Thursday, April 28, 2016

Lords of the universe

We are not at the top of the order of being. We have told ourselves that we are since we began to think of creation as stratified into tiers of increasing complexity. We haven’t found any other living things in the world which we could classify as of a higher order than ourselves. Scientifically, angels don’t count.

Once we told ourselves that our planet, be it flat or spherical, was the center of the universe. Some few people in the world today, Sa’udi clerics for example, still believe in a flat earth in the center of Allah’s creation. Most now know, or at least believe what scientists tell them, earth is a mere speck in space.

Whether being a mere speck reduces the importance of earth or not is a question to be debated by biologists and by theologians. If earth ends up being the only life-bearing planet in who knows how many galaxies, the theologian wins, and earth even regains its place as the center of the universe.

It doesn’t seem likely. Even common sense, not to mention the unscientific ancient religious mind, assumes that if there’s life on earth, there must be elsewhere, given that there are more galaxies in the universe than there are grains of sand on earth. A hundred years ago, people believed Mars inhabited.

It seems to be a question of some importance, though. Are we or are we not at the top of the order of being, even if the earth is a mere speck? We associate human consciousness and its attributes, reason, memory, and will, to the fact of our superior brain, itself a mere physical organ which all creatures have.

Our brain is bigger than most, and better, and that puts us at the top, along with our superior consciousness. Yet consciousness is experienced only when we are awake. Asleep, we are no better than, not even other animals, but no better than even rocks. What connects consciousness and the brain?

That is to ask, what connects the soul to the body? a question falling into the hands of the theologian, though it more properly belongs to the scientist, in my opinion. It is also connected to the question, who is at the top of the created order of being? ‘Created’ conveniently cuts God out of the answer.

We already believe or know that God is at the top of the order of being, or even that He is Being. We are now free to ask, with the primitive animist, why shouldn’t living things other than ourselves have a ‘soul’ or consciousness, identity, self-awareness, and so on, perhaps even why shouldn’t earth itself?

Modern animists, a New Age religion, do in fact believe earth to be a living thing, some calling it by a Latinized form of its ancient Greek name, Gaea, and worshiping it. Of course, it is a feminine deity. There is as much reason to revive sun worship, as we know what the sun looks like, but do we know what it is?

In C. S. Lewis’ children’s books, the Chronicles of Narnia, some boys and girls from earth leave the universe in which our planet exists and enter a different order of creation, where stars are not only balls of hot gas but also living things, if not biologically as we are, at least as conscious entities, with powers.

Powers such as we humans have, reason, memory, and will, but greater in scale, we attribute to such spiritual beings as angels, which are characters in our religious tradition. Do angels really exist, or are they personifications of cosmic powers such as sun, planets, and stars, acknowledged by ancient man?

The direction of my question is not to find myself in a place where I disavow the existence of the angels, but where I find myself able to justify my intuition that the search for both life, and higher forms of life, need not be limited to the biological, and also that the search for consciousness not be limited to man.

For the surge of modern thinking is being channeled ever more narrowly into a life- and consciousness-denying ravine. Angels are assumed no less mythical than ancient gods, living creatures below man are assumed inferior and at our unconditional disposal, even the human fetus, since ‘it’s not a human yet.’

I hope for a rescue both scientific and teleological from this anti-humanistic attitude. Yes, a theological rescue as well, but that rescue must be teleological, it must be ‘of the last things.’ It may be that we as a race will only come to know the truth of the Kingdom of Heaven when we are at the point of entering it.

Meanwhile, I worship the God, One in Essence, Whose Life is the Community of Persons, Father, Son, Spirit, and… the rest of us. I venerate all, not only other humans, but other life forms, even other beings not fully or un-biological in whose presence I feel an abiding consciousness, the gift of the God of all.

At least I am sure of one thing. We are not at the top of the order of being. We are not at the top of our being, which is the only being we can know intimately and directly. We start our life journey as the Adam, but the New Adam has appeared, historically in Jesus, potentially in us, both one by one, and together.

That which is higher in the order of being than our original human nature has already taken its place in our genes, from the time that Deity was formed in the womb of an obscure Jewish girl, Mary of Nazareth, and there it waits for us to activate it. To follow her and her Son is the most important step in evolution.

Once that step is taken, we as a race look back with wonder at our wars, our doomed attempts to explore and conquer the universe, even our search for life beyond earth is shown to have been a waste of time. The mirage we pursued vanishes, leaving us the real lords of the universe, living images of the Lord of all.

The creation waits in eager expectation 
for the revelation of the sons of God.
Romans 8:19

Monday, April 25, 2016

Wounded by love

Follow the Lord to Golgotha.

A man wounded, knowing how to bear weakness

Isaiah 53:3 Septuagint

Be wounded
and know how to bear pain.
The Cross must be familiar and acceptable to you as a place to be and a mode of existence.

Then the Lord will come at some time, without fail, as He knows best. He will come and find you. He will touch your aching head, as "…He touched the leper" (Matthew 8:3).
He will speak to you. He will enter into you like light, repose, paradise. You will be aware of Him. You will feel Him. You will actually live His passion and resurrection. You will find yourself inside the icon of the Resurrection, of the Descent into Hades.

This icon will be an expression of your life. Christ will be constantly leading you by the hand, bringing you to light, to freedom, to an unending journey which is Himself.


You understand then the words of the Lord, "Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into His glory?" (Luke 24:26) Christ had to suffer and to come forth as a Bridegroom from the tomb.
A great mystery!


You feel that you had to suffer, to endure pain, to die in the earth like a seed, so that there might shoot up from within you something that does not pass away.

I am created for some specific purpose, for something intangible, invisible to the naked eye, and yet incarnate.
I know it. I believe it. I experience it.


When I move away from it, everything goes awry, in my soul and in my body. When I am within it, I am firmly grounded and recover everything, the health of my soul and body. When I am alone, I am in communion with the saints. When I am in a crowd, I am nourished by the pure spring welling up in the desert within.

Reverence for this least and greatest thing takes the form of constantly going outdoors without protection, of asking at every moment only that His will should be done. Asking it not with my mouth and voice, but with my whole manner of living, all the time.

And when you ask that His will should be done, when your whole being is one bleeding petition, it happens. But this happening is not something you can determine in advance. It may happen by happening or by not happening. It may be that before your petition is even finished, the answer comes. Or you may wait years and wear yourself out, and be disappointed, and reach utter exhaustion, and be destroyed. And then, when you are no longer expecting anything—neither you nor anyone else—He Himself will come to raise you up, to take you with Him on a new journey.
Then you will understand why He was slow in coming for you. He was with you "in another form" (Mark 16:12), even when He had not come and you were waiting for Him.

How everything functions as a whole! How nothing is irrelevant, nothing is wasted! How the blessings go deeper than we hoped! How the afflictions, the pains and the perplexities till the field of our souls like a deep-cutting ploughshare! How totally and utterly the strange and heaven-sent rest differs in nature from the rest and satisfaction afforded by any earthly and temporary success! How it teaches us humility, how it schools us in love, how it reconciles us with others! It strengthens us, it invigorates us, and at the same time it makes us weaker, without any prickles or sharp corners which could wound others!
—Archimandrite Vasileios

My citadel is God Himself.
the God who loves me is coming…
Psalm 59:10 Jerusalem Bible (1966)

Ship of Faith

I am the first to admit that there are many others who are far more intelligent, far more learned, and especially far wiser than I, and yet I keep on thinking, and writing, about issues with which I struggle, sometimes appearing as though I have just uttered definitively a truth that cannot be questioned. This is only a shadow of the rigor with which I hold myself, not you, dear reader, accountable to the God who is at once my savior and my judge.

I used to struggle with the idea of the Church—what is it? who is it? where is it? why is it? After thinking myself into a Gordian knot, one day a line I had read dozens of times in a book by one of my few favorite Christian writers, Sergey Fudel, finally cut through that knot and saved me any further trouble trying to undo it. ‘The Church is a pan-human reality,’ he writes in his book Light in the Darkness. That idea confirmed much of my experience.

Once I understood that the Church is a pan-human reality, that every human being is included in it, my whole view of what constitutes evangelism changed. The root meaning of evangelion, the good news, the gospel, was revealed to me as essentially this, that ‘God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life,’ the famous John 3:16. Now the struggle was ‘whoever believes.’

I had read another famous line, ‘There is no salvation outside the Church,’ and I witnessed the great lengths to which people have gone to try to impress belief on the unbelieving, everything from trying to extract their faith by spectacles, to squeezing it out of them by social pressure, to arguing it out of them by debate, to threatening it out of them by hell fire, even to extorting it out of them by barely disguised bullying—all of it, mere religious marketing.

Then I heard the words of another of my few spiritual teachers, Mother Gavrilia, who said, ‘Our faith is not for sale.’ A light turned on in my head and a fire kindled in my heart. Right, Christ and His holy apostles were not salesman for a heavenly product—salvation. They were the great King sallying forth with His chosen ambassadors to announce that Love has appeared in human form and the gates of paradise have been forever opened to all who would enter.

The Church is now revealed not to be a ‘true Church’ surrounded by its enemies, dissenters, sectarians who have fallen off, or been thrown out of, the ship of faith. No, there is Christ and the Theotokos, there are the holy apostles and saints, there are all human beings who have ever been born of woman—yes, and even those only conceived but unborn—sailing together in the ship of faith, whose mast is the Holy Cross, whose sails are filled with the Holy Spirit.

And who are outside, who not aboard, that ship? who flailing hopelessly adrift in the stormy sea? who crouching, bows and javelins in hand, behind rocks to shoot at, to spear those safely sailing in the ship of faith? I see no one and nothing but shadows flickering on the restless waves, shadows of those very saved ones peering out at the sea as they fill the decks. Shadows, that is, fears, that have now been proven to be nothing at all, though they threatened many a saved soul to abandon ship. Yes, shadows flickering on the restless waves, fears alone are the lost, forever separated from the souls on board.

There is no ‘Catholic’ Church. There is no ‘Orthodox’ Church. There is no ‘Evangelical’ Church. There is only the Church, only the Ship of Faith, only the Body of Christ, only the Bride of the Lord and Bridegroom, Jesus Christ. Yes, ‘the’ beyond name and number, ‘the’ before all division and multiplicity. The Church that recognizes this truth knows that its field is the whole earth, that there is no territorial limit to its jurisdiction or its responsibility. There is no religion or lack of it that excuses us from fulfilling the ‘great commission’ or from announcing the Message, ‘Be reconciled to God’ (2 Corinthians 5:11).

We have a great ally in the work of handing on this reconciliation. The same Lord who commands us, ‘Go,’ is also present in every living soul to which we are sent. He awaits our arrival in the heart of every human being whom He has created for eternal joy, and to whom the Door to that joy is He Himself, dwelling secretly within. As the unborn forerunner John leapt in his mother’s womb at the sound of the voice of the Theotokos, the Mother of his Lord, so leaps the unborn spiritual heart of every person when we announce the true gospel of Christ to them, without guile or condemnation, but with genuine love.

Now I know that the Church is not only invincible—the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it—but that it is inevitable. It is where the whole human race is heading, like it or not, because mercy is irresistible. New birth cannot be stopped any more than birth can. An infant has no choice. It must be born. It must leave the familiar and comfortable womb of its mother. It must receive breath. It must shortly be nursed at the breast, and then rebel against it as it should, as its mother desires. The Church is the mother of the entire race, and when she recognizes all as her children, she raises them together.

The weak really are strengthened, not rejected. The ignorant really are taught, not despised. The insane really are cured, not tolerated. The wayward really are disciplined, not indulged. The addicted really are freed, not abandoned. The hopeless really are encouraged, not driven to despair. So, human will returns to God. The Church knows that it cannot be divided, nor was it ever by anything real, only men’s vain opinions which, like Hades’ infamous gates, shall never, because they never could, prevail. ‘A mighty fortress is our God’ is transfigured to ‘God is inside the City, she can never fall, at crack of dawn, God helps her’ (Psalm 46).

It must be written that in the first decades of the first century of the third millennium of the Church, great persecutions raged, horrible crimes against humanity were committed, but that these only deepened the furrows and fertilized the earth for the reception and growth of the seed of the New Adam, these only cleared away the brambles that had been choking the seed sown before. Yes, a new humanity, a race of priests and kings, first-born sons and universal citizens, God’s incarnate images on earth male and female, that is what the Church is, was, and will be, to the ages of ages.

Yes, the Ship of Faith.

Ikon not made by hands

Yes, there seems to be, and it seems that there has always been, a kind of subtle war between the male and female sexes. We have the saying, ‘It's a man's world,’ and in a strange sort of way it's true. In most places, through most of human history, the male sex dominates society, at least outwardly. In recent times, the women's movement throughout the world has won for the female sex ‘rights’ that previously only men possessed. Actually, going beyond the equalization of ‘rights’ this movement has in many places declared war on the male sex in a barely hidden push to gain ascendancy, and even to collect ‘reparations’ from the offending sex. This post will not be a diatribe against feminism, but simply reviews the state of affairs between the sexes as we find them. What God creates is a humanity that is His image and likeness in two complementary forms. What sin results in is a humanity that is fragmented and distorted and at war with itself.

The Son of God comes into the world—yes, as a male human, a man, according to the Divine economy—to integrate the two natures, human and Divine, in a single person, and in so doing, He also integrates the two sexes, female and male, in a single humanity. He proves true in eternity what was true in time. ‘God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them’ (Genesis 1:27). He also provides the antidote to the sin of gender supremacy by His death on the Cross, His burial in the Tomb, His descent into Hades and His triumph over it, and by His bodily Resurrection and Ascension to the right hand of Divine Majesty. He does so by becoming the Divine Bridegroom, the Second Adam, and by revealing hidden in His side the Divine Bride, the Second Eve. Yes, His virgin Mother is the Second Eve, but not the only one. She is the Mother of all who follow, all who like her become ‘God-bearers.’

The Marriage of earth and heaven makes the earth heavenly and heaven earthly. The divine Bridegroom makes the human Bride divine, just as the unwedded Bride, the human mother of Jesus Christ, makes the divine Bridegroom human. Heaven comes down to earth, so that earth can ascend to heaven. And we, following Jesus, follow her, His mother, and like her also make the divine human. Brotherly love now becomes theological, because to love our brother and sister whom we can see proves that we love God whom we cannot see. In truth, our love for our neighbor, even for all of creation, makes the invisible God visible.

But how does Christ by His Divine economy, His plan of salvation, provide the antidote to the sin of gender supremacy, how does He bring reconciliation and peace between the male and the female? Does He make them equal, as modern social theory attempts to do? Does He remove precedence, privilege, and patriarchy? We still see a male God in heaven, the Father, and a male Son, Jesus Christ. Some see a female God in the Holy Spirit, but all this is just trying to fit the unknowable within the limits of human understanding. We are still thinking in pictures that we have made, but it is the Ikon not made by hands that reveals the Truth.

The Bridegroom and the Bride. This is where we find ourselves when we seek to know the truth of all things. And in the Bridegroom's wounds we are revealed to be His Bride. All of us, male and female, in a single new humanity, one with each other as the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are One in the Holy Triad, who was, who is, and who is to come.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Gatekeepers

It has always irked me, that when a major religious holiday occurs, the gatekeepers of the modern world, such as Google, unfailingly flaunt their non-recognition of it. Be it Passover, as it was today, or Easter, as it was at the end of March, or the coming feast of Pascha, the Orthodox Easter that will be observed a week from this Sunday, anything else is more important, anything else is to be celebrated.

Today it was Earth Day, a new holiday of the religion of the Green Movement, the ecology cult. The gatekeepers will defend themselves, as keeping ‘church’ and ‘state’ separate, as not favoring any religion by closeting all, yet they do allow select religions to be out, this time flaunting un-apologetically their double standard, religions just as pushy as they claim Christianity to be.

Why is it they cannot recognize what is going on right under the noses? That others have a right to honor their God? That to acknowledge a religious holiday of any and all religions does not make them devotees of that God or accomplices of His crimes? What are they afraid of? Are they admitting by their disrespect that Someone is objectively above them, and before them?

They do this, all the while knowing inwardly, in their consciences (for now we must admit that we are talking about individual human beings with free will who make choices, not just the impersonal results of those choices that are written large on our windows) that they are commandment breakers.

Commandment breakers? How can they be commandment breakers when they don’t acknowledge the commandments or Him that commands?

They’ve already told us, in not so many words, they do not accept Him or His commandments. These are the self-proclaimed non-religious, even when some of them claim to be spiritual, or even that they are religious only in private, where religion belongs, now that what used to be private, such as one’s sex life, is as public as what hangs out to dry on the clothes lines.

Yes, commandment breakers, and they needn’t go further than the first commandment, ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me’ (Exodus 20:2-3).

The modern translation loses the second person singular in which the original Hebrew is cast, unfortunately also the immediacy of the one-on-one encounter, ‘I and thou’ as spoken by Spirit to soul, the God to the man (or woman). The ‘you’ of our modern talk dulls both edges of the ‘double-edged sword’ (Revelation 1:16 and 19:15) by grouping us in a plural second person where nobody in particular can be blamed (or rewarded). You know, safety in numbers.

The gatekeepers may have excused themselves of not recognizing the Ten Commandments or Anyone who might have issued them, but they are gravely mistaken. We know both the commandments and the Divine Being whose nature it is that there should be commandments, through our own consciences, or I should say, conscience, because there is but one human conscience in which all inevitably share.

Their objections, the gatekeepers’, that the Ten Commandments are part of the Jewish and Christian, and therefore banable, religions doesn’t help them. It is not the form of the commandments, or where we find them written down, that limits them to one segment of humanity. Everyone, religious or irreligious, has the commandments written inside them, to be carried out or to be rejected.

Even the polytheist, even the atheist, knows what is commanded in the first commandment, that Who is not limited by name or number is not to take second place. The Christian has the saying of Jesus, ‘Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these other things will be added to you as well’ (Matthew 6:33), the first commandment in a different form.

‘The truth, the truth, anything but the truth’ must be the guiding principle of the gatekeepers who keep the ‘truth imprisoned in their wickedness’ (Romans 1:18). Just as it is easier to love than to hate, to believe in God than to disbelieve, how hard it must be for the gatekeepers to keep their eyelids shut and their ears plugged not to see and hear the world of life that surrounds them!

‘The whole world was shining with brilliant light and, unhindered, went on with its work; over them alone there spread a heavy darkness, image of the dark that would receive them. But heavier than the darkness, the burden they were to themselves. But for Your holy ones, all was great light…’ (Wisdom of Solomon 17:19-20, 18:1).

Like the unbelieving Jews—those who would disbelieve, even in the face of incontrovertible evidence, such as the raising of the dead man, Lazarus of Bethany, after four days in the tomb—the gatekeepers of today will stop at nothing to prevent the good news from reaching those who are poor enough to receive it. So, the remembrance of the Exodus from Egypt is glossed over by Earth Day.

Celebrating William Shakespeare, who died April 23, 1616, four hundred years ago today, by far more significant than Lazarus, a mere nobody, whose resurrection after four days by the calling forth of Jesus of Nazareth, another mere Nobody, certainly should take precedence on the gatekeepers’ roster, something to cheer them up, to bring a faint glimmer of gladness to their gloomy world.

Meanwhile, as scripture says, ‘The whole world was shining with brilliant light and, unhindered, went on with its work…’

Come out, and live!

The Saturday of Lazarus, absolutely my favorite liturgical Saturday of the year, except for the following one, Holy and Great Saturday, is dawning upon us.

This is the day in the life of Christ that finally sealed His fate in the minds of his earthly opponents, the leaders of the Jewish community in Palestine. Preaching, teaching, even performing miracles of healing—I’m sure his enemies did not accept the other miracles, such as the feeding of the five thousand—were bad enough, in their eyes, but now this! He doesn’t claim to have raised a man from the dead that was entombed for four days. No, he doesn’t claim it, but everyone else does! The story must be considered the first example of information gone viral. With this evidence in front of them—not that he raised a man from the dead, but that hordes of people believed he did, and then, there was the man himself, Lazarus of Bethany—they had to act, and quickly.

Thus begins the final week in the mortal life of Jesus of Nazareth. Though the events probably did not unfold lickedy-split in factual history as they seem to do in the eight days from Lazarus Saturday to the Saturday of the Harrowing of Hades, they do come at us speedily, just as they did to the people that experienced them when they happened. We, like they, almost have no time to catch our breath, or, at least, starting tomorrow, we shan’t feel much at ease or relaxed. The Lord of all whom we now know to be among us goes to His ever-memorable and glorious humiliation, emptying Himself for us whom He has always filled with good things, in order to make our inheritance in Him, in God, permanent and more certain than any other truth we can ever know.

He dies, that we may live. And not just the way Lazarus was given life again when he was raised from his four-day burial. No, this life which we are granted by Christ, Him ‘who was dead and is alive forever,’ is outside the bounds of what we normally experience as life and death. It is outside physical nature, and yet not entirely within the realm of spirit either. It seems to be that point where times past, present and future, as well as heaven and earth, come to a fruitful conjunction. It is the singularity in which lies latent the new universe that will burst forth with more than a ‘big bang’ on that Day of Resurrection of which Pascha, the day of the resurrection of Christ, is harbinger, first-fruits, and ineffaceable ikon. For ‘all who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ, alleluia.’

Alas for the earthly authorities who put to death the God-man who would otherwise never have tasted death, for He is the only sinless one. Alas for their vain hopes that He who raises the dead to life could ever be buried in the depths of a grave, for He opens the tombs, then as He did with Lazarus of the four-day burial, now as He does for all those who do not die but only fall asleep, believing in Him who says, ‘he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.’ Alas for death itself, for it was plundered not just once in the raising of Lazarus, but once for all in the harrowing of Hades, which now lies in darkness below, having been emptied by the One who commands all who have ever lived or shall live, as He commanded Lazarus, ‘Come out!’ and us, ‘Unbind him, let him go free!’

There is no more darkness. There are no more tears. The dwelling of God is with men. He, calling us back to life who lay dead in our sins, commands us, as He commanded His beloved friend, as if each of us were His one and only, ‘Come out, and live!’ Let us join with Lazarus who like his Lord ‘was dead and is now alive’ and follow Him, as He goes once for all to ascend of His own free will the Tree of Life. Brethren, let us assemble with palms to welcome Him who comes to us a poor man, and not rush to reject Him and hand Him over, as did he who lusted after glory, and having betrayed the Truth in human form, hung himself in despair. That misbelieving man descended to Hades and was bound there, captive. But He whom he betrayed descended to dissolve darkness and bondage forever.

This year in Jerusalem

…I wish! At the end of the Passover Seder, we used to pray, ‘O Pure One, Who dwells on high, raise up the countless congregation, soon—guide the offshoots of Your plants, redeemed, to Zion with glad song. Next year in Jerusalem!’

I miss the festival of Pesach, the Jewish Passover. We used to observe Pesach with a Seder at our house while our four sons were growing up. Sometimes with guests, sometimes not, but an extra seat was always ready for the unexpected guest… may it be holy prophet Elijah! We haven't observed Pesach as a family for many years now. You see, we're Greek Orthodox, and we're not supposed to. Oh well, nobody said we couldn't! I miss it, nonetheless.

I compiled a Passover Haggadah, celebrating Pesach with the Messiah, in those early days, and gradually evolved it over the years. This year I had intended to finish laying it out afresh with new graphics, and possibly having a Seder here again at Sky House, but I ran out of time. It has been a very busy year, right down to the day. God grant me to complete it for next year. Now that self-publishing is so easy, when I finish the new version, I can have it printed and bound for a couple of dollars a copy.

This year the Jewish Passover starts before the onset of Holy Week. Some years, however, it coincides with it. Usually it’s close enough to gently merge into Palm Sunday and the Bridegroom services. Thinking about this makes me wonder what it will be like in Jerusalem this year. I wonder how the holy fire will appear in the kouvouklion (tomb of Christ) inside the Anastasis (Resurrection) Church, what Western Christians call the ‘Church of the Holy Sepulchre.’ This year the Catholic and Orthodox observe Pascha five weeks apart! Next year it will be on the same Sunday. Who will get to go inside, when Greeks and Latins venerate the resurrection of Jesus on the same day? They must take turns. But, as for the holy fire…

In case any of my friends and readers in the Portland area find this post, I want to encourage them to experience at least some of the many daily services of Great and Holy Week. The services are beautiful and edifying in every detail. We venerate Christ the Bridegroom, and we hear Him say to us in the gospel, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me’ (John 12:23-26). What an awesome invitation to follow Jesus, revealing both the cost of discipleship, and its reward.

In the first Bridegroom service, held on Sunday evening, the noble Joseph, an Old Testament prophetic type of the Christ, is lauded.

‘Jacob lamented the loss of Joseph, but his noble son was seated in a chariot and honored as a king; for when he refused to be enslaved by the fascinations of the Egyptian woman, he was glorified by Him Who beholds the hearts of men and bestows an incorruptible crown.’ [Kontakion]

‘Let us now add our lamentations to him who laments, and let us pour out our tears with those of Jacob bewailing his glorious and wise son. For Joseph, though enslaved in body, preserved his soul in freedom and became lord over all Egypt. For God prepares for His servants an incorruptible crown.’ [Ikos]

As for us, we sing these words paraphrasing the words of our Savior Jesus:

‘All the powers of the hosts of the Gentiles shall be ranged against you, for My portion is not with the minds of rulers nor with their authority. He therefore who would be chief among you, let him be the servant of all; and knowing Me as your Lord, sing praises, and exalt unto all ages.’ [Troparion]

To everyone, I extend good wishes for a blessed Pascha, happy Pesach, and a beautiful Resurrection.
‘Let us sing unto the Lord, Who by His divine command dried up the impassable and foaming sea, and permitted the people of Israel to pass through on foot; for gloriously has He been glorified.’
[1st Ode, 2nd Tone, Irmos, from the 1st Bridegroom service]

Exodus

Open your eyes and look within:
Are you satisfied with the life you're living?
We know where we're going;
We know where we're from.
We're leaving Babylon, y'all!
We're going to our Father's land.

Exodus!
Movement of Jah people!

The reggae legend Bob Marley died on 11 May, 1981, over 30 years ago, in a Miami hospital after an 8 month battle with cancer. He was 36. To the masses he was known as Bob Marley, the man who brought them reggae and Rastafarianism. His was the voice of classics like No Woman No Cry, recorded live at the London Lyceum Ballroom in 1975.

However, what most people don't know, and many try to cover up, is the fact that Bob Marley converted to Christianity in 1980. In fact, on 4 November 1980 he was baptised and became a member of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. When he was buried under Orthodox rites on 21 May, 1981, it was with his Bible and his Gibson guitar!

Bob Marley was born at Nine Miles, St Ann's in Jamaica. His father was Norval Sinclair Marley, a 50-something Liverpool born captain in the British Army. His mother, an 18 year old teenager, was Cedella Booker. His birthday is thought to be 6 February, 1945, although no birth certificate has ever been found.

His mother, and his grandparents, read the Bible at home and worshipped in a Christian church. Bob Marley strayed away from that upbringing as a teenager and as an adult embraced Rastafarianism. He had married Alpharita Anderson in February, 1966, and while he was away in the USA earning some money to pursue his musical career she had converted to Rastafarianism, following the visit to Jamaica of Haile Selassie I, Emperor of Ethiopia.

Rastafarians worshipped Selassie as the Messiah and Saviour. Bob followed suit and spent his career espousing the beliefs of Rastafari in songs like One Love, Jammin, and Exodus.

The worship of Selassie is a little ironic as Selassie was a Christian and in the 1970's personally commissioned Archbishop Abuna Yesehaq to go to Jamaica to start a church that worshipped Christ and not himself, in the hope that Jamaicans would follow the true Christ. Yesehaq became the head of the Kingston chapter of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

The archbishop told how Bob Marley had come to his church for some time. When he had expressed a desire to be baptised, people close to him who controlled him and who were aligned to a different aspect of Rastafari prevented him from going ahead.

Bob was under the spiritual guidance of the archbishop but was baptised just a year before his death, after 3 aborted attempts to convert in Kingston. He backed out each time, says the Archbishop, after being threatened by other rastas. Marley was finally baptised in the Ethiopian Church in New York where less resentments were less inflamed. The Archbishop christened him Berhane Selassie, ‘light of the Trinity.’

Yesehaq testifies: ‘I remember once while I was conducting the liturgy, I looked at Bob and tears were streaming down his face. Many people think he was baptised because he knew he was dying, but that is not so. He did it when there was no longer any pressure on him, and when he was baptised, he hugged his family and wept. They all wept together for about an hour."

Yesehaq is adamant Bob's conversion was genuine. It is clear that Marley denounced the belief of Selassie as God at his conversion and baptism into the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and accepted the faith, otherwise his funeral would never have taken place in the church. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church does not allow any ceremonies including funerals for non-members.

Why is the story of Bob Marley's conversion not more widely known? Judy Mowat, one of Marley’s backing singers the I Threes, says,

‘If people knew, they would be drawn to Jesus Christ. Nobody wants to promote that in Jamaica. I said it on a popular television program over there, and a Rasta man met me, and asked me why did I have to say that? I told him it was because it's the truth! But he never wanted me to reveal that and I think that nobody wants it to be revealed because so many people would be drawn to Jesus.’

Bob Marley's official website doesn't even mention his conversion, although a number of fan sites do. Bob Marley found a Redemption Song that Satisfied his Soul. The question is will the People Get Ready for their Exodus!

Bob Marley knew Jesus. Do you?

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Born again

If there is a real God, I can guarantee you that He is going to have a very definite personality and nature—definite, mind you, but not necessarily definable, not as we would have it, anyway. That’s the strange thing about Him that irks some people and gets others in a good deal of trouble. The other thing about Him, if He exists, is that He is not going to fit into our nice, little systems and formularies any more than the wind can be caught in a sack. The only human being who even comes close to being able to speak for Him (because this person declares Himself to be His Son and has an astounding curriculum vitae to prove it) says things like, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”

See the kingdom of God? Be born again (or ‘from above,’ as His words also mean)? This is obviously not something a man can just sit down and decide to do, or reach by mere thinking. This God, if He exists, is not like the capricious gods of Olympus or of the great Hindu epics. He doesn’t play games with us, doesn’t bait and switch, doesn’t taunt and tantalize us with riddles. He speaks plainly—that is, if Jesus (the Son of God I was quoting) is who He says He is, and if His words are true. He says things that at first hearing don’t make sense. And why should they? There’s no reason in the world to assume that this God is ‘just like us.’ We’ve heard that we’re ‘made in His image,’ but if this is true, it still doesn’t help us know Him, or at least know much about Him. Can you draw many conclusions about what a man is by looking at a statue, if you’ve never met one?

Here’s why educated people cannot wrap their brains around the kind of God I am talking about, one that has a definite personality and nature.

They see Him boxed and bagged up, dollified and denatured, defined and dogmatized, used and abused, and flagrantly fantasized by people who say they believe in Him, know all about Him, and want to make sure that you do too. Some of these people hold out threats, that if you won’t accept Him on their terms, you’re a goner, you’re hatched, your goose is cooked, hey man, you’re just plain damned. It leaves a nasty taste in one’s mouth, especially if you’ve studied and experienced life as it is, and have come to expect that if there is a God, He has to be at least as real as that.

So if people think He might or must exist, they try to find out about Him on their own, but usually this gets them no closer than believing that the universe exists, that it functions by means of unalterable laws, that it possibly has no beginning or end; but that somehow falls short of any human expectations. We know we’re here, and we want to know why, and if possible, we want to know if we’re wanted, or just ‘cosmic dust’ blown into a shape by chance, soon to be dissipated, the sooner the better.

There’s a book called the Bible that’s the fearsome foe of all rational and modern men, and women too, since they now know they’re the equal of the less fair sex. Without ever actually looking into it, most people find themselves opposing this Book and its supposed teachings, based solely on what is talked about in the marketplace of ideas. They find it preposterous to believe that if there is a God, He would let Himself be limited to revealing His personality (if He has one) and nature (He’d better have one) in only one ‘holy book.’

Sometimes, either on the sly, or with a mocking attitude and audience, a modern man decides to ‘give God a chance to explain Himself’ and reads passages from this Book. What guides him or her in the selection of passages is often whatever is currently being talked down and mocked in the world of ideas. Going into the reading with a foregone conclusion, a ‘guilty unless proved innocent’ mindset, at once any chance of meeting the God who says He can be found there is derailed.

It doesn’t help matters that all the while the reader’s mind is seething with reports of the excesses of religious fanatics of all stripes, but particularly of Jews and Christians. How desperate it all must seem, if He is watching, to this God who really exists but whom we keep pushing away from us any way we can, unbelievers and believers.

Back to my original statement, if there is a real God, I can guarantee you that He’s going to have a very definite personality and nature and, if He exists, He’s not going to fit into our nice, little systems and formularies any more than the wind can be caught in a sack.

Why would I say this?
Well, because this is the God that I have come to know, and because I know Him I can believe in Him. It’s not knowledge of things I’m talking about, it’s not knowledge of teachings or even history, though I believe that both of these reflect His personality and nature, yet they are not He.

Sorry, friends, but it’s not the great religious edifices you have built up over the centuries and that you’re still rushing to build, saying, ‘if we build them, people will come.’ It’s not the institutions either.

But the real God, heavier than the weight of the whole universe and more solid, so perfectly present and aware of everything that moves that even the scientists can’t count or size, unimaginably involved as the ground of consciousness of every living creature, forgetting nothing, never being exhausted nor diluted by being spread so widely, being so unutterably One that no plurality within Him divides His singularity, yes, He has a very definite personality, but it puts all our attempts at definition to deepest shame.

When we enter His presence, all definitions die away before His face. We are known, we know, and now we believe. This is not a ‘religious experience.’ It is man coming face to face on the field of honesty with Him who alone is, the Being. Where you go from there, what you do with it, is all that matters. Now everything makes sense, everything can hardly wait to make sense to you, and now you know for sure that it is He who is, who says, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”

‘Who touched me?’

The following ramble on slavery, freedom and love is something that my oldest son Jacob wrote a few years ago, and then as now his words touch down in me like lightning to earth at a number of places. How little we know of each other's sufferings, thoughts and loves. I found these thoughts worthy, and I hope you do too.

‘Being a house slave is better than being a field slave, but you are never part of the family.’

It's related to another quote I read someplace about someone who went to do missionary work... ‘I wanted to be a missionary in the Congo because I wanted to help the poor. Then I realized I wanted to help the poor because I wanted to feel rich. Then I realized that when I got home I thought I was rich but was actually poor. Then I wanted to be with the poor because that was my real home.’

Hmm... there was definitely a time when I thought it was because I wasn't Greek. But that's not it, because there are Greek house slaves too. Then I thought it was because I wasn't rich… but there are rich house slaves. It was also possible that it was because I was not part of the family... but I have seen a lot of family members get treated like house slaves... No, I think it is simply because I'm not cool enough.

I do think my statement applies to converts primarily, but I think it also can affect Greeks who are trying to be who they want to be, and not be driven by trends and what other people want. And yet, at this point in time perhaps, it is worth looking at Malcolm X's understanding of the house slave.

‘You have to go back to what the young brother here referred to as the house Negro and the field Negro back during slavery. There were two kinds of slaves, the house Negro and the field Negro. The house Negroes—they lived in the house with master, they dressed pretty good, they ate good because they ate his food—what he left. They lived in the attic or the basement, but still they lived near the master; and they loved the master more than the master loved himself. They would give their life to save the master's house, quicker than the master would. If the master said, ‘We got a good house here,’ the house Negro would say, ‘Yeah, we got a good house here.’ Whenever the master said ‘we,’ he said ‘we.’ That's how you can tell a house Negro.

‘If the master's house caught on fire, the house Negro would fight harder to put the blaze out than the master would. If the master got sick, the house Negro would say, ‘What's the matter, boss, we sick?’ We sick! He identified himself with his master, more than his master identified with himself. And if you came to the house Negro and said, ‘Let's run away, let's escape, let's separate,’ the house Negro would look at you and say, ‘Man, you crazy. What you mean, separate? Where is there a better house than this? Where can I wear better clothes than this? Where can I eat better food than this?’ That was that house Negro.’

Perhaps this is even why the unspeakable tension caused by people who believe that American Orthodoxy should be autocephalous... who knows? For me, there is an underlying sense that no matter how hard I strive to maintain the Orthodox faith, I am a commodity—owned not by Jesus Christ and the mandates of the gospel, but by the hoops I am asked to jump through and the hazing I am expected to put up with, in order to be a ‘member.’

I think part of the Southern Gospel struggle comes from this idea that people are not supposed to own other people, and that we are suppose to live freely under the eyes of God, and to live out a life of service to fellow humans as Jesus Christ did... that through deliverance through Christ they could throw off the shackles of race, social status, and especially of the work of building capital for someone else's dreams.

Well, the situation with house slaves could be pointed at as being a sign that 'slavery works'… Ask the slaves, and they are happy. Ask the masters, and they are happy.

The Church is nothing more than a modern name for the tree of life. Such a structure will always succeed… grows a branch, for example, and branches will fail if they become more concerned with the sturdiness of the branch at the expense of the fruit. A diseased branch consumes the energy to make the fruit… it becomes sterile. The trunk says, ‘What's going on here? I'm sending water and nutrients through the system and yet there is no fruit.’ It is a misallocation of resources.

I allow it because I hope it will cultivate something good… sometimes a seed, sometimes a plant. But sometimes it is a waste… life goes where it does not belong, because I'm foolish, and I can't see where the true need is.

However, the tree of life is inescapable… I am born into it, because of it, and will live in spite of myself because of it. It's a mysterious grace we have inherited. Slavery has always been about milking that life—that grace—from others.

There are people who believe love is only possible through enslavement. God operates against this and eventually it will fail… through death or isolation. It is entirely inevitable… we aren't designed for it. We were made to be free.

Freely have you received, freely give.

I admit it, I allow people to seduce the energy God gives me away from where it should go… to petty projects, or to dead-end relationships, or to feed their compulsions and addictions. I don't know if knowingly entering into these situations with delusional hope is sinful. But I feel stupid every time it happens… even though it helps me recognize who is trying to use me, and who is not.

‘Who touched me?’ …I wish it was that easy for everyone to know when they have loved someone or something as God hoped they would.
— Jacob Gorny

Now, and to the ages of ages

The ancient fathers gained notoriety by their following of Christ to the uttermost in thought, word and deed, and having slain the old man and put on the New, met bodily death with dispassion. The modern Church is notorious for being an institution for happy, successful, well-adjusted people. It seems to be for folks who must nit-pick their behavior with almost obsessive scrutiny just to come up something viable to bring to the mystery of confession. ‘Straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel,’ is how Christ describes this malady.

It’s small wonder, then, that when people with problems—the unhappy, the failures at everyday living, those that can barely put bread on the table or stay out of trouble with the law—when these show up at church—and show up they must, for they know they are sick—their initial lot is instant pariahship. If they keep coming back, that status can become permanent. That is, until something or someone drives them out. And where do they go then? Need drives them right into the arms of sectarians, Christ-believers with hand-picked agendas and blind spots who, like the men of Sodom, never find the door.

But whether we’re affluent or living hand-to-mouth, whether well-adjusted or plagued with a checkered history of bad choices and ill luck, the reason we go to church is not to see the saints, but to be one. Though we rationally expect other Christians to be dependably loving, welcoming, generous and non-judgmental, what we often find when we start going to church can be very different. At first their welcome seems genuine, but if we cling to our imaginations of ‘what should be,’ the ones we at first thought spiritual and holy start to lose their halos. It doesn’t occur to us that the problem might be our spectacles, and we prove the saying of Jesus true, but in an opposite sense, ‘Seek, and ye shall find.’ We look for trouble, and trouble we find, with fellow Christians, with clergy, with the Church, but certainly, never with ourselves.

If we read our bible, we might have been forewarned. Wheat was sown by day, but weeds by night. Both must be left as they are to mature until the day of the harvest and, unless we are angels, it isn’t our place to either dig them out now—we might dig out some wheat by mistake because we see only through a glass, darkly—or when the day finally arrives.

Holy Church may be the living ikon of the heavenly Kingdom—and in worship more than an ikon—red with the blood of martyrs dying daily to the world with Christ like a ripe pomegranate red with seeds, but until we crack it open, we cannot taste its unquenchable sweetness. How do we crack it open? By letting ourselves be broken, by trusting ourselves to Him who alone loves us and can be trusted, by saying to the Physician, ‘Yes, heal me, for I have sinned against You,’ and by letting the same hands that have broken bread with us bandage our wounds.

As scripture says, speaking of the Church and what to expect, ‘What you have come to is nothing known to the senses.’ Let us go forward, then, looking neither to left nor right, but keeping our eyes on Jesus, follow Him through the Gate Beautiful of the heavenly Jerusalem where we can live with the Holy Triad now, and to the ages of ages.

I confess

I confess the ancient faith of the Church, that is, the faith of the living God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the law-giving God of Moses, the royal God of kings who alone makes kings of men, the all-lauded God of David, the all-wise God of Solomon, the truth-telling God of Elijah, Isaiah, and all the holy prophets, the fatherly God of Jesus of Nazareth; and I confess the last named as the living Son of the living God, who was born in time of a human mother of no earthly father, though begotten beyond time of the heavenly Father of no human mother; and I confess the ancient Church, that is, the community of all faithful people, faithful in following the holy apostles who follow faithfully the Christ of God. This tri-luminous path I walk through a very dark world, bearing within me and overshadowing me the Light of lights, that divine and life-creating Spirit, that unearthly Fire unknown to Prometheus that enlightens those who love, but consumes those who hate, the uncreated God who dwells in His created image mankind.

And I witness to that very dark world, both speaking and silent, of the God without name or number whose Oneness is not diminished by His being Three, nor His Majesty dishonored by His being named, for Father, Son, and Spirit, unearthly Triad, was, is, and shall be revealed in human flesh, first by the First-born from the dead, the New Adam, and then till the end of the age by everyone who follows Him who opened Paradise once to the good thief, and forever to all who consent to be hung at His side. And as by my life I confess Him before men, though I speak or am silent, the dark world that thinks it is bright is revealed to itself dark in their eyes to those who, destined to be saved, are drawn by the Father to the Son; and that beloved Son in whom the Father is well pleased receives these souls from the darkness and presents them again to His Father enthroned in unapproachable Light, confessing their names before Him and the angels; thereby witnessing to the unbelieving world where the true Church lives.

O my soul, let us purchase this time for God with the gold of our spirits, the silver of our minds, and the bronze of our deeds, not wallowing in laziness and sinful distraction, but persevering with all our might in prayer, fasting and sincere brotherly love, to cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life, that our confession be proven true on the battlefield of our body, and that we become capable of receiving the rich mercy that God has saved up for those who love Him. For He tells us every moment of every day, ‘To him who has more will be given, but from him who has not, even what he thinks he has shall be taken away.’ Yes, let us purchase this time and store up for ourselves treasures that thieves cannot break in and steal, for again as He tells us, ‘Where your treasure is, there will your hearts be also.’ Confess Him, O my soul, as they confessed Him to whom He shall say, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world…’

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.

Evening confession

For the most part, my experiences as a blog writer have been very positive. I have tried to stay away from topics that would incite controversy, but not always with complete success. Sometimes I've expressed ideas that I thought might draw down criticism or judgment, and I received none. Sometimes I've written what I thought could not possibly draw me into an argument, and yet it did. Even when countered, I've tried very hard not to let my blogs become arenas for verbal battles. I was not always this way.

I first started blogging as a parallel testimony to what I was doing on the street, which was reading the Word of God aloud publicly. I wanted to document what happened when I did this. Surprisingly, I rarely encountered any opposition or aggression when reading the Bible publicly unlike others who, preaching their own message while waving around a black leather-bound book, often drew crowds of mockers. I tried to follow what Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes, to be strong when the Word is strong, to be weak when it is weak.

What my experience taught me about this was, you can't force Jesus down people's throats, especially when you've got Him sandwiched between slices of your denominational philosophy. Though my mission on the street was carried on in this pacific way, sometimes in the blog world I was not quite so harmless. Sometimes I criticised, even blasted, people and systems that I have a problem with. In my comments on the blogs of others, I also pressed what I thought was my advantage. This was, to be sure, quite wrong of me, that is, if I really were a follower of Jesus.

How little we see, sometimes, when we hide Him from view by our smoggy intentions. Smog, mind you, not smoke, not the smoke of the Presence, which surrounds Him alone, but smog, the unhealthy byproduct of our anxieties. Yet we mistake the one for the other. We hide ourselves from God when He comes calling, and then complain that He hides Himself from us, when we call. This is the ground floor of the human condition, which I share with everyone I meet, and our experience together is that only One can raise us from this degradation, yet we try to raise ourselves by lowering others.

My blog was once visited by a woman who implied that she is the Woman mentioned in the book of Revelation. When I followed back the link to a web page that she provided in her comment, I couldn't believe my eyes. Rarely does one encounter another human being whose audacity is so glaring. Yes, I've labored under the delusion that something I might say or do could help save someone. This is a common delusion, especially of those who would like to teach others. Myself, I know there is only One Teacher, the Messiah, and at my best I am only repeating what has been handed over to me.

I deleted her comment, which was harmless enough, though it carried a sectarian overtone and a premonition of higher knowledge, so that no one who came here might be confused or tantalised by the claims she makes in her web page. But it still astounds me, and startles me that such a person could exist. We hear of public figures like the Puerto Rican reincarnation of Paul the Apostle who later was divinely upgraded to being both the second coming of Jesus Christ, and the Antichrist, all at the same time. He tells us that sin is no more, and that he comes to rule the earth. Well, he did anyway, before death claimed him with cirrhosis of the liver.

Such impositions on the mortal mind stagger my imagination. Again, because audacity seems to outdo itself with every new messiah, once only male but now female too. What Bible verse cannot be twisted by our imaginations to serve our glorification? I think back on my own life and shudder with shame, for I am no different in kind, only in degree. How simple the story is, that God has revealed through Jesus Christ His Son, and how believable it is, once we admit the truth about ourselves, which we must admit before we can ever admit the Truth about Him.

Enigma—that is what life is, and we ourselves, all enigmas awaiting resolution. Everything partial, all things opaque to us except ourselves, and yet we cannot even see ourselves clearly. My favorite poet writing his 'Song of Myself,' how luxuriant, how confident his pronouncements. I love his Leaves of Grass, not because they are true the same way that Christ is True, but because he reveals in them the truth about himself and about us, even about me, who for all our wonderful beauty, life, energy, darkness, pain, and weakness, remain asleep and dead, until He bids us, 'Rise!'

Evening confession. Outpourings of a blind old Greek with a Jew's heart, rich in his poverty, owning nothing but his own sinfulness, seeking no one but the Eternal, even knowing that finding Him is the losing of himself. The end of all things is nigh, but not as prophesied by bibliolators or boasted by Sabine women clothed in the sun who use the moon as a swing. The dragon that seeks to swallow the Man Child is not the same as the dragon whose year in Chinese tradition comes round once in twelve, that harmless creature who carries the Son of Heaven home when his mandate is foreclosed.

Infinite Mercy stands waiting, hidden behind our walls, to reveal Himself, at every moment knowing exactly where we need Him most, and why we are in need. He does not wait as we wait. He is ready when we call, echoing unknowingly His calling us. His forgiveness covers even our audacity in believing we are God, that we do not need Him, that our freedom originates in ourselves. His salvation in bathing us does not drown us in the process, but makes us clean again, forgetting our uncleanness forever.

Yes, and the Woman clothed with the sun, yes, we will find out exactly who She is.

Monday, April 18, 2016

A homily on true happiness

I am happy with the ancient Church of which I find myself a member. I delight in her endless cycle of lavish worship, poetically crafted and lusciously ceremonious. I even love the unscheduled pauses in worship when the cantors have to fill the time with nonsense syllables till the next stage of the liturgical dance is reached. All these things were carefully designed centuries ago to administer teaching and healing to barbarous nations who knew nothing of reading or writing, and were fallen into sometimes hideous diseases of body, mind and morals. This the ancient Christian architects knew prophetically would have application and relevance from their time till the end of the age. Human nature never changes, except when it is joined by transfiguration to the Divine Nature, in the God-Man, Jesus Christ.

Yet, there is an horrific proviso to my happiness with and delight in the elaborate, soul-fulfilling and mystical tangibles (but not the faith) of this Church. All that is seen, heard, smelled, tasted and touched in the conveyance of the mystírion to the logical flock of the great Shepherd King Jesus must be rooted in, must rest upon, must grow out of, must lead to, and must nourish in us, the evangélion, the eternal gospel, the living good news of the living God, which alone makes us disciples, alone heals our iniquities, alone frees us from bondage, alone empowers us to be passion-bearers, alone realizes in us our divine sonship, our royal priesthood, and finally brings us to the threshold of incorruption and life eternal. For all that is grasped by our senses is worthless unless we are made worthy by Christ to enter Paradise.

The world enthralls us and purchases our loyalty by its false promises and tantalizes us with the fear that we will be ‘left behind’ if we do not conform to its every demand. This is true of the world outside the walls of the ancient Church, and of the world within. But no matter, for all have been given equally the privilege of the yoke of Christ, from hierarch to humble believer. If you are a bishop, you are shepherd of souls in place of Christ, and your worldly life is forfeit for the sake of the burden laid upon you by your own choice. If you are a presbyter, your life is now and forever hidden with Christ in God and no longer your property, and you too must be willing to be broken but not divided, eaten but not consumed, as your Divine Prototype. If you are a deacon, your call begins with ‘waiting tables,’ but where does it end?

As for the rest of us, there is next to nothing to do, who live in the ancient Church, but to worship the Lord, to glorify Him by our every move, to consecrate our every thought and all our words to the work of mercy enjoined on us by Him who says, ‘blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.’ To this nothing superfluous can be added, nor anything essential cut away. Our lives in Christ are all or nothing, and we know where our treasure is. No, not our treasures, for there is only One, and everything else is His gift to us, who says ‘and all these other things shall be added to you as well.’ How can any of us forbear to be in Christ and not just say we are, when God has revealed Himself to us, face to face, in Jesus, who unashamedly tells us by way of invitation, ‘If you have seen me, you have seen the Father’?

Yes, the ancient Church, the one built on the Rock, no, not on St Peter though his name means the same, but on that Rock of which the psalmists chanted and to whom they cried incessantly for salvation. That Rock followed them in all their wilderness wanderings watering their bodies and souls, and then, when they least expected it, reappeared among them, as He does among us, as a Rock against whom all our iniquities crash and break. They rejected Him and refused the water He gives that wells up forever and gives drink to all who thirst, and still He offers without stint that life-giving spring to us who ring the miraculous font of new birth. Will we allow ourselves to be triply immersed, yield all our members to that death-defying plunge, and come out truly alive to join the cherubim, and not just represent them?

Full freedom

There is a brand of Orthodoxy where following the rubrics seems to be the major focus, the teaching of doctrines and the pushing of morality the emphasis, where what we do to please God takes the place of what God does to release us. Words are mouthed, actions performed, ostensibly to glorify God and the saints, and everything holy stays in the holy place. Outside the doors, life goes on as always, sometimes even a little worse for wear, and perfectionism and scrupulous rigor replace walking in the spirit. This is not the Orthodoxy I received from the saints. Their lives were, for me, an unwritten rubric that infected my life with the goodness they had received from Christ. Their faith, instilled into me (I hope) the trust in the Spirit who is the one sent by Christ from the Father to be with us always, that we never become orphans. And that faith and trust in love has been the certainty that makes full freedom possible.

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.’