Thursday, May 21, 2015

One love

Another Ascension Day has come and gone, again, and I, having exhausted myself of repeating any pithy and profound thoughts I have heard tell or meditated upon, confine myself to this one simple thought that, once it occurred to me, has colored my feelings about this Day ever since.

He said to them: ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.’
Acts 1:7-11

It’s the last line that grabs me. When Jesus returns, He will come back the same way He left, but what if, when He returns, He will return to find His people the same way they were when He ascended? This seems to be the flip-side of the angels’ words, and what is behind their, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky?’ The force of this idea, that the believers, that is, the Church, will again be united as those disciples were when they witnessed Christ’s ascension, is what moves me. The ending shall be as the beginning, on earth as it is in heaven.

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. [*]

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Designed

One of the ‘infinites’ that characterizes God is that He is infinitely economical. Not only does He waste absolutely nothing, but He makes absolutely the best use of everything that He has made, and this even includes time. When He does something, He does it in absolutely the shortest possible length of time.

From the mayfly whose life span is designed to last less than five minutes, to the red dwarf star whose development cycle can take ten trillion years, everything that God makes He makes in as little time as it can possibly take, and this He does by taking every possible shortcut. Evolution is what this looks like.

If this statement doesn’t seem quite correct, if it can be objected to by ‘stating the facts,’ it’s not God’s fault. We too are one of His creations, hand-crafted with magnificent economy. What the universe or any creature looks like to anyone within it, depends greatly on what they are designed to see.

The thirty thousand eyes of the dragonfly, each one containing a lens and a series of light sensitive cells, give it three hundred sixty degree vision and the ability to detect colors and polarized light. The two eyes of the human being—well, what can I say?—perhaps God compensates us by giving us a larger brain.

Using that brain—and the eyes are just the parts of it that stick out where we can see them—we can see exactly and only what we were designed to see—and that’s a lot more than a dragonfly sees. It’s designed to see, but only so it can find food to voraciously feed on for a few weeks, lay its eggs, and die.

We are designed to see, not only to eat, reproduce, and die, but to find meaning in a universe that, it sometimes seems, could continue on its own very well without us. We’re so small, so weak, so short-lived, so insignificant, really, so why should we expect to see and understand what’s really going on here?

God has told us in a language that our puny brains can understand, how He created the universe, and us. On our own we have gradually evolved the sciences, which tell us that all we can ever know is nearly nothing. That’s great, even though He gave us the Bible, which tells us almost the same thing.

It’s not so much that all we can ever know is nearly nothing, but that we are not designed to pursue that kind of knowledge as our ultimate aim. God never creates anything so that it can fail. He never makes ‘mistakes.’ Everything He does is designed to do what it actually does. Even free will, when it is truly free.

The Bible tells us that we are designed in the image of God. Doesn’t it make sense, then, that we should also feel good about ourselves when we are being economical, when we don’t waste, when we find short cuts, when we discover what it is that we were designed to do, and to be, by nature, and by nurture?

Back to the time line, and to the ‘waste not, want not’ of the Divine Nature, back to the evolution which is what ‘God creating’ looks like, back to what it is we are designed to see. That which we are designed to see is simply not everything. Things look as they do, because we’re not made to see the whole picture.

At least, not yet. The world and all that is in it, visible and invisible, was made in six days, and then ‘God rested,’ and here we are on the cosmic weekend with nothing to do—hardly! God rests not because He is tired, but because He’s making room for us. For us to do what? To be what He designed us to be.

You see, though God rests, He’s not sleeping, nor is He absent. Even His own work flow He designs in the most economical manner. We couldn’t tell, on our own, whether or not we were a finished design, so He helped us by designing Himself as One of us.

It turns out that there is a new creation, and that’s what we were designed for. That’s why at this stage in our design, we’re still on a bridge. There’s nothing wrong with that, only that we weren’t designed to stay there. We are designed to move. We are designed to change. We are designed to be designers.

The path of our evolution seems to be the longest, most wasteful, most winding path we ever could have dreamed of. We think, this is no evidence of design, just blind chance stretched out over uncountable eons of time and space, and all heading—nowhere. Finally, it will all just fizzle out.

But what we see is the shortest possible path between our creation and our—what can I call it? It’s almost unnameable—inauguration, our ‘coming into our own,’ our attaining to our maturity, our realization of what we were made for. It seems a long path, but truly, God has taken a short cut.

Now, if we are true to our nature, if we want to be happy because we’re doing what we are designed to do, then it’s time to pull ourselves together. It’s time for us to do what Christ told the paralyzed man to do, ‘Take up your mat, and walk,’ even if it’s the Sabbath. For He has designed, ‘the son of man is Master, even of the Sabbath.’

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

With liberty and justice for all

I am a Christian. I try to follow the Bible, especially Christ’s teachings, as though He expected me to. I am a citizen. I try to follow the Constitution, in spite of the many abuses that have intruded on it, as though the founding fathers expected me to.

As a Christian, I also confess adherence to the Orthodox faith, which is something I did not make up, so that others will know what to expect of me. As a citizen, I also admit to being a Republican, which is something I did not make up, so that my fellow citizens can know what I stand for.

As for my Orthodoxy, that is not too ambiguous. Anyone who wants to know in specific what I believe, they can ask me, or go to an encyclopedia and look it up. I do not deviate any more from what the books say than anyone else; Orthodoxy is a flexible faith, allowing for diversity—within limits.

As for my Republicanism, ah, well, that is not quite so easy. My precinct card says I am a Republican, and I can vote in the primaries of the ‘grand, old party,’ but no one, it seems, knows anymore what Republican means. Opponents have colored it one way, adherents in confusion color it another.

Just as I can tell you, simply and briefly, that being Orthodox means, following Jesus in the company and by the example of the saints who have gone before, period, so also I can tell you, that being Republican means, following the enlightenment tradition of ‘live and let live’ and keeping honest accounts, bingo!

I am also a Greek, not by physical descent—I am one hundred per cent Polish-American—but by ‘thinking like a Greek.’ No, that doesn’t mean I have gyros, ouzo, and partying on my mind—though I do cry easily—but that I believe in the basic goodness of humanity, in reason, and in the ‘polis.’

The polis—that is the ancient Greek democracy of the city-state—may be an ideal that can never be perfectly attained—that’s asking for paradise on earth, but nevertheless even without knowing it, anyone who has a political thought in their brain is trying to reach that ideal, each in their own way.

The French, always in our faces with their superior accomplishments, believe in ‘liberté, égalité, fraternité,’ and that is something, I believe, most people would agree with—less the French way of achieving it, by chopping off the heads of kings and queens and other suspicious folks, even milkmaids!

The great experiment launched by the American Revolution in whose shadow we are living now, which produced a sublime document set—the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights—released into the world, like Pandora’s Box, a plethora of polis-seeding and polis-slaying ideas.

But the polis, and democracy, that kingless city where everyone is truly wise and self-ruled, productive and generous, defenseless because there is no enemy, which is what all true revolutionaries—people whose motivation is first and foremost, love—have lived and died for, is still the goal, is still attainable.

Not by what we see today as politics, which is an abuse of the word. Politics should be all that pertains to the founding, maintenance, and defense of the polis. Instead, it now means, in actual practice, all that pertains to the personal glory and power of closet-monarchs, little emperors, some not so little.

We hear of countries that are under military dictatorships, and we pride ourselves that our country isn’t. We hear of coups-d’état and shudder, ‘Thank God, we have regular elections.’ Our dictatorships have been so subtly woven into the fabric of ‘constitutionality’ that we don’t see them. Our coups, the same.

What we have is actually worse than a military dictatorship. We have a dictatorship of politicians, of people who have almost no other agenda than to outdo each other in bold trampling of reason and human rights, who refashion language itself by their unanimous co-conspiracy to divy and conquer.

Carefully avoiding the externals of profoundly prophetic literary dystopias like 1984, Brave New World, and Animal Farm, the politicians have cleverly rerouted our democracy to a path of gradual devolution—feudalism trending toward slavery—by adjusting language, making it impossible to think, or speak, freely.

We all know the name for this co-conspiracy. It is called ‘political correctness.’ Everything about it was foreseen by the author of the novel 1984. In that society, language was gradually diminished, words jettisoned completely, or their meanings changed, ‘Newspeak’ replaced ‘oldspeak’ making thought impossible.

In America we are gearing up for our next ‘revolution,’ for that is what a general election is, especially one in which a new President will be chosen. Like what happens before a great battle, the opponents are drawing to their sides their supporters, whose battle this isn’t, though they’re the willing tools.

Republicans and Democrats, the two major parties, know in advance that the crown will go to one of them—which one of them, it almost doesn’t matter, not to them, not to the man in the street. They’ve neutralized any real opposition by making it impossible for an ordinary citizen to attain the office.

This is the end of the polis, of democracy, and it didn’t just happen this time round, nor two or three decades ago. When the ordinary citizen, whose philanthropy motivates him to come forward and volunteer to be a civil servant—one who serves the polis, the people—no more happens, it’s all over.

And it has been all over—I challenge anyone to deny it, though the proof one way or the other is not by argument—for a very long time. Political science, even taught as it was at university when I was there forty years ago, insisted that the polis was impossible when a state has grown as large as the United States.

I said to myself then, as I do now, ‘Really? The polis, real democracy, is finished? I don’t think so.’ Like the money-changers that Christ drove out of the Temple, the politicians who have changed our liberties into political correctness, taking the business of self-government out of our hands, must be driven out.

But you cannot fight fire with fire. A politician isn’t going to make one iota of difference, no matter how he cajoles the people, his promises will be nothing more than pious rhetoric. Only non-politicians—not lawyers, unless they forget they’re lawyers, but physicians, educators, machinists, farmers, pastors, fathers and, yes, mothers who, after fulfilling their calling in society and their responsibility to family, are qualified to serve the people, the polis, and revive the democracy, the Republic, ‘one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.’

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Christ is looking for us

Christ is looking for us. Are we going to hide from him, or let ourselves be found by Him before death hides us from Him, from the world and from life?
— Nikolaj Velimirović, Bishop of Ohrid and Žiča

A simple statement, just five words, and we are handed the key to life, ‘Christ is looking for us.’ Does anyone ever remember hearing these words before, spoken to them by parents, or teachers, or priests? It’s probably one of a great number of such simple, short, but pithy and powerful truths that have assailed our unhearing ears over the course of our lives. We weren’t listening because we were tired, or bored, or rebellious against what we thought was a power trip to control us. Or, if none of the three authority groups just mentioned, but maybe someone we liked and trusted, a close friend perhaps, said those five words to us, maybe we were just not interested.

Well, a little-known, deceased Serbian bishop wrote these words. Maybe we don’t want to hear him, because he was a Serb. Everyone knows that the Serbs are the world’s scapegoat—oops! I meant to say, you can’t trust them. Remember Milošević. As for me, though, I know the truth when I hear it, and I want to believe it, if I let myself.

Yes, Christ is looking for us. Doesn’t that thought make you wonder what churches have been doing all these years? They say they’re all about Him, about Jesus, getting to know Him, but sometimes it seems the preamble to the actual ‘getting to know Him’ takes years and years, and after we’ve been indoctrinated and sacramentally doused, oiled, and spoon-fed, we’re no closer to understanding this great truth than we were before. In fact, sometimes the superfluous foliage of ‘church life’ hides it, hides Him, from us so well, that we wonder what it was that brought us there—to church—in the first place.

Then, suddenly, out of nowhere, a voice speaks, ‘Christ is looking for us.’ And if we believe what we have just heard, we realize that everything depends on one thing—that He find us—and that all we can do, and do it with all our might, is remove anything and everything that keeps Him from His goal. Now, it seems, we look at ‘church’ in a new way.

Does what it does with us, for us, and to us, help Jesus find us? Whatever does, we must decide here and now, to keep it. Does anything that it does keep Him from finding us? If there is anything that does keep Him from finding us, in no matter how small a way, it must go, we must go—sometimes—if what is keeping Jesus from finding us is what we call ‘church.’

Because sometimes—and we are afraid to consider this possibility—the very authorities that we expect to trust are the ones that keep Jesus from finding us. Yes, the major obstacle to Him finding us is—you guessed it—ourselves! The bishop asks, ‘Are we going to hide from him?’ and so, if we are honest, we have to admit that we have been hiding from Jesus for as long as we knew He was there.
Of course, at first we hid ourselves, like Adam and Eve, because we just ‘knew’ we were naked. We knew that human nature, at least our own, cannot stand before the Divine Presence and not be annihilated. Annihilated? Yes, revert back to the ‘nothing’ out of which He made us, because we can’t thank Him enough for making us, blaming Him instead. ‘You made me this way! I hate You!’ is what we are saying by our hiding, no matter what our lips say or our minds think. What a mess we’re in!

All the religions of the world, including the Christian ones, make out God to be the bogey, the scary one, the haunter, the one who will find out everything about us and use it to condemn us. That’s why we have to sacrifice. We have to bribe and cajole the Divine Nature, just so He doesn’t torment us in this life, and torture us forever in the next. With a God like that, who wouldn’t want death to be the end? Just black, unseeing, unfeeling, unthinking nothingness. Pure idiocy without knowing it. Yes, a better definition of She’ol can’t be found. Just clear gone.

Jesus of Nazareth, a historical figure we have heard about, comes and teaches, performs a few miracles, gets in trouble with the authorities, and is condemned to a shameful and painful death even without a hung jury. His followers later claim he rose from the dead, hung about for a few weeks, then disappeared up there somewhere. Afterwards, the followers get a weird tingling sensation and start spreading incredible stories about the man. Finally, one of the cult’s worst enemies and persecutors has a religious experience and takes over the cult, giving a better interpretation of its leader than he gave himself. Ding-dong! Twenty centuries later, it’s still time for church. And you were made to go, come hell or high water, until you were able to slug abed on Sunday morning and have the guts to tell your dad or mom, ‘I’m not going!’

Yes, Christ is looking for us. He really is. At its best, the Church tries to help Him. At its worst, it would even turn Him away at the Communion Cup, if He showed up, with the announcement that the Holy Mysteries ‘are only for the Orthodox, those who have been baptized and chrismated, and prepared themselves by confession and fasting.’ Then, what do we make of His, ‘whatever you do to the least of My brothers, that you do unto me’? No, of course not, we’d never do that. Anyway, what He said doesn’t apply to such things as who can come to Communion. Only those who have crossed all their T’s and dotted all their I’s can be admitted to the Holy Mysteries. Never mind the good thief. He was an exception.

Someone says, ‘I believe! Help my unbelief!’ and that seems to be the lot of all of us. So much has been told to us, and demanded of us, in Christ’s blessed name, that we had just better go along with it. But wait! A bishop once said, ‘Christ is looking for us.’ What could be easier than me trying to help Him? I don’t want to hide anymore. I don’t want anyone to hide me from Him until, like the bishop says, ‘death hides us from Him, from the world and from life.’ Church is the place where the finding is supposed to happen. It has to be! It’s the great ‘lost and found’ room where much more than a lost hat or scarf is waiting to be found and taken home.

And what, then, when He finds us, when He finds me? Does everything continue as it always has? Well, at least I have no cause to say, ‘I am looking for God’ or ‘I am seeking the Truth’ because the truth is, I never was looking, never seeking. It was He, all the time, through all my disguises, hideouts, and subterfuges, He the persistent and only lover whose love alone makes lovely His beloved. Religions pale in His presence, disciplines for their own sake die at His feet. He comes, impervious to all that would harm us, and takes each one of us by the hand. He leads, we follow, until the wall of separation dissipates, and it is ‘no longer I who live, but Christ,’ who is all in all.

Amazing grace… I once was lost, but now I am found.

Yes, Christ is looking for us.

In the guise of a woman

Can you believe that Christ the Saviour portrayed Himself in the guise of a woman in two of His parables? One is that of the woman who took three measures of flour and made dough. But first let us speak of the other one where the Lord tells us about the woman who had ten drachmas and lost one. These are the most mysterious of all the Saviour's parables. As the parable of the lost drachma is short, we quote it in full.

Or what woman, having ten drachmas, if she lose one, does not light a candle and sweep the house and look diligently till she finds it? And after she has found it, she calls in her friends and neighbors and says, Rejoice with me, for I have found the drachma that I lost.
Luke 15:8-9

At first glance this parable seems so simple, or even naive, that it does not impress the reader of the Gospel. In fact, however, the mystery of the universe is revealed in this simple parable.

If we take it literally, it evokes bewilderment. The woman lost only one drachma. Even ten drachmas do not represent a great sum; in fact, a woman who has only ten drachmas must be very poor indeed. Let us assume, first of all, that the finding of the lost drachma meant a great gain for her. Yet it still presents a paradox, for how is it that if she is such a poor woman she lights lamps, sweeps the house and calls in all her friends and neighbors to share her joy. And all because of one drachma! Such a waste of time—lighting a candle and setting the house in order first of all! Furthermore, if she invites her neighbors she is obliged, according to Eastern custom, to offer them something to eat and drink, no small expense for a poor woman. To fail to do so would be to ignore an unalterable custom.

Another important point to note is that she did not invite only one woman to whom she might have offered sweets, which would not have involved great expense. But she invited many friends and neighbors, and even if she entertained them modestly the expense would far exceed the value of the drachma she had found. Why then should she seek the drachma so diligently and rejoice at finding it, only to lose it again in another way? If we try to understand this parable in its literal sense, it does not fit into the frame of everyday life, but leaves the impression of something exaggerated and incomprehensible. So let us try to discover its mystical or hidden meaning. Who is the woman? And why is it a woman and not a man, when a man is more likely to lose money in the ordinary routine of life? Whose house is it that she sweeps and fills with light? Who are her friends and neighbors? If we look for the spiritual instead of the literal meaning of the parable we shall find the answers to those questions. The Lord said, Seek and ye shall find.

The woman represents Jesus Christ Himself, the Son of God. The ten drachmas are His. It is He Who has lost one of them and sets out to look for it. The drachmas are not coins of gold or silver. According to Orthodox theologians, the number ten represents fullness. The nine unlost drachmas are the nine orders of angels. The number of angels is beyond the grasp of mortals, for it exceeds our power of calculation. The lost drachma represents mankind in its entirety. Therefore Christ the Saviour came down from heaven to earth, to His house, and lit a candle, the light of the knowledge of Himself. He cleaned out the house—that is, He purified the world of diabolic impurity—and found the lost drachma, erring and lost humanity. Then He called his friends and neighbors (after His glorious Resurrection and Ascension), that is to say, all the countless hosts of the cherubim and seraphim, angels and archangels, and revealed to them His great joy. Rejoice with Me. I have found the lost drachma! That means: I have found men to fill the void in the Kingdom of Heaven, caused by the fall of the proud angels who apostasized from God. At the end of time the number of these found and saved souls will have grown to billions, or, in the language of Scripture, will be as countless as the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore.

Our Lord described Himself as a woman because women are more careful than men in looking after property, in keeping the house in order and in receiving guests. If this short parable, which consists of only two sentences, is explained in this way, whose heart will not tremble? for it contains the whole tragedy of the world, visible and invisible. It explains why the Son of God came to earth. It sheds a bright ray of light on the history of mankind and the tragedy of each individual's existence. It confronts us with an urgent decision, because our life is swiftly passing—a decision as to whether we want to be the lost drachma found by Christ or not. Christ is looking for us. Are we going to hide from him, or let ourselves be found by Him before death hides us from Him, from the world and from life?

It is a vital question and it lies within our will to accept or reject Him. After death it will cease to be an open question, and then no one will expect an answer from us.

And again Jesus said, To what shall I compare the Kingdom of God? It is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour till the whole was leavened.
Luke 13:20-21

This is another of Christ's mysterious parables that many find hard to understand. The actual theme taken from everyday life is simple and clear. From the earliest times housewives have been bakers; they take flour, put it in bowls, prepare leaven, knead the dough and bake it. It has been the daily task of the housewife in East and West for thousands of years. But it occurred to no one to take this simple work as a figure or symbol of the Kingdom of God. Only the Lord Jesus Christ, to Whom nothing was too simple or unimportant, took this familiar chore and used it to explain something stupendous and extraordinary. He could picture to Himself His own mother at work.

I will put the following questions to the reader of the Gospel. Why did Christ take woman as His example, instead of man, when men have been bakers throughout the centuries? And why the leaven, when unleavened bread was also commonly used? And why did the woman take three measures, and not one or two or four? Finally, what connection or similarity is there between the reign of God and the kitchen work of a housewife?

If these questions cannot be answered, how can we understand the parable? Yet to answer them without a spiritual key would only lead to further difficulties. All the parables deal with the superficial, but their real meaning lies deep down. They appeal to the eye and seem obvious enough, but they concern the spirit and the spiritual.

This parable has a twofold spiritual interpretation. The first has to do with the three principal races of mankind, the second with the three main faculties or powers of the human soul. In brief, what is outstanding and unusual in this parable is the historical and personal process of man's salvation.

After the Great Flood, there stemmed from the sons of Noah—Shem, Ham and Japheth—three races of mankind, the Semites, Hamites and Japhethites. These are the three measures of flour into which Christ puts His heavenly leaven—the Holy Spirit. That means He came as Messiah and Saviour to all the races and nations of mankind without exception.

Just as with leaven a woman can transform natural flour into bread, so Christ, through the Holy Spirit, transforms natural men into the children of God, into immortal inhabitants of the Heavenly Kingdom. That is why, according to Orthodox teaching, holy men are called earthly angels or heavenly men, because, being ‘leavened’ by the Holy Spirit, they are no longer common flour or unleavened biscuits that lie on the earth, but they are leavened bread that has risen.

According to the Bible, unleavened bread was the bread of slaves while leavened bread was for free men, God's children. So for that reason the Orthodox Church uses leavened bread at Holy Communion. The process of leavening began on that first Trinity Sunday or Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended from heaven onto the apostles. From that day forth this process has continued down to the present day, and it will continue till the end of time when all will be leavened. This, then, is the historical interpretation of the enigmatic parable about the woman baker.

The second interpretation is psychological and personal, and concerns the three main faculties or powers of the human soul: intellect, heart and will, or, in other words, the power to think, the power to feel and the power to act. These are the three unseen measures of the soul of the inner man. These three powers either remain totally unleavened, like the bread of slaves, or they are leavened with the leaven of malice and hypocrisy. Therefore, Christ told His disciples to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees which is hypocrisy, because that is the worldly and human leaven, which weakens all the powers of the soul and leaves it crippled and sick.

But Christ the Saviour brought to earth a new leaven to raise the powers of the soul. Those who receive this new heavenly leaven through Baptism in the name of the Holy Trinity are called the sons and daughters of God, the heirs of the eternal Kingdom. They will not die, for even when they leave the body, they will be alive and will live for ever. This heavenly leaven fills them with the light of reason, the warmth of divine love and the glory of good works. All three powers of the soul grow together in harmony, and ascend to heaven, to perfection. As the Lord said, Be ye perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Woman has been taken as paragon and not man, and Christ has compared Himself to a woman baker, because woman as wife and mother prepares bread for the family in a loving manner, whereas the man baker bakes bread to sell for gain. Everything that Christ has done for mankind was done out of pure love, and therefore He compares Himself to a woman baker. This is the second interpretation, but both interpretations of this parable are correct. The historical and the psychological meaning derived from this simple parable is like a branching oak that grows out of an acorn, for it is truly majestic in its historical breadth and profound in its psychological depth.

Nikolaj Velimirović, Bishop of Ohrid and Žiča

“Remember who your teachers were…”
2 Timothy 3:14

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Who are you, lady?

God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people. Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached? If anyone thinks they are a prophet or otherwise gifted by the Spirit, let them acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command.
1 Corinthians 14:33-37

Taken out of context? Well, yes. The holy apostle Paul is in fact talking about what we would today call ‘charismatic gifts’ in the Church, although for most of us, history has proven that many of the phenomena of the first generation of believers (they had not even been called ‘Christians’ yet) were signs essential to the founding of the Church, but disappeared, not through being suppressed as some moderns believe, but simply because ‘God is not a God of disorder but of peace.’ He founds the Church, then through time He perfects it, abolishing by the Spirit what becomes unnecessary, establishing what is required at every stage of the journey of God’s people. The journey? Yes, we are on our way to glory.

The Church—I am now speaking of those believers who not only accept the claims of Jesus Christ, but who also are faithful to the apostles’ preaching in every age, rejecting the false prophets, those who butcher the Body of Christ, and those modern Nicolaitans who divide and conquer—the Church that has by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit of God selected from the sacred writings those worthy of being the written ikon of the Word of God, the Holy Bible, and who alone by their humility and brotherly love, are to be trusted in applying its divine instructions, does not treat the divine Scriptures as a book of laws to be punctiliously followed, or an arsenal of weapons with which to scourge nations and destroy souls.

Yet we have seen and heard audacious lies proclaimed by corrupt and spiritually unchaste souls in every age, and having quickly forgotten them to whom we have lent no ear, are not troubled by those blasting us even now with their hollow thunder. Nevertheless, they still blast us with their false prophecies, hoping to catch some off guard. Today, banking on her illustrious name, the daughter of the evangelist Billy Graham, has fallen into the trap of duplicity, and whether by her own will, or by the weakness of her faith fallen under the deceptions of others, she publicly pushes another gospel. Is she a prophet? Has she read of any prophetesses in the holy and divine scriptures who do what she is now doing?

Has she read Christ’s letters to the seven churches of Asia? No, she is nothing so great as the seductress called Jezebel who deceived some of the believers in Thyatira. Compared to that woman she is a nobody. Next year she will already be forgotten, and not because all the Christians will be ‘raptured’ and disappear from the earth. Thyatira’s crone is immortalized in Christ’s letter to that church, a warning to His disciples till the end of time, to avoid ‘the woman of sin’ who tempts to spiritual adultery. Yet even she will disappear into the lake of fire and be remembered no more, once God’s purposes are achieved. No, not Anne Graham Lotz. I am speaking of Jezebel. As for Mrs Lotz, I ask, ‘Who are you, lady?’

Never mind who she is. This is her message.

‘…judgment is coming on America and on our world, and it's going to be ugly. I believe Jesus is soon to return to take all of His followers to Heaven with Him in what is referred to as the Rapture… While this will be deliverance for His people, can you imagine the impact on our nation, let alone the world, when suddenly every single authentic Christian disappears? Institutions will collapse. Banks will close. The Stock Market will plunge. Planes will fall out of the sky. Cars will crash on the road. Government in America at every level will disintegrate. Families will be torn apart. In the unprecedented turmoil, our nation will be vulnerable for our enemies to seize the moment and attack us. There will be mass chaos, confusion, fear, grief, despair, anger, threats, danger … judgment.’

All of this we have heard before. It is a modern fantasy as it is taught today, though it has been circulating in the undisciplined no-man’s-land at the outer edges of the Church since the sixteenth Christian century. The appeal to scripture—1 Thessalonians 4:17—that proponents of this idea make is worthless, because the Church knows no apostolic preaching of it. From the beginning up till today, the Church has made no mention of it in any of its testimonies, not in liturgy, not in iconography. This teaching is known only among those believers who reject the Church founded by Christ and His holy apostles, and instead follow their own version of the Good News, something which Paul prophesied.

But even if we, or an angel from heaven, were to preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be anathema.
Galatians 1:8

Returning to the passage from Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth, regarding women, though the Church has this in writing from the holy apostles, and though it is practiced in some places down to this very day, even among pious Christ-loving believers outside the Holy Church, it is not eternal law or commandment. The Church has relaxed this prohibition, knowing the will of God and His righteous decrees not only by words humanly written, but by the Holy Spirit, who leads and matures us age by age, who is with us on our journey, and who reminds us that, ‘the son of man is Lord even of the Sabbath’ (Matthew 12:7-8), releasing us forever from all bondage, making us again as Adam and Eve, lords of the earth.

Yet here we have people—whether men or women, it doesn’t matter—speaking as though the word of God originated with them, as the apostle Paul chides, preaching as though they were the only people the word of God has reached. This very passage must burn the conscience of all those who take it upon themselves to be ‘prophets’ or ‘otherwise gifted by the Spirit,’ yet they do not repent, but pride themselves on their boldness to proclaim as truth that which the Church has always rejected. The pollsters claim that ‘more than half of Americans think the Rapture is real,’ again a self-evident fable.

May the daughter of an innocent if misguided father repent, lest she be asked by Someone greater than myself, ‘Who are you, lady?’

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The treasure of abandonment


The treasure is everywhere.
It is offered to us at every moment and wherever we find ourselves.
All creatures, friends or enemies, pour it out abundantly, and it courses through every fiber of our body and soul until it reaches the very core of our being.
If we open our mouths they will be filled.
God’s activity runs through the entire universe.
It wells up around and penetrates every created being.
Wherever they are, it is there also.
It runs ahead of them, it stays with them, and it follows after them.
All they have to do is to allow its waves to sweep them forward, fulfill the simple duties of their religion and status in life, accept cheerfully all the difficulties they meet, and surrender to the will of God in all they have to do…

This is authentic spirituality,
and it is valid for all times and for everyone.
We could not choose to become good in a better, more miraculous, and yet easier way than by the simple use of the means offered us by God; the whole-hearted acceptance of everything that comes to us at every moment of our lives.

Till we have faces

A Christian is a Christian no matter what happens in the Church: Orthodox faith is defined by the ordinary faithful Christian, not by the hierarchy of any Christian community. Fortunate are we when our community is served (not ruled) by faithful hierarchs who sum up the faith of the Body of Christ in their lives and words. Unfortunate are we when those who are placed over us gradually (for they rarely suddenly) apostatize, and we are left feeling sometimes betrayed by what we thought was the Church, but of course, it isn't and it wasn't.

The further a Christian community departs from the holy and divine scripture, the stupider they become, and even the most basic of concepts become untenable to them. Those who pull bible verses out of thin air to support what they want to do are doing precisely nothing. They will do what they will, as all of us do, when we are confident of the rightness of our cause.

But only One is right, and He is planted as the Cornerstone in the foundation of the temple of God, and all the stones in that temple are aligned to that Stone. Those comprise the building; others are scattered about in purposelessness, even if they merely lean against the Cornerstone.

People tend to oversimplify what God has made complex, and make complicated what God has created simple. In the Body of Christ there is every opportunity to show hospitality, brotherly love and welcome to those who come to us, being outside the faith yet not wanting in. And for those who share with us the Cross of Christ, there are other traditions of community that are rooted in that sharing which cannot be distributed to those who will not enter the Gate of Repentance but linger in the world.

It isn't that we won't share with them; it is that they cannot receive what we share inside the Temple of Christ's holy and unified Body. They have no way to hold what we would give them if we could. The externals can be shoveled down people's throats as so much supper, but the Lord's Supper can only be partaken of, only eaten, by those who have mouths to receive it and stomachs to digest it.

The psalmist says, 'You have only to open your mouth for me to fill it,' speaking for the Lord as He invites His disciples to be fed, but those who haven't yet discovered their mouths to open them, how can they be fed?

To find your mouth and to open it is to declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father, and to live in that confession of the Truth. Then we not only have mouths to open and be fed, but faces as well, so that at last 'face can look upon Face' and yet live. And how can we hope to face the Lord of Life and receive Him
till we have faces?

Sunday, May 10, 2015

By faith, not by sight

δια πίστεως γαρ περιπατουμεν, ου δια ειδους·

for we walk by faith, not by sight
2 Corinthians 5:7


The struggle seems to be, between what is,
and what rather should be.

We see ourselves, the world around us—if we are Christians, we see the Church—as we are, as it is, and we are dissatisfied, we are moved to crisis, we feel abandoned, we feel we must do something, and inwardly become crusaders, we must right wrongs.

When it is within ourselves, we do well, knowing ourselves to be under conviction, knowing that the Cross rises in awful majesty before us, inviting us: what will we do? just stand and watch, or lay down our burdens, allow ourselves to be stripped and mocked, our flesh nailed to the wood? find our lives by losing them?

When it is outside our selves, we must take another path.

Are other people, other things, really as we see them? Is the struggle really to be pressed home, between what is and what should be? between the reality and our ideal? And if so, whence this ideal? and what is it? Is the ideal something that really is out there, in past, in future, our only in our minds, in our seats of judgment?

By faith, not by sight—do we ever see other people as they are, or do we only perceive them? We see an image, as flat as the man we see on the television screen, speaking the news. This is what he looks like, sounds like, the surface of the moment to a living being who is years deep and miles wide, whose height is beyond the range of our vision, whose feet have trod what paths we may have never found. Yet we think we see him, we say we know him. He is as hidden from us as if we were blind.

The same is true of things, of events, of historical movements, we do not see them, understand them, either, only what we perceive, only what our minds tell us. The natural man walks by sight, judges by sight, struggles by what he thinks right, and carries on a fight—as if he could—to save the world, even when he says to himself, ‘I only want things to be as they should be; that's all I want.’ But Christ says, ‘If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains’ (John 9:41).

By faith, not by sight: faith is the substance of things unseen, and so the spiritual man does not walk by sight, but by faith. There is no ‘is’ and ‘should be’ in his thoughts, for he knows, by faith, that God is sovereign, that He is working His purpose out, and he trusts, he trusts in Him. This is not the ‘faith’ of mere religious profession that can find fault with and fight ‘the infidel’, that makes him an anointed crusader, a defender of God Most-High. Is a god that must be defended any better than the kitchen gods broken to pieces by Abraham?

Look deep, if you must look at all, or else avert your eyes from anyone, anything, but yourself. We cannot see very far beyond ourselves, so if we must walk—and walk we must—let's walk behind Him who is worthy of our trust, and take the path He treads. Yes, avert your eyes from anyone but yourself, but only to make sure you're still right behind Him. Otherwise, keep your eyes straight ahead, let Him, if anyone or anything, block your view of your destination, because this is where you want to be: ‘If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also’ (John 12:26).

Yes, Lord, by faith, not by sight.

Whom the Master seeks

For to despise the present age,
not to love transitory things,
unreservedly to stretch out the mind in humility
to God and our neighbor,
to preserve patience against offered insults
and, with patience guarded,
to repel the pain of malice from the heart,
to give one's property to the poor,
not to covet that of others,
to esteem the friend in God,
on God's account
to love even those who are hostile,
to mourn at the affliction of a neighbor,
not to exult in the death of one who is an enemy,

This is the new creature
whom the Master of the nations seeks
with watchful eye amid the other disciples, saying,
‘If, then, any be in Christ a new creature, 
the old things are passed away. 
Behold all things are made new.’

Gregory the Great, Bishop of Rome

What can it mean to ‘despise the present age’
if only not to worship it and be hardened by its accomplishments?
What can it mean to ‘not love transitory things’
if only not to rely on any beauty other than the Divine Nature?
What can it mean to ‘unreservedly stretch out the mind in humility’
if only not to crush ourselves with the heavy weight of self-protecting walls built against saying ‘yes’ to God and our neighbor?
What can it mean to ‘preserve patience’
and to ‘repel the pain of malice’
if only not to abandon being hung on the Cross with Christ
who promises paradise even to thieves?
What can it mean to ‘give one’s property to the poor’
and ‘not to covet that of others’
if only not to hoard as our own
that which has been provided in abundance to us and to all?
What can it mean to ‘esteem the friend in God’
if only not to hate one's enemies, not to laugh at the pains of others, and not to rejoice at the death of anyone?

Yes, He knows who are His among those who profess to be His disciples, even those who are His without professing, and that is why He does not give Himself to all men, because He knows them, but secretly bestows Himself on those and only those who earnestly seek Him by obedience to His word.

If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.

John 14:23

Small matters

It doesn’t take much margin of change in nature to produce gigantic changes in eco-systems. I am not just talking about the earth as an environment for life, but the universe as a whole. If, for example, any of the values of the physical constants, that is, natural ‘laws,’ were to change only very slightly, certain cosmic processes would never have happened, star formation, for example, or the evolution of elements larger than mono-proton hydrogen. If a universe could exist at all, a big bang under a different set of constants might have produced nothing more than a vast, dark cloud of hydrogen gas. Anyway, my point is that it doesn’t take much change in a principle or function to effect much larger changes in ‘the big picture.’

My thinking about this didn’t come from contemplating the natural universe, but rather, the human one, and not in its totality, but in terms of its local manifestations. Why, for example, does it just ‘feel different’ when you move from one American state to another? Living in Oregon’s big city of Portland, which is not centrally located within the state but on its northern border, just across the Columbia River from the state of Washington, and working for the last twenty years in Washington, I experienced this every day. Though I crossed the border twice each day, living in one state, and working in another, the experience of difference never faded through familiarity. Vancouver, Washington (and the rest of the state) feels just as different from Portland, Oregon (and the rest of the state) as it ever did.

The United States are one country from a purely political perspective but, in case you don’t live here or haven’t visited its various regions, they really are a collection of countries of various sizes, all speaking dialects of a single language, English, but otherwise each very unique. This uniqueness comes from local history, geography, and climate, the various ethnic and religious mixes, the average educational level, the proportion of urban and rural, industrial, service, and agricultural work, and so on. The national motto, E pluribus unum, is well-chosen, almost prophetically, because this country is even more diverse today than it’s ever been. Sometimes it seems so diverse, or people with ambitions want it to be, that even here, as elsewhere in the world, separatist movements arise. Our local one is ‘Cascadia.’

Separatist movements here, however, are more romantic idealisms than actual movements. There are regional similarities in the states (and provinces, as at least one Canadian province is included) that comprise the ‘country’ of Cascadia, but they are mostly geographical and climatic. I can’t imagine a larger gap in regional characteristic between a metro sexual urbanite of Portlandia and a Montana cowboy, or between a rural hippie commune member from the hills around Coburg, Oregon, and a no-nonsense Idaho farmer. This ‘Cascadia’ with its rural ‘Reds’ and urban ‘Blues’ would be hardly less diverse in interests and priorities than the whole of the United States, a pattern, incidentally, which is historically traceable to other human societies all over the world and from ancient times.

City people have a different life than country people. Their music, their diet, most of their likes and dislikes, are all different and pretty predictable. My city of Portland, a micro-state of its own that is called ‘Portlandia’ and even has a situation comedy show named for it, also has a motto. ‘Keep Portland weird.’ This motto is not very old. It is actually imported from, of all places, Austin, Texas, and only twelve years ago. It could hardly be more appropriate for this city, and though it was brought in as a marketing ploy by Music Millennium, the youth of the city, much weirder than most, have been promoting it ever since. Never mind the older, sometimes native, inhabitants of Portland who don’t particularly enjoy thinking of themselves or their city as weird. Portland is just ‘weird.’

So, what does any of this have to do with my opening thoughts about changes at the micro or local level resulting in much greater ones at the macro or universal? This morning I was paging through the latest issue of Willamette Week, a Portland free newspaper representing its very ‘Blue,’ that is, left-leaning populace. I know that summer is coming and spring is already here in full force, but the sheer quantity of advertisements for amusements and for occasions and places of alcoholic indulgence just blew me away. Not that I am a tee-totaler by any means—my alcoholic consumption might amount to a dozen beers a year, and a bottle or two of wine, and whiskey when I attend a Greek funeral—but I was (almost) surprised at the pervasive hedonism. Almost, because I live here, in the city of a thousand micro-brews.

Portland’s characteristic weirdness, it seemed to me at that moment, might very well be attributed to its very alcoholic culture. We’re not a climatically cold region, which is why many northern locations have alcohol problems—booze keeps you warm—and yet we seem to drink our volume in beer about every fortnight. This one function on a micro level, per person, seems to produce on a macro level, per city, a human eco-system in which sobriety is considered retarded, and anything wild, wicked, and weird is to be praised, promoted, and propagated. Take the alcohol away, and what would Portland look like? Yes, cities always have alcohol problems, but so do small towns and farming communities, in proportion to their size. In the case of the small towns and farms, they have church, and country music, as remedies.

This is not a complaint, exactly, just a surmise. The differences of human eco-systems between adjacent states like Oregon and Washington are probably also caused by tiny differences in the attitudes their residents have. Washington, for example, seems more ‘law and order’ and ‘Christian’ than Oregon. You are very likely to see cars with ‘Fish’ emblems or decals of a cross and a kneeling person on vehicles with Washington plates. The ‘Keep Portland Weird’ bumper sticker will identify the Portlandian, if a ‘Darwin fish’ or other blasphemous emblem is absent. Oregon seems much more laid back than Washington. Maybe it’s the climate too, I don’t know. I just wonder at how small matters can transform whole populations for good or (I can’t say ‘evil,’ since my town bans the use of this word) weirdness, and what a difference they make.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Spiritual fathers

In the modern world that most of us inhabit, it is difficult to find what some Christians call ‘spiritual fathers’ to guide them in their lives. True, if you are an Orthodox or a Roman Catholic, the priest to whom you make your confession might fulfill that role. You might also find an elder or eldress at a monastery as a spiritual friend. But for most of us, this is how it works: ‘To read the teachings of the fathers, and to form peer friendships and journey together as far as possible.’ This has been my experience. For me, only one of these has been my parish priest, but only for a time: he was transferred elsewhere, where his talents were more needed.

Yet, for those who are at the right place at the right time, real spiritual fathers and mothers do appear. When they do, they are still very humble, and do not force on us anything, just as the Lord does not force. They love us, affirm us, gently teach and guide us, bless us, pray for us, and guard our lives, taking upon themselves even our personal sins. I have known one or two, two or three, like this, and have benefited from their eldership, and still do. Without pretending to a grace I do not own, this is how I also want to be a spiritual father, and I think that at times, God allowing and arranging, I have fulfilled this role for a handful of people, and perhaps still do.

What is really necessary here, is the mentor who is willing to lay down his or her life for the disciple and even being a disciple themselves, and a disciple who wants to please Christ and receive the Holy Spirit so much, that he or she is willing to trust the untrustable (the mentor) to prove on the battlefield of their own body that they trust the Lord. When this rare conjunction occurs, it is as a miracle, an unearthly tryst of Divine and human natures, meeting in space and time as two mortals whom the Holy Triad is transforming into immortals, by welcoming them into Himself. Only this can really be the spiritual father- and motherhood. All else is pious pretense.

Perfect

大帝 on the man's shoulder, read ‘Da Di’ (Daddy)
literally means ‘Great Emperor’
Sometimes it takes a lifetime before an obvious truth that we have somehow not recognized before starts staring us unflinchingly in the face. Unnerving, to say the least, but it wasn’t at first. No, at first, when I finally noticed it, it seemed an interesting and very novel discovery, and I made capital of it in my thinking and writing. It seemed no one around me had noticed this truth either, but once you see it, you wonder how it could’ve eluded you so long. At least, that’s what you might think if you haven’t already filed it in a mental ‘to do’ list, I mean, buried it, since most of the items on my ‘to do’ list usually fade out on their own because of neglect.

What truth am I referring to? Well, in my own words it is this: For a human being, to be ‘perfect’ does not mean to be morally perfect, in other words, ‘he never does anything wrong.’ Instead, it means to look upon everyone, and probably everything, and to love everyone (I won’t say probably love everything) with an equal and impartial eye. Now, what’s so obvious about this truth? And what makes me think it is true in the first place? Well, I am a Christian, which means I believe in, and try to follow, Jesus of Nazareth, the Jewish rabbi who was proven to be more than a mere human being by his death on a cross and his resurrection from the dead.

There is a curious passage in the gospels where Christ, that is, Jesus of Nazareth, actually commands his followers to be perfect. He says, ‘Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.’ It seems, everyone remembers this verse, but very few remember or meditate on the preceding words, to which Christ draws our attention by his word ‘therefore.’ Being left alone with the ‘Be perfect’ command causes us to fall into some very unfortunate misconceptions, unless we think of Christ’s words as just a suggestion and not a command. In that case, they’re only an interesting proposition to be bantered about without really wanting to know what he means.

When we believe in Jesus Christ and ‘take the Bible at its word’ can we be blamed if we think that he means what he says, that he is asking us to do, and be, the impossible, and resign ourselves to confessing we’re just sinners, unworthy, incapable of living a gospel life, capping it all off with a commitment to go to church regularly and repeat ‘Lord, have mercy!’ endless times to make up for it? But this is, in fact, what most of us do, again, thinking this thought somewhere in the back of our minds, ‘I am a sinner. I can’t be perfect. Only God can be perfect. But I can at least believe. I can have faith that Christ will save me in spite of myself. Now I’m safe, right?’ Meanwhile… 

The obvious truth didn’t take long to discover, except that I never really paid attention to the first part of Christ’s words. ‘You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?’ Well, yes, I’ve read and heard this before…

‘Well, knucklehead,’ I berated myself one day, ‘why don’t you get it? Why are you still judging? Why are you still drawing distinctions between classes of people? It doesn’t matter if the people themselves help you by classifying themselves as this or that, so that you can respond by judging them more precisely, and sorting them into sheep and goats. And even if the classifications were true, that only gives you more reason to subvert them by practicing the unconditional love that is shown by God, you know, the One that Jesus calls his Father? Take another look at what Christ says about being perfect, and stop making excuses. Perfection is not about being good or bad.’

‘What? Perfection is not about being good or bad? You mean I’ve wasted all these years trying to be good, and it doesn’t really matter?’ That’s every man’s reaction to the good news. We can’t help it. It’s our nature. The only God there is appears and he isn’t what we expected. We want him to be just like us. From another angle, it’s just this: Jesus Christ comes to turn all our worlds up-side-down, but we keep turning them right-side-up again as soon as we think his back is turned. We think we can call people whom we approve of ‘good,’ but we’d never, or very rarely, risk calling anyone ‘perfect.’ ‘Nobody’s perfect,’ we like to say, usually in reference to ourselves.

And that’s not what Jesus does. In fact he doesn’t even call himself good, nor does he let others do so. When they try, he as much as says, ‘Don’t call me good. No one is good except God,’ throwing his religious hearers off their chosen roads. No one can be called ‘good’ but God, but if we take his command to be perfect seriously, we can be called ‘perfect.’ Even the apostle Paul refers to this when he says, ‘We who are called “perfect” must all think in this way.’ What way? Well, go back and read all of his epistles, starting with Philippians if you like, for that’s the one I’ve just quoted him from. The gospels point the way. The epistles of Paul put us on it, if we want to go.

So we can be ‘perfect’ but not ‘good.’ I should say that seems a fair bargain. We’ve been let off the hook, then, is that right? To be perfect doesn’t mean to be righteous, to be morally perfect? We just have to love everyone indiscriminately, without judging them? And treating them impartially? If we do that, we can get away with any fantasy we desire? Nothing is morally wrong, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone? Well, yes and no. Since Christ’s command to be ‘perfect’ isn’t addressed only to Christians (there weren’t any yet) but to all men, believers and unbelievers, it can be called universal. In fact, deep inside, everyone knows it’s true. ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

For those who believe in God and accept Jesus as the Christ (or Messiah), we can kick the universal command ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ back a notch, to where it begins, even where it springs from, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your mind, all your soul, all your strength, and all your heart.’ Now we see why we’re commanded to love all humans (and maybe even all creatures). And if we want a word to confirm for us the religious importance of these two commands, we need look no further than, ‘On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’ So, we’ve been tricked by God to be good by being perfect without knowing it! Very sly! 

To be perfect is nothing other than to love as God loves, and to love the other as much as we love our own. When we do this, not only do we visibly change, but everyone we encounter changes, for the better. We already knew full well what being imperfect means. We’ve spent most of our lives noticing imperfection in others, and more often than not tried to ‘correct’ it by everything from ‘constructive criticism’ to frontal assault, all in the name of love. We know what we’re doing, but worse (or better) yet, God also knows. You know, that ‘our Father who art in heaven’ fellow we’re always asking to do his will ‘on earth as it is in heaven.’ Fortunately, we can’t fool him.

All good deeds, all moral acts, all benevolence, all generosity, every good quality that we wish so hard we had been born with but are too lazy to acquire, yes, every good thing can be ours by following the command of Jesus Christ, ‘Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.’

To him who overcomes

Church can be a game, but Christ is real, and the Bible is worth reading, studying and putting into practice even more than any book of engineering or business. And yes, God does have expectations of us, to live a life pleasing to Him, but no, we don't have to follow rules set up by other people. Finally, Christianity is not a self-help program that you can outgrow once you've ‘made it,’ which is what it seems a lot of churches imply. You're smarter than that, so what's keeping you in the bondage of the flesh?

Why don't you hit on Somebody who can really satisfy the longings of your heart, and not waste your life running after temporary fixes? You have only one life to spend. Why not use it to buy eternal life? which starts today, not after you're dead.

You didn't have a choice to be born, but you do have a choice to be born again, and if you choose that option, then death will be a door to your heart's desire, not a crashing down of a coffin lid.

To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.
Revelation 2:7 NIV

Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.
Revelation 2:20 NIV

To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.
Revelation 2:17 NIV

To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations—'He will rule them with an iron scepter; he will dash them to pieces like pottery'— just as I have received authority from my Father. I will also give him the morning star. Revelation 2:26-28 NIV

He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels. Revelation 3:5 NIV

Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name. Revelation 3:12 NIV

To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne.
Revelation 3:21 NIV

Remembering

Mother’s Day has been a kind of ‘Remembrance Day’ for me, it seems, for most of my adult life. My beloved mother reposed on the 25th of November, 1986, twenty-nine years ago.

It seems a lifetime and a world away. The proof of the resurrection of Christ in me is her faith, in which she now is safely harbored in life eternal, waiting for the rest of us to arrive, her whole life in God now poured out for others as she always wanted, but could not achieve, on this earth. Out of the sound of her accuser's cries, she rests in the paradise of God. Αιωνια σου η μνημη, αξιομακαριστος και αειμνηστος αδελφη ημων. May your memory be eternal, dear sister, for you are worthy of blessedness and everlasting memory. Może pamięć wieczna, droga siostro, bo jesteś godzien szczęścia i wiecznej pamięci.
I post this at the clock time of my mother's repose, just as I marked it in my Jerusalem Bible, after parsing off the psalms for the twenty-fifth day, the day of her birth (on Christmas) and her death (Tuesday of Thanksgiving Week).

Though these wretches have almost done for me,
I have never abandoned Your precepts.
Lovingly intervene, give me life,
and I will observe your decrees.
Lasting to eternity, Your Word,
Yahweh, unchanging in the heavens.
Psalm 119:87-89
corresponding to 7:30 p.m., November 25, 1986

Biography

My mom was the second child of her parents, Pawel Milewski and Maria Kozinska, the eldest of three sisters, and she grew up in inner city Chicago in the 1920's and 30's. The family was Roman Catholic from Warsaw, Poland. Their house was in a Mafia infested neighborhood, and my uncle, her brother, married a Sicilian. The household was very cultural in a Central European bourgeois sort of way, and it didn't change after the war.

As a child staying there in the 1950's, everything was just as it was in the 20's. I always felt it to be a magical place, another world filled with wonderful things I never saw anywhere else… persian rugs in profusion, rare tropical birds uncaged on their perches and other birds, just as rare, in their cages with the little doors often open, so they could exercise their wings at will, plastic covered overstuffed couches, my grandmother's collections of rare dolls, her little family of rare dogs… pekingese, pomeranian, spits, chihuahua… the half-lot garden which I remember now as being a veritable paradise to explore but which was only a strip of ground two and half yards wide that flanked the house on one side, where the lawn swing was.

There too was grandpa's basement hide-out, his workshop, and the little bedroom in the back porch that had a secret connexion back to the kitchen through a high windowlike opening where a large cookie jar was placed on the ledge, reachable from the kitchen or the bedroom. One always hoped to be invited to stay the night, because of those cookies that could be had without asking.
This is where my mother grew up.
I love this old photo from her first holy communion. Mom is the girl on the right. It would have been taken around 1928. The clothes the kids are wearing, and their non-chalant poses, are so cute. It's nice to know that Mom’s crowd was a lot like ‘the Little Rascals

My mother did not have a happy life, but rather one with a lot of personal tragedy, and as a result she fell away from Christian community from about age 40, and became even more isolated. She and her siblings were a violent bunch, and what could have been a virtue in her, a vibrant and athletic personal energy, gradually decayed into a life of unending vendetta, and a kind of mental illness set in. She made her marriage unendurable, and it ended. Eventually her devotion to her children drove all of them off except me, except that I moved away, first to Canada, then to Oregon, and never to return. So she wrote me often.

From a letter dated January 4, 1974…

I’m always and forever thinking about God, and never—not once—have I blamed God for my unlucky life. Just knowing that God and I know this to be true is what’s keeping me on till God wants me. Even if everyone on the face of the earth ignores me or is angry at me, I don’t care. I have God if no one else, and I’m happy. I can pray and talk to God and I know He hears me. I’m always praying for everyone, but I don’t go telling them, and I ask God to forgive them, because they don’t know any better.

I do not demand from God. I only feel I got what I had coming, and I will get what I deserve. There is only One God, and He only knows. I even thank God for all the bad luck I’ve had. Hard to believe, but it’s the honest truth. And again I say, God and I only know this. I expect to be punished by God, if I need it, but also forgiven, if I deserve it.

I really wish I could be a nun, even at this late age. By God’s standards I am a sinner, but God understands and forgives me, I know. All I ask God is to help me do the right things, to be with me always, there to help me in this way, and to forgive me and give me another chance. All I can do in return is live a life like God wants us to. I never ask God to give me something, only to help me and show me the way to do my best, and never to give up.

You see, I’m not without sin, but I don’t blame God. I ask Him to stand by me and never lose faith in me. I can’t help myself, and maybe I’m taking longer [than I should], but I’ll always keep on trying, because I know God is with me.

I could say more, but I’ll close on this note. We’re all sinners. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

And from another letter, written September 2, 1974, these words about her repentance…

I sit and think all the time, how we only have one life, and how people can really waste it, like I did. The only time I feel so good is when I’m trying to go to sleep. I talk to God, and I just can’t explain how I feel and what I see, how it will be when I’m gone. You know, I feel so very happy, and I’m not afraid. God will remember me and forgive me, because I never blamed God for my bad life. I only remember what was good, and how happy I was. The rest that happened was only when I went off [on] the side road, and it took me longer to get back. Remember, it was [when we lived] on Ross Street, you were telling and showing us about that road, and how one can stray. It took me longer [to get back] because the devil was stronger than me. I feel I could have done something sooner and will never forgive myself for straying that long, but I know God will forgive me. So now, all there is for me is the straight ahead road, and I’m sure not turning either way. It’s too close to the end to let the devil win again.

If you’ve read this far, I thank you, brethren, for helping me stop and remember the soul of this dear sister, my mother.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

False witness

Truth and falsehood. Telling the truth and telling a lie. ‘Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.’ We may sidestep some of the other commandments of the Ten, explain them away, say they don’t apply anymore. But not this one. Everyone knows when they’re lying. ‘I was just fibbing,’ we say, or even excuse ourselves with class, calling it ‘a little white lie.’ Well, then, what’s a big black lie?

Long ago I noticed that, when lies are public, when they are perpetrated for ‘a greater cause,’ or for ‘national security,’ or even to ‘protect the innocent,’ the greater they are, the more believable they become. ‘It MUST be true! No one would lie about THAT!’ maybe because we know we couldn’t, or maybe the person making the statement in question is ‘above suspicion’ for social or political or religious status.

We know, if we look back at history, from recent times to ages past, that the biggest liars are the most successful. On that score, any deviant from an established religion is going to be considered a liar. Many ancient cults built on lies (this is distinctly different from myths, by the way) have disappeared. Their lies weren’t big enough, or perhaps bigger lies replaced them. Thus, the religious history of the world.

In Western civilization dominated by a persistent monotheism, the three big ones (religions, I’m not saying the three biggest lies, or maybe I am) seem to be as inside each other as a stack of nesting dolls. To the Jew, Christianity is a lie, because the apostles lied about the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. To the Christians, Muhammad lied, because he said that Jesus didn’t die on a cross, but only ascended.

There is a flip side to the success of the biggest lies. Truth also can be successful, but it takes far greater effort. It is almost never the work of just one man, but a composite of many lives. True, it sometimes takes an individual to start it, a catalyst so to speak. But then catalysts can also be liars. The world is full of almost nothing else. Lies catch fire more easily than truths. But only truths never go out.

As a Christian, I believe that Jesus of Nazareth was resurrected, along with all the other beliefs about Him that are stated in the Symbol of Nicæa. I respect the Jews, even if they think my fathers lied, and lied grandly. I find the Jews, by the way, to be the most truthful people on earth—when they’re being honest! As for Muslims, Mormons, Millennialists, and a host of other M and M’s, I have my reservations.

Not about the believers themselves, mind you. But I’m speaking about lies, big ones, and ones that are successful at finding believers. Even Christianity in many of its forms belongs in the ‘M’ group I just mentioned. Though ‘all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved,’ that’s no guarantee there won’t be repercussions in this world and the next, if you happen to be one of those who let loose a big one.

Another thing I have found out is, people can say a lot of true things without speaking the truth. This happens all the time. I know I even do it, though not until I have had more time for reflection. I know this kind of lie when I hear it from pulpit and pedestal, whether it comes out of black mouth or white, red neck or blue blood. For me as a Christian, it proves the words of Jesus, ‘My sheep know my voice.’

Looking back at secular history, almost every government (those that have succeeded) was built on just such a vague mixture of truths and lies as I describe above (they all sound like true things, of course, but they’re not really the truth). Am I going to except the majestic birth of my own republic, these United States? Um, uh-uh. We’ve been just too successful to be built entirely on truth. Let my stoning begin.

True things, yes, can be preached, taught, written, proclaimed, sung about, even forced on you with the ease and impunity of a hidden rape, but only the truth settles on us with secure, confident meekness, providential in action, needless of everything that goes against our free will and our human nature, and though it may take a lifetime to sink in, it proves to be the twin of what our conscience knows is right.

Truth is what we want, what I want, because we know that’s what we’re made of. Truth is being, however and by whomever it has arisen, and it can be recognized by its chief operation, Love. What is true really works. Lies, on the other hand, especially the big ones, don’t work. They have to cover up their failures with more of their kind. Seeming successful, the price for their success is, in fact, failure.

We hear from the preachers that our country (I mean, these United States) is on the brink of disaster because of our deep, unrepenting moral decay. They point to our crimes against humanity in allowing abortion, our outrageous perfidy in permitting ‘gay’ marriage. No, brothers. We are in far greater trouble than that. We’ve lied to the Holy Spirit worse than Annas and Sapphira. What will become of us?

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

He is, and ever shall be

Infallible, a dangerous word.
Unchangeable, the same.
What is this ‘unchanging Orthodoxy’ we hear them tell of?

The former, like an idol carried about by the uninformed, as they apply it to popes’ pronouncements, or to divine and sacred scriptures, or as they try to out-ape each other’s flattery of the Church, is easily toppled from its pedestal. Christ does not say anywhere that anyone or anything is infallible. He only says of the Church that Hades shall never prevail against it, and of Peter, that after he recovers from his denial, he must strengthen his brothers.

The latter, as for unchangeable, this requires erudition and discernment, for much that we claim as unchangeable is not, and as for unchanging, on earth only Christ is that, just as He is in heaven.

It would be a difficult debate to decide which of the dangerous words is more lethal, which has distorted the Message of Christ more, but both ideas have led the Church down a world-conquering path far removed from the victory that Christ has won for us when He was lifted up to draw all men to Himself, when He descended to the depths to capture souls to present to His Father, and when He emerged from the bridal chamber of His all-holy tomb.

A new and bright age is always ready to open before us. We are no less at the forefront of Christ’s call and His commands than were His first disciples. He is as present with us as He was with them during the forty days between His resurrection and His ascension. He is constantly with us, among us, though like them we often don’t recognize it is He who comes. We think that the world goes on as it always has, and solace ourselves by what we think infallible or unchanging, and miss Him as He walks by.

For only One is infallible, unchangeable because unchanging, that is Christ, but because He is all in all, because in Him we live and move and have our being, it is not in our thoughts, our ideas, that we must take refuge, but in His, in what He, the living and life-giving God, speaks to us here and now, for beyond all human expectation, He has indeed risen from the dead, and He is in our midst.

He is, and ever shall be.