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


Friday, October 13, 2006

O gar kairós engýs

O gar kairós engýs, “for the time is close”
(Apokálypsis/Revelation 1:3)

The spiritual gaze of Christians should be focused upon the approaching joyous event — the Second Coming of Christ on earth: "And when these things [the sorrows of the last days] begin to come to pass then look up and lift up your heads, for your redemption draws near" (Lk 21:28). The reality of His coming again was witnessed to by the Savior Himself, with the indication of some details, and was proclaimed by the Angels during the Lord's Ascension, and often reminders were given by the Apostles (Mt. 16:27; Mt. ch 24; Mk. 8:38; Lk 12:40 and 17:24; John. 14:3; Acts. 1:11; Jude 14-15; 1 John 2:28; 1 Pet. 4:13; 1 Cor. 4:5; 1 Thes. 5:2-6 and other places).

The Lord described His Second Coming as being sudden and obvious to all: "For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west; so also will the coming of the Son of Man be." Prior to this, the "sign of the Son of Man will appear in Heaven," and having seen it, "all the peoples of the world will mourn" (Mt. 24:30). According to the Fathers of the Church, this will be the sign of the saving Cross of our Lord.

The Lord will descend in all His glory surrounded by innumerable angels: "Then they will see the Son of Man, coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory, and all His angels with Him … Then He will sit on the throne of His glory…" (Mt. 24:30, 25:31, Mk. 13:26). From these words we should conclude that the Second Coming of Christ will look substantially different from the first one, during which He willingly humbled Himself and came in the semblance of an ordinary man. Then He lived in poverty and voluntarily suffered all kinds of humiliations.

His Second Coming will also differ in purpose. First, He came to give His soul for the salvation of many; then He will come to judge the world and recompense everyone according to his deeds. (Acts 17:31; Mt. 24:27).

Thursday, October 12, 2006

For a thousand years in Your sight…

These words come to us from Ioanna Miller, who died August 23, 2001 at the young age of 21. She wrote them just a few months before she ‘fell asleep’ in the Lord during the throes of her heroic battle against leukemia. Let us remember our life’s single and only purpose is to enter into the mystery of the Cross, to accept the simplicity of God’s plan for us, Who “so loved the world that He gave His only Son.” (John 3:16

“For a thousand years in your sight
are like yesterday when it is past
and like a watch in the night
You carry them away like a flood.”
Psalm 90: 4-5

It is much too easy to forget the reality of these words and how quickly this life can pass. The world can consume us in its material, its entertainment and obligations, making us forget that we walk on a tight rope with eternity beneath us. We worry about hours, days, years, but what are these? Are they not only tiny drops in the infinite ocean of eternity? Where is our peace? The answer, of course, lies in Christ.

Our poor souls can get squashed under the concern of the world, so what can we do but cry out to Christ: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me!” He will always hear. Our prayers never fall on deaf ears. It seems like if we make the smallest effort to love God, He showers us with mercy, but we do not always know the manifestations of His mercy. My prayers are often inconsistent and distracted, but even these little supplications God hears. Throughout the time I have been sick, prayer has been my only source of true peace and patience. God has so much mercy to give if we only ask for it.

Cancer, although I would never wish it upon anyone, is a great blessing in my life. Although it takes its toll on my body and may take my life, it nurtures my soul. This illness is teaching me how fleeting this life is. It also came at a time in my life when I was beginning to think that everything was in my control and that any good in my life was the result of my own efforts. At nineteen, I felt pretty invincible. When I was diagnosed, I had to look mortality in the eye and ask myself, “If I were taken now, what would I have to show that would be pleasing to Christ? Am I worthy of His mercy?” It made me consider my soul and how much more important it is than my body. Also, by seeing how quickly my health can change from wholesome and sound to lingering near death’s door, I am learning to try and “overlook the flesh, for it passes away, but to attend to the soul, since it is immortal.”

Another benefit of my illness is a forced pause in my busy routine, leaving me plenty of time to reflect. Until I was diagnosed, my life was very busy and stressful, not unlike many people’s lives. Going to college, working, thinking about career choices and making time for friends and family added up to a full plate. I sure was not thinking of Christ as much as these other things. Time away from unnecessary distractions has been a great blessing when I spend it with my spiritual eyes on Christ. I spend hours alone and do not have much energy. I have learned that unless I am watchful; I easily fall prey to temptations like despair and anxiety. Keeping myself relatively busy also helps. I have turned to activities like knitting, writing, reading, working a little with stained glass and trying to pray to fill each day.

I have also realized that it is much more beneficial to discuss my thought and concerns with another Christian than to ponder them silently within myself. I realize that I am not strong enough to fight off the voice of the enemy, who seems much louder to me when I am by myself. The company of others and spiritual conversation have been a great help to me. While this is true, I still do not want to discredit the benefits of solitude, because with watchfulness and prayerfulness I believe it can also bear much fruit.

When dark and depressing thoughts come and leave me feeling distraught, scared, sad and lonely, the remedy that brings peace to my heart is calling on the Name of Jesus. Appealing to the Mother of God and the Saints also help ward away dark feelings. Prayer gives such a great assurance of God’s mercy and love. How many times have I not turned to prayer and let gloominess settle into my soul? Why do I do that when I have such a powerful weapon at hand, the Name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ? I only know the difference between the consolation that God gives us when we are humble and pray, and the anxiety that results from battling our weaknesses on our own.

The thought of death stings. But when I remember the loving promise Christ left us by His incarnation, death and resurrection, death is transfigured for me into a gate through which the humble and righteous enter into the Kingdom of heaven. In saying this, I cannot escape the image of the royal gates centered in the iconostasis. The Church is the whole, encompassing the living and the eternal Kingdom. The living Church passes through death, which is like a royal gate into heaven, joining the splendor of the Saints and Angels, and partaking of the sacred mysteries for life eternal. I know death is only a gate, because Christ unshackled that gate by His death and resurrection. On our part, however, faith and action are key. As Christ said, “Most assuredly I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him Who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.” Christ says that first, we have to hear His word, which I think are His teachings and actions. We must take up our crosses and follow Him, living in Him and Him in us. We must be like sheep on His right side that were saved because they were humble and loved their brother as Christ would. Then He says that we must believe in Him Who sent Him. We have to believe and love God with all our strength, heart and soul. Faith is becoming more obviously important to me, especially now that life is looking much more transitory. When my faith scatters, I feel desperate and scared, but again, when I turn to God for help, He hears me, and I find peace.

Please do not think I write these things because I practice them and am in a state of uninterrupted peace. I struggle and fall a lot. It is just that being sick has taught me so much about the importance of getting up after the struggle, living my life according to Christ, and keeping my heart in the eternal Kingdom more than in the earthly.

When we sing the Cherubic Hymn, do we not repeat three times “let us set aside all the cares of life” before we sing “that we may receive the King of all?” I am beginning to realize now that this is not meant to be a suggestion for us only during the moments before receiving Holy Communion, but during every moment of our earthly time. I think it is possible to keep the eyes of one’s soul, or the nous, in heaven even while living amidst the cares and troubles of the world. That is what all Christians should strive for. How else will we be able to accept God’s mercy in the end unless we lived in Him and loved Him during our lives? Lately, I have been thinking of how terrible it would be to stand in front of Christ, who wants to give me His mercy and a place in His Kingdom, but these thoughts make me shudder, since I have not always lived properly. I cannot think of any worse agony than being shut out of God’s Kingdom. On the contrary, think of the humble and righteous that have passed before us, those who lived according to God’s Word. What inexpressible joy they must feel as they pass through those royal gates! After carrying their crosses during their lifetime with patience, selflessness, and God’s love, they are welcomed into heaven by a host of Angels. Their hearts are open to God’s love and mercy, since they have already lived with Him in their hearts during their temporal existence in this world.

God has given each of us time and a wondrous creation with which to shape our souls. We must not forget, though, how temporary this life is. Leukemia has made me more aware of this perspective. Thank God not everyone has a serious illness, but I thank God that I have been given this trial. I am afraid that I would never have experienced God’s infinite love and mercy had it not been for cancer. When I think of the whole of my twenty years of life and how quickly and vainly they have passed, what would have prevented me from living another fifty years in the same way? A whole lifetime is worthless, no matter how many years it consists of, if it is not lived as an investment in eternity. We spend so much time, energy and resources on our bodies, but we ignore the soul. Although the body is important, how much more precious is the soul! Only since my body has been sorely afflicted with leukemia have I been able to discover the importance of my soul. Thank God for His incredible mercy! The sadness that often comes from the constant reminders of my mortality is swallowed up in Christ’s victory and in my hope for His Kingdom. I am thankful to have had the opportunity to share any insights my illness has afforded me with anyone who reads this. Please remember me in your prayers.

— Ioanna Miller († 2001)

Aionía sou i mními, axiomakáristos kai aeímnistos Adelphí imón.
May your memory be eternal, dear Sister,
for you are worthy of blessedness and everlasting memory.

Monday, October 9, 2006

End Times

Again, I have nothing of my own to say or share, but this excerpt from my oldest son's webpage. There's a link to his webpage in the side panel of my blog. Jacob is a student of the prophets of Israel.

When a government establishes itself as the source of life for its people, it becomes the anti-Christ. This is represented in Revelation by the wearing of a sign on the right hand and forehead. Such decorations in antiquity are a form of social and religious insurance – they indicate that a person’s thought and deed are guaranteed and protected by what that symbol represents. If you agree to the assurance, you transact. This is the meaning of the statement that “without the symbol no one will be able to buy or sell.” It doesn’t mean that they will be immature. It means those with the sign will not be capable of trusting those who do not have it. The sign on the person’s body is reflective of who they rely on for safety and protection, the brand they believe in, the cause that they believe will assure them of life, safety, security and comfort.

In our past history there have always been alternatives to earthly regimes. Every regime has its symbol. The Nazis had the swastika. The Romans had the eagle. The Jews had nothing: For many years, their aniconic sympathies prevented the use of a symbol to represent their deity. Instead they would have a piece of text affirming their resignation to the Lord as the source of life for His people. For many early Christians, this practice translated into the use of scriptural texts in talismans as a form of protection. The sign of the cross was a proof, not an ideological symbol. For some Jews and all Christians, their faith communities represented movements that resisted earthly alliance in favor of a faith in divine providence and deliverance from all sources of death.

What happens, then, when those faiths ally themselves with earthly campaigns? What happens when church and synagogue fuse their motivations with the state? The romantic citizen believes that this brings the fruits of divine economy to civilization. However, prophetic scripture has always claimed the opposite. Theocracies are terminally mundane and, what’s worse, they displace God as the ultimate provider of all things to all of creation.

The “end times,” then, represent the final prophetic path, the cycle where all representation of the faith of God on earth falls into the mundane, where there is no longer an assembly to appeal to, that is not tainted by the ambitions of humanity. Every hand reaching to God is grabbed by something else. It is the only prophetic path where grace is wholly inaccessible, and all are lost.

Are we there? Are we drawing closer to it?
We may not have to make martyrs of those who are faithful to what they cannot see. In our modern world all we have to do is stop teaching the gospel. Those who know it will die, just as Joseph died, just as the whole generation who knew Joseph died, and the knowledge of God will stop. And we will find ourselves like the Hebrews making bricks for some walking god-man ruler like pharaoh. We will find ourselves awakened from the slumber by a final return of the true God to deliver those, who have been asleep, out of their slumber. And like the Hebrews, some of us will stumble forward, following a God we do not know, to a place we have never heard of. Yet many will opt to stay in Egypt: They’d rather die than change.

It is easy to see how, within this prophetic framework, life and death, location and specific personalities and players fall away into irrelevance. The “end times” are not about these kinds of specifics. They are the ultimate case of a protypical drama that we live out in small portions every day of our lives.

The question is, when all paths end in the same place and the age of freedom is over and done, will we have the wisdom and courage to leave all that we know and rely on behind, to embrace deliverance from beyond our known world in order to attain life? Or will we dwell forever wanting, in pursuit of our own shadow?

Jacob Aaron Gorny

Sunday, October 1, 2006

Chronía pollá! Many Years!

October 1st, commemorating Romanós the Melodist, the first time I can remember my name day not falling during the Greek Festival and being ‘forgotten.’ The original Romanós was a great hymn writer, of Syrian Jewish descent. He lived in the late 5th, early 6th century, and served as a deacon and cantor in Beirut, Lebanon. Today, one person came up to me when I entered the temple for worship, and wished me "Chronía pollá!" I responded quietly, "Evcharistó!"

This evening at sundown begins Yom Kippur, the Jewish “Day of Atonement.” It's significant to me that this year my name day and this Jewish holiday coincide, and at a quiet time, the calm before the storm. Today at sundown I commemorate inwardly the anniversary of my conversation with the Lord, which occurred last year on the evening of Yom Kippur. So much has happened in these twelve months, my meeting takes on even for me an almost mythological aspect. In short, this is what happened. After pondering for many days my life and where it had led me, I went into my arbor (pictured below) and presented to the Lord an account of it. I was very, very sorry, not despairing, but hopeful that the Lord would accept my repentance and accept me, even me, back into His fold, and let me begin to serve Him.

Sure, I go to church and I have never willfully missed a Sunday service that I can remember. Sure, I do all the ‘expected’ things. I even did some volunteer work. But over the years, my cowardice in answering the call of Christ to the extraordinary life had resulted in a life with little or no fruit. The extraordinary, “perissós” in Greek, comes from Matthew, in Greek…

και εαν ασπασησθε τους φιλους υμων μονον τι περισσον ποιειτε; ουχι και οι τελωναι ουτως ποιουσιν;
“And if ye should salute your brethren only, what do ye extraordinary? Do not also the Gentiles the same?”

(Matthew 5:47 Darby)

So, although I had lived the first 30 years of my Christian life as an unprofitable servant, I asked the Lord for another chance, this time to make good on my original decision to follow Christ at the age of 24. Though I joke about it, the impression was quite serious. “Forty-nine years.”

“What? I have 49 years? But I'm 54 now!” I pondered again, what can this mean? “For the first 5 years, I was not accountable? The next 49 years were mine to give, and I lost them? So now, I have 49 years to make it up?” No, that's not really how God works. That might be how my miniscule mind has to verbalize it, to even begin to understand, but no, that's not how God works. What I knew for certain, what I know for true, is that the Father accepts my repentance through Jesus Christ, our true and living High Priest. He accepted my life, and let me start again.

From that day on, I made it my will to seek His will, to act on the Word, to not suppress the Spirit, to not draw back my hand when asked for help (not by men, but by God, who alone is humble enough to ask for our help!). This is what I have tried to do for the past year. And here I am, still standing, like a tree after heavy pruning, stripped of most of my leaves, all the unfruitful branches cut away (they were dead wood), waiting for the next season. Waiting for the Lord to call forth from me what I still have to give.

The reading in today's service was 2 Corinthians, 6:1-10. Nothing could be more appropriate to my life in Christ today:

As God's fellow workers we urge you not to receive God's grace in vain. For he says, "In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you." I tell you, now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation. We put no stumbling block in anyone's path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything. (2 Corinthians 6:1-10 NIV)

One of the things that has happened to me in the year just completed is that I have become, strangely, more and more ‘invisible.’ I was even going to call this post “Invisible Man”, because this is how I feel much of the time. Now that I have been trying to live a repenting life, now that I am openly following the call of Christ, what I told my wife Anastasía when I shared this moment with her is coming true: I will follow the call, wherever it leads me, whether it makes my earthly life better or worse, whether people love me or hate me, whether I am approved or disapproved, praised or slandered… What I have actually discovered is, many of those I counted on to be supportive have fled. What I find is that I am invisible even when I am with them in the same physical space. In this last age, the politically correct way of killing someone is to pretend they don't exist…

Thank you, Lavrenty, for wishing me “chronía pollá”. Evcharistó, adelphós mou!

Forgive me for this pitiful ramble, but one more thing.
Today being the commemoration of Romanós the Melodist, the choir sang (in Greek only) an apolytikion in his honor. It ran,

“God's image was perfectly preserved in you, O Father, for taking up the Cross you followed Christ. You taught us by example to disdain the flesh, a passing thing, but to see the soul which is immortal. Wherefore, O holy Romanós, your spirit rejoices with the angels.”

I want to join my namesake and live my life as he lived his. Notice, no mention at all of the 800 hymns he wrote, or of the miracle by which he was given the gift of hymnography. Only that he took up the Cross. And in closing I want to honor the brother who wrote this new kontakion, and may it be true,

“By faith, Romanós shouldered his cross and followed the "man of sorrows", even to the end. By faith he saw the "one like a son of man" coming with the clouds. And by his faith in Christ, Romanós conquered and overcame and was not hurt at all by the second death.”