ is no polygamist. He has only One Bride.

So we refuse to agree on what Christ means when He says, ‘Take and eat; this is my body,’ what He intends when He says, ‘Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins’ (Matthew 26:26-28). We refuse to agree on what Christ reveals when He says, ‘No one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again’ (John 3:3), even when He clarifies, ‘No one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit’ (John 3:5). But can any of us disagree on this? ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?’ (John 11:25-26).

There are many places in the Holy Bible where we are offered life and salvation, both personally and corporately, many examples in both Old and New Testaments of how God works when we let Him work with us. Our history, and our divisions, are sad testimonials of our failure to follow the Lord. We compare ourselves favorably to Christians of other communities, from whom we have divorced ourselves, even when no legal writ of divorce can be found. We excuse ourselves when we divorce ourselves from non-Christians, and believe we are justified, ‘Come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you’ (2 Corinthians 6:17).

Still we stand under threat of the greater excommunication by the Lord, who walks, concealed in our neighbors—all of them, including Muslims, Jews, atheists, homosexuals, homeless people, and everyone else we think detestable for whatever reason. ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life’ (Matthew 25:41-46).

I was thinking about Oneness, Ένωσις (énosis), and somehow I find I have drifted into thinking about its true and, finally, its only opposite, eternal punishment. Faced with these two alternatives, I tremble for myself, for the Church, and for humanity. For the Only-Lover of Mankind, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ says that He ‘came to seek and to save the lost’ (Luke 19:10), and, ‘There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; the very words I have spoken will condemn them at the last day’ (John 5:45). What clearer word could He ever have left with us?

… everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall…
Matthew 7:26-27

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Sinner

I know that I’m a sinner and that I deserve to die for my sins, but what I find is that I have been given life, and life in abundance.

Every day I wake anew and realize that though I have been tried and convicted and am living on Death Row, I have been given yet another reprieve from my sentence, another day in which to serve that part of it, that must be served on earth.

But I am a very bad, a very unworthy servant. I spend my days in idle fantasy, conspiring to sin and to sin boldly whenever I have the chance, whenever the warden is looking the other way, like a pig loving to wallow in its filth. Yet when the Master calls, I am immediately straightened, and I run to Him to do His bidding. 

If only He would call me every moment! or do I just pretend not to hear so that I can pursue my nature. Yes, when He calls I run to do His bidding, but in between those calls, I sink back into the darkness in which I was conceived and into which I was born.

Only death, it seems, will cleanse this criminal of the guilt of his crimes. That’s why he begs the governor not to write any further reprieves, though he knows it’s not the governor who writes them, but the King, the Master Himself.

O glorious God whose face is terrifying but whose back is mercy, You who come speaking Your Name to us while hiding us in the cleft of the Rock to shield our weakness from annihilation as You pass by! Why did You create us, knowing that we would instantly fall from Your obedience, drift away from Your love? The mystery of Your nature dwarfs the mystery of our own. How could a sinless God love us who are nothing but sin in the flesh? How could He that is pure Spirit desire us who are but spittle and clay? Yet You do love us, You do desire us, and for this we revere You.

Yes, Lord, Holy One who has descended lower than our fall, we revere You while we run away. Catch us, Lord, don’t let us escape, burn our scoundrel selves by Your divine Fire that purifies without destroying us who cannot in any world deserve such mercy. Yours is the Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory of utter humility, of unimaginable self-emptying. Join us with You in that Kingdom, share with us who hate You by our deeds but love You by our sorrows the Power, that the Glory that was Yours before the world ever was, O Christ, fell the forests of our sinful flesh, that we might finally cry out to You, Amen.

Amen, and again we cry, Amen.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us, sinners.

Running

Draw me in Your footsteps, let us run…
Song of Songs 1:4

When we hear the Word of God, when we read it, how does it affect us? Is it something that seems foreign, something we have to strain ourselves to listen to with understanding? Or is it something that draws our interest, something that we can't seem to get enough of, and want to hear more of, when time cuts it short?

We speak of the ikons as being ‘windows into heaven’ and seek to justify their presence in places of worship and in our homes by this reasoning. Yes, windows into heaven they may be in the sense that they visually depict what our lazy, inattentive minds can't stay focused on long enough for eyes of faith to develop and learn to see.

But what ignites faith in us better than reading the Word of God or hearing it read aloud? They tell that ‘pictures are worth a thousand words,’ but I say that this is the Word that is worth a thousand pictures. Truth made us, and He made us in Truth, and Truth is our inmost being, “…and in the night, my inmost self instructs me” (Psalm 16:7 Jerusalem Bible).

I love the saying in the Talmud, “Turn it this way, turn it that way, everything is in it, keep your eyes on it, grow old and aged over it, and from it do not stir, for you have no better portion than it” (Pirkei Avot, 5:22). What are they talking about? Turn what this way, what that way? The Torah, of course! And what do they say the Torah is?

The Torah is the ‘precious implement’ that Yahweh, the Holy One of Israel, used in creating all that exists, and yet, it is also the scrolls of the Book.

What do we say about the Word of God? That He is “God of God, Light of Light, by Him all things were made” (Symbol of Nicæa), that He is “the true light that gives light to every man” (John 1:9), and yet, we too call the Book, ‘the Word of God.’

Christians are those who by definition accept the Bible as holy scripture, but there is anything but agreement among them as to what that means. It hasn't always been so, but with the victory of ‘democracy’ or, as C. S. Lewis pragmatically put it, the ‘I am as good as you’ philosophy, everyone and his dog thinks he has a right to use the Bible however he wants—use it, I emphasize, not believe it.

This is why we find people in church today who think they can ‘correct’ the Word of God by their ‘insightful’ interpretations. Some of them boldly acknowledge that they are agnostics or even atheists, yet they feel they must ‘correct’ those who do confess Christ! This is a new brand of apostasy of epic proportions, but as Hitler said, the greater the lie the easier it is to get people to believe it.
So they lie big.

Yes, they lie, and with a smile, and use civility sometimes to unnerve those whom they seek to shut up, though when they find they can't, they use social brute force. Not only do they ‘use the Torah as a spade to dig with’ but as a weapon as well. In their hands they hold a bible which is no longer the Word of God: like the soul of a dead man, the Word has eluded these corpse-cleaners.

To those who do not accept the Word, Jesus Christ the Divine Logos and Son of God, their bible is a closed book. For them it is not the Book, the only divine scripture on earth, but only another piece of ‘great literature’ for their entertainment. Again I ask, when we hear the Word of God, when we read it, how does it affect us?

Do we run after it, or do we run from it?

Now Your Word is a lamp to my feet, a light on my path…
Psalm 119: 105

Pressing on

Trusting in God, who makes use even of our mistakes and failures, the Christian pilgrim presses on (Philippians 3:12-14), not looking back, not even judging oneself, leaving all judgment to Him, knowing that everything works out for the best for those who love Him (Romans 8:28). There is no loss with Jesus.

Trusting in God, who makes use of our weaknesses to train us for a weight of glory (2 Corinthians 4:7-12, 17) that is all out of proportion to them, we push against our weaknesses as a weight lifter pushes against the weights, to build spiritual muscle, until the Lord, our trainer, moves us to the next exercise.

In short, through Jesus Christ, all that binds us can and will be not only overcome but transformed, as we are changed through Him into the Image that we reflect (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Grace, life, and peace

                        Σωσον Κυριε τον λαον σου
                        και ευλογησον την κληρονομιαν σου,
                        νικας τοις Βασιλευσι
                        κατα βαρβαρων δωρουμενος
                        και το σον φυλαττων
                        δια του Σταυρου σου πολιτευμα.

Save, O Lord, Your people
and bless Your inheritance,
victory to the Kings
against barbarians bestowing
and to Your, protected
by Your Cross, Commonwealth.

More than ever, we need this prayer, both humble and bold in its petition, addressed to the King of kings of kings (Blessed be He!) Jesus Christ. We (most of us) live in God-protected countries, and though we are Christians, we are untried, except in small inconveniences, in the battle between Good and evil, even to the point where we are tricked into triviality and jaded by media superficiality, and watch without seeing the horror of our brothers being butchered in the Middle East. Our own personal Christianity we have let be marginalized by the indifference of our neighbors, and deprived of the freedom to bring Christ into public life, we have no leaders who could be the Kings upon which our sung prayer invokes victory. In translating the original Greek, we are embarrassed to say ‘kings’—Βασιλευσι, vasilévsi—and substitute any other words we can think of. Yet, only a people who are, in Christ, a nation of kings can have Kings reigning over them, and leading them to victory over ‘the barbarians’—yes, βαρβαρων, varvaron, ‘barbarians’, another word that embarrasses us, and we water down in our denatured translations. So much for those of us who are Orthodox Christians, but this applies to other Christians as well.

The irony of it is that of the world that calls itself ‘Christian’ very few are what they say they are—“Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46)—but it is Christians like those of Mosul who actually are what they say they are, and so they are being persecuted and killed. Whatever else may be true of the Church, it is always true that the suffering Church is the true Church. Not that those of us privileged to live in societies that are indifferent to Christ aren't Christians, but that until we encounter suffering head-on, whether our own or in others, and choose our response, we cannot be sure if we really are Christians or not. Being willing to die rather than convert to Islam or any other forced regime is seen as the ultimate witness for Christ, but even that cannot be taken as a general rule. Where the blood of martyrs can become the seed of the Church, then this kind of martyrdom is indicated. Where the blood of martyrs is used to de-Christianize a society (as is happening in the Middle East), then another course, or courses, of action is required. We have yet to discover just what that course of action is, but without Christian, and compassionate, leaders, perhaps we never will.

Σωσον Κυριε τον λαον σου
και ευλογησον την κληρονομιαν σου,
νικας τοις Βασιλευσι
κατα βαρβαρων δωρουμενος
και το σον φυλαττων
δια του Σταυρου σου πολιτευμα.

Sóson, Kyrie, ton laón Sou, kai evlógison tin klironomían Sou,
nikas tis Vasilévsi katá varváron dhoroúmenos,
kai to son phylátton dhía tou Stavroú Sou polítevma.

Save, O Lord, Your people, and bless Your inheritance!
Grant victory to the Kings against the barbarians
and to Your Cross-protected Commonwealth!

Yes, brothers, sing, pray and live this ancient hymn, that even our smallest efforts will have an impact in this current, tragic crisis, in which not only our brethren in the Middle East, but all over the world, being persecuted and killed by the antichrists—for whatever they call themselves or believe themselves to be, that is what they are—will be granted victory: grace, life, and peace.

Revealed to be Paradise

Orthodox Christianity is the last preserve of the ancient Christian faith in the world today, a snapshot of the Church from late Roman times, modified locally over the centuries but maintaining with a flexible conservatism the ethos, or environment, of early Christianity. Unlike sects that have tried to revive the apostolic faith on the basis of their reading of scripture, which has produced dozens (maybe hundreds) of variations over the past five centuries, Orthodoxy is remarkably uniform, even when liturgically seeming quite diverse. What unites the joyous yet solemn worship of the Ethiopians and the solemn yet joyous worship of the Russians is the quality of merciful love, a childlike trust, not only in God but in each other, and a subtle retreat from divisiveness. These people want to stay together so badly that they—I should say we—will put up with almost anything to fulfill the high-priestly prayer of Christ to the Father ‘that they all will be one, even as you and I are one.’ Though one encounters pockets, even strongholds, of intensely fundamentalist mentality, as well as spiritual scuffles and even battles from time to time and in various places, the mainstream of Orthodox Christianity flows smoothly, quietly, reflectively, and, best of all, dependably, from age to age.

These characteristics have been called both the strength and the weakness of Orthodoxy. In reality, what the Holy Church is cannot be weighed in the scales of human judgment any more than what Christ is. She is the Bride, and He the Bridegroom.

For the first three evenings of Holy Week, we celebrate Christ the Bridegroom, as we have done for centuries, in the wedding pavilion of the Lamb which Holy Church has erected and into which she invites us. There we behold the holy prophet Joseph the all-comely who, by his blameless life and senseless betrayal and sale into slavery by his own brothers, foreshadows Jesus the Messiah. And the wise and foolish virgins too are there, and we are shown the choices we make to be momentous. They matter, and we matter, but the Son of God cannot do for us what only we can do for ourselves, that is, make sure we have plenty of oil for our lamps, so that they will continue to shine brightly to the end. Our faith is not magic, nor is it like a machine that can be set to run on automatic. Like the material universe in which we find ourselves, everything erodes and must be maintained, on purpose, or else not. This is our part in the synergic relationship each one of us shares with the Creator. Not just the first Adam, but even the Second, even us, He places in the Garden, to tend it. Though the Garden may have been overrun with weeds, if we are diligent, and if we follow the Gardener and do what we see Him doing, it is revealed to be Paradise.

You alone are Lord

It’s a very great struggle. We try to tell ourselves, when we sometimes notice it, that it’s nothing. That we’re just imagining it. That we’re not really that way. We pray, ‘Make us worthy, Master, in freedom and without fear of condemnation, to dare call upon you the heavenly God, as Father, and to say, Our Father…’ and then, having excused ourselves once again, by having partaken of ‘the holy and life-giving mysteries,’ almost without thinking, we look upon another human being, and despise him.

Yes, this is true of me. I hope it’s not true of you, but I know that I am not the only one who piously despises my neighbor, while outwardly speaking words and doing acts of love towards others, those others whom I like, who attract me or are attracted to me, from whom I want, or think I need, something, anyone at all except those whom the Lord would have me love: my enemies, those who repel me, who hate me, who are ugly and undesirable, no less than those whom I envy.

What is worse, is that when I see one of those whom I despise (of course, I hide it from everyone else and just smile) doing a good deed, doing what I say I see Jesus doing, that makes me despise him even more, and I think to myself, ‘Who does he think he is? He can’t do that. He doesn’t know the Lord. He’s just pretending, that sly one. I know all about him.’ If I were a woman, I would just change all the pronouns to ‘she’ and ‘her’… as a man, I hardly notice women enough to despise them.

But it’s true, what our enemies say about us. We are hypocrites. What other explanation can there be for people who say they believe one thing, yet do another? Even when we are doing good, we make sure that others notice, and thank us. If they don’t, well, we despise them anyway, and secretly, so we can maintain our pious disguise. Clad in our religious camouflage, we hope that even God Himself won’t be able to find us in this jungle. Yes, it was a garden once, but we’ve brought it under control.

God help us! Even a hypocrite can pray, but only when confessing what he knows for sure, that even those he thinks least of, those he despises most, are worthier than he of obtaining any good, in this world or any other. Only when he realizes who it is he’s been despising and continues to despise, even at the moment he leaves the place of prayer. For there is no prayer truly uttered that goes unanswered, and no answer that we let ourselves quickly accept, since we think we know best what we want.

Yes, we want things our way. No wonder the Reformers were so focused on our incapacity to live in love. No wonder they believed so strongly, and preached so fervently, that we are utterly depraved, that we deserve hell and an eternity of painful darkness. They could find no answer in themselves, just as we cannot find anything in us that can avert our self-destruction. For he that despises his neighbor hates himself as well as God. Yes, so accept Jesus, the Reformers said. He will save you.

And yes, they were, and are, right, but in theory only. Now comes the practice, for works cannot save but are indispensable in the life of grace. We are back to square one, realizing that if we despise our neighbor, even our brother, we are lost, because beyond all reason and sense, deep down we know who our neighbor is: Jesus Christ. Whatever else we believe, or practice, whatever we use to cover up our deformity, it remains. We despise another creature for whom Christ died, and in whom He lives.

Again, God help us! Help me, Lord, to despise no man or woman, aged or young, of whatever race, of whatever state of life, even all those ‘protected minorities’ that the happily God-denying authorities of this world have commanded us to respect. It isn’t about what I look like, Lord, before myself or others. It’s about what I look like to You. Again, Lord, I acknowledge I am lost, I am nothing in Your presence and even in my own eyes. Show Yourself to me in everyone I meet. Help me to not despise You.

For yes, You alone are Lord.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Ancient

The ancient world is not dead. No, it is alive and well. It lives on, even today, in people who know how to live deeply, faithfully, with a perennial sense of wonder, and with heartfelt thanks to the Creator.

We moderns, or post-moderns some of us, think that humanity has reached the pinnacle of its greatness. Some are so sure of this that they cannot imagine us going any higher, and so they prophesy imminent collapse. There will always be worry warts.

The truth is, I believe, that humanity has not reached a pinnacle, though we may be very close, as a herd of animals, to possibly the broadest and most universal famine of spiritual and creative vitality that history has ever seen.

Western civilisation’s leaders seem either quite willing to hand us over to annihilation, or incapable of realizing that we are poised so close to the edge. The edge of what?

As usual, barbarians ring us and are closing in more and more tightly. The collapse of meaningful language has let truth skip away from us. We no longer have the vocabulary to let us identify who the enemy really is. We swat at flies while predators eye us from the bush.

But as I said, the ancient world is not dead. The modern world with all its glamour and its clamor—is there a difference?—is actually an interruption of true civilization, one of those dark ages that we read about in the history books. Dark ages don’t seem dark to the people living in them sometimes.

So we think our technical advancements are terrific? Yes, they are, at least some of them. It flatters us to think that though we might share plumbing, flushing toilets, and central heating with some of our more illustrious predecessors, they didn’t have cars, airplanes, open-heart surgery or cell phones.

And though we look for other intelligent life forms among dolphins and whales and in the far reaches of outer space, we seem to have forgotten to look for intelligence among those of our own species. Instead, we burn ourselves out as fuel to promote our culture of consumption.

In the jungle, in the mountains, on land nobody wants, among people that no one thinks worth bothering about, in the islands of the sea, the ancient world is still alive. There are people in remote places still free, still human, speaking not with forked tongue or double heart.

They don’t care that they haven’t got cell phones. Few of them need open heart surgery. Most of them would rather live and take their chances against nature than be turned into cyborgs, part human, part device. Sure, many of them have indoor plumbing, electricity and central heating, but they could as easily live without.

I sit in my darkening house, eying peacefully the onset of night, simply enjoying the evening. I don’t light a lamp unless there’s something I need to look at closely. My ears are unplugged from constant music because I want to hear the world of sound.
I won’t be a prisoner of time.

The rain falls. I feel it coolly anointing my head, face, my bare torso as I walk through the forest trees. The air is brisk and cold, but inside I am warm. I am a citizen of the world. This is my planet. This is where I was born, where I belong. I am at home here.
I can’t be curfewed.

I am an ancient man. I read and write books. I think. I meditate on the words of holy and divine scripture. I am patient. I can wait for the interruption of the ancient world to end, and end it will. I will live to see it. I am living in it now, but it will increase as light increases, as light is always stronger than darkness, without struggling, by only shining.

The snow of this morning fell amply and coated trees, fields and streets with whiteness. It came quickly and forcefully and then, just as quickly, but quietly, melted away. Now the world is moist with its melting, drinking in the liquid potion of its renewed life.

Now the light is breaking. It will be fully day soon.
The ancient world is alive because only what is ancient is perennially renewed. It is coming, and this is no poem. This is faith, trust and certainty in the loving providence of God. He is our God, and we are the people He pastures, the flock that He guides.
‘Our Redeemer’ is His ancient name.
The God who loves me is coming.

“And there was evening, and there was morning—day one.”
Genesis 1:5

Originally posted December 29, 2010

Beyond tomorrow

Even while she was still with us, I found myself talking to her, asking her, when alone and needing some comfort, especially when I awoke in the middle of the night, for prayer. It was hard to understand, and to accept, the story she told us, about the angel, but then, we had no trouble hearing and believing the other story, but that was all about her Son. This time it was about her but, unlike the first visit of Gabriel, which brought the word of good news, this visit seemed nothing but the harbinger of sadness.

How could we put up with it? How could I live suddenly alone? She was my mother, more than only mine, for twenty-four long years. She was a mother to all of us, and it was wonderful to be back in the Holy City again with the brothers, all of us returned to where it all began. Like the scripture says, ‘From north and south, east and west, I gather you.’ She was so calm, and her eyes looked so dreamy, almost as if she were going to weep, when she told me, ‘Just think! Only a fortnight, and I will see him again!’

See him again? ‘What do you mean, Mother? Is this why we have all come back to Jerusalem? Is this why you were so insistent that we all find ourselves here, together, as we once stood on the Olive Mount, watching him go? So that as the angels declared, we could watch him come back in exactly the same way we saw him go?’ Words such as these with half-hope and excitement I blurted out, forgetting all else, and spoiling the serene moment that surrounded the lucid jewel of her expectation.

‘No, no, beloved Son, not that! Not even he could tell us that, nor could an angel of the Most-High! Only the Father knows that time, that hour.’ Still perplexed, I waited for her to continue. What she related was difficult to grasp, and to accept. To blunt its sharpness, she reminded me that the same message would one day be vouchsafed to me as well, but not yet. I too would see the day I would go forth to meet him, but that day was yet far off. No, this was her time. Angels always bring good news.

The word had gone out, I don’t know quite how, but all of us, all except Thomas, were now somewhere in the City, or close by. Over the course of a few days, I had chance to meet with them, with Cephas, with my brother Jacob, with all of the brothers, by ones and twos, and I handed over to them the news that our Mother, our beloved Mother, the Mother of our beloved Master, had given me. It was never easy, and there were tense moments, words of astonishment and incomprehension, even of disbelief.

‘Of this we are sure,’ I told them, ‘that on the fourteenth day after the angel’s visit, the Master will welcome his Mother into the Life eternal, carrying her as a babe in his own arms, escorted by the angelic host.’ No, we would not see what she would see, but we were privileged to encircle her bed at that precise moment, and through her eyes, the Light of Light, even the true God of true God—blessed, blessed, blessed be He!—was to shine on us, casting away forever all shadows from her life and ours.

Twenty-four years of living together, her silence as well as her testimonies teaching and strengthening me, crossing lands and seas, preserved by her witness, by her very being, the Mother of my Lord and Master, Jesus, of my Savior… over, forever over! I was disconsolate. But when had I not known it, understood that this time of blessing would also come to an end, that all that is human must, like a book, be finished and closed? Yet the One who writes us and fills the world with our testimony, He lives.

‘Evening came, and morning came, day one,’ I began counting, clinging desperately to the words of scripture, fervently hugging to myself every moment I was able to spend with her, while she continued living as she always had, caring for me, creating the inner world for me to retreat to after laboring so hard to build the outer—but I, while she waited so patiently and with unperturbed certainty for her Son to arrive, I could not keep myself on task, I could not work. It was a very strange kind of fasting.

Little did I think to feed my body, even though with foods from her hand I would never taste again. No, but I fed my eyes with her beauty, yes, her beauty, for though she was my Mother, to see us together, one would think at most she were my sister. But now, my hair grown white, my beard and side locks the same, though still young inside I was, outside those who did not know me took me for an elder of Israel, and she for my young bride. And indeed, a bride she was, whom we knew as ‘the Unwedded.’

Sojourning among the Gentiles in the northlands, in Ephesos of Diana of the hundred breasts, we walked together, meeting the people where they were, her womanly witness the hidden foundation of mine seen and heard, and when we coaxed her to speak, she speaking of her Son, Jesus, enlivened all hearts and minds, unleashing many from the bondage post, and watering their lives as a life-giving fountain. How many miracles followed us wherever we were sent. Yes, she was a water-bearing rock, for me.

And that day we were cast ashore, alive, from the raging sea. Who would imagine that a humble daughter of Israel would be found following her young son, taking ship and sailing to the copper island, to Cyprus, to visit the only man living who was dead and brought back to life after lying four days in the tomb? But the God and Father of us all, who sent His beloved Son to us as her Son, guarded our path wherever we went, toppling idols as He did when we were cast, boatless, on that rocky shore.

‘Zeus and Hera!’ they shouted, the villagers, as they ran to greet us and ask us to preserve them from the wrath of the earth quake. But we were only humans, the mother of Jesus, and his beloved friend. We sat down together on the shore, made fires to warm ourselves, and waited for the rescue that the Lord would decree, meanwhile calming their frightened faces with the story of the only Lover of mankind. How they took to it! how they believed! not from my lips only, but from the Mother of us all.

My mournful thoughts return to that final day. Long since I had stopped counting as the day drew near. The days count themselves when we are afraid of what lies ahead. It happened so peacefully, everything so in order, as if everyone were directed intimately in thought, word and deed. We gathered around where she lay, and waiting, our fast more natural and unconscious than our own heartbeats. Expecting a miracle, she just fell asleep, and we, afraid to awaken her, just looked on. Fragrance filled the room.

What happened next, I cannot remember clearly. It seems I was brushed aside as others more vigorous in intention and plan—it was obvious they knew what to do—took charge. I saw the holy body of my little Mother carried away somewhere and I, still grieving, sat with my back against a wall, wondering what I would do next, what life I would have beyond tomorrow. My brother Jacob came and raised me up and so much as said, ‘Come along,’ and my body sheepishly followed, my mind lodged in my heart.

The next thing I remember was the sealing of the tomb. My eyes saw, but my heart did not believe, and inwardly I wretched to the core of my being. ‘You will not abandon my soul to She’ol,’ I murmured to myself, remembering my Master, who trampled death by death and bestowed Life to everyone in the tombs. Like Thomas who said it aloud when, arriving a few days later and coming to see us, Mother and me, like Thomas I cried inside, ‘I don’t believe it! It’s impossible! She can’t be dead!’ as I looked on.

And Thomas did finally arrive. Why was he allowed to be late? Why was he the only one not there? Just like the last time, he missed the Lord when he came among us, resurrected. Only this time, none of us saw the Lord with our physical eyes, as we did behind that locked door, in that room. But we believed the word that the angel spoke to Mary, as she told us, ‘The God who loves me is coming.’ Sometimes we have nothing to rely on but our faith but, as Jesus said, ‘Your faith has healed you.’ So, faith is enough.

Again, he must see with his own eyes, or he will not believe! ‘Thomas, can’t you let anything alone? Why must we disturb the rest of her body in the tomb, just for you? We told you, she has been taken by her Son, our Lord. Isn’t that enough for you? Isn’t faith enough?’ He regained his calmness and after a moment, ‘No, faith is not enough, not for me. I want to see her one more time. It’s not that I don’t believe what you’ve told me. I just want to see what all of you saw. Can you grant me that?’

Suddenly, we were ashamed of ourselves. How thoughtless, how unfeeling of us. She was his Mother as well as ours. In fact, Mary had a very tender place in her heart for Thomas and always seemed to dote on him more than on the rest of us when he appeared at her door. They seemed to understand each other, the mother of faith and the brother of doubt. So we relented. With a slow, silent pace we walked to the garden where her tomb was. We broke the seal and with difficulty shifted the stone covering.

There was that fragrance again! The same fragrance we smelled in the room when she fell asleep! Like roses, only richer, deeper, like an essential oil. There were roses scattered about the floor just inside the tomb, at least that is what I saw. Cephas went right in, as he did the last time, but I stayed outside, somehow afraid of what I might see. Thomas followed him closely, and Cephas bumped into him as he abruptly turned about and pushed past him to shout, ‘She is not there! Her body has disappeared!’

Now, as I lie here and ponder the darkness of unknowing, how great is the wisdom of God! how profound His mystery! He does not ask our permission before He moves. He just decrees His will and performs it! ‘Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth, as it is in the heavens!’ we pray over and over, yet when He does what we have asked, we are dumbfounded. The Mother of our Master, of our Lord, yes, the Mother of our God—how can we say such things?—but yes, the Truth is dawning on us.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Come to Me

There is a lot of pain and suffering going on in the world, and even in my tiny corner of it—none of it to me personally—but I suffer just the same. One example, a friend and former co-worker recently lost his mother, who died unexpectedly, and just as unexpectedly, he inherited a very large sum of money. Just as unexpectedly, his wife disappeared one day with nearly all the money, abandoning her husband, her kids, her grandkids (my friend was her second husband, and had no kids with her). Simply, disappeared, and later he found out that she ran away to join a man whom she met on the internet, and is now at the opposite end of the country, her exact whereabouts still unknown. I grieve for my friend on many levels. He is not a Christian. Pain is pain, and the unexpected, even the impossible, happens to us just the same.

I happened to read an article in an online version of the local newspaper, celebrating that lesbian couples can live anywhere openly in the town I work in, which is supposedly the sixth most gay friendly city in America. So much for the statistics. But what is really going on here? What is happening in the lives of the two women featured in the article that has placed them in the ‘category’ they are in? And who placed them there? These are all important questions, but everyone would rather ask and answer the questions that please them, not those that would dig deeply into their reality. They themselves, do they ask the real questions? Or do they ask, and answer, the questions that society around them has taught them to parrot? I left the following words as a comment to the news story, something I rarely do.

It's pretty pointless to talk to anyone on the topic of 'rights' for homosexuals, whether they are for them or against them, because nearly everyone who has given it any attention (I am not saying 'thought', which isn't the same thing) has already made up their mind.

This is simply a difficult situation we find ourselves in, because even to homosexuals (or to those who prefer others of the same sex, for whatever reason) it's obvious that biologically we are made to fit man-woman not any other way, regardless of religious teachings.

But even to Christians (I am one, Greek Orthodox) it is obvious that there can be man-man, woman-woman love relationships, and that many of them are far stronger and even more selfless than the man-woman relationships.

The answer is neither to deny and even blaspheme God, nor to denigrate and demonise human beings. Those who do the former, as well as those who do the latter, will both have to answer for it before the judgment seat.

Social change will always give preference to one or another class, viewpoint, religion or race. In my office I am dismissed as an idiot because I am a Christian and politically conservative, because people tend to categorise rather than really investigate.

Why is this? Because investigate means to invest oneself in something, and that takes commitment. It's easier to categorise (from the Greek word meaning 'to accuse') because you can do that, and then go your way, oblivious of the other person's reality.

Whether a person is Christian or not, straight or not, white or not—or reverse all the terms—to me there is no alternative but to investigate, to listen, to observe, to encourage the good, the right, the just, the true, in dealing with others.

Nothing can be done wholesale, in bulk. People appear one at a time, and disappear the same. We have usually only one chance to know a person, and to leave our mark on them, either way, if we are Christians, we must ask, 'Lord, when did we see You...?'

Agreement or disagreement, approval or disapproval, love or hate, all these things are still external, and we still stand, at every moment, at the threshold of our own death and ultimate judgment. 'Seek peace, pursue it,' say the scriptures. Do what you see Jesus doing.

That is the easy yoke, and the burden light, but we still have to do what He says,
'Come to Me.'

Keep your eyes on Jesus

You think this is some kind of simple, easy saying, but meaningless?
Keep your eyes on Jesus?


Overwhelmed?
Only if you think you're in control of your life,
that your personal decisions are of ultimate importance,
and that making a mistake is fatal.

Only one decision in life is of ultimate importance,
only one mistake that can be made is fatal.
And you have made the decision, have you not, to follow Jesus?
Can any other decision you are going to make in your life
and there will be many, too many to count—
can any other decision add to that, or take away from it?

All other decisions you have to make don't have to be made,
not now, not if you're not ready.
If there is something that needs a snap decision today,
to meet an external deadline, to satisfy another's expectations,
whatever it is, look at it squarely:
If you make the decision what do you gain,
if you put it off what do you lose?
If you make the decision, and it turns out to be the wrong one,
how does it hurt you, does it hurt you, really?


Are you taking to yourself the responsibility to make a decision
which is not really yours to make?


Nothing that truly pertains to you in reality can be measured,
compared or contrasted with anyone else
or anyone else's expectations of you.
Your decision to follow Jesus has removed you
from your own judgment and from the judgment of others.

As Francesco of Assisi cried out
as his father was dragging him before the authorities,
‘What has the justice of men to do with me? God is my only judge!’
To which the magistrate foolishly replied,
‘Unfortunately, he's not around to help us out!’

Keep your eyes on Jesus.
Not on yourself,
not on how you're doing,
not on what people expect you to do, be or have,
not on decisions you or someone else makes you feel you must make,
not on what you have to do tomorrow,
not on what you did or didn't do yesterday,
not on your feeling of loneliness,
or your suspicion of not doing all you can,
not on what you should or shouldn't be feeling,
thinking or doing right now,
not even on how much or how little time you're giving to good works,
to pious exercise, to praying, to fellowshipping,
to reading and studying the word of God.

Keep your eyes on Jesus.
Go where He goes.
That's why I often end my letters with, ‘Go with God, dear brother!’
That is, follow Him, watch His back, He's up there ahead, not far.
Fit your feet into the prints of His feet.
Run along behind Him.
Keep your eyes on Him.

Do what He does.
Does He read and study the Word?
Well, yes, sort of, because He is the Word.
So don't think about studying the Word… study it!
Well, when?
What's wrong with right now?
For how long?

Keep your eyes on Jesus.
What's He doing next?

Oh, He's going off alone, He's going to stand before His Father…
Wait for me, Master, I'm coming!
Take me with You!


So don't stop and wonder,
don't stop and ask yourself whether or not to pray.
Just pray!
If not now, when?
Does your heart skip a beat now and then?
Is it still beating?
What's it for?
Isn't it there at the core of your being, your inner metronome,
for the music that is you, for your prayer?


Don't think about Him and what you will say to Him,
just say it!

Talk to Him, now, while you're reading this!
There is no time when He is not listening.
Decisions flow out of the conversation
that you won't remember making,
because you and He made them Together.

Keep your eyes on Jesus.
What did you say you miss?

The days when mom and dad were always right?
Did someone offer you again the fruit from the tree
of the knowledge of good and evil?
Did some thief break in and steal some treasure
you thought you had hidden away?


Jesus knows that you are and will always be
the child of His Father,
that you are, as the Chinese say, ‘His heavenly younger brother.’

Following behind Him,
are you still carrying the burden of having to be right or wrong,
or to make sure who else is?


Following behind Jesus, learning of Him,
have you found that His yoke is not easy,
His burden not light?

How can you miss carefree days in the sun,
when you are following behind Him,
when you keep your eyes on Him
who has done, is doing, and will do everything for you?
Running behind Him,
can the days of knowing what to do be really over?
Keep your eyes on Jesus.

Where He goes, you go.
What He does, you do.

Don't be overwhelmed, brother!
Rather, rest in the knowledge
that it is not what you know but Who you know
that matters,
not what you do but what He does in you
that makes you worthy.

Go with God, brother!
You have been bought and paid for with more than money.
Go, and do likewise.

Keep your eyes on Jesus.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Right here and now

In a prayer on the day of Dormition [August 15] we say, “The laws of nature are overcome in you, O all pure Virgin.” God wants our salvation, and when God wishes, the laws of nature are overcome. Spirituality is that supernatural world, which a Christian must enter not “someday,” “somewhere,” but right here and now, on earth in the midst of modern civilization. Entering this spiritual world is itself an act of spirituality. Spirituality is the state of existence of any person who in some way tries to become part of the spiritual world. Spirituality is synonymous with the acquisition of godliness, because God is Spirit. Jesus calls God “Spirit” when He talks to Nicodemus (John 3:1-10) and discloses to him (and in his person to the entire human race) the reality of another divine world, and the difficulty of entering it. Spirituality is the Kingdom of the Divine Spirit. Christianity is a teaching about this Kingdom and about how to enter it.

This is why the Gospel is permeated by the call “to seek the Kingdom of God.” Nicodemus was awed and terrified as he realized the concept of new birth into spiritual life, and how supernatural this event is for human beings. We too are terrified by the very concept of spiritual life, and we try to camouflage its demands in philosophy, ecumenism, ritualism, in anything that will serve as a cover up.

— Sergei Fudel, Light in the Darkness

“Remember who your teachers were…”

2 Timothy 3:14

No deeper call

There is no deeper call than the call of Jesus Christ, but for many Christians it’s not to their liking. Sometimes I’ve spoken about it to a brother in Christ, maybe someone I worked with who claimed to be a Christian, and in less than thirty seconds, I could see his eyelids start to close, he’d remained silent, rousing himself a moment later when I paused to give me his verbal affirmation. By the tone of his voice, I could see that his heart was set on other things. That Christ should be ‘in our midst’ at every moment, in each encounter with one another (and with Him) is too much. Though we repeat, ‘where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there among them,’ we do our best to ignore Him. His very presence is always a renewal of His call. We secretly protest, ‘We’ve made our confession of faith in You, Lord! Now, please bless us and leave us alone!’

It’s not the end of the world, nor have we apostatized, when we treat Him this way. It’s just proof that the ‘old man’ is still alive and active in us. The ‘new man’ hasn’t really been born in us yet, even when we say we’ve been baptized and ‘born again.’ We’re still just catechumens, ‘those under instruction,’ but no amount of sitting around in retreats and seminars is going to qualify us, not until we’ve decided to make discipleship our goal. It’s true, Christ came to seek and save the lost—yes, all of them, that huge swarm of palm-waving worshipers—yet, He tells us nevertheless, ‘strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.’ What can He possibly mean by this? Does He know that after He has fed us in our multitudes one more time, we will forget what He has done, and join in the hue and cry to crucify Him, except for one or two?

The Russian neo-martyr (no he wasn’t put to death, but endured life in almost perpetual persecution) Sergei Fudel writes, ‘When the circle draws to its close, there will remain on earth, unconquered, the two or three holy ones, the Church of Christ; and the light of their holiness will be too strong for human history. This will be the end of history. These unconquerable two or three will show that the Kingdom of Heaven and the Will of God are fulfilled in them on earth as in heaven and that all of humanity could have been such as they.’ I don’t think that Sergei Fudel really believed that at the close of the present age the membership of the Church will have shrunk back to just two or three people—at least, I hope not!—but it is easy to see how Christianity could divert itself from its Source, the Resurrection and the Life, that is, Jesus Christ, and while ‘confessing’ His Name, deny Him.

I am not here speaking of the abandonment of ‘traditional’ Church teaching and practices, but rather of an existential divide between those who know and follow Christ, and those who follow programs and devices of their own making. The possibility is always there for us to become Muslims, Jews, antichrists without recognizing it, because in our human frailty we name ‘Christian’ anything we have decided to believe in. That’s how religion has become a form of protection against God for so many. How can we avoid this for ourselves? The answer is so obvious that if we find it quickly and persist in keeping it, some of us are labeled closet Protestants. Though the Bible is not to be worshiped or hammered into weaponry to punish those who differ from us, it is to be venerated, loved, studied incessantly, and assiduously incarnated. In this way, we fulfill Christ’s word, ‘You are the light of the world.’

There is no deeper call.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Seas of leaving

Our elders were too busy, preoccupied with their shock of having survived a world war, having lived with a cold war, being saddled with more than they’d bargained for, bewildered by having as offspring the very people they’d warned their children to keep clear of—yes, too distracted to catch us as we fell.

The wind blew so strongly against their tents, they had to make sure their tent pegs were firmly planted in the earth. The sand blew so steadily in their faces they couldn’t see the sun anymore. They thought we were all safe inside like good children weathering it out. They never thought to look for us in the gradually growing dunes as we drifted away.

Singers wooed us. We were courted and cajoled to abandon our fathers’ tents, to come away with them to some other place, a paradise where we would be appreciated for who we really were or thought ourselves to be. They sang of a garden, invoking ancient memories we shared even with our elders, though they never spoke of them to us. So we listened to other voices.

Shall I go off and away to bright Andromeda?
Shall I sail my wooden ships to the sea?
Or stay in a cage of those in Amerika??
Or shall I be on the knee?
Wave goodbye to Amerika
Say hello to the garden…

So I see, I see the way you feel
And I know that your life is real
Pioneer, searcher, refugee
I follow you, and you follow me
Let's go together
Let's go together
Let's go together right now…


(Let’s Go Together, by Paul Kantner)

This was the time when the world was young, from our point of view, just as we were, and like bees who see nothing but flowers, we ignored whatever world around us that held no nectar, that was colored black and white, that belittled what we felt, thought and desired. We sought to escape, dreaming again of leaving.

Wooden ships on the water, very free and easy,
Easy, you know the way it's supposed to be,
Silver people on the shoreline, let us be,
We are leaving… you don't need us.


Horror grips us as we watch you die,
All we can do is echo your anguished cries,
Stare as all human feelings die,
We are leaving… you don't need us.

Go, take your sister then, by the hand,
lead her away from this foreign land,
Far away, where we might laugh again,
We are leaving… you don't need us.

(Wooden Ships, by David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Paul Kantner)

For me, it was leaving sleepless, sub-tropical summers and futureless, sub-arctic winters in rural Illinois, parents intent on tearing apart the vestiges of any childhood gladness I might have saved, a boring, dangerous and thankless job maintaining assembly line machinery in a prison-like factory.

So I set my face to the north and west, waved goodbye to my tearful mother who loved me too much for her own good, and migrated to a commune in Canada which, little could I have known, would collapse under the weight of personality disorders in a matter of months, leaving me stranded and almost friendless, a stranger in a strange land.

Still, I hadn’t learned my lesson, but still ached for paradise and crooned songs that sounded ancient and fed the witless dreams of a boy unable to grow up, groping for light, truth, peace and, yes, even love, in all the worst places, all the wrong ways. Sand of a different sort blinded my eyes, as it had blinded my elders.

Seasons they change, while cold blood is raining,
I have been waiting beyond the years,
Now over the sky line I see you are travelling,
Brothers from all times, gathering here.

Come let us build the ship of the future
In an ancient pattern that journeys far,
Come let us set sail for the always islands
Through seas of leaving to the summer stars…


(The Circle is Unbroken, by Robin Williamson)

Mesmerized, decapitated by songs such as these, with mystic beginnings and haunting refrains, still the glimmerings of truth were there, but how to sort them and separate them from the lies? We were still no closer than before to the garden or to the island.
Did such a place exist after all, whatever we called it?

A whole generation, abandoned in the sands of time, no better than its forefathers, and among them I, a nomad like all my ancestors.

I was a young man treading westward, always west. I left my home at age twenty-one and travelled north and west to Alberta, mimicking my grandfather who had left his home at the same age, taking ship at Hamburg and sailing west for America over a hundred years ago.
Neither of us ever looking back.

West, always west, unsuspecting that the world is round, and that the farthest West is the uttermost East. Seeking the paradise in the West, instead, the garden in the East appeared. And the wooden ships, well, only one was ever really necessary, as I finally found out.

It was the ark.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Metamórphosis

Everything about this day bespeaks transformation.

But the feast, as always hidden from the world—God is so shy! He doesn’t want to frighten us into submission. Yes, hidden from the world, but hidden also from ourselves. The grape harvest is in too, and how fitting, as the holy day of Christ’s transfiguration on Mount Tabor was anciently appointed as the day of blessing of the grape harvest—and so I blessed and ate grapes for my lunch!

Metamórphosis, transformation, or as the normal English translation of the name of this feast day, Transfiguration. These words all have something to do with the change of shape or form, but what we are celebrating in this event is not that kind of change. True, the three disciples, Peter, James and John, saw Jesus standing, talking to the prophet Elijah and the lawgiver Moses, and His face was as bright as the sun, and His garments whiter than any bleach could make them, but their experience was not just visual, it wasn’t something only taken in by their eyes.

They heard a Voice, ‘This is My Son, the Beloved, hear Him!’ issuing from the depths of a bright cloud, words which down the ages every false prophet and religion-monger has taken to himself, claiming to be somehow what Jesus is, but always failing, miserably. No one has ever had these words spoken about him, but Jesus, son of Joseph, Messiah of Israel, who was proclaimed by His resurrection from the dead, the God-Man. The Voice could have spoken these words of Jesus as His body hung on the Cross, shamefully mutilated and despised, but it did not.

Instead, in the dead of night, the darkest night, on a mountain top, a very high mountain, in the presence of only three mere humans, and two human souls suspended in the loving memory of the Father, two souls whom He brought into His active memory to show them His Son, rewarding them for their labors and suffering. We do not know what Jesus was saying to them. We do not know why He chose that day and hour to reveal to the dead and the living the One who was the Life of both, but that is what the Father did, and not without the Holy Spirit.

Here we have the second ikon in the New Testament record of the revelation of the Divine Nature as Holy Triad, the first being at the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan. There too the Voice spoke. There too the Spirit Holy descended and stayed on Him. Now, for a second time, for the second and last time, the Divine Nature reveals Himself, Father speaking His word of command, Son revealing to man the very face of the Father in all glory, Spirit enfolding and brightening not just the Father and Son, but the dead and the living as well, welcoming man into God Himself.

There is another ikon of the Divine Nature as Holy Triad, and it’s the one most people think of when they remember the Holy Trinity. It is the three Angels seated at table, usually with Abram and Sarai in the background, serving them. This ikon is yet a premonition of the Reality that would unfold in the events marking the beginnings and endings of the earthly ministry of the Messiah of Israel, an ikon shadowy as it were, obscure and full of mystery, questions not answers. The ikons of Theophany and Metamorphosis, the Baptism and the Transfiguration, not so.

Not shadowy, obscure, but full of light. Both feasts are associated with the Light of Christ—Theophany is called ‘Tón Photón’ or ‘[Feast] of the Lights’—and here we have the feast in which Christ is revealed as not only the Light but the Source of all Light, the Metamórphosis, the transformation, matter transmuted into energy, which is what it always was, is, and will be. Even human science itself may one day catch up to this Truth, which much of theology has fruitlessly busied itself speculating about rather than experiencing. What Truth are we talking about? No, not what, but Who.

Once again, the Divine Nature breaks in upon our private conversations, both inner and outer, to reveal Himself as not what, but Who, as One, yet Three, as Divine, yet Human, and opens a door of welcome into Himself not as things but as persons, welcoming human beings to become what He created them to be, partakers of the Divine Nature, not cosmic dust, co-workers with Him in the garden universe, co-redeemers with Him of all of nature, which waits with longing and expectation for the revelation of the sons of God, for Metamórphosis, the restoration of Creation.

Now, let’s go and finish blessing the grapes…
Originally posted August 6, 2011
For a short story told in the first person by holy apostle James son of Zebedee, recounting what happened on Mount Tabor, see I witness, and I wait.