Friday, May 29, 2009

Anger and forgiveness

I have been angry—at myself, at other people, at situations—and sometimes I have acted out the anger in emotional outbursts, foolish words, hurtful words. Strangely, I have never experienced what I have heard from others, anger at God. Maybe it’s because of my upbringing—I don’t know—but He could never be an object of my anger, because He always ends up being the only comforting bosom to which I can flee when everyone and all else fails me.

What has angered me most in the past was false accusation, whether it was explicit or concealed under sarcasm directed against me, such as being made to feel inferior or stupid by someone whom I really care about, when I’m only trying to help them. The other person may have a weakness in a certain area, so you usually skirt by and stay clear of such situations to avoid displays of this weakness. Sometimes you have to take a risk, though, and see if they’ve learned to overcome it, or if they at least can show some patience with you. You take the risk, but sometimes you lose. You know that they were just tired, frustrated, or unhappy with things, as anyone can be, and so you just withdraw without any reaction. You still feel hurt, but then reason kicks in and reminds you that they meant you no harm. You know that the incident, and all the pain, will be swallowed up by just saying “Yes” to whatever the Lord asks you to do next.

Apologizing for expressions of anger, whether they arose out of righteous indignation or emotional weakness, is a given; yet, you may find yourself having to live with people who still have not learned how to say “excuse me” honestly.

I thought, in my family life for example, that by always being ready to apologize, not just for anger, but for anything for which an apology might be due, and by actually apologizing, even when I believed I was “in the right” in order to defuse a situation—I thought this example would have a good effect. I was wrong. My way of dealing with confrontation was seen as a form of cowardice and weakness. That disappointed me because, again, it was a kind of false accusation against me, and I thought ‘my behavior all these years has been misinterpreted.’ When I found out what they actually thought about me, I was hurt, and even angry, but there was nothing to be gained by resentment. It’s still always better to forgive than to deceive.

So I still believe that to apologize for oneself and for others comes not from weakness, but from strength, and also from love. It doesn’t matter what other people, even our loved ones, think of us, because we know that we answer to a higher Authority.

“Anyone who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and any one who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me…” (Matthew 10:37)

I could not have done, nor can I do anything, different from what I did and continue to do, to always be ready to make peace and admit my fault, even to cover up another person’s sin, and if I do become angry, to lay that anger at the feet of the One whom I follow, not out of a sense of duty, but out of love and gratitude for His forgiveness.

There is no better word than to always follow Jesus and imitate Him to the best of your ability at every age and in every situation, and if it pleases God that your friends and family members respect you for it, and even follow your example, then praise God; and if they misinterpret your motives and your actions, and even if they reject you, then praise God, and do not stop following the Master. He is always there for us, always faithful to welcome us into His presence and, ultimately, into His Kingdom.

“O taste and see that the Lord is good.”

Let us be debtors, then…

The Church as it has existed at least from the times of the late Roman Empire under Constantine has manifested on earth both as “a mystery with structure” and a “structure with mystery.” She seems to fluctuate between these two poles, which are inversions of each other.

A mystery with structure—that is, a mystery (the presence of God among us and all that it produces) with structure (visible activity, real estate, hierarchy, dogmatic decrees)—this is the pole that reflects the Lord’s teaching,
“Set your hearts on God’s kingdom first and His righteousness, and all these other things will be added as well.” (Matthew 6:33, paraphrased)

A structure with mystery—that is, a structure (professionalism and legalism among us and all that it produces) with mystery (clergy privilege, laity subjection, sanctimonious activity and false religion)—this is the pole that reflects the Lord’s warning, “I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber.” (John 10:1 NIV, see also the rest of the passage, John 10:1-10)

This morning I found an excellent quotation from an Orthodox Church father, one who knows what he is talking about, and this is what prompted my thoughts above.

A man who takes pride in natural abilities—I mean cleverness, the ability to learn, skill in reading, good diction, quick grasp, and all such skills as we possess without having to work for them—this man, I say, will never receive blessings in heaven, since the man who is unfaithful in little is unfaithful and vainglorious in much.

And there are men who wear out their bodies to no purpose in the pursuit of total dispassion, heavenly treasures, miracle working, and prophetic ability, and the poor fools do not realize that humility, not hard work, is the mother of such things. The man who seeks a quid pro quo from God builds on uncertainty, whereas the man who considers himself a debtor will receive sudden and unexpected riches.

—John Klímakos

I think that what John of the Ladder (Klímakos) is talking about applies particularly to those who seek to serve Christ in the Church as ordained ministers. It goes without saying that the same observations apply to all of us, but in the case of the clergy, it has far more critical significance. His first paragraph reminds me of some Orthodox clergy, and his second paragraph reminds me of the faith healer type Pentecostals you see on television. The first group are so often carried away by the eloquence and seeming relevance of their own words, that they imagine themselves “lords of the whole world.” The second group reaches the same conclusion about themselves, based on the efficacy of their miracle-working powers.

Those who are called to serve the people of God as shepherds must have only one purpose, to follow their Lord and Master Jesus Christ, and to tend His flock as they see Him tending it. Or, as John of the Ladder so aptly put it in a biblical metaphor, “the man who considers himself a debtor will receive sudden and unexpected riches,” that is, he not only plants the seed of salvation in the hearts of the people, but he is thereby assured of his own salvation as well.

A man ought to be very solicitous as to his salvation, for if the whole world were full of men even up to the clouds, if that were possible, and among all these none was to be saved but only one, yet each should follow up his grace so that he might be that one, for to lose heaven is not to lose a shoestring. But woe to us! There is one who giveth and there is none who receiveth.

—Brother Giles of Assisi

The ways of the Affectionate

I cannot pass these words by without leaving at least a trace of them for visitors to my blog. They are from a homily posted by Fr Milovan on his blog Again and Again. To read the entire homily, click here. In the excerpt below, I have made a few corrections to spelling and grammar. Otherwise, it is presented here as it is (italics added).

…If He is the beauty that is within you, then He must have passed by your world. He set it alive within you and through you. The world has no existence without you, it does not exist apart from you. The world is your quadrant and you are its playground. Your world is printed, in its magnitude, on the face of God. Since this world is His creation, it will remain forever after He has baptized it, in the Last Day, in His global and eternal Light. It shall remain united in its matter, mind and light all together.
The world will become your Lord’s vestment upon the Second Coming of Christ.

Starting from this vision, Christianity is then knit into history and rooted in eternity at the same time, global and covering the universe with light; Christianity is responsible in time but free from its bondage. It is present in matter and motivates this matter with the motion of the spirit. That is why Christianity does not withraw from the flow of time just for the sake of a “romantic” eternity, nor does it passively stand like a viewer watching the course of events as if it were independent of human beings.

The believer doesn’t escape to a desert—not even if it became his hermitage—for he will have the whole world in his heart and prayers. Someone of us may seek solitude for peace and tranquility’s sake, but he has never deserted. His profoundness will become deeper as he stands in the divine presence.

The world is entirely included in Christ’s salvation plan.
Everything in the world is His dearly beloved with the exception of sin. Everything in it is attracted to heaven. Our mind is attracted towards heaven as far as this mind is awake, loving and hugging existence. But never in a way that we shall detest all the good in our world, not in a way that we should become indifferent to the construction, improvement and organizing of the world.

We can never say that this world ascends through its own powers, nor does this world progress automatically towards the better.
But we do preach that God elevates humans, surrounding them with His loving care.

The world is elevated and does not ascend by itself.
It struggles, and God accepts it and pulls it up to Himself. He, who is sitting up on high in His Bright Body, opens up and embraces him who is longing for Him.

After the Ascension of Christ, tomorrow the universe, in its turn, will be received up. These are the ways of the Affectionate.

—Metropolitan George (Khodr) of Mount Lebanon

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Unfinished mystery

Aνάληψις – Análipsis – Ascent [to the Father]

“Why are you men from Galilee standing here looking into the sky? Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven, this same Jesus will come back in the same way you have seen Him go there.”
Acts 1:11 Jerusalem Bible

The people of Yisrael, believing the words of their nevi’im, the prophets, held to the view that Moshiach, the messiah, existed and would be manifested as two distinct individuals, named by them Moshiach ben Yossef, and Moshiach ben David. It did not occur to them that these two types of messiah might be the same person. They didn’t think so then, they don’t think so now.

According to a modern rabbi, “Jewish tradition speaks of two redeemers, each one called Moshiach. Both are involved in ushering in the Messianic era. They are Moshiach ben David and Moshiach ben Yossef. The term Moshiach unqualified always refers to Moshiach ben David of the tribe of Judah. He is the actual (final) redeemer who shall rule in the Messianic age. Moshiach ben Yossef of the tribe of Ephraim will come first, before the final redeemer, and later will serve as his viceroy. The essential task of Moshiach ben Yossef is to act as precursor to Moshiach ben David: He will prepare the world for the coming of the final redeemer.”

That is modern Jewish thinking about the messiah, Him whom we know as Christ, who is Jesus son of Joseph, of Nazareth. At the time when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea, these views about Moshiach were not yet fully formed. As for myself, I am no sage, not one learned in Torah and the traditions of Yisrael, and I do not presume to teach, but only to report what I have heard, and that is, that the taking up of Jesus in power to sit at the right hand of His Father is an unfinished mystery. Even a child knows this, “what goes up must come down.”

If we believe that He is risen from the dead, that He lives forever, that He has been taken up and is interceding for us to the Father, then we also must believe that He “will come back in the same way” that He was taken up.

At the time the Holy One appeared, the Jews believed in two messiahs.

Messiah son of Joseph was the suffering servant as holy prophet Isaiah foresaw. He would be born of woman, of the tribe of Ephraim, born in a known place. They would know where He came from. He would come to teach, to suffer and to die for the sins of many. He would not come to inaugurate the subjugation of the whole world to Israel.

Messiah son of David was the mighty conqueror, as holy prophet David the king foresaw and sang about in his psalms. He would not be born of woman, but was nevertheless called the son of David. They would not know where He came from, because He would come with the armies of heaven, with the host of Yahweh. He would not come to teach or to suffer, and He would not die. He would come to initiate the supremacy of Israel and of Jerusalem. He would be the King of the world, forever and ever.

Two messiahs, and which one would the people have?
Being in subjection to their Roman overlords, could they be expected to want Moshiach ben Yossef to appear?

As one of them answered “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” when he was told, “We have found the One Moses wrote about in the Law, the One about whom the prophets wrote: He is Jesus son of Joseph, from Nazareth!” so was the expectation of most of the Jews of that time.

They wanted not the suffering servant; they had suffered enough! Maybe, some of them thought, they were themselves collectively Moshiach ben Yossef. They didn’t want someone ordinary, born of woman like everyone else, and like everyone else, born to suffer and to die. No, they wanted the conqueror, born of no woman, therefore undying, the hero of whom David wrote,

“He has told me, ‘B’ni atta… You are my Son, today I have become your Father. Ask, and I will give you the nations for your heritage, the end of the earth for your domain.’”

But no, things did not happen as the Jews desired. Not Messiah son of David, the unborn, from heaven, ever-living, ever-reigning, came or could come, not before Messiah son of Joseph. No one is stronger than God. No one can alter His plans. No one can know them, unless He reveal them.

What of today? Does anyone, Jew or gentile, want the Messiah son of David to appear? A handful of religious fanatics, maybe, some Jewish, some Christian, and maybe some wild-eyed Muslims who have transferred the attributes of Messiah son of David to a mythical being whom they call the Mahdi or the Tenth Imam.

No, the world doesn’t want someone like Moshiach ben David to appear.

Why? Well, to put it bluntly, His coming would spoil all their plans, would just trash all the good things they have in store for mankind, as their unofficial anthem declares… “Imagine there's no heaven, it's easy if you try. No hell below us, above us only sky. Imagine all the people, living for today. Imagine there's no countries, it isn't hard to do. Nothing to kill or die for, and no religion too. Imagine all the people, living life in peace...”

No, what the world wants now, if it must have a messiah of some sort, is someone like Moshiach ben Yossef, someone born of woman like everyone else, someone whom they know where he comes from, who will be longsuffering, patient and (especially) tolerant.

No, he needn’t die for anyone, of course. That would be barbaric.
But we could let him be the figurehead, the symbol of all the we have accomplished, the lord of our tower that reaches up to heaven…

Yet here we have this unfinished mystery, the mystírion of the análipsis of the Christ, which many mouth as true, yet live their lives as if He did not really die for them, did not really rise from the dead, and did not really ascend to the Father.

How should we live if we really believed all these mysteries?
If we really believed in the unfinished mystery of our redemption?
If we really believed that “He shall come again in glory, to judge the living and the dead, Whose Kingdom shall have no end?”

Aνάληψις - Análipsis

Although Mark closes his gospel with a brief mention of it, Luke reports it twice, once in greater detail, writing to Theóphilos both times. Perhaps Theóphilos was intrigued with what he read in the evangélion and wanted to know more, so Luke obliged him in the opening words of his book of the acts of the apostles, the práxeis.

It was angels, not men, who gave its name to this other most hidden mystírion of the Lord Jesus, when they said to the disciples who were looking up in awe, “Why are you men from Galilee standing here looking into the sky? Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven, οὗτος ὁ Ἰησοῦς ὁ ἀναληφθεὶς ἀφ’ὑμῶν εἰς τὸν οὐρανὸν,
this same Jesus will come back in the same way you have seen Him go there.”

ὁ ἀναληφθεὶς—o analiphtheís, he who has been taken up—the source of the name of this mystery—ἡ ἀνάληψις—i análipsis, the Ascension.

“Will wonders never cease?” was probably the cynical retort of unbelievers when the holy apostles and the Lord’s mother came running back into town with the news. Wasn’t it enough that these dreamers, racked with grief, had made up the tale of the rising from the dead of the imposter? Now this!

The words of the Son of Man had circumcised the ears of those who would listen, preparing them for the blood atonement that He was to suffer and offer to His heavenly Father, sprinkling them with it, as Moses had sanctified the children of Yisrael in the wilderness, only this time, not figuratively, but in spirit and truth.

The deeds of the Son of Man had unthroned the worthy in their own eyes and restored to favor in the eyes of His Father those of low estate, those the others called unworthy, people like His own mother and brothers.

No, O world of men! Neither His rising from the dead nor this, His ascent into heaven to be seated at the right hand of Divine Majesty, are lies. Christ is risen from the dead, not merely was raised, but is risen, He who speaks to us now and always, who was, who is, and who is to come, the Pantokrátor, He who was dead but is alive, and alive forever.

“Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven, this same Jesus will come back in the same way you have seen Him go there,” just as the angels told us.

His ascent to the Father did not inaugurate an absence, but a hidden presence—hidden from the eyes of the world, but revealed to all who trust in Him as an abiding presence, to all who believe His word,

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me.
Go therefore, make disciples of all the nations; baptise them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you.
And know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.”

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

But dust and ashes

“Nevertheless as coming the tokens, behold, the days shall come, that they which dwell upon earth shall be taken in a great number, and the way of truth shall be hidden, and the land shall be barren of faith. But iniquity shall be increased above that which you now see, or that you have heard long ago. And the land, that you now see to have root, you shall see wasted suddenly. But if the most High grant you to live, you shall see after the third trumpet that the sun shall suddenly shine again in the night, and the moon thrice in the day: And blood shall drop out of wood, and the stone shall give his voice, and the people shall be troubled: And even he shall rule, whom they look not for that dwell upon the earth, and the fowls shall take their flight away together: And the Dead Sea shall cast out fish, and make a noise in the night, which many have not known: but they shall all hear the voice thereof. There shall be a confusion also in many places, and the fire shall be oft sent out again, and the wild beasts shall change their places, and menstruous women shall bring forth monsters: And salt waters shall be found in the sweet, and all friends shall destroy one another; then shall wit hide itself, and understanding withdraw itself into his secret chamber, And shall be sought of many, and yet not be found: then shall unrighteousness and incontinency be multiplied upon earth. One land also shall ask another, and say, ‘Is righteousness that makes a man righteous gone through you?’ And it shall say, ‘No.’ At the same time shall men hope, but nothing obtain: they shall labour, but their ways shall not prosper. To show you such tokens I have permission; and if you will pray again, and weep as now, and fast even days, you shall hear yet greater things.”
2 Esdras 5:1-13 (Apocrypha)

And the angel took me along the road in my dream, and there on the side of the road was a little pile of muck, of mud mixed with ashes, and I asked, "What is that?" And the angel answering, replied, "That is the true appearance of one who calls himself Romanos, who is planted like dung on the side of the road." At his saying of those words, I awoke with the plea on my lips, "Lord, forgive me, for I am but dust and ashes."

I remembered, and I went to find this prayer in my bible.
It was at Genesis 18:27.

Then Abraham answered and said, “Indeed now, I who am but dust and ashes have taken it upon myself to speak to the Lord…

And I remembered my dream, and I saw the reality: without the Lord, I am nothing, and less than nothing, but as He breathed life into the clay image He had fashioned and brought forth Adam, so has He in His mercy brought me forth, and that is not to be despised.
And I read on.

Suppose there were five less than the fifty righteous; would You destroy all of the city for lack of five?” So He said, “If I find there forty-five, I will not destroy it.”

And I realised, if His mercy has been granted to me, who am but dust and ashes, for what purpose was His mercy granted, if not for me to intercede for sinners, to ask for the mercy He showed me to be shown them, which is no more than "the law and the prophets," as the Lord has spoken.

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said to him, “ ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
Matthew 20:36-40

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Reading between the lines

This afternoon it just occurred to me that I learn more from other people and more about them by listening closely to what they don’t say rather than by listening to what they do. Of course, I don’t mean that that’s my starting point, or that I learn by listening to them when they’re not speaking at all—that would be absurd. They have to speak, or write, and it’s by hearing or reading their words that I also learn from what they don’t express. I suppose that’s the plain meaning of “reading between the lines,” and so I’m not claiming to have received some kind of revelation. But I just now realized how much of my thinking about other people and the world around me comes from this kind of listening, and I wonder if the same is true of me, that people learn more from me and about me in the same way.

It seems to me that real life is actually lived “between the lines” of our visible existence. That’s where we are, that’s where the Lord is, and that’s where we meet Him, and that place we carry about with us as we move through the world.

Could it be that this is why we feel at home nowhere
and yet can be happy everywhere?
Is it because the Lord our God is with us
in a manner that cannot be taken away?

Glory to You, O God, glory to You!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Getting decorated

Scenario. A young professional woman, an engineer, works overseas for two or three years to “get her feet wet,” really wet, after graduating from school. She is a Christian. She’s been brought up that way by church-going parents. She is a product of white, mainline Protestant America, did all the right things, and made a career for herself that she can fall back on when, after marriage and the kids past infancy, she can work again at a job that she likes and that pays well.

Her time at the foreign firm is up, and it’s time to head home to America, the bread basket of the world, where along with wheat, broad evangelical piety is also the export. While she was working, she must have made an impression on the people she worked with and got to know. Aware of it or not, they’ve been watching her round the clock, taking stock of her every word, every move.

They noticed when she went along with them to a pub and socialized. They saw her gathering herself up on the weekends to go to church services. They didn’t go, of course, but she went, to hang out with those religious folks that they liked to keep at arm’s length. But that was okay with them, as long as she didn’t ask them to go too, because she knew how to drink a hearty ale with the best of them.

Now it was time to bid farewell, and they presented her with a gold cross on a necklace as a going away gift. Very nice of them, that they appreciated her and wanted her to know just how much. It was no mere trinket, and besides, it let her know what they thought of her, and her religion. They were right to think she’d like it—probably something she wanted to get herself, but never did.
They noticed her neck was bare.

People have many ways of keeping, not sin but, God at arm’s length. The usual way is by ignoring Him, but if pushed they might push back. They even have figured out ways to bribe Him to stay out of their lives. They do “good deeds” and become “good deed doers.” They run marathons to raise money for breast cancer research. They buy Girl Scout cookies, so girls can go on outings together. They volunteer for “Meals on Wheels” and deliver canned goods to the Food Bank.

People even have ways to reward God for staying out of their lives. One of the ways is by patronizing His devotees. It always amazes me how lavish is the Portland community’s praise of the Greek Festival hosted every year by my church, Aghía Triás. They just love us, and they reward us by spending tens of thousands of dollars at the festival every year. As for them, they love us because we keep our mouths shut about Jesus. As for us, we think we deserve their support for, after all, we are Christ’s people, and our Church, the light of the world.

So her co-workers gave a gold cross on a chain to decorate her for keeping out of their lives, and staying in her own. Christians are welcome as long as they’re not blabbing about God, constantly disrupting the lives and comfort of the people around them.

It goes even deeper. If you let your following of Christ, not your religion, direct you in your day-to-day affairs at home, at school, or in the workplace, even without speaking the Word of God to anyone, people will notice, and they may even reward you like they rewarded the young lady in the story—or they may give you the hatchet, as they have to many friends of mine, and even to me. You just never know what the world’s denizens will do with you.
But either way, they’re still holding you, and ultimately Christ, at arm’s length, so as not to be infected by your disease, pleased to wish you farewell, before they lose any more madmen to sanity, or swine to drowning.

So those who fed the swine fled, and they told it in the city and in the country. And they went out to see what it was that had happened. Then they came to Jesus, and saw the one who had been demon-possessed and had the legion, sitting and clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. And those who saw it told them how it happened to him who had been demon-possessed, and about the swine. Then they began to plead with Him to depart from their region.
Mark 5:14-17

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Extra-terrestrial visitors?

It's about time that some extra-terrestrial visitors took a peek at my unworthy blog!

I was surprised just now to see that my 91st different country showed up yesterday, flag and country unknown because they came through a satellite provider. Right clicking on Unknown - Satellite Provider brought up this inset image of what looks like an Orthodox icon-decorated passageway in a vessel or ship of some kind, maybe an orbiting space craft?

I was thrilled to see that even extra-terrestrials, owned by no flag, are now visiting my humble blog!
Left-click the image to zoom for a closeup.

My message to them, if they visit again…

Dear Orthodox space voyagers,
If you happen to have a spare bunk in your ship, I would be very happy to join you as you go carrying the good news of Jesus Christ risen from the dead to other worlds. I don't eat much, and I'm quite adaptable to any diet. I speak, read and understand several earth languages, and I'm eager to learn more, especially Old Solar, if that is still the prevalent koiné of the universe. Perhaps you could use a cabin boy? My physical body is only 58 earth years old, and I workout on a bowflex, so I can still hop to any task.

I'll be watching for you and, as I said, I would be pleased to join your team, as there is nothing better or more rewarding in this life than to serve the Lord—my feet are ready and shod with the preparation of the gospel. My only caveat is, if the Lord Himself should return before you pick me up, He's actually my First Choice, and He's due to arrive on earth any day now, as scripture says, "for the Time is close."
(Revelation 1:3)

ἁ ρ π α γ η σ ό μ ε θ αἐ νν ε φ έ λ α ι ς

Under construction

It was a wonderful thing for me to experience, little by little, the construction of a new Orthodox church in my city a few years back.

For many years, during the pan-Orthodox season of Sarakostí, my family and I would visit Saint George's Antiochian Orthodox Christian church for mid-week service and the free supper afterwards. The service was on the main floor of their tiny Protestant missionary meeting hall, and the supper was served in the equally tiny church basement, where the tables were fitted so snuggly that the experience of being enveloped by an almost suffocating love followed us wherever we went. It was wonderful!

Finally, though, the congregation finally took the risky step of faith to build a new and authentic Orthodox temple on some land on the east edge of town. I used to drive past the building site on a regular basis to see how the construction was progressing.

Then, the temple was "finished" being built. At least it had the shell completed, the windows put in, and the most essential interior parts in place, the iconostasis, the baptismal font. The congregation "took possession" and worship of the Lord began. The walls and pillars and ceiling were pure white, no icons anywhere except on the iconostasis and a few other places, small icons hanging in their frames. I used to bring people to Saint George's and tell them, "We are privileged to see a baby Orthodox church, just fresh and new in its white garments. Soon, the icons will begin to be painted on the walls and ceiling. But now, we see what a new-born temple looks like. Before long, generations of pious Christians will fill these white walls with images of the Lord and His saints. Remember how it all began."

That was some years ago. When you enter the temple now, it is beautiful to see how the walls have filled up with icons of the resurrection, the baptism of Christ, and the platytera "wider than the heavens" icon of Mary with Jesus in her lap. It is no longer a baby Orthodox church; it's growing up. There will be more years to fill the still empty walls here and there, but now the church just feels "new", not "newborn." I wish I had photos to share in this post of the church under construction, but I don't. So, I have used some images found on the internet of a new church under construction in Serbia.

This post is not really about a church under construction. It is about a soul under construction, an Orthodox soul. Rarely are we in a position to view the workings of God on the soul of a person being drawn to Christ and mentored by Him, but the internet window of blogging allows us sometimes to view a soul under construction. (Actually all of us are souls under construction, and our blogs reveal this!)

I invite you, brethren, to visit the blog of a new brother whom I have met through the internet, and you will read there things that will make you give glory to God, "who alone does marvels." Christ our God is drawing together His flock from all corners of the earth, so let us praise Him. Christ is risen! Christ is in our midst!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Witness

God is one, and God is sovereign. No one can dispute that. On that everyone who even thinks about God can agree. Those who know God as well as think about Him can add even more details. God is forgiving. God is merciful. Those who follow God as well as know Him can add yet more. God is among us. God has pitched His tent among us. God is love.

What kind of witnesses are we? Do we witness for the God we think about? Or about the God we know? Or about the God we follow? What? Am I being presumptuous in assuming that all of us witness? Some of us don’t think it’s proper to witness, to “get in other people’s faces about religion” because that’s a private matter? Well, I’m afraid I have to disagree on two counts: All of us do witness, and religion is not a private matter.

What do I mean by saying “all of us do witness”?

You can’t hide what’s inside you, as hard as you try, whether what you have inside is clean or dirty, wise or foolish, faithful or careless, whether you are full or empty. Hence, if you don’t believe in God, it shows, and if you do believe, it also shows.

But what is that belief?
An intellectual assent to mere ideas?
A fussy following of traditions?
A braggadocious and cynical otherworldliness?
Or is it, hopefully, based on what the scriptures refer to as faith, that is, trust in the living God?

If your belief is that, it cannot be like any of the other types of “belief” I just mentioned.

We witness all the time whether we speak or keep silence. It’s evident in the flow of our daily life and activity, the way we interact with others, whether they are Christians or not, Jews or not, Muslims or not, Hindus or not, Buddhists or not. Do we treat all of them with the same respect, whether they are of our fold or not?

Why did I include these other groups, even though I am a Christian? Do I think all paths are the same?

No, there may be many paths, but there is only one Way, and that is Jesus. Out of respect for those who seek the God that is the One, the Living, who revealed Himself to the prophets of Israel and finally and fully only in Jesus the Christ. Out of trust in the words of my Master that “he who seeks shall find,” and hoping that they who seek are doing just that, and not merely play acting.

So, we all witness, whether we intend to or not. As for religion being a private matter, I recant. I was wrong. Religion is a private matter, as private as our fantasies. Religion is what we make God out to be when we do not seek Him with our whole heart. Religion is that net we make in which we hope in vain to capture the big Fish, for He cannot be captured, though He can capture us. Religion is being satisfied with approaching God through a veil, so we don’t have to see His face or hear His voice.

Yes, religion is a private matter.

But as for Jesus, He came to His own, and His own received Him not.

Why? Because they were out fishing for God with their nets, half-knowing He could not be caught. They were satisfied to let one man approach the Holy One by passing through the veil, so they did not have to. They would rather say to themselves, “Love the Lord with all your heart…” because they knew it was safe to do so, because they knew He was somewhere “up there,” because they didn’t really believe in the prophet, who called Him, “God among us,” Immanu-El.

I was just thinking what it will look like someday when a young man in love with God, the One, the Living, Him who is among us, is ready to go out and, following Jesus, gather His lambs from among the people who walk in the darkness of al-Islam. His witness will come out of a heart that does not just think about God, does not just know Him, but actually follows Him step by step. He will be like the Pied Piper who, after luring the rats of Hamelin to their deaths in the river, then led the children of the unrepentant and stingy townspeople through the Gateway into the Mountain, to Paradise.

We know that Mountain. It is called Golgotha, and we know where that Gateway leads.

Again and again…

…because the truth never changes.

All praise for every good thing belongs to God alone, because it is Only He that prepares us for every good work and gives us the means to do the work.

If my actions and love for anyone can teach any lesson, it should be this: The Kingdom of God has already begun, even here on earth while we are alive and waiting for Jesus to come in glory.

The proof that we are the Church, His Body, is that He is among us even now, as the Risen Christ, and if we believe this, we will see Him walking among us and hear His voice speaking. Then, all we have to do is follow Him every day, and do the work we see Him doing, and speak the words we hear Him speak.

This seems like a mystery, but really, it is also quite practical.
Holy apostle Paul says that the mystery is Christ among us, that gives us the strength to do every good work.
We are still the Early Christians, and we can keep living as they lived, even now.

Love one another as I have loved you, says the Lord Jesus, and no greater love is there but for a man to lay down his life for his friends. Jesus is not asking us to lay down our lives and die for Him, not yet anyway, but we can at least be kind to one another, and help each other whenever we can.

If God provides the means, we do the work. If He withdraws the means, then we stop working, and wait for Him to move again, and wherever He goes, we follow.

No worry, no anxiety.

Why? Because it is not we who are working, giving, suffering, loving, being patient, being generous, being helpful, no, it is not us, but Christ in us.

Again, as holy apostle Paul calls it, the mystery of Christ among you. So, it is not I, but Christ living in me.

You are called to this very same kind of life, but it is not your job to try to make yourself into what you think God wants. All you have to do is follow closely behind Him, and you will begin to change into His image, as you do what you see Him doing. It is the easiest thing in the world to do.

That's why Jesus says, "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure. Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:25-26, 28-30 NIV)

Yes, and pray for Romanos the sinner.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Source

We all have this experience. There is something that we could do, something that we think we really want to do, something we’ve never done before but thought about, that we know, if we did it, something would change irreversibly forever.

In most cases, these are probably good things, but sometimes they are things that are not good (we know they deviate from the true north of our moral compass), but in either case, if we did them, we know for sure that something would change irreversibly forever.

The moment of decision and the moment of action are usually so close, when we choose to act, that we can almost justifiably look back and say, “it was done in a fit of passion,” and thereby try to alleviate the blame, if the act was an bad one, or if it seemed good at the time but later produced bad fruits.

On a micro scale, this process of choice-decision-act is happening to us all the time, and we scarcely notice the effects. As the scale of cause and effect increases, we become more aware of the intentionalism and realism of the process. At the top of the scale, though few are aware of it, there is going to be one action which, if we take it, will change one thing irreversibly forever, and catastrophically.

The irony of this one action is that, in the desiring of it resides the source of all the moral energy that we have, all the energy that is in us for good, to achieve good things, to desire good acts, ultimately to do the one truly good act, to believe in God and in Jesus Christ whom He has sent. To refrain from committing this one act makes all other acts possible; to commit it, renders all other acts useless.

For all its other meanings, the account in Genesis 2 and 3 has this meaning. Our first parents Adam and Eve were given as food the fruit of every tree in the garden of paradise which God created, except for the fruit of one of two very special trees.

The tree of life, whose fruit they were permitted, of all the other trees in the garden, not only nourished them physically, but also spiritually—by eating the fruit of this tree, they would never die. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil, its twin in being specially created, was the only tree in paradise the fruit of which was absolutely forbidden to them as food. They must not eat of its fruit. They could see it, they might touch it (though they probably dare not), but of its fruit they must not eat.

Though they might desire it, with or without the help of the tempter, they must not eat of it, else they would die. Something would change irreversibly forever. It was in the desiring of it, while not partaking of it—in the single-hearted obedience to the word spoken in their ears by their Creator—that resided the source of all the moral energy that they had, all the energy that was in them for good.

That was how He had created them. Nothing He created was meaningless or just for show. No word of His spoken to them, or to us, at any time, has ever been only to dominate us or to rule over us, to show us who is in charge. He does not need to do that. We know who we are, who He is, instinctively, just as we instinctively know wrong from right, darkness from light. We are not blind.

No, He created Adam and Eve this way, and paradise with its two special trees, and spoke the one commandment, to reveal to them and to us how reality works, and what our part in reality is. It’s not merely a story, but the revelation of the nature of all that is, against the learning of all that is not.

In the children’s book by C. S. Lewis, The Magician’s Nephew, there is a parallel story that alludes to this very same idea, that which I am trying to describe here. There is no need to recount the story from this book, but perhaps to quote a short poem from it will add some hint of meaning that I have may have missed.

Come in by the gold gates or not at all.
Take of my fruit for others or forbear,
for those who steal or those who climb my wall
shall find their heart’s desire, and find despair.

* * *

“…the source of all the moral energy that they had, all the energy that was in them for good,” I wrote a few paragraphs above. What brought on all the foregoing thoughts, culminating in this line, was an experience I had last Saturday.

I accompanied my best friend to a presentation at a local college of therapeutic massage, open to the public to introduce potential students to the institution and its curriculum. We had a suspicion that, this being the West Coast, there might be a lot of “New Age” influences at this college. What we weren’t prepared for was the fact that we were the only two males in the audience of about four times as many females (the group wasn’t large). Needless to say, the presentation was very feminist oriented. All but one of the women in the audience seemed to be the typical Oregonian goddess-worshipper type, and the one who wasn’t was from Washington state. One of the presenters was a current female student who was quite outspoken in flattering the college and flaunting her special relationship with a Tibetan shaman who was teaching her some nameless discipline. One of the young women in the audience was persistent in wanting to know who this was, and the student told her to get her phone number from the registrar (who was in the room) so she could get her “connected.” I wasn’t really surprised by any of this, once I realised into what a coven we had fallen. The only other man in the room was the main presenter, who was emasculated after years of catering to this kind of student clientele.

At one point in the presentation (which we surmised was supposed to be a sample simulation of the kind of instruction and philosophy available at the school), we were paired up, and each had a turn at being a practitioner and a client. The room was darkened, except for two dim, floor lamps. The presenter guided us “practitioners” in getting into the right frame of mind to “connect” with our “clients.” Unfortunately I can’t quote exactly what he said, but the drift of it was something like this.

Focus on that which is your energy source, that force inside you that is for good, for wholeness, whatever it is, maybe it’s your love for nature, or music, or the fun times you have with your kids, whatever it is that is the source of your personal power to act. Now, let that source of power release energy into your body, let it descend into your hands. When you feel the energy in your hands, place your hands above your client’s shoulders but do not touch them. Let that energy descend to your client and when you feel it connecting, let your hands drop down onto your client’s shoulders. Let that energy speak “gratitude” to your client. Let your hands let the client know how grateful you are for them being there… on and on the presenter spoke almost as an incantation. Then after two or three minutes of this, he told us to begin withdrawing our energy back into ourselves and to disconnect from the client. Then when the energy was pulled back into its mysterious source, we should raise our hands off our clients and totally withdraw. Afterwards we were told to exchange with our clients what each of us felt during the experience.

When it was my turn to be the “practitioner” and heard the presenter’s instructions, I was startled, and tried to translate them into my reality in Christ, who is the only source of power, though not of personal power in the way he seemed to be implying. Luckily, my “client” was my best friend, and we are already “connected” in the only way possible, by sharing in the same mind of Christ. Instinctively, I knew what the presenter was trying to have happen, because it’s what happens when a Christian truly ministers to another human being. The problem was, as usual in the world, the right and real way of doing what he was trying to do, he would not even consider. Instead of turning to Christ, whom he doesn’t accept, he substitutes “whatever it is that is the source of your personal power to act,” that is, anything but Christ. Of course, if he were to actually ask what our “source” was, and we told him, “Christ,” political correctness would have forced him to patronize us with some neutral words of appreciation, and then hurry on to a less dangerous topic.

My friend and I concluded afterward that this was just how things are out here, and that if a person wants to learn this practice and be certified, he has to endure the “New Age” and feminist environment that has captured it. As for being the only men present, we were ourselves and spoke and acted as men and not as emasculates, and this was an obvious irritation to some in the audience. Had they known we were followers of “that Man,” their scorn for us would probably have reached a flashing point.

This post probably seems like two separate posts, but really it isn’t. Both parts of it are about the mystery and the problem of what empowers us for good as human beings.

Well, of course I know the simple, pat answer from most Christians would simply be “God” or “Christ” empowers us, but that’s the obvious answer. I wanted to know how does He empower us?
What is the spiritual mechanism of this empowerment?

I believe this mechanism to be our deepest desire, not what we admit to others or even to ourselves is our deepest desire, for that is often the answer that’s expected. Instead, it’s the deepest desire which may not seem to have a direct bearing on “religion” or even on “spirituality,” and yet it is the thing we were born desiring.
It is the thing we were born desiring but know, by the light of Christ when we accept Him, that it is impossible to obtain in this life without forfeiting Him.

This seems so unfair when we first encounter it in all its dreadful majesty. We are not forbidden to desire, but we are to obey the one commandment that prevents its fulfillment, and by that obedience become instruments of God in this world, and finally fit rulers of the next.

The ban will be lifted. The Throne of God and of the Lamb will be in its place in the City; His servants will worship Him, they will see Him face to face, and His Name will be written on their foreheads. It will never be night again and they will not need lamplight or sunlight, because the Lord God will be shining on them. They will reign for ever and ever.
Revelation 22:3-5 Jerusalem Bible

Friday, May 8, 2009

The case of Fr Mattaos Wahba

I wrote about martyrdom some time ago in a post entitled Martyrdom, in which I compared Christian and Muslim views about it. Essentially, Christians suffer martyrdom, and Muslims commit it.
If you do a search for martyrdom in my blog, you will come up with a large number of topics about it.

"Why is this? I thought this blog was not a political blog," some may say. My response is, "No, this is not a political blog. Martyrdom is not about the violation of basic human rights, as many think. For a Christian, martyrdom is just the cost of discipleship that must often be paid by those of us living in a hostile environment—fascist, communist, islamic."

Thus, as the cost of discipleship is the focus of my blog, as well as the English title of a book written originally in German as Nachfolgung by the martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I sometimes find it impossible not to post on actual instances of martyrdom.
This is not a political blog, but it is a blog dedicated to encouraging followers of Jesus Christ to do just that, to follow Him, and not to compromise. It is also meant to be a word of encouragement to those living in hostile environments, to not give up, but pray and wait for your chance to escape—because our good and loving God will provide an escape—but do we dare take it?

NOTE: My sincere apologies to anyone who viewed the link to the original article on Infidel Bloggers Alliance and was subjected to inappropriate imagery in the side panel of that blog. My mistake! I thought that by linking only to the single post, only that post would appear. Unfortunately it appeared inside the IBA frame, which I would NOT want any of my visitors to have to look at. Again, my sincere apologies to all! Forgive me, brethren!

Today I read the story of an Egyptian (Coptic) Orthodox priest who is being wrongfully imprisoned in Egypt. This martyr has not been put to death, but he is being imprisoned wrongfully. If there is anything you can do to contribute to his release, by prayer, by writing in protest, whatever God leads you to do, then do it. Here is the story…

Father Mattaos did not commit a crime.
He is paying a price for being a faithful Christian in Egypt's present-day policy of denying religious freedom.

GEZA, Egypt (Christian Newswire) - Father Mattaos Wahba, is the priest of Archangel Michael Church at Kerdasa, Geza, Egypt. He is a pious man of God who encourages his congregation with Jesus' message of loving one's enemy, blessing those who curse you; doing good to those who hate you; and praying for those who despitefully use and persecute you. (Mathew 5:44) Fr. Mattaos is a model Egyptian citizen that has not ever committed a crime or seen the inside of a prison other than in the context of ministering to inmates.

Recently Father Mattaos' life abruptly changed overnight. He was arrested, charged and tried for aiding a young Muslim woman in getting an ID card that had falsified data indicating her religion as Christian rather than Muslim. The ID card was said to enable her to marry a Christian man and to flee the country. On October, 2008, the court found him guilty and sentenced him to 5 years at hard labor.

However, the facts dictate entirely a different story. The young woman, named Reham Abdel Aziz Rady, was born to a Muslim family. She converted to Christianity and underwent unbearable degrees of torturous harassments from her family and Egypt's Secret Police. She was subsequently released from custody without an ID card. Such prevents her rightful privileges of citizenship. She cannot get employment, rent living quarter, apply for a passport; much less apply for a marriage license.

Even, if she still possessed her old Muslim ID, it would prevent her from marrying a Christian. There is no legal way to change the religion of a Muslim in an ID card.

In 2004, a well-intentioned person attempted to help her. They allowed Reham to use an ID card belonging to a recently deceased young Christian woman of approximately the same age, named Mariam Nabil. Two years later, Reham, now called Mariam, and a Christian man fell in love and decided to marry. The couple contacted Fr. Mattaos to conduct the marriage ceremonies. The priest knew nothing of the false ID and Mariam's former Muslim background. In good faith he conducted the ceremony and the newly wed couple fled the country.

On April 24, 2009, Mariam appeared with Brother Rasheed on the popular Arabic Al Hayat TV program "A Daring Question". She testified, "Father Mattaos did not have any role in getting my ID card. I did not know him then, as this took place in 2004 and I got married in 2006." Mariam added, "I have the right to have an ID card that reflects my true religious affiliation. The Egyptian government does not give Muslims who convert to Christianity a legal alternative to get these papers. Had I been a Christian who wanted to convert to Islam, I would have had all the help I needed. But, because I am leaving Islam they put hurdles in my way."

Father Mattaos did not commit a crime. He does not deserve to be imprisoned. He is paying a price of Egypt's present-day policy of denying religious freedom. Ironically, their policy is against the Egyptian constitution and standard human rights laws to which Egypt is a signatory. Make no mistake about it. Father Mattaos' imprisonment is designed to send a message to Coptic Egyptian priests and Protestant pastors: The Egyptian government will deal harshly with any clergyman who is suspected in aiding Muslims converting to Christianity.

We call upon officials in the US State Department; Human Rights organizations; the global community of Christian believers; and all freedom loving people to join us in our outcry. We urge you to contact the Egyptian Embassy demanding the immediate release of Father Mattaos. Insist in strong tones that every Egyptian citizen be granted the basic human right to follow the religion of his/her choice.

3521 International Ct. NW Washington DC 20008
TEL: 202.895.5400 FAX: 202.244.4319

Here is one more article, from the U. S. Copts Association that gives an insider's view of the situation. (Don't worry, no offensive images!)

The power of the Word

The following story is taken from the life of Abba Arsenios, the great desert father, which was borrowed from its original source and posted by a Christian brother in Indonesia, whom I have recently met, on his wonderful blog Heart Beat.
The text I have copied from the source but edited to correct the English grammar. The image I am borrowing from Yudi's blog because I think it is very apt.

This is what Abba Arsenios says about God's Word…

A monk complained to St. Arsenius that while reading Holy Scripture he did not feel, neither the power of the words read, nor gentleness in his heart.

To that the great saint replied to him:

"My child, just read! I heard that the sorcerers of serpents, when they cast a spell upon the serpents, the sorcerers are uttering the words, which they themselves do not understand, but the serpents hearing the spoken words sense their power and become tamed. And so, with us, when we continually hold in our mouths the words of Holy Scripture, but even though we do not feel the power of the words, evil spirits tremble and flee, for they are unable to endure the words of the Holy Spirit."

My child, just read! The Holy Spirit Who, through inspired men, wrote these divine words, will hear, will understand, and will hasten to your assistance; and the demons will understand, will sense, and will flee from you. That is, He Whom you invoke for assistance will understand, and those whom you wish to drive away from yourself will understand. And both goals will be achieved.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

But wait, there is more…

First, we know that we are not our own, we do not own ourselves, we did not create ourselves. We owe our existence to our parents, yes, but even more to God.

Second, we are also not our own because by being born into this world, we along with Adam and Eve have sold ourselves as slaves to sin and death.

But wait, there is more.
God who created us is the Father of Jesus, His Only-Begotten Son. This Son of God became a human being, a man, and remained God. By His death on the Cross, and by His resurrection, He has paid the price for us, and now we are no longer the property of sin and death, but the property of God.

The Word of God says about us, "You were bought at a price. Do not become the slaves of other men!"

But wait, there is still more.
Not only did the Son of God purchase us for Himself by His blood, being the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world, but He has also adopted us into His family. We are now His brothers, we are the children of God, and we can now call God "our Father."

The Word of God says, "To everyone who accepts Jesus, He gives power to become the children of God."

So we are not our own property, yet the One who does own us has changed us from mere property, mere slaves, into His own children.

Being now His children, we are his heirs, we inherit His Kingdom as one of His own family.

Knowing the truth of all these things, let us give ourselves back to Him every day, Who is our good and loving God, Who has transformed slavery into freedom, and death into life.


I learned this lesson,
"You were bought at a price. Do not become the slaves of other men!" from my mother, Irene, who never stopped telling us this at every opportunity. She reposed in 1986.

Today, May 5, is the commemoration of Irene the Great Martyr, her nameday saint. May 5 is also the day that I crossed the border into Canada in 1972, at age 21, thinking to start a new life in that country. After passing the inspection, and being issued a temporary landed immigrant card at North Portal, Saskatchewan, I pointed my little car northwest and started the second leg of my journey, which was to take me to Edmonton, across a boundless flat prairie, the sun shining brightly, and the car radio playing Cat Stevens' song Morning Has Broken

Monday, May 4, 2009

A childlike religion

It's not often that I get to tell people about Orthodoxy, because we don't promote it: we usually wait to be asked. If someone wants to know about it so bad that they have to ask, then it's worth telling them, I think. For me, this happens mainly during the Greek Festival on the first weekend of October at Aghía Triás, my church. I have been standing watch in the church for the last probably twenty years—I don't think I've missed a single year—not bragging, I just like to do it. I am a doorkeeper of the Lord's temple, that's my job, 24/7. At festival time, it takes on a literal meaning.

What brought some thoughts to mind was reading an excellent post at Fr Milovan's blog, Again and Again, which I think is very pivotal, both to the significance of his blog's title, and to the Orthodox faith in general. I won't spoil it this time by copying whole swatches out of his post, Our Father Is Younger Than We, but I want to invite you to read it, by clicking on the linked title. What makes it intriguing starts with the title. The Father he's referring to is not a priest or someone's dad; it is God Himself, our Father. How can our Father be younger than we?
Read the post and find out!

I just love what Fr Milovan has to say. This is the Orthodoxy that I adhere to. Everything about it is paradox and irony. People ask, "How can you stand for so long in those services? They're hours long!" and "How do you put up with all that repetition?" and "Why do people seem to be crossing themselves all over the place, and not just once, but three times?" The list of questions goes on, interminably. While I'm on duty, the Lord gives me infinite patience in dealing with them all—and their questions, what's more ironic, are just as long and repetitive and spontaneously ceremonial to me as our Orthodoxy seems to them.
It's a perfect match!

The mystery of Orthodoxy is not what most people think. It's not arcane and secret doctrines or impossibly complex ("byzantine") theological dogmas. It's not the apparent rigidity of ceremonial which, for unsympathetic (or too grown-up) outsiders, seems empty and meaningless. It's not even (what appears to some as) the pomp and fussyness of worship, which combined with the Oriental chanting and the fragrant frankincense smoke filling the sanctuary, creates an almost psychedelic experience (a living, moving three-dimensional hieroglyphic, it's been called).

No, the mystery of Orthodoxy is that, underneath what the eye can see, lies a childlike religion, startling in its simplicity, a following of Jesus in the world, almost incognito. What the five senses perceive in the encounter with Orthodox Christianity in its traditions, is the luxuriant, redundant joy of the childlike heart exulting ceaselessly and seamlessly in the Presence of God. What some experience as "too much" from an adult point of view, others receive gladly and can't seem to get enough of.

That's one reason, I think, why Orthodoxy isn't for everyone. It takes a child's heart, simple enough to trust that the Father is so totally caring and careful, that it doesn't just believe, it knows that nothing happens without Him knowing, and therefore, all will be well. That's also one reason why we immerse our young in every aspect of the faith, even giving communion to unknowing infants. It is this foundation that every Orthodox can fall back on, rebuilding, if need be, after suffering the damage that the world is sure to inflict.

A childlike religion, lighting candles and standing them up in sandboxes in the church, bringing flowers, even the most humble, and leaving them in front of the icons as a love gift, taking part in dozens of small ceremonies—not very different in some ways from Judaism, another childlike religion—and always asking questions, and full of wonder at the Presence of God. None of us ever really leaves our childhood behind, but not all of us will admit it. But it is to such as these that the Kingdom of Heaven belongs.

"Suffer the little children to come unto Me…" is a much wider invitation than most people realize, and that too is the invitation of true Orthodoxy, wherever it exists.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Knowing God

I have a saying that goes something like this, "in this world it should be not who you know, but what you know, that gives you the advantage; in the world to come it is not what you know, but Who, that saves you." I don't think this saying is anything special, and I'm sure I'm not the first person to think or say things this way. As a matter of fact, others have thought and said (or written) far better words than mine, and I acknowledge my debt to them. But above all is the Lord, who alone gives us utterance of those things that please Him. To Him be the glory.

Fr Stephen has another excellent short post on his blog that spoke mightily to me, and I want to share it.

He calls his post What Matters—Still True, but I call it Knowing God. Here's an excerpt that I especially liked. To read the entire post, just go back and click on the hyperlinked title above. Now, read this…

It matters that we know God because knowledge of God is life itself. “This is eternal life,” Jesus said, “to know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.”

The Orthodox way of life is only about knowing God. Everything we do, whether it is prayer, communion, confession, forgiveness, fasting - all of it is about knowing God. If it is about something else, then it is delusion and a distraction from our life’s only purpose.