Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The peace of Christ

My wife Anastasia is in the hospital as of last Monday, suffering from terminal cancer. Of anything I've ever written that describes the feeling we are presently experiencing, this short testimony puts it best, describes the peace we are feeling. This is peace we are all afraid to accept, until we find no other way open before us. Yet it is a sweet kind of peace, because of the tears of repentance and purification that accompany it. There's nothing else to be said, except to thank Him who gave us this beautiful life.

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.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace

Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace

‘I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world’ (John 16:33), says Jesus Christ, and so, His disciples, those who are called by His holy apostle Paul the Body of Christ, are called by Him into His heavenly kingdom of great peace. In the Body of Christ, there are many parts, they are not all the same, yet they work together for the good of the whole.

‘Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink’ is how the same holy apostle puts it (1 Corinthians 12:12-13), and he elaborates even further, saying, ‘From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work’ (Ephesians 4:16).

How beautiful is the Body of Christ!

How beautiful the hands that served the wine and the bread and the sons of the earth! How beautiful the feet that walked the long dusty roads and the hills to the cross! How beautiful the heart that bled that took all our sin and bore it instead! How beautiful the tender eyes that chose to forgive and never despise! And as He laid down His life, we offer this sacrifice: That we will live just as He died, willing to pay the price.

How beautiful the radiant Bride who waits for her Groom with His light in her eyes! How beautiful when humble hearts give the fruit of pure lives so that others may live! How beautiful the feet that bring the sound of good news and the love of the King! How beautiful the hands that serve the wine and the bread and the sons of the earth! How beautiful is the Body of Christ!
(Twila Paris)

What unites the saints is the freedom of the Spirit. They are free from their wills, from themselves. This is the proof and assurance of the genuineness of their truth. It is not the man speaking, but the Spirit of God. Thus a trinitarian balance reigns within them and flows round about them because in them is no ‘individual’ initiative, no arbitrary dealings, no partial view, but a universal manifestation. The Lord's judgment is just because He seeks not His own will, but the will of the Father who sent Him (cf. John 5:30).

The Comforter consoles the people of God and leads it ‘into all truth’ because He does not speak of Himself. What is important is not that we should achieve the project we have set ourselves to achieve, but that the Holy Spirit should do with us and within us what He wishes, when He wishes, regardless of whether this seems, or is, disastrous for our projects and our good resolutions.

This release from his own will and total captivity to the freedom of the Comforter means that man's theological testimony can be heard, like a message of resurrection, from the whole of his behavior and his being. It makes the course of his life into a script which can be clearly read, theologically mature and universally saving. Theology is a creation, a superabundance of life, a gift, an overflowing, an involuntary movement. It emanates from the whole body of the life of those who are spiritually liberated, like the sound that comes from all the vibrating metal of a bell.

Fortunate is the man who is broken in pieces and offered to others, who is poured out and given to others to drink. When his time of trial comes he will not be afraid. He will have nothing to fear. He will already have understood that, in the celebration of love, by grace man is broken but not divided, eaten and never consumed. By grace he has become Christ, and so his life gives food and drink to his brother. That is to say, he nourishes the other’s very existence and makes it grow.
(Archimandrite Vasileios)


The life we share in Christ puts all of us ‘into the arena’ no less than it put the early Christians. Why is this? Are we any different from them? No, we are the same. We are the early Christians. The world puts us into the arena, but actually they do not know what they are doing. They are only following the orders of the One they do not know, who loves us so much that He is willing to let us share with Him His passion, so that we can share His resurrection. There is no other way to life. He says, ‘Do not be afraid. It is I’ (John 6:20).

Like our Lord Jesus Christ who after His baptism by the honorable forerunner and prophet John the Baptist went into the desert where He was put to the test by satan, we are driven by the Spirit into the wilderness for exactly the same purpose: to provoke the evil one to reveal himself, so that he can be overcome. How overcome?
By ourselves?
Not at all, but by the Word of God who lives in us and has already transfigured us into images of Himself, full of His own authority and power.

Yes, we are put into the arena. We are driven into the wilderness. That is what this world is, what life in this world is, a battle, yet we are called to live in the heavenly kingdom of great peace. What is this kingdom? Where is this kingdom? ‘The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst,’ says the Lord Jesus Christ (Luke 17:20-21), who is both king and kingdom, and who alone is our peace.

‘Christ is in our midst! He is and ever shall be!’ the liturgical greeting that must be lived and not just said, is the road and the destination at one and the same time. How can we not be at peace with one another when we are in Him who ‘makes His home in the praises of Israel’ (Psalm 22:3)? We recite and we preach, ‘One Lord, one faith, one baptism’ (Ephesians 4:5), yet we tear the Body of Christ apart with our own hands and words, putting to death in our bodies not sin as Christ put to death in His, but rather the peace that He came to give, the peace that He alone is. ‘For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility,’ as the holy apostle writes (Ephesians 2:14).

Have we forgotten what is written? ‘Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms’ (Ephesians 6:10-12). Let’s remember these words, ‘Live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace’ (Ephesians 4:1-3).

‘I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world’ (John 16:33).

Yes, brothers, the heavenly kingdom of great peace!

Want to be one

What is more important in the Body of Christ than unity? The world does not believe because it sees that the Church is not the abode of peace, unity and love, but only another society much like itself, full of jealousies, usurpations, war and discord. It knows that we have a good Lord and God but that He must not be worth very much, that we do not really believe in Him very strongly and truly, because our belief hasn’t changed us very much. It looks in at our door and sees a house no better than its own. It looks at our family and sees the same dysfunction that afflicts its own family. Why would the world want to enter into the Kingdom of God, if that Kingdom is only the same as its own under another name?

The human world, the human race, is stopped in its tracks, cannot take the next step in its evolution, because the only part of it that has the possibility of taking the first steps has chosen not to. The only new man in the history of the world has appeared. Though we fought against Him with all our might and were able to bodily kill Him, He was not defeated but instead defeated everything in us that keeps us down. What is worse for us is that the Man did not go away but is always present in our midst, and still we, the Church that claims to be His Body, the Body of Christ on earth, His Presence, that people who can of all peoples take the step into the new humanity, the new world, do not take it.

Unity, yes, unity. It does not have to mean what we try to bend it to mean. It is not an ideal that we can say we strive for but are unfortunately unable to achieve. No. Unity in God does not mean administrative unity. We all do not have to be united under one pope or system of Church government. That has been our big mistake, but it stems from another deeper one, the desire to overcome, not ourselves, but others, in the name of God. How senseless, how brutal is our handling of the Message that it no longer has any power in it to transform the world. We are indeed on our last legs, we have indeed reached our next to last day. We have failed to bring new birth to the world.

The Book is there and open to all who can read. The Christians read it and do not follow what it says but only argue about it and talk it to death. The world reads it and picks and chooses what it wants to take in its vain attempt to do without the Spirit what only the Spirit can do. The world and the Church are two disobedient sons, one saying it will do what the Father wills but does not, the other saying it will not do what He says—because there is no Father—and yet does, though without effect. Belief cannot be followed by disobedience. Obedience has no power to transform without faith. Though Christ prefers the obedient faithless to the disobedient believing, neither brings mankind to its destiny.

This talk of mine is no more than idle talk. I am both in the world and in the Church and I share the fate and fault of both. All I know is, I too want to be transformed. I too want to see the uncreated Light of Tabor and seeing it become it. There is no blame or shame that I do not share with all of you, my brothers, all of you, both believers and unbelievers. Nothing about us that divides us matters at all. Nothing. It is only what unites us that matters, and there is only one thing, one Man, that can unite us, and that is Christ. He does not unite us by brute force, by threats, intimidation, or by decree. He unites us by His prayer to the Father, by His life for the world, by His death on the Cross, by His resurrection.

This is what humanity is waiting for, what mankind really desires, what every man and woman, rich and poor, free and slave, really wants. Having this, having the unity that is in Christ, having it not just talking about it, is what dissolves the struggle between man and woman, tears down the wall between rich and poor, and makes of the human race a single family of priests and kings, where none rule but who serve, and where all make progress with not a single one left behind into the new world that Christ has established. He is the new Man, the only One, and what then does that make us? There is no middle ground, though we have made of human history a midden of disappointed hope by our refusal to follow Him.

Can we start today? Is there anything I can do as a single man, you as a single man or woman? If you are a pope, a bishop, a priest, a minister of the gospel, a missionary, a witness, a worker for Christ, whatever you call yourself, if you say you are following Christ, is there anything you can do? Is there anything you can do to make a difference? There is no program to follow, no principle to espouse, no compact to subscribe to. Have you been baptized and believed? Now just go and say and do what you hear Jesus saying and see Him doing in the holy gospels. Step into the shoes of the fishermen, but don’t do what you want, do what He wants. He is alive. He will tell you. I cannot do that. I can only listen for myself.

Humanity is waiting to take the next step in its evolution because those who know that the step has already been taken by Christ have refused to follow, but only squirm in their seats as they watch the Jesus movie and read the lives of the saints. The world will not believe until it sees God among us. Is He really there? Is He really here, with us? Do we believe that? If we do, then what are we doing sitting here like this? No, it isn’t just what we can do. In fact it is nothing at all that we can do that will transform humanity. Only He can do that, but we must first want it, we must first give Him our permission. We must let Him transform us.
All we need to do is want it.
Want to be one.

…that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
John 17:21

Unity

How good, how delightful it is
for all to live together like brothers:
fine as oil on the head,
running down the beard,
running down Aaron's beard
to the collar of his robes;
copious as a Hermon dew
falling on the heights of Zion,
where Yahweh confers His blessing,
everlasting life.
Psalm 133 Jerusalem Bible

My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
John 21:20-23 NIV

How people strive for unity, how much they desire it, but they stop as soon as they think they have reached it, and it is still terribly far from the unity that Christ prayed for us to have.

The unity that comes from above is the gift of the Spirit of God, not in some magical fashion that does not ask anything of us, but as a gift that can be received only by those who give themselves to it.

Unity is a gift that draws us in, all that we are and have. Unity is a gift that we receive only when we become the gift.

When we possess this unity, it possesses us. We no longer seek ourselves, but always the other. We are all of one mind and of one will, while remaining distinct persons, and we begin to understand the Holy Triad, not by thinking, but by living.

We become the trinitarian flock.

This unity, once experienced, even between only two persons, proves every word of the Gospels and of the whole of sacred scripture to be entirely true.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Between the lines

Fully Alive, by Danny Setiawan
The problem many people have with Orthodoxy, even when they are in favor of it, is not the anomalies, inconsistencies or downright absurdities they find in it, but rather the way they are trying to approach it, understand it, and classify it. In other words, our cultural mind set did not arise from it—we are far more different from it than we suppose and do not have a starting point within it, but only within ourselves—and we are examining it, by study, observation, and even experimentation, and trying to fit it into the only world view we know. That world view may be mainstream in the culture we live in, or it might be incredibly personal, but either way, we are approaching it much as we approach anything else in the world. But Orthodoxy, as a presence in the world, really is outside of the world, at least, outside of this world.

Whether we think of Orthodox Christianity as a religion, a philosophy, a way of life, or all three, we have no choice but to analyze it from the outside. We are told, you can only know what our faith is by accepting it as it is, in toto, and let it be what it claims to be, the true faith, something that will necessarily take a lifetime to sink in. We are told, ‘We are all becoming Orthodox,’ and other such things. The strange thing is, once you are inside, though you may find people who still jabber about Orthodoxy as if it were the cat’s pajamas, if you are sincere in your faith and following of Christ—without whom there can be no such thing as the Church, let alone ‘Orthodoxy’—you find that you are still primarily a disciple of Jesus, but that you have acquired a very large family, and now know ‘for sure’ where the road leads.

You see, Orthodoxy is not ‘the Church’ that any of us who came to it from outside ever thought it was. At first, we take it for granted that the Church is an institution, that it has rules, that it requires intellectual agreement with certain ideas, and that we are expected to participate regularly in at least some of its activities. We think that joining it necessarily separates us, even isolates us, from the non-Orthodox. We have heard as much from ‘authorities’ who seem to know what they’re talking about. There are books to read, even handbooks of correct ceremonial protocol—women wear skirts in church, no one crosses their legs, gum chewing is not allowed, and other such things which we see disregarded with impunity—and then there all all those dietary rules, what to eat or not eat during the fasts, and who knows what else.

Our intellect may be pushed out of shape, scandalized or even offended by things we think or we know are ‘wrong,’ at least by our upbringing. We want the Church to be perfect in every way, doctrinally especially, but even socially. We want to escape to it from whatever we have found disagreeable in the world we inhabit, and our approach to it often remains, unknown to ourselves, that of a consumer intent on getting the best deal. The truth about Orthodoxy, though, as a Church, is that it is the menagerie of the Most-High God, who collects every kind of human being as Noah collected animals for the ark. This menagerie was there before we arrived, and will still be there, if we leave it. We cannot buy it, it is not for sale. It is the pan-human reality, the visible part of the great Tree that God has planted in paradise.

All of the incidentals, even such things as beliefs and practices, which we want to take much too seriously, are really only that—incidentals. The Orthodox Church is what salvation looks like, wearing these incidentals, while the human race undergoes the most radical step in evolution we can possibly imagine. Far more people are included in this radical step than even the Church itself is aware of. Hence, the ubiquitous saying, ‘We know where the Church is; we do not know where it is not.’ When we offer to join this spiritual monstrosity, we think we are doing someone a favor, and like a swimmer contemplating a dive into a strange body of water, we want some assurance that we won’t be injured, that there are no dangerous creatures in the lake, and that we can get out of the water if and when we want to.

Back to our mind set, most of us are—at least at the beginning—unable to think ‘outside the box.’ We think we are doing precisely that already, just by considering Orthodoxy at all, but we are still trapped by a whole series of dualities upon which we feel we must opine, judge, and agree or disagree with. At the very least, we think that we must confess an exact belief and that we must, in detail, agree with everything the Orthodox Church teaches. We feel that to do anything less would be both dishonest and dangerous. All this is why the safest and easiest way to become an Orthodox Christian is to be born into it, forty-day blessed, triple-dunk baptized and slickly holy oiled, regularly spoon-fed with bread and wine pablum, and prayed over often, at length, and repeatedly, until we are so used to being loved, that we like it.

Back to assurance, most of us want to be certain that once we plight our troth to a strange religion, that we shall not later become liable to believe things that were hidden from us before our mystical marriage. We do not like surprises, as if we could say to Jesus, ‘Enough now! Let’s not go there!’ but fortunately for us if we really want to follow Him, we are willing to go with Him, anywhere. Still, we feel it is unfair that we must transfer this kind of loyalty to the Lord to a mere institution. At least, that is how our minds make us look at it. But our hearts shall thrill to hear such things as this: ‘Everything begins to speak with strange dogmas, strange words and the strange teachings of the Holy Trinity’ (Verses at Orthros and Sunday Vespers of Pentecost). With the mind in the heart, we welcome this strangeness.

There is a lot of evidence—why do we not accept it?—personal evidence, testimony that we are familiar with through our reading or by encountering real persons who have before us taken the flying leap into the ‘cloud of unknowing’ and embraced Holy Orthodoxy. Yes, now I am calling Orthodoxy ‘Holy’ even though every Lord’s Day I sing with the choir at the Divine Liturgy, ‘One is Holy, One is Lord, Jesus Christ…’ We sometimes have known people whose Christian life and witness have impressed us as being genuine and at least as real as our own, who like us were not born to the faith, and yet despite mental or even moral dilemmas, seem to have effortlessly entered. If they could do it, what about us? Is it really more like boarding a ship bound for safety, than reading a legal contract and making sure you agree with everything?

So there is this faith that seems to be walking on marbles. They call Jesus, ‘Christ God’ and ‘Saviour’ and then turn around and say ‘Most Holy Theotokos, save us!’ (Theotokos, the ‘God-bearer,’ is Mary the mother of Jesus.) They claim that they have seen the true Light, received the heavenly Spirit, and found the true Faith. Why then are they not consigning everyone else to damnation? If their ikons are supposed to be historical, why is there a dragon in some of them? And they believe some of the most wild things about people they call ‘the Saints’ with a capital ‘S’ (though some of them seem to be more evangelical than the most fervent bible thumpers, and call everyone ‘saints’). How can anyone feel safe on solid ground when all this is going on all around them, all the time? Bottom line is, just who do they trust?

Safe, yes, as one who has dived into that unknown lake, not even knowing how to swim, I was not injured. I did not break my neck on a hidden rock at the bottom, but I did find the Rock hidden from the world in that lucid pool. I can stand on that Rock, my head above the waters, because He who loves me is always with me. He does not ask me what I believe or doubt, does not require anything from me, except that I do what I see Him doing, say what I hear Him saying, and go where He goes. He gives me permission to go in and out through a Door that, when I open it none can close, and when I close it none can open. Agree and disagree belong to the world of those who measure, count, weigh, buy and sell. There is no loss with Jesus, even though everything we think we own is taken away. That is what Orthodoxy is.

It is not a religion, unless you want it to be. The ikon wall does not separate us from the Divine Nature tabernacled behind it, but hides what must not be seen for the sake of Him who is, was, and shall be seen. The ceremony celebrates the Divine Presence with us, who has pitched His tent among us, so that we can learn how we shall be dwellers with Him in the presence of His Father and the angels. The ancient tales, neither true nor false as men judge, are not to divide us, but to join us to the ‘great cloud of witnesses’ whose acts have filled the earth unnoticed by the arrogant and worldly wise, but we have noticed. We do not ask ‘Who said that?’ but we pay attention to everything that is said. Now, we see this treasure hidden by others who came before us. Orthodoxy we name it, the faith of saints we claim it, but till we own it, it is nothing.

The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field. A man found it, hid it again, then in great joy went and sold everything he owned, and bought that field.
Matthew 13:44

Friday, June 17, 2016

Birth pangs

The Christian Message—I don’t want to call it ‘Christianity’ just now—is an incarnational faith. It is this heresy against pure monotheism that aggravates the Jews and makes some Muslims very warlike and antagonistic. We believe—for here I have to confess I am one of them—that the self-existing, eternal, living God who creates, sustains and destroys all things, is One in being but, as far as His personality is concerned, He is a triad, a threesome, officially ‘the Holy Trinity.’ Besides confusing those who want to reduce God’s being to a mathematical formula, it makes some people think a Christian is a tri-theist. All that aside, no, we are monotheists, not as man would have it, but as God defines His own nature. Regardless of how many ‘persons’ share the Divine Nature, God is One.

Back again to our incarnational faith, we say that God became man. Well, that seems to be nothing new. The Hindus and other religious peoples have long known that the gods incarnate as humans or even other life forms. Vishnu has had nine incarnations so far, some of them animals, and the tenth one, yet to come, is amazingly similar to what many fundamentalist ‘end timers’ of all stripes—Christians, Jews, and Muslims—believe about ‘the second coming of Christ,’ or ‘the Messiah,’ or ‘the Mahdi.’ Their ‘end times Lord’ is Kalki. He rides a white steed and is heavily armed. He comes to destroy the miscreants and bring the Kali Yuga, the ‘iron age,’ to a fitting conclusion. Incarnations of the gods always seem to ‘come to the rescue,’ usually violently. Not so for the Christians.

The kind of incarnation that we Christians believe of God, well, yes, He does become a man in order to rescue us, even to save us, but He doesn’t stop there. Another thing is, He doesn’t come armed and dangerous and ready to kill, though the psalmist sings ‘Smashing their skulls, He heaps the wide world with corpses. Drinking from the stream as He goes…’ (Psalm 110). No, that’s not what the Christian God-man does. He comes to re-enact in time, and before our eyes, the Sacrifice of Himself which He made on our behalf before the universe ever was. Scripture calls Him ‘the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world’ (Revelation 13:8). And the strange thing about this incarnation of God and His Sacrifice is, that we aren’t meant to just watch the Divine life. We are to participate in it.

What does this mean for us, then, and for the human world, this incarnational faith? It means that God has come among us in a real and demonstrable way, and that He provides for us not only an escape from sin and death, but also the means to transform the world. He makes us co-workers in His creative plan. Did you think that God was all finished creating the universe? Far from it! In those six days, yes, He unfolded the space-time envelope, and then as scripture says, ‘He rested.’ And that’s where we come in. Being made masters of the earth is our entry level position. The human race was made for this, and though we’ve been in the habit of avoiding our responsibilities, that time is almost over. Can’t you feel it? Scripture itself says that the universe is waiting for us to take our proper place in the created order (see Romans 8:19).

Sometimes it seems hard to keep track of all this—that is, if we are instructed Christians—while we see our world falling apart. When they hear of people claiming to be the Second Coming of Christ, or of wars and revolutions, or of weather anomalies and earthquakes, or outbreaks of dangerous diseases, or of the increase of general lawlessness, the ignorant skip over Christ’s words, ‘but the end is not yet,’ and they get ready for ‘the rapture’ or the end of the world. Some of them even abandon themselves to irresponsible behavior since ‘it doesn’t matter, and Christ is coming back soon,’ and they lay waste the earth. But those who have listened to the Lord and put His words into practice, seeing this chaos, remember that ‘these are only the birth pangs’ (see Matthew 24:8).

The birth pangs of what? Aren’t these just the signs that a new world is coming? Yes, of course, but not the way some people think. A new world, that is, a new human world, is coming. In fact, it’s what the universe has been waiting for so patiently. The human race is closing in on the Day of the Lord, when we take that step as a world into that new humanity of which Jesus Christ, the Second Adam, is the first example. And more than an example, because He has the power not only to conquer sin and trample death by death, but also to make us, all of us, sons and daughters of God just as He is. This is not the ‘same old, same old’ message of religious Christianity, but the Message that Christ Himself preached, ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand’ (Mark 1:1).

Scripture says, ‘The world of the past is gone’ (Revelation 21:4), and though this is not true yet, we’re almost there, ‘for the time is close’ (Revelation 1:3). The human race has evolved, by God’s creative plan, and in Christ the new humanity appears, and evolution itself is abandoned as the agent of change—but not without one final surge, one last assault by the forces of the First Adam, the old humanity, habituated to darkness, to the medieval madness of violence and slavery. They fight hardest and most brutally because they know they are defeated. They are about to disappear from human history, never to be remembered or brought to mind. They know, that to be forgotten is to die the second death.

Birth pangs, without which a birth cannot occur. Our future as a race is as certain, no, even more certain, than our past. Death for the race was taken on by Jesus Christ. He disappeared into the abyss, and reappeared, the Victor over death. Brethren, this is the evening of the Last Passover. We are about to leave Goshen forever. Night is almost upon us, just one more night, and then the Day without night. Let us prepare ourselves. A door is about to be opened.

This is not about religion. This is about the Truth, the Truth that will finally make us free.

Glory to God.

Only one

‘I have spent all my life with dance and being a dancer. It's permitting life to use you in a very intense way. Sometimes it is not pleasant. Sometimes it is fearful. But nevertheless it is inevitable.’
Martha Graham (1894-1991)

I was led on, to find out a bit about the author of the passage below, which was quoted in the book Write Is a Verb (2007, Bill O’Hanlon), and I found the words quoted above. Both spoke to me of the immediacy and inevitability of life in Christ.

‘There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action—and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours, clearly and directly.’

Now, I’ve never been a dancer. Even in a private moment with no one watching, even with music that makes other people dance all around me, I’ve never ‘given in’ to the rhythm and just ‘let go’ and danced. Why? That’s just not me. In youth a geek, thinking that ‘dancing’ was expected of me, I gave it a try, failed, and found a hundred excuses why I don’t dance. There was really only one—that’s not who I am. At last, half a century later, with nothing to prove, I can just be myself, ‘sometimes not pleasant, sometimes fearful, but nevertheless inevitable.’

Being brought up in an environment of vigilant self-denial, surrounded by attitudes of rigorous if pharisaical piety, early on I came to despise the body and praise the spirit. It didn’t help that I was clumsy, unathletic, and too near-sighted to be any good at sports. Does upbringing shape the coffins that we seem to be happy to live in, unaware that our lives are dreams of people dead to the world who can do nothing but dream? Abandoning all thought of interaction with a world I was assured was of no account, I turned inward, to music and literature.

Or is it that our times and places, though seeming to shape us, actually prepare us to discover who we are inside, and at some point accept that inner nature, and maybe even express it openly, as ourselves? I think of Mother Gavrilía, almost an exact contemporary of Martha Graham, who expressed herself in her life in almost exactly the same way as the dancer, though she was a physical therapist and ascetic. Her upbringing squeezed her out of any social or inherited illusions, liberating her to be herself, to express who she was, and that, uniquely and inevitably…

‘When God created us, He gave us life and breathed His Spirit into us. That Spirit is Love. When we lack love, we become corpses and are altogether dead. The Christian must respect the mystery of the existence of everyone and everything. To reach nonexistence, love, love, and love—and so identify completely with the Other, with every other. Then at the end of the day you ask yourself, “Do I want anything? No. Do I need anything? No. Do I lack anything? No.” That’s it!’

It must be an amazing thing for someone to realize that ‘who they are’ is ‘to love’ as Avrilía Papayánnis, the girl who grew up to be known as ‘Sister Lila’ (when she lived and worked with the poor and destitute in India), and later (when she became an Orthodox nun at the age of sixty!) as Mother Gavrilía. Her ‘dance’ was every bit as original, unique, inspirational and, yes, even influential, as that of Martha Graham. In both of these women, the inevitable happened—they became what they were created to be—despite their upbringing (or because of it?), regardless of what others thought of them.

There’s a kind of rebellion that is an affront to God, and another kind that is as pleasing to Him as a commandment fulfilled. The first kind, which grieves Him, is to take what He gives and trash it; or maybe to not take what He gives at all, and to go on ‘a wild goose chase’ only to find despair. The second kind, which pleases Him, is to take what He gives—yourself, as He made you, as you discover little by little what you are—and hand it over to Him with interest, like the faithful servants in the Parable of the Talents. ‘Sometimes it is not pleasant. Sometimes it is fearful. But nevertheless it is inevitable.’

Well, almost inevitable. There’s only one charge of ‘living in denial’ that you cannot ignore. Not the ones coming from others, but the one coming from yourself. Everyone knows when they’re ‘faking it.’ To waste what we are given, what we have been created for, is a sin almost as serious as suicide. The words of a dancer—yes, that’s what she was created to be; she only appeared to be ‘merely human’—can be as important and life-saving as those of a canonized saint. If you knew her, and saw her dance, perhaps the message she spoke would have come across just as clearly. ‘There’ll never be another you.’ [*]

If you are young, as I once was (when there was no one to teach me), and you understand these things, then pursue them, pursue Him in yourself, be the man or woman He made you, is making you, and will make you in the world to come. If you are of whatever calendar age, whether you are old or only think you are, look to yourself. Make sure you are not still bound to fallacies, chained to appearances, trained to make-believe about who you are. What gives you ‘a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening’ if you would only let it, to be ‘translated through you into action,’ into joy? Have you accepted it?

‘There is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours.’

Only one face

Just as our bodies, skins containing systematic bundles of living matter, give us a physical definition in space, so our minds, elusive compositions of innumerable strands of thought and memory, weave us into ephemeral persons in time. ‘Who knows if the spirit of man mounts upward or if the spirit of the beast goes down to the earth?’ (Ecclesiastes 3:21).

We are born and, without taking thought, are molded into people we think we are, a boy or girl at first, then a man or woman, husband or wife, and gradually our likes and dislikes, our knowledge and our ignorance, our passions and our fears, collect our multiple, often contradictory selves, into a boxful of identity to which we can give a name.

But it is all so fleeting. As the Indian calls it, no more than maya, illusion. Yet what we are is real, is solid, at least to the touch, ours from the inside, and theirs from the outside. The questions, who are we, who do we belong to, are we just ‘dust in the wind’ or are we permanent, and who or what is permanent, if anything or anyone, do not trouble us.

We may be leaves caught up in the wind, but nevertheless we exist, if only for a brief moment in time. Soon, it will all be over. Soon, we will be no more. How do we know this? Just look around. We are a visible between two invisibles, a waking between two sleeps, a day between two nights, a light between two darknesses, meaning caught in the jaws of unmeaning.

The scientist indifferent to God may theorize our physical definition and our ephemeral personality as the result of blind, purposeless evolution, vestiges of events previous equally meaningless, illusory. God, Himself the meaning of the universe He creates, does not stop to examine His own thoughts which we are, or ask Himself what or whom to conceive, His ‘let there be.’

Life unconscious of itself flows from His hands, world upon world. He releases it, and then receives it again unto Himself, with a characteristic that, at its lowest level, we call ‘love,’ and try to emulate. We know somehow that this alone exceeds both time and space, allows movement in the five directions forward and back, and delivers the invisible into our grasp.

Unbox oneself. Disperse the multiple, contradictory selves. Let passions and fears run to waste, knowledge and ignorance lay down their arms, likes and dislikes shrivel into non-entity. Be received back into the arms of love. Invisibly sleep in the night of unmeaning darkness. He hovers over, breathing Himself over that peaceful sea, making home its waves.

The gap unbridgeable has been closed, is no more. The Cross laid down, foundation for all space and time, dissolves the treachery of bent wills and unblindfolds forever the eyes of the universe. With eyes wide open, finally, we can see what we see. Thought no longer works against us, and memory, cleansed forever of its crimes, shines, a bright mirror of only one face, His.

Interwoven in amity

The painting reproduced above depicts the Russian priest and martyr Pavel Florensky (left) walking with the philosopher Sergei Bulgakov. In 1914 he wrote his dissertation About Spiritual Truth. During his life he published works on philosophy, theology, art theory, mathematics, and electrodynamics. Thus, he was both a scientist and a Christian.
An Orthodox brother sent me a link to a televised debate between ‘Science Guy’ Bill Nye and an Australian creationist, Ken Ham. This is not the sort of thing I am interested in, debates, especially debates on artificial antagonisms such as ‘creation versus evolution,’ but I looked at it, enough to know that, yes, just another waste of precious time. I certainly don’t blame my friend for forwarding it to me. I’m not sure where he stands on this issue, as I do know that there are many Orthodox Christians who hold to very literal and fundamentalist beliefs. Many of these are former Evangelicals, ‘born again’ Christians, disillusioned by the drift of their original fellowships into spiritual anemia.

Myself, not exactly a ‘cradle Orthodox’ but almost, I did start out holding staunchly to what would now be called creationist views. It would be difficult indeed, living in America, the seedbed of ‘fundamentalism,’ not to be affected at least a little, whether pro or con, by the vigorous promotion of such views, in the street, in the media, sometimes even in church regardless of denomination. But after growing up within the Orthodox koinonía, observing both beliefs and behaviors of those inside and outside the Holy Church, I came to the conclusion that what is called ‘fundamentalism’ is really a misnomer. A true fundamentalist deals in foundational faith, not in divisive opinions.

What I noticed very early in my life among Orthodox Christians was their unique way of presenting the Bible and its stories, especially those in the Old Testament, simply and without questioning or challenging them from a rationalist angle. When Adam and Eve were discussed, we never talked about who Adam and Eve were historically, or even if they existed at all as depicted in the Bible, but what their story meant for us and for the whole human race. Even, no, especially, in our holy ikons, the creation not only of Adam, and Eve, but of the whole of creation, is shown in beautiful and compelling color, and we are told, that ikons can represent only real events and real people. They are a graphic Bible.

So we were taught, and we accepted without resistance, that the right way to read the Bible and to view the holy ikons, is simply to accept them ‘as they are’ without raising the voice of dispute or dissension. This isn’t to say that we were forbidden to come to our own personal beliefs about either. On the contrary, it seemed we were quietly encouraged to ‘dig deeper’ and to ask the Lord, who is ‘the Only Teacher of mankind,’ to enlighten us. In fact, I would say, we had a sense that it was ‘very meet, right, and our bounden duty’ to study and seek, to further our enlightenment, not to teach others, but so that our lives would shine with the knowledge and love of God, not to argue, but to affirm.

What is at issue in controversies such as these is not really the rightness of one set of views over another, but the warfare of one barely concealed, nearly naked antagonism against another, both equally bent on personal triumph. Yes, let me reiterate, equally bent. In the debate I witnessed this evening, I was amazed at the ignorance of both the scientist and the creationist, displayed in their inability to cut through their own material spiritualism and spiritual materialism. In closing the debate, each was asked what was the driving force of his beliefs. The creationist answered first, predictably praising the Bible’s absolute, literal truth, tacking on Christ’s work of salvation as a final coup de grâce.

The scientist, or perhaps the evolutionist, for evolution is what he seemed to believe science itself is, offered as the reason for what he believed, science as an ongoing, adventurous, liberating, fulfilling, and victorious invasion and investigation by the human mind, his or anyone’s, of the material world, of all there is, and that is all there is. The universe, the whole show, and we as particularly favored to be, for no special reason other than we evolved, we fit in, the witnesses of this grand spectacle of which we are a part. He praised his teacher Carl Sagan by name, so we knew that even an atheist can look up to someone. If I seem to favor one debater over the other, forgive me, brethren. I found much to admire, and much to pity, in both.

You see, I myself am a scientist. I have no degree, but my primary and secondary education was in mathematics and the natural sciences. It was only when as a young adult at college I discovered that ‘the proper study of mankind is man’ that I switched over to history, political science, and philosophy. It suited me better, and there I have remained ever since. It was no accident, then, that when my heart awoke to love, I should seek Him, the Bridegroom of the soul, in His ancient habitation, Holy Orthodoxy. Also no accident, that in the faith of Christ and His holy apostles I should find no rend in the garment of either knowledge or wisdom. ‘Science’ and ‘religion’ are both at home here, interwoven in amity.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The law of tangles

Have you ever noticed, that if there is something that might get tangled up, it usually does? Or if it is something that can get caught on something, it does that too? Such things as the electric cords on vacuum cleaners, for example. Or if it is something that can get a kink in it and stop working, like a garden hose, it usually does? Even when you did what I did, buy one that says it doesn’t kink?

We seem to live in a universe—God! I hope it’s only our planet, but I don’t think so—that is full of what some might call booby traps, things that should work a certain way, or at least we’d like them to, but they reliably don’t. I’m sure much of what looks like a conspiracy against us is only our own shallow thinking or incomplete planning—we seem to all come with a built-in propensity to fail.

So I was house cleaning and had to shift my heavy carved Balinese throne off the carpet, so I could vacuum the rug. Sure enough, the electrical cord was going to find itself on the wrong side of the throne, but I outsmarted the little devil, I carefully swung the cord over the heavy chair so it’d be on the right side, where it wouldn’t get caught, or be too short to reach. Then, shifting the throne back into place afterwards, one of its legs bashed into my toes—Ouch! The little devil always gets even, doesn’t he?

What else? In my life, using a toaster often results in disaster. I set the level of darkness I want and trust the mechanism to do what it should. When I am home alone, it works. I do exactly the same thing when I am having company for breakfast, and the toast becomes, as we jokingly say, ‘burnt holocaust for Yahweh.’ Why is it that if something can go wrong, it usually does? I never trip except when I’m being watched.

All of this amounts to nothing more than perpetual annoyance, like the gigantic hotel on wheels that just parked on the street this morning in front of my cliff top home to block my view of the mountains. How long will they park there? I hope they’re not planning to stay. We try our best to keep everything we do in order and take our fair share of shortcuts, and more than half the time, it seems, we fail.

Yet I have met people—and this has even been true of me once or twice—for whom creation itself seems to open a wide path for them to accomplish what they want to do. We call some of them lucky, especially when their general behavior and personality otherwise irk us. When they are those rare people of whom we are in awe for their moral qualities, we call them saints, and wish we were them.

I wonder if this weird fact of nature has some scientific basis. They say that when you get down to those infinitesimal thingummies—string theory stuff—there are no laws as such and everything just chaotically hustles and bustles, producing on a larger scale what appears to us as natural laws. Maybe it’s a statistical thing that mathematicians can figure out. Personally, I don’t buy that one, yet it does sell.

And I don’t exactly buy the animist explanation, that there’s a ‘devil in the details’ of everyday life, you know, imps and demons and poltergeist kinds of things. It seems to me that we live in a universe with a Creator who designed everything to work as it should when we are working as we should, and the problem is, we aren’t, because we won’t. ‘If you don’t obey God, then creation won’t obey you.’

The Bible is full of more than mere hints of this saying being true. Though it may be couched in mythological language, Adam and Eve and the snake and all the rest, there really was a first human couple, there really was a real source of temptation, and there really was a fall—the proof is that we are repeating the pattern every moment of every day. The Book says God put us in charge as His deputy.

We were to be, as it were, God on earth for the rest of the universe. Since the Divine Nature is invisible, He made us to be a visible equivalent of His nature, for the universe to gaze upon, to know, to trust, and to obey. If you read some of the ancient books that never made it into the Bible, like the Book of Adam and Eve—sure they’re ancient myths—you’ll see the principle repeated. Ancient man knew it.

And not so ancient man knew it too, as you will read in the letter of the apostle Paul when he writes that all creation is waiting expectantly for the sons of God to be revealed. The Christian faith is built on this premise, that since the first Adam, that is, we in our current devolved condition, couldn’t step up to the place that God made him for, He had to restart the process by coming Himself as another Adam.

So, in spite of all our many great accomplishments, as we the civilization only seven thousand years old descended from that original Adam and Eve whose conscious life was breathed into our humanoid biological ancestors by the only God there is, yes, in spite of these accomplishments made possible in us by Christ who says, ‘you will do even greater things,’ we still haven’t taken our place, and so these tangles.

These tangles, these stumbles, these getting caught on something where everything should flow smoothly, these little annoyances—not to mention the big ones like wars and revolutions and ecological disasters—these are signs to us, reminders, even wake up calls, to the individual, to you and me, and to human society, that we still aren’t what God created us to be. We disobey God, so creation disobeys us.

What you’re expecting to hear next, maybe, is an altar call: Just accept Jesus, and be saved. But though this is without a doubt the beginning of the good news, the Gospel, it is not the end. We can, and mostly have, stopped short at Christianity as a religion. We haven’t followed Christ, our great High Priest, as He goes beyond the veil, to that real Throne that He shares with His Father and the Holy Spirit.

And which He promises to seat us upon, because that Throne was really made for us in the Beginning, and at the Ending we will be seated upon it, as He foretells to His beloved disciple John in the book we call Revelation, ‘He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches’ (3:21-22).

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Ikons of the Divine Nature

The sacerdotal priesthood in the Body of Christ is an ikonic construct established by Christ and the holy apostles, within the human biological and cultural milieu, and within the divine order of His creation.

The relationship between male and female is the union of ‘a kneeling with a sceptred love,’ as C.S. Lewis puts it. Modern people, brought up within a world view largely contemptuous of divine order, even when they are Christians, tend to see every social relationship in terms completely alien to nature that are the product of mere thinking.

The so-called ‘age of enlightenment’ is really just another ideology. Christ is not ideology, and if we follow Him, we follow nature as well, for it is patterned after Him. Nature and life. Modern man has let his thoughts carry him away.

Why didn’t I say ‘modern man and woman’?

Because Man includes Woman: The two are one, and are meant to reflect the divine order in the most perfect way. Now, I just noticed that I seem to be expressing myself as the proponent of an ideology and gotten off course. What I wanted to say was something much simpler; it is just this:

Modern people thinking of ‘church’ think of it in modern terms, where only the leaders, the high profile visibles, matter. That is not, however, how Christ thinks of ‘church’.

Being a priest, or whatever the equivalent is in any Christian community, is not something that most people, not even most men, are called to be. Literally, we are all priests in the holy nation of God, male and female, and no one is more preeminent—despite the titles and ceremonial forms of address—than anyone else.

Priests are men because fathers have to be men. Where does that leave women in the Church? Everywhere, but only a woman can be a mother. There is no trans-gender in the Body of Christ (speaking now metaphorically, not addressing the issues of trans-sexuality).

I can only explore from my home base, Greek Orthodox Christianity. A community is pastored by a presbyter and presbytera, ideally. A family becomes a priestly family, each with his and her role to play.

If the male dies, the female remains a presbytera and continues her ministry within the community: She never marries again. The same is true if the female dies: The male remains a presbyter and continues his ministry without remarrying. In those situations, the community itself replaces the lost partner in various ways, to help the presbyter or presbytera to continue fulfilling the role that Christ has assigned them.

The Orthodox Christian family is the basic unit of the Church, and within it the same divine order prevails.

When married, husband and wife are crowned king and queen, priest and priestess (though we don’t use those words, I don’t think, in English) of what will be a new cell in the Body of Christ.

Everything, absolutely everything, is laid out according to divine order. What we see in reality, though, is a Church that is struggling against a constant invasion by the world at the family level. That is where our struggle lies, and not every family fulfills the call. Feminism and secular attitudes invade and capture us, and we come to question and analyze the Word of God with an attitude of superiority to it.

I have visited a website of Catholic feminists where nuns want to become priests, and some actually have, I think, though it is without canonicity. This is all too stupid for words! As if canonicity mattered!

If the canons of the Church were changed to admit women priests, bishops, etc., that would not change the divine order, nor could it cover up the mismatch and disobedience we would be trying to hide under our new regulations.

All this has been better and more fully said elsewhere, but I try to explain it without a polemic motivation: Every essential ministry is open to every man or woman in the Church, excepting those ceremonials which are ikons of the Divine Nature in humanity.

We all can be spiritual fathers and spiritual mothers: In fact, that is what God expects us to be, what Christ calls us to. What else can it mean to be ‘called to be saints’, if not this?

Evening meander

Psychosávvaton, ‘the Saturday of the Souls’ of the feast of Pentecost is coming up this week, and so I am thinking of my ancestors…

miłość, miły, miłosierdzie, miłosierny, miłościwy
love (n.), pleasant (adj.), mercy (n.), merciful (adj.), gracious (adj.)

My family is one hundred per cent Polish by nationality. My father’s father, Kazimierz Górny, immigrated to America from his birth place on a royal estate in the Grand Duchy of Poznań, a province of the Kingdom of Prussia, sojourning a while in Hanover, and then departing from the Free City of Hamburg, via ocean liner to New York City, in 1902. My father’s mother, Zofia Pokrzywa, immigrated in the same era from a country estate of a landed gentry family in the Kingdom of Galicia, a crown land of the Austrian Empire. We don’t know (yet, but I’m working on it) the exact year of her immigration, or her point of departure, only an apocryphal legend that she and her sister were spirited away by their uncle, after their parents were killed and their estate plundered by angry peasants.

Two things stand out to me about these parents of my father. They were merciful and gracious. Yes, they were other things too. They were both educated, speaking English fluently before they ever arrived in the New World. Casimir (the easier-to-pronounce German version of his name) was an entrepreneur and a man of many talents. Trained in ‘Kolonialwaren’ (import of consumables, retail and wholesale), he had a keen business sense, transferable to other fields. One of his first jobs in America was real estate development in the Florida panhandle. His unwillingness to pay his black employees less than his white caused him to be blacklisted by other bosses, who forced him out. He went north to Chicago and started a building and loan association. Zofia, my grandmother, did volunteer work helping other newly arrived immigrants who couldn’t speak English make the adjustment to living in America. Merciful and gracious, my paternal grandparents were quiet about their philanthropy, but they were the model for their children and grandchildren.

Though I spoke Polish as a young child, I only read it now. Growing up in America where one is free to choose absolutely everything about oneself, even religious and ethnic affiliations, I found myself on an eastward course, migrating to Orthodox Christianity and Hellenism as a young adult, and raising my own family within that environment. Now, with everyone ‘grown up,’ even me, I find that returning to my roots gives a finished touch to my life. I appreciate my ancestors, and their virtues and example, much more. I had to make ‘the journey out and in’ to arrive on my own at the same place that they perhaps arrived on their own. Due to an unusually wide generational gap between us (my grandfather Casimir was seventy-two when I was born) I didn’t have the benefit of watching and learning from him and my grandmother. Nevertheless, there was something that was passed down through my parents’ generation to mine, and I hope it continues to pass down, however it happens, whether it’s part of a temperament rooted in genetics, upbringing, or faith.

The Polish words I wrote at the beginning of this essay are a meditation of mine, something that came to me as I did my chores today, thinking of my ancestors. My mother’s family name was Milewski. It is spelled with a different ‘L’ than the words above, but I like to think it is still somehow related to these words in meaning, and that’s how my meditation started. I was thinking of my other grandfather, Paweł Milewski. He had perhaps more humble beginnings than Casimir and, coming from the Russian dominated heart of Poland, had a more gentle, resigned spirit, quiet, sensitive, yet artistic and innovative. He was a craftsman in wood as Casimir was, and they often visited together in his home workshop in the basement. Down there he also had a little sleeping cot, where he would retreat when the hustle and bustle of daily life got too much for him. Both physically and spiritually, I resemble him most, even though I never had a chance to know him either. When I think of him, all those Polish words come to mind, the ‘M’ words, all meaning love in manifestation.

One more memory. My other grandmother, Maria Kozińska, who made her house part museum, part menagerie, a collector of the latest inventions, the rarest tropical birds and exotic dogs, proud of her (possibly imagined) upper class Warsaw background, yet humble enough to labor obsessively in her garden and raise her own chickens and geese so she could prepare the family meals according to her own illustrious tastes.

One night, my older sister and I stayed overnight at her house. Grandfather was asleep in his tiny bedroom (or perhaps in his workshop below). Busia (our affection name for our grandmother) tucked us both in a small bed hidden behind the wall of the kitchen, in the back porch actually, though it was enclosed and had a glazed window. Everyone had been in bed asleep for some hours. In the pitch black darkness, I felt myself suddenly nudged and awakened by my sister. Busia was there, leading us by the hand back through the kitchen and into her tiny bedroom. The room was so small, there was nothing in it but her bed. She tucked us in carefully, kissed us good night, and disappeared. The night was so cold, she was afraid for us, and traded places. We didn’t see her sleeping in the back porch, because she was up long before us preparing breakfast, but we knew that’s where she had slept. Matter-of-factly and firmly, but still mercifully, she too delivered the message of love to us.

Love, mercy, gentleness, affirmation demonstrated by a kiss lightly laid on a sleepy head, by a quiet prayer reverently recited, unafraid to love unconditionally, providentially, even passionately, but pleasantly, how little energy this takes, how easily it flows out of our hearts and souls when we let it, how naturally it saves us and welcomes us into the Kingdom of Heaven, yes, how effortless is the way of Him who says, ‘Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls’ (Matthew 11:29).

The crown of scripture

                    Turn it this way, turn it that way,
                    everything is in it,
                    keep your eye upon it
                       and from it do not stir.
                   
                    Turn it this way, turn it that way,
                    grow old and aged over it,
                    for you have no better portion,
                       better portion than the Word.

(Folk song based on Pirke Avot, 5:24)

To ‘study’ the bible as one studies a specimen under the microscope, except perhaps for bible scholars (if there really is such a thing), is the wrong way to study it. It's equally wrong to pretend to give people ‘the big picture’ by not making them study it at all, but instead by entertaining them. Both these approaches to the written Word of God are ways to escape the main function of scripture, which is to bring us face to face with our sin, and with our Saviour.

We say we study the bible, but actually the bible is studying us. We may think we are rightly dividing the Word of God, but actually the Word of God is rightly dividing us. That is, if we let Him. (Jesus is the Word of God. The bible is His icon.) Rightly dividing us from our sin, from the world and all its pomp, and from the power of the evil one.

People think we're so blessed to live in an age when there are so many amazing resources available, yet it's precisely this mistaken attitude about technological resources that has changed Christianity from a living faith and close walk with the Lord to a kind of dinner theatre about such a faith and walk.

We have become detached from the Word of God like a doomed fetus becomes detached from the uterus and then dies, which the mother may not discover for days, but which can kill her as well if it is not discovered in time. That mother is the Church, that fetus is the believers who do not live in the Word but only ‘watch a movie’ about it and think they've ‘got it.’

To live in the Word of God is to make the holy and God-breathed scriptures, the bible, our daily bread, our constant companion, our very home.

This means never being without it, physically, when possible, even if it's only a slim New Testament and Psalms tucked into a pocket.

This means rising in the morning with the Word on our lips, praying and thanking the Lord in the words of psalms and prophecies, not just five times a day as Muslims do, but all through the day (and night).

This means turning not to vain and sometimes vile entertainments (making excuses for the profanity in them), but turning to the bible for refreshment, for relaxation, for recreation.

No, you can play sports, go on hikes, collect stamps, read novels, write poetry, play the guitar, have an electric train set, or even a speedboat… but what’s on your mind, really?

I'm no different from the rest. I often have to yank my attention back to where it belongs, visit the mansion that Christ my Lord and Saviour has prepared for me in His Father’s house. What? You thought He was talking about the heavenly mansion? Well, yes, of course, that one too. But the study of and meditation on the inspired words of the divine and holy scriptures, that is like a foyer leading into the heavenly mansion, and a foyer is part of the house, isn't it?


Paradox upon paradox, that the churches that claim most strongly to be centered on the bible have the most trouble cleaving to it, but find ever more numerous by-paths and supposed short-cuts to keep them off the One True Highway to Heaven—the Word of God.

Visit any Christian book store. The bible section, besides being splintered by the proliferation of ‘specialty’ bibles, is often dwarfed by sections devoted to contemporary Christian authors, gimmicks, and games. Why all these Christian authors and their books?


Isn’t the Word of God in the form of the bible enough for us? Isn’t the Holy Spirit here with us to help us understand it? But how can we hope to be disciples of the Lord, if we do not stay constantly at His side? And how do we do this? By ‘never letting the sacred volume out of our hand,’ as Jerome says.

Instead of expanding your facilities and upgrading your film stash and other technological enhancements, get back to the bible, teaching it, studying it, learning it by heart, worshipping with it, praying it, prophesying with it, evangelizing with it, healing with it, feeding on it and living in it.

There is no other divine scripture on earth, no other literature whose sum is greater than the total of its parts, no other book so alive that it doesn’t need to be enhanced with movies and computer games.

And we think that we can do better than the living God who provided this crown for us?

Queen of Love

Poetry is one of my loves, whether it's just written to be read aloud, or as lyrics to be sung. It is the poetry of the Bible that I read most regularly, the Psalms, and the Prophets, but from time to time I pick up a book of poetry and just read for awhile. Leaves of Grass, by Walt Whitman, is my all time favorite. But apart from the scriptures, it is actually the poetry of my favorite songs that follows next after the Psalms in my daily devotions. By devotions I mean, the remembrance of God. I am retired now, but when I was still in the labor force, I used to listen to these songs as I drove to and from work, and while I was at work, I used to sing them. I was a machinist in my last five years, so I could get away with that, even when I sang hymns. In fact, if someone walked past my station and didn't hear me singing away in Greek or French or German or, yes, even in English, they'd ask me, ‘Something wrong today, Romanos?’

The song I am quoting below is from a Scottish folk ensemble from the late 1960's, my college days. It is titled ‘Queen of Love.’ It is one of the songs I hold most deeply in my spiritual core. It is full of biblical allusions, but it also makes reference to pre-Christian mythology (as Pan with the unsane eyes, or with the wild horns) and folk customs (or when I am crowned with the paper crown, an allusion to an April Fools Day tradition). It speaks of things using few words that I can only express in paragraphs, if at all.

One of my dearest friends told me years ago that he thought this particular song was the point at which its author, Robin Williamson, finally and openly rejected Christianity. I didn't contradict him, but I entirely disagree with him. To me, this song, taken together with others by the same author, displays a grass-roots familiarity with both the Bible and the Western Tradition, and uses this to express the meeting of earth and heaven in human experience, leaving it to us to find the key to unlock the meaning of this experience, but pointing us in the direction of Christ, the Word of God.

Yes, but who exactly is this ‘Queen of Love’?

Well, it's very hard to say, precisely. Personally, I think she is the third Person of the Holy Triad, the Spirit, who can be described in feminine terms, shown in ikons as ‘Holy Wisdom,’ and of whom it can be said, ‘You have unwove my eyes, and my heart will not sleep.’ The person of the Queen of Love in this song provides a container for the other words in the song, many of which point to Christ. This, too, is a characteristic of the Holy Spirit. He doesn't draw attention to Himself, but always points us to Jesus.

If anything in this song offends you, dear reader, please accept my humble apology. I am a mere human and therefore subject to error and sin, and that may be why I love this song. On the other hand, if these lyrics please you, dear reader, and you would like to actually hear the song, you can click HERE and listen to it.

This song is my gift to myself and to you, and may it draw us closer together, as we approach the fiftieth day of our salvation, Pentecost, when we shall prepare ourselves for the awesome and everlasting anointing of that Holy Spirit who is celebrated in its lyrics, as the Queen of Love.

A strong power calls from the left hand
across the waters deep
A strong power calls from the left hand
let all things sleep or weep

Oh, the Queen of Love,
you have unwove my eyes
and my heart will not sleep

The eye would sleep but the mind would rise
I must needs walk down God's eyebrows
and along the street of his eyes

Look for me,
and you will see me in my red cloak,
swimming determined as God's blood flies

Creatures of grief,
you beg from the thief
I will not carry home your sacks of sorrow

But I will pay the fiddler
good silver if he smiles,
pray God he see tomorrow

And the fine, fine girls that are into it
and my eyes with salt water swim,
and we disputing with a brittle gaiety
upon the world's rim

If I sought to love you with my body,
it would be with a bent back
unto the day of doom

Oh, the Queen of Love,
I am in her heart,
she is in my room,
and together alone we clasp hands
and in each other's eyes
walk the endless shore

And below I have my duty
to perform in the song
and that that I was
you will see it no more

The snow is on the hills of my heart
and to speak is to die
The men at arms do seek to mark me
and the monks raise hue and cry

Seek me in vain on Golgotha
or in fear's hollow
for the way I take today
only the true may follow

The ancestors in stone armour
calling for loyalty untrue
seek to make a zigzag of the arrow's flight

It is so swaddled in the bands of form
but I am girdled with the storm
and cloaked with the night

I am not to be seen or found
save only in what I cause,
standing outside on the inside outside,
perfectingness and flaws

How will I say where I end
or where you begin?
How will I say, what shall I play?
Shall it be you or the wild wind?

As Pan with the unsane eyes
or with the wild horns
or when I am crowned with the paper crown
or with the crown of thorns

A strong power compels distortion
from the right hand
Fleece to the grey wolves,
fangs to the grey sheep

But the Queen of Love she strokes
my body alive, that I do not sleep

The doctor brews potions and pills
to open his own front door
and the locksmith makes strong bolts to bar his gates
to every new breeze that blows

Shall I now put lion's ears upon my ears,
hear every sound as a roar?
Shall I now put mouse's eyes upon my eyes,
gauge the moon for size against my paw?

While the Queen of Love,
she sings to me from above
and beyond the world

And I observe my mind,
it is playing ignorant boy
while at her feet I am curled

And I remember all female movements so well,
of such a form to bring much joy
and ease much care
to perfume and let fall the coloured gown
and to let down the curling hair

But now I play seed thrower,
and I will play three-legged man
I will play dream weaver and day bringer
and catch as catch can

While the Queen of Love,
she swims like a silver dove
in my mind's room
and my body sleepwalks down the road
in a warm dark swoon

Queen of Love, by Robin Williamson

The house built on rock

As the ‘Great and Holy Council’ is about to begin, I could not help myself. I have to post this again, just to encourage myself that, whatever happens, Christ is still the Head of the Church, and she is His beloved Bride. Originally posted August 17, 2015.

The ‘Great and Holy Council of 2016’ is being prepared. Purposely I have not looked into it and know nothing about it, only the name, which I even had to research to make sure it was correct, and that it was really happening. I am not a seminary-trained theologian or a member of the ordained clergy, and what I am about to say is therefore at best my humble opinion, at worst maybe potential heresy. Until a great council is convened, many free thoughts remain free and their thinkers within the fold of Holy Church; afterwards, maybe not. Councils are convened as much to root out the unwanted as they are to plant anew what ‘the mind of the Church’ desires. That mind is also supposed to be at one with the mind of Christ, as it was at the first, ‘for it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials’ (Acts 15:28). Unfortunately, history shows us that this is not always the case. The unity of the Church must remain either only a metaphor, or else, the church that holds itself to be ‘the only true’ must protect itself and God instead of following Christ.

Why the Council? My guess is, the Orthodox are thinking that they have been gradually growing apart from each other, as well as in relation to ‘the world,’ which cannot see us as a faith to be reckoned with, because visibly we seem fragmented and ineffectual. Myself, I feel that this apparent disunity is a symptom of our lack of heroic and decisive leadership, which produces a general confusion from the top down. In the 20th century we had such heroic, yes, even Christlike, leaders. The last of them are quickly dying off, and they seem to have few, if any, successors of like stature. Whatever they think the ‘Great and Holy Council of 2016’ will achieve, I hope (and yes, pray) that it will be commandeered not by political and religious interests, but by the Holy Spirit. How will we know the difference?

I have yet many things to tell you, but you cannot bear them now. But when the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all truth. For He will not speak on His own authority. But He will speak whatever He hears, and He will tell you things that are to come. He will glorify Me, for He will receive from Me and will declare it to you. All that the Father has is Mine. Therefore I said that He will take what is Mine and will declare it to you.
John 16:12-15

To call a Council at the threshold of the third millennium has to be the work, not of men, but of the Holy Spirit. The Roman Catholic pope, John XXIII, prophetically inaugurated this work at the end of the second millennium. For those who were not yet alive, the last pope John was very much like the current pope Francis. They both have a way of living, speaking, and acting as if they were ordinary humans, not wearers of infallible authority. This behavior generates both hope and fear in members of their Church, and in the world generally. I have a hunch that, had pope John lived to see the Vatican Council to its conclusion (instead of presiding only at the first session), he would have been the last Roman pope, and the herald of the end of the Great Schism. The non-Roman observers he had invited would have been accepted for who they were—hierarchs and leaders of the universal Church—and the course of the Church, and of all of human history, would have been radically altered.

What do I hope for in a ‘Great and Holy Council’? Notice, I did not call it ‘the’ nor did I append a year. Why not? Because I do not know that this Council will be anything but a further estrangement between Christians, and the perpetuation of a ‘religious’ Christianity. I can only hope that it will be the final Council, the one that establishes for all time, not only the truth as Christ, but the way and the life as well. What I mean is, seeing as how we have verified beyond all shadow of a doubt who Jesus Christ is, we can begin to follow Him for real, not for religion. The Church must finally decide what she is, now that she knows who He is.

There is only one controversy to be decided. It is not about jurisdictions, nor about primacy. It is not about devotional practices, worship and the like, nor about morality, rules and regulations. It is about the life or death of the Church. We already have Christ’s promise that ‘the gates of Hades will not prevail against it,’ and so we know the Church will survive, and not only survive but triumph, and continue till the Day of Christ’s return. The controversy is, is the Church a religious society dedicated to its own perpetuation, or is it the transfiguration of all of humankind by the promotion of life in Christ? We’ve been doing the first—by our own efforts ‘preserving and protecting’ the Church—for two thousand years. Isn’t it about time to ‘let God be God,’ to stand on His promise to preserve the Church till the end of time, while we follow Jesus, doing what He does, learning from Him, obeying Him?

Whoever hears these sayings of Mine and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on a rock. And the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house. And it did not fall, for it was founded on rock. And everyone who hears these sayings of Mine and does not do them will be likened to a foolish man who built his house on sand. And the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house. And it fell. And its fall was great.
Matthew 7:24-27

Let me put it another way. The Church has spent a great deal of effort, all through history, of creating structures real and theoretical, to tabernacle God, letting ‘Lord, have mercy’ replace being merciful, building a religious edifice that Christ Himself does not want. He did not come to start another religion, but to be the end of religion. Christ is not a religious reformer. He is the re-creation of the perfect Man. We call Him the ‘new’ or the ‘second Adam.’ His resurrection from the dead is an absolute novelty in the history, not only of the earth, but possibly of the universe. He didn’t rise from the dead and then die again, like Lazarus. Religion pales into absurdity and insignificance when we consider these facts, yet we make Christ’s teachings a metaphor instead of following them. Is this the Church that the ‘Great and Holy Council’ is going to secure for us and for humanity in the third ‘Christian’ millennium?

No, the Council shall alone be ‘great and holy’ that enthrones Christ, the King of kings of kings, not as a religious idol, but as the God who lives among us, healing our infirmities, curing us of blindness, raising us from the tombs of our sinful nature, preparing us by His holy commandments, making us in spirit and in truth (that is, in reality) a holy nation of priests and kings, extending the borders of the Church to encompass all of humanity, welcoming all to the life of transformation, expecting not the end of the world, but the end of the world as we have known it, dissolving division, slaying slander, abolishing the darkness of earthly ignorance and overturning the poverty of the knowledge of God, preaching and pursuing peace, inaugurating the wedding feast of heaven and earth.

How can the Council that is being planned be that one which transforms the human race, and history, in the way I have so inadequately described? By letting go, perhaps, of all concern for self-preservation, by abandoning exclusiveness, by seeing the Church not as a subset of humanity that intellectually accepts a body of religious doctrines, but as all humankind waiting for illumination, and, most of all, by returning to the word of Jesus, for that is the house built on rock.