Sunday, March 30, 2008

Reflecting on the prophets

Some people read the Bible as a historical document, taking note of context, criticizing the Word of God from a humanistic perspective. Perhaps this kind of study has value, but does it shed light on our lives and our times, bringing redemption, and producing fruits that feed us?

I believe what C. S. Lewis wrote in his children’s book, The Silver Chair, can be applied to the holy scriptures, the written Word of God. When the children in the story are mocked for believing in one of the signs that Aslan [the Lord] provided, and told that their interpretation of it was mistaken because they weren’t putting it in the context in which it was written, that they were unhappily victims of an historical accident, their faithful guardian rebukes the mocker with these words, “Don’t you mind him. There are no accidents. Our guide is Aslan, and he was there when the giant king caused the letters to be cut, and he knew already all things that would come of them, including this.” The mocker was a prince under an enchantment, being prepared to rule a land by force in subjection to an evil sorceress, a land that was his to rule by right, because he was himself its legal sovereign. This is so much like what we find in the “real” world. We can fall under satan’s spell and, denying God’s infallible signs, we can find ourselves paying dearly for that which is already ours by right. Jesus Christ has paid the price in advance for us, yet we would rather pay for it ourselves. Pursuing our thoughts, we abandon the Holy Spirit’s gift to us of the mind of Christ. We give up thinking His thoughts, so we can think our own. What’s so liberating about that?

The prophets of Israel still speak to our condition today, even today more than ever. Though originally spoken to God’s hereditary people Israel, we who are in Christ have been grafted into them. Their Tanakh is our Old Testament. Though prophecies specific to the nation Israel in past, present and future mustn’t be applied wrongly to just anyone, as many sectarians do, the other words of the prophets that reveal God’s will not only to Israel but to the human race, can be read and taken to heart for our correction. It’s this kind of reading that the learned and clerical establishment regard with contempt, as being childish and backward. But the holy apostle Paul is not one of them, for he quotes in his first letter to the church at Corinth, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate,” (Isaiah 29:14) and he goes on to lay down the relationship of the wisdom of men to God’s Wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:18-31).

The prophets of Israel still have much to say to us, much to instruct, much to warn. Here are just a few verses that I’d like to share from my much marked up study bible (the one pictured in my side panel under Books I’m working through), verses to “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest” (BCP, proper 28). Kali sarakostí to all who are observing the great fast, and God’s blessing.

Seek Yahweh while He is still to be found,
Call to Him while He is still near.
Let the wicked man abandon his way,
The evil man his thoughts.
Let him turn back to Yahweh who will take pity on him,
To our God who is rich in forgiving;
For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
My ways not your ways—it is Yahweh who speaks.
Yes, the heavens are as high above the earth
as My ways are above your ways,
My thoughts above your thoughts.
Yes, as the rain and the snow come down from the heavens and do not return without watering the earth, making it yield and giving growth to provide seed for the sower and bread for the eating, so the Word that goes forth from My mouth does not return to Me empty, without carrying out My will and succeeding in what it was sent to do.
Isaiah 55:6-11 Jerusalem Bible

Thus says Yahweh,
“Let the sage boast no more of his wisdom,
nor the valiant of his valor,
nor the rich man of his riches!
But if anyone wants to boast, let him boast of this:
Of understanding and knowing Me.
For I am Yahweh, I rule with kindness,
Justice and integrity on earth;
Yes, these are what please Me—
It is Yahweh who speaks.”

Jeremiah 9:22-23 JB

Come, let us return to Yahweh.
He has torn us to pieces, but He will heal us;
He has struck us down, but He will bandage our wounds;
After a day or two He will bring us back to life,
On the third day He will raise us
And we shall live in His presence.
Let us set ourselves to know Yahweh;
That He will come is as certain as the dawn;
His judgment will rise like the light,
He will come to us as showers come,
Like spring rains watering the earth.
Hosea 6:1-3 JB

What god can compare with You:
Taking fault away, pardoning crime,
Not cherishing anger for ever
But delighting in showing mercy?
Once more have pity on us,
Tread down our faults,
To the bottom of the sea throw all our sins.
Micah 7:18-19 JB

There is much, much more in the prophets than these encouragements. There are words of judgment also, but I haven’t quoted these, lest I seem to casting stones at others. Yet it is the prophets’ words of God’s judgment that should fall on our ears and convert our hearts, preparing us for the Day of the Lord.
Keep yourselves in the Word, brothers, watch and pray. For the time is close (cf. Revelation 1:3).

The light of Israel will become a fire
And its Holy One a flame
Burning and devouring thorns
And briars in a single day.
Isaiah 10:17 JB

Will He find faith on the earth?

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’ ” For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care about men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming!’ ” And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for His chosen ones, who cry out to Him day and night? Will He keep putting them off? I tell you, He will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?”
Luke 18:1-8 NIV

We give to God absolutely no more than we have to, than is expected of us, than what will make us look and feel good to ourselves and each other. The Divine Liturgy was particularly beautiful this morning, the chanting and singing strong and bright, all the details of ceremonial were, like the Cross exhibited today for our veneration, in flower. The little, brass hand cross propped up on a tray mounded with daffodils went its round about the perimeter of the church at a brisk trot, held aloft by the hands of the priest. Of course, we all knelt as it went by. At the end of the service, we were handed a daffodil but, strangely, I don’t remember kissing the hand cross held in the priest’s hand while receiving the flower.
Where was the Cross in all this?

Father Marín, our Romanian priest, dropped a whole handful of antídoron into my open palms, while smiling broadly and naming me “Roman” as he did it. And I kissed the hand of Jesus in the hand of His living icon, Marín the presbyter. More than the handful of bread passed between us.

The danger is great that surrounds us, the City of God. The enemy, it seems, has never been stronger or more threatening. With faith I hoped we were singing the feast-day hymn of the Cross of Christ,

“Sóson, Kýrie, ton laón Sou,
kai evlógison tin klirónomían Sou.
Níkas tis vasiléfsi
katá varváron dhoroúmenos,
kai to Son filátton,
dhía tou Stavroú Sou polítevma.”

“Save, O Lord, Your people,
and bless Your inheritance.
Give victory to our princes
against the barbarians,
and protect the commonwealth
through Your Cross.”

We give to God absolutely no more than we have to, than is expected of us, than what will make us look and feel good to ourselves and each other. We fill the church, we even pack it to the doors, but as a people that claims to be the people of God, whom do we really serve? Where is our treasure? What song do our hearts sing inwardly day and night?

“Holy, Holy, Holy
Is the Lord God, the Almighty;
He was, He is, He is to come.”
Revelation 4:8 JB

When the worst happens, who will stand? Will it be those who gave their tithe of mint, dill and cumin, but neglected the more important matters of the law, justice, mercy and faithfulness? (cf. Matthew 23:23) Do we build our houses on the Rock, the cornerstone of our lives being Christ, not just listening to His Word, but putting it into practice (cf. Matthew 7:24)? Or is the Word an object for our veneration, too high and holy for us to reach with anything but our lips?

“…when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?”
Luke 18:8 NIV

This is the challenge and the threat that comes against the Church in every age, and especially ours. Faith doesn’t just happen to us as if by magic. Faith isn’t a gift given to just a few. We have to make place for it. We have to sell all that we own (our free time), and go and buy that field where the treasure lies hid (cf. Matthew 13:44). We can fool each other, for a time, but we can’t deceive God, who knows the secrets of our hearts, and where our treasure lies.

Like others before us, we can be led away into captivity for honoring Him only with our lips while our hearts are far from Him (cf. Isaiah 29:13). He cannot “give victory to our princes against the barbarians” unless we have the real faith that arms us for the battle, for every attack of the evil one, against the City of God.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Don't leave it on the desk…

A very big and heartfelt "thank you" to my dear sister in Christ, Presbytera Candace of Holy Transfiguration Church, Anchorage, Alaska, for sending me this story in her daily email message. It's long, and not the kind of thing I usually read or post, but if I was patient enough to read it through to the end, I hope you will be too. It's worth it—Axios!
(The professor in this story reminds me of my old Presbyterian professor of philosophy and religion, "Doc" Dana, at Blackburn College, Carlinville, Illinois, where I went to school. This parenthesis is just to honor him publicly—He helped me find my way out of student radicalism and back to Jesus. May his memory be eternal.)

There was a certain Professor of Religion named Dr. Christianson, a studious man, who taught at a small college in the western United States. Dr. Christianson taught the required survey course in Christianity at this particular institution. Every student was required to take this course his freshman year, regardless of his or her major. Although Dr. Christianson tried hard to communicate the essence of the gospel in his class, he found that most of his students looked upon the course as nothing but required drudgery. Despite his best efforts, most students refused to take Christianity seriously.

This year, Dr. Christianson had a special student named Steve. Steve was only a freshman, but was studying with the intent of going on to seminary for the ministry. Steve was popular, well liked, and he was an imposing physical specimen. He was now the starting center on the school football team, and was the best student in the professor's class. One day, Dr. Christianson asked Steve to stay after class so he could talk with him.

"How many push-ups can you do?" Steve said, "I do about 200 every night." "200? That's pretty good, Steve," Dr. Christianson said. "Do you think you could do 300?" Steve replied, "I don't know.... I've never done 300 at a time." "Do you think you could?" again asked Dr. Christianson . "Well, I can try," said Steve . "Can you do 300 in sets of 10? I have a class project in mind and I need you to do about 300 push-ups in sets of ten for this to work. Can you do it? I need you to tell me if you can do it," said the professor. Steve said, "Well... I think I can...yeah, I can do it." Dr. Christianson said, "Good! I need you to do this on Friday. Let me explain what I have in mind."

Friday came and Steve got to class early and sat in the front of the room. When class started, the professor pulled out a big box of donuts. No, these weren't the normal kinds of donuts, they were the extra fancy BIG kind, with cream centers and frosting swirls. Everyone was pretty excited it was Friday, the last class of the day, and they were going to get an early start on the weekend with a party in Dr. Christianson's class.

Dr. Christianson went to the first girl in the first row and asked, "Cynthia , do you want to have one of these donuts?" Cynthia said, "Yes." Dr. Christianson then turned to Steve and asked, "Steve, would you do ten push-ups so that Cynthia can have a donut?" "Sure." Steve jumped down from his desk to do a quick ten. Then Steve again sat in his desk. Dr. Christianson put a donut on Cynthia's desk.

Dr. Christianson then went to Joe, the next person, and asked, "Joe, do you want a donut?" Joe said, "Yes." Dr. Christianson asked, "Steve, would you do tenpush-ups so Joe can have a donut?" Steve did ten push-ups, Joe got a donut. And so it went, down the first aisle, Steve did ten push-ups for every person before they got their donut.

Walking down the second aisle, Dr. Christianson came to Scott. Scott was on the basketball team, and in as good condition as Steve. He was very popular and never lacking for female companionship. When the professor asked, "Scott, do you want a donut?" Scott's reply was, "Well, can I do my own push-ups?" Dr. Christianson said, "No, Steve has to do them." Then Scott said, "Well, I don't want one then." Dr. Christianson shrugged and then turned to Steve and asked, "Steve, would you do ten push-ups so Scott can have a donut he doesn't want?" With perfect obedience Steve started to do ten push-ups. Scott said, "HEY! I said I didn't want one!" Dr. Christianson said, "Look! This is my classroom, my desks, and these are my donuts. Just leave it on the desk if you don't want it." And he put a donut on Scott 's desk.

Now by this time, Steve had begun to slow down a little. He just stayed on the floor between sets because it took too much effort to be getting up and down. You could start to see a little perspiration coming out around his brow. Dr. Christianson started down the third row. Now the students were beginning to get a little angry. Dr. Christianson asked Jenny, "Jenny, do you want a donut?" Sternly, Jenny said, "No." Then, Dr. Christianson asked Steve, "Steve, would you do ten more push-ups so Jenny can have a donut she doesn't want?" Steve did ten.... Jenny got a donut.

By now, a growing sense of uneasiness filled the room. The students were beginning to say "No" and there were all these uneaten donuts on the desks. Steve also had to really put forth a lot of extra effort to get these push-ups done for each donut. There began to be a small pool of sweat on the floor beneath his face, his arms and brow were beginning to get red because of the physical effort involved. Dr. Christianson asked Robert, who was the most vocal unbeliever in the class, to watch Steve do each push up to make sure he did the full ten push-ups in a set, because he couldn't bear to watch all of Steve's work for all of those uneaten donuts. He sent Robert over to where Steve was, so Robert could count the set and watch Steve closely.

Dr. Christianson started down the fourth row. During his class, however, some students from other classes had wandered in and sat down on the steps along the radiators that ran down the sides of the room. When the professor realized this, he did a quick count and saw that now there were 34 students in the room. He started to worry if Steve would be able to make it.

Dr. Christianson went on to the next person, and the next, and the next. Near the end of that row, Steve was really having a rough time. He was taking a lot more time to complete each set. Steve asked Dr. Christianson, "Do I have to make my nose touch on each one?" Dr. Christianson thought for a moment, "Well, they're your push-ups. You are in charge now. You can do them any way that you want." And Dr. Christianson went on.

A few moments later, Jason, a recent transfer student, came to the room and was about to come in, when all the students yelled in one voice, "NO! Don't come in! Stay out!" Jason didn't know what was going on. Steve picked up his head and said, "No, let him come." Professor Christianson said, "You realize that if Jason comes in, you will have to do ten push-ups for him?" Steve said, "Yes, let him come in. Give him a donut." Dr. Christianson said, "Okay, Steve, I'll let you get Jason's out of the way right now. Jason, do you want a donut?" Jason, new to the room, hardly knew what was going on. "Yes," he said, "give me a donut." " Steve, will you do ten push-ups so that Jason can have a donut?" Steve did ten push-ups very slowly and with great effort. Jason, bewildered, was handed a donut and sat down.

Dr. Christianson finished the fourth row, and then started on those visitors seated by the heaters. Steve's arms were now shaking with each push-up in a struggle to lift himself against the force of gravity. By this time, sweat was profusely dropping off of his face, there was no sound except his heavy breathing; there was not a dry eye in the room.

The very last two students in the room were two young women, both cheerleaders, and very popular. Dr. Christianson went to Linda, the second to last, and asked, "Linda, do you want a donut?" Linda said, very sadly, "No, thank you." Professor Christianson quietly asked, "Steve , would you do ten push-ups so that Linda can have a donut she doesn't want?" Grunting from the effort, Steve did ten very slow push-ups for Linda .

Then, Dr. Christianson turned to the last girl, Susan . "Susan, do you want a donut?" Susan, with tears flowing down her face, began to cry. "Dr. Christianson, why can't I help him?"

Dr. Christianson, with tears of his own, said, "No, Steve has to do it alone, I have given him this task, and he is in charge of seeing that everyone has an opportunity for a donut whether they want it or not.

"When I decided to have a party this last day of class, I looked at my grade book. Steve here is the only student with a perfect grade. Everyone else has failed a test, skipped class, or offered me inferior work. Steve told me that in football practice, when a player messes up, he must do push-ups. I told Steve that none of you could come to my party unless he paid the price by doing your push ups. He and I made a deal for your sakes."

"Steve, would you do ten push-ups so Susan can have a donut?" As Steve very slowly finished his last push-up, with the understanding that he had accomplished all that was required of him, having done 350 push-ups, his arms buckled beneath him and he fell to the floor.

Dr. Christianson turned to the room and said, "And so it was, that our Savior Jesus Christ, on the Cross pleaded to the Father, 'into thy hands I commend my spirit.' With the understanding that He had done everything that was required of Him, He yielded up His life. And like some of those in this room, many of us leave the gift on the desk, Uneaten."

Two students helped Steve up off the floor and to a seat, physically exhausted, but wearing a thin smile. "Well done, good and faithful servant," said the professor, adding, "Not all sermons are preached in words." Turning to his class, the professor said, "My wish is that you might understand and fully comprehend all the riches of grace and mercy that have been given to you through the sacrifice of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He spared not His Only-Begotten Son, but gave Him up for us all, for the whole Church, now and forever. Whether or not we choose to accept His gift to us, the price has been paid."

"Wouldn't you be foolish and ungrateful to leave it lying on the desk?"

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Categorical evils & social injustice

My good friend and brother in Christ, Kenny Ching, always has good things to say and challenge others to think about, and so I visit his blog every day. His latest post doesn't have a title, but it concerns, on the less important side, Barack Hussein Obama, and on the more important side, the issue of abortion and other social sicknesses of our society. I want to share my comments to Kenny with you, readers of my blog, and also recommend that you visit and read some of his other musings.

Very clear, if very hard, thinking on your part, Kenny. Abortion is a categorical evil; low taxes on the rich is a detail of social injustice. Can we do anything about either?

It’s clear that the advocates of abortion rights can only be people who lie to their consciences. Regardless of religious or cultural upbringing, everyone knows in their knower that to kill an unborn human child is evil. Some just don’t think it’s an evil that will be punished at some point; they think they can get away with it. Even a 'Christian' can be an unrepentant shoplifter, “I'm only taking what's owed me, this is only plundering the Egyptians,” if he thinks that God stretches the law in his favor because he’s been so oppressed. This reminds me of Mrs Obama, who feels that the country owes it to her to elect her husband the next President of the United States, because (as I heard her say in a newscast yesterday evening) “to be a black man in America is horrible—you can even get shot stopping at a gas station to fill up because you’re black.”

Back to abortion. As I said in my blog post The Border awhile back, referring to the historic Church, “They would not contribute any more than was exacted from them for the maintenance of the world system. They didn’t stand up for their own rights. They didn’t agitate for social reforms or strive for the betterment of any society except their own. Only among themselves, by common and unwritten consent, did they abolish customs that the world regarded normal, but which they abhorred—infanticide, sexual license, slavery, the “festivals.” In this regard, the world felt justified in labeling them “haters of humanity,” in segregating and controlling them by an elaborate system of “tests,” such as the performance of acts of public worship to the state deities.”

Christians cannot and should not try to be ‘Mr Nice Guy’ on social issues, but neither should we try to coerce the amoral to follow us in our values. I wish we could, but unless history lies, it didn’t work whenever tried by “Christian” societies, at least not for long, and maybe never for everyone. Only if we are willing to class abortion-providers and their customers with murderers and their accomplices (and maybe so they are) can we be logically justified in preventing their crime and prosecuting them for committing it.

I doubt seriously that any of the presidential candidates currently running can be considered a Christian in the sense of being a disciple as you are and, hopefully, I am. The world system, even in America, has made it very difficult for a Christian to serve in high public office, because to do so almost condemns him to commit a breach of conscience—he has to allow, because of the perversion of our laws, atrocities that dishonor God, obviate commonsense and biblical morality, and injure the helpless citizens that he will have been elected to serve and defend. Now, it’s only a matter of choosing a régime locally and nationally, that roughly lines up with that commonsense morality, and locally on our own to live moral lives, following our Lord, obeying His commandment (to love one another, as He has loved us), and planting the seed of the Word of salvation, redemption, and liberation in Him, to those around us who will hear.

Why does everything always turn into a “religious” discussion with you, Romanós?
No, my friends, not religion, only honest discussion.

“Welcome to the world of the real.”


Just as the year can be conceived as beginning on various days—January 1st (civil), September 1st (religious), March 21st (spring begins)—so can various days in the Church calendar be conceived as the beginning of the Gospel.

I like to think of September 1st, “Indiction,” commemorating the Christ’s inauguration of His earthly ministry by reading the prophecy of Isaiah in the synagogue service, as the “beginning” of the Gospel.

Holy evangelist Mark is much simpler and more direct, The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God—It is written in Isaiah the prophet: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way, a voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’ ” And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins…

But another “beginning” of the Gospel, the Good News, is today’s feast-day, commemorating the annunciation to Mary the virgin, of God’s will that she become the mother of His Son, the Messiah. This feast is called in Greek, Ευαγγελισμος, Evangelismós, ‘announcing the Good News.’ And for Mary, just as for us, it was God’s Word coming to her, personally. His Word could have been met with deaf ears or ears hearing but not receiving. She, just as we, could have said, can say, “No thanks!” to God. That would have gotten her, and us, “off the hook.” Instead, she said “No” to her fears and doubts, and “Yes” to what God had chosen her for from before the foundation of the world. And it’s always just the same for us.

God has foreknown us from before the foundation of the world, and ever since we were born into it by His will (and it’s the only act He has done to us without asking our permission, creating us), He has been announcing to us, personally, the Good News, at every moment asking us to say “Yes” to His decrees concerning us.

His Word is clearly written large and small, in the Bible, in the universe He created, and in the intangibles and indescribables of our personal being. As for Mary saying “Yes,” what He has in store for us will give us cause to say, “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior.”

Evangelismós. Announcing the Good News. Called since before the foundation of the world. Brethren, let us rejoice with the Theotokos, for “He that is mighty hath magnified me, and Holy is His Name,” will be the song of each one of us, if we only say “Yes”.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Encountering the Mystery

It seems that His All Holiness Patriarch Bartholomaios has been busy lately. He's written another book, this time with a piercing and enigmatic title. To read an excellent review of his new book, along with a realistic assessment of Patriarch Bart's position and influence in the Orthodox Church, click here. Here are a couple of excerpts from the review.

First, let’s begin with the person of the Patriarch and why some readers, especially Orthodox Christians, might be reluctant to pick up Encountering the Mystery. Although the mainstream press – even the dust jacket of this book – claims the Ecumenical Patriarch is the “spiritual leader for the world’s over 200 million Orthodox Christians,” many Orthodox Christians view this as no more than a convenient label employed by the media, and encouraged by the Ecumenical throne, to add gravitas to his position among Church and world leaders from within a once-Christian-now-Muslim land.

Secondly, most times the Ecumenical Patriarch is found in the news it is because he’s fraternizing with someone who is not Christian, much less Orthodox. When he makes news it’s usually controversial. Especially when viewed through the lens of American Orthodox converts – many of whom have chosen, after great struggle, to leave Anglicanism or Roman Catholicism, even Islam – such encounters may seem unnecessarily compromising. If you’re going to allow yourself to be called the “spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians,” at least follow the tried and true script. For instance, again from the book’s dust jacket: “He is dedicated to advancing reconciliation among Christian, Muslim, and Jewish communities, and is an active proponent of environmental causes.”

“Yes, but is he Orthodox?” comes the question.

For example, closer to home, what is he doing to help unite the Orthodox Christians in the United States? Is he a help or a hindrance to jurisdictional unity in America? If he is a help, let’s see some encouragement and action! If he is a hindrance, he need do nothing more than he is already doing.

If the answer is “Yes, of course the Ecumenical Patriarch is Orthodox!” then that’s good news. Would that His All Holiness would struggle to bring his own house into order before inviting us to a group hug with those outside the Faith, especially those who have for centuries tried to destroy it. However, Encountering the Mystery will do little to further the True Faith. I can’t think of a single Seeker to whom I’d recommend the book. There are certain chapters, well written, that pertain to the Faith. But what a pity that the whole book, from the “spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians” is not fitting for seeking souls.

I guess I'm not the only one who questions the motives of this patriarch, and I'm glad that I now have someone besides myself who publicly writes, In my opinion, to truly lead the Orthodox, he needs to get out of Turkey and speak the Truth or be willing to lose his own life for speaking the Truth in Turkey.

I've read an earlier book by this patriarch, though it's not exactly by him, entitled, Conversations with Patriarch Bartholomew. Reading it was what started me noticing his ambivalence and the poetic licence he takes with things uncompromisable, though he does it in such an entertaining way that you almost believe what he's saying. Aside from his books, watching how he operates his business, settled it for me that here was a man who must be carefully watched. Just as Pope Benny is a throw back to an earlier age of the papacy, so is Patriarch Bart a throw back to an age when "Byzantine" meant "duplicitous." I'm not likely to read his latest book, but I wanted to notice it, in case others should be forewarned.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Straight teaching on authority

“…….how should the church hold authority?”

“How did it ever? This will lead us into Church history, and the fact that Christ gave the Church His authority, after He had ascended to the Father. It held this authority exclusively until the rebellion in the 1500’s. Then it became (and still is today), every man for himself….however he interprates scripture, that what it says..that’s what it means, with no one (on earth) to approve or disapprove.”

The words quoted above are from a comment left on the same blog as my previous post, by yet another brother. It sparked me to respond with the following thoughts, which I'd also like to share here…

This is a rather simplistic look at what the freedom of a Christian means, and it seems to me, a little scornful.

How should the Church hold authority?
I’ll tell you how.
In all meekness and humility, insisting on the truth of the gospel, adding nothing, taking nothing away, being answerable in all things to the Lord who is also the Word of God, to the same Jesus whom we meet in the four gospels, in the book of Revelation, and in the apostolic kerygma of the epistles. When the Church holds authority in any other way, it is bending the truth to fit its requirements, or worse.
My former pastor taught, on the basis of the church fathers, this truth, when asked ‘What does the Orthodox Church teach about…?’

“The Church has no teachings, it only hands over (the meaning of παραδωσις) what it has received from Christ and the apostles.”

This is straight teaching.

Christ gave the Church authority to do what?
To forgive sins, to reconcile enemies, to baptise all nations into His Body, to preach the good news, that He is risen from the dead, by death trampling down death, and to those in the tombs granting life.

It didn’t hold this authority exclusively until the 1500’s, unless by that you mean that that the Papal church of the West (Roman Catholicism) was in full “control” of the whole Church—which it was not, and never had been.

The excesses of the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation did nothing to harm the purity of the truth contained in the Holy Scriptures.
For everyone who seeks to be a disciple, there isn’t any cause for schism or heresy, because the Word of God, contrary to former and current opinion, is not difficult to understand, nor is the way of the gospel life impossible to live.

When the churchly institutions dogmatize apart from the Word, fantasy creeps in and takes hold, producing in the rebellious opposite fantasies, and the devil rejoices.

Everyone who knows Jesus’ voice knows when He is speaking, in or out of “church.”

Every disciple in church knows when true authority is being wielded, and when it is false that is being foisted on us. It’s always still our choice, it’s always up to us, to witness for Jesus, for the Truth, wherever we are.

My problem with Jesus

Actually, did I mislead you with this title?
It's not my problem with Jesus, but actually someone else's, someone whose comments on a brother's blog drew these words from me. That's why the format of this post will be three quotes, each followed by my response.
It seems a lot of people have "a problem with Jesus," and so I decided to post this for the benefit of anyone who might be open to some solutions to this "problem."
Here't goes…

"My problem with Jesus is that I am not sure if it is fair or possible to let him off the hook for the majority of the history his followers have in the world."

Sorry, but this makes no sense to me at all.
The followers of Jesus have done nothing injurious to anyone in all of history, that they did not repent of and make restitution for. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” This is the human condition even of the disciple, who sometimes falls, but never fatally. It's unthinkable to a disciple of Jesus that he should willingly injure anyone.
Well then, who are all these other people in the history of Western church and state, those who preached crusades against the infidels, who butchered harmless and defenseless people, who socially and mentally imprisoned millions in false teachings, exploited the people, and destroyed so many souls through deception and manipulation? They are those of whom the Lord says, “Depart from Me. I never knew you!” (cf. Matthew 7:21-23)

"No matter how good a teaching sounds if it constantly gets acted out criminally mustn’t there be something inherant in it that makes that the likely outcome? Actually I hope I’m wrong on this, but it's what we are wrestling with at the moment."

There's nothing in the gospel of Jesus that can be acted out criminally, nothing in any of His teachings that, if followed to its logical conclusion, leads to sin and death. It's exactly and emphatically the opposite.
What, then, is the problem you see in the historical unfolding of Christianity?
It is the overt subsitution of worldly and satanic principles for the pure gospel of Jesus, in the church, and in the state. This is not inherent in Jesus' teachings or in His once and for all self-sacrifice for us on the Cross. Things like it are inherent in all kinds of false philosophies like Islam and Papalism, Marxism and Capitalism, which is why all of these lead to sin and death.

What you are mistakenly thinking are crimes of the Christian Church are not that at all. They are, instead, crimes against the Church from within her. In Orthodox Christianity, this is called "the dark double" of the Church. Jesus knew it would happen, and He tells us this in His Word. When the world isn't persecuting and killing His disciples, the church is, but not the true Church, made up of the disciples of Jesus.
We are not equipped to judge between the true Church and the false in its members or in any discriminatory way. We just sense it when we're in the presence of the anti-Christ in the church, even as we sense it when we're in the presence of Christ.
Jesus says, "My sheep know My voice."
That's all we can count on, but that’s enough for us.

"I want to continue to be a follower but feel that means in some way taking responsibility for what we have done and finding a path of repentance."

Then continue being a follower, of Jesus, though not of the church.
Only Jesus can and does call us.
The church, on the other hand, when it presumes to call, to commission and to instruct on its own authority, in its own name, is again falling into the ways of the world system.
Church can and does at all times manifest the visible Body of Christ on earth, but not necessarily in all places.
Again, the spirit within us bears witness when the Church is cooperating in faithful accord with God, and when it isn't.
Our problem is often that we are afraid to act or speak against a churchly structure or device, when we know there's something wrong there, some hidden poison.
We often just go along with it, so everything can be "church as usual."
This is very, very wrong, and the source of much confusion and destruction of souls.
This is what is afflicting the Church right now, and we have to decide to stand against it, for ourselves, and for the followers of Jesus, at all times.

You are not in any way personally responsible for the crimes perpetrated by “Christian” institutions, except for those you commit yourself.

Your apology for Christ should not be, “I’m so sorry for what we have done wrong all through history,” but rather, “Christ is who He says He is, the Resurrection and the Life, the eternal Word and Son of God, the Savior, the Lamb without blemish sacrificed for you from before the foundation of the world.”

In these last times, you should not cower under the weight of a false accusation thrown against you, but instead “stand erect, hold your heads high, because your liberation is near at hand.” (Luke 21:28 Jerusalem Bible)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Let us also go…

It’s really quite impossible to save a man. It takes all that God can do to deliver him. Everything that a man’s neighbors do to try to save him is really of no help. As well-intentioned as they are, when mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, friends, neighbors, teachers, pastors, co-workers, psychiatrists and social workers try to save a man, they can do little more than alter his outward complexion, and that’s the best they can do. The worst they can do is push him to profound despair and death, and this despite their good intentions.

But how then can a man be saved?
It’s certainly not by his own efforts, nor is it by the will of the people around him, but it is by God alone. All that is needed on his side is to keep saying “yes” to whatever God asks of him.

How does He ask?
It is by His acts, what He send us, the people, the situations and circumstances that He places in our path. Knowing that God uses everything that happens to us to be for our benefit, regardless of appearances and human judgment, we can rely on Him to save us, unconditionally. This is true, whether we trust God or not, He is out to save us. When we say “yes” to what He sends us, we let Him save us. When we say “no” to what He sends us, we don’t trust Him, we tell Him in effect that we know best, that we can save ourselves—an impossibility.

This seems to be a hard road and, yes, it is the way of the Cross, and following it, as did Mary the Lord’s mother, we are led to a place where the unthinkable happens—the betrayal and sacrificial death of the Good—but that which is beyond all thought and imagination, that which we can only hear told with wonder, happens to us. We are saved. Yes, by His stripes we are healed, and saved. We believed His Word, “I am the Resurrection and the Life” and when He asked us, by these acts in our lives, “Do you believe this?” our response was, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.”

“Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
John 11:16 NIV

Monday, March 17, 2008

Mix up mix up

The Sunday of Orthodoxy at Aghía Triás, Portland, Oregon this year, a very cool experience. I've already blogged about it a little, but there's a lot more I could say, things both encouraging and disheartening. The fellowship I shared with many friends whom I don't see regularly because we worship at different churches was great.
It was also good to see the sanctuary so full of people, singing in several different languages.

A wonderful thing it was to hear Rashid Kaady (from the Antiochian Christian Orthodox church of Saint George) solo chant three different hymns in Arabic from the balcony. That was a very good experience. Later, after the service, I heard tell from a couple I've known over twenty years, the tragic story of Rashid's family. His son Fouad was wrongfully slain by the police in a bizarre incident about two years ago. One daughter has become mentally ill because of the loss of her brother. Rashid, his wife and daughters are surviving with the loss, and through it all they have continued to trust in God. Thinking back to how Rashid chanted those hymns, I only feel the more awed. The martyrdom of this family has strengthened their bond to Jesus, their crucified Lord.

As I said, the day had its bright moments, but also some darkness. Though the worship was inspiring, the message spoken by our proistámenos pierced us through like a lance. What he delivered, despite the eloquence, was devastating to many people that I spoke to afterwards. One woman was nearly in tears as she told me how his words affected her. What he "preached" was strangely discordant to the theme of the day, the triumph of Orthodoxy…

It's not important to be right, he said, and to insist on what we believe is true. This intolerant attitude only divides people. If we are not part of the solution to world peace, then we're part of the problem. Zeal is a bad thing, and it only makes the people who have it miserable themselves and hateful towards others. Although we think it would be a great thing if we could bring America to the Orthodox faith, our preacher said he doubted that it would be a good thing, because the Orthodox Christians in America by and large do not have a mature attitude, especially towards the non-Orthodox. We can't be trusted to want for others who differ from us the same rights we want for ourselves. Such things as these are what I remember hearing, even though I was reading my bible with my head down during the homily, as usual.

What do I think? Sometimes people accuse others of the very things they're guilty of themselves. It's called projection, isn't it?

My experience at church on Orthodoxy Sunday was indeed a mixed bag. It reminded me of a Bob Marley song, Mix Up Mix Up.
Yes, I like reggae music.

Oh Lord, oh Lord, oh Lord, yeah!
Well, it's not easy,
It's not easy
Speak the truth, come on, speak.
Eh, now!
It ever cause it what it will:
He who hide the wrong he did
Surely did the wrong thing still.
Get in the studio of,
Studio of time and experience
Here we experience the good and bad;
What we have, and what we had
This session (session),
Not just another version (version).

Oh Lord, give me a session (session),
Not another version (version)!

They're so much stumbling blocks
right in-a our way:
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday,
Thursday, Friday;
There's so much wanting,
so much gaining,
so much have done.

Too much little mix-up, in the mix-up, yes!
Too much little mix up!
Too much of this mix up - mix up!

I was born in the country,
right on top of the hill
I still remain, I know I still, I will,
But through your' respect
and through your false pride
Someone wanna take
Jah - Jah - Jah children for a ride!
Shut up! Open the gate,
and let the saints through.

Please make it a session (session);
Not another version (version);
Ooh, please make it a session (session);
Not another version (version)!

Hey, you been talkin' all your mouth full of lies,
Sitting there toppling and, Lord, they criticize.
So through the eyes of the fool the deaf is wise,
And through the eyes of the wise the fool is size.
Saying is too much mix up - mix up!
Saying is too much mix up - mix up!

If you don't like reggae lyrics, please forgive me for posting them. But they do speak to me, especially the refrain in this song, asking the Lord for a session, and not another version.

A session means to be seated at the Lord's feet, as Mary the sister of Martha and Lazarus sat at Jesus' feet, drinking in His words. A session happens when you go to a church service or a bible study, and you hear the Master's voice, you know you're in His presence, you're at a session.

A version, on the other hand, means to be a captive audience before a purveyor of mere human wisdom, someone who knows how to say true things but never comes close to the Truth, never having known Him, and you don't hear the Master's voice, just the blandishments of the hireling, someone turned inside out, becoming depthless not deathless, you just know you're getting fed a version.

Sarakostí is a time of struggle, a tincture of the battle that rages in the world every day, a concentrated, high-risk venture into the wilderness of our flesh.

Let's ask the Lord for mercy, and He who endured those forty days, being tempted of satan, will come to our help. Meanwhile, brothers, let's keep praying for each other.

Rightly glorifying God

Though I'd never read it before, I could tell almost immediately that this quote sent me by Presbytera Candace was a word from Fr John of Kronstadt, a dynamic presbyter of pre-Revolutionary Russia. What Fr John writes is true, but not only for "Lent," when folks try to be more pious, more observant. This is the true way of life in Christ for us at all times. That's why the special "obligations of Lent" have little meaning for us, when we follow Jesus closely. So I offer this word of faith to you, as it was offered to me, as a word for us today, and always. When we are not glorifying God, we can dispense with these things. But since our holy Orthodox faith stands for "rightly glorifying God", let's keep this word of Fr John in our active mind every day…

We are told: It is no big deal to eat non-Lenten food during Lent. It is no big deal if you wear expensive, beautiful outfits, go to the theatre, to parties, to masquerade balls, use beautiful expensive china, furniture, expensive carriages and dashing steeds, amass and hoard things, etc. Yet what is it that turns our heart away from God, away from the Fountain of Life? Because of what do we lose eternal life? Is it not because of gluttony, of expensive clothing like that of the rich man of the Gospel story, is it not because of theaters and masquerades?

What turns us hard-hearted toward the poor and even toward our relatives? Is it not our passion for sweets, for satisfying the belly in general, for clothing, for expensive dishes, furniture, carriages, money and other things? Is it possible to serve God and mammon, to be a friend to the world and a friend to God, to serve Christ and Belial? That is impossible. Why did Adam and Eve lose paradise, why did they fall into sin and death? Was it not because of one evil?

Let us attentively consider why we do not care about the salvation of our soul, which cost the Son of God so dearly. Why do we compound sin upon sin, fall endlessly into opposing to God, into a life of vanity? Is it not because of a passion for earthly pleasures? What makes our hearts become crude? Why do we become flesh and not spirit, perverting our moral nature?

Is it not because of a passion for food, drink, and other earthly comforts? How after this can one say that it does not matter whether you eat non-Lenten food during Lent? The fact that we talk this way is in fact pride, idle thought, disobedience, refusal to submit to God, and separation from Him.

Father John of Kronstadt

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Εκκλησια — the true United Nations

Greek εκκλησια ekklisía, from εκκαλειν ekkaleín, to summon forth: εκ- ek-, out; + καλειν kalein, κλη- kli-, to call. Hence, the called out people.

Called out from what? from where? and why?

"…you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light."
1 Peter 1:29 NIV

Today was the Sunday of Orthodoxy, the first Sunday falling within the kairós of sarakostí, the forty days of the Great Fast before Pascha, the resurrection Sunday of the Lord, Jesus the Christ. On this day, the Orthodox Church commemorates its victory over heresy, culminating in the Seventh Ecumenical (Greek οικουμενη ecumeni, the inhabited world) Council, famous for the restoration of the Icons. Cut away every other facet of Orthodox Christianity, what's left is the veneration of icons, known to no other church. “Icons are just pictures,” as I've heard said. “They don't replace, and aren't meant to replace, the Verbal Icon, the Holy Bible.” Pictures may be worth a thousand words, but this Word is worth a thousand pictures. Maybe that's why I didn't carry a pictorial icon during the procession around the outside of the temple. I carried my Bible. (I saw some others doing the same.)

Back to the theme of this post, the called out people, the ekklisía, more properly the ekklisía tou Christoú, the called out of Christ.

One of the first things that converts were taught twenty years ago when I rejoined the Orthodox Church was that Pentecost is a reversal of the Tower of Babel. What started happening in that upper room where the disciples along with the mother of Jesus were praying together on that fiftieth day, pentikostí, after Pesach, the Jewish Passover, the coming of the Holy Spirit, the speaking in various languages, was the beginning of a great reversal for mankind.

In our natural state, this is man:
“Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” Genesis 11:4 NIV
Because of the contamination of sin, God would not allow us to destroy ourselves, so He confounded us, that is, divided our languages from one into many. This was to be in effect until the kairós (appointed time) of His grace, when, freed from sin through the Blood of His Only Son, mankind could be entrusted with the Holy Spirit, through whom “we hear them [the apostles] preaching in our own language about the marvels of God.” Acts 2:11 JB
By accepting the Christ of God, Jesus, we receive the Holy Spirit, who makes everyone speak the same language, in the spirit. This is how Pentecost is a reversal of Babel.

With that in mind, as I looked around me from time to time during the liturgy today, it all became quite clear in my mind's eye. I was granted a glimpse of this…

“After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”
Revelation 7:9-10 NIV

Truly, gathered together was the whole Orthodox community of Portland in the little space of Aghía Triás cathedral. People from all over, at least you could read their ancestry in the faces and forms. Eritreans from the Red Sea coastlands. Phoenicians from Lebanon. Arabs from Syria. Copts from Egypt. Greeks from Europe and Asia Minor. Blonde Slavs and Scandinavians from the east and north of Europe, Celts from the utter west of it (one brother in full Highland regalia, kilt, boots and all!). A Native American from Alaska. An Indian from the coast of Malabar. A Balinese woman, the first-fruits of her native island. And of course, Americans whose families are by now so well mixed of several nations amd races that we can now finally be called Americans.

Add to this picture the fact that I was not watching this on TV, am not a stranger to these people. I actually know many of them personally, I know their stories. Their stories in His story.

On such a day as this, when the Church commemorates its victory over iconoclasm, what gave meaning to it all was not knowing the history of churchly struggles, but the presence of the living icons around me, praying and worshipping with me. I wish this could be carved in big letters on the bronze doors of the church…

“What you have come to is nothing known to the senses: not a blazing fire, or a gloom turning to total darkness, or a storm; or trumpeting thunder or the great voice speaking which made everyone who heard it beg that no more should be said to them… But what you have come to is Mount Zion and the city of the Living God, the heavenly Jerusalem where the millions of angels have gathered for the festival, with the whole Church in which everyone is a first-born son and a citizen of heaven. You have come to God Himself, the supreme Judge, and been placed with the spirits of the saints who have been made perfect; and to Jesus, the Mediator who brings a new covenant and a Blood for purification which pleads more insistently than Abel's. Make sure that you never refuse to listen when He speaks.”
Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24 Jerusalem Bible

Orthodox Christian Church, Taipei

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Will He know me?

"What matters supremely is not, in the last analysis, the fact that I know God, but the larger fact which underlies it—the fact that He knows me."J. I. Packer

This idea took hold of me one day when as a 22-year-old furniture maker's apprentice in Edmonton, Alberta, my mind took a leave of absence as my body was doing the mindless job of sanding furniture tops on an old-fashioned belt sander. There I was, pushing the sanding table in and out with one hand, the other pulling down on the lever of a sanding shoe, trying to achieve a level surface on each piece.

I was thinking of how important it was to believe that Jesus would come back some day. Funny, though, because I was still not a believer, but rather a philosophic hanger-on to the New Age kind of spirituality that combines "belief" in Jesus with a grab bag of other "spiritual" concepts.

Why should it matter to me that Jesus would be coming back, if he were only one of many "saviors", as is currently being taught by people like Deepak Chopra? I think deep down my original Christian upbringing was pushing its way back into my consciousness. I was starting to see where New Age thought was leading, and it must have been unsettling the real me, the one that would live forever… or suffer the second death.

As I was pushing that sanding table in and out, my limbs automatically sensing the right amount of pressure to get the work done, my mind was drifting into the realm of pure thought.

I kept thinking, "He's really going to come back. He really is. What will happen to me then? Will He recognize me? Will He know me?"

Suddenly, in my mind's eye, I could see something like an image of Jesus above me, and a little behind me to my left, looking down at me with a serious but not angry stare, just looking at me very hard. Without moving my head for a closer look, something in me just said, "When You come back, will you know me? Will You recognize me?" Pausing for the answer, there was none. He just kept looking, almost sadly.

All this, you understand, in my mind's eye. I don't know how else to put it.

After a few seconds more, and something external to my thought roused me to physical action, and the chink in time closed. But that moment of kairós time, and that thought "Will He know me?" was the beginning of my conversion to Jesus Christ, which came about after two more years of struggle against the good testimony of others.

Brethren, keep witnessing!

"Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven."
Matthew 10:32-33 NIV

Even geeks can witness

“We have to hand it to Christian Orthodoxy for its honest willingness to make room for non-conformity. Unlike other forms of religion, Christian or not, that allow, nay, even demand, that their followers put up with all kinds of immoral and irrational individualism in their midst, Orthodox inclusiveness and its live-and-let-live mentality is not based on ethical, philosophical or dogmatic relativism. Believing themselves to be the heirs and custodians of unchanging truth in their Head and members, they make room for the unlimited personal expression of that truth among them. Any deviation from this practice and principle can be traced to an unconscious adoption of unorthodox attitudes and always results in an alienation from Orthodox identity that, once noted, is just as unconsciously corrected by mass reassertion of Christian liberty.”

What's the practical application of the above?
Even geeks can witness.

The painting reproduced above depicts the Russian priest and martyr Pavel Florensky (left) walking with the philosopher Sergei Bulgakov. Although both men are notable for their Christian witness, it's Pavel Florensky, the geek and martyr, that is the subject of this post.

Pavel Alexandrovich Florensky was born in 1882 into a middle class family in western Azerbaijan (Russian Caucasia). After graduating from Moscow State University in 1904, he refused to accept a teaching position at the University. Instead, he proceeded to study theology at the Ecclesiastical Academy in Sergiyev Posad. Together with his fellow students Ern, Svenitsky and Brikhnichev he founded a society, the Christian Struggle Union (Союз Христиaнской Борьбы), with the revolutionarly aim of rebuilding Russian society according to the principle of Vladimir Solovyov. Subsequently he was arrested for membership in this society in 1906. However, he later lost his interest in the Radical Christianity movement.

After graduating from the Academy, he taught philosophy there and lived at Troitse-Sergiyeva Lavra until 1919. In 1911, he was ordained into the priesthood. In 1914 he wrote his dissertation About Spiritual Truth. During his life he published works on philosophy, theology, art theory, mathematics, and electrodynamics. Those who are interested in finding out more about Pavel Florensky can read the article about him in Wikipedia, but our interest in him is not for his ideology, writings or other accomplishments, but his simple, matter-of-fact Christian lifestyle, which was a potent witness to those around him, and which led to his martyrdom in 1937.

After the Russian Revolution he formulated his position thus: “I am of a philosophical and scientific world outlook developed by me, which contradicts the vulgar interpretation of communism... but that does not prevent me from honestly working for the state service.”
Can you tell from this that he was a geek? Well, I can.

After the closing down, by the Bolsheviks, of the Troitse-Sergiyeva Lavra (1918) and Sergievo-Posad Church (1921) where he was the priest, he moved to Moscow to work on the State Plan for Electrification of Russia (ГОЭЛРО), under the recommendation of Leon Trotsky who strongly believed in Florensky's ability to help the government to electrify rural Russia. According to contemporaries, Florensky in his priest's cassock, working alongside other leaders of a government department, was a remarkable sight.

Can you imagine that? In a country controlled by atheistic, anti-Christian communism, here was a man who was not only a practicing Christian, but an ordained priest, working a secular job, doing his best for bosses who he knew hated everything he believed in and was, dressed in the visible garments of his true profession, and doing his best! And he really was a geek, thinking and knowing things that he could only have learned from his conversations with God, things others can hardly understand to this day. Among other things, for example, he proclaimed that the geometry of imaginary numbers predicted by the theory of relativity for a body moving faster than light is the geometry of the kingdom of God. Somehow, he was even able to publish his books during those awful times.

But there he was, as the record shows, “in his priest's cassock, working alongside other [communist] leaders of a government department.” Even if he didn't witness to them in words (though he probably did), his presence among them was witness enough. And among people, let's remember, who were his declared enemies.

Pavel Florensky is an extreme example, maybe, but the fact of his witness for Christ among his contemporaries is a challenge, and an encouragement, to me every day. Like Christ, he did not run away from the world of sin and death. Instead, again like Christ making His descent into Hades, Florensky descended to the prison of his lost neighbors, at work and in the street, a priest of God without a visible church in a God-hating land.

In 1928 Florensky was arrested and exiled for “agitation against the Soviet system and publishing agitation materials against the Soviet system.” What were these “agitation materials”? His monograph about the theory of relativity. Duh…

Later, he was moved and served at the Baikal Amur Mainline camp until 1934, when he was moved to Solovki, where he conducted research into producing iodine and agar out of the local seaweed. In 1937 he was transferred to Saint Petersburg (then known as Leningrad) where he was sentenced by an extrajudicial NKVD troika to execution. He was shot immediately after the NKVD troika session in December 1937. Most probably he was executed at the Rzhevsky artillery range and was buried in a secret grave in Koirangakangas near Toksovo together with 30,000 others who were executed by NKVD at the same time.

“Anyone who loves his life loses it; anyone who hates his life in this world will keep it for the eternal life. If a man serves Me, he must follow Me, wherever I am, My servant will be there too.”
John 12: 25-26a Jerusalem Bible

Monday, March 10, 2008

A clash of kingdoms

Everyone in the Church, each one who has been baptised into Christ and into the fullness of the Holy Spirit, must inevitably confront the enemy in the wilderness of this world as long as he lives, though, as with Christ, this takes place under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This is because man’s very acquisition of the Spirit of truth constitutes a declaration of war on the spirit of falsehood.
“The Spirit of Truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.” (John 14:17)

The world cannot tolerate God’s chosen, the children of God, who have received the Holy Spirit and are led by Him, “for as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” (Romans 8:14)

When we examine this inevitable conflict with the enemy and study its causes and aims, we find, amazingly, that it is the Holy Spirit who is the instigator of war with the powers of evil and darkness, and that it is He too who is the guarantor of victory and the effective power that can never be overcome. As soon as Christ was anointed and filled with the Holy Spirit, He was led out by the Holy Spirit Himself to be tempted by Satan.

So it is with us: as soon as we receive the Holy Spirit and are baptised and anointed and enlightened and filled with the Spirit of truth, it is as if we have declared war on the devil, and we immediately enter into the struggle with the powers of darkness and the spirit of falsehood, which holds sway over the thinking of this world and forces it into evil and sin.

It is the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, the Spirit of wisdom and right guidance, who alone can reveal in power and righteousness the movements and sly tricks of the devil in his thinking, conscience, behavior, and his body itself, no matter how deceptive they may be. The Holy Spirit has a greater, deeper, and wider power than the deception of the devil, and He brings it to bear when we throw ourselves down beneath the Cross and ask for help. The Spirit of truth is immeasurably stronger than the spirit of evil and reveals all the tricks of the devil, firmly overcoming them one by one, and giving illumination, understanding, and irresistable, divine wisdom. As the Apostle Paul says, “We are not ignorant of His designs.” (2 Corinthians 2:11)

Perception, enlightened by the Holy Spirit and committed to divine truth, is the strongest weapon that can be used to defeat the devil when he is at work in the mind of man, trying to corrupt the conscience to allow the follies of sin and evil.

The devil can only enter us through our mind and imagination, for sin begins with a movement of the mind and can only be ended by enlightenment that reveals how false falsehood is. We can only acquire this mental enlightenment by the Holy Spirit, or by the Word of God (Scriptures), for the Word is at one and the same time a work of the Holy Spirit, the power of God bearing divine authority, and the essential mind that forms and build all minds.

This is why the Lord uses Scripture, a terrifying weapon against the deceit of the devil: “It is written, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God’”. (Matthew 4:7) Neither must we ever forget that the Word of Christ is itself spirit and life, or that the whole Bible is inspired by God, written through the Holy Spirit. It is for this reason that the “Word” found in the Gospel is an effective means of directly and constantly drawing near to the Spirit and mind of God for anyone who believes in Christ, for it bestows mental illumination, and even the power and authority of God, that reveals and brings to nothing all the maneuvers of the devil. The result of this is victory over the world and a greater share in the mystery of eternal life.

Christ defeated the devil for us so that we would not be defeated by him, and for this reason our names are written in heaven. Christ was victorious because He is the Son of God, and we because He granted us victory, for we have become sons of God in Him. Victory over the devil is therefore first and foremost a sign that we are chosen and adopted in Christ and through Christ. He did not give us authority to trample on every power of the enemy simply so we would rejoice and boast of our power; it was rather so we would not fear the enemy and be defeated by his deceptions and falsehoods, becaused then he would deprive us of mastery and victory that are ours in Christ, and deprive us of our salvation and everlasting life as His chosen.

To put it more clearly and concisely, we may say that we have been given the power to defeat the kingdom of the devil so that the Kingdom of God might rule supreme, and the power to cast out the devil, so the Holy Spirit may dwell in us and trample on every power of the enemy, so that the power of the Holy Spirit may control our whole life. It is also the power to bring to nothing all the tricks and ideas and plans of the devil, so we can acquire the mind and holiness of Christ. This is the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit against the devil and all the power of the enemy in our lives, and this is how the Kingdom of God is found on striving, sweat, tears and through constant, relentless struggle.

(Matthew the Poor)

Kosovo, another Orthodox wake up call

For me as a Greek Orthodox Christian, what has happened to Kosovo is a terrible loss, not only to my brother Orthodox Serbs, but to the world. Yet, it was expected. The Western powers, beginning with the popes of Rome, and down to the latest NATO aggression, have fought against and forcibly tried to assimilate the lands and peoples of Orthodoxy. Even Russia, the only large Orthodox country left, had to bow to their demands. Serbia as usual has been demonised by the world press, the Albanians lionised. This is all consistent with what Jesus Christ said, “They hated me for no reason, and if they hated me, they will hate you too, if they called me a devil, so they will call you.” I'm not now trying to emotionalise and lionise the Orthodox as if they were the only followers of Jesus. Admittedly, atrocities have always been committed by people on all sides. But if an impartial observer compares the histories of the Orthodox East and the Catholic-Protestant West, it's not hard to see which has been the more imperialistic and aggressive. Why does the West always want to put down the East? “Byzantine” means devious or hopelessly convoluted, in common parlance. Is it not surprising, then, that the West is now on the brink of disaster for abandoning their Christian roots? This is not even at the level of a political or sociological question. This self-betrayal is more basic, abandoning the foundation which gives the West the freedom to think and the power to act on what is right. Yes, more than the tragedy of Kosovo is coming towards us, something far worse than the Nazis, Fascists and Communists rolled into one. This was predicted by the Greek church fathers centuries ago. The enemy is, when all is said and done, Islam, the slayer of the soul.

The President caved in when he called Islam a religion of peace.
Why did he do this? Was he hoping to prevent a premature outbreak of jihad on the American continent? Was it anything more than just playing politics? It seems it was, just as he is playing politics and is prepared to sell out the English national character of the Union by welcoming in and encouraging Mexicans to immigrate and continue using Spanish as their primary tongue. Canada has already been lost by foolish, indeed traitorous, betrayal of the English civilisation in their country, and is now a Canuckistan.

As an Orthodox, I also am ashamed at the reckless and treasonable pronouncements of the patriarch of Constantinople, Patriarch Bart as we affectionately call him. Not only is he in bed with the Roman pope Benny, but he’s sold out to the “Green” ecology cultists and portrays himself as “the Green patriarch.” He sweet talks and accomodates the Muslims because he’s afraid of financial martyrdom. The Turkish government is constantly trying to seize more and more church properties in Istanbul and elsewhere in Turkey. But they’re just playing a “cat and mouse” game with him, just as he’s playing it with the pope and with us, his American and Oceanic flock (Aussies and New Zealanders belong to his jurisdiction as well). Besides doing these kinds of things, he persecutes the monks of Esphigmenou Monastery on Mount Athos (the true center of Orthodox Christianity) and many of them have already died because of his embargo against them, no food, no drugs or medical supplies. The Greek government obeys him, and they’re enforcing the embargo. What’s the crime of these old men? They say the patriarch is a false ecumenist, betraying Orthodoxy and surrendering to the pope. It doesn’t matter that this charge is probably true. For us Orthodox, we at least have the traditional teaching that “the faith is guaranteed by the people, not by the leaders.” For us that means, if the leaders go astray, we just don’t pay them any heed, and they die. Then, hopefully we elect someone who understands what the true faith is, and helps us maintain it.

Let’s not ignore this wake up call. It’s not just Kosovo that is being stolen and destroyed, and it’s not just a political issue. This is part of the last act in the story of Christ’s suffering for humanity, His resurrection, and His second and glorious coming. Let Him find us as He left us, brothers! United, of one mind, one heart and one spirit, in the Word and the Mysterion. Pray for our brothers, all of them, martyrs for Jesus, suffering throughout the world, under the lash of Islam and other fascist régimes, as we wait together to be released from this world system, this kósmos of sin and death.

“Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20)


For forty days, for us, He struggled with the tempter in His humanity.
For forty days, for Him,

let us struggle with the tempter in our humility.
What is this humility?
To know that we, who are but dust and of yesterday, have been raised on high with Him, and made worthy to share with Him the glory of His victory over sin and death.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

The Christian soldier

Do you think that the title of this post poses an anomaly, a paradox, or a contradiction of terms? Didn't our Lord Jesus Christ preach non-violence, and non-resistance to evil?
Doesn't Fr Paul, the proistámenos of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral, teach that not even God can conquer evil, that evil can only be transformed?
How then can anyone speak of the Christian soldier?

What about the hymn, Onward Christian Soldiers?

Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war,
with the cross of Jesus going on before.
Christ, the royal Master, leads against the foe;
forward into battle see his banners go!

At the sign of triumph Satan's host doth flee;
on then, Christian soldiers, on to victory!
Hell's foundations quiver at the shout of praise;
brothers, lift your voices, loud your anthems raise.

Like a mighty army moves the church of God;
brothers, we are treading where the saints have trod.
We are not divided, all one body we,
one in hope and doctrine, one in charity.

Crowns and thrones may perish, kingdoms rise and wane,
but the church of Jesus constant will remain.
Gates of hell can never gainst that church prevail;
we have Christ's own promise, and that cannot fail.

The lyric of this hymn is careful to avoid anything that would suggest that our battle is anything but spiritual, but from my reading of the Bible and of the history of the martyrs of Christ, it’s clear to me that there is no way one can draw the line between internal spiritual warfare and the struggles that we face in the “real” world. There is only one arena of spiritual combat, and it takes in all possible worlds, internal and external, psychological and social, by word and deed, in the inner and the outer man.
Yes, as Christians, we too fight a jihád, but with the knowledge that the victory is Christ’s and that He bore the punishment for our transgressions in His flesh, hanging on the Tree.

Today is the feast-day and commemoration of the holy Forty Martyrs of Sebaste, as well as the last day before the onset of the Orthodox sarakostí (“40 days,” or Lent). It is a fitting reminder that we are to follow Jesus into the wilderness, where He provoked satan to do battle, and where He won the victory in word that He would later seal by His deed, shedding His blood on the Cross.

Why was there no mention of the 40 Martyrs, or of their witness and martyrdom (one word in Greek, μαρτυρια) in church today?
Why wasn’t their icon put out for veneration?

True enough, Fr Paul rattled off their commemoration in pure koiné Greek at the end of the service, but they were never mentioned in a tongue anyone could understand. You’ll hear nothing about battle from this pacifist priest, he spoke only of peacefulness and reflection, and forgiveness… Yes, again asking us to forgive him, “a sinful and unworthy priest.” Well, it is hard, I know, to forgive your enemies and pray for those who deceitfully use you, but… I suppose we must. We forgive you, Fr Paul! God knows you deserve it.

But of the 40 Martyrs, thought by some to be the Thundering Legion, let’s make ourselves aware, and join them in carrying forward the battle, behind Jesus our King, against the world, the flesh, and death itself!

Yes, “blessed are the peacemakers,” especially when they are soldiers, policemen, and others we have commissioned to keep the peace and who, like the 40 Martyrs of Sebaste, do not flinch from doing what they know is right, no matter what the cost, even at the cost of their lives.
U.S. soldiers pray in a circle before leaving Camp Victory for their patrol mission on the streets of Baghdad.