Thursday, August 31, 2006

Over Mountains

Over Mountains

Do you ever wonder
Why we're in this world?
Flies caught in this web
Of material confusion?
Do you really think
You'd be satisfied
At the end of time?
Sure you will. That's how
it's supposed to be.

Forty years of suicide,
All for a life that lied.

Let me take you flying
Over mountains and hills.
We could be children again
Without a single care.
Let me take you to a place
Where no one but God
Is watching us, watching us.

Do you ever dream
Of being young again?
To run around free
In nature's perfect world?
I've seen you curse the world
And its false majesty.
"There's no way out," you say,
"so I'll have to let it be."

Are we really trapped
In this life?
Or can we evade
this pointless strife?

Let me take you flying
Over mountains and hills.
We could be children again
Without a single care.
Let me take you to a place
Where no one but God
Is watching us, watching us.

Andrew Gorny
from the album If Only They Knew

Monday, August 21, 2006

Love Sets No Limits

Kenny Ching posted this saying on his blog Zealous Convert:
'I may have to love you, but I don't have to like you!'
For the most part agreeing with him, this is my response to his assertion, that ‘love sets no limits.’

There are so many interpretations of love among people.

The one that seems to be behind your saying is the one that says… We must love people, that is, want what is best for them, have a good will toward them, but you don't necessarily have to want to be with them, or put up with them. This is where many a marriage ends up, and many a congregation. This is the love that can be commanded and, once we've hedged the commandment with escape clauses, we're free to follow the "commandment."

Though there are many kinds of love among us, the Word of God is the only teacher of what love is. How we apply it depends on how much we want to see.

For me, just to look, really look, at another human being, or even a fellow creature, without thinking, without measuring, analyzing, just looking, for me love comes to the surface quickly. I want to know the person I am looking at, and spontaneously I want to love them.

Freedom intervenes to set the limits.
Does the other person want to be loved, or is it an intrusion?
Do I want to activate the love which naturally rises in me, or will I let it die, look the other way, because I realise there will be a price to pay?

I hold myself "ready to love" others, because Jesus may come to me in the guise of my brother or sister. I do not fret over whether I should or must love my neighbor in an active way. I just love the one who is put before me this moment. If love requires action beyond that point, I try to do whatever love demands.

The aftertaste of love is prayer, specifically intercession.

Mother Gavrilia says, "Love does not get tired."
I know what she means…
When I was loving the brother whom God placed before Brock and me a week ago last Saturday, it didn't matter to me that I had to stay with him the whole day, eating little, taking no rest, just making sure he was fed, that he would stay awake (we were all up many hours that day!), that he had somewhere to go while waiting for his bus connexion. I just wasn't tired. I could've stayed up all night with him, because I was loving him.

Love just doesn't get tired.

Have you ever noticed how John 3:16 (the often quoted scripture) and 1 John 3:16 really go together, and how the 3:16 in John's first letter is really a completion and commentary of the 3:16 in John's gospel?

Behold, I send you

Neither failure nor hostility can weaken the messenger's conviction that he has been sent by Jesus. That His Word may be their strength, their stay and their comfort, Jesus repeats it, “Behold, I send you…” (Matthew 10:16)
For this is no way they have chosen themselves, no undertaking of their own. It is, in the strict sense of the word, a MISSION.…Where the Word is, there shall the disciple be. Therein lies his true wisdom and his true simplicity. If it is obvious that the Word is being rejected, if it is forced to yield its ground, the disciple must yield with it. But if the Word carries on the battle, the disciple must also stand his ground. In each case he will be combining wisdom with simplicity. “Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” (again, Matthew 10:16)

— Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, Ch. 24

A Disciple of Love

The following excerpted from the article “A Holocaust to His Love” by John Brady, at the site In Communion.

Avrilía Papayanni was born in 1897 to a wealthy Greek family in Constantinople [Istanbul], which remained her home until 1923, when the family was deported to Thessalonika as part of the infamous “exchange of populations.” Though the path to worldly distinction seemed open to this intelligent, unconventional and privileged young woman, she chose another way: in 1932, responding to a command (as she later described it) of Christ Himself, she moved to Athens to live alone and work in nursing homes. She then traveled to England (arriving with one pound to her name) and studied physiotherapy in London. In 1947 she opened her own physiotherapy practice in Athens. Already her nearly-unique path of combined service and hesychia [inner prayer] was beginning to emerge: though she had many wealthy clients, she donated her services to the poor, said the Jesus Prayer constantly during her treatment sessions, and healed many by her prayers, often using her medical procedures as “cover” for her wonderworking intercession.

In 1954 her beloved mother died. The moment was a pivot in her life: she wrote that her mother’s death “severed the last tie that had kept me bound to normal, material life on this Earth. Suddenly I was dead… I was dead to the world.” Within a year she had closed her therapy practice, given all her money and belongings to the poor, resolved to live in absolute poverty, and (now aged almost sixty) headed for India with no plan, but a strong sense that Christ had called her there. Avrilia arrived in India with one dress and a Bible (her only reading at that time) and stayed for five years, at first giving free physiotherapy to lepers and the poor at several clinics and ashrams. She worked and mingled freely with Hindu gurus and protestant missionaries, making no distinctions in her loving openness to all.

Toward the end of her time in India, the same Voice that had called her to give her life to the poor led her to spend eleven months in eremitic solitude in the Himalayas. During this time she received the call to monastic life. In 1959 she entered the Monastery of St. Lazarus in Bethany, where she was tonsured a nun after a three-year novitiate, receiving the name Gavrilia.

The next twenty years were a heady mix of monastic quietude alternating with speaking tours, three years of missionary service in East Africa, and another three years in India working with Fr. Lazarus Moore’s Orthodox community. Archimandrite Sophrony asked her to become abbess of his women’s monastery in England, but she declined — one of the few times that she refused any of the calls to service that repeatedly drew her away from her increasingly cherished silence and solitude.

In 1979 she was given free use of an apartment in Athens that over the next ten years became known to her disciples as the “House of Angels.” Here she would spend half of each day in prayer, receiving no one, the other half in counseling and healing a stream of visitors. In her last few years she moved to a hermitage in Aegina, then to Leros, where she received the Great Schema in 1991 and reposed in peace the following year.

The sweetness and openness of Mother Gavrilia’s character was fed by a quiet but constant áskesis and awareness of the rigor of Christ’s commandments. Even as she extended herself without reserve to serve others, she felt the relative smallness of her service. While living at the New Jerusalem Monastery in Greece (1967, aged 69) she offered free physiotherapy to residents of the Russian Old People’s home. She wrote “You can imagine my joy at being here and treating these aged people… I joke and laugh and see their mournful faces change. What a pity all is so temporary… Unless Joy comes from within — that is from its Source — it does not last. As soon as I leave, it is as if I had never shared His Joy with them. Here I understand the words of Christ: My joy I give unto you: not as the world giveth…”

Mother Gavrilia’s life obliterated the inane distinctions that we so often make between prayer and service, contemplation and action. She had no theories about the Church, society, the Christian life, or anything else. Her only “program” was to love with the love that proceeds from complete abandonment to Christ, and to act as that love dictated. At one time this might express itself in “social action,” at another time in secluded hesychia. The difference was immaterial because the Source was the same.

One of the most valuable portions of Ascetic of Love [a biography of Mother Gavrilía] is a luminous collection of her sayings. I can find no better way to close than to quote the first and last of these: “Any place may become a place of Resurrection, if the Humility of Christ becomes the way of our life.”

Friday, August 18, 2006

Out of the Mouths of Babes

Why do ye repel the joy? Why, when the sun shineth, do ye love darkness? Why do ye against unconquerable peace meditate war?

If, therefore, ye be the sons of Zion, join in the dance together with your children. Let the religious service of your children be to you a pretext for joy. Learn from them who was their Teacher; who called them together; whence was the doctrine; what means this new theology and old prophecy. And if no man hath taught them this, but of their own accord they raise the hymn of praise, then recognise the work of God, even as it is written in the law: “Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast Thou perfected praise.” (Matthew 21:16)

Redouble, therefore, your joy, that ye have been made the fathers of such children who, under the teaching of God, have celebrated with their praises things unknown to their seniors. Turn your hearts to your children, and close not your eyes against the truth.

But if ye remain the same, and hearing, hear not, and seeing, perceive not, and to no purpose dissent from your children, then shall they be your judges according to the Saviour's word. Well, therefore, even this thing also, together with others, has the prophet Isaiah spoken before of you, saying, “Jacob shall not now be ashamed, neither shall his face now wax pale. But when they see their children doing my works, they shall for me sanctify My name, and sanctify the Holy One of Jacob, and shall fear the God of Israel. They also that err in spirit shall come to understanding, and they that murmured shall learn obedience, and the stammering tongues shall learn to speak peace.” (Isaiah 29: 22, 24)

— Methodios of Olympos (reposed AD 311)

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Thinking of Communion

I'm a Greek Orthodox. Our main service on any given Sunday, as well as many Saturdays and weekdays during the year, is called "E Theia Liturgia" (The Divine Liturgy) and it always leads into a communion service. Strangely, we receive communion in the form of leavened bread (chunks) soaked in wine, and fed to us, like babies, on a small spoon. The same spoon goes into everybody's mouth. It's a real social leveler. Only those who have been baptised in an Orthodox church (Greek, Russian, American, Antiochian, etc.) can receive. We all know that it is what the Bible says it is: the Body and Blood of Christ. That's that. No further explanation how it can be that. It just is. Why do we have communion whenever we meet for worship? Probably because the early Christians did, and that's still us, only the early church didn't die out in the eastern end of the world (Greece, Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Russia, Egypt, Ethiopia, etc.), and it has migrated to America along with the immigrants.

But there's more, for me and my friend.
Every time we have a meal together in sincere fellowship, calling on the name of our God, be it at home or at a lunch counter (and we do!), we experience a non-ritualized version of the same Presence of Jesus with us. That's why even if there's two bread rolls and two of us, we still break each piece in half and share it, the same with the cheese, the grapes, the olives, whatever we're eating—if it can be divided and shared, we do it. That's because the sharing is better food than the eating.

In the context of worship, communion takes on a glorious and supernatural aspect. At the humble dinner table of love's bread, Christ comes among us in no less real a manner, just humbly, intimately. It's there that we can really touch Him in touching each other, love Him in loving each other, and share His generosity in the literal breaking of bread.

"When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him…"
(Luke 24:30-31 NIV)

Pressing On

Trusting in God, who makes use even of our mistakes and failures, the Christian pilgrim presses on (Philippians 3:12-14), not looking back, not even judging oneself, leaving all judgment to Him, knowing that everything works out for the best for those who love Him (Romans 8:28). There is no loss with Jesus.

Trusting in God, who makes use of our weaknesses to train us for a weight of glory (2 Corinthians 4:7-12, 17) that is all out of proportion to them, we push against our weaknesses as a weight lifter pushes against the weights, to build spiritual muscle, until the Lord, our trainer, moves us to the next exercise.

In short, through Jesus Christ, all that binds us can and will be not only overcome but transformed, as we are changed through Him into the Image that we reflect (2 Corinthians 3:18).