Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Everything, except for true love, is an illusion…

Everything, except true love, is an illusion.

If a friend behaves coldly, rudely, spitefully, insolently to you, say: "This is an illusion from the enemy."

If a feeling of enmity, arising from your friend's coldness and insolence, disturbs you, say: "This is an illusion of mine, but the truth is, that I love my friend, in spite of everything, and I do not wish to see evil in him, which is an illusion of the demon, and which is in me also. I will be indulgent to his faults, for they are in me also. We have the same sinful nature."
Fr John of Kronstadt, My Life in Christ

Sunday, April 22, 2007

They looked up

Christian Orthodoxy can be annoyingly vital sometimes, especially in the context of worship. For all the ceremony, lightning flashes of Divinity, of God's audacious and holy Spirit, will keep touching down in our midst, unpredictably but consistently, when we least expect Him but need Him most, and anyone of us can be the conductor of that awesome and Divine power. Today it was Fr Jerry's turn. Not only in the sermon which is the meat of my post, but in his humble and Christ-loving prayer, this genuine follower of Jesus by the simplicity of his personal faith, truly mediated to us by his every action the mystírion of God in Christ (1 Corinthians 15:51-52).

Fr Jerry's sermon might be too long for a post, but I want to share with my readers and visitors to my blog, the following passages that lit me up. In some of the things he says, he was drawing on the words of Fr Alexander Schmemann, an Orthodox theologian, but because of his heartfelt delivery, I would say that Fr Jerry has made all these words his own. Here they are…

Either Christ is risen or He is not risen, one or the other!
If He IS risen… this unheard of victory over death actually occurred… everything in the world truly has become different and new, whether people know it or not.
…We as believers …are responsible that others should know and believe that they should see, hear and enter into this victory and joy.

The first Christians called their faith not a religion, but the Good News, which it was their purpose in the world to spread and proclaim. They knew and believed that Christ's resurrection was not merely the occasion for an annual feast, but the source of powerful and transfigured life. What they heard whispered, they shouted from the housetops!

"Yes, but what can I do?" my sober and realistic reason responds. "How can I proclaim or shout or witness? I, who am just a powerless, little grain of sand lost among the masses?"

But this objection by reason and "sound mind" is a lie, perhaps the most terrible and demonic lie of today's world. This world has somehow convinced us that strength and significance come only through large numbers, multitudes, and the masses. What can one person do against everyone else?

Yet, it is right here…
Christianity affirms that one person can be stronger than everyone else, and this affirmation is precisely the Good News of Christ.

This is truly the image of Christ—
a man with no authority, no hostility, and no earthly power whatsoever.
One man! Forsaken, betrayed, cast aside by all, but—victorious!

What would happen if each of us… forgetting about… numbers, multitudes, and masses, were to transmit this joy and this faith to just one other person, were to touch just one other human soul? If this faith and joy were secretly present in every conversation, even the most unimportant, in the sober realities of our daily life, they would immediately begin, here and now, today to transfigure the world, and life.

Christ said, "The Kingdom of God is coming not with signs to be observed." (Luke 17:20 NASB)
The Kingdom of God comes with power, with light, with life, and with victory, each and every time I and every believer carry it with us from the church into the world, and begin to live by it in our own lives.

"Now when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salomé bought spices, that they might come and annoint Him. Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. And they said among themselves, 'Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?' But when they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away, for it was very large."
(Mark 16:1-4)

They looked up!
With the fear of God, with faith and love, they drew near
and they looked up!

The Gospel of the Myrrh-bearing Women is a great example of THIS reality—That despite how large the stone is, we need only to approach with the fear of God, with faith and love, and God will roll away the stone.

We can't resign and give in to the problems at hand and say, "It's too difficult!" because the reality is, God has made ready the way for us to travel. Invisibly present, He walks in front of us. If we follow Him… the moment will come when… we will attain an unshakeable certainty of His presence in our lives.

…We know and believe that there is more than suffering, there is more than sorrow and death.
There is God's grace.
There is God's love.
There is God's power.
There is God's eternal life.
There is God's victory over death in Jesus Christ.

Brothers, you should've been there! Fr Jerry ended his homily the same way John Chrysostom ended his homily on Pascha, with a shouting session! This is an example of what I meant when I wrote earlier that "Christian Orthodoxy can be annoyingly vital sometimes." With his last few words, Fr Jerry drew a shouted response from the hearers. This is how it went…

Christ is risen!
[The hearers shouted back, "He is truly risen!" each time.]
And we have the power to live Easter lives!
Christ is risen! [He is truly risen!]
And we can be transmitters of this joy to others!
Christ is risen! [He is truly risen!]
And we can touch the souls of others!
Christ is risen! [He is truly risen!]
And the Kingdom of God comes with power!
Christ is risen! [He is truly risen!]
And together we can transfigure the world and life!

Monday, April 2, 2007

ο Ζων – The Living One

I am the Living One, I was dead and now I am to live for ever and ever, and I hold the keys of death and the underworld.
Αποκαλυψις / Revelation 1:18

It is the evening of Great Monday, and I will be leaving shortly to participate in the 2nd Nymphíos service, where we worship the Lord Jesus as Bridegroom of the Church. I was not intending to blog during this time, but I just follow the call day by day, my own ideas take second place. My testimony is about the Living One.

The resurrected Jesus is not a religious experience to me, nor is He an idea that I have to work hard to focus on. No, His presence as the Living One presses always on me, so it isn't a matter for belief or doubt. Sometimes, it's hard for me to focus on anything else.

Earlier today I read this phrase in a friend's blog, speaking of discipleship "how does this work in practice with a dead (excuse me: resurrected and metaphysically present, but undoubtedly not physically available) teacher?" I couldn't believe my eyes to read that Christ could be called a dead teacher. With all due respect to my friend, I think it was an awkward slip of the pen, perhaps. I don't think he meant to call Jesus a dead teacher. Call Jesus anything but that! But it made me wonder about other things I've seen, such as the WWJD bracelets. "What would Jesus do?" implies that He is seen only as a historical figure.

Christians! Jesus was dead, yes, as He Himself admits in the passage quoted above, but long before any of us reading this were born, He was already and for ever the Living One. If He doesn't appear to you that way, at least try to remember that it's true, else you may live your whole life as though His rising from the dead never happened.

But "Christ is risen from the dead, by death trampling down death, and to those in the tombs bestowing life!"

Kali anástasi! Beautiful resurrection!

Sunday, April 1, 2007

This year in Jerusalem…

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

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

This year an unusual concurrence of Jewish Passover (starts Monday evening), Greek Pascha (the first Bridegroom service of Great Week was tonight, I just returned from it), and Latin Easter (what Roman Catholics and all other Christians observe) happens during the week between April 1st and 8th (or a few days later, because Jewish Passover lasts a bit longer). That's why I'm calling this article "This year in Jerusalem." Thinking about this made me wonder what it will be like in Jerusalem this year. I wonder how the holy fire will appear in the kouvouklion (tomb of Christ) inside the Anastasis (Resurrection) Church, what Latins call the "Church of the Holy Sepulchre." Who will get to go inside, when Greeks and Latins venerate the resurrection of Jesus on the same day? They must take turns. But, as for the holy fire…

In case any of my friends and readers in the Portland area find this post, I want to encourage them to experience at least some of the many daily services of Great and Holy Week. This invitation is to all, but particularly to my evangelical Christian friends. The service tonight, for example, was beautiful and edifying in every detail. We venerated Christ the Bridegroom, and we heard the gospel story of His withering of the fig tree. We also commemorated Joseph son of Jacob, called in Greek "pankalos", the "all-beautiful":

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

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

And as to us, we sang tonight these words paraphrasing the words of our Savior Jesus:

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

To everyone, I extend well wishes for a blessed Pascha, happy Pesach, and joyous Easter.
I think I won't be on the internet much this week, for obvious reasons.

"Let us sing unto the Lord, Who by His divine command dried up the impassable and foaming sea, and permitted the people of Israel to pass through on foot; for gloriously has He been glorified."
[1st Ode, 2nd Tone, Irmos, from the 1st Bridegroom service]