Monday, November 30, 2009

Some thoughts on confession

Ritualized confession—it can be and rarely escapes being somehow a ‘compartment’ with a ‘conductor,’ sort of like an ‘elevator’ with an ‘operator’ taking you up... or maybe down. It all depends on the ‘operator.’

There’s always at least just a little bit of the priest’s ego showing, and his self-consciousness about it, that even the best confessor barely escapes. Father Jim was my best, most real confessor. I haven’t had one like him since he left for a parish in California about five years ago. With him, confession was not a sacrament—a religious exercise—but instead, it was what it is, a mystírion of the Church, a moment of kairós, ‘acceptable time,’ a place where the astrapí, the ‘lightning flash of Divinity’ earths itself in one’s stony heart, to shatter it and transform it into good soil, into humus.

The attitude about confession in Orthodoxy where I live has been: they tell you to do it, then make it too inconvenient for you to try to do it but, if you manage to go around all that and insist on obeying them they treat you like a pest, “Why do you keep coming?” in not so many words.

It hasn’t always been like this, of course, but often that’s how it can be now. Hypocrisy, flagrant and sanctimonious, or call it whatever you like. That’s how it’s been for some time in the episcopalianized Greek Church. The local OCA (American Orthodox) churches generally aren’t like this, but instead, they preserve the relationship of priest and penitent in confession as it used to be and should be... one friend unburdening his or her heart to an intimate and faithful friend. In getting prayed for and being covered by the priest’s cape you feel like two kids playing confession under a big cozy blanket (except it’s real). That’s confession ‘in church’ at its best.

For me, the best confession is the impromptu unburdening of my heart to a Christian brother during prayer or fellowship times, sometimes just me to him, or just him to me, sometimes both of us to each other. I was taught by my preceptors in the Greek Church, one of them being Father Jim (a cradle Greek Orthodox priest, not a convert), that this qualifies as confession, even though it is not ritualized. I believed him then, and I believe him now. That’s why it doesn’t bother me to receive communion without formal confession. My whole life is actually a running round of confessions, some more formal than others, and if a priest insisted on me confessing my sins to him, I’d do it at the drop of my hat, without qualms and hiding nothing. It’s just that many priests hide out like highway bandits when they see you coming and only appear when they can see something valuable in your hands.

Read more about what real confession is from an Orthodox priest here.

Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.
Revelation 3:20

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Give the Word a Voice

Photo from the blog Witnessing Encouragement

People need the word of God. If they won't read it on their own, if they won't come to church and hear it, if they go to churches where the word is not preached and heard and lived, then we must bring the word to them. Perhaps some of them would hear it, if they knew it was there. Just read it, don't just tell them about it. The word is strong, but we are weak. Give the word a voice, your voice.

Take the word of God with you wherever you go. Read it in the street, on the bus or train, in the lunch room or during a break on the loading dock. God gives us so much free time. Why let our minds wander after fantasies. All His word needs is a voice. Read it out loud, give the gift of faith to one who needs it, for faith comes by hearing. One of the Church fathers writes…

Let us allow Christ to speak through us. He desires it more than we do. For He made this instrument and wouldn’t want it to be useless and idle. He always wants to keep it in His hands. Why, then, don’t you make it useful for the Maker’s hand? Why do you allow your soul to be unstrung, relaxed through luxury, and allow the whole harp to be useless to Him? One should keep all its parts completely stretched, well strung and reinforced with spiritual salt. For if Christ sees your soul tuned this way, He will make His music through it. When this has taken place, you will see angels leaping for joy—archangels and the cherubim, too. So then, let us become worthy of His spotless hands. Let us invite Him to strike our hearts.

— John Chrysostom

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Isaiah 11:6-9

The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear,

their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The infant will play near the hole of the cobra,

and the young child put his hand into the viper's nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy

on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea.
Isaiah 11:6-9 NIV

Perhaps the images below illustrate this passage in some small way. These were sent me by Presbytera Candace, and I have already forwarded an email with them to some of you, but I want to share them here as well. A foretaste of the Millennium?

Norbert Rosing's striking images of a wild polar bear coming upon tethered sled dogs in the wilds of Canada's Hudson Bay.
The photographer was sure that he was going to see the end of his dogs when the polar bear wandered in.
CLICK the images to zoom them!

“I come in peace…”

It's hard to believe that this polar bear only needed to hug someone!
The polar bear returned every night that week to play with the dogs!

Kαιρός - Kairós

Βλέπετε οὖν ἀκριβῶς πῶς περιπατεῖτε, μὴ ὡς ἄσοφοι ἀλλ’ ὡς σοφοί,
έξαγοραζόμενοι τὸν καιρόν, ὅτι αἱ ἡμέραι πονηραί εἰσιν.

έξαγοραζόμενοι > exagorazómeni > buying up
τὸν καιρόν > ton kairón > kairós time

Jesus once told a parable.
When an owner came seeking fruit and found none, he said to the gardener, “Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?” The gardener replied, “Let it alone, sir, this year also, till I dig about it and fertilize it. Perhaps it will bear fruit next year.”

Give it more time!
Give it another year!

God keeps giving us another year, and each year that passes brings us closer to that day when we shall appear before Him face to face. Each year brings us closer to the Kingdom, closer to eternity when the patient gardener, the Righteous Judge and Lord of the Universe, will come looking for fruit on our tree. But then there will not be another chance. It will be too late. The end will have come. There will not be another year, another opportunity in which to repent and bear fruit for God. Now is the opportune kairós, or time, for repentance and salvation.

We read in St. Paul's letter to the Ephesians, “Look carefully how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16). The key word in this statement by St. Paul is the word “time”. New Testament writers use two Greek words for “time”: chrónos and kairós.

Chrónos time is chronological time, calendar time, time that moves along moment by moment, day by day, year by year. Most people prepare for death by living the chrónos time. They simply try to stay alive as long as possible, adding as many days as they can by proper dieting, staying in shape, taking vitamins, and letting their doctors stretch out their lives with wonder drugs, and intravenous feedings when they get old and sick. Then they die, and that's all there is to it. Death comes when their chrónos, their chronological calendar time, runs out. All they have to show for living is an accumulation of calendar years. “My, he lived to be 100, isn't that wonderful?” we say. It is not wonderful. Not if all one has to show for all those years is calendar time.

But Kairós time is another kind of time, a special kind of time; time which is crucial; time which determines history; time which must be seized by any person who wants life and death to make a difference for time and eternity. Jesus lived a life of kairós time. He never ignored a single moment or opportunity for doing good, for serving, for healing. He used time to the fullest: teaching, comforting, loving, preaching. Even when He was alone, He spent His time in prayer, communicating with God as to how best to use the time that was left in His life.

Thus, when the time came for Jesus to die, He was ready. Even though He was only 33 years old, each precious moment of His life on earth had been used as God had intended for Him to use it. He had used His time as kairós time, time with a purpose, time for serving God and man, time for preparing for eternity.

The Lord gave us chrónos time, calendar time, that we may turn it into kairós time, salvation time, time filled with opportunities for us to respond to God's gracious invitation to the Kingdom; time for bearing in our lives the fruit of faith, hope and love.

The primary meaning of kairós in the New Testament is: the right time, the ripe time, the proper time, the opportune time for salvation. It is in this sense that St. Paul uses the word kairós in 2 Corinthians 6:2: “Behold, now is the acceptable time [ἰδοὺ νῦν καιρὸς εὐπρόσδεκτος]; behold, now is the day of salvation.”

— Fr Anthony Coniaris, Basic Orthodoxy, pp. 1-3

The passage quoted above from one of Fr Coniaris' many books is an example of the kind of Orthodoxy that I encountered when I first joined myself and my family to the Church. It was a living faith lacking worldly credentials and hiding itself from the pomp and glory of this world. Surely it was just as resplendant with its ancient beauty then as always, but there was an unearthly Source to that beauty, it was a beauty not-made-with-hands.

There are many kinds of Orthodoxy in the world today; this is nothing new. There have always been people vying for recognition, promoting the Church, or even the Gospel itself, out of ambition and self-interest.

The true Orthodoxy, my friends and brethren, is not to be found there, but do not let that kind of Orthodoxy prevent you from entering the Holy of Holies, following behind Jesus, our great and everlasting High Priest. That is where true Orthodoxy is to be found.

True Orthodoxy is as the bible teaches; it is only this.

What you have come to is nothing known to the senses: it is not a blazing fire, or a gloom turning to total darkness, or a storm; or trumpeting thunder or the great voice speaking which made everyone that heard it beg that no more should be said to them. They were appalled at the order that was given: If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned. The whole scene was so terrible that Moses said: I am afraid, and was trembling with fright.

But what you have come to is Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem where the millions of angels have gathered for the festival, with the whole Church in which everyone is a ‘first-born son’ and citizen of heaven. You have come to God Himself, the supreme Judge, and been placed with the spirits of the saints who have been made perfect; and to Jesus, the Mediator who brings a New Covenant and a Blood for purification which pleads more insistently than Abel's.

Make sure that you never refuse to listen when He speaks.

Hebrews 12:18-25a Jerusalem Bible

True Orthodoxy is true Life. It is always an invitation.
It's that place where you not only are, but always feel, welcome.
There's no place like home.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

…But he will rejoice

“When a man is born,” Metropolitan Amphilohije stated in today’s eulogy for Patriarch Pavle, “the entire world rejoices, only he weeps. But our lives must be lived in such a way that when that man dies the entire world will weep but he will rejoice.”

Another glimpse of true Orthodoxy

True Orthodoxy is not about rubrics and regulations, persistent and demanding dogmatics, magnificent buildings or over-the-top liturgical chanting, but "it is the day to day life of the simple believer," one such as the recently reposed patriarch Pavle of Serbia (memory eternal), of whom these anecdotes are told…

…a woman came to call on the patriarch. During their discussion, she happened to glance at the patriarch’s feet and the sight of his shoes shocked her… they were beat-up, torn, and cobbled-together old boots. The woman thought, “It’s shameful to us that our patriarch should go about in such clodhoppers. Surely, someone could get him a new pair of proper shoes?” Just as she was thinking this, the patriarch said, with great glee, “See what great shoes I have! I found them near the dustbins when I went to the Patriarchate. Somebody threw ‘em out, but, they’re real leather. I sewed ‘em a bit… see, they’ll last for a long time yet”.

Another woman came to the Patriarchate, demanding to speak with the patriarch on urgent business. During the audience, she said that the night before she dreamed of the Virgin. According to her, the Mother of God told her to bring money to the patriarch so that he could buy himself new shoes. With these words, the visitor tried to hand the patriarch an envelope with money inside. Patriarch Pavle, without taking the envelope, asked, “What time did you go to bed?” The woman, surprised, replied, “Well… somewhere around eleven”. “You know, I went to bed later, about four o’clock in the morning”, replied the Patriarch, “and I also dreamed of the Virgin and I asked her to tell you to take your money and give it to somebody who really needs it”. He didn’t take the money.

He could not only repair shoes or cobble himself new boots from old women’s shoes, but, if he saw that a priest had a torn cassock or cloak, he said to him, “Bring it to me, I’ll fix it”. He did the preparations before the service, and he cleaned up afterwards, washing the utensils, and hung up his cassock and cowl. He heard the confessions of the faithful and gave them communion. He didn’t eat much, much as the ancient Desert Fathers did.

One day, Patriarch Pavle was flying somewhere on an airplane. Over the sea, the plane shook as it entered a turbulent patch of sky. A young bishop, sitting next to the Patriarch, asked him if he thought that the plane was going to crash. His Holiness calmly replied. “For me, it’s just God’s justice. After all, I’ve eaten so many fish in my life that it’s not surprising if they now eat me”.

Wait a minute! There's more on Fr Milovan's blog, take a look…

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Who do we think we are, and whose?

Jesus Christ is the reason for the existence of the Church. We are His bride, hidden in Him from before the beginning of the universe, and revealed to the world when they pierced His side, and we emerged as Eve did from the gash in Adam’s side.

Set your hearts on God’s kingdom first, and on His righteousness, and all these other things will be added as well.

If you make my Word your home, you will be my disciples, says the Lord Jesus Christ, and He adds, Whoever loves me keeps my commandments.

The institutional Church can exist from generation to generation by promoting itself, by tantalizing us with hope of salvation if we dedicate ourselves to participating in churchly activities. It is satisfied with us if we just show up on Sundays, and if some of us lend a hand in running its earthly functions.

In that institutional Church, however, is the actual Church in which live the apostles, the prophets, the martyrs—in brief, the saints—those who follow Jesus and who know Him and are known by Him. They do what He says, not for show, not for authority, not for reputation, not for money—just because He commands them, and they obey.

Only the obedient believe.
If anyone would be my disciple, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me, says the Lord Jesus.

If we promote religion, we can worry about church statistics, and busy ourselves with trying to figure out why the youth, or any segment of the baptised members, are becoming less and less interested in “church,” and we can try to devise ways to stop this emigration of saved souls back to the world. We do this to no avail, because we are ourselves still part of this world to which they are slowly escaping, and we are using the world’s methods, thinking in a worldly way, and haven’t ourselves left this world.

If we promote Jesus Christ and the Gospel, who He really is, the living One who is in our midst, and live in His Word, making our home there, placing all our trust in Him on a moment-by-moment basis, learning of Him and taking on His yoke, then we ourselves have left this world behind and live already by faith in the new world that He has prepared for us. Then our lives become living words, testimonies of the Gospel in our very flesh, so that not only the youth of the Church, but even those we meet outside, are confronted by a new reality that invites them into itself. We become and are a city set on a hill that cannot be hid. We become for the world either the sweet fragrance of salvation or the stench of death, depending on their response to Christ, who lives in us.

The Church exists because it is in Christ and will always exist because He is in our midst. The question really is, who do we think we are, and whose?

Once we give the right answer, we will no longer have to be anxious for anything, because it is not we ourselves, but Christ in us, who does everything.

We will know the truth, and the truth will make us free.
And who doesn’t want that kind of freedom?

But can wolves become sheep?

Another interesting quote from John Chrysostom got me to wondering, "but can wolves become sheep?" Of course I know what he is getting at, and one must not exceed the reasonable limits of metaphor, but is metamorphosis possible for a wolf? Christ sends us out as sheep among wolves, but is it to seek out the "other sheep not of this fold that He shall also bring" or, again speaking metaphorically, can wolves be changed?

And He bids them have not only gentleness as sheep, but also the harmlessness of the dove. For thus shall I best show forth My might, when sheep get the better of wolves, and being in the midst of wolves, and receiving a thousand bites, so far from being consumed, do even work a change on them: a thing far greater and more marvelous than killing them, to alter their spirit, and to reform their mind; and this, being only twelve, while the whole world is filled with the wolves.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Those Wayfarers

Those wayfarers and you called diaspora
Slaves washed in the blood of the Son
Known by the Father in mother’s womb
Souls of light and life sealed by the Spirit

The One is holy, yourselves also be holy
As the flower of your glory will wither
Know now the Lord’s endurance as your own
A precious thing never knowing shame

That you can rejoice in authentic faith
Know this necessary suffering is purposed
So that the fire might make pure gold
And receive the honor of Christ’s return

You keep this the Word of gospel given
Though not having seen with wakened eyes
Find for yourselves that joy inexpressible!
That foreseen end: a salvation full of glory

The fathers sought this affliction out
By prophecy spoken by our brothers
Virgin sisters suffered much in Christ
For glories mothers martyrs confessed

Christ did come at the appointed time
Both affliction and glory made one in Him
So that the stars’ motion from the first dawn
Might be vindicated in these last times

A promise that your purified hearts keep
In fervent love, that incorruptable seed,
Born again in obedience to truth and Spirit
Knowing the Word of God abides forever

Your former appetites offer no real comfort
That fall was in ignorance born in darkness
Now take a sober mind, gird your loins,
The pillar of fire now draws you to holiness

Drive out hate, and with it the spirit of lies
Care not for the wealth or land of others.
As the pure milk of the word passes your lips
So do not bespoil them by speaking evil.

Having tasted that grace of the Father
Set as more incorruptabile than gold,
Keep yourselves blameless without spoil
And prove His impartial justice in mercy.

May He the living stone of this spiritual house
Rejected by men, but chosen by God
Grant to you the holy priesthood that your
Sacrifice in spirit be made acceptable in Him

This is our living hope raised from the dead,
Preserved in Christ Jesus, perfected by the Spirit
Never fading, ever glorious, most radiant!
The Kingdom Triumphant come to pass. Amen.

— David Dickens, Nothing Hypothetical

Into our ship

Let us, then, cry out loudly with Peter's words, "Lord, save us." And if we are willing to receive Christ into our ship; that is, to have Him dwell in our hearts; we shall immediately find ourselves at the land to which we are hastening. What land is that? Clearly, it is the Promised Land, Heaven, the land of the meek, of them that refrain from evil. With them, then, may we also be vouchsafed to enter that land and be heirs of its good things; in Christ Jesus our Lord, to Whom be glory and dominion, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Of battle lines

I have good reason to thank God every morning when I awake to find a roof over my head, food if I want it, a car that works with gasoline in the tank, and a job to go to. I have good reason to thank Him for giving me a quiet rest in a safe and clean place, for granting me and my family the blessing of good health, and not least of all, a few very faithful friends.

This month I have extra cause to thank Him for surrounding me with such a great cloud of witnesses from whose lips and in whose lives I hear and experience such Truth, as I cannot remember anymore that anything in this world matters, but to follow Jesus.

Quoting some passages from Fr Stephen’s recent blog post
In the Shadow of the Grand Inquisitor,

The case for power is always replete with good reasons. The case for forgiveness is weak in the extreme. It is generally the case that those who take the commandments of Christ so seriously that they actually seek to live them inevitably look like fools against those whose knowledge and cynicism wield worldly power.

Our human lives are repeatedly tempted to take up certain
"Christian" goals and implement them. Indeed, the increased organization and efficiency of modern man seems quite capable of eradicating hunger, abuse, neglect and the like. Strangely, the many efforts towards such worldly perfection (in the name of heavenly goods) has left history littered with failed schemes and occasionally vast amounts of carnage.

Christ did not come into the world to make bad men good, but to make dead men live.

It is not a great scheme through a united world, or a united Europe that will succeed in creating paradise on earth. I find it comical (were it no so tragic) that among the earliest accomplishments of the European courts is to banish crucifixes in the schoolrooms of Italian children. How many empty bellies will that feed? The Inquisitor (now in Strasbourg) will tell us it is for the children’s freedom.

The battle lines are not political (they never have been). The removal of one Inquisitor is simply to create a vacancy for the next. Indeed, the Christian response is not a response to the actions of man: it is a response to the actions of God.

[The] answer to the Grand Inquisitor is not a better-honed argument… it is the day to day life of the simple believer:
“Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world”
(1 John 4:4).

The answer of the Church, apart from everything else, is to live the transforming life of the indwelling Christ. Christians will be persecuted in this world. They will take away our crosses, smash our icons and tell us that we are wasting our time. They will tell us many things.

But Christ tells us:
“Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world”
(John 16:33).

Genuine love in action

This story was quoted in Fr Milovan's blog, in his comment to the post, LA Times Demonizes Patriarch Pavle.
I remember this incident when it happened. Thank you, Fr Milovan for bringing it back to our attention.

“…When [Patriarch Pavle] was the Bishop of Kosovo, he was brutally and severely beaten by a young Muslim man. So intense was this beating, that the frail Bishop almost died; and was in the Hospital for a few months. Upon his dismissal from the Hospital, the then Bishop Pavle went to the prison where the young man was incarcerated. He told the one who had almost killed him that he felt he needed to go home to his parents; because they needed him!

“Then he called the warden of the prison and demanded the young man’s release. When the warden refused, Bishop Pavle told him, ‘I have nothing against this young man; and I will not speak against him. Therefore, you must release him now!’

“What true Christ-like love, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ — love which bore a very special fruit: the young man was soon Baptized into the Orthodox Faith!…”

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Genuine love

I am always amazed how voices from the past, especially the remote past, can yank us out of our smug satisfaction with our own era and vaunted superior set of cultural or spiritual values. We often take the Church Fathers for granted, paying little or no attention to them, but instead run after modern thinkers and writers, though not always doers, of the Christian faith. Book store shelves are bending with the weight of books by Max Lucado, Rick Warren, and T.D. Jakes, but rarely do we find the writings of those whose faithful lives and writings testify to “Christ among us” from the earliest days.
Why? Do we really think that Christianity just appeared in the 21st century? “Do you think the Word of God came out of yourselves? Or that it has come only to you?” asks the holy apostle Paul (1 Cor 14:36 Jerusalem Bible).

This morning, my faithful friend Presbytera Candace sent me another ageless gemstone of the wisdom of the early Church. This resonates in me very strongly, confirming from an ancient “life in Christ” something that I too have experienced and learned about the Lord, even living today near “the end of the ages.” This is a word about love, about who loves us, and why, and is expressed with more brevity and simplicity than this rambling introduction of mine; but this word is true. Like the words of holy and divine Scripture, drawn from them and leading us back to them, the humble teachings of our holy and God-bearing ancestors point us always to Jesus, the Word of God, and leave little of themselves to glory in.

[God disciplines] …not for any interest of His own, but for you and for your benefit alone. For this is genuine love, and love in reality: when we are beloved, though we be of no use to Him Who loves us, not that He may receive, but that He may impart. He chastens, He does everything, He uses all diligence, so that we may become capable of receiving His benefits, [chastising us], “so that we might be partakers of His holiness” (Hebrews 12:10).
— John Chrysostom

As a postscript…
Something about this quote from John Chrysostom reminds me of the following old Dutch hymn (circa 1625), which is traditionally sung in the autumn, around or at (American) Thanksgiving.

We gather together to ask the Lord's blessing;
He chastens and hastens His will to make known;
The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing:
Sing praises to His Name, He forgets not His own.

Beside us to guide us, our God with us joining,
Ordaining, maintaining His kingdom divine;
So from the beginning the fight we were winning:
Lord, Thine be all the glory, The victory is Thine!

We all do extol Thee, Thou Leader triumphant,
And pray that Thou still our Defender wilt be;
Let Thy congregation escape tribulation:
Thy Name be ever praised! O Lord, make us free.

Yes, “He does everything, He uses all diligence, so that we may become capable of receiving His benefits.” Ameen!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Orthodoxy is God-manhood

“God is born on earth, and moreover He is born as a man: perfect God and perfect man – the unique God-man.”

“…another name for Orthodoxy is God-manhood.”

“Why is the God-man the fundamental truth of Orthodoxy? Because He answered all the questions that torture the human spirit: the question of life and death, the question of good and evil, the question of earth and heaven, the question of truth and falsehood, the question of love and hate, the question of justice and injustice. In brief: the question of man and God.”

“Only in Him, in the all-merciful Lord Jesus, does man, tormented by earthly tragedies find the God who can truly give comfort in every misfortune and sorrow, the Defender who can truly defend from every evil, the Savior who can truly save from death and sin, the Teacher Who can truly teach eternal Truth and Justice.”

“In order to acquire spiritual knowledge, a man must first be freed from natural knowledge.”

“The more a man devotes himself to natural knowledge, the more he is seized on by fear and the less he can free himself from it. But if he follows faith, he is immediately freed and “as a Son of God, has the power to make free use of all things….Faith can often ‘bring forth all things out of nothing,’ while knowledge can do nothing, ‘without the help of matter.’ Knowledge has no power over nature, but faith has such power. Armed with faith, men have entered into the fire and quenched the flames being untouched by them. Others have walked on the waters as on dry land. All these things are ‘beyond nature’….He who has faith will ‘lack nothing’….”

Quotations from Man and the God-Man, by Fr Justin Popovich

I am going to get a copy of this book! You can too, by clicking on the title above, which is linked to a webpage where you can buy a copy. As many of you know, I do not promote any book besides the Bible, and a very, very few other books and authors. Fr Justin Popovich is one of them. Great reading with a purpose and effect.

A big thank you to Fr Milovan for bringing this book to my attention at his blog, Again and Again.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Living witnesses

We are living witnesses of Jesus' divinity:
Jesus, who was hanged on the cross.

We are the loud and piercing heralds of this sign that was given.
We confess the power of the Cross that was raised on Golgotha after so many centuries have passed.

From where did this transformation originate?
How did a certain man who was hanged and crucified on a cross in Judaea as a criminal among two thieves conquer the entire world after his death?
How was mankind persuaded to acknowledge as God a man who died on the Cross?

How did mankind follow Him with self-denial, lifting as He did the Cross on its shoulders, ready to ascend eagerly to Golgotha with Him, ready to shed its last drop of blood on His behalf?

How did kings accept Him as the King of kings and the Lord of lords?
How did the nations and peoples decline to worship their own gods in order to offer worship to the crucified Jesus?
Why did they abandon their personal idols in order to honor that which was foreign, and the known to honor the unknown?
How did the cross of dishonor become a most Venerable Cross adorning the crowns of kings and emperors?
What power accomplished all these things?

The power of the Crucified One.
The power of the Son of God, Who descended from heaven.
His divine, almighty power made all these things happen.
His power is the power that conquered the world.

The disciples of the crucified Jesus did not have an army to lead.
They had no weapons.
They possessed neither a bag nor a staff.
Rather, as sheep among wolves, they preached the crucified Jesus, who was a scandal for the Jews and foolishness for the Greeks.
They did not preach with wise rhetoric, but rather with simple, powerful words.

Where, though, did this power come from?

Truly, this was an ineffable power, because with simple commands the fisherman, the tax-collector, and the tent-maker resurrected the dead, cast out demons, repelled death, muzzled philosophers' mouths, sealed orators' lips, defeated kings and rulers, and ruled over Greeks, barbarians, and all peoples.
This was because they preached the Gospel with authority all over the world.

How did the fishermen become Apostles and heralds of the revealed truths?
How did they catch the nations and peoples as fish in a net?

Peter had grown old casting nets on the shores of Tiberias.
How did he become a most-wise and most-eloquent speaker in one day, thus persuading thousands of Jews who had aged in the worship of the Old Law that the external grandeur of their ancient and revered worship was no longer pleasing to God, and that it would be abolished forever?

That all of its mystical services were nothing other than a shadow of the things to come, which were now being revealed?
That the traditions to which they were adhering were commandments of men that opposed God's law?
That He Whom they had condemned, the disregarded man Who breathed His last upon the Cross, is the Great Redeemer Himself, the awaited Messiah Who was pre-announced to them by the prophets?
That they are not the only object of divine providence's wonderful graces, but that all the nations of the earth are invited to share in the delight with them?

How did the fisherman successfully persuade the polytheistic Gentiles to purify themselves, render their thoughts spiritual, detach them from the dead matter they were accustomed to, and return them to the living God?
How did they separate them from the deceptive pleasures of the senses, cleanse them from the passions, and render them wiser than the wise?
How, especially, did they persuade them to worship a man who died on the Cross and transform before their eyes the foolishness of the Cross into heavenly wisdom?
How did the heralds of the Crucified One convince their new followers to denounce their secular interests and live subject to the disdain, humiliation, and derision, to disregard all types of pain and punishment, to resist all temptations, and to endure unto death in a teaching whose rewards are guarded for the next life?

Truly, it is a great mystery.

The foolish things of the world, the weak, the things that are despised, and the things that are not, put to shame the wise, they weaken the powerful, and they abolish the things that are!
He who was crucified on the Cross gave such power to His disciples!
God was hidden in the person of Jesus!
The Son and Word of God, Who contains everything, is contained in a body!
Man becomes a mystic of God's desires!
God's Spirit descends upon men!
Man foresees the future!
The infinite God communicates with finite man, the immaterial with matter, the Creator with creation, the Potter with clay!
God reveals Himself to people, God's Spirit refashions and renews man who has been corrupted by sin.
Man becomes a god; he becomes a communicant of the grace of the Holy Spirit!

In essence, these are truly unfathomable mysteries; their outcome, however, is clear.
We are incapable of understanding how God became man, but we realize that only the God-man was able to accomplish that which is a unique property of God.
We are incapable of understanding how man becomes god, but we realize that without God man could accomplish nothing, especially that which the men of God, that is, the Prophets, the Apostles, and all the Saints, accomplished.
The miracles are truly an enigma, but their power and outcome are obvious.

The Christian Faith is a mystery, but its truth is apparent from its power and effects; because the Christian Faith provides abundant evidence externally and bestows assurance internally.

All the above attest to the divine character of our Savior Jesus Christ, Who provided the great sign sought by the Jews. This sign proclaims most loudly the heavenly descent of the Son of God, Who came to save man in accordance with the will of His eternal Father.

— Nektarios of Pentapolis, Christology,
Part II, Chapter 8, Christ's Divine Nature attested to by the moral rebirth that took place in the world

Nothing so humble as love

Nothing makes a man so humble as love.

We perform the offices of servants to our friends, and are not ashamed; we are even thankful for the opportunity of serving them. We do not spare our property, and often not even our persons; for at times, dangers are also encountered for him that is loved.

No envy, no calumny is there, where there is genuine love. We not only do not slander our friends, but we stop the mouth of slanderers.

All is gentleness and mildness. Not a trace of strife and contention appears. Everything breathes peace.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

An argument won’t matter, but a Christian will

“Is the Orthodox faith a set of ideas or a divine reality?”

If it is a set of ideas then we’d better get our arguments together and do it soon.

Christ himself said,
“…if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight…” But His kingdom is not of this world – it is not among the things that are passing away. It is that which is coming and it will never pass away. Many accompanying aspects of the Kingdom have come and gone and come and gone (I think of the outward trappings of empire and the like). Those things which have come and gone are of this world and should be of no concern to us.

The ability to remain silent even in the face of an invitation to argue is not weakness, but confidence in the truth.

The faith has never failed because we lacked good arguments and the will to carry them forward. The faith has failed at points because we failed to believe it.

If the Orthodox faith flourishes in this world, at this time, it will be because it flourishes in the lives of those who have embraced it.

We live in a 24/7 news cycle – marked mostly by talking-heads and interminable arguments. Does anyone actually believe that another argument, even when brought by a Christian, will matter?

An argument won’t matter. But a Christian will – precisely because an authentic Christian is so hard to find.

The words above are quoted from Fr Stephen's post I Don't Know About That. If you have never visited Fr Stephen's blog, Glory to God for All Things, I suggest you do it now, and then take a break, read your bible, pray, and thank God that Christians still exist who know these things.

That's what I'm going to do.

Prayers of entreaty and thanks

Born a Slave

I was born into a house of slavery, a slave
How then being freed do I spit on freedom?
Though I have mutilated my flesh
The beast rules me from Gehenna

Holy God, cut off my hands
That I might not be able to wrap my wrists again in chains

Holy Mighty, cut off my feet
That I cannot walk back to that accursed prison cell

Holy Immortal, cut out my tongue
That I will not cry out to my former masters to abduct me

If you must, destroy my body, my life, to save my very soul

Thanks Be

Thanks be to Him who opens doors, maker of life-giving crosses.
Thanks be to Him who manifests in all wisdom, redeems all time.
Thanks unto the One who gives grace in speech having been fulled with salt.
Thanks and again to He who lifted Adam from the dark pit.

Sender of prophets, Illuminer of dreams,
Gift of interpretors.

To Light, to Song, to Faithfulness,
To Grace and Abounding Love.

— David Dickens,
Nothing Hypothetical

Three paintings by Orozco: Gods of the Modern World (top), Jesus the Liberator (middle), and Man of Fire (bottom) in the tholos-like dome of the Hospicio Cabanas in Guadalajara, Mexico

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Matthew 28:20

The world encounters Orthodox Christianity. People hear about it and become curious, or they see it happening somewhere and maybe they are startled, or even put off. It is not something that one can take in all in an eyeshot, not even really in a panorama, except as one takes in a beautiful photograph or painting. All that can be seen that way is very superficial and almost meaningless, except as beauty has meaning without needing proof.

When they get a little closer to Orthodoxy, they want to hurry up and classify it. They want to ask questions, “Is it Catholic, is it Protestant, is it an Eastern religion, what is it?” but they nearly always want to classify it as a religion. Oddly, sometimes even people within Orthodoxy want to do the same, because they have taken on so many of the world’s expectations of what is needed, what is important. If it can be called a religion, then it can be firmly rejected, or firmly (and fanatically) accepted, and there it is. It’s been identified, pigeonholed, and done. “Yeah, I know what Orthodoxy is.”

But Orthodox Christianity is not a religion, though many of its adherents think of it that way. Orthodoxy is nothing less than the daily proclamation of a profound and powerful mystery—the resurrection of Jesus Christ—and the opening to all mankind, in every place and at every moment of time, the possibility of true brotherhood, and of divine sonship. The life of the Holy Triad is open to us, taking away the purposelessness of life alone in a Godless universe.

Jesus Christ came to pitch His tent among us, not only in His incarnation, but by His life-giving death and resurrection. He is the One who had become dead, and is alive again. He is no mere historical figure to be studied and speculated about. He was, is and is to come, the single most active Person in the history of the human world. He is here now among us.
He is calling us at this very moment, not to religion, but to follow Him.

Who can refuse His call? and why would anyone want to?

ιδου εγω μεθ υμων ειμι
πασας τας ημερας
εως της συντελειας του αιωνος

Behold, I am with you,
every day,
unto the very end of time.
Matthew 28:20

From the ‘Golden-mouthed’

Your Master loved those that hated Him, and called them to Him; and the weaker they were, the greater the care He showed them. And He cried and said, “They that are whole need not a physician, but they that are sick” (Matthew 9:12). And He deemed publicans and sinners worthy of the same table with Him. And as great as was the dishonor wherewith the Jewish people treated Him, so great was the honor and concern He showed for them—yea, and much greater. Emulate Him.

Yes, just follow Jesus!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Three years in Damascus

I cannot go to Jerusalem to confer with flesh and blood
But spend three years in Damascus eating bitter herbs

The love of my father was still in my heart
In ears were full of my mother’s teaching

This family knew me because they made me
The unmaking returned to them a stranger

O they were proud
O I did excell
In all the teachings
Rhetorics and rules

O lost loves
O forgotten days
Better, I be mute
Than speak against you

But what I received now was not from man
Is it possible for feet to unwalk a road?

I call honors loss; I name fame as dust
There is one consolation I offer my loves

Take no offense at these words, but hear if you have ears
That I am becoming nothing because of Him who is all

— David Dickens, Nothing Hypothetical

Monday, November 2, 2009

Glimpses of true Orthodoxy

Lately I have encountered some very frightening evidence of a militant and unchristlike form of Orthodoxy that seems to be resurging in certain jurisdictions, now that they have been delivered from the scourge of Godless communism. It seems only a matter of time before this cancer may subvert true Orthodoxy, substituting cold formalism and pompous authoritarianism for the warm and merciful spirit of brotherly love and selfless leadership that I experienced when I first entered Holy Orthodoxy.

Whenever it seems we're going to lose that true Orthodoxy, I think on the saints I have personally known, and those I have read about, and I entreat the Lord to not leave us without such testimonies of true Christianity in our midst. Reading about times of true Orthodoxy in the past, helps keep it before our eyes. Here are some reminiscences of Sergei Fudel, from his book Light in the Darkness, glimpses of true Orthodoxy that I'd like to share with all my brethren in Christ…

I saw Father Alexei Mechev several times, at home and when he celebrated in church. I remember the childish pleasure he took in small courtesies extended to the least “important” of his visitors, holding their overcoats for them, etc.

“Some people call me clairvoyant,” he once said. “It is not clairvoyance, it's just knowing people. I can really discern what they feel, as if their feelings lay in the flat of my hand,” and he turned up his thin, dry hand to illustrate his words. He was very slight of build, quick in his movements, with a kind of irrepressible joyousness shining from his wise, all-seeing eyes. He was so different from the usual, somewhat sombre, clerical image of pre-revolutionary Moscow clergy, a real bearer of the “eternal joy” of the Easter service.

Before being ordained to the priesthood my father, Father Joseph Fudel, worked as a civil servant at the Moscow Court of Justice. He was recently married and lived with my mother in a small apartment. It happened at that time that a nun that he knew committed a sin of adultery, was expelled from her monastery and underwent much hardship. She was young and beautiful. My mother especially remembered her beautiful, long hair.

My father came home one day and told my mother that the young woman was in desperate need and homeless. “Will you mind if we take her in?” he asked. My mother burst out crying and hugged him, “in a strange feeling of gratitude,” she said later. The expelled nun made her home with my parents.

I believe that my father, who had never studied in a seminary, passed his final examination for the priesthood on that day. He was ordained by the remarkable Bishop Alexis of Vilno. In a letter we received after my father's death, one of his spiritual daughters wrote, “I remember his last sermon. He spoke about the Lord's Mother and seemed to be shining with joy and a sense of victory. He finished by quoting the words of Bishop Dimitri of Rostov, ‘Rejoice, sinners! The righteous will be led to heaven by Saint Peter the Apostle, and the sinners by the Mother of our Lord herself.’” This message I keep in my heart, when my heart is not dead, and on this note of joy I can end my recollections of him.

The first years after the revolution, 1917~1919, were a time of amazing spiritual uplift, a kind of lightheartedness. We stood at the threshold of a new period in church history. We were terrified, watching the great black clouds gathering, and at the same time we were breathing an air of unknown spiritual freedom.

Something in the life of the Church was returning to its pristine purity and simplicity, something was coming up from underneath centuries of secularization, hypocrisy and externalism. It was the time when Rublev's icon of the Holy Trinity had its heavily bejeweled silver covering of later centuries taken off. Human hearts were rediscovering the joy of the forgotten “first love.” The Church was rediscovering its sacrificial character. It was a frightening and joyous time for us who were young then.

—Sergei Fudel, Light in the Darkness, pp. 100-102.