Sunday, July 5, 2015

Make-believe

Oh my gosh! They’re coming back for another round at snagging the biblically illiterate and speculation-obsessed, people whose lives are in a permanent tailspin as they plummet, out of control into the open jaws of these money-grubbing religionists.

As a younger Christian trying to keep an open mind and trying to see the good in everybody’s ‘ministry’ or witness, I too once fell for the crash and dash modern mystery plays churned out by Christian porn mills like Trinity Broadcasting, creators and promoters of The Omega Code and Megiddo: The Omega Code 2.

I knew they were a genre of action films with carefully encrypted ‘Christian’ messages, meant to entertain and deceive simultaneously, but I was curious, so I looked. As action films, cheesy. As gospel messages, soft porn. In the final analysis, though, dangerous, cynically subversive of authentic Christianity, and spiritually lethal.

If there are some who may be lost, it would probably be them. Why? Because, separated by pseudo-gospel guile from the real Good News of Jesus Christ, people can stay trapped in a cinematic fantasy, believing it to be Christianity, and never find the Church, or salvation through Christ. Sickening, suffocating, sterilizing, and stupid.

And the latest, which caused me to reflect on this, Christianity’s dark side (if you can call it Christianity at all, but we must, because Christ descended even to Hades to empty it of its dead), is this new installment of the continuing saga of the ‘Bible Code’—A Richard Shaw Film, Torah Codes, End to Darkness.

Living in a lying world, a follower of Jesus is refreshed, no, really, revived by only one thing, that which revived Mary the sister of Lazarus—sitting at the feet of Jesus, drinking in His divine and holy words, words of pure truth and life, words of power and light. Compared with those words, what can a disciple find in such things as ‘Torah Codes’?

Make-believe Jews seducing make-believe Christians, lying through their teeth, making promises and prophesying what never went forth from the lips of God to anyone’s ears, except to the owners of ears spiritually uncircumcised. God help us!

Once finding every mundane news item secretly coded into the dimensions and angles of the Grand Gallery of Egypt’s Great Pyramid, now with computer technology the new sellers of secrets can read similar things in the Hebrew letters of the Torah. Amazing!

A real no-brainer. Everyone should try it. Perhaps between the letters of some Old Testament book, read sideways of course, you know, from top to bottom, or the reverse, you’ll find written your name, today’s date, and exactly what you had for breakfast!

Forgive me, brethren, the heat of the last several days must be getting to me. I am not a little distressed. As if it weren’t bad enough what real events in the real world are tearing humanity apart, destroying hope, and putting faith to the test, we ignore these and run after fantasies.

Pray, and pray hard, very hard: For the humanity suffering at the hands of satan’s warlords in the Middle East. Yes, for humanity not just for Christians. For the whole of the human race is included in the salvation won for us by Christ-God when He ascended His Throne, the Holy Cross.

Pray, and pray constantly, pray without ceasing: No, not reciting pious entreaties while mechanically inching yourselves closer to heaven, but for the spiritually and materially homeless, for the pierced and branded bodies of the hopeless youth, for the elders abandoned to loveless loneliness.

Watch, yes, watch and pray. Look out where Christ is to be found wandering the earth as the unwelcome, the defenseless. Watch for these, not wasting your precious eyes on spectacles of speculation. Watch, for the time is close, otherwise shutting your ears to what is not read aloud and what cannot be kept. Watch, but not as a spectator. Watch, be vigilant.

For the Word of God, not any studious subjection to pious fallacies, is our inheritance, our lot in this world. It was not written to be dissected by computers and reassembled to make some magi’s ends meet, but to be read, to be integrated with our thoughts, words, and deeds, so that we can become living stones built into the Temple of the living God.

As for secrets hidden in the letters of the Torah, or the Bible, or whatever is for sale today, nothingness. Secrets there are, yes, even buried treasure, for within us is the Light that enlightens everyone who lives, upon us all is the Anointing that teaches us everything, and the eternal, divine Law is written on our hearts. We are the encoded Book in which all God’s hidden plans are not hidden, but revealed. For we cannot be anything but what He has made us, a City set on a hill that cannot be hid.

‘Shine! Shine! O New Jerusalem! 
For the Glory of the Lord has risen upon you!’

ορατων τε παντων και αορατων

…ορατων τε παντων και αορατων, oratón de pándon ke a-oráton, all things seen and unseen, visible and invisible. Thus the first confession of the universal Church forced out of it by the Christian emperor in pursuit of a difficult vision of one empire under one God and of one faith—an impossible dream then as now. Yet it shows that Christianity was, and still is, a faith with intellect, despite what its detractors and its fanatics believe. The Creator that we believe in made everything that is, both things we can see and those we cannot. We're not here speaking of such speculative entities as angels and devils, heaven and hell, and the like, but of things that we know for sure really are there, even though we cannot, at least without special instruments or frames of reference, see them. Of course, we are also using sight as a placeholder for any number of senses, not merely vision. We will never see an atomic particle, but our instruments tell us they are there, and tell us some of their characteristics. The early Christians may not have known about such things, but they did know about other things just as invisible yet incontrovertibly real.

Thus arises another idea, that of the real and the unreal. Obviously, we cannot say that the Creator who made everything there is made the real and the unreal. At least, I don't think so. Philosophy can ponder such things, being and non-being, and there is a long tradition of such speculation, stronger in Judaism and some other religions than in Christianity. But it is not God who made the unreal. It is we ourselves. And what is or are the unreal? Isn't it at least what we may call, the world of ideas? Yet, this world too, when God is thinking it, is a real world. God's ideas are real, even if ours are not. In fact, the universe we live in, along with ourselves and all other life, are in some sense God's ideas. But in our case, though made in God's image and thus capable of creating ideas, our fall can be defined by the fact that many if not most of our ideas are not real. They are unreal, though they are not powerless to trap us and drag us into themselves. The linguistic continuum of idea > ideal > idol is no accident. Where stop our wills along this continuum determines our trajectory into being or non-being.

There are many things that we believe or accept as real that are not, and yet believing is beneficial, at least, serves some good purpose. Other unreal things we believe have the opposite effect. We may laugh at such things as papal infallibility or unscientific creationism, yet they have an effect on those who believe in them, and that impacts us. Others may laugh at the concepts of human rights, individual liberty, or free market economy, also invisible and not incontrovertibly real, but these ideas, even ideals, have an effect in the real world, shaping it and us. I believe that there is money in my bank account, but rationally I know it is just numbers. Those numbers, though, can buy me many real things. If I believe that those numbers are real and make them my prime directive, I will fail to notice that my real life is draining away while I chase after what is actually nothing. Thus the world of the unreal, made not by God but by us, even by me, is always around us, outside and, if we're not vigilant, inside us, an invisible ulcer bleeding us to death. As scripture says, 'Greed shrivels the soul,' and this need not be about money.

What exists, and what does not exist, 'to be, or not to be,' yes, that is the question, and for reasons we cannot know, He who made us gave us the power of choice, to follow Him into full reality, into real being, or not. It is not a question of opposites. There is only One, and nothing else. How can we hesitate?

Saturday, July 4, 2015

To true freedom

The fourth of July. The morning is still refreshingly cool, and I am enjoying it as I ponder and write. Later, the sun promises to scald us from a cloudless sky, and if our fireworks don’t start a grass fire here or there, perhaps the heat will. The birds, too, outside my window are pillaging their prey from the yellowed lawns around me. The sky is so bright, even at this hour, the cone of Mount St Helens is practically invisible across the Columbia Gorge.

On this day, and on at least one other, Columbus Day, there are many who self-righteously try to rob the country of any honor we can claim for our achievements in the New World, and dampen our spirits that are seeking some relief from our failures by celebrating our successes on these days. They remind us of the genocide of the ‘first nations’ and of the current, unhappy conditions under which some of them live, using history as their weapon.

There is not a single person alive at this moment who took part in the undeniable genocide. There is also nobody alive in these United States at this moment who would be here today, but for every action, benign or atrocious, committed by our ancestors. A large minority of our citizens have ancestors among both the ‘first nations’ and the ‘newcomers.’ There a very few ‘pure blooded’ members of the first nations left.

Assailing what is clearly indefensible, detractors never tire of spoiling the good of the people around them, and to no purpose. History cannot be reversed, only learned from. True reparation for all the crimes against humanity that humanity has inflicted on itself can never be paid out. What benefit do the survivors of the Holocaust receive in exchange for their relatives’ lives? They are perhaps a little richer than the Greeks and Armenians, that’s all.

We have made the country, and indirectly, most of the North American continent, and perhaps even the world, a better place to live than it would be, had we and our forbears never existed, in spite of our mistakes and, yes, even our crimes. The majority of us have benefited and, alas, the minority has been and still is, in some places, neglected. But neither we, nor any race, by our own inventions can establish perfect justice and righteousness. We can only try.

The past is irretrievable. The good and the evil deeds committed by our ancestors—yes, no one alive today did not have an ancestor in every generation since Adam and Eve—still affect us and the world, just as what we do, for better or for worse, affects our unborn descendants until the world’s end. There is only one option for us as there was for past generations—to do our best, to encourage each other to establish liberty, justice, and peace here and now.

The framers of the Declaration of Independence and of the Constitution that followed were imperfect men living in a savage and merciless age. Many owned slaves, perhaps some had taken part in wars against the first nations, but all were motivated by some ideal of good. They wanted for others what they wanted for themselves, ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’ Were black and red men included? Unfortunately not, not much different than today.

But they did achieve something good, something so good that people all over the world still celebrate it, still desire it or something like it for their own countries. Will the lost world of the red Indian ever return? No, I’m afraid not. Nor will the lost world of my central European Jewish ancestors. Nor will the glory of ancient Rome, nor the brilliance of Athens and the reckless heroism of Sparta. ‘The world of the past is gone’ is no mere opinion, but a word spoken by the Lord Himself.

Everything good, everything beautiful, that ever was, is, or is yet to come, everything will be ended in time, either by gradual decay or by ruthless cataclysm, yet nothing and no one that we have truly loved will not be resurrected. The mercy that we could not manifest because of our weakness is still an unconditional reservoir from which all can draw, who want to, both now in part, and in the world to come, fully. That mercy is infinite, even if ours is not.

On this day, I salute all for the love of that Life which we all share, given us freely by the Creator. I salute all, the living and the dead, for their achievements and even for their failures, for they did not do nothing, but tried to better their world, as best they knew how. I salute all, my friends and my enemies, in spirit and in truth, asking their forgiveness just as I give it. And I commend mercy and respect for all, for these are the paths to true freedom.

The Declaration of Independence

Except for the Bible itself, whose words when read and understood and acted upon are death to the world system but life to mankind, what follows, taken from the Declaration of Independence of the Thirteen United States, is to be feared by all persons or governments that would be God on earth, from Pharaoh to the tyrants of today's world, whether outside or inside the borders of these now Fifty United States. I am no patriot of this nation only, but of the ideas that framing it still speak to every human heart, forging all into one humanity, not under men but under God, whose word, whose law is awaited by all the islands of the earth, praying ‘Thy Kingdom come.’

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,

That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.

But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Excerpted from The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen United States of America, in Congress, July 4, 1776.


Although I am an Orthodox Christian, that does not stop me from loving and respecting not only other Christians, but those of other faiths, or no faith. Although I am an American, my patriotism is not limited to the geographical or the cultural fifty United States, but upholds every land and culture of humanity, not as a citizen-worshipper of the 'one world' but as a member of the Kingdom of God, the only domain where men are truly free, truly equal, and truly brothers.

The spirit of all real revolutions comes from That Place, and leads us thither, and when the King of kings of kings returns, the One whom some call 'the Revolutionary', we will know for certain that He was behind this Declaration, as well as behind all true struggles waged since the beginning of time against unlawful authority, against Pharaoh in all its forms.

Happy Fourth of July, to all who know and love what is worth dying for, for God Himself did not back away from the Sacrifice.

Friday, July 3, 2015

The peace of Christ

Peace, perfect peace, in this dark world of sin?
The Blood of Jesus whispers peace within.

—Edward Henry Bickersteth
Hymn writer

Peace, that which comes from above and is granted by God alone through Christ is not easy to define, but it definitely does not mean something like ‘all's well’ or ‘peace and quiet’ in the usual sense. Peace from God does not necessarily mean that there is no trouble anywhere in our life, nor that we are not faced with problems to which we cannot find a solution.

It's easier to talk about this peace that comes from God through Christ and is bestowed on us in prayer than it is to actually have it. Why? Because we usually talk about it when we are not in any great distress, emergency or need, but after we have been delivered from it. We look back in retrospect and thank God for the deliverance and find words of testimony to give about God's faithfulness.

What is the best definition of and the most convincing testimony to the ‘peace from above’?

When we are presently in distress, in danger, at risk, beset with problems we see no end of, when we are suffering persecutions, slander, unjust accusations, when no one believes us, when no one cares about us, and we are not sad, not unhappy, not anxious, not disturbed, not reproachful, uncomplaining, unmoved to anger or revenge, still hopeful, still forgiving, still loving our enemies, still seeking God’s Kingdom first and His righteousness, never giving in to despair or abandonment. When we are in this place, and can define ‘the peace of God which passeth all understanding’ not only by the word of our confession, but also by our passionlessness, then we have understood and accepted what that peace is. It's the same peace that Jesus knew when He was crucified and when He uttered with His last breath, ‘It is finished. Into your hands I commend my spirit.’ It is the same peace which Jesus gave to His disciples when He said, ‘My peace I give you, a peace the world cannot give.’

This is the peace of Christ.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Utterly unlike

There’s lots of things, even persons, who are, or will soon be seen to be, utterly unlike what we have imagined them to be all our lives.

Firstly, of course, there’s God. Whatever you conceive Him or Her to be, and even if you have memorized and understood everything the bible and all theologians have said about Him, and even read what the pagans have said about Him, you still (I should say, we still) are going to find out that though in everything that really mattered we knew Him quite well, there will be a whole lot about Him that will just take us by surprise—mostly, things that we couldn’t have even begun to know about Him, due to our puny brains and sensory apparatus not having a way to process the information. Ants may know that we’re there, and they may even have a good idea that we’re big, clumsy, slow-moving and dangerous. In everything that really matters to them they know us quite well. They won’t understand why some of us avoid stepping on them. They won’t begin to suspect that we compose and listen to something we call music, even though they may have something analogous to it on a very minor scale. Unfortunately for them, one of us hasn’t been transformed into an ant like themselves, so as to give them a better idea of what those big shadow-casters are that pass over their trails.

Secondly, there’s our own human nature, that which we seem to be while we are alive “in the flesh.” As a young man, I spent many hours observing my body and my spirit in function, long hours lying quiet but wide awake in the night. The result of my observations was a gradually increasing awareness that “I am not that” in reference first to my body, then even to my spirit, even to my mind. Anything that I was able to observe, watch and study, was yet experience outside whatever it is that I am. All these observations and my non-verbal thinking about them only demonstrated to me what holy scripture teaches, “For that which is,” that which exists, the world of things in its essence and with its causes, “is far off,” far removed from the sight of man, “and it is deep, deep; who can discover it?” (Ecclesiastes 7:24) How ironic, that even our very own selves, that we (think we) can know first-hand, should still be beyond our ken! Most of us don’t want to put the label “utterly unlike” on our cache of life experience, but I think that what life really is is utterly unlike our perception. We only know what we need to know and can know, and that’s not much.

Thirdly, or maybe I should say lastly, there’s death. Whatever you conceive it to be, or not be, and even if you’ve had a near death experience, or even been dead and through miracle or modern science been resuscitated, you still can’t come closer to knowing or understanding what it is than the distance separating East from West. My youthful experiments in observation also impinged on death. I used to withdraw my energy from my bodily extremities to experience “this is a hand, not my hand” and even “this is a body, not my body.” I tried to observe what remains when all senses, sight, hearing, touch, and finally even all thought, become inaccessible to a mind. What is left? Locked in a realm of being which cannot exist, yet does, I imagined the body I once inhabited, breathless, unfeeling, unmoving, as a formless numbness, and the existence of the outer world (where life was still going on) as an inaccessible “it,” not a thing or a place, just a nothing that somehow is, and beyond my penetration. That was as close as I came to apprehending death. It was very unlike what my normal mind envisions when I think of death, but it was still not “utterly unlike.”

It is this kind of approach that brings us, I think, to the threshold of at least sensing that what awaits us after this (what we call) life is something and Someone “utterly unlike” everything we have ever seen, heard, felt or thought. It makes even spelling the Name with a capital letter pale as insolence and ignorance before the reality of Him Who Is, and of As It Must Be. Not even speaking of God or of what we know about Him and His plan of salvation as written in His Word, the scriptures, we can still know Him as He reveals Himself to us and through us without our help or our imagination, and knowing Him thus, the “utterly unlike” gradually dawns on us, and of that, no man living can speak.

Happy — Μακάριοι — אשרי


Psalms for the 2nd Day
9 10 11 12 13 14

Psalm 11
The confidence of the virtuous

B’Adonáy chasíti, eych tom’rú l’nafshí, ‘Núdi harchèm tsippór…’

In Yahweh I take shelter.
How can you say to me,
‘Bird, fly back to your mountain:

‘see how the wicked are bending their bows
and fitting their arrows to the string,
ready to shoot the upright from the shadows.
When foundations fall to ruin,
what can the virtuous do?’
Yahweh is in His holy Temple,
Yahweh whose throne is in heaven;
His eyes look down at the world,
His searching gaze scans all mankind.

The virtuous and the wicked are under Yahweh’s scrutiny,
and His soul hates anyone who loves brutality.
He rains coals of fire and brimstone on the wicked,
He serves them a scorching wind to swallow down.
Yahweh is righteous, He loves virtue,
upright men will contemplate His face.

…ki tsaddík Adonáy, ts’dakót ahév, yashár yechezú fanéymo.

μακάριοι οἱ πτωχοὶ τῷ πνεύματι …

‘How happy are the poor in spirit:
theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Happy the gentle:
they shall have the earth for their heritage.
Happy those who mourn:
they shall be comforted.
Happy those who hunger and thirst for what is right:
they shall be satisfied.
Happy the merciful:
they shall have mercy shown them.
Happy the pure in heart:
they shall see God.
Happy the peacemakers:
they shall be called sons of God.
Happy those who are perecuted in the cause of right:
theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Happy are you when people abuse you,
and persecute you,
and speak all kinds of calumny against you
on My account.
Rejoice and be glad,
for your reward will be great in heaven.
This is how they persecuted the prophets before you.

Matthew 5:3-12 Jerusalem Bible

Psalm 14
The godless men

Amár navál b‘libbó, ‘Eyn Elohím…’

The fool says in his heart,
‘There is no God!’
Their deeds are corrupt and vile,
there is not one good man left.
Yahweh is looking down from heaven
at the sons of men,
to see if a single one is wise,
if a single one is seeking God.

All have turned aside,
all alike are tainted;
there is not one good man left,
not a single one.

Are they so ignorant, all these evil men
who swallow My people
as though they were eating bread,
and never invoke Yahweh?

They will be struck with fear,
fear without reason,
since God takes the side of the virtuous:
deride as you may the poor man’s hopes,
Yahweh is his shelter.

Who will bring Israel salvation from Zion?
When Yahweh brings His people home,
what joy for Jacob, what happiness for Israel!

…B’shuv Adonáy sh’vut ammó, yagél Ya’akóv, yismách Yisra’él!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Tossing golden crowns

A Christian must not be fanatic; he must have love for and be sensitive towards all people. Those who inconsiderately toss out comments, even if they are true, can cause harm.

I once met a theologian who was extremely pious, but who had the habit of speaking to the (secular) people around him in a very blunt manner; his method penetrated so deeply that it shook them very severely. He told me once: “During a gathering, I said such and such a thing to a lady.” But the way that he said it, crushed her. “Look”, I said to him, “you may be tossing golden crowns studded with diamonds to other people, but the way that you throw them can smash heads, not only the sensitive ones, but the sound ones also.”

Let’s not stone our fellow-man in a so-called “Christian manner.” The person who – in the presence of others – checks someone for having sinned (or speaks in an impassioned manner about a certain person), is not moved by the Spirit of God; he is moved by another spirit.

The way of the Church is LOVE; it differs from the way of the legalists. The Church sees everything with tolerance and seeks to help each person, whatever he may have done, however sinful he may be.

I have observed a peculiar kind of logic in certain pious people. Their piety is a good thing, and their predisposition for good is also a good thing; however, a certain spiritual discernment and amplitude is required so that their piety is not accompanied by narrow-mindedness or strong-headedness. Someone who is truly in a spiritual state must possess and exemplify spiritual discernment; otherwise he will forever remain attached to the “letter of the Law”, and the letter of the Law can be quite deadly.

A truly humble person never behaves like a teacher; he will listen, and, whenever his opinion is requested, he responds humbly. In other words, he replies like a student. He who believes that he is capable of correcting others is filled with egotism.

A person that begins to do something with a good intention and eventually reaches an extreme point, lacks true discernment. His actions exemplify a latent type of egotism that is hidden beneath this behavior; he is unaware of it, because he does not know himself that well, which is why he goes to extremes.

Kindred spirits

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

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

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

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

Psalms - תהילים

Psalms for the 1st Day
1
2 3 4 5 6 7 8


Psalm 1
The two ways

Ashréy ha-ísh ashér lo halách ba’atzát resha’ím…

Happy the man
who never follows the advice of the wicked,
or loiters on the way that sinners take,
or sits about with scoffers,
but finds his pleasure in the law of Yahweh,
and murmurs His law day and night.

He is like a tree that is planted
by water streams,
yielding its fruit in season,
its leaves never fading;
success attends all he does.

It is nothing like this with the wicked,
nothing like this!

No, these are like chaff
blown away by the wind.
The wicked will not stand firm when Judgment comes,
nor sinners when the virtuous assemble.
For Yahweh takes care of the way the virtuous go,
but the way of the wicked is doomed.

…v’dérech resha’ím tovéd.

My most intense, and tender, connecting with God, is through my Bible, particularly the Psalms. When I lie down on my bed and have my old Jerusalem Bible beside me, and when my eyes see the words printed on the page, any page, and I start reading them, I just get an indescribable something, it's not even really a feeling. It's just a knowing that He is here with me, that the printed words I am reading are from Him directly, with nothing between Him and me except themselves, and even they are Him because they are His Word in the form of verbal icon, just as Jesus is His Word in the form of a Man. That Bible has been with me since I met the Lord, and I haven't parted from it all these years. It is my Rock of safety, the place where I meet God and He touches me, and feeds me.

Praying the Psalms, or even reading them, can seem irrelevant to some people, even to some Christians—they say that they cannot relate to what is contained in them. They see them as only historical documents arising out of specific events.
What has that to do with me?

Though it may be true that we are not bible characters, our lives can be found in the pages of scripture. My life-long love for and relationship with the Psalms had a beginning. It was when living in the world, I started being attacked for following Christ, and in turning to the Psalms I found their contents spoke to my condition and the situations I found myself in. That never stopped but has continued growing to the point where I can say that of all the books of scripture, the Psalms I read, and pray, the most.

The Psalms have this unique characteristic: They are like a revolving door with God. They both convey the prayer of our hearts to Him, and convey His response to our every prayer.
After reading and praying the Psalms for thirty-three years out of my Jerusalem Bible, I finally began reading and praying them from the Tehillim, the Hebrew version of the Psalms. Now, along with my Jerusalem Bible, a copy of the Tehillim rests with me on my prayer couch, and the blessing of reading and understanding the Hebrew cannot be adequately described.

Psalm 4
Evening prayer

B’kar’í anéyni Elohéy tsidkí…

God, guardian of my rights, You answer when I call,
when I am in trouble You come to my relief;
now be good to me and hear my prayer.

You men, why shut your hearts so long,
loving delusions, chasing after lies? Selah.
Know this, Yahweh works wonders for those He loves,
Yahweh hears me when I call to Him.

Tremble: give up sinning,
spend your night in quiet meditation. Selah.
Offer sacrifice in a right spirit,
and trust Yahweh.

“Who will give us sight of happiness?” many say.
Show us the light of Your face turned toward us!

Yahweh, You have given more joy to my heart
than others ever knew, for all their corn and wine.

In peace I lie down, and fall asleep at once,
since You alone, Yahweh, make me rest secure.

…ki attá Adonáy l’vadád lavétach toshivéni.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Only One Church

There is only One Church, just as there is only One Christ. How can we know this? Well, the Church is personified as ‘the Bride of Christ’ and Christ is ‘the Bridegroom.’ Christ is named ‘the Second Adam’ and so His Bride is named ‘the Second Eve.’ The pattern revealed in Genesis, ‘a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one,’ demonstrates that marriage is a joining of two previously individual beings. Plural marriage, both polyandry (several men, one woman) and polygyny (many women, one man), cannot be ‘marriage’ at all. By definition it is a joining of one with one to become one. There is one Bridegroom, Christ, and one Bride, the Church.

Does this bear any relationship to what we see in the world? No, it doesn’t. In America, as in most countries of the world today where Christians live, the concept of ‘One Church’ is completely unknown. ‘Church’ has become another name for a social expression of Christianity without reference to its historical source. Only in a very few countries, Greece, for example, does ‘Church’ continue to mean ‘the Christian community of this land which, with minor exceptions, means everyone.’ In other European countries which still maintain ‘state churches,’ a legacy of the Christian Roman Empire of Constantine the Great, the memory has not completely faded. The Church of England is still ‘the Church.’

Back to America, this country never had a state church or official religion, except ‘God.’ The cardinal tenet of ‘separation of Church and State,’ however, has radically changed from its original meaning of ‘no institutional church supported by the government to which everyone must belong’ and been gradually revised to mean ‘no introduction of any overtly religious activity into the administration of government or other public offices.’ Strangely, most legislative bodies open their sessions with a prayer, originally to ‘Almighty God,’ now to any supernatural being or force. Officeholders and witnesses in judicial proceedings still take oaths on scriptures, originally on the Bible but now on any sacred book.

This same country and its constitution, separate from any state church, curiously mandate the currency to bear the inscription, ‘In God We Trust,’ a motto which was only added after the Civil War. Hardly anyone objects to this because to do so would seem un-American. Even many of the unchurched in this country ‘believe in God,’ whatever that means. The freedom of religion that is the bedrock of spirituality in America has produced exactly what it intended, thousands, not hundreds, of small ‘churches,’ each promoting its own version of the Gospel. Entering into this multiplicity of denominations come the Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox churches, and they cannot help falling in line with them.

Roman Catholicism is now seen as just a denomination, though from its point of view, it is ‘the Church.’ As a Greek Orthodox, I have no problem with that. Why? Because ‘they’re on to something,’ even though I’m not sure they know it. As for the Orthodox, split, in America, into multiple jurisdictions, most of them in intercommunion, are also seen as denominations if they’re recognized as Christian churches at all, though from our point of view, we are ‘the Church.’ Sounds familiar? Don’t the Catholics say the same thing? Well, they do, and they have an advantage that we don’t—their claim is almost believable. As for us, we are ‘the Church’ and so confident of that, that we can squabble all we want.

Proud of popelessness, but too humble to give even an inch to our opponent in any controversy where status quo might be in jeopardy, making our claim to be ‘the Church’ as we do should make us blush. St Paul, were he to visit us today, would be more than scandalized. To him, our differences would seem trivial. It was bad enough when ethnic biases separated us into Arab, Greek, Russian, Serbian, and Ukrainian parishes. At least our ‘cradle Orthodox’ priests knew that there was still only one Church. Now, with so many convert priests carrying ‘the need to be right’ along with them and playing denominational rugby, pitting Orthodox against each other, and Orthodoxy against ‘the world,’ we too have lost our vision.

What vision? The vision of the Kingdom of God, ‘when the earth shall be filled with the glory of God as the waters cover the sea,’ where the whole land and all its inhabitants belong to the Lord, where there is a single Church, because it comprises all people who believe in and follow Jesus. This is the charter of the Church, ‘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.’ The church that knows that it is ‘the Church’ acknowledges all Christians in its territory (in this case, the United States) as its members, and treats them as such while ‘going and making disciples,’ opening wide its doors, because it knows, there are no other doors.

What might this look like? Start from either the Roman Catholic or the Orthodox Church. First, be completely united among ourselves, one hierarchy, one jurisdiction (these terms are meaningless from Christ’s point of view) because ‘there is only One Church.’ Next, put away all non-essential requirements for membership in the Church, make the Symbol of Nicaea the only test and testimony. Then, ‘send them out two by two’ to every Christian gathering as witnesses, named neither ‘Catholic’ nor ‘Orthodox,’ to announce the Message, ‘one Christ, one Church,’ as permanent ambassadors in every place. Make no demands on conformity of customs, but invite all to the unity of faith and accept all who do not resist.

Of course, this is a lot of work! This means that the Church—whoever decides to take on the responsibility for being in reality what Christ calls us to be—must again become twenty-four seven Johnny-on-the-spot, must be willing to teach, preach, pray, heal, reconcile, restore, rescue, adopt, make room for every kind of person and group of persons. This means that the Church cannot ‘pick and choose’ only those whom it wants, who fit in, who pay the bills, who give it a voice. No, for Christ Himself is the Voice, He is the Teacher, the Healer and Physician of our souls, the souls of all of us, leaving no one out, no one except those ‘who chose to be lost,’ not by accident, but on purpose.

Yes, this really is a lot of work! And wait, there’s more! The Church, being in theory, but becoming in reality, the people of this nation and the people of God, has a hand in every good work, not just the ‘religious’ ones. Why was the local parish the center of the life of Church in previous ages? Because there was only one Church, and it was essentially inclusive. All aspects of life were seen as part of its work, and all people. Today, what would that mean for the church that ‘steps up to the plate’ to show itself as ‘the Church’? That means ‘the parish becomes the world’ around it, instead of what we are seeing at the moment, ‘the parish against the world.’ In practical terms, we don’t protect Christ.

Because this is what the churches do, they try to protect Christ instead of letting Him protect us. The announcement is sternly made before delivering the Holy Mysteries, that they are ‘only for the Orthodox, who have prepared themselves by…’ cutting off many who need His help because they are now imprisoned by ignorant scruples, while infants, children, and others, quite possibly sinners and blasphemers, go up to receive, stating their baptismal name, ‘the servant of God…’ But the Church does not do this. The Church that knows herself and her place, God’s presence amidst the people, is Christ’s Bride and Mother of all who have faith, sinful and righteous, ignorant and learned, stranger and friend.

Make the way easy, remove all obstacles, before the path of those who are running towards Christ, the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and welcome them into the Kingdom. Make the way difficult, throw up barriers, before the route of those who are running away from Him, so that they may come to their senses, and return. Christ says, speaking to His holy apostles who complained of others, not of their number, promoting the Message, ‘Whoever is not against us, is for us.’ The Church that knows herself also knows that these words are spoken for her protection and also for the healing of the nation, binding up its wounds, restoring its sight, releasing it from bondage, and for the unity of all in Christ.

O Church of the living God, our Savior Jesus Christ, you are His Bride and our Mother. Open yourself now and receive all who seek to know your Divine Husband, and welcome them into the Paradise of Life.

Save, O Lord, Your people, and bless Your inheritance.

Apostles

It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. 
And because of this I rejoice.
Philippians 1:15-18

What a strange thing for holy apostle Paul to say! How much stranger that even in the first generation of disciples the spirit of dysangelical competition arises, at a time when there are many still alive whose testimony includes knowing Jesus Christ ‘in the flesh.’ This is before the Church had taken on an institutional form. Even ‘imperial church’ is centuries in the future. Human nature, somehow tricked into the sin of betraying one’s teachers instead of remembering them (cf. 2 Timothy 3:14), asserts itself from the very start. Yet Paul, a genuine apostle, ‘called to be’ what he is, says he rejoices, because ‘Christ is preached,’ no matter what the motivation.

Such incredible faith! He doesn’t stop to fill our ears with recrimination. He doesn’t tell us who is teaching what false doctrine or compare ideologies of salvation. He knows that the Message will get through to those who are looking for it, even if the delivery is ‘from false motives or true.’ The seeds of factionalism sown by the enemy of mankind are always taking root in hearts full of envy and rivalry which, despite their flowering piety and religious fragrance, bear hateful fruit, hidden under biblical foliage. It is a dreadful fruit of judgment that is offered, though it seem ‘good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom’
(Genesis 3:6).

Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience. We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart. If we are ‘out of our mind,’ as some say, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. 

So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. 

We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
2 Corinthians 5:11-21

What is lacking in those who take it upon themselves to deceive and be deceived regarding divine things is, as the apostles writes, ‘to fear the Lord’—in modern terms, what we mean by ‘awe’—and that permits them to erect religious prisons in which they bind themselves and others. They may call their creations ‘ministries’ or ‘societies.’ They may paper their walls with Hebrew and Greek to affect an air of antiquity and authority, but they ‘take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart,’ and so betray not only their teachers, who themselves are only disciples, but the Teacher Himself.

Like the apostle before he meets the Lord on the Damascus road, they ‘live for themselves’ while persecuting the believers. As Paul is struck blind by the One whom he is, in fact, persecuting, they regard not only Christ, but the faith, and everyone to whom they preach ‘from a worldly point of view.’ Being thus blinded, even speaking the words of holy and divine scripture, they worship the words they speak, not realizing that ‘all this is from God,’ nor knowing that ‘if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!’ And what is this ‘new creation’? Christ living among us.

Reconciliation—a word and an idea that eludes them who ‘preach Christ out of envy and rivalry’—is the only ‘ministry’ given to the disciples by the Lord. How can that be? We can do only what we see Jesus doing, and He does only what He sees the Father doing, ‘who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.’ How is this ministry expressed? Reconciliation to God in heaven is accomplished by reconciliation to the brethren on earth. ‘Whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen’ (1 John 4:20).

Just as the holy apostles, as various as they were in personality, opinion, educational level and social status, worked together as sýnergoi, co-laborers, without dividing themselves or competing against each other, we live with them and with each other the life of the Holy Triad on earth, ‘not counting people’s sins against them,’ but for the sake of divine love ‘convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died,’ being willing to lay down our lives for each other. This is what the Holy Church was, is, and always shall be, everywhere ‘on earth as it is in heaven.’ There is no envy or rivalry among us in the Holy Trinity.

So, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.

You are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.

Let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.
1 John 4

Esoteric

There are no hidden meanings in our letters besides what you can read for yourselves and understand.
2 Corinthians 1:13

I have always been amazed whenever I read this line at the beginning of the apostle Paul’s second letter to the church at Corinth. Right here and in no uncertain terms we have a declaration by one of the writers included in the New Testament that the ordinary Christian can be confident of understanding the simple, saving message of the Word of God. Am I not stretching things a bit? After all, maybe the apostle was only talking about his writings, his letters. Maybe he was even talking only about this particular letter. No, he uses the plural, so that means all of his letters. Too bad we don’t have all of them, but what the Lord wanted us to have, we have.

And he says ‘our letters,’ as well. Doesn’t that mean letters written by the other apostles? And if that is true of the letters, might it not be true of the gospels? Well, they hadn’t been put down in writing yet: they were still being lived. Even so, I get the impression that it was a priority for the first generation of the Church to make sure that whatever was written down was written clearly, concisely, truthfully, simply and directly, in an idiom that the audience would have no trouble understanding. It was, I believe, the same spirit that imbued the reformers of the Church of England to provide scriptures and liturgies in a tongue ‘understanded by the people.’

This primitive protocol of the first generations of the Church was, I think, preserved for many centuries, but as society underwent decay and suffered the barbarian invasions, language changed, native intelligence was stifled, yet for those who could still read and think for themselves the same clear, clean light of the Word of God was still accessible and proved that ‘there are no hidden meanings in [the New Testament scriptures] besides what you can read for yourselves and understand.’

This precious deposit was guarded zealously by the early Church, and what escaped, or was expelled, from the community of faith was taken up and further mutilated by those who had religious principalities to build and fake mysteries to hawk, like frontier potion peddlers. All of this was so obvious even in the days of the holy apostles that they were warning us about people like this right from the beginning. Human nature will always produce spiritual counterfeits. Anything is preferable to the Truth, because Truth is not for sale, it’s free. But lies command a high price: they’re always in demand.

As it was in former times, so it is still today. Just as the attack was pressed home against the Church of the holy apostles, so it is directed against the Church of Christ today.

Be careful, brethren, of objectifying the Church as the ‘organized church’ and looking for esoteric truths. There are no esoteric truths in Christ that can be passed down from master to disciple as in the non-Christian religions, or even as in some forms of Judaism. Whatever makes the claim to be that is patently false. But I didn't say there are no esoteric truths in Christ, just none that can be passed down or handed over: that is what tradition is, and tradition is only the form that can be filled with faith, our personal faith, and through which we can commingle with other disciples of Christ.

Yes, esoteric truths there are, actually, not plural, truths, but only singular, Truth. Esoteric, hidden Truth in Christ there is, but it cannot be described or handed over to anyone, so you will not find authentic esoteric teachings among the church fathers. You may find one or two here or there who have come down to us through the memory of the Church because of their holding some idea that earned them notoriety. But these thoughts will not prove to be fertile soil for the life of the Spirit, only various kinds of poorly drained swampland for the delectation of the superstitious, or else hard, unwaterable clay from which a new man cannot be made, but only slept on by the tough-minded.

Stay close, always, to the words of holy and divine scripture, and follow behind the fathers and mothers of antiquity who followed Christ not with their heads alone but with their feet. There is no ‘formal church’ that became irreversibly corrupt most likely in the first century, either discovered by historical scholarship, or speculated into existence by idle and curious intellects. The very word of Jesus prevents this, for He said that the very gates of hell would not prevail against the Church, and who can imagine either, that the divine Bridegroom, the Nymphios, would hand over his turtledove to the Beast. Whatever the institutional Church looks like outwardly through its activities, the true Church still lives within that structure.

Back to the esoteric. I said there is esoteric Truth, and that there is only One. And I want to qualify that statement just once by telling you that it is the Cross.

One thing that a Christian, that is, a follower of Jesus, can always rely on, no matter what church he belongs to or attends. You cannot go wrong, ever, if you imitate Christ, and do only those things you see Him doing in the gospels. The visible and institutional Church can be falling away around you, but with your eyes fast focused on Jesus, you would scarcely notice. What you would see, however, is what Jesus is doing right now to remedy the situation, and you, if you are following Him, are privileged to share with Him the work that He, not you, sets yourself to do.

Thinking His thoughts, loving as He loves, redeeming the time, welcoming the stranger, overlooking offenses, healing the sick, seeing clearly so that the blind around you may also see, suffering the humiliation of your own human weaknesses without abandoning the work or the discipline of the Son of God, keeping your heart free from malice: These are the worthy tasks, the fulfilling of the only commandment, that erases sin in both the Church and in yourself, because it is letting the fire of Christ burn all unrighteousness from the inside out, leaving only what He has recreated in you and in the Church—that is as close as I can get to pointing to what you will never learn from books, only from following the Son of God, walking with Him the way of the Cross.

So, brethren, as I always say, ‘Go with God.’

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Holy Apostles

Holy apostles, 
lovingly plant in us the seed 
that the Master planted in you, 
that you write to us 
who live at the end of time, 
that the Spirit, 
Lord and Giver of Life 
causes to sprout and grow in us, 
that we too may enter 
into the mystery 
of life in the Holy Triad with you, 
one mind, 
one will, 
one heart, 
one love.

— Romanós

x

Let God be God

God is our shelter, our strength,
ever ready to help in time of trouble,
so we shall not be afraid when the earth gives way,
when mountains tumble into the depths of the sea,
and its waters roar and seethe,
the mountains tottering as they heave.

Yahweh Sabaoth is on our side,
our citadel, the God of Jacob! Selah.

Psalm 46 Jerusalem Bible

Not weighing in on a pro- or con- basis with regard to the Supreme Court decision to give same-sex couples the ‘right to marry,’ there is one thing I have noticed in today’s news, coming from a Christian candidate for the United States presidency. He says that faithful, bible-believing Christians have no choice now but to resist this new ruling by non-violent means, imitating the tactics of Martin Luther King, Jr., using civil disobedience. What struck me very odd about this line of reasoning is, in the case of the civil rights movement, what was being resisted was not giving people rights, but withholding them. In other words, a black American did not have the same rights as a white American because of a variety of laws in a multitude of jurisdictions, as well as racial prejudices that were ten generations deep. To use civil disobedience to resist laws giving people rights rather than withholding them is a new thing.

If I am a Christian whose faith ‘tells’ me that homosexuality is a sin, and homosexual unions a form of blasphemy, then I should have the right to not cooperate with a law that contravenes what I believe is the moral law. In the case at hand, now pointing to myself personally, still without taking a position on the issue, there is nothing in my everyday life that the new ruling is going to change or challenge.

If I am offended by the sight of a homosexual couple pushing a baby in a shopping cart at the grocery, then I will be offended whether the couple is married or just cohabiting. If I run a catering service, and this hypothetical couple wasn’t married before, but are now planning their wedding and engage my company to supply the wedding cake and the feast, then, yes, if my faith tells me that assisting others to sin makes me an accomplice, I will have a problem. Fifty years ago I could have had the same problem if the couple were a black heterosexual couple, and my church supported segregation. If I had served the negro, my white customers might find out, and boycott me, ruining my business.

The two examples, though, aren’t quite the same, of course. We now know that black people are interchangeable with white people. Many of us know that heterosexual and homosexual people are also interchangeable.

In other words, except for what they do privately with each other, they live like anyone else, working a job, paying taxes, serving in the military, adopting children, perhaps even procreating them with the assistance of artificial insemination (a strategy used also by childless heterosexual couples), going to school, even becoming recognized leaders in every field of study, innovation, and government. I had to leave ‘going to church’ out of the list for reasons everyone knows.

Many of us also know that heterosexual and homosexual people are not interchangeable, whatever the evidence or reasoning, because ‘the Bible says so.’ Embarrassingly enough, the same argument was used to keep black skinned people at first in inhuman slavery, later in even more inhuman segregation. It wasn’t about who could or couldn’t live next door to me, a white man. It was about who could make a living wage, have his kids educated, and not be looked at as a ‘nigger.’ It was also about who I could or couldn’t marry.

So there are some similarities between the struggle for equal rights waged by Martin Luther King, Jr., and the leaderless hordes of shameful gay people. In both cases, the struggle was, arguably, won by both communities.

When the black man was finally declared to have exactly the same rights under the law as the white man, what rights did the white man lose? Being able to have a black servant, eat in a café where the cooks and waiters were black, have a shoeshine from a black shoeshine boy, or have a one night stand with a black woman, all this and more without having to reciprocate?

A white man could still marry a black woman, but only if he went to live with the blacks. But a black man marry a white woman? Oh my God! Blasphemy! and maybe a lynching. Yes, the white community in America lost so many rights and is even now an endangered species in its native land, because the black community was finally invited to full participation in the life of the nation, to ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’ Right!

I ask myself, again without taking sides, what rights do I lose by this ruling that grants ‘marriage equality’ to people who the country, maybe even the world, has never before dared to grant? If I, a man, am married to a woman and have a family, and the next door neighbor is two women married to each other, raising a family of children that might be mothered by either or both of them, results from failed man-woman marriages, or maybe even from artificial insemination with ‘off the shelf’ semen, how do I deal with that? What do I tell my children?

‘Don’t go there. Don’t play with those kids. Their mothers are lesbians.’ Right, that’s what I might tell them, opening up a Pandora’s box of questioning in their young minds, some of which they might be afraid to ask me. Worse yet, they might decide on their own, that what is going on next door, is quite alright with them. Or they might read the Bible and arrive at different conclusions. Or I might not tell them anything, except when they ask, ‘Dad, umm, Jamie next door has two moms!’ It would be then I might have to tell them what I, their dad, think of it all, and guide them gently to see things my way. Ain’t that what parents are for?

Before I finish this dialog with myself, I want to return to what I read in today’s news, about civil disobedience as the only choice for the true Christian in the face of this new legal reality.

Regardless of what I think about marriage, who is eligible, even what marriage is, I need to remind myself of one thing. In the past, protest movements were initiated to equalize social and legal rights, without taking away any real rights from anyone. That’s what the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s was about.

This single ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS for short—are they slyly alluding to the philosopher Duns Scotus of the middle ages? and if so, why?), this single ruling extends the right to marry, that is, have a legally recognized partnership contract (whatever they call it is immaterial) between two consenting adults, irrespective of their gender, without taking away any of my real rights.

If no one is taking away any of my rights, no one is taking away any of yours. Except, of course, if the right to discriminate against anyone is a real right. The Gospel, I don’t think, sanctions discrimination in this case or any other. As for St Paul, well, he does write ‘have nothing to do with a brother Christian who does so-and-so,’ but he also writes, ‘I can judge people who are inside [the Church], as for those outside, God is their judge.’

Once again, I think all this that some are so furious over or at least anxious about is really just another challenge for us to ‘let God be God.’ If there is someone I do not personally like for whatever reason, I must be satisfied to at least know that I’m not them. If I don’t understand them or what they do, that’s precisely why. I can only understand someone if I love them. And if I don’t want to understand—it’s my choice—what then?

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The pursuit of Orthodoxy


Οι τα Χερουβειμ μυστικως εικονίζοντες,
και τη ζωοποιω Τριάδι τον Τρισάγιον υμνον προσάδοντες,
πασαν την βιοτικην αποθώμεθα μέριμναν.
Ως τον Βασιλέα των ολων υποδεξόμενοι,
ταις αγγελικαις αοράτως δορυφορούμενον τάξεσιν.

We who mystically represent the Cherubim,
and who sing to the life-creating Trinity the thrice-holy hymn,
let us now lay aside all earthly cares
that we may receive the King of all,
escorted invisibly by the angelic host.

— χερουβικὸς ὕμνος, Cherubic Hymn of the Divine Liturgy

The pursuit of Orthodoxy. Yes, you heard me right, the pursuit of Orthodoxy. This seems to be what motivates most people who are airing the ancient faith and its church on the local and global internet. This is why, if one is an Orthodox Christian and uses networking platforms like FaceBook and Google+ to stay in touch with other Orthodox believers, one’s smart phone, tablet, or computer monitor screen rapidly fills up with religions icons and images of haggard old men in hoods and capes (reverently known as ‘elders’), as well as links to news items detailing how the faith is being promoted, or attacked.

Perhaps I am not typical, but to me it seems that before one can be Orthodox one must be a Christian. Of course, probably no one will disagree with me, but in practice this seems to mean concentrating on what the saints and elders tell us, and rehearsing these tidbits of spiritual advice in relays, daily. Very little time, effort or print is given to anything scriptural, except a barebones bible verse here and there and, as for Jesus, it’s certainly held to be sufficient if an icon of Him is posted along with the selected texts from one’s favorite ‘father.’ I know I am generalizing, but this is how it looks to me.

That is why, at the risk of being labeled a protestant, I either quote the holy scriptures directly and nakedly when their meaning is commonsensically obvious, or reveal my personal and interior meditations on them in my writings. Believe it or not, I am writing nearly always for no one to read but myself. The kind of mind I have needs to see its thoughts expressed in writing in order to verify or challenge them. I don’t like to slip into picture-thinking, which is what happens when we let our emotions or other irrational impulses form and direct our thoughts. First and foremost, I am a word man.

Fortunately, I am able to read and at least partly understand the Bible in the original languages, not as a seminary-trained scholar, but simply as a man who is in love with meaning, and cannot let it arrive in my mind through unrecognized filters. Outside the words of the holy and divine scriptures themselves, which I assert teach the devout reader ‘on their own,’ the other key to understanding when I read them in Hebrew and Greek is the presence in my active memory of the liturgical texts of Orthodox worship, both those of ordinary Sunday liturgies, and the special services of the Triodion and Holy Week.

Though I am technically a convert, having arrived at Holy Orthodoxy by accident at the age of thirty-seven (I am now sixty-four), from the beginning I was not drawn to it by any of its external manifestations—not by the ikons (though they intrigued me as non-verbal signposts), not by the mellifluous Byzantine chanting or the highly-charged ceremonies, not by the more reliable historicity or traceable and logical doctrine, not even by the more authentic ministration of the Holy Mysteries. What drew me to Holy Orthodoxy was the simple, unaffected faith of its cradle believers, and their pursuit of Jesus.

That is what drew me, that is what was impressed on me. Old men and old women, living in a new land alien to the lands of their birth—Greece, Anatolia, Macedonia, Africa, the Near East, the great Slavic northlands—I sought them out, stood or sat among them, and listened to their stories. Always Jesus, often in the company of the Theotokos, or one or more saints, but still, always Jesus. Their life stories spoke to me of a walk with Him closer and more genuine than what one usually hears from people who brag about their ‘walk with the Lord.’ The other thing I was impressed with was their knowledge of scripture.

They didn’t go to school, they hardly read any books though they could read, but they did read the Bible and ‘say their prayers,’ in a way that was so integral to the rest of their lives, that I could see how Jesus flowed into them, and they into Jesus. It was just like their prayer. Breathe in, ‘Lord Jesus Christ son of God,’ breathe out, ‘have mercy, upon me the sinner.’ Their lives in Christ reminded me of a song I used to sing, and sometimes still do, not a church hymn or even a religious song, yet true, ‘How can I say where I end, or where you begin, how can I say, what shall I play, shall it be you, or the wild wind?’

Their quiet, immutable faith expressed in their active, unpretentious lives sealed my conversion to Christ as one of their number, however unworthy, and I had no other ambition than to follow the same Lord that they did. Knowing the Lord intimately, and watching His every move, they mirrored those movements as easily and effortlessly as they danced to the Greek melodies at a wedding or panegyri. Clumsily I tried to follow, and the Word of God always came to my aid, teaching me from my first day as an Orthodox Christian to this. The intimacy and immediacy of this experience outshines all others.

So on this very hot night, windless, watching the ninth hour sky redden against retreating clouds that brought no rain, I think on Jesus, the Author and Finisher, not only of my faith, but of everyone’s. He, no other, is the bishop of our souls, and His Father our only, though we reverence those He has placed over us as His servants, calling one ‘your eminence,’ another ‘master’ or ‘father.’ He knows that we know, because He tells us, who is our Father, our Teacher, our God. That not the renown of saint or spiritual father makes their words of any effect, but only our faith and trust in Him, the only lover of mankind.

This is the Church and the Faith of the fathers: Not their words and acts, but the words and acts of Jesus revealed in them, as they pursued nothing and no one but Christ, running after Him without deliberation or delay, wanting us to join them, not busying ourselves with things of earth however spiritual they appear, but in peace and repentance. ‘They have kept themselves as pure as virgins, following the Lamb wherever He goes. They have been purchased from among the people on the earth as a special offering to God and to the Lamb’ (Revelation 14:4). Thus, the pursuit of Orthodoxy is the pursuit of Jesus.

The Apostolic Rule: Living in Love

The teaching of holy apostle James, the Lord's brother…

You will always have your trials but, when they come, try to treat them as a happy privilege.
James 1:2

Your faith is put to the test to make you patient, but patience too is to have its practical results, so that you will become fully developed, complete, with nothing missing.
James 1:3-4

If there is anyone of you who needs wisdom, he must ask God, who gives to all freely and ungrudgingly; it will be given him. But he must ask with faith, with no trace of doubt.
James 1:5-6a

Never, when you have been tempted, say, ‘God sent the temptation.’ God cannot be tempted to do anything wrong, and He does not tempt anybody. Everyone who is tempted is attracted and seduced by his own wrong desire.
James 1:13-14

Be quick to listen but slow to speak and slow to rouse your temper. God’s righteousness is never served by man’s anger.
James 1:19-20

Do away with all the impurities and bad habits that are still left in you. Accept and submit to the Word which has been planted in you and can save your souls. You must do what the Word tells you and not just listen to it and deceive yourselves.
James 1:21-22

The man who looks steadily at the perfect law of freedom and makes that his habit, not listening and then forgetting, but actively putting it into practice, will be happy in all that he does.
James 1:25

Nobody must imagine that he is religious while he still goes on deceiving himself and not keeping control over his tongue.
James 1:26a

Pure, unspoiled religion in the eyes of God our Father is this: coming to the help of orphans and widows when they need it, and keeping oneself uncontaminated by the world.
James 1:27

Do not try to combine faith in Jesus Christ with the making of distinctions between classes of people.
James 2:1

Keep the supreme law of scripture: you must love your neighbor as yourself. But as soon as you make distinctions between classes of people you are committing sin and under condemnation.
James 2:8b-9a

Talk and behave like people who are going to be judged by the law of freedom, because there will be a judgment without mercy for those who have not been merciful themselves; but the merciful need have no fear of judgment.
James 2:12-13

If one of the brothers or one of the sisters is in need of clothes and has not enough food to live on and one of you says to them, ‘I wish you well! Keep yourself warm, and eat plenty!’ without giving them these bare necessities of life, what good is that? Faith is like that: if good works do not go with it, it is quite dead.
James 2:15-17

Faith without good deeds is useless.
James 2:20b

It is by doing something good, and not only by believing, that a man is justified.
James 2:24

If there are any wise or learned among you, let them show it by their good lives, with humility and wisdom in their actions.
James 3:13

The wisdom that comes down from above is essentially something pure. It makes for peace and is kindly and considerate. It is full of compassion and shows itself by doing good, nor is there any trace of partiality or hypocrisy in it. Peacemakers, when they work for peace, sow the seeds which will bear fruit in holiness.
James 3:17-18

Anyone who chooses the world for his friend turns himself into God’s enemy.
James 4:4b

Give in to God, then; resist the devil, and he will run away from you. The nearer you go to God, the nearer He will come to you. Clean your hands, you sinners, and clear your minds, you waverers. Look at your wretched condition and weep for it in misery. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up.
James 4:7-9a, 10

Do not slander one another.
James 4:11a

Everyone who knows what is the right thing to do and doesn’t do it commits a sin.
James 4:17

Do not make complaints against one another, so as not to be brought to judgment yourselves.
James 5:9

For your example in submitting with patience, take the prophets who spoke in the Name of the Lord; remember, it is those who had endurance that we say are the blessed ones.
James 5:10-11

Do not swear by heaven or by earth or use any oaths at all. If you mean ‘yes,’ you must say ‘yes;’ if you mean ‘no,’ say ‘no.’ Otherwise you make yourselves liable to judgment.
James 5:12

If anyone of you is in trouble, he should pray. If anyone is feeling happy, he should sing a psalm.
James 5:13

Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, and this will cure you.
James 5:16

The teaching of holy apostle Peter…

Free your minds of encumbrances. Control them, and put your trust in nothing but the grace that will be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.
1 Peter 1:13

Do not behave in the way that you liked to before you learned the truth. Make a habit of obedience. Be holy in all you do, since it is the Holy One who has called you, and scripture says, ‘Be holy, for I am holy.’
1 Peter 1:14-16

Let your love for each other be real and from the heart.
1 Peter 1:22b

Be sure you are never spiteful, or deceitful, or hypocritical, or envious and critical of each other. You are newborn and, like babies, you should be hungry for nothing but milk, the spiritual honesty which will help you to grow up to salvation.
1 Peter 2:1-2

He is the living stone, rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to Him. Set yourselves close to Him so that you too, the holy priesthood that offers the spiritual sacrifices which Jesus Christ has made acceptable to God, may be living stones making a spiritual house.
1 Peter 2:4-5

You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a consecrated nation, a people set apart to sing the praises of God who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light,
1 Peter 2:9

While you are visitors and pilgrims, keep yourselves from the selfish passions that attack the soul. Always behave honorably among pagans so that they can see your good works for themselves.
1 Peter 2:11-12a

For the sake of the Lord, accept the authority of every social institution.
1 Peter 2:13a

You are slaves of no one except God, so behave like free men, and never use your freedom as an excuse for wickedness.
1 Peter 2:16

Wives should be obedient to their husbands. If there are some husbands who have not yet obeyed the Word, they may find themselves won over without a word spoken, by the way their wives behave, when they see how faithful and conscientious they are.
1 Peter 3:1-2

Husbands must always treat their wives with consideration in their life together, respecting a woman as one who is equally an heir to the life of grace.
1 Peter 3:7

Agree among yourselves and be sympathetic. Love the brothers. Have compassion and be self-effacing. Never pay back one wrong with another; instead, pay back with a blessing. That is what you are called to do.
1 Peter 3:8-9

No one can hurt you if you are determined to do only what is right. If you do have to suffer for being good, you will count it a blessing.
1 Peter 3:13-14a

Never let your love for each other grow insincere, since love covers over many a sin.
1 Peter 4:8

Welcome each other into your houses without grumbling.
1 Peter 4:9

Put yourselves at the service of others. If you are a speaker, speak in words which seem to come from God. If you are a helper, help as though every action was done at God’s orders.
1 Peter 4:10b-11a

Be the shepherds of the flock of God that is entrusted to you. Watch over it not simply as a duty, but gladly, because God wants it, not for sordid money, but because you are eager to do it. Never be a dictator over any group that is put in your charge, but be an example that the whole flock can follow.
1 Peter 5:2-3

Do what the elders tell you, and all wrap yourselves in humility to be servants of each other.
1 Peter 5:5

Bow down before the power of God now, and He will raise you up on the appointed day. Unload all your worries onto Him, since He is looking after you. Be calm but vigilant, because your enemy the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to eat. Stand up to him, strong in faith and in the knowledge that your brothers all over the world are suffering the same things.
1 Peter 5:6-9

By His divine power He has given us all the things that we need for life and for true devotion, bringing us to know God Himself, who has called us by His own glory and goodness. In making these gifts, He has given us the guarantee of something very great and wonderful to come: through them you will be able to share the Divine Nature and to escape corruption in a world that is sunk in vice. But to attain this you will have to do the utmost yourselves, adding goodness to the faith that you have, understanding to your goodness, self-control to your understanding, patience to your self-control, true devotion to your patience, kindness toward your fellow men to your devotion, and to this kindness, love. If you have a generous supply of these, they will not leave you ineffectual or unproductive: they will bring you to a real knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But without them a man is blind or else short-sighted; he has forgotten how his past sins were washed away.
2 Peter 1:3-9

Brothers, you have been called and chosen: work all the harder to justify it.
2 Peter 1:10

It was not any cleverly invented myths that we were repeating when we brought you the knowledge of the power and the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ; we had seen His majesty for ourselves.
2 Peter 1:16

Depend on prophecy and take it as a lamp for lighting a way through the dark until the dawn comes and the morning star rises in your minds. Be most careful to remember that the interpretation of scriptural prophecy is never a matter for the individual. No prophecy ever came from man’s initiative. When men spoke for God it was the Holy Spirit that moved them.
2 Peter 1:19b-21

As there were false prophets in the past history of our people, so you too will have your false teachers who will insinuate their own disruptive views and disown the Master who purchased their freedom. They will destroy themselves very quickly, but there will be many who copy their shameful behavior.
2 Peter 2:1-2a

Be careful not to get carried away by the errors of unprincipled people from the firm ground that you are standing on. Instead, go on growing in the grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
2 Peter 3:17b-18a

The teaching of holy apostle John…

If we say that we are in union with God while we are living in darkness, we are lying, because we are not living the truth. But if we live our lives in the light as He is in the light, we are in union with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son purifies us from all sin.
1 John 1:6

If we say we have no sin in us we are deceiving ourselves and refusing to admit the truth. But if we acknowledge our sins, then God who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and purify us from everything that is wrong.
1 John 1:8-9

If anyone should sin we have our advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ who is just. He is the sacrifice that takes our sins away, and not only ours, but the whole world’s.
1 John 2:1b-2

We can be sure that we know God only by keeping His commandments.
1 John 2:3

We can be sure that we are in God only when the one who claims to be living in Him is living the same kind of life as Christ lived.
1 John 2:5b-6

You must not love this passing world or anything that is in the world.
1 John 2:15

You have all been anointed by the Holy One and have all received the knowledge.
1 John 2:20

Keep alive in yourselves what you were taught in the beginning.
1 John 2:24a

You have not lost the anointing that He gave you, and you do not need anyone to teach you: The anointing He gave teaches you everything. You are anointed with the truth, not with a lie. As it has taught you, so must you stay in Him.
1 John 2:27

We are already the children of God, but what we are to be in the future has not yet been revealed. All we know is that when it is revealed, we shall be like Him, since we shall see Him as He really is.
1 John 3:2

Do not let anyone lead you astray: to live a holy life is to be holy just as He is holy.
1 John 3:7

If you refuse to love, you must remain dead; to hate your brother is to be a murderer.
1 John 3:15

Our love is not to be just words or mere talk but something real and active. Only by this can we be certain that we are children of the truth.
1 John 3:18-19a

Whatever we ask Him, we shall receive, because we keep His commandments and live the kind of life that He wants.
1 John 3:22

It is not every spirit that you can trust. Test them to see if they come from God. There are many false prophets now in the world.
1 John 4:1

Let us love one another since love comes from God, and everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God.
1 John 4:7

Anyone who loves God must also love his neighbor.
1 John 4:21b

Loving God is keeping His commandments, and His commandments are not difficult.
1 John 5:3b-4a

If anybody sees his brother commit a sin that is not a deadly sin, he has only to pray, and God will give life to the sinner.
1 John 5:16a

Be on your guard against false gods.
1 John 5:21

If anybody does not keep within the teaching of Christ but goes beyond it, he cannot have God with him: only those who keep to what He taught can have the Father and the Son with them.
2 John 1:9

If anyone comes to you bringing a different doctrine, you must not receive him in your house or even give him a greeting. To greet him would make you a partner in his wicked work.
2 John 1:10

The teaching of the holy apostle Jude…

Fight hard for the faith which has been once and for all entrusted to the saints.
Jude 1:3b

Use your most holy faith as your foundation and build on that, praying in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves within the love of God and wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to give you eternal life.
Jude 1:20-21

When there are some who have doubts, reassure them. When there are some to be pulled from the fire, pull them out. But there are others to whom you must be kind with great caution, keeping your distance even from outside clothing which is contaminated by vice.
Jude 1:22-23

All texts are taken from the Jerusalem Bible (1966).
Click on the link below to download the book from which this post and the others in this series were taken.

The Apostolic Rule — Passages pulled from all the epistles of the New Testament and organized by book, that reveal how simple and direct are the instructions that the apostles have left us about how to live the Christian life.