Sunday, November 30, 2008

Inclusive

This is a loaded word as ambiguously dangerous as a loaded gun. Recently a pastoral message published in Ðýnamis, the newsletter of my community Aghía Triás in Portland, as well as numerous homilies preached in our midst, have directly or indirectly promoted the “inclusive,” particularly inclusive language and clerical order in the Church. If this were happening in an environment where the world system was dead set against it, I might suspect the Holy Spirit of trying to dawn on us a forgotten or repressed essential truth. What we find instead is that the world culturally engulfing us is askew with insistence on ungendering itself and everything in its path, and though ungendering is its stated aim, the result of its programme is something quite different, the inversion of reality. Unfortunately, this inversion is not of the kind that the Word of God describes when it says, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also… asserting that there is another king, one Jesus!” (Acts 17:6-7)

Inclusive language is increasingly used in biblical and liturgical translation to eliminate the exclusive preponderance of masculine pronouns and common plurals that appear as masculine. There’s a far more serious issue at stake here than whether God is masculine or feminine, a theological one, which is being battered to pieces and left for dead. That issue is the mystery of gender.

Very deep inroads have been made by unassailable feminism in the world culture and now also in the mind of the Church, twisting and altering language to empty it of unwanted meanings. Why unwanted? Because they originate in the language used by the Word of God, which is now being criticized as the product of a patriarchal age. In other words, the Bible is slanted because men wrote it, and men want to be in control. Supposedly, that’s why even God is referred to in masculine terms.

When I address a man or woman in Christ, I address them as brother or sister. When I address a mixed group, I address them as brothers or brethren, never as brothers and sisters, which is the politically correct way of talking. Why don’t I conform? Because I speak the language that I find in the Word of God, where brothers includes sisters.

The current trend in Orthodoxy is to talk about the church fathers as our fathers and mothers instead of just our fathers. This is evident when you hear a priest end a service saying the prayer, “Through the prayers of our holy fathers and mothers, Lord Jesus Christ, our God, have mercy on us and save us.” The service book does not read this way. It has only, “Through the prayers of our holy fathers, Lord Jesus…” Why do some priests and deacons change the service book texts? Are they ashamed of our holy faith? Whom are they trying to appease? Fathers includes mothers, just as brothers includes sisters.

Back to the mystery of gender.

In the book of Genesis, “God said, ‘Let us make man in our own image… and let them be masters…’ God created man in the image of himself, in the image of God He created him, male and female He created them.” (Genesis 1:26-27 JB) That’s in the first account of the creation. In the second account occurs a more detailed description. “Yahweh God fashioned man of dust from the soil. Then He breathed into his nostrils a breath of life, and thus man became a living being.” (Genesis 2:7) Then, later “It is not good that the man should be alone. I will make him a helpmate.” (Genesis 2:18)

Where did the helpmate come from? Was it made from the soil as was the man? No, but it was somehow taken out of the man. “So Yahweh God made the man fall into a deep sleep. And while he slept, He took one of his ribs and enclosed it in flesh. Yahweh God built the rib He had taken from the man into a woman, and brought her to the man.” (Genesis 2:21-22)

The two are parallel accounts of the mystery of gender in the human species. Man, the masculine, is created in the ordinary way. But hidden within himself is the woman, who is brought into being, extracted from the man, by God’s act. Man, when first created, included woman. That is what is revealed in the first creation account. Man is created, he is created in the image of God, and then “male and female” are differentiated. But it is in the man that the woman first exists, hidden until God’s act reveals her presence. (I prefer the Orthodox icon representation of this act to the version by mystic painter William Blake, shown above.)

This is a mystery.
Man includes woman, without confusion, consubstantially.
There never was a time when man existed without woman.

Does the language sound vaguely familiar? It should, because man is made in the image of God. And of God we know, He is One, though in Him are included three divine Persons, without confusion, consubtantially. There never was a time when the Father existed and the Son and the Holy Spirit didn’t, though the Father is the principal source of both. In like manner is man the principal source of woman.

Later, holy apostle Paul used the same analogy with respect to Jesus Christ the divine Bridegroom and the Church the divine Bride, and also in respect to human marriage. All of the apostolic teachings about the relationship between man and woman, in marriage as well as in the Church, are based on this same analogy:
Adam includes Eve.
Man includes woman.
Christ includes the Church.
Hence, brothers includes sisters, fathers includes mothers.

Adam was put to sleep and Eve was extracted from his side.
Christ was nailed to the cross
and the Church was extracted from His side.
Again, mystery.
And mystery, that point in kairós (acceptable time)
where God enters our world and decisively acts.

This is the real meaning of inclusive, that through God’s act, man includes woman. There’s no justification to correct the Bible or the mind of the Church.

In so seemingly insignificant a detail as God’s choice of gendered words, one of the key mysteries of existence is revealed. And just as a minute alteration to any of the physical constants (i.e., gravity, magnetism, etc.) would render the structure of the natural world “formless and void,” so does the mindless change of any of God’s words diminish our knowledge of the truth.

Religion is a sickness…

…and Christ is the Cure


A fellow blogger wrote in an excellent article today the following…

"To be honest, I'm tired of being religious. It's exhausting, isn't it? All this moral striving, and for what? Religion as a series of habits and rituals can be a pointless venture.

"If it doesn't lead to Life, then it must lead to Death, no matter how "nice" or "good" it looks. And if we get caught up in defining "right and wrong" by our own moral striving, then we miss the boat. One can't live a good life by simply avoiding the darkness. Rather, Jesus tells us to abide in him, the Light (John 15:4).

"So, I am learning to be done with this frivolous game of people-pleasing and hiding my own brokenness."

And I saluted him with… Axios! You have found the right way.

It is on this basis that I describe myself as a non-religious Christian. The second paragraph quoted above, "If it doesn't lead to life…" reminds me of the line in The Matrix where Morpheus tells Neo about the matrix, that it permeates everything, it's there with you even "in church."

The way of religion as you describe, that exhausting way of moral striving, habitual behaviors and the performance of rituals, yes, these do indeed constitute "religion," the classic definition of which is, man's attempt to win justification by his own efforts. This was the pre-existing (religious) condition that Christ was born into, and which He abolished by His death on the cross, His resurrection from the dead, and His ascending to the Father.

Abolished.
Christ was and is the end of religion for those who follow Him.

Does this mean that we stop "going to church," stop praying, stop doing "good deeds" and so on? Heaven forbid! Unless and only if we have been doing these things to appease God.

The love which God the Father has lavished on us through the sacrifice of His Son and all that proceeds from it, when we receive that, we cannot help but pass that love on to the world around us in our fulfillment of the commandments.

What commandments?
Well, the two great ones, to begin with: Love the Lord with all your heart, all your mind, all your soul and all your strength. Love your neighbor as yourself.

Do we gain heaven by this?
Not at all.

Does it exhaust us to follow these commandments?
No, because love never gets tired.

Why not? Because it is not we who do the work, it is Christ in us.

Is this striving for moral perfection?
No, again because we are not doing the work, it flows from us as springs of living water, but it does purify, not only us but others around us. This is why the following of Jesus, even within the context of institutional Christianity, need not be religious, indeed must not be, else it is what you describe at the beginning of your article, "To be honest, I'm tired of being religious…"

Religion is a sickness, and Christ is the cure.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Aghía Sophía - Holy Wisdom

I've never seen a picture or painting of the great church of Holy Wisdom in Constantinople (Istanbul) showing it as an Orthodox church. All the pictures I've ever seen always show it as a mosque, or in its present state, a museum in which the vestiges of its Christian use are shown alongside more prominent evidences of its use as a mosque.
Fr Joseph Honeycutt posted the image I am reproducing here on his blog OrthoDixie. Click on the link to visit his blog. I have nothing to say, except to thank Fr Joseph for locating this picture and sharing it with us.

The image gets larger if you click on it. Then you can right click on the larger image and save it to your computer like I did.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Paradoxy

"What comes into our minds when we think about God
is the most important thing about us."

— Aiden Wilson Tozer (1897-1963)

C. S. Lewis’ book Pilgrim’s Regress has as a motif the idea that a man sets out from Puritania to find an island in the West instead of accepting the Landlord’s castle high up on the Eastern mountains, and he ends up getting turned around in his journey, retracing his steps home. Yet, because his perspective has changed, the “road in” is very, very narrow and looks unimaginably different than it did when he thought it was the “way out.” It seems to be a paradox that what he was afraid of and what he desired were one and the same. Reminds me of a line in Cat Stevens' song Sitting

Life is like a maze of doors, and they all
Open from the side you're on
Just keep on pushing hard, boy, try as you may
You're going to wind up where you started from


Eastern Orthodox Christianity as a faith community is so comfortable with paradox, that perhaps of all its features, that is the one which sets it apart the most from other Christianities. Our faith is very much the same as that of evangelicals, but we don’t spend nearly as much time debating and arguing fine points (theologoumena, though some of us do), and we have no “infallible head” to shut us down in our deliberations as do Roman Catholics: Paradox shuts us down.

Paradoxy. Orthodoxy.
These are words that I find have wider and more comprehensive meaning in actual practice than the Church gives them.

Though the institutional Church defines, guards and maintains orthodoxy, paradoxy (have I coined a new word?) needs no definition, but grows out of the shared experience of the saints (all followers of Jesus) in Christ.

Orthodoxy may mean “straight thinking [about God]” or “correct glorification [of God]”, but both are rooted in the Word of God, which in all essentials is perfect and complete.

Paradoxy may mean “beyond thinking” or “beyond glorification,” that is, where we find ourselves when we practice and contemplate the roots of our being: What does it mean to be 'born again'?
What does it mean to 'accept Christ'? How do people enter into a 'saving knowledge' of Christ? What does evangelism 'do', and how does it do it? Since there is only one Mediator between God and man, the God-Man Jesus Christ, what is 'happening' to us in our individual and in our corporate human natures through this Mediator? When does it start, and how much is ours (if any), and how much His?
These are questions to which dogma cannot fully respond, which only one living a theological life can hope to answer. What is a theological life? A life of unremitting struggle.

C. S. Lewis once asked the question, "Is theology poetry?" and I, asking the same question, am reminded of the lyrics of yet another song, Queen of Love, this time by The Incredible String Band…

How shall I say where I end, or where you begin?
How shall I say, what shall I play,
shall it be you or the wild wind?
As Pan with the unsane eyes, or with the wild horns,
or when I am crowned with a paper crown,
or with the crown of thorns.


Paradoxy is the flip-side of Orthodoxy.
It can no more be split from it than can Christ the Bridegroom be split from His Bride, whom the Father pulled from the wound opened in His side when He slept the sleep of death on the cross.
“This is the faith of the Fathers, this is the faith of the Orthodox, this is the faith that sustains the whole world,” we shout from the church steps on the Sunday of Orthodoxy.

What am I trying to say? I'm not sure that I know myself, except that I somehow want to testify that there is so much more to the mystery of faith than most of us realize, and that I want to spend the rest of my life “on the road to find out.”

What does Jesus do?

From a comment I wrote to a young Christian writer and video man…

Yes, that was a nicely assembled Christian parody of the election-illogical hype that we've been subjected to for the last many months. I completely get your point, I think, and your video was fun to watch. Problem is, even though what you're saying in it is true, it's only going to be true for the already saved, so that's your audience.
As for the others, they will only scoff.

America, no less than most of the "civilised" world, has had enough of Christianity. Either they're following it in a state that verges on apathy, boredom or worse, or they're not following it because they "know" all about it and/or about its "founder."


I think and I believe that the right approach for the time and place we find ourselves in is to follow Jesus as He walks in today's world, imitating Him, doing what we see Him doing.

He doesn't make use of technology, drama, music, tattoos, piercings (yes, that's right!), cultural relevance, inclusive language, or any contemporary evangelistic gimmicks. He doesn't pass out free bottles of spring water, or condoms, or tracts, or Chick comics. He doesn't set Himself up as this or that deliverance ministry. He doesn't take up collections or plead for offerings.

He is in the world today as He was two thousand years ago, simply as the Word of God. All He needs from us is our willingness to use our voices.

For what? To sing? To preach? No, not yet.

To witness, to give testimony? Well, maybe, but not at first, not before Him.

What, then? Simply to give our voices to the reading aloud of His Word out there in the world where people can hear it, without commenting on it, without preaching it, without prophesying it, without charging for it, without protecting it, without shortening it. Reading it just as it is, in a language that anyone who passes by can hear and understand, if they pause to listen.

And if they do, what is drawing them, or who? Is it us, the readers? No, it is the Word of God Himself who draws them. It is Jesus. They can't see Him, yet they can hear Him, and faith, as we know, comes by hearing. And hearing by the Word of God.

Brother, I understand you are a communicator, that you believe you have the gift of writing. I do not doubt it or dispute it. At this point, I only say, based on this short video, do not let the media you are using sculpt the shape of your call. Be sure that the gift God gives you in following Him depends on nothing and no one but Himself and you, without so much as a pencil and paper, let alone video equipment and software. The Word of God is the only sculptor of the Christian's call. Let your testimony be pure, unmixed wine that "runs on the lips of those who sleep" (Song of Solomon 7:10 JB) to awaken them to the Truth. Don’t let the world drag you into its net, while you, the willing fish, think you’re catching it. Instead, draw the world into His net, like the holy apostles did, who were fishers of men.

What is His net? It is the Word of God.
Who taught them to fish like that? It was the Holy Spirit.

Always give precedence to the Word, then your writing, following in its wake, will open doors to the Father. And He is faithful.

If we wait for Him at all

We know that the institutional church in all of its manifestations is "a city set upon a hill that cannot be hid," and so anyone passing by can look at it in the glory or in the humiliation of its past and present condition.

It takes as much faith to believe that what we are seeing as the Church is the Body of Christ as it does to look upon the man Jesus of Nazareth and believe that He is God, the Almighty. Yet He is, and so where does it leave us with regard to the Church?

Mocked, derided, stripped, scarred, gashed, sundered and pierced, the Body of Christ suffers with Jesus throughout all ages till the end of time and His return. Where we stand, what our response must be to His question, "And who do you say I am?" will also show us where we stand with regard to the Church.

Though we see her faults, we also see and participate in her faith, and if we wait for Him at all, we must wait with her, His Bride.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Not to be disqualified

Paul’s letter to the Colossians was where the Bible opened itself for me to read this morning, and so I read the entire book, as I’m used to doing. Usually, I read the Jerusalem Bible, as that is the version that brought me to Christ, and I’ve never given it up. Today, however, I picked up the New English Bible, which is the other version I started reading during my college days, and for which I’ve never lost my respect—to me it still represents a fairly high literary standard—because I like to vary the versions to gain new insights. Colossians has always been one of my favorite books.

I pray while I read, and I involuntarily review many λογισμοι (logismí >
Greek, “thoughts”) going through my mind, all at the same time, comparing them to what the word is saying. I am struggling, now as always, with the visible form of the Church, and with the institutional strictures, what I call “religious profiling,” that throw obstacles in the path of faithful Christians, and keep others in decadent captivity. This passage spoke to my struggles.

You are not to be disqualified by the decision of people who go in for self-mortification and angel-worship, and try to enter into some vision of their own. Such people, bursting with the futile conceit of worldly minds, lose hold upon the Head; yet it is from the Head that the whole body, with all its joints and ligaments, receives its supplies, and thus knit together grows according to God’s design.

Did you not die with Christ and pass beyond reach of the elemental spirits of the universe? Then why behave as though you were still living the life of the world? Why let people dictate to you: ‘Do not handle this, do not taste that, do not touch the other’—all of them things that must perish as soon as they are used? That is to follow merely human injunctions and teaching. True, it has an air of wisdom, with its forced piety, its self-mortification, and its severity to the body; but it is of no use at all in combatting sensuality.

Colossians 2:18-23 New English Bible

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The cost of indifference

Not being able to really sleep at all because of a wretched case of something like bronchitis, I was up and down all night, and now, as dawn has arrived, I took a bit of food, and picked up a little book that is always at hand, Pensées by Blaise Pascal. Where I opened it at random and started reading was a passage that represented the thought process of a man indifferent to God, and what Pascal had to say about him. This is Pascal at his densest—what I mean is, it's hard to read him because he says more than the words say on the surface, and it's all so true. This French philosopher doesn't quote scripture in this passage, which is unusual, as his Pensées is a treasure trove of biblical texts and rambling thoughts about them. But a true disciple of Jesus he was, and was found at his death to have been carrying his handwritten testimony of his saving encounter with Christ sewn into the lining of the jacket he always wore. I can relate to that.

Here is the passage, which I would call, the cost of indifference. People haven't changed much in three hundred years. Do you know anyone who could be saying this today? I do.

‘I do not know who put me in the world, nor what the world is, nor what I am myself. I am terribly ignorant about everything. I do not know what my body is, or my senses, or my soul, or even that part of me which thinks what I am saying, which reflects about everything, and about itself, and does not know itself any better than it knows anything else.

‘I see the terrifying spaces of the universe hemming me in, and I find myself attached to one corner of this vast expanse without knowing why I have been put in this place rather than that, or why the brief span of life allotted to me should be assigned to one moment rather than another of all the eternity which went before me and all that which will come after me. I see only infinity on every side, hemming me in like an atom or like the shadow of a fleeting instant. All I know is that I must soon die, but what I know least about is this very death which I cannot evade.

‘Just as I do not know whence I come, so I do not know whither I am going. All I know is that when I leave this world I shall fall for ever into nothingness or into the hands of a wrathful God, but I do not know which of these two states is to be my eternal lot. Such is my state, full of weakness and uncertainty. And my conclusion from all this is that I must pass my days without a thought of seeking what is to happen to me. Perhaps I might find some enlightenment in my doubts, but I do not want to take the trouble, nor take a step to look for it: and afterwards, as I sneer at those who are striving to this end—whatever certainty they have should arouse despair rather than vanity—I will go without fear or foresight to face so momentous an event, and allow myself to be carried off limply to my death, uncertain of my future state for all eternity.’

Who would wish to have as a friend a man who argued like that? Who would choose him from among others as a confidant in his affairs? Who would resort to him in adversity? To what use in life could he possibly be turned?

It is truly glorious for religion to have such unreasonable men as enemies: their opposition represents so small a danger that it serves on the contrary to establish the truths of religion. For the Christian faith consists almost wholly in establishing these two things: The corruption of nature and the redemption of Christ. Now, I maintain that, if they do not serve to prove the truth of the redemption by the sanctity of their conduct, they do at least admirably serve to prove the corruption of nature by such unnatural sentiments.

Nothing is so important to man as his state: nothing more fearful than eternity. Thus the fact that there exist men who are indifferent to the loss of their being and the peril of an eternity of wretchedness is against nature. With everything else they are quite different; they fear the most trifling things, foresee and feel them; and the same man who spends so many days and nights in fury and despair at losing some office or at some imaginary affront to his honor is the very one who knows that he is going to lose everything through death but feels no anxiety nor emotion. It is a monstrous thing to see one and the same heart at once so sensitive to minor things and so strangely insensitive to the greatest.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Prodigal God?

Minus the question mark, this is actually the title of a book by contemporary Christian author, Timothy Keller.
As many of my friends know, I read few books compared to most people, instead keeping my nose in the Book.
I know that I sometimes come across as rather hard on the prolific output of modern Christian authors to some people in Christian Blogoslavia, and I don't deny there will always be some good books "out there" for some people, but the fascination for these books is all out of proportion to their practical value, and just provide an opportunity to waste time like the ancient Athenians who "…would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new." (Acts 17:21) This text from Acts describes the Christian spiritual elite of today, always eager for "telling or hearing something new."

Back to The Prodigal God. Hmm, well, that's an interesting title, and the book (I gather) is about "attracting the irreligious," which is also the title of a blog where this book was discussed earlier this month. Now, not this book, but the ideas it talks about, interested me, and got me to thinking about them. Starting with a quote from this book, here are some of those thoughts…

"The kind of outsiders Jesus attracted are not attracted to contemporary churches, even our most avant-garde ones. We tend to draw conservative, buttoned-down, moralistic people. The licentious and liberated or the broken and marginal avoid church. That can only mean one thing. If the preaching of our ministers and the practice of our parishioners do not have the same effect on people that Jesus had, then we must not be declaring the same message that Jesus did."
—Tim Keller in The Prodigal God, pp. 14-15.

It's pretty easy to see that our Christian witness both as preachers and congregations doesn't have anything much to attract the world's attention, but I don't think that it necessarily means that we're not declaring the same message that Jesus did.


Though the Bible says that Jesus was followed around by multitudes of people, we don't know exactly how many in most cases, and the overall population of Palestine was probably what, three million or even more at the time of Christ, yet I doubt His audiences were anything as large as the following that most modern evangelists and church leaders have. On a percentage basis, Christ's message probably didn't attract more than 5 or 10 percent of the total population of Palestine. Most of Christ's authentic followers are even named in the New Testament. Just because Jesus was followed by "crowds" doesn't mean that they were even attracted to Him for the right reasons. Notice, there were only about 120 disciples immediately after Christ's ascension. It wasn't until the day of Pentecost that 3000 were added, all in a single day.

What we see in America and other modern cultures is a population that by and large functions out of religious habit, or out of irreligious habit. Most of us are educated enough to know who Jesus is and what the claims of Christianity are, and we just don't need it. I have known people who are very intelligent and yet joined groups like the Mormons because their system "works," that is, because it helps create successful (I won't say healthy) family life, even though they did not believe the mythology or any of the doctrines behind it! They just go thru the motions. Since it is impossible to know what is really true, they grabbed what simply "works." In the same way, our sophisticated but spiritually dead neighbors can afford to be indifferent, and actually slightly hostile or contemptuous, to Christ, because they've "made it." As an old issue of Zapped Comix (pictured above) put it, "Who needs God? I'm independently wealthy!"

Churches are stuck at all different places.

Some churches function as though they're still in a Christian world—in fact, whether or not they admit it, I think that's what most Christian churches do. They are usually houses of worship surrounded by unbelieving neighborhoods that they never even attempt to evangelize, and most of their members live elsewhere. This, I think, is a remnant of "Christian world" mentality. All the territory has been claimed, so there's no need to go out on forays into the hinterlands anymore. But the reality is, it just ain't so.

Still, can you imagine your church, pastor or preacher and congregation, engaging in the evangelization of the neighborhood around your house of worship? How would you do it? The neighbors aren't primitive barbarians living in the forest, to whom you can bring the light of the gospel to teach them not to keep killing each other and stealing each other's wives, or material improvements to alleviate their low standard of living. No, for most of us, the neighbors are pretty affluent and either belong to a church out of habit, or take Sunday morning walks with their significant others, their families, their pets—or just sit in the sun room with a cup of coffee, a sweet, and the newspaper, until they fall asleep. After all, Sunday is supposed to be a "day of rest"!

Even those of us whose house of worship is in a working class or poor neighborhood, what would it cost us as congregations and as individuals to evangelize our unsaved neighbors? Here, we really could do some good, we might find souls that need help, but the help might be too costly for us to deal with. And then, the resistance when it occurred might not be very polite.

Our world is in some ways very different from the world that Jesus and the first generation of disciples lived in. For one, they lived in an age when if you could convince a man of something, he would give in. Nowadays, you can convince a man, but he won't give in. If he loses the debate, he protects himself from being convinced by saying, "It's just your opinion." Our education system has failed us miserably, by taking away the certainty that there is a real right and real wrong, not only in morality, but in almost every other field, sometimes even in science.

I think the Church (now I'm using capital C, meaning all of us) has to realise that its responsibility is not to save the world, but to make disciples of all nations, starting with ourselves, and that making disciples cannot mean that we force our neighbors to be disciples. If it turns out that where we live, our honest efforts to share the good news with those around us is met with disinterest or hostility, so be it. But if it turns out that the good news is given a hearing and is accepted by some, but at a price, we have to be content to share what we have with them.

Finally, we have to realize that the populations around us are not static, but that there is a rate of turnover. That means, we don't just try to evangelize for a year and then give up. The work of sharing the good news goes on 24/7 because it is the responsibility of every member of the Body of Christ. There is no one who cannot share the good news with at least one person, acquaintance or stranger, every day. The sharing needn't be an overt or verbal testimony. It can be so much as a smile or a kind word outwardly, and a prayer "Lord, give the increase" inwardly. Since it is all the Lord's work, not ours, we needn't trouble ourselves either about the visible results. This is where, I think, we run into trouble the most, and to no avail.

Monday, November 17, 2008

With the Jews

I really miss the shabbat evening service at Ahavat Achim.
I wonder if I should start attending again, even though Rabbi isn’t there anymore. It really brought the Torah to life for me to be standing and praying with them, and to hear the Rabbi teach, and see how the God-fearers like Sam the hazzan would question him minutely. I really liked the give and take. Rabbi was rabbi, but no more, no less than Sam or any other one of us in the congregation, making up Am Yisra’el.


This morning I was reflecting on the fact that Yahweh the Holy One of Yisra’el, the Living God, chose His people out of all the nations and gave them Torah, much more than just what we call “the Law,” a complete revelation of everything that God wanted mankind to know. To Moses was given Torah, and then to the prophets, the Nevi’im, were given the oracles of Yahweh, the only true oracles ever given to mankind. Finally, to top it off and complete their understanding, the Lord revealed Himself to His people through the Ketuvim, the histories and wisdom writings.
Judaism, then, based on the Word of God, is the only divinely instituted religion ever given to mankind. Every other religion has arisen from mankind’s searching for a way to appease the gods or God (if they thought there was only one of Him). I have experienced many religions, not just Christian ones, and in comparing those experiences, I have to honestly say, though other religions may be more awesome and glorious in ceremonial worship, nowhere else did I find anything even remotely resembling the prayer to Yahweh the God of Yisra’el that I found among the Jews, nor anywhere so profound a respect for the Word of God as among them.

In an earlier post, I struggled again with trust, as in “whom do you trust?” What spiritual authority is really trustworthy, which one has the words of eternal life that really can be trusted?

Taking the point of view that all religious teachers and philosophers, being human beings like myself, can have no “inside information” that I don’t have, I have come to the conclusion that only one Teacher can be trusted, the only One who shattered history and the physical laws by rising from the dead. Not just because He was someone who died and came back to life again, no, there have been dozens, if not hundreds, who have done that, especially in today’s world where people routinely die on the operating table and come back to life, many of them bearing tales of “the other side.”
No, I have decided that I can trust Jesus because He actually rose from the dead, to die no more. I notice that He didn’t tell any of His disciples the details of “the other side” that they wrote down, but what He must have told them, His descent to She’ol and the smashing of its gates, how He singlehandedly defeated satan and delivered more than just Adam with a mighty “Come forth!” taking him and all humankind with Him (and the good thief) into Paradise—all this passed on to them orally while He sojourned with them for the forty days before He was taken up to the right hand of the Father.

And I think back to the Jews, those who are still behind the veil, in a mystery remaining witnesses by their unbelief in Y’shua ha-Mashiach. These are truly faithful ones, the believing Jews I mean, for their trust in Moses seems to me to be at least as great as my trust in Jesus, who was dead and is alive.

Without having seen the risen Christ physically, I trust in Him, and through Him the whole of divine scripture, the Old Testament and the New. But these Jews, without having seen Moses or the Exodus from Egypt and all its attendant miracles, still trust in Moses and in the
Tanakh, the Torah, Nevi’im and Ketuvim. And when I am with them, in prayer, praise and the study of God’s Word, I feel myself completely among brethren.
Then I remember the teaching of Christ, not a parable as it is often called, about Lazarus and the Rich Man. If it were only a parable, perhaps we could read into it other details. But no, it’s not a parable. What it is, perhaps, is God’s only intrusion into our lives of “the other side,” spoken with perfect certainty by the only One who would be able to tell.

The rich man, in agony in She’ol, sees across the unbridgeable abyss, the “citizens of Paradise,” particularly Lazarus, like him recently deceased, who is in the company of “our first father Abraham.” The rich man is nameless, for all his wealth while he lived on earth, yet a poor man, once a nameless beggar on earth, has a name, Lazarus. He asks, not Lazarus, but Abraham, to send the poor man over the abyss to put a dash of water on his tongue. Abraham says, “Impossible! Even if we wanted to, we can’t.”

Then the rich man implores, “At least send Lazarus back from the dead to warn my brothers about this place!” (Notice how even in She’ol the rich man thinks he can command others.) It’s tempting to make the connexion between the poor man Lazarus and the rich friend of Jesus, Lazarus, whom Christ brought back to life after four days in the tomb. Could even His telling of this “after death experience” contain a germ of prophecy that would come to pass before His own death and resurrection?

Abraham’s response is, “Your brothers have Moses and the prophets, so let them believe them!” Still, the rich man argues, “No they won’t, but if someone comes to them from the dead, they’ll repent!” But Abraham has the last word, “If they won’t listen to either Moses or the prophets, they won’t be convinced, even if someone were to rise from the dead.” (Luke 16:19-31)

I think back to the faithful Jews. They’re not the ones that Abraham is talking about when he says, “If they won’t listen to either Moses or the Prophets, they won’t be convinced…” They are still trusting in Moses, but they are trusting like Martha trusted when she responded to Jesus’ words, “Your brother will rise again with “I know he will rise again at the resurrection on the last day.”

It still remains for their trust to be perfected, but only He can speak these words into their hearts, “I am the resurrection. If anyone believes in Me, even though he dies he will live, and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:24-26 JB)
And I, who love the people of God, Am Yisra’el, confess my trust with holy apostle Paul, who writes, “Since their rejection meant the reconciliation of the world, do you know what their admission will mean? Nothing less than a resurrection from the dead!”
(Romans 11:15 JB)

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Sorting out the past

Today I am engaged in one of those infrequent but periodic “sorts” of the material evidences of my life. Every time I try to sort, I am overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of things and quickly become impatient, while these questions continually assail my mind, “Why are you doing this? Who are you saving this stuff for?” It makes me understand why so much has been lost to “history”—more has been lost through giving in to those questions than has disappeared through deliberate destruction. That’s what I think, anyway. I’ve seen it happen in families, my own and others I have known. People just get tired of moving around and storing all this “junk.” I wonder if our word “sort” is related to a French word of totally different meaning, sortir, “to depart.” And I wish my leaving were able to be more like the leaving of Almustafa in Kahlil Gibran’s book, The Prophet. His sorting was of a different kind, and when he took ship, he took nothing with him but himself. But as for me, I must sort out the past.

I’m taking pause now, because I came across something I thought I had lost many years ago, accidentally tossed perhaps, but it’s turned up. A packet of written materials for my mother’s and my wife’s father’s memorial services. We wrote special ones for them, but it’s been years since we sang the services. Yet, there they were, in a metallic gold peechee, hiding out in another box of memorabilia.

What I also found was handwritten excerpts I made from letters my late mother wrote me, in which she gave her testimony, little by little, as her life was ebbing away. We thought she would have died sooner because of her many ailments, but she had a massive stroke which left her half-paralysed and unable to speak or write, and in that condition she lived another ten years, finally succumbing to complications arising from pneumonia. Before her stroke, though, she had the chance to write down her faith, and knowing what her inner thoughts and beliefs were helped me to hope for her “having made it.”

My mother was raised a Roman Catholic, but for various reasons abandoned church worship. The content of her faith, and even her vocabulary, comes from an injured Catholic soul who struggled to get into a right relationship to the Living Christ, apart from formal dogma. This month is the 22nd anniversary of her repose on November 25th. She was born on Christmas Day, 1919, and reposed three days before Thanksgiving Day, 1986. I want to share a few of her words of testimony in honor of her difficult life. The old photos scattered about were taken at about age 8 when she made her first holy communion, and then in her mid-twenties or a bit later. She rarely let us photograph her, and so I have only memories of how she looked in old age.

From a letter dated January 4, 1974…

I’m always and forever thinking about God, and never—not once—have I blamed God for my unlucky life. Just knowing that God and I know this to be true is what’s keeping me on till God wants me. Even if everyone on the face of the earth ignores me or is angry at me, I don’t care. I have God if no one else, and I’m happy. I can pray and talk to God and I know He hears me. I’m always praying for everyone, but I don’t go telling them, and I ask God to forgive them, because they don’t know any better.

I do not demand from God. I only feel I got what I had coming, and I will get what I deserve. There is only One God, and He only knows. I even thank God for all the bad luck I’ve had. Hard to believe, but it’s the honest truth. And again I say, God and I only know this. I expect to be punished by God, if I need it, but also forgiven, if I deserve it.

I really wish I could be a nun, even at this late age. By God’s standards I am a sinner, but God understands and forgives me, I know. All I ask God is to help me do the right things, to be with me always, there to help me in this way, and to forgive me and give me another chance. All I can do in return is live a life like God wants us to. I never ask God to give me something, only to help me and show me the way to do my best, and never to give up.

You see, I’m not without sin, but I don’t blame God. I ask Him to stand by me and never lose faith in me. I can’t help myself, and maybe I’m taking longer [than I should], but I’ll always keep on trying, because I know God is with me.

I could say more, but I’ll close on this note. We’re all sinners. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

And from another letter, written September 2, 1974, these words about her repentance…

I sit and think all the time, how we only have one life, and how people can really waste it, like I did. The only time I feel so good is when I’m trying to go to sleep. I talk to God, and I just can’t explain how I feel and what I see, how it will be when I’m gone. You know, I feel so very happy, and I’m not afraid. God will remember me and forgive me, because I never blamed God for my bad life. I only remember what was good, and how happy I was. The rest that happened was only when I went off [on] the side road, and it took me longer to get back. Remember, it was [when we lived] on Ross Street, you were telling and showing us about that road, and how one can stray. It took me longer [to get back] because the devil was stronger than me. I feel I could have done something sooner and will never forgive myself for straying that long, but I know God will forgive me. So now, all there is for me is the straight ahead road, and I’m sure not turning either way. It’s too close to the end to let the devil win again.

If you’ve read this far, I thank you, brethren, for helping me stop and remember the soul of this dear sister, my mother.

Αιωνια σου η μνημη, αξιομακαριστος και αειμνηστος αδελφη ημων.
May your memory be eternal, dear sister, for you are worthy of blessedness and everlasting memory.

Now, as for us who are still here, time to sort!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Even struggling

Even struggling to have an encounter with the Living Christ makes you feel like you’re in a world of sleep-walkers, or even in a world where everyone is already dead.

That’s how the presence of the Living One changes all our senses as He draws near, letting us experience the world as it really is, letting us recognize Him as He really is.

“Do not be afraid, it is I, the First and the Last; 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 of Hades.”
Revelation 1:17-18 JB

We can know so little

“All those things which can be thought with the heart, or spoken with the tongue, or seen with the eyes, or felt with the hands, are as nothing in comparison with those which we can neither think, nor see, nor touch. All the saints and wise men who have passed away, and all those who are now in this present life, and all those who shall come after us—all those who have spoken or written, or shall speak or write of God—shall never be able to show forth so much of Him as a grain of millet in comparison with the whole extent of heaven and earth; nay, a thousand thousand times less.”
—The Sayings of Brother Giles of Assisi, Ch. 2

“I went up to space, but I didn’t encounter God.”
—Attributed to Yuri Gagarin, the first man to go into space, but now known to have been fabricated and used as propaganda by Nikita Khrushchev. Gagarin was a faithful, baptised Orthodox Christian.

“The visualization of the cosmos presented from the center outward is:
The Isle of Paradise — the most gigantic organized body of cosmic reality in all the master universe.
The Sacred Spheres of Paradise — twenty-one enormous worlds, three circuits of seven worlds each — the Worlds of the Father, the Worlds of the Son, and the Worlds of the Spirit orbiting in three processions on the inner margin of space.
Havona — one billion (1,000,000,000) perfect worlds across seven circuits, with upwards of thirty-five million worlds in the first or inner circuit, over two hundred and forty-five million worlds in the seventh or outermost circuit, and proportional numbers of worlds in the intervening circuits.”

The Urantia Book

The three quotes above are about "what we can know" about reality, about God (if there is one), about our place in the universe. Most of the indifference of modern man to God and specifically to the claims of Jesus Christ hinges on the idea that it is impossible to know for certain anything at all about these things, and therefore they can have no application or relevance to modern life. What we cannot know for sure can't help us or, in existential terms, can't save us.

Philosophers and theologians, what do they say? Is there anything that can guarantee for us that the teachings, the theories, the speculations of such historical figures as Moses, Plato, Gautama, Jesus, Augustine, Muhammad, Francis of Assisi, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, Blaise Pascal, Dietrich Bonhoeffer or C. S. Lewis are true in any real sense? Aren't they, after all, just words that you can read, think about, try to practice, or even just decorate your mind with? Sure, some of these people lived exemplary lives. Some are said to have performed miracles, well… hmph, who can know if they really did? Aren't we still just reduced to sorting out opinions about reality? Where are the irrefutable proofs?

Like the cosmonaut who was supposed to have said, “I went up to space, but I didn’t encounter God,” we want to be able to see and experience, empirically, the reality, the ultimate reality, God or whatever, that is supposed to be there. Or like the mysterious author of The Urantia Book, do we want to simply skip over the existential encounter, since it is probably not possible anyway, and just dream up something so intricate, so detailed, that entering into it we need never come out again to answer the question?

The easy answers, atheism—“I didn’t encounter God”—and fantasy—“The Isle of Paradise — the most gigantic organized body of cosmic reality…” turn out, of course, not to be answers at all. Only the realist, the honest philosopher who like Brother Giles says, “All those things which can be thought with the heart… are as nothing in comparison with those which we can neither think, nor see, nor touch,” only that man stands at the threshhold of knowing the Truth. Why? Because he has honestly realised the only thing anyone can, that we are in fact unable to know the ultimate Reality in a human way, from our end of the range of being.

Who, then, can help us? Who can we trust, since it seems we can't trust ourselves?
So now it comes to this, that we want to know the truth, and we're told to trust?

Knowing that I can know so little, knowing that in an everyday manner I do actually trust more than I know, even that doesn't help me. The teachings and even the example of Jesus Christ, transmitted to me after two thousand years, in themselves these cannot assure me that His claims are true. If I am honest and not trying to protect my "religious" heritage, I have to say, though the Christian faith in content is the best I can find, it still contains no guarantees. I have to trust more than I can know.

And that trust devolves to a single thing being literally true, without which nothing else can be certain—Jesus Christ, risen from the dead.

This is something that has to have happened about two thousand years ago, if it happened at all. The event is very poorly attested in writing, just whatever has survived in a few passages in the New Testament. It is on something of such scant witness and reliability that I am reduced to wagering my life.

Yes, I wager my life.
I didn't see it happen, and I'm just taking it on trust.

The only proof I have now is, not scientific, not philosophical, not speculative, but historical.
I didn't see the resurrection with my own eyes, but not many have.
The honest ones have said over and over again, "We can know so little…"
But almost from the very moment of that supposed event, the rising of Jesus from the dead, we find men and women willing to wager their lives, their physical, earthly lives, their livelihoods, their reputations, their families, all that they were, all that they possessed, to attest the truth of it. And though they may have known so little, they received so much.


"But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him."
1 Corinthians 2:9 KJV

Monday, November 10, 2008

War and peace

The OrthoDixie blog posted a comment from a certain Muhammad, in which he patiently lectures us on the errors of our belief in the Jesus of the Bible. Muhammad (not the prophet of Allah) wrote…

For the sake of peace and tolerance we should read books of other faiths. Quran is the only book with its original text intact. It is the only book that confirms and respects Jesus and Moses (and other biblical prophets as well). Knowledge never hurts. Intolerance does, and it comes from lack of knowledge. God bless all my Christian brothers and sisters. There is Old testament, there is New testament and there is Final testament, and just as Jesus said, I have come to revive the law. The book given to Jesus was Injeel, in Aramaic. Unfortunately, it is not available anywhere. Oldest bible is in ancient Greek, in museum. Present bible is according to Mark, Matthew, John and Luke, but not according to Jesus. Quran is that revival of law that Jesus refers to. Muhammad was last prophet sent to do the work that was left incomplete.

My response follows…

Muhammad, my friend, your comments are a concise summary of the classic Islamic defense of their claims. If the 1400 years of your religion's existence hasn't been able to prove its truth either doctrinally or historically against Christianity, perhaps it's time to give up.

We can live with you in peace, even while you tell us that your prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is better than our Jesus Christ, and that everything we believe about Him is a distortion, if you can renounce your religion's violence and aggression against other faith communities. Though Christians have waged religious wars at times, it was against the explicit words of our Bible, and based on human misapplication of those words. How will you, or can you, spiritualise the explicit injunctions to violence that are in your Qur'an, and reduce them to allegories of internal struggles of the soul with sin? Because if you cannot, then we cannot live with you in peace.

This is the difference between Christ and al-Islam: Christians break the commandments of the Bible when they try to dominate others in the name of God, because our God only wants people who will worship Him in spirit and in truth. Muslims fulfill the commands in the Qur'an when they try to dominate others in the name of Allah, and they must entirely subjugate all humans, by force if necessary, and incorporate them into the Islamic state.

Jesus Christ died for men, to open to them a heavenly kingdom.

Muhammad (pbuh) killed men, to establish an earthly kingdom.

The thieves were stealers, but reason condemned Him, and the grave was empty where they had laid Him. Why was the grave empty? Jesus Himself says, “Do not be afraid, it is I, the First and the Last; 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 of Hades.”
Revelation 1:17-18 JB

Sunday, November 9, 2008

We would like to see Jesus

Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the Feast. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request.
“Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.”
John 12:20 NIV

For most church-going Christians, the main service on a Sunday is usually our only opportunity to hear the Word of God in the context of worship. This is a matter of the highest importance for the Orthodox Christian, because according to our belief, the Word of God can only be fully and correctly understood in the context of worship. That’s why Orthodoxy has two primary meanings to us, right-thinking, and right-worshipping.

For any Christian who goes to church, the main service is where you go “to see Jesus,” or as Bonhoeffer puts it, to bring yourself to a place “where faith is possible.” In many churches, the proclamation of the good news, the gospel, consists either in a combination of bible readings and a sermon, or a sermon alone containing a series of bible texts along with their explanation. In either case, the preacher must realize what great responsibility he has to show the people Jesus, and how brief a time he has to do that.


This morning at Aghía Triás, where I go to church, the scripture texts were Galatians 2:16-20 and Luke 8:41-56. As an added bonus, we were commemorating Nektarios of Ægina, a recent “canonized” saint famous for his gift of healing, especially cancer. The message of the Galatians portion can be summed up in verse 21 which was not read, “If the law can justify us, there is no point in the death of Christ.” The gospel reading was the story of the woman with the hemorrhage, and the raising to life of the dead daughter of Jairus, a Jewish synagogue official. The final verse of the Luke portion was “Her parents were astonished, but He ordered them not to tell anyone what had happened.”

Well, as it turns out, our preacher this morning listened to Jesus’ instructions, and didn’t tell us anything about the raising of Jairus’ daughter, or even enlighten us further on what holy apostle Paul wrote about the place of the law in a Christian’s life. No, he didn’t preach anything as homely as that. Instead, we were treated to a session on self-realization, finding out who we really are, and then sticking to our guns through thick and thin, no matter what people might think of us.

What did I learn from the sermon? A lot of things, actually.
Our preacher has been to Greece, where he tried to buy an iced coffee milk at a kiosk, but ended up asking the woman if he could sell her a cup of coffee. Bad Greek!
He also was at the school in Athens that Nektarios, the saint of the day, had once directed. While there, he was attacked by a giant cockroach just as we was beginning to pray at a proskynitárion (prayer station). Bad bug!


When he finally finished his stories and started preaching, we were treated to a profound verse from the poet Hafiz, “of the Muslim tradition,” who wrote that we should have our chairs pulled out from under us, so that we could fall on God, and find out who we really are. Amazing!
I didn’t know that Islam had so much to offer us Christian Orthodox.


From there, the sermon led us onwards and upwards to the feet of Nektarios the saint. Not mentioning anything, really, about the saint’s life of intercession for the sick, our preacher told the story of Nektarios from a political angle, how he was the promising successor to Patriarch Sophronios II of Alexandria but through court gossip and slander was demoted and exiled, even though “the people of Alexandria loved him.” Nektarios showed his mettle, though, in being himself, knowing who he really was, and wasn’t bothered in the least by his wrongful dumping by the patriarch. He went to head the school in Athens. Later, he quietly ordained the first two Greek Orthodox deaconesses in modern times, an abbess and a nun from a convent that he was in charge of. He actually took them “into the altar,” where women must not go according to church rules, and ordained them, putting the deacon’s vestments on them and everything. Of course, that got him in trouble, but he didn’t care, and he didn’t back down. He was right, and the church of those days was wrong. This happened long before any other churches were ordaining women to the ministry.

As far as I could tell—and I was listening to the preacher while praying the psalms as I often do during sermons—the message our preacher decided to use his precious twenty minutes with us per week on, was that (1) we should discover who we really are, (2) follow whatever we know is right, (3) stand our ground and (4) not back down in the face of opposition from the world. Nektarios was an example of that. Hafiz demonstrates that even the Muslims do as much. Did I get the message right? I hope so.

But what I really wanted to hear was Jesus’ word to me today.
And maybe I did!

Towards the end of his sermon, the preacher took us back to the gospel account. He encouraged us with the words that Jesus spoke to Jairus, “Do not be afraid, only trust…” So that’s what it all boils down to, trust. And I thought to myself, and asked again my old question, “But whom do you trust?”

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Who needs eternal life?

The institutional manifestation of the Church that pretty much all Christians experience is essentially stuck in a world view that is completely anachronistic; hence, rendering their witness to the world of marginal effect.

We have all inherited a form of church that comes from a world where everyone was "Christian" except the Jews and a few marginal unbelieving types or groups. That world has completely vanished, yet we cling to church structures (forms of ministry and real estate), activities (worship services and other programs), and modes of belief (religiosity, denominationalism) that allow the world of the present to marginalize us; hence, the supposition that we are in a post-Christian age.

None of this is to say that there are not churches or ministries that are alive in Christ and effective vehicles of the good news, but unless you set your expectations very low, such churches are few and far between. The majority of churches maintain their congregations and next to nothing in terms of the commission to "make disciples of all nations." They just don't know how to do it, as institutions.

In my experience, it continues to be the individual Christian who is following the call of Jesus on a daily basis who is the primary witness for Christ. In the Orthodox Church, that is more or less how it is expected to be, but there is still a disconnect that often undercuts our personal evangelism: the growing attitude of clergy professionalism.

Once upon a time, and in some place even today, the thing that distinguished Orthodox clergy from those of other churches was their complete abandonment to Christ. This gave them the power and effectiveness to really anchor their churches, corporately and individually, in the Lord. Now, in the Greek church anyway, it is vanishing.

The Christian world has disappeared, and the world that has replaced it seems indifferent to the call of Christ, the need for salvation, and the claims of the institutional Church.

Just as modern man cannot face the fact of death but disguises it and distances himself from it as much as he can, he does the same with Christ, whom he knows about, sometimes knows a great deal about, and with the Church, which he cannot possibly understand from the outside. Yet human beings continue to be the same, in spite of their higher educational and cultural levels, their various attainments, and so on.

And while we debate, discuss and develop "new" and "relevant" ways to reach the lost of the new world, they are slipping away into the abyss, rejecting what or rather Who will give them eternal life, because they no longer even want it.

A nomad like all my ancestors

Psalms for the 8th Day
38 39 40 41 42 43


Psalm 39
The insignificance of man before God

I said, “I will watch how I behave,
and not let my tongue lead me into sin;
I will keep a muzzle on my mouth
as long as the wicked man is near me.”
I stayed dumb, silent, speechless,
though the sight of him thriving
made torment increase.

My heart had been smoldering inside me,
but it flared up at the thought of this
and the words burst out,
“Tell me, Yahweh, when my end will be,
how many days are allowed me,
show me how frail I am.

“Look, You have given me an inch or two of life,
my life-span is nothing to You;
each man that stands on earth is only a puff of wind,
every man that walks, only a shadow,
and the wealth he amasses is only a puff of wind—
he does not know who will take it next.”

So tell me, Lord, what can I expect?
My hope is in You.
Free me from all my sins,
do not make me the butt of idiots.
I am dumb, I speak no more,
since You Yourself have been at work.

Lay Your scourge aside,
I am worn out with the blows You deal me.
You punish man with the penalties of sin,
like a moth You eat away all that gives him pleasure—
man is indeed only a puff of wind!

Yahweh, hear my prayer,
listen to my cry for help,
do not stay deaf to my crying.

I am Your guest, and only for a time,
a nomad like all my ancestors.
Look away, let me draw breath,
before I go away and am no more!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Nicolaitans

I have had a new blog waiting in reserve for about a year, waiting for a sense of direction from the Lord on when to make it public. There is nothing really in it yet, just a placeholder, though I have several potential posts scattered among my unpublished writings. The blog Nicolaitans is different in purpose and content than this one, Cost of Discipleship, and I've sometimes published things in CoD that really belong to Nicolaitans. The post I am publishing here could very well be its first chapter, but I still don't have the direction to open it. I apologize in advance to any visitor to Cost of Discipleship for this departure from its mission, which is simply to encourage others to follow the call of Jesus in daily life.

No one knows for sure who the Nicolaitans were, or where they went, or what they morphed into, because history loses track of them early on. Probably they evolved into something we are very familiar with from early times till today, only we just don't recognize them because they've changed names. We do know some things about them that are recorded in holy apostle John the Revelator's transmission of the risen Christ's letters to the seven churches of Asia. We know that Christ loathes what the Nicolaitans are doing (Rev 2:6), and He considers those who accept what the Nicolaitans teach to be as bad as idolators (Rev 2:14-16). It does seem rather odd that of all the books of the Bible, only the book of Revelation is not read in any services of the Orthodox Church, even though it is the only book that contains the explicit promise, "Blessed is the man who reads [aloud] this prophecy, and blessed are those who listen to him, if they keep what it says." (Revelation 1:3)

In the November issue of Ðýnamis, our parish newsletter, there is a message from Fr. Paul Schroeder, entitled "Frankness" and Inclusive Language. This is how it starts out…

Recently, I have been reading a beautiful book that was recommended to me by my spiritual director entitled Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality, by Fr. Richard Rohr. Fr. Rohr says something very interesting about the language we use for God, specifically with regard to the use of gender-specific pronouns for God (i.e., He, Him, His, etc.). "We must recognize our extreme overreliance upon masculine images and words. God is clearly beyond gender. For the sake of many people who have been wounded by the masculine, and many who can only trust the feminine because of these wounds, we must also use feminine images for God—or many will never have access to the Divine."

Further on in his message, Fr. Schroeder tames down a bit after making references to "some of the great saints and teachers of our Church" who (he says) taught that it doesn't matter whether we call God "Father" or "Mother" because "every name equally indicates God's ineffable nature." He goes on to discuss the concept of boldness in prayer which no one can find fault with. Then he closes his message with this pious wish. "May God bring each one of us this encounter which is beyond words, beyond images whether masculine or feminine. to that place where there is only my "I" and God's "you." Mystical. Almost something a Sufi would say.

I want to address a few things in Fr. Schroeder's message publicly, to bring them to the attention of my fellow Orthodox and any other faithful Christians who may visit my blog.

Does Fr. Schroeder agree with what this Fr. Rohr writes? "We must recognize our extreme overreliance upon masculine images and words…" We are people of the Bible, the only Divine scriptures on earth, in which the Godhead is addressed as He, as Father, as Lord, as Messiah, as King, as Holy One, all masculine terms. Does Fr. Rohr think to correct God Himself, because maybe "many will never have access to the Divine"? Doesn't he believe that God already knew what ravages sin would cause in our human nature, and so the Word that He sent us was the best and most truthful saving Word for the healing of all nations, in all times?

"For the sake of many people who have been wounded by the masculine, and many who can only trust the feminine…" I ask, what is this supposed to mean? Even at the most basic level of discussion, what of the many people who have been wounded by the feminine? And do we have the right to tell God under what form we will trust Him? Christ, the God-Man, invites us to come to Him, to lay down our burdens at His feet, to trust Him, who is the Second Adam. What application can it have to say that God is beyond gender? I reiterate, we are people of the Bible, the only Divine scriptures on earth, in which the Godhead is addressed as He…"

Well, nevermind, it's rather useless to contradict people who know they're right, regardless of what the Bible says, because only the ignorant believe it and think it can be believed "as it is." I admit, I am one of those. But in case you don't know or haven't noticed, we are being infiltrated at every level by those who assume our outward forms, expressing their alien ideology in Orthodox sounding language, to pursue their agenda to conquer the people of God. This is what Nicolaitans do. This is what they are doing.

One more thing. We read Fr. Schroeder's words, and we hear his homilies every chance he gets to "preach" to us, and what he expresses is sometimes quite right, but at other times quite wrong. Do we ever wonder where he gets his ideas? It's easy to assume that a seminary graduate just knows his stuff. "Father says it, so it must be right." That's the usual Orthodox attitude, but I tell you, brethren, this is not what the Word of God, and even the Church fathers tell us. They warn us to check everything, to show ourselves rightly believing in the Truth that leads to salvation.


The verse that has always spoken to me is what holy apostle Paul writes to his co-laborer Timothy, and to us: "Remember who your teachers were." (2 Timothy 3:14) Actually, let's quote the passage in full. "You must keep to what you have been taught and know to be true; remember who your teachers were, and how, ever since you were a child, you have known the Holy Scriptures—from these you can learn the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus." (2 Timothy 3:14-15)

So, I ask again, where does Fr. Schroeder get his ideas?

For example, just who is this Fr. Richard Rohr, who Fr. Schroeder says was "recommended" to him by his "spiritual director?" Is he even Orthodox? As it turns out, he is not Orthodox, but Roman Catholic. "So what?" might be your response. Roman Catholics can write good spiritual books, and I agree, there have been some.
But what about Fr. Rohr?

I just typed "Fr. Richard Rohr" into Google, and the first reference that came up was this one: Priest: 'The boy always gets naked...' You can read for yourself this article written by a Roman Catholic journalist, but here is as much of an excerpt as I am willing to post…

Father Rohr is founder of New Mexico's new age facility 'Center for Action and Contemplation' which is most popular among Catholics promoting the homosexual lifestyle. At Father Rohr's center, retreatants are fed unorthodox instruction and false teachings. Father Rohr has been a dissenter of Humanae Vitae since its infallible promulgation by Pope Paul VI in 1968. The website of Soulforce, a homosexual advocacy group, carries a letter written by Father Rohr (dated 2000) supporting their mission. Father Bryce Sibley, S.T.L, a priest of the diocese of Lafayette, La., recently wrote a column refuting Father Rohr's dissent from magisterial teachings. Father Rohr is well known for his 'Wild Man Retreats' where men sometimes take their clothes off and touch each other in certain parts of their bodies — to release the demons.

To quote any more would verge on the obscene, but this is an author and authority that Fr. Schroeder is reading and presumably following, and passing on to us. As I said at the beginning of this long post, "we are being infiltrated at every level," and what else can I think, if an Orthodox spiritual director (or is he Orthodox? maybe not) recommends this to an Orthodox priest, who was appointed to our parish by an Orthodox bishop?

You know, though, what I have taught, how I have lived, what I have aimed at; you know my faith, my patience, and my love; my constancy and the persecutions and hardships that came to me in places like Antioch, Iconium and Lystra—all the persecutions I have endured; and the Lord has rescued me from every one of them. You are well aware, then. that anybody who tries to live in devotion to Christ is certain to be attacked; while these wicked imposters will go from bad to worse, deceiving others and deceived themselves. (2 Timothy 3:10-13)

Nicolaitans.

Man in his prosperity

As a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven, life on earth has taught me one consistent lesson which I have turned into a saying in my mind, "It's not when I find myself in trouble, but when I find everything going my way, that I feel afraid." This saying, of course, is just how Romanós expresses what he has ingested and internalized from the Word of God. "Alas for you when the world speaks well of you! This was the way their ancestors treated the false prophets." (Luke 6:26) "If the world hates you, remember that it hated Me before you. If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you do not belong to the world, because My choice withdrew you from the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the words I said to you: If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you too…" (John 15:18-20)

Elder Ephrem, a contemporary Greek monastic from Mount Athos, has written…

God loves us and through involuntary pain seeks to count us worthy to participate in His most perfect blessings. Unfortunately, we do not love our soul in a spiritual way. If we loved it we would endure trials of both soul and body without complaining, in order to attain the eternal blessings.

Pain softens the heart and removes its hardness. As the heart is softened in this manner, the ground is prepared for the sowing of genuine repentance and correction. We who are cowardly in every affliction chase away, so to speak, the grace of God.

When man is prospering, he cannot remember God, and if he remembers Him, it is only faintly. When affliction or pain approaches, he remembers Him vividly and with fervor, then he prays most ardently. And our holy God is pleased with this, just as a mother is pleased when her child seeks her with heartfelt pain, for in this she discerns love.

No matter how man is tried, he always benefits when he shows the corresponding patience and gratitude during the trial. This is revealed at the end of the trial, when he sees the lightness of his soul, the clarity of his mind, and the sweetness that comes to his inner self.

Man in his prosperity forfeits intelligence:
he is one with the cattle doomed to slaughter.
Psalm 49:20
Jerusalem Bible