Friday, December 29, 2006

A blessing for Riya

Our good friend Radhakrishn and his wife had a new baby daughter, Riya, their first-born, on October 2, 2006. This Sunday, they will have a special feast to welcome her, and Radha asked me to give Riya a blessing. To the best of my ability I may have the opportunity to speak a blessing over her by telephone this Sunday morning. But in case this is not possible, I have written a blessing that is what I would speak over her, if I could.

Riya, Riya, rejoice in the Lord,
In the living God, the First, the Last,
Who was, Who is, Who is to come!

The Almighty protect you,
The Maker of heaven and earth provide for you
All things seen and unseen!

The Lord, the Son of God, call you,
The Light of light show Himself to you,
The Slain before all worlds save you!

Be a blessing to your father, mother and brothers,
Be the good earth, receiving the seed of faith,
Be a fruitful vine, bearing good fruit for others!

Walk in the Way that does not stray,
Go through the Gate that does not close,
Stand on the Rock that does not move!

Light for your eyes,
Good News for your ears,
Beauty in your smile,
A song on your lips,
Healing in your hands,
Safety in your steps,
Life, long and full,
Friends sent only by the Lord,
And a thankful heart
Be the adornment of God’s child, Riya!

The Lord God bless you out of Zion,
He who made the heavens and the earth!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The world was turned up side down

As the disciples told the story of Jesus, the world was turned up side down, because these were people who were actually living as though it were true - loving and serving one another, giving up their goods to help the needy, and suffering and dying for the message. They were no longer living for the prestige, possessions, and pleasures of this world that so many of us today who call ourselves Christians still pursue.

A life-changing reality
The resurrection of Christ gives hope to us all. It offers the Muslim assurance that there is forgiveness. It offers the poor and downtrodden the promise that the suffering of this world is not all there is. And it offers to each of us the foretaste of God's new reality, the future made present, where we can begin to experience freedom from fear, shame, rejection, and slavery to destructive habits.

All of this is for us in Christ, if we will come to him to receive it. For we too can meet the risen Christ.

But the resurrection also declares that we can no longer live as though this world is all there is. And for those of us who do have the possessions, comforts, and power that this world offers, that is a challenge. For Jesus lays claim to our allegiance, and assures us that real life is not found in the abundance of stuff or adrenaline rushes we have, but in giving all for him. Shall we then live for Christ? Or shall we claim his name, but continue to pursue our own prosperity, pleasure, and preference?

"He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again." (2 Corinthians 5:15)

Money Talk

"Your checkbook is a theological statement
as to where your heart is."

I struggled with this concept for a VERY long time. Along the way I allowed myself to get hoodwinked by the TBN and mega-church "style" of thinking about money, that your money belongs to God, so get with the program and give your ten percent (or more, really). That's supposed to be the starting point. I doubtfully listened also to the teaching that "heaven's floodgates will open" for you when you tithe, that God will erect a protection around your income, etc. I know this last part is a Judaic teaching found in the Talmud, and there are "stories" to prove its validity, some quite entertaining.

But what I've finally come to is this: My salvation was paid for with More than money (see John 3:16), and what I've learned from this is that the return I make to God is to be paid with more than money (see 1 John 3:16).

The tithe is a principle of the Old Covenant and connected to the Temple in Jerusalem, which is no more. Also, there were various kinds of tithes. To whom or to what would we pay tithes now, since We are the living Temple of the Holy Spirit? I thought the answer was, my local church, it being a part of the big Church of Christ. I don't think so now. In fact, the institutional church has only one place to put our tithes—in its denominational stomach, by men "whose god is their belly" (see Philippians 3:19).

I knew this at the beginning of my Christian life… the Church is not to operate at a surplus. The earthly blessings which we enjoy from the Lord are due Him in complete service and self-abandonment to His purposes. And what are these purposes? Read what James has to say about "true religion." Read what the prophets of Israel have to say. Hear what Jesus Christ says in the gospels.

Instead of using our money to give glory to God by multiplying "houses of worship" and "worldwide ministries," that commodity, along with all my "possessions" and my life itself, is due the Lord in a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, that is offered whenever I do His will in the place and time I find myself right now.

In practical terms, what I found in myself and what I see in others in my church, is giving money bolsters pride and the unwillingness to offer time and energy, very personal commodities. Anybody who has it can give money. But time, and attention (some would say caring, or love), who is prepared to offer that, even a tenth of what they have been given?

Money? I never think of it. It always comes. The Lord sends it.
(Mother Theresa of Calcutta)

Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
(Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah)

Friday, December 22, 2006

How faith and piety are handed over

The author of this blog is not a theologian trained in schools where they study what cannot be studied, theology. He studied the humanities, something which can be studied because it is worldly, human knowledge. He drew his Orthodox faith and piety from parádhosis (παραδοσις, "handing over the goods"). He received it in the way faith and piety are transmitted… from teacher to disciple, from parent to child, from elder to disciple, from Christian to Christian, in other words, by personal relationship. For this reason he is one who experiences divine things, not one who learns about them, having faith as a guide and not knowledge (encyclopedic-scientific information). He “walks by faith and not by sight,” as Apostle Paul says (2 Corinthians 5:7). This is why his blog seems sometimes harsh; it does not have the compromises that reveal little faith, nor accommodations to avoid being unpleasant to people of contrary views, nor any false brotherliness. He believes at all times that “honesty is the best policy.”

“…it will be no use… to sail for the World’s End with men unwilling or men deceived.”
C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Not my will, but Yours

Whether you have a degree or not (I don't),whether you're ordained or not (I'm not),
as a follower of Jesus there isn't a moment when you're not available for ministry,
not a location where you're exempt from doing His will. It's all just a matter of choice.

Not only in a "Christian" context does the seed of the Word get planted in the souls around us by every action, every word, even every thought that issues from our being.

The call of Jesus is so fundamental, so basic, so universal, and so available (in the Word of God) that most people miss it.

The incense smoke screen between the sacred and profane is pierced by a mere puff of breath, of the Holy Breath (το πνευμα το αγιον, to pnévma to ághion) who lives in us.

It's good that you say, "His will, not mine."
In a slightly different form, that's another one of the prayers of the hesychast—"Not my will, but Yours, not my thoughts, but Yours, not my love, but Yours, not my life, but Yours."

Over and over, we whisper it under our breath, we wake up hearing it flowing as the blood pulsing through our temples, we feel it reverberating with our very heartbeat. It is the background silence (ησυχία, hesychía) to our waking stream of thought.

Everything is consecrated now, all water is holy water, all paths walked in obedience to the call of Jesus become paths to paradise, though they pass through the valley of the shadow of death.

Go with God, dear brother, and pray for Romanós the sinner who prays for you. I am here with you.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

The church, visible and invisible

It has been and continues to be a real struggle for me, this concept—"the Church."
Until this year that's almost over, to me "the Church" meant first, the local congregation that I am a member of, in this case, a Greek Orthodox parish, and second, the worldwide community of Christians that confess the historic faith of (at least) the first ecumenical synod of Nicæa (AD 325), whether or not they know the "symbol" of that synod (called by non-Orthodox, the "Nicene Creed"). As a Greek Orthodox, I express my understanding of "the Church" in the second sense by identifying myself as exactly that—Greek Orthodox—but that does not stop me from fellowshipping and even praying with non-Orthodox Christians. Though this has helped me to be "numbered with the transgressors" by some of my co-religionists, I hope those that tolerate my lack of discretion are doing it for the right reason—because they too love the Truth—and not out of mere niceness.

But back to the topic, the church, visible and invisible. This is a struggle for me.
The church visible, this is the institutional church in all of its forms. I only know this church visible as it is in America, but I'm guessing it's the same in most places. The church visible has form, has rules, has systems, has an inside and an outside, has an architectural presence, has a distinctive culture, has professionals and laymen.

The church visible operates very much like a business, far more than one would expect from simply reading the gospels and epistles. Its hierarchy operates pretty much like that of any secular institution, and its employees, the clergy, find themselves pidgeonholed by both themselves and the laity as a professional caste, whose success or failure rides on management skills and devising programs to keep their people busy.

In the churches that are run by laymen, such as my own, those selected to parish councils and similar structures are generally the wealthy and those with business savvy and connexions. And why not? They're needed if the church is to have a successful building program and stewardship campaign. The church visible gives glory to God by investing its money with great acumen. After all, it doesn't want to be classified with the steward in the parable of the Talents, who hid the one talent in the ground to turn it over to the Master without interest, and get cast into the outer darkness.

In the last building program at my church, for example, the emphasis was giving glory to God by expanding our facilities. Just like a big business. It's a good thing God's our boss! And we sure showed Him we were worthy! People were encouraged during that campaign to reveal what they gave and challenge others to outgive them! We were talked to by wealthy patrons and encouraged by them "to give till it feels good." And the beat goes on… Just today, our loquacious presbyter gave his confession publicly that he hadn't paid his pledge as much as he'd thought, but that he made up for it, by prepaying the rest of the pledge through year's end right now. His advice to us was to do the same and, what's more, to tell at least one other person that you had paid up your pledge ahead of time, and encourage them to do the same! This is the "church visible" where I live. How about you?

What I have come to see and participate in at least a little this year is the church invisible. The visible church at regular intervals pays its respects to this invisible church by calling them "unsung heroes, the uncanonised unknown saints," and the like. Sometimes they even drag out a story or a legend about one of these crossbearers and extols them, especially in my church. But to what effect? Hearing Fr. Paul rattle off in perfect koiné Greek at the end of liturgy a half dozen or more names of saints being commemorated, lickedy-split, wow! I'm always so impressed! How can he do that?

The church invisible. How do you know when you're approaching the borderlands of the invisible church? You begin to take on the state of invisibility yourself.

The best thing to do when you sense this happening is… to run even faster after Jesus! Don't look back! Strain ahead for what is still to come. Accept the loss of everything and look on all the advantages you have in the world and even in the visible church as so much rubbish. Why? Because all these things are really disadvantages, as holy apostle Paul declares in his letter to the church at Philippi (Philippians 3:2-16). Decide now and every day to follow the call of Jesus Christ, decide once and for all that "all I want is to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and to share His sufferings by reproducing the pattern of His death" (Philippians 3:10 JB).

How do you enter the ranks of the invisible church? By paying your tithe with more than money, by not looking to be thanked, by announcing the Word of God without charge, fear or praise, by emptying yourself to assume the conditions of a slave, by putting yourself in places where faith is not only possible but inevitable, by serving those whom the world considers unworthy, because by doing so you turn tables on the world—the Word of God calls people like this, those of whom the world was not worthy (Hebrews 11:38). The author of Hebrews continues giving good instructions for those who are willing to enter the ranks of the church invisible…

"With so many witnesses in a great cloud on every side of us, we too, then, should throw off everything that hinders us, especially the sin that clings so easily, and keep running steadily in the race we have started. Let us not lose sight of Jesus, who leads us in our faith and brings it to perfection." (Hebrews 12:1-2)

"Three times Jesus encourages His disciples by saying, 'Fear not.' (Matthew 10:26-39) Although their sufferings are now secret [invisible], they will not always be so: some day they will be manifest before God and man. However secret these sufferings are at present, they have their Lord's promise that they will be eventually brought to the light of day. … Those who are still afraid of men have no fear of God, and those who have fear of God have ceased to be afraid of men. All preachers of the gospel will do well to recollect this saying daily. … We are in God's hands. Therefore, 'Fear not.' "
— Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, "The Decision"

One final thought. Yes, in the Orthodox Church, the visible church is plastered with icons, that is, images of the saints, to remind us of what the author of Hebrews wrote, "With so many witnesses in a great cloud on every side of us… " When we worship there, we are visibly present and the icons are visibly present, to incite us to look beyond them to the invisible presence of the saints. I almost wrote, "What if we took seriously…" but instead, I want to say, Just take God at His Word and "throw off everything that hinders" you, "especially the sin that clings so easily…" What sin is that? The sin of being satisfied with the externals, with what can be seen, heard, smelled, tasted and touched in the church visible. Stand up, stand up for Jesus! Then, follow Him, no looking back! The visible church with its visible icons fades out as the church invisible with its living icons invisible to the world reveals itself—and you among them, a living icon.

Yes, go with Jesus.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

What does the priesthood mean?

It means to be an enduring witness to human suffering and to take it upon your own shoulders. To be the one who warms the leper at his own breast, the one who gives life to the miserable through the breath from his own mouth. To be a strong comfort to every unfortunate one, even when you yourself are overwhelmed with weakness. To be a ray of shining light to unhappy hearts when your own eyes long ago ceased to see any light. To carry mountains of others’ sufferings on your shoulders, while your own being screams out with the weight of its own suffering. Your flesh will rebel and say, ‘This heroism is absurd, impossible! Where is such a man, where is the priest you describe so that I may put my own suffering on his shoulders?’ Yes, nevertheless, he does exist! From time to time there awakens within us the priest of Christ who, like the Good Samaritan, will kneel down by the side of the man fallen among thieves and, putting him upon his own donkey, will bring him to the Church of Christ for healing. And he will forget himself and comfort you, O man of suffering."

— Father George Calciu (†November 21, 2006)

I was going to add my comment to this quote from presbyter George Calciu, who fell asleep in the Lord only yesterday (may his memory be eternal), but what can I add?

The priesthood he describes is the spiritual priesthood that every man or woman in Christ has received at their baptism and confession of faith in Jesus.
This is the royal priesthood that holy apostle Peter writes about in 1 Peter 2:9.
Now, we know what we're in for.

Let us take God at His Word,
so He can take us at ours.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Bless my enemies, O Lord

By St. Nikolai of Ochrid

I am going through a place right now where there are those who are waiting in ambush for my soul, my life. This prayer I want to keep close to me, as I pass through there. Though the way is a suffering way, the destination is joy.

Bless my enemies, O Lord.
Even I bless them and do not curse them.
Enemies have driven me into your embrace more than friends have.
Friends have bound me to earth, enemies have loosed me from earth and have demolished all my aspirations in the world.
Enemies have made me a stranger in worldly realms and an extraneous inhabitant of the world.

Just as a hunted animal finds safer shelter than an un-hunted animal does, so have I, persecuted by enemies, found the safest sanctuary, having ensconced myself beneath Your tabernacle, where neither friends nor enemies can slay my soul.

Bless my enemies, O Lord.
Even I bless them and do not curse them.
They, rather than I, have confessed my sins before the world.
They have punished me, whenever I have hesitated to punish myself.
They have tormented me, whenever I have tried to flee torments.
They have scolded me, whenever I have flattered myself.
They have spat upon me, whenever I have filled myself with arrogance.

Bless my enemies, O Lord.
Even I bless them and do not curse them.
Whenever I have made myself wise, they have called me foolish.
Whenever I have made myself mighty, they have mocked me as though I were a dwarf. Whenever I have wanted to lead people, they have shoved me into the background.
WheneverI have rushed to enrich myself, they have prevented me with an iron hand. Whenever I thought that I would sleep peacefully, they have wakened me from sleep. Whenever I have tried to build a home for a long and tranquil life, they have demolished it and driven me out.
Truly, enemies have cut me loose from the world and have stretched out my hands to the hem of your garment.

Bless my enemies, O Lord.
Even I bless them and do not curse them.
Bless them and multiply them; multiply them and make them even more bitterly against me: so that my fleeing to You may have no return; so that all hope in men may be scattered like cobwebs; so that absolute serenity may begin to reign in my soul; so that my heart may become the grave of my two evil twins: arrogance and anger; so that I might amass all my treasure in heaven; ah, so that I may for once be freed from self-deception, which has entangled me in the dreadful web of illusory life.
Enemies have taught me to know what hardly anyone knows, that a person has no enemies in the world except himself.
One hates his enemies only when he fails to realize that they are not enemies, but cruel friends.
It is truly difficult for me to say who has done me more good and who has done me more evil in the world: friends or enemies.

Therefore bless, O Lord, both my friends and my enemies.
A slave curses enemies, for he does not understand.
But a son blesses them, for he understands.
For a son knows that his enemies cannot touch his life.
Therefore he freely steps among them and prays to God for them.

Bless my enemies, O Lord.
Even I bless them and do not curse them.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

To endure the Cross…

…is not a tragedy; it is the suffering which is the fruit of an exclusive allegiance to Jesus Christ. When it comes, it is not an accident, but a necessity. … the suffering which is an essential part of the specifically Christian life.

It is not suffering per se but suffering-and-rejection, and not rejection for any cause of conviction of our own, but rejection for the sake of Christ. If our Christianity has ceased to be serious about discipleship, if we have watered down the gospel into emotional uplift which makes no costly demands and which fails to distinguish between natural and Christian existence, then we cannot help regarding the cross as an ordinary everyday calamity… We have then forgotten that the cross means rejection and shame as well as suffering.

— Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I have been commenting on Kenny Ching's blog, where he has posted considerations of Ted Haggard's recent publicity. I am feeling frustrated about a lot of things right now, and this is one of them, how Christians regard what happened, and how they think it reflects on them. Who cares how it reflects on them or the Church? The Church can't hide the fact that it's a hospital full of very sick people, and even some of the doctors are sick! Actually, even the doctors are just interns, working under the One Physician of our souls.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer has it right. I don't know if the quote I quickly grabbed off the internet is especially pertinent, but I don't care. Dietrich and the other church fathers have it right. And why? Because they have made the Word of God their home, their first priority. That's why they're so beautiful and why their words ring so true.

This is what I make of the Ted Haggard story.

After reading Kenny's post, I went away and read the statement that Ted Haggard wrote to be read from the pulpit of his church. The statement was all very honest and correct. The remedy for his problem is being handled appropriately within the structure of the evangelical community. I am especially happy that Pastor Barnett will be one of his spiritual fathers in helping him through his repentance and restoration. (I know this is Orthodox talk, but that's what we call it.) I don't know Ted Haggard's ministry. In fact, before this happened, I don't know that I ever really heard of him before. I don't consider any of his sins anything worse than any of mine, they're just more visible. The loser here is satan because, having led him along to this point, he has now lost him, as God's angel vanguard has intervened. May God guard us all who sin secretly and give us the opportunity to repent. This is an affliction that has attacked the church since the beginning. It's proof of God's incredible love, though, that He always is faithful to save us, even when we're too weak to ask for help.

(Responding to Jeff's points about Haggard's hypocrisy) …yes, it seems that brother Haggard is a hypocrite, not a man prone to momentary lapses into any particular sin. I don't know whether the sin of hypocrisy, though, is any more blameworthy or damning than the homosexual acts or the possible drug use. From what little I've read (only Haggard's statement to his congregation), I gather that he has been fighting homosexual temptations all his life. Nevertheless, trusting in the God who "saves us and bears our burdens," he stepped out in faith (some would say in stupidity) and got married, raised a family, and followed a call to ministry. He did this, no doubt, because he knew that the homosexual temptations were exactly that (not that he was born that way), and he trusted in the Lord to either deliver him from that "thorn in the flesh," or at least give him the strength to resist. You only live once, and as a young man struggling with issues of sexuality as a Christian, you come to a place where you have to decide whom to believe, against all odds. Will it be God as revealed in His written Word, or will it be the multiple and chaotic theorists that write books about what they know nothing about? Haggard chose to believe God's Word. In doing that, he has risked not only his life, the life of his woman, and their children's lives as well. Maybe, it would've been better to have believed God's Word, and just stayed celibate, or tried to. It would've been harder, though, and he'd likely have lost in the end and yielded wholeheartedly to the temptation, and abandoned all faith. Of course, you can never say what would've happened. All you can say is, what did happen. How many men, attacked all their lives by this temptation, live among us? How many have endured it, fought the good fight, and maybe lapsed or tried what they gave up out of obedience to God, and then, repentant, went back to it no more? How many men, Christians even, have tried to follow Christ and God, ignorantly mis-led by false teachers who have explained away the danger of yielding to homosexual sin, telling them it's alright? And are they actually sure they are doing nothing wrong? Is God's Word conditioned by culture after all? We will have to wait for Moshiach to tell us the answer to that, when He comes (again). I don't know brother Haggard, but I love him, and I feel for him, a brother who has momentarily fallen in battle. That fall may cost him everything, but his soul, his life, will be saved, if he repents and returns to God. No amount of human comfort, even yielding to homosexual sin (if that is in fact comforting!), can make up for the life God has created us to enjoy, to start living it here, and continue living it in the life of the Age to come. I am sure the man caught in this crisis knows the truth of what I've been trying to say, and I hope God will be merciful to him—no, I KNOW He will, because He is the Only Lover of mankind, He wants us. And He is faithful.

Then, another commentatrix responded to me, in particular writing, "The problem with hypocrisy, though, is the way it affects other people (both Christian and non-Christian). … It causes your Christian brothers and sisters to doubt, and it gives the world one more reason to point at Christians and call us frauds."

That got me going, and I responded.

Yes, hypocrisy can have bad effects on a wider range of people, but I hardly think that the world is turned off to Christianity because of the periodic public lapse of a Christian leader. The world treats Christianity as so much rubbish in large part because that's what Christians, by and large, do. When the institutionalised churches aren't making pronouncements far left or far right of the Good News, getting people polarised, worked up, or disgusted, the run of the mill inhabitant of the local sheep pen is racing after the almighty dollar, stuffing his belly with Costco and super-sized big gulps, getting glued to the tube, passing laughing gas, or going on Bible cruises with TV personalities. Uh oh, is my hypocrisy showing? I go witnessing while my own spiritual house is a shambles. Do I stop and try to fix it, or do I keep riding the wave that God is sending me? Either way, I'm the bad guy to somebody. No, bottom line, I don't think anything but good will come of Ted Haggard's fall, because anything and everything that gives us or the world cause to ask "Who's there?" when we hear the knock, is weighted in God's favor. Everyone deep down wants the Good and wants to follow the Good. Somewhere and pretty early on the sin of the world starts turning us sour on the Good, sour grapes, yeah, you can't have them, you're not good enough, and some of us fall for it, some more, some less. That's why Jesus had to come, to die for us, yes and Amen, but also to show us the way of the Cross. Thanks be to God, He has allowed us the privilege of taking up our crosses, and following Jesus.

Monday, November 6, 2006

Born again? When?

I had a feeling there was something special about this date, something I should remember… Yes, it started coming clear tonight. November 6th was the day when I accepted the Lord Jesus Christ and the biblical Orthodox faith back in 1975, at the ripe old age of 24!

After being brought up in church until I was 8 years old, when my parents stopped going because we moved too far from our original church and we just couldn't get grafted into the one in our new neighborhood (although there were other excuses), I was left to fend for myself for the rest of my childhood. Dad seemed indifferent, but now that we've talked as adults, I know that he was just too real to waste his time on meaningless ceremonies. In later life he became a Baptist and is a deacon in that church. Mom was a "house Catholic," that is, she wanted to be a good Christian, but the church was too corrupt and hocus-pocus for her, too. She had a passionately religious mindset, but also realistic, no worthless devotions or rosary type stuff… she just stayed up all night worrying, plucking her eyebrows so she could paint them back in with eyebrow pencil, and praying that all of us kids would somehow make it through childhood without getting into drugs or getting killed. It was Mom who made me and my younger brother promise we'd "never do dope."

So, I never did dope, but… worse things, really. After imitating my Mom as a fervently ignorant house Catholic elitist, in college I lapsed into the New Age religions. I was especially drawn to Hinduism because of a fascination with the god Krishna. As a young teenager, I had picked up and read a novel my folks had left lying around, some book club thing, that was about a teenage girl growing up in India, and there was a chapter entitled, "Krishna the Joyous." It captivated my imagination, and launched me into the great unknown. Krishna was joyous, but Christ was the "man of sorrows." Come now, people, who would you have turned to as a confused adolescent wrestling with the hormones?

College years found me orbiting the fringes of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, scorning the hopelessly dull and unimaginative male members (all with one-track minds…Jesus, Jesus, Jesus!), and dating and being patronized by cute but dumb Christian girls (but girls are supposed to be dumb, right? so who cares, they were cute!). Forgive me for this last sentence. I was a dolt. But here's a testimony for those girls, and maybe even for some of the guys… somehow I knew they were right, even when I was making fun of them. But I also knew that it was Who stood behind them that mattered, not they themselves or whatever churches or doctrines they believed in. At that time, I had a rock-solid belief in the divinity of Jesus that I took in, I guess, with the baby formula (Mom didn't breast feed). I just didn't quite understand why Krishna, and Buddha, and Swami Satchidananda, and… yeah, even me… couldn't also be God somehow. I was beginning to read the bible again, now that I knew there were other versions besides the KJV. And I found verses like, "Is it not written in your Law: I said, you are gods." (John 10:34 JB) "So," I thought, "maybe there are other ways to understand the bible than what's taught in church!" (I had yet to discover the Church fathers, particularly the Desert Fathers.)

Moving right along, after emigrating to Canada in 1972 to join a New Age commune that flopped after only about 6 months, I found myself married to a gal that had been born again and was trying to be a Christian. I wouldn't let her go to church (that is, I wouldn't go with her, and she wouldn't go alone), because "Christians are just so dumb!" That's what I thought until we moved back to the States, to Corvallis, Oregon.

While living in Oregon, I could see firsthand what the fruits of the neo-pagan mindset are… "depravity, rottenness, greed and malice, addiction to envy, murder, wrangling, treachery and spite… (the rest of the list is in Romans 1:29-31). Not that the people out here were all "irrational and given over to monstrous behavior," but that a kind of deathly hedonism, decadence and hypocritical irreverence prevailed among the very people I was trying to fit in with, the New Age folks. Some were almost harmless "flower children," but others were on the fringes of lunacy, dabbling in witchcraft and magic. Ugh! Seeing all this around me forced me to take a stand, either to continue down the path of hopeless wandering, like "a shooting star bound for an eternity of black darkness" (Jude 1:13 JB), or to repent, like Job, and say, "I am the man who obscured Your designs with my empty-headed words… I have been holding forth on matters I cannot understand… I knew You then only by hearsay; but now, having seen You with my own eyes, I retract all I have said, and in dust and ashes I repent." (Job 42:3-6 JB)

I chose the second option. Out of His love for me, He opened the door to His Kingdom, and I walked through it, on November 6th, 1975.

I was at work. I was a sawyer at the Veal & Son Furniture factory in Albany, Oregon. It was about 10 o'clock in the morning. I just heard His voice, and I knew it was Him. He questioned me. I hurriedly shooed my assistant off on an errand… go empty the wood box into the boiler (that would take him at least 15 minutes). He questioned me, like He questioned Job, "Who is this obscuring My designs with his empty-headed words? Brace yourself like a fighter; now it is My turn to ask questions and yours to inform Me." (Job 38:2-3 JB) …No, of course I didn't hear these exact words, but what He said to me was like them, and when I later read these words in the book of Job, I bracketed them as rhímata, "living words."

After His questioning, the Lord brought me to the point where I could surrender myself to Him, with the help of the Holy Spirit. Yes, there were physical and emotional "events" occurring in me as this took place. Yes, I first felt my body to be on fire, as I struggled against the Truth that spoke Himself to me. Then, when I couldn't stand it any longer, I surrendered "all that I am and all that I have" into His hands, and I felt ice cold water falling on me, as if I were standing under a cold waterfall. I honestly even felt wet. Then, I realised, I was crying. After He washed me in His precious Blood, He left me without departing, and gave me the one gift that I have never lost, though it's hard to describe… to see Him everywhere I look. I just have to get quiet, and He's there, more certain and real to me than I am to myself.

So, was this being born again? Did it happen to me when I was baptised without my knowing as an infant? Did it happen when I heard His voice in the wood shop? I cannot pretend to know the when or the why of this being born "from above" as Jesus describes it to Nicodemus, in the dead of the night. But Someone from beyond the world's end called me, when I was heedless of Him, and opened a door for me to walk through. "Will your body finally be the door to let me in?" I once wrote in a song. Nai, Kyrie! Yes, Lord! Even while I sometimes cry out for love of You whom I can always see by faith yet not always touch, I know that You care for me. I only ask the question again, not to doubt Your promise, but so that I can hear Your voice again, saying to me, "Do not be afraid, for I am with you." (Isaiah 41:10 JB)

From the Sheep Pens

This is a continuation of the discussion on faith, grabbed from my comments on Kenny Ching's blog, which I first posted as "No Matter What It Takes."

Sorry, brothers, and I'm sorry for myself too, but I cannot let go the idea that Jesus is trying to get through to us with sayings like the one quoted.

"I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. If you love me, you will obey what I command."

When I first saw the film The Matrix, I knew it was a modern metaphor for the (true) Christian life. (I'm talking only about the first Matrix film.) I know it was grabbed up by Buddhist and Kabbalistic Jewish speculators as being metaphors of their chosen disciplines, and I don't mind that. But as an Orthodox, I saw the film and scene by scene could relate it not only to Orthodox Christian teaching and practice, but also to my own experience of the same things. In history, there are instances of people of such great faith, rare but there, usually non-sensational. I don't know how, but I know this is what God in Christ has intended for us since the beginning. How little faith we have!

And so, brothers, I reiterate, I am always on the lookout for anyone and anything that can open the door to this kind of faith for me. I believe it's possible. Now, I'm asking the Lord to lead me out of my unbelief, no matter what it takes.

I am prepared to move out into the totally at risk zone, and in fact, that's the only place where I think this faith can become a reality. But who is it that can find the door to that place? And what will it look like, what will I look like if I find it, from the outside? What does the place of the skull really look like from the sheep pens? Can that only be known by those who are willing to pay the ultimate price, and hang with Jesus on the Cross?

Sunday, November 5, 2006

Lazarus & the Rich Man

I spent a few minutes looking for a fitting icon or image to illustrate the topic of the Sunday of Lazarus & the Rich Man, but I couldn't find any, so this graphic from "Holy Ghost Zapped Comix" from my early Jesus Freak days will have to do. (Yes, I was, and still am, a Jesus Freak.) Today is another rainy late fall day in Portland. This is what happened at the Orthodox temple this morning…

This morning, Fr. Nick Triantafillou, the president of the Greek Orthodox seminary in Boston, was visiting Holy Trinity to give a seminar on Christian education or something, and to promote the Agia Sophia Academy, the Orthodox day school in Portland. Strangely enough, our scripture for this morning was the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man (Luke 16:19-31), and the epistle was the famous "man is not justified by works of the Law but through faith in Jesus Christ" passage (Galatians 2:16-20). What could have been a better combination? The Word of God warns us NOT to emulate the nameless "rich man" by ignoring the poor yet, while helping the poor man at OUR door, NOT to think that even our works of mercy can purchase our salvation! Very evangelical, yes! I thought, very appropriate, as I was planning to join Brock downtown to do whatever the Lord put before us.
Anyway, Fr. Nick started his sermon, bypassing (it seemed) the scriptures, and began to "preach" an entertaining sermon, or so I thought. After listening for a few seconds, I unzipped my Bible, lay it open on my knees at Isaiah 42, stuck my thumb into my right ear (the left is about 50% deaf), slipped my glasses up onto the ridge in my forehead and, crouching over the Word, began quietly whispering the verses of the prophet, pushing Fr. Nick's loud preaching into the mindless periphery of my consciousness. This is what I do when (it appears that) the Word of God is not being preached at sermon time. I always keep an ear out, though, for a change in the prevailing winds, in case the Holy Spirit starts to move—He can fill even windbags with His anointed God-breathed messages, if they only let Him!
Well, after a bit, Fr. Nick's friendly, down-to-earth style began to get filled up with more worthy content, and he even got to the point where, over and above praising the Ladies' Philóptochos Society (Greek women's charity orgs) for their philanthropic work, he began pushing the gospel message in our direction. Even though I didn't take my eyes off the text of Isaiah (I read up through 44:8), at the point where my reading changed direction, Fr. Nick's preaching did too, and that's exactly when I reconnected. He put it quite simply, that we should go out and minister to the "Lazaruses" of our city, the homeless, etc., and that it was the people's job to do this, not just the clergy. Well, of course, I couldn't agree more. Though I'm not able to recount Fr. Nick's words beyond that, it was good to hear him say the things he did. It made me want to touch him, and let him know that I want to do these things, and that I have, by God's permission, in the recent past. After his sermon was over, I left the temple, went out to my van and got a couple of copies of "The Freeing of Mickey Landry" into an envelope, wrote a short note on it, and returned to the service. Maybe later I would have a chance to give it to him.
After the service, Fr. Nick disappeared. I tried calling Brock, but there was no answer, so I stayed at church, hoping Brock would return my call (to Jacob's cell phone), and let me know where he was, downtown, so I could join him. This didn't happen. Instead, the Lord opened up an opportunity to "help Lazarus" right there in the temple!
At the coffee fellowship after the services were over, I visited with some of the brothers, while Anastasía went to talk to the women. I saw her sitting at a table with an older woman and some children. Meanwhile, I found Fr. Nick again, talked with him a little, and gave him the booklets. I hoped he would read them and, God willing, share them with others.
As I was getting ready to leave, Anastasía said she had to help load food into someone's car with Fr. Jerry. She then also disappeared, and I found myself (instead of Anastasía) loading grocery items from the narthex into a lady's car—the lady Anastasía had been talking to. Fr. Jerry and I gave this lady everything we had collected for Oregon Food Bank over the past couple of weeks. She and her grandchildren were kicked out of her home, I don't know why, but are living one day at a time in a motel. She is a member of the Greek community, and was a person of some means a few years back, at least I think so. (I don't know her personally.) So, the Lord keeps sending them to us… and in ways, at times, in places we would never expect them. We just do what Jesus tells us, if we are able and willing, one day at a time.
"The life I now live in this body I live in faith: faith in the Son of God who love me and sacrificed Himself for my sake." (Galatians 2:20b, Jerusalem Bible)

Thursday, November 2, 2006

No Matter What It Takes

This is the project of the rest of my life… If Jesus meant it when He said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do," and if He was serious when He said, "I am with you always, even unto the end of the Age," then why would He send us up a blind alley by saying, "I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. If you love me, you will obey what I command."

I am always on the lookout for anyone and anything that can open the door to this kind of faith for me. I believe it's possible. Now, I'm asking the Lord to lead me out of my unbelief, no matter what it takes.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

I only want to see you again

I rebel against the world
against the devil
against my sins
I defy him to his face
whoever tries to hem me in
I revolt against this ego
and the mess it’s got me in
and I only want to see you again

And I only want to see you again
Can I, please,
I only want to see you
in the light
I want to hold you
Oh no, don’t throw me away
I want to hold you again
Oh, let me, please

In this body I’ve been nailed
I’ve been tried
and I’ve been jailed
In this shape I’ve tried to run
from the law and from the gun
In this head I’ve caught the wind
and it almost blew my mind
but I only want to see you again


I tonight have planned a dream
to climb a ladder
and jump in
to cross a desert and a stream,
to wrestle with you and to win
I tonight will try to yield
to whatever sleep will bring
but I only want to see you again


In the morning cold I wake
The floor is hard
I see my breath
Alone, I think my heart must break,
I shave my face and take my bath
I shiver on some restless clothes,
choke on my tie,
and stoke the stove
and I only want to see you again

And I only want to see you again
Can I, please,
I only want to see you
in the light
I want to hold you
Oh no, don’t throw me away
I want to hold you again
Oh, let me, please

— Romanós

Friday, October 27, 2006

Greek, why bother?

A fellow blogger wrote a thoughtfully considered essay questioning the relevance or usefulness of New Testament Greek. These are his opening words…

Greek: why bother? Evangelicals have a fetish for New Testament Greek, and the more I think about it, the less sense that it makes… Read his post at:

Here's my response. How could I not respond? Those of you who know me, know I am a lover of the Word of God, and of the Greek language in which the New Testament is written. I responded not to contradict, but to endorse the language some call koiné, which I call evangelical, Greek…

I encourage every Christian who CAN learn a language to learn evangelical Greek, and to make DAILY reading of the Greek New Testament a priority.

I encourage them to learn to pronounce it the GREEK way, not the hypothetical archaic way that the seminaries and colleges teach it, which keeps it in the tomb as a dead language (like Latin).

I encourage them to read the words OUT LOUD, and especially to read the Gospel, the Letters and the Revelation written by John the Apostle, because these books are EASY to read and to understand, and the Greek word nuances strengthen evangelical Truth.

I encourage them to MEMORISE the verses that stand out to them in GREEK.

I encourage them to use the Greek as a backup when witnessing, teaching and preaching the Word.

And I am encouraged by MY reading of the Greek New Testament OUT LOUD (and even in public) because I am hearing and even understanding EXACTLY what the Apostles and Evangelists thought, spoke and wrote down for us, the heirs of the Promises.

I am also encouraged because the community formed by this continuing heritage, the Greek Orthodox, has, in spite of all historical circumstances and worldly opposition, maintained a pure evangelical faith amidst the whirlpool of heresy and Western theological speculation.

And this faith has molded the Greek speaking peoples and their culture into possibly the only living example of the ancient Christian ethos, and I feel radically blessed to be part of that experience in this era near the close of the Age.

Although I left this next part as a comment first on the blog where I originally left the above and then, later, copied it as a comment here, I think I want to add it to this post. It's important to me, because this is part of my testimony on the Word of God, which is Truth.

For me the Word of God is a place to live, where what's going on is happening right now, for me to participate in. There is no yesterday with the Word of God.

The more we can enter into that place, the more we can learn the language of the Word (I am not now speaking of learning Greek, specifically, but rather, of learning to make the scripture's vocabulary of meaning OUR language), and the more time and effort we spend in the Word, the more alive and present the Lord is with us. He says that in His own words in John, which I've quoted many times in my blog. If you make My Word your home, you will indeed be My disciples… and We will come to you, and make our home with you. (John 8:31, John 14:23, paraphrased).

The Greek I am learning to become more and more at home with just brings that new kind of life, that I am living in the Word, more into reality. Although I know the meaning of verbs, I never think of the grammatical terms. I guess part of my enthusiasm and even my method comes from using Dobson's excellent book on New Testament Greek. He leaves the grammatical niceties in the background, concentrating instead on the living language that evangelical Greek is.

I suppose it helps, too, that I worship at a church where the koiné Greek is still the worship language, and so I have the benefit of many hundreds of hours (probably thousands, actually) of hearing and speaking the language in context.

That's what gives language its ultimate meaning, that we spoke it and heard it at such and such a time and place.

Living in the church and living in the Word have converted my heart into a vessel where God's eternal reality lives. I don't expect anyone to understand this, but I hope someone will.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

One will be taken and the other left

No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left. Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.
Jesus Christ, quoted in Matthew 24:36-44

A word of advice to preachers

What I want to say to the preachers in the Body of Christ, as a Christian layman (tou laou, "of the people") is this.

We don't come to church to hear funny stories.
We don't want to be entertained.
We don't need to know the cultural context.
We're not interested in what the Bible scholars say.
Talk Hebrew and Greek to us when it deepens real meaning,
but don't do it just for self-display.
We know you've been to seminary,
but we don't care who says this or that.
We want to hear the Living Word you're supposed to carry.
We want to hear it simple and direct.
We want to know what Jesus can do with us, if we only let Him.
We don't want you to "should" on us, or put us in your debt.
Just speak the Word of Truth that feeds the children,
that we all are before the Father's throne.
We want to grow up in the Master's image.
Just plant the seed the way He wants it sown.
Don't hurry if the Spirit wants to tarry,
don't drag it out if short and sweet's the Word.
Open your mouth to preach what you do practice.
We can see through rhetoric more clearly than you think.
Why waste our time, and God's? Stay on the level,
since every hill and mountain He'll lay low,
when He comes again to pay His servants.
You don't want to join the goats when left they go.


Monday, October 23, 2006

Visible Results or the Truth?

This post is an excerpt of an exchange of comments on a Portland pastor's blog, discussing the role of preaching in the church. My earlier post, Pastors and Preachers, was also taken from this discussion. Here is a continuation, though the discussion has taken a new turn: One commentator has posed the idea that public witnessing (and preaching), since its results (for him) were disappointing, is just not an effective way to represent the Good News. He prefers to have the church concentrate its efforts on good preaching from the pulpit. In my ignorance and simplicity, what I say to this is, that you can feed your caged birds with well-stocked feeders, but we fools for Christ continue to scatter the bird seed out where the wild birds can find it. Here's the text of the results-oriented brother, followed by the response of another fool for Christ, like myself, whose words recklessly reverberate with the simple Truth of the Word.

“…those posts about last day preachers are interesting, but for a moment, let's just imagine, that the Lord is not coming back for six hundred years. Could be so? Now I have done a fair amount of street witnessing and have stood beside street preachers in downtown Portland supporting their gift of preaching, and let me add, bold preaching, the kind Ezekiel would be proud of, and my assessment was that it was not as effective as I had hoped. Attention it did get, but somehow in the Portland culture it was less than I had prayed for, hoped for. I have left the street witnessing behind for some time now after a long consideration of its results. It may well be that things may change, and the Lord's return, if it is near, may cause Preachers of great boldness to rise up in America, like they do in other countries around the world today. But somehow in the current day culture in America, I am thrilled to hear good preaching behind the pulpit and on the radio. They are becoming fewer and fewer as we are all vividly aware; so I say, lift up those who preach faithfully, encourage them with our prayers and support and it may be, as you have said, that out from under one of those faithful Pastors will rise up the "super Preacher" for the last days.”

“…my brother, sons and daughters of the Kingdom should not be worried about results, for the Lord gives the increase. There is no loss in following Y'shua. Who knows what one verse, just one, perhaps a sentence of truth from the Christ Himself, uttered from the lips of a man who, by faith, has stepped out blindly, to be led only by the Spirit of Truth, could impress upon a passer-by. One word from the Anointed One is like the purest water down a parched throat, like a lone tree in an arid duneland. It gives shade and possibly bears fruit for the one lost, wandering. The wanderer must choose to pick its fruit and he must choose to rest under its shade.

“Truth cares not for results. It cares not for what the ‘kósmos’ says is acceptable. It is straining and tugging at the reins to be released. And who claims to have the Truth? The Church. It must not fail to do its part.

“I myself do not wish to imagine the Lord not returning for 600 years. I expect Him at any hour. So should all of His disciples. No one knows the hour, nor the day. But what He says to me, He says to everyone… Watch!

“Amen, brothers… the pastor has his place in the Body. So does the evangelist. Let them labor in Truth, with the power that the Lord gives, so that when He does return, all might receive their crowns.”

My postscript is to shout a hearty AMEEN! to the words of the brother and synergós who wrote the response I've quoted in red above. I only hope that more people will listen and follow the call of Christ, “for the time is close.”

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Proclaiming the Reign of God

The flyer said, “Proclaiming the Reign of God” is a Bible study, or perhaps better, a “learning community,” a group of people gathering to read and study the Bible…

It was our new pastor's first stab at a Bible study in his new church. As usual, duty called. I felt obligated to attend at least the first one, to see what it would be like. Sixteen weeks! One chapter a week, that's the plan. “Well,” thought I, “why not go and pick up brother M., take him to Ya Hala for a quick snack, and then go to the Bible Study together. After all, he doesn’t have a car, it’s raining, and that’s a long way to ride a bike—ten miles—in the dusky evening.” So off I went.

Luckily he was home. I was afraid he might've decided to try riding his bike there, but no. He came to the door, ragged Bible in hand, looking like he just woke up from a nap. I invited myself in, asked him if he wanted to go to dinner with me and then the Bible study. It took some coaxing, but finally he agreed. He said he was feeling a little sick, his arm hurt, he said. I didn't think much of it at the time. He got dressed, combed his hair, and we hopped into the van to find some baba ganouj, felafel and other Lebanese snacks at a cozy restaurant on the east slope of Mount Tabor (the other side of the in-town mountain that I live on in Portland). We arrived at Ya Hala, were seated and placed an order for some mezzes, just a light snack—it's not advisable to study the Word of God on a full stomach. But trouble was on the way. Actually, trouble had started a few days back, on Friday the 13th…

…my friend was served an eviction notice for non-payment of rent. A sum of $188.50 had to be paid by Friday the 20th, or they would start eviction proceedings. The guy has lived there for about eight years, he is semi-disabled and works only sporadically. His rent is on a sliding scale. Supposedly, if he doesn't have any earnings, it's free for that time period. I don't know exactly how that works yet, but I'll be finding out, because it's plain that his situation can't continue this way forever. Back to the restaurant…

…M. was getting more and more uncomfortable. Finally, just as the waitress brought the first plates and some pita breads, he stood up, said it was too painful and he had to get some medicine, and went outside. I knew there was nothing open nearby, so I hailed the waitress, told her what was happening, so she didn't think we were just leaving, and stepped outside…

Severe pain and throbbing in the left upper chest and shooting pains up and down the left arm. It had been going on like this, on and off, since he got the eviction notice. He is a faithful member of my church, goes to many services, was even there earlier that very day, at a weekday morning liturgy, having ridden his bike there and back. I was scared, but calm. I went inside, had the waitress bring me several ‘doggie bags’ so I could turn our food into ‘take out,’ paid the bill, and grabbed M. and drove over the mountain to my house. The pain was still very bad. I gave him medication, had him rest on the couch, and laid out the food on plates in the dining room. Guess there wouldn't be a Bible study for us that night, at least not a spoken one…

We literally broke bread (pitas), ate a calm evening agapé together, and I gradually learned more of the details of both his infirmity and the eviction threat. He said that usually when he got in a jam, our church had helped him out by paying his rent or bills, but that he was told the last time they helped—That was it for the year—you're on your own! Interesting…

What to do? Well, it was obvious. The Lord was honoring His disciples with a personal visitation and a real “session” (an interactive, multi-dimensional, non-verbal Bible study), not “just another version.” I said to M., “Come with me,” after we'd finished eating, “down to my office in the basement. Watch your step on those stairs, and… umm, don’t bump your head on that low beam…” He hadn't been down there with me in a while. I showed him my prayer cot, next to my office, where I sleep. “I thought you had a bedroom upstairs…” I smiled and winked.

Flash back, and voice over…
There's Romanós, Sunday morning, very early, stretched out on his prayer cot, agonising about something. Why do I keep getting this thought that I should not turn in my tithe at today's service? I've always done it, but something is making me feel like I mustn't. “Just put $5 in the collection plate. I have something else in mind for the rest of it.”

Back in my office…
The back wall behind the desk is densely covered with paper icon prints tacked in neat rows, with family photos intermingled. A tall green copper candlestick rising as the tail of a small mouse reading a book sits on a ledge in the corner. M. and I chat, while I go online and check my bank account… Yes, I can cover it! Okay, that part is now a ‘done deal.’ That's where the rest of the tithe is going this fortnight, with some of my mission fund money tacked on to make the full amount. But the fund is getting low. Better start up another eBay auction soon! There's so much I still have to sell. I turn to M. and say, “Now, praise God, but keep it under wraps. We'll go tomorrow and pay the rent, and they should leave you alone for another month, right?” He says, “I think so.” But I'm still more worried about his health. He tells me, “Yeah, five years ago a doctor examined me and told me I have a heart murmur.”

The evening has been interesting. Not exactly your usual Bible study. I drive M. home while meditating on what could "The Reign of God” possibly mean. What did we miss by not going to the pastor's group? Once again, I marvel that we don't even have to walk out of our door, hardly. The Lord keeps sending them to us. And He never expects more from us than we can give. But what of tomorrow? What about next month?

So do not worry; do not say, ‘What are we to eat?
What are we to drink? How are we to be clothed?’
It is the pagans who set their hearts on all these things.
Your heavenly Father knows you need them all.
Set your hearts on His Kingdom first,
and on His righteousness,
and all these other things will be given you as well.
So do not worry about tomorrow:
tomorrow will take care of itself.
Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Matthew 6:31-34
(Jerusalem Bible)

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Can Magic Legitimize an Unhappy Marriage?

I have given this title to an untitled blog post written by Fr. Yakov Krotov, pastor the Descent of the Holy Spirit Apostolic Orthodox Church in Moscow, Russia. Again, I am bringing the written witness of this notorious priest to your attention. What he has to say lays waste the mistaken ideology that the Church and the State can marry each other. It simply doesn't work. No amount of pious rhetoric, no matter how ‘magical’ it sounds, can justify the uneven pact. Especially now, when we are closing in on the end of the age. Brethren, stay awake! Here's Father Yakov's word, edited for clarity…

Two dictators made a deal: The Moscow Patriarchate opened a church in North Korea. Actually, most of the churches which have been opened in Russia during the last few years are the result of the same kind of deal. ‘Christians’ are eager to receive money from ‘Caesar.’ The church building is money—and very big money—and in Russia (as well as in North Korea) this money is state money.

What an irony! Our Lord Jesus Christ told us to give unto Caesar what is Caesar's. Instead, His ‘followers’ take from Caesar. Their motivation is very simple. Here is a quote from some web page: "The motivations behind the new Church may be corrupt or suspicious—but the fact remains, that in North Korea, there is now saving grace, where before there was not any. There is a more tangible conduit for miracles—through the Body and Blood of Christ… even if the Holy Mysteries are unworthily prepared in a house of God that was constructed perhaps without God in mind—the fact remains, that it is no less Holy Communion than if it was prepared on Mount Athos, because the priest does not make it the Body and Blood of Christ, but God makes it so."

I won't mention the name of the author, but the opinion is very typical. This position was a standard one in the Middle Ages, but even now it is the official position of many ‘Christian’ denominations. But certainly, this is an anti-Christian position! This is magic in the guise of Christian clothes.

Yes, the Holy Mysteries are real Mysteries, even if they are unworthily prepared. But this only means that Christ in these Mysteries will suffer. Can we use the Holy Blood to clean a floor? Yes, we can—but we must understand that this would be the humiliation and suffering of the Lord. When we use Caesar to ‘promote’ Christianity, this might be good for ‘Christianity’, but it would be bad for Christ. This might be good for Christianity… but most probably (99 to 1) it will be good only in the short haul—and after the short haul, everything will get much worse than it was before we made our union with Caesar. The Middle Ages are a good example of this story.

Nothing makes the proclamation of the Resurrection so hard today as the memory of Medieval Christianity. To some people these memories are too bad (the Inquisition and other sorts of intolerance and violence), to other people these memories are too enticing—either way, it makes them forget Christ, and the result is obvious: If a house is built on sand, it will be destroyed. Even if this house is a Christian temple. And if this church has been built on lies, despotism and violence...

Fr. Yakov's unedited English text can be read at: for Wednesday, October 18th, 2006.

Monday, October 16, 2006

The Holy Spirit as Holy Wisdom

This is a reproduction of an ancient Russian Orthodox ikon of Holy Wisdom, shown in the foreground enthroned and surrounded by an emerald aura. Above Her, and smaller because the view is receding upwards into Heaven, is a throne on which is seated Jesus Christ the Son of God. And at the very top is an empty throne signifying the Father, whom no man has seen and no man can ever see. To the left is Mary the Theotokos (God-bearer) and to the right is John the honorable Forerunner and Prophet (the Baptist). Other saints are painted in the far left and right panels, and a host of angels are above.

I am posting this ikon, in case a woman I fellowshipped with at the Portland Greek Festival visits my blog. I told her about this unusual image, and I promised I would make it available on my blog. I have no comments to make about this ikon, other than it has hung in my home for many years, and we have always considered it, rightly or wrongly, an image of the Holy Spirit. That the image represents a female form is consistent with some traditions, that hold the Godhead to have masculine and feminine aspects. All this is, of course, speculation, but if you identify Wisdom personified in such Old Testament books as Proverbs, Ecclesiasticus and the Wisdom of Solomon (the latter two are not in Protestant Bibles, and are regarded by Orthodox as on a lower footing than the rest of Scripture, whatever that means), then this person of the Holy Triad could be depicted in feminine guise.

If you click on the image, a larger version will open, which will become full-sized (very large) if you click on the little four-way-arrow box in the lower right corner. You can then download the graphic, which is saved as a jpg file 1500px across.

Love's nature is to communicate

Love is conceived in many ways: in the form of meekness, mildness, patience, liberality, freedom from envy, absence of hatred, forgetfulness of injuries. In all, it is incapable of being divided or distinguished: its nature is to communicate.

Clement of Alexandria (Titus Flavius Clemens), was the first member of the Church of Alexandria (Egypt) to be more than a name, and one of its most distinguished teachers. He was born about the middle of the 2nd century, and died between 211 and 216.

Pastors and Preachers

The following was left as a comment on a pastor's blog*, and I'd like to share it with you. It is about two ‘members’ of the Body of Christ, pastors and preachers. I agree wholeheartedly with pilgrim, who authored this piece. This is exactly where a disconnect is happening in many churches, including my own. Pastors and preachers, who are they in the Body of Christ?

My own questions have been, "Is a pastor really pastoring his flock, or is he getting bogged down in details of parish administration and other official duties?" and, "Is a pastor really supposed to be preaching?" As a matter of fact, in traditional Orthodoxy, a pastor was not usually the preacher. This was ordinarily the bishops and the monastics, men whose prayer life and intimate knowledge of the Word of God qualified them for this ministry. Not so among the Orthodox in America!

Pilgrim's comments are more to the point than my questions, but they provide me with at least some of the answers. As usual, he's right on with the Word of Truth (the Bible). Here't goes…

Is there not a difference between Pastor and Preacher?
Does not the Preacher preach the everlasting good news to those who the Father is drawing to Christ and yet, by their freewill are seeking Christ?

Is not the Pastor the steward of the flock—teaching, admonishing and edifying them, building them up through the Truth of the Good Shepherd to be made into a spiritual house, true living stones? Yes, a man may very well have both gifts from the Holy Spirit and such a man is blessed, but a clear distinction should be made between those two parts, those two members of the Body of Christ.

Maybe the time has come and is coming when the LORD will raise up His preachers for one last great revival? Perhaps they are among us now? Some may be seminarians, some may not. They won’t be seen in the church sanctuary, nor behind the pulpit. They will be seen on street corners, squares, the market place, outside synagogues and mosques, evangelizing in pubs, coffee houses and bars. And their message won’t be their own, no, maybe just the plain Word of God that cuts like a sword, dividing soul and spirit, marrow and bone. They will be filled with Truth, knowing only the Word of the Lord, the Cross of Christ and the power of His Resurrection. For those three things can make even the biggest coward and fool brave. And as it is with one who submits to and lives with the Word and the Spirit of Truth, it will be like a fire shut up in their bones… they cannot contain it.

"You must speak my words to them, whether they listen or fail to listen, for they are rebellious. But you, son of man, listen to what I say to you. Do not rebel like that rebellious house; open your mouth and eat what I give you." Ezekiel 2:7-8