Sunday, February 28, 2010

All we know is…

There are those who, like myself, have many spiritual fathers and mothers but not in a structured or formal way, with saints who like us realise that there is only One teacher, the Messiah (cf. Matthew 23:8-12), and would not allow us to pedestalize them. I am the same way. I sometimes am spiritual father to someone, and then we switch places the next moment. How is this? Because Christ who is alive and among us at this very moment is, as He says, the only Teacher. We only say what we hear Him saying.

My dear people, we are already the children of God
but what we are to be in the future has not yet been revealed;
all we know is, that when it is revealed
we shall be like Him
because we shall see Him as He really is.
1 John 3:2

I take the verse quite literally. Seeing Christ at His glorious coming will perfect us into the image of His holiness and His eternity, and that, whether we were hard on ourselves or easy, as long as we believe in Him. The part about trying to purify oneself, as He is pure, is just the work that He has given us to do, while we await His return. He knows that we cannot finish the job. He knows that even with His grace, our old man will not be completely burned up until we see the light of His face. He knows who is fooling Him, even though they are mighty in works and self-discipline. He knows who is following Him, even though their performance may not be spectacular. He knows everything about us, and He doesn't judge those whom He has redeemed, because everyone is judged by the Word He has spoken to each. Will our consciences condemn us before the Lord? That is the question.

Surely, everyone who entertains this hope
must purify himself, must try to be as pure as Christ.
1 John 3:3

Try to be pure as He is pure? What else is there to do? Be changed into His likeness at His second and glorious coming? How can we not be, if we have confessed Him before men?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

You examine me and know me

Is there ever a time when God works with haste for those who call on Him? Or is every call for rescue merely born of impatience?
— David Dickens, Nothing Hypothetical

The thought quoted above was left as a comment on Fr Stephen's blog, at the post entitled The Slow Work of Grace. Though David left another comment in which he elucidated and developed his thought, his original, pithy comment speaks mountains to me, mountains I've been climbing for years, to this very day. I promised myself that today, on my day off, I would clean house. Maybe that's what I'm doing, though in a different way.

For years I've been haunted by the saying of Jesus, "your Father knows what you need before you ask Him" (Matthew 6:8).

If that is so, why pray at all? The answer I read once in a children's book, The Magician's Nephew, where it is written, "… I’ve a sort of idea he likes to be asked."

So I straddle the wall between fervent entreaty and simply thanking the Lord for His care, providence and blessing over myself, my family members and my friends. Praying for people and causes that I am not personally involved with takes more the former than the latter shape, but the shape of my prayer usually develops from Jesus' word, "your Father knows what you need before you ask Him," because I never feel that He is distant or remote.

I keep praying the words of psalm 139, "Yahweh, you examine me and know me, you know if I am standing or sitting, you read my thoughts from far away, whether I walk or lie down, you are watching, you know every detail of my conduct. The word is not even on my tongue, Yahweh, before You know all about it; close behind and close in front You fence me around, shielding me with Your hand…"

In the presence of a God like that, all my entreaties melt away into thanksgiving, and all my heart wants to do is say, "I am happy with whatever Your will is for me. Let it be done to me as You have decreed." Yet I still bring myself around to intercede for others, and sometimes even for myself.

I am also haunted by Mother Gavrilía Papayanni's saying something to the effect that we often show that we don't trust the Lord, because we think to tell Him what we want Him to do, instead of just letting His will be our will. Yet Jesus also says, "I tell you most solemnly, anything you ask for from My Father, He will grant in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in My name. Ask and you will receive, and so your joy will be complete" (John 16:23b-24).

Hence, there is always a tension in prayer, but it is only like the tenseness of a bowstring: if the bowstring were lax, the arrow could not fly to its mark.

I'm drawn back to David's enigmatic question. I know from experience that God's answer to prayer never comes too early or too late, that we can depend on Him to be absolutely faithful, and that, yes, though He does know what we pray for before we ask, He cannot answer unless we ring Him. There is so much to be grasped but our words fail us.

"Pray as if everything depended on God, and work as if everything depended on us," is another saying that has a true and a false understanding.

This, at least, I can pray…

Help us, Lord, to ask what You would have us ask, and at the time You wish, not that our will be done, but Yours, whose will is that all come to the knowledge of the Truth, by permitting Your grace to transform our lives. As for every other need, Lord, You know that we need them before we ask.

Love the Thirst and Tears

The pre-dawn of this new day is certainly full of the works of the Lord, who does wonders among His saints. Read, my brothers, this marvelous poem written by our precious brother Yudhie Kristanto, in Indonesia. I quote it in full, so as not to break it, but go to his house and read it again where he wrote it

A stone laid by the river say,
"Friend, love the poverty and you be rich
for what for if I'm rich but then I forget the poor

"Love the powerlessness and you be strong
let others be strong and I'm weak
let them run and I crawl
but never be lazy in your exhaustion

"Love the lowliness and you be you
It is not in the peak of the hill you found orchid
it is in the cool slope near the glimmering spring
for the sooner you get, the sooner you forget

"Love the hunger and sorrow, and you be filled,
for in greediness, there is nothing can satisfy
even the whole world given you it is nothing
Love and embrace it,
then the compassion greets you
and everything becomes gladsome

"Love the thirst and tears, and you be joyful
for he who fears to bow is dreaming
peace never touches his heart unless he bow
to the suffering

"Love the lowest ground and you be still
the least place is the place where pure water loves
the water never be satisfied until it sits on the lowest spot
and as a mother she takes care of little grass and sweet lilies

"Release the captives,
for so long as they are there, they made you captive
unload the burden, and a new burden will come

"Walk with the lame
talk with the mute
weep with refugees
eat with the poor
stand up with the paralyzed
they're beautiful."

The slow work of grace

Reflecting on the friendship and the invitation expressed in the previous post, I turned to visit Fr Stephen's blog and found this timely and excellent rejoinder. I am going to excerpt just the beginning of it, and then let you go and read the rest of it where it can be found, at Glory to God for All Things

In the minds of many, grace is a legal concept – an expression of the kindness of God in the forgiveness of sins. As such, grace is instant and complete. This fits well within the legal conceptions of salvation. In the classical understanding of the Orthodox faith, salvation can indeed have a quality of “suddenness” – the thief on the Cross found paradise “in a single moment” according to the hymns of the Orthodox Church. But for most people, salvation is a life-long process in which we “work out our salvation from day to day in fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). That experience, like most of life, has a slow quality to it.

An unanswered invitation

Four years ago this month, I wrote to a dear friend…

Happy Birthday (belated)!

Last week Philip mentioned something about it being your birthday, and I responded, “Why didn’t you tell me? I would like to have given her a present.” He said, “Well, it’s not too late,” and here it is, a book which I hope you will enjoy. Yet, there is more, and that, later.

This little book, A Mind Awake, is an anthology of excerpts from the writings of C.S. Lewis, arranged by categories and topics, first published back in the late 1960’s after the author’s death (C.S. Lewis died on the same day that President Kennedy was assassinated). I like this kind of book, because you can pick it up at any moment, open it to any place, and usually find something interesting, poignant and brief to feed your mind on.

Getting this book for you got me to thinking.
You and Philip and I have a unique kind of relationship, one of mutual sympathy, loyalty, respect and even love (all understood in the best senses). Of course, most of the face to face relationship time is between Philip and myself, as we’ve worked together on and off over many years. We know how to get along and have never (to my recollection) even been angry or mad at each other in all that time, despite the fact that on occasion we have expressed opposing views on some subjects. We’ve always been willing to keep our mutual friendship on a level high above these controversies that come and go. I have this kind of relationship with very few people, not even with family members. I value that more than you can imagine. Yet, as good as that relationship is, I still hope for it to mature to the last stage before we, each of us, have to pass through the last gate.

You know, I make no secret of my following (or rather trying to follow) Jesus Christ. I have spent in total probably many days talking to Philip about spiritual things, about God, and beauty, and truth, and immortality, and the Divine Nature, and moral choices, and God’s mercy. On and on it goes, through all our many years together. This is what I meant by what I said above: we have shared many things, and although we sometimes don’t quite understand each other, or agree completely, our relationship hasn’t changed. Still, as good as it is, I want it to be even better, and so I am stepping out in a way perhaps I haven’t before, to wager what we have now against what we could have, which is much better. Why am I doing this? Because I have learned, God values high-risk investments. What I am going to say next, I ask you earnestly to consider carefully and let it ferment in your mind and heart for as long as it needs to, before you either take a draught or throw it away. There is no “catch 22” with this one: if you receive what I want to hand over to you, things will definitely change (I can’t tell you how, except it will be for the better), but if you do not receive it, our friendship will not change an iota (things can remain as before, if you will allow it).

Almost everyone of us was brought up with a “religious” affiliation. If my memory serves me right, yours was Roman Catholic (as was mine). We had to go to church, memorise prayers and creeds, and were expected to take on the baggage of our family heritage. “The ancestors in stone armor, calling for loyalty untrue, seek to make a zig-zag of the arrow’s flight.” But something happened, and we couldn’t quite swallow that pill. Instead, trusting in our own lights, we tried to navigate our own way through the world, believing and doing what we thought was best “for us,” and letting others do the same. Actually, this is the state of nature and is right, provided we understand that this arena of freedom was put there by Someone so that we could find Him, not through compulsion or blind obedience to other humans (our parents, our teachers, etc.), or fear, but by the absolute exercise of our free wills, given we inform them with actual Truth and not with fables (unchallenged views of others).

Rather than bore you now with any further discussion on how we got where we have, or why it is good or not good from any particular point of view, I just want to cut through all that, and lay before you some ideas simple but true: We exist because God exists. We are personal because God is personal. We love because God loves. We know what’s right because God is Truth. We need each other because God needs us. We want to be happy because God created us for Joy.

There was a Greek elder, Porphyrios by name, who said this, putting some words in the mouth of Christ (or rather, as I believe, Christ put His words into Elder Porphyrios’ mouth):
This is the way we should see Christ—He is our friend, our brother. He is whatever is good and beautiful. He is everything. Yet, He is still a friend and He shouts it out, “You’re my friends, don’t you understand that? We’re brothers. I’m not threatening you. I don’t hold hell in my hands. I love you. I want you to enjoy life together with me.” Christ is Everything. He is joy, He is life, He is light. He is the true light who makes man joyful, makes him soar with happiness; makes him see everything, everybody; makes him feel for everyone, to want everyone with him, everyone with Christ. Love Christ and put nothing before His Love. Christ is Everything. He is the source of life, the ultimate desire, He is everything. Everything beautiful is in Christ. Somebody who is Christ’s must love Christ, and when he loves Christ he is delivered from the devil, from hell and from death.
This is not an invitation to come to church or to be religious, maybe not even to be a “Christian.” (I myself hesitate now to call myself a Christian, and I have constantly corrected people when they refer to me as a religious person. That, I am not.) There are at least two things going on here. One is (and this is all that matters) that a human soul should accept Jesus Christ as Lord and God, and enter into a personal, saving relationship with Him. The other is (and this can only follow, and not lead) that there are churches and religions, teachings, customs, traditions, cultures, and all the other furnishings for the soul, some good, some bad. If you are pushed or dragged, born or married, bedazzled or educated into the second thing, you may never find the first, and that is all that matters, so it would be for nothing. But what I am appealing to you to seek (and what I have been appealing to Philip for many years within the arena of our tolerant and loving friendship) is that First Thing.

Do you know that God exists? Can’t you feel Him pressing on you somehow? That pressing presence is not His hatred but His love, but He is calling you in freedom to freedom. If you don’t know how to find Him and see Him like some others do, can you just start by simple, unceremonial faith (that is, trust) and just speak to Him, as if He were there (because He is) and say, “Yes, Lord, I do love you, and I know you love me. Show yourself to me, in spite of myself, and free me from whatever it is that keeps me from seeing you and knowing you. Lead me to those who love you, and join me to that family where we all love each other, where we are all truly happy to be together, where we know our Father’s love so well that we can be generous without measure, where judgment dies on our lips, where all we can see is love performing its miracles, where your love, Lord, washes over us, taking away our sins and our failures, leaving us clean and fresh, our youth renewed, and ready for anything.”

I really hope you will read A Mind Awake. I don’t think you are a bookish person, neither am I (contrary to what many think about me). This is a great book by a great Christian writer who knows how to write about God as He really is, not how He has been presented to us by mistaken teachers, our college friends, or the media. Most of all, though, I invite you to pray to the Lord, the God of our childhood, who was always there and has never changed, who is holding you in the palm of his hand right now as you read this, and who is only waiting for you to look to him. And as crazy as it seems, what if you were to accept the invitation, what then?

Well, life will go on, though not exactly in the same way. New friendships of a different quality will begin to appear; some old ones will be escalated to a new level, others will begin to fade, as they show what they really were. When Truth arrives in our lives, it burns up everything that is not true, leaving only itself.

On the practical level, I want you (and Philip, of course) to know that when you (and he) decide to accept the kind of invitation I have extended to you in this letter, you can depend on me for anything necessary for you to make your way into this new kind of life. Being born again through the exercise of your will to make that leap of faith, there will be someone (among them, I) to assist your landing. I can pray with you, read the Bible with you, socialise with you, teach you the “Christian language,” and also assist you in anything necessary for you to find your way. You can “go to church” with us at the Orthodox temple, where you can participate as much or as little, growing and learning at your own rate, mixing with others like yourself as much or as little as you like. If the Orthodox way makes sense, you can stay with us. Or, you can explore on your own. I am not now proselytising for a religion.

Remember what I said about the two things. It’s only the first I am proposing, and to assist you in that, and that alone, in knowing Jesus Christ the way He really is, in responding to His call, is my object in taking this risk with you. I will always be your friend, no matter what you choose; but what it is not mine to give, His friendship, is waiting for you, if you choose Him. Remember what words Elder Porphyrios put in Christ’s mouth, “You’re my friends, don’t you understand that? We’re brothers. I’m not threatening you. I don’t hold hell in my hands. I love you. I want you to enjoy life together with me.” And finally, think about what the gospel says, “And eternal life is this: To know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3)

Happy birthday! God grant you many years!
With respect and love, your friend

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

When I survey the wonderous cross...

The title of this post is the first line of the favorite of hymn of the man of God, Matthew Bigliardi, Episcopal bishop of Western Oregon. I will never forget how he came to conduct a revival service at my little parish of Saint Andrew on Portland's north side thirty years ago. He was a humble man, yet courageous and bold as a lion in taking captives for Jesus Christ. His letters in the church newspaper read like the New Testament epistles. He knew how to say Yes to God, and No to the world, even when that world, in the form of the Episcopal establishment, smilingly started cornering him for the kill. That he would not ordain women as priests was only one of his aberrations in their eyes. They thought he needed help, so they forced him to agree to the ordination of a bishop co-adjutor, just to help him out of course—just to help him out of a job. Within a few months, he was forced into retirement and sent packing into exile in California, where he shortly reposed. Bishop Matthew Bigliardi, man of God, whose symbol was the honeybee—they were embroidered all over his vestments, with honeycomb in the margins—May his memory be eternal.

Reading the following passage on the taking up of one's cross reminded me of this great bishop. This is what Charles Spurgeon writes about the cross, which I have borrowed from the blog Marks of Authentic Mission. My Christian brother in Northern Ireland, Andrew Kenny, has many other good things on his blog.
Check it out.

Take up the cross, and follow Me.
Mark 10:21

YOU have not the making of your own cross, although unbelief is a master carpenter at cross-making; neither are you permitted to choose your own cross, although self-will would fain be lord and master; but your cross is prepared and appointed for you by divine love, and you are cheerfully to accept it; you are to take up the cross as your chosen badge and burden, and not to stand judging it too severely. This day Jesus bids you submit your shoulder to His easy yoke. Do not kick at it in petulance, or trample on it in vain-conceit, or fall under it in despair, or run away from it in fear, but take it up like a true follower of Jesus. Jesus was a cross-bearer; He leads the way in the path of sorrow. Surely you could not desire a better guide! And if He carried a cross, what nobler burden would you desire? The Via Crucis is the way of safety; fear not to tread its thorny paths.

Beloved, the cross is not made of feathers, or lined with velvet, it is heavy and galling to disobedient shoulders; but it is not an iron cross, though your fears have painted it with iron colours, it is a wooden cross, and a man can carry it, for the Man of sorrows tried the load. Take up your cross, and by the power of the Spirit of God you will soon be so in love with it, that like Moses, you would not exchange the reproach of Christ for all the treasures of Egypt. Remember that Jesus carried it, and it will smell sweetly; remember that it will soon be followed by the crown, and the thought of the coming weight of glory will greatly lighten the present heaviness of trouble.

The Lord help you to bow your spirit in submission to the divine will before you fall asleep this night, that waking with tomorrow's sun, you may go forth to the day's cross with the holy and submissive spirit which bec
omes a follower of the Crucified.

— Charles Spurgeon, man of God (1834-92)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Fasting, weeping, mourning

But now, now—it is Yahweh who speaks—
come back to Me with all your heart,
fasting, weeping, mourning.
Let your hearts be broken,
not your garments torn…

Joel 2:12-13a Jerusalem Bible

Fasting, weeping, mourning. Three things I can’t seem to do. Once I used to fast quite a lot, following meekly the prescribed rules. I got older. My life started falling apart, along with my health. Brother body just won’t cooperate, and I relent to punish him for his frailty, lest I kill him completely. God knows my fasts, He remembers them. He knows when I am fasting and when I am not, regardless of what I eat or don’t eat.

…turn to Yahweh your God again,
for He is all tenderness and compassion,
slow to anger, rich in graciousness,
and ready to relent.
Joel 2:13b
Jerusalem Bible

I can’t remember the last time I wept before today, the last time I mourned. Sadness and disappointment plague me, over my own problems and tragedies and those of others, but I don’t mourn. I’m tired to death of my personal, built-in law of failure, of the sin that settles in so comfortably amidst my excuses, yet I don’t weep. It’s almost like a state of despair without naming it as such. “If you have a heart, you can be saved.”

Sometimes I wonder, “Do I have a heart?”

Today I read two stories in the book Jesus Freaks – Martyrs by the Christian rock band, dc Talk. I keep two of their books always on the corner of my livingroom table, hoping to be able to read them, but until today they’ve been lying there untouched for weeks. I came home from work, cooked myself some supper, sat down to eat, and to be refreshed after a day of tedium at the office by some spiritual reading.

The two stories following unleashed me somehow, and I was able to cry, to weep as the prophets exhort, for my sins and the suffering in my life and in the lives of others, that we seem helpless to remedy. We aren’t helpless, of course, but our memories fail us, and our hearts, like leaky buckets, often let the good things we have lived, seen and heard run out and be lost. Hence, we must work continually patching the holes, but even more, keep refilling our hearts with the memory of God’s saving acts in His saints.

Lord, have mercy.

Story One: Jubilant Dance for Jesus
Russian Captain

When I was still living behind the Iron Curtain, I had met a Russian captain. He loved God, he longed after God, but he had never seen a Bible. He had never attended religious services. He had no religious education, but he loved God without the slightest knowledge of Him. I read to him the Sermon on the Mount and the parables of Jesus. After hearing them, he danced around the room in rapturous joy, proclaiming, “What a wonderful beauty! How could I live without knowing this Christ?” It was the first time that I saw someone jubilating in Christ.

Then I made a mistake. I read to him the passion and crucifixion of Christ, without having prepared him for this. He had not expected it. When he heard how Christ was beaten, how He was crucified, and that in the end He died, he fell in an armchair and began to weep bitterly. He had believed in a Savior and now his Savior was dead! I looked at him and was ashamed that I had called myself a Christian and a pastor, a teacher of others. I had never shared the sufferings of Christ as this Russian officer now shared them. Looking at him was, for me, like seeing Mary Magdalene weeping at the foot of the cross or at the empty tomb.
Then I read to him the story of the resurrection. When he heard this wonderful news, that the Savior arose from the tomb, he slapped his knees and shouted for joy, “He is alive! He is alive!” Again he danced around the room, overwhelmed with happiness. I said to him, “Let us pray!” He fell on his knees together with me. He did not know our holy phrases. His words of prayer were, “O God, what a fine chap You are! If I were You, and You were me, I would never have forgiven You Your sins. But You are really a very nice chap! I love You with all my heart.”

I think that all the angels in heaven stopped what they were doing to listen to this sublime prayer from this Russian officer. When this man received Christ, he knew that he would immediately lose his position as an officer, that prison and perhaps death in jail would almost surely follow. He gladly paid the price. He was ready to lose everything.

Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
1 Peter 1:8, 9 NIV

Story Two: I Always Have Jesus Before My Eyes
John Stanescu

The Russian colonel entered the cell carrying the cane used for beating prisoners. As director of the slave labor camp, he had been informed that someone had dared to preach the Gospel. “Who is the culprit?” he demanded. When no one responded, he said, “Well, then all will be flogged.”

He started at one end of the cell. Soon the air was filled with the usual yelling and tears. When he came to Stanescu, he said, “Not ready yet? Strip this minute!” As he stood up, the Romanian deacon John Stanescu replied, “There is a God in heaven, and He will judge you.” With this, John’s fate was sealed. Everyone knew he would surely be beaten to death. There was a sudden hush.

At that moment, a guard entered saying, “Colonel Albon, you are called urgently to the office. Some high-ranking generals have come from the Ministry. The colonel left, saying to Stanescu, “We will see each other again soon.” However, things did not turn out as the colonel had planned. Communists hate and often jail each other for no reason, and the generals had come that day to arrest the colonel! After an hour, Colonel Albon was back in the cell, this time as a prisoner.

Many inmates jumped at him to lynch him. But Stanescu jumped to his defense, shielding the defeated enemy with his own body. He received many blows himself as he protected the torturer from the flogged prisoners. Stanescu was a real priest, a royal priest. A Christian prisoner later asked him, “Where did you get the power to do this?” He replied, “I love Jesus ardently. I always have Him before my eyes. I also see Him in the enemy. It is Jesus who keeps them from doing even worse things. The grace of God brings about His blessings in the spiritual and material realms. As His children, we do not have to be buffeted about by all the torments that afflict the world. Even when trouble comes, the sunlight of God is shining, and there is peace within us.”

I am the One who reproves and disciplines all those He loves: so repent in real earnest. Look, I am standing at the door, knocking. If one of you hears Me calling and opens the door, I will come in to share his meal, side by side with him. Those who prove victorious I will allow to share My throne, just as I was victorious Myself and took My place with My Father on His throne.
Letter to the Church at Laodicea, Revelation 3:19-22 JB

Monday, February 22, 2010

Make believe Jews

Since the first generation of the Church, there’s been this nasty and persistent tug back to Judaism, back to the idea that somehow God has to be placated by the performance of ceremonial injunctions, this in spite of the Word of the Lord through His holy prophet Isaiah,

What are your endless sacrifices to Me?
says Yahweh.
I am sick of holocausts of rams
and the fat of calves.
The blood of bulls and of goats revolts Me.
When you come to present yourselves before Me,
who asked you to trample over My courts?
Bring Me your worthless offerings no more,
the smoke of them fills Me with disgust,
new moons, sabbaths, assemblies—
I cannot endure festival and solemnity.
Your new moons and your pilgrimages
I hate with all My soul.
They lie heavy on Me,
I am tired of bearing them.
When you stretch out your hands
I turn My eyes away.
You may multiply your prayers,
I shall not listen.
Your hands are covered with blood,
wash, make yourselves clean.

Isaiah 1:11-16a

How can YHWH God, the God of Israel, say this about sacrifices and other ceremonies which He ordained through Moses His holy prophet, to be observed till the end of time? The key is in the last sentence in the passage quoted, and amplified in the following four verses. God hates to be treated as if He can be tricked, as if He, like the unseeing, unhearing, unfeeling elilim, those nothings that are the gods of the nations, can be parleyed with, can be bought with blood money. The holy prophet Isaiah continues,

Take your wrongdoing out of My sight.
Cease to do evil.
Learn to do good,
search for justice,
help the oppressed,
be just to the orphan,
plead for the widow.

Come now, let us talk this over,
says Yahweh.
Though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
they shall be like wool.

If you are willing to obey,
you shall eat the good things of the earth.
But if you persist in rebellion,
the sword shall eat you instead.
The mouth of Yahweh has spoken.

Isaiah 1:16b-20

We can see in retrospect what this prophecy meant for the people Israel. The second Temple was laid waste and their nation dispersed among the nations. What happened to them is a paradigm of what happens to all peoples in all times, even all individuals, when they try to live a double life. For, as Jesus, the Word of God in human form, says,

No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.
Matthew 6:24

Right from the first, the tug back to Judaism was felt, so strong a tug that the first council of the Church was called to relieve it, laying down the principle that the commandments of God which constituted the moral code were binding on the disciples, but nothing more. The apostles, all of whom were faithful Jews and not Gentile converts, issued a letter to the churches, which is typically Jewish in style,

The apostles and elders, your brothers, send greetings to the brothers of pagan birth in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia. We hear that some of our members have disturbed you with their demands and have unsettled your minds. They acted without any authority from us, and so we have decided unanimously to elect delegates and to send them to you with Barnabas and Paul, men we highly respect who have dedicated their lives to the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accordingly we are sending you Judas and Silas, who will confirm by word of mouth what we have written in this letter. It has been decided by the Holy Spirit and by ourselves not to saddle you with any burden beyond these essentials: you are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from fornication. Avoid these and you will do what is right. Farewell.
Acts 15:23b-29

They do not mention the moral code at all, as this was a given. Elsewhere in the book of the Acts of the Apostles, and in the epistles, especially in the letter to the Galatians, other Jewish religious obligations, such as circumcision, and the kosher laws dividing clean from unclean foods, are examined and dispensed with. The dispensation from the kosher laws was, as a matter of fact, not a teaching of a Gentile convert, but of the holy apostle Peter himself, who again was a believing Jew. If there were any reason for Christians to continue observing the ceremonial laws of Judaism, it seems certain that it would have been taught by the original apostles, all of whom were Jews, and passed down to us through the orthodox, apostolic Church. On the contrary, this has never happened from the first generations until now.

Yet, we are troubled even today, as were the early Gentile converts by those whom Peter calls “some of our members.” Peter wasn’t saying, “these men are not Christians,” but rather, “they acted without any authority from us.” There have proliferated since the founding of the state of Israel many new sects claiming to be “messianic Jews,” who are trying to recover the lost heritage of a speculated Hebrew Christianity, going so far as to produce Jewish versions of the New Testament and repudiating and denigrating the Greek originals. Some of them carefully sidestep the explicit anathemas against Judaizing that are found in the letter to the Galatians, but as the movement has grown, other groups have emerged that throw all caution to the winds and reveal themselves for what they are, making the words of holy apostle Paul, himself a believing Jew, as relevant as ever,

I am astonished at the promptness with which you have turned away from the One who called you and have decided to follow a different version of the Good News. Not that there can be more than one Good News; it is merely that some troublemakers among you want to change the Good News of Christ; and let me warn you that if anyone preaches a version of the Good News different from the one we have already preached to you, whether it be ourselves or an angel from heaven, he is to be condemned. I am only repeating what I told you before: If anyone preaches a version of the Good News different from the one you have already heard, he is to be condemned. So now whom am I trying to please—man, or God? Would you say it is men’s approval I am looking for? If I still wanted that, I should not be what I am—a servant of Jesus Christ.
Galatians 1:6-10

Even with these words on the books, or rather in the Book, we still find groups that call themselves “messianic synagogues,” their ministers “rabbis,” who wear prayer shawls with long tzitzit (tassels) and who daven (bob up and down) furiously as they worship. Very few of their members are actually Jews. Very few of their “rabbis” are Jews either. Yet they enforce rabbinical, not merely biblical, Jewish customs on their congregations. Some, trying to imitate rabbinical synagogue services and customs, divide their members into those who are Jews by ancestry from those who are not, allowing the former to come up and read a Torah portion, while the latter are told to be thankful that they’re allowed to be part of the qahal (Jewish community) at all. Again, these leaders are in most cases not Jews in the first place, even though some may claim Jewish ancestry. They are like those of whom Jesus Christ speaks in His letters to the churches of Asia,

I know the trials you have had, and how poor you are—though you are rich—and the slanderous accusations that have been made by the people who profess to be Jews but are really members of the synagogue of Satan.
Letter to the church at Smyrna, Revelation 2:9

Now I am going to make the synagogue of Satan—those who profess to be Jews, but are liars, because they are no such thing—I will come and make them fall at your feet and admit that you are the people that I love.
Letter to the church at Philadelphia, Revelation 3:9

So, brethren, you ask yourselves, why is he writing this? Does he have an axe to grind? Is he an anti-Semite?

No, brothers, I am not an anti-Semite. In fact, some have accused me of being a Judaizer myself.

I read Hebrew. I pray the Hebrew Tehillim (Psalms). I sway when I pray. I have a long beard. I am respectful of Jewish scruples. I try to keep the Passover. And I am a Greek Orthodox Christian. I read Greek. I pray and worship the Greek liturgy. I kiss bibles, ikons, crosses and the hands of priests and other brethren. I follow the fast and feasts. I bow and perform prostrations. I confess my sins. I witness for Jesus Christ the God-Man and King of Israel. I believe in His cross, resurrection and ascension. I know He is present with us at this very moment. “So who am I trying to please, man or God?” I can ask myself with holy apostle Paul. My answer, humbly given, is “God, and that makes me what I am, His servant, though unworthy.”

This post is dedicated to those who may be imprisoned by this false philosophy that seems to bother the Body of Christ perennially. I am not including Jewish Christian faith communities, many of which also call themselves “messianic synagogues,” in this testimony. I also realise that there may be some groups that lie somewhere between the ethnic Jewish and the make believe Jewish category.

If you are a Jew by birth and have come to believe in Jesus, then do what He tells you. Thousands, even millions, have gone the path that lies before you. Even in the Greek Orthodox koinonia are sons and daughters of Israel who are Christians while not abandoning their identity as Jews, and we are honored to have them in our midst, as kinsmen of the Son of God. Some are even priests of the faith, like Fr Bernstein, who was one of the founders of Jews for Jesus.

If you are not a Jew by birth and are involved in a “messianic Jewish synagogue,” brother or sister, what are you doing there? Do you know your Bible? Do you know that the Church of Christ has been grafted onto the root of Israel, as the Word of God declares, and that is enough for us? As martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer says, “The life of discipleship can only be maintained so long as nothing is allowed to come between Christ and ourselves, neither the law, nor personal piety, nor even the world. The disciple looks always only to his master, never to Christ AND the law, Christ AND religion, Christ AND the world. Only by following Christ alone can he preserve a single eye.”

The whole history of the Church of Christ from the day of Pentecost until today cannot be laid aside and replaced by a private fantasy of our own, no matter how attractive, how glorious, how righteous it seems. We are only of yesterday, but our Lord and His Bride are from before the beginning and reach to the ages of ages,

With so many witnesses in a great cloud on every side of us, we too, then, should throw off everything that hinders us, especially the sin that clings so easily, and keep running steadily in the race that we have started. Let us not lose sight of Jesus, who leads us in our faith and brings it to perfection.
Hebrews 12:1-2a

He said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go, therefore, make disciples of all the nations; baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe the commands I gave you. And know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.”
Matthew 28:18b-20

Do you believe this?

The Border

Originally, the border between the Church and the world was put up, not by the Church, but by the world, which could find no use for, and would not tolerate, this indigestible people. The Church constituted something like an Indian reservation or a ghetto, or even worse, a leper colony within society, a social entity which should not be, but nonetheless was. It was an embarrassment for and accusation against the classes that ruled the world.

Among those untouchable and unmentionable people, leaders arose, chosen not for their excellence or eminence in any worldly endeavor, but for their abject surrender to the service of the others. The world looked on in wonder at these hopeless imbeciles following a crucified criminal, surprised that they could have so much love for one another, but even more stupefied at their lack of survival instinct—they didn’t fight back when attacked by the world, they prayed for, and even more incomprehensibly, thanked those who injured and killed them!

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

The charge of atheism brought against them was designed to infuriate the working masses of the world, which by and large were “religious,” and which could be depended upon to punish the Church at the slightest provocation, thereby freeing the world rulers from overt responsibility for the persecution of these deranged trouble makers, undeserving of the name “human.”

No, the world had no use for, and would not tolerate, this indigestible people. It would give them no avenue for worldly success or security—economic, educational, social—not unless they, individually, renounced their allegiance to their pathetic God by publicly conforming to the world system and taking what they called among themselves “the mark of the beast.” If they did that, they were allowed the cross the border. They were free at last from the unreasonable restrictions placed upon them by their crazy beliefs.

After some time had passed, the Church, to the astonishment and discomfort of the world and its rulers, had grown much larger than had been anticipated. The elaborate system of tests and containment strategies that they devised could not keep the borders of this neglected area from expanding. The Church even crept into places it had never been seen before. It was to be expected that among the unschooled rabble, some would defect to this weird cult, lured by the rumors of “brotherly love” and other such nonsense. Everyone knew that these were just cover-ups for their unnatural practices, hypocrites all of them.

But now, and with more and more regularity every day, it seemed that once responsible citizens of the world were becoming uncooperative and difficult, excusing themselves from participating in the rites and rituals, even refusing the world’s most reasonable demands. The infection had spread, from the mere denizens even to the rulers of the world order. What was to be done? How was the world to maintain the border between itself and the Church?

There was nothing else to do but, swallowing its pride (just for a moment), the world would have to “become” the Church. It would have to get inside (disgusting!) the barricade where all that refuse and filth calling itself “human” was holed up, and somehow harness that teeming multitude to a new “world machine” under its benign and rational management.

Since the other side of the border was now larger than the world, there was nothing to do but jump the fence. Soon, “under new management” the Church, having become the world, would be so universal, so thoroughly ecumenical, that to be a leader of it would be an even greater honor than it once was to be a world ruler in former times.

It didn’t matter, not really, that the world would have to let go its old props and proof texts and principles. The Church had a Book that it had gathered together from one of those barbaric, backward tribes, adding to it a few chapters of its own. These could be imbued with new meanings, this Book could be used as a kind of Trojan horse by the world rulers to bring their powerful premises into play, first blocking, then replacing the so-called “promises” in that stupid Book.

“The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever.” See? Their own Book is talking about us! Now, no one can oppose us! To make sure of this, all we have to do is establish “tests” to qualify only those who agree with us, send them to school, and teach them to parrot our plans. As for those who won’t…

So a new border had to be put up.
Again, it was put up by the world, not by the Church.

It became difficult, sometimes and in some places, to distinguish just who was on this side of the border, and who was on the other. The world had learned how to juggle names, titles and powers in such a way that sometimes even it got confused about who was who and which was which. The new border, though, did work. The Church was contained, even though imperfectly. The world now had a free hand to save itself, to save the planet, to liberate all humanity from the darkness of ancient superstition—Imagine that! A dying and resurrecting God!—and from the “haters of humanity” who think that they alone possess the truth, and that there is only one way!

“The nerve of that bunch of fanatics who call themselves ‘the Church’—why, we can’t even see them! But we can hear them, and they trouble us still, even to this day.”

But, my brothers, let me remind you of these things…

There is no need to be afraid, little flock, for it has pleased your Father to give you the Kingdom.
Luke 12:32

You must not love this passing world
or anything that is in the world.
The love of the Father cannot be
in any man who loves the world.
1 John 2:15

If the world hates you,
remember that it hated Me before you.
If you belonged to the world,
the world would love you as its own;
but because you do not belong to the world,
because My choice withdrew you from the world,
therefore the world hates you.
Remember the words I said to you:
A servant is not greater than his master.
If they persecuted Me,
they will persecute you too;
if they kept My word,
they will keep yours as well.
But it will be on My account that they will do all this,
because they do not know the One who sent Me.
John 15:18-21

I have told you all this
so that your faith may not be shaken.
They will expel you from the synagogues,
and indeed the hour is coming
when anyone who kills you will think he is doing a holy duty for God.
John 16:1-2

I have told you all this
so that you may find peace in Me.
In the world you will have trouble,
but be brave:
I have conquered the world.
John 16:33

The Border was written and first published on February 6, 2008.
I felt that it would be good to bring it back and share its message again.
It's important to remember who and what we are.
Because “the time is close.”
Revelation 1:3

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The triumph of Orthodoxy... not what we so boldly play it up to be on the Sunday dedicated to this name. Yes, they fought hard battles and long, the victors now becoming the victims later, then exchanging places as readily as dancers, as imperial and sacerdotal whims gave way to one another, and crowds of old men, some saints and others mere savants, dissecting each other's brains to an atomic level, and straining each other's syllables spoken, sung or scribed through sieves of partiality so clogged with flesh and blood, that it's a wonder anything came through.

It's not really about whether we make ikons or break them, whether we fellowship with saints above or only with those below. Nor is it about whether we can name a faithful virgin of Israel the mother of the ineffable God or only of the God-Man she bore, or whether Himself He had at all times an unobstructed and single will, nature, and being, or only appeared so.

It's not really about whether the Spirit can come on whomsoever He wishes with the anointing that teaches everything infallibly, or on all who call upon Him, or only on those upon whom human hands have been laid, over whom human tongues have prayed, generation after generation, unbroken, from the beginning.

The triumph of Orthodoxy is to be put on trial, tested by every antagonist, human and inhuman, visible and invisible, rational and irrational, using every temptation, to glory, to humiliation, to wealth, to poverty, to power, to weakness, to joy, to sorrow, to health, to sickness, to life, and to death, and thus tried, to come forth as a bride made beautiful for her Bridegroom, without any flaw, dressed in spotless white, with a heart purged of all malice, forgetful of all injury, seeking only to love, to love all without measure, without exception, unaware of her exaltation, her eyes fixed forever on her Beloved.

Unless we are put on trial in this way, we will never triumph.
Today we are one day closer to it than we were yesterday.
Are we ready?

Originally posted on Cost of Discipleship on July 30, 2009.
Today is the Sunday of [the Triumph] of Orthodoxy.
We are always learning what it means
to be Orthodox Christians.
Lord, have mercy!

Saturday, February 20, 2010


Orthodoxy is a sagacious faith. It gives good advice. It gives it humbly, meekly. It hands over to every new generation of mankind what it has received from the Word of Christ found in the gospels and the apostles.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall have mercy shown them.”

This is no abstract concept. Merely thinking about it will get you nowhere. Reading it, repeating it, again, you are frozen in your tracks. To arrive somewhere, you must take steps, you must walk. If you want to arrive at the seat of mercy, your feet must teach you the way, you have to walk the path.

Where does that leave us? What does it mean to be merciful? How do you walk to get to that place of safety, to that city of refuge, where mercy will be shown you? What work of mercy can you do? Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless, heal the afflicted, release the captives, teach the ignorant, raise the dead or, if you cannot, at least bury them? Big words, big deeds, impossible deeds. Who can do these things? They are too many, “and I am just one person.”

You’re right, of course. You are just one person, and handicapped by your many personal defects and the cares of this world. Good. To know this, to acknowledge this, is a start. You too need a savior. You also need mercy. To know yourself and your limitations is the beginning of humility. To turn from this revelation and do an ‘about face’ to the Lord, that’s your next step.

Pray. Ask the Lord to send someone to you who needs mercy to be shown them, someone to whom you can be merciful. He won’t delay. This is a prayer that He will answer in less than 24 hours, in less than one hour perhaps, maybe even in a matter of minutes.

So, you pray this prayer, “Lord, send me someone to whom I can show mercy today,” and you throw on your coat, hop into your car, and in a minute and a half you’re gliding up the on-ramp of the freeway at 50 miles an hour, hurrying to work.

“What’s she doing? Is she gonna merge or not? Why isn’t she using her turn signal? She’s going so slow! Doesn’t she know I’ve got only 17 minutes left to get to work?” You lose patience, consign the driver to the devil, honk the horn, punch the accelerator, and break the speed limit momentarily while you leave her jalopy behind you in a cloud of mingled dust and exhaust. You look quickly up into the rear view mirror to see who it was that was causing you to lose your composure... an old man, probably an octogenarian, is driving that beat up old car! He smiles meekly and waves his confusion with his right hand, and you barely caught sight of it. Now you wish you hadn’t.

“Blessed are the merciful...” involuntarily scrolls through your active mind, while the self-watcher in you taunts, “You blew it again.”

O God, how can we whose minds are so unstable keep our eyes focused on You, so that we can do what we see You doing every day and all around us? For You fill our world at every moment with creatures just like us, falling into need and sin, or arising out of it following the call of life that You’ve planted in us, though we might not know it. Your Word has been strewn among us, seeking that fertile humus in which it can sprout, grow and eventually bear fruit, so that it does not return to You void.

Open our eyes, Lord, to see the world as You see it, at every moment, in every place hearts crying out for mercy, to receive it, but also to bestow it. Show us, Father, that we are not alone, and that to show mercy can be as humble as yielding to another’s infirmity, to overlook our brother’s ignorance, to forgive one who injures or insults us before, or even without, being asked.

Help us to see that mercy has no size limit, large or small, visible or hidden. It is an arrow that never fails to hit its mark. That to stand confidently before Your seat of mercy is to be merciful wherever we are, just as You are merciful. And to always pray what we hear Jesus praying every day, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

Friday, February 19, 2010

Desert Mothers

The picture above just took my breath away. In the high Sonora desert at the foot of Mount Graham lies the Serbian Orthodox women's monastery of Saint Paisius Velichkovsky. Here is an article with pictures that Fr Milovan has posted at his blog, Again and Again. This monastery must be a well-kept secret, as I had never heard of it.

The sisters have a MySpace site, which you can visit as I briefly have, and see what they are doing. It looks like they have uploaded some of their music. I'll be going back there for more visits, and I invite you to do the same. I've also added a link to their site in the side bar.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A call to action

Resurrection, by Grace Carol Bomer

After reading Fr Stephen's illuminating post, The Instinct of Repentance, I wanted to blog a brief examination of the difference between the Greek original and the Latin (and Western Christian) translation of the word Repentance, but there is not much to say, and Fr Stephen says it all in this post…

A large measure of the language of repentance is found in the word repentance itself. It is a Latin cognate (coming into English through the French). Rooted in the Latin word paenetentia, repentance has long held associations with crime and punishment. Our prisons are penitentiaries, though repentance of a true sort is rarely their result. To be given a penance also has had a sense of a punishment given for sins forgiven.

This differs greatly from the original language of the New Testament in which repentance is metanoia, a change in the mind (nous). The word nous, in Eastern Christian tradition, is often used interchangeably with the word heart.
Repentance is an inner change of heart. Repentance is not concerned with clearing our legal record but with being changed – ultimately into the likeness of Christ.

There, that's the difference. But after a moment's reflection, I realized there is an even more important truth that Fr Stephen writes about further down in the same post, and this concerns the nature of "Lenten observance." Rather than making us more reclusive and internalized in our approach to God during the Great Fast, the essence of Sarakostí, the Forty Days, is a call to action. This is what he writes…

The commandments of Christ are not difficult because they are so complex or mystical – they are difficult because they are so clear and we do not want to keep them.

The disciplines traditionally practiced during the season of Great Lent, prayer, fasting, almsgiving, are given to us not in order to generate a season of introspection. They are given to us as a call to a season of action. Prayer is something we do. It is a struggle, but it is an action (Orthodox prayer is particularly marked by action – even physical action). Fasting is an action as well. In our psychologized culture, it is hard for many to understand fasting as having anything to do with repentance. But it is the experience of Scripture and generations of the Church, that the discipline of fasting (abstaining from certain foods and eating less) has a clear effect on the heart – our inner disposition – particularly when that fasting is coupled with prayer and almsgiving. Almsgiving is an action that is all too often ignored in our thoughts about repentance. Charitable giving (in our culture) is even perversely thought by some to be a way of getting more money, such that “give and it will be given unto you” is seen as a success formula. We are indeed a brood of vipers.

Giving is an action. Give money away. Give sacrificially of your time. Give mercy and kindness to others. Forgive the sins of others as if your own forgiveness depended on it (it does). If we would see our hearts change in the direction of the image of Christ – the “roadmap” is not hidden. Pray, fast, be merciful and give.

This is the instinct of repentance. With practice it becomes the habit of the heart. Kindness, practiced consistently over a period of time, by the grace of God results in our becoming kind. To be kind is to be like God (Luke 6:35). Repentance is the path to the kingdom of God. The actions of repentance (under grace) – given to us in the Tradition of the Church – are the means by which such a changed heart will be formed within us.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Καθαρά δευτέρα

As for me, the first day of the Great Fast finds me working away at my technical writing job, today translating a machine manual into French. I feel pretty empty, really. Drinking a thermos of some kind of smoky Asian tea, probably Lapsang Souchong, that I found in a cupboard in the company lunch room, and having eaten the second of my two bread rolls, I went to look at some of my favorite blogs. I know I shouldn't do this two days in a row, but I am going to quote a passage from today's poem by my friend and brother, David Dickens. Please go ahead and read the whole poem by clicking the link after his name, but these few verses spoke to me strongly. Our best intentions are always being eroded. If that's not proof that we are living in a body of sin in a fallen world, I don't know what is. But our good and loving God, He knows us through and through, and He is strong to save…

What mockery made us believe
We could bribe the king of heaven
Or hide in myrrh’s thick smoke?

Light candle, say a prayer rote
Sing the appointed hymn loudly
Bow and scrape, kiss the cross

What are these to a dark heart?
Empty delusions, death by lies
Futile efforts He will not endure

But if we wash one another
Returning again with thanksgiving
Learn and grow, give and love

— David Dickens, First Hour of Turning, Nothing Hypothetical

Sunday, February 14, 2010


At the threshold of the gates of repentance we stand, unlike Jesus at the start of His forty days, fully fed. It was only after having exhausted all these ways of tempting Him [that] the devil left Him, to return at the appointed time” (Luke 4:13 JB).

Now the devil is ready for the chase with us, his teeth clenched in eternal anxiety, his cloven feet entrenched at the starting line, his bodiless form eternally bent as if poised to plunge into the lake of fire—on your mark, get set, go!

But we, unlike Jesus at the start of His forty days, fully fed, receive now, as in advance, what He did only when “the devil left Him, and angels appeared and looked after Him” (Matthew 4:11 JB).

We are already with Him at the finish line, feeding on such food as He is and has, gazing backwards over our shoulders, gazing back to the future, feeding on what His angels bring. Here is a morsel of that manna to be consumed now.

Take it, my brothers, take it to heart, and eat of it, and “let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Hebrews 12:1b NIV)...

by David Dickens

Praise the Lord dwelling in Zion
Who acquits His in their guilt
He does not abandon them to shame

In Judah, in Jerusalem
He has made His house
All else left to desert

Brought low by locust
Chewing, Consuming, Crawling
His great army against the world

But on His, wine pours down
And milk is supped before
Of those dying of thirst

They are dry in the memory
The recall of their violence
Against His innocent blood

Awake, know the Lord God
And His home on the mountain
Approach and be made holy

Wild hearts, do not be afraid
A far green country arises
Where great fruit is plenty

The Judge sits ready
But the nations have no counsel
Pray them to rend their hearts

But the time is ending
Immigration closing
Soon foreigners will be expelled

The faithful forebears welcomed
But their wayward children driven
Through barren lands into the sea

Hear the Lion of Judah
His voice shakes the nations
A roar filling the heavens

Weep priests before the altar
Your false words make false flocks
With no hope found in their idols

Hearts of the world fall
Like dust of the stars
More than all the grains of sand

And winepress full of the dying
Crushed spilling out
To the ends of rebellion

But His hand raises men
From their own blood
Though the presses overflow

Elders assemble your children
Gather the people for the bridegroom
Ready them for the feast

Many are the endless throng
All the sheaves full
The bales heavy with life

Blow the trumpet
The fast is ended
Call them to order

And be glad all citizens
For His faithful rain falls
In joy it descends from heaven

So the Lord says, “I am
Wheat, water, wine and oil
And I will satisfy.”

Open doors

Last week, on Thursday, my day off, one of my sons visited me with a very special friend of his who just gave birth to a beautiful baby girl on January 30. It has been many years since I have had an infant in the house or even held one.

I placed the car seat with baby Daniella on the end of the dining room table, so I could get a good look at her, while Johnny and Kelley unpacked the lunch they had brought to share with me. I hadn’t seen Kelley in more than a year. She looked the same as always, calm and beautiful, even though she’s a mommy now. Daniella was awake and squirming a little in the car seat, still strapped in and looking like she’d rather be out of it. I marveled at what a beautiful baby girl she was, perfectly formed, though tiny, so tiny that her little wrists were only as thick as my thumb, reminding me of the fairy tale baby Thumbelina.

While Daniella lay there looking up at the Torah scroll that I have mounted on the wall above the table as a scriptural ikon, with its silver oil lamp glowing, the three of us grownups had our lunch—Vietnamese baguette sandwiches from a new sandwich shop nearby, a delicious departure from the usual. Now that we’re entering Lent, I’ll have to wait till the day of Resurrection to have another one, but no matter. Another good thing to look forward to, although “man does not live by bread alone” (Matthew 4:4).

After lunch, Johnny released Daniella from her captivity, picked her up and carried her for a few moments, and then asked me what I was hoping he would, “Would you like to hold her?” “Of course, that’s what I was waiting for!” I responded, and he transferred the precious burden into my arms. I walked with her around the living room and dining room, looking at her in the different light as I moved from the table to the wall of windows and then over to the inner wall where my prayer ‘corner’ is, with its ikons, oil lamp and censers.

I held the little girl up to the ikons.
“Look, Daniella! Here’s your name day saint, prophet Daniel!” I said, as I took the ikon off the nail and brought it up close to her so she could get a better look. She peered at the picture mounted to a wooden board, humoring me. I placed the ikon back on the wall it shares with an ikon of prophet Moses the Law-giver, and my favorite picture of Jesus in a little frame I carved myself years ago. At least I got to introduce her to my ikons. She’ll no doubt see more of them in the future.

The rest of the time I spent holding and gently rocking her, sitting on a chair next to Kelley as she finished her lunch, and we talked, and I continued admiring Daniella and thanking God for this little miracle. What changes this little ambassador of Christ will bring into her mother’s life! Ambassador of Christ? She’s just a baby! Well, that’s true, but if we believe the Savior’s words, “to such as these the Kingdom of Heaven belongs” and “in heaven their angels are always in the presence of my heavenly Father” (Luke 18:16, Matthew 18:10), babies are, like Jesus, an open door, for themselves and for us. Could that be why we have ikons of baby Jesus? I wonder.

On our side, the door to our lives is closed, often locked, so much so that the Lord says, “I stand at the door and knock” (Revelation 3:20). How strange this is, to turn the tables on Him thus. On His side, the doors are open, and they are many. Though He bids us “knock, and the door will be open to you” (Matthew 7:7), indicating that our action is required, the truth from experience is, that He is opening doors for us every day. That is His nature, His divine nature.

Therefore Jesus said again, “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. … I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. … I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
John 10:7, 9, 10b NIV

Holding a baby like Daniella is like holding the Word of God in your hands. Just as the Word tells you about God and also about yourself, because it is Alive, so an infant, newly created by the Lord, and sent by the Lord, is alive with a Life newly lit from the flame of the Holy One of Israel, as scripture says “the Light of Israel will become a fire, their Holy One a flame” (Isaiah 10:17).

Holding a precious infant is standing in a door way that He has opened, a door way between this world and His, reminding us once again of where we came from, and where we are going, when we say ‘Yes’… into a land we have never seen, but because we know the Lord has gone there before us, it is home.

And as I held her for a few more moments, I asked inwardly, “Κυριε, να σας ζηση”… “Lord, give her life.”