Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Loveless

Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to Him to call his attention to its buildings. “Do you see all these things?” He asked. “I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down…
Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold…”

Matthew 24:1-2, 12 NIV

The love of most will grow cold.
This verse came to me this morning and I’ve been meditating on it all day. It comes from Christ’s discourse on the end times, and there are many seemingly more startling predictions than this one in the passage—impersonators of Christ, wars and revolutions, famines and earthquakes, persecution, apostasy, and false prophets—and then this, the love of most will grow cold. It seems almost anti-climactic. Yet Christ included it. It must be an important sign, and a sign it is.

This is my experience practically every day.
This is our experience, though because its presence is so pervasive, we’ve all become used to it and don’t notice it. If we did, it might drive us to despair. What am I talking about? “The world’s not all that bad!” Sorry, brothers, sorry, but it is. Even close to home.

At first I wanted to say of this love growing cold, that unwillingness to affirm the other person is its hidden root, but no, even that root doesn’t go deep enough. Jesus plainly calls its cause—wickedness—in Greek anomía, lawlessness. Ironic, that lawlessness causes lovelessness? I should have stopped here, but forgive me, brethren, for this worthless ramble.

We love because we feel we are loved. Loved by whom? Well, for starters, think of a child, one who knows that his parents love him, especially that his mother does. That makes it possible for him to love, and love he does. But what if his mother doesn’t love him, and he knows it? Right from the beginning, the inner emptiness caused by that lack of love can turn his love inwards, to self-love. “Well, if mommy doesn’t love me, I’m looking out for number one,” or, as we read in C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle, “The dwarfs are for the dwarfs!” A lot of loveless people start out this way, crushed children grow up into crushing adults.

In a general sort of way, the love of most grows cold because they don’t really believe that God loves them, personally. Why don’t they? Well, it’s probably because they don’t believe that God exists at all. Imagine this—living in a universe without God. If you don’t open your eyes in the morning and look at the universe, it may not even exist! When you die, for sure the universe is gone. But if there is a God, could that be why the universe continues, whether any one of us is alive to experience it, or whether we are dead? This God, like the character of Christ in the film Jesus of Nazareth, doesn’t even blink. If He did, what would become of us?

This is my experience practically every day.

People protect themselves from the imposition of others. They see that something they know and could say or do would lighten someone’s burden, help them in some way, but they withhold it. “Why should I lend a hand? I’m busy,” or worse yet, “Serves him right, he’s old enough to know how to do that. Too bad, you dope!”

Parents turning away their children, eager to push them out of the nest. Children abandoning their parents, ignoring them until they want something. Employees making a co-worker’s job difficult because they can’t be bothered to share what they know. Drivers cutting people off, making other unsafe manoeuvres, honking their horns at anyone who gets in their way. Customer service people who respond only to your exact question, unwilling to help you ask the right question to solve your dilemma. Why? What would it cost them?

How can anyone have such hatred towards another creature? They see someone crushed, they crush him lower. They see someone in distress, they say, “It’s none of my business.”

And when do these people attend? When do they extend themselves for others? When there is profit to be had, plain and simple. Calling ourselves Christians, we try our best to live in love according to our ability, because we know that “he who lives in love lives in God” (1 John 4:16) and “whoever loves his brother lives in the light… but whoever hates his brother is in the darkness” (1 John 2:10-11), and yet we somehow are able to provide ourselves with reasons why we should withhold our love from this or that person. “Why should I help him after all he’s done to me?” or “Let her learn for herself what I had to go through!”

Christ help us!

Why doesn’t our own past suffering soften our hearts towards those suffering now? Do we think by handing over a five-dollar-bill we can satisfy the justice of God? Does making a party for our friends and being generous to those from whom we expect benefits or praise make up for our callous hearts?

We draw near to the time of Christ’s resurrection, or rather it draws us near, the Father draws us near to His Son, if we will let Him. We confess, “All is forgiven in the resurrection,” echoing the teachings of the fathers. We shout at the end of the midnight service of Pascha, “Epikranthi! It was vexed!” speaking of Hades’ state when it discovered it had tried to hold the uncontainable God, and “Anesti Christos! Christ is risen!” speaking of the single event in the universe that has annihilated annihilation.

Are we willing, at last, to rekindle in us the only fire worth having, the only flame that never goes out? “Come, receive the light from the unwaning Light!” Though in this world of darkness that Light still shines, without being put out, yet also without being grasped, can we walk in that Light? Can we live in love? Or is our love going to grow colder? “Upon those who walked in darkness, a Light has shone” (Isaiah 9:2).

Φωτίζου, φωτίζου, ἡ νέα Ἱερουσαλήμ, ἡ γὰρ δόξα Κυρίου ἐπὶ σὲ ἀνέτειλε. Χόρευε νῦν καὶ ἀγάλλου Σιών…

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Patience, generosity and meekness

You complain that your life is 'rough and rugged.' But whatever we do is always like that. Where there are men, there are passions, narrow-mindedness, selfishness, conceit. Thus it is all the more necessary for us to maintain ourselves at a certain depth, to keep in mind the all-embracing, final goal before us, to destroy in ourselves all that is petty and trivial: then we shall find it easier to suffer with the faults of others. O God, send us patience, generosity and meekness. We are working, not for ourselves, but for God: and therefore all conflicts will be settled, not through our own great efforts, but through God's wisdom.
— Fr Alexander Elchaninov, The Diary of a Russian Priest

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The hearing of the Word

Father Stephen's words came to me this morning as a drink from that well that springs unto life eternal that the Lord offered the woman of Samaria. I can't help but quote most of what he wrote, but if you want to read everything, here is the link. Italics in the following text are mine.

I am convinced after years of preaching and listening to preaching that the bulk of Scripture has become lost to our ears. We hear it, but fail to “hear” it. And I do not mean this merely in the moral sense (doubtless we fail to be “doers” of the word). Rather, I am aware of a kind of dullness, of seeing a very narrow set of things that become the lens through which we see and understand. We read amazing statements as though they were commonplace, and we make commonplace that which should be utterly astounding.

Much of my conviction on this matter has come in the last 12 years or more and my immersion into the services of the Orthodox Church. These services, long and with ample “hymnography” that is but a poetic commentary on the Scriptures and doctrines that surround any particular feast, are
probably the richest surviving engagement with the Word of God to be found in a 21st century Church. Here no Reformation has occurred and reduced all Scripture to a “riff” on Justification by Faith, or a subset of Calvin’s paradigms. Here no Enlightenment has shown with its darkness of doubt and obfuscation.

Instead,
there is a constant wonderment at the Scriptures themselves, as if the hymnographer were discovering something for the first time or had found a rare gem to share to any willing to listen – and all in the form of praise and thanksgiving to God.

It is true to say that in Orthodoxy, “Theology sings.” It is possible to be lulled into a near trance as the choir or chanter utters mysteries to God and to miss treasures that should truly astound. But careful attention is always rewarded with something you never considered.

I am further convinced that our modern complacencies have made us deaf to the form and shape of Scripture so that we listen like sceptics and frown like Pharisees. In our modern context most people have either been shaped by fundamentalist literalism; by modernist historical criticism; or by nearly nothing at all. In each case the Scriptures will not sing – they will not yield up their treasures.
The inspired (I know no other word) imagination of the early Church that took the “Apostolic Hypothesis,” as St. Irenaeus would call it, and fashioned the framework on which the Old Testament would be read, is the same early Church that gave us the Gospels (inspired indeed) and the other writings of Scripture. Their treatment of prophecy is not obvious. Where is the three day resurrection prophesied (only in Jonah’s sojourn in the belly of the whale – now that is inspired interpretation)? The writers of the New Testament believed that everything in the Old, when read rightly would yield insight into the Messiah and the mystery of our salvation. But their creative insight (again, I believe it is inspired) is far removed from the flat-footed nonsense that we hear out of modern fundamentalist “prophetic” scholars, whose reading of the Old Testament is almost as poorly constructed as the 19th century false prophecies of the book of Mormon! Neither bear any resemblance to the treatment of prophecy found in the New Testament.

And thus I return to my original point. We have become deaf. We listen with ears either hardened by modernist scepticism, or by a false literalism that has substituted Darbyite nonsense for the Apostolic faith, or reduced Scripture to delicate harmonizations. None of them have
the boldness and audacity of the patristic hymnographers who stood in the proper line of succession, proclaiming the faith as it had been taught and received and continuing to expound its mysteries.Thank God that somewhere in this modern world, you can still stand and listen to the wonders of our salvation, sung and unraveled before the unbelieving heart of man. Glory to God who has so loved mankind!

"The boldness and audacity" of the fathers, who are described elsewhere as "notoriously holding to the faith once delivered to the saints" is the mark of biblical, apostolic and orthodox Christianity, the Orthodoxy that I affirm and in which I hope to finish my race. Grace, peace and courage, brethren, as we now enter into the week of the mysteries of Christ's last week before His passion. Let's pray for each other as we go to meet the Lord on the hill of our own Calvary, and after the three-day burial, find ourselves together, in the light, awakened to gaze upon His likeness.

Now the hour has come
for the Son of Man to be glorified.
I tell you most solemnly,
unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies,
it remains only a single grain;
but if it dies,
it yields a rich harvest.
Anyone who loves his life loses it;
anyone who hates his life in this world
will keep it for eternal life.
If a man serves Me, he must follow Me,
wherever I am, My servant will be there too.
John 12:23b-26a Jerusalem Bible

Friday, March 26, 2010

Have mercy, Lord

Yahweh, hear my prayer, listen to my cry for help,
do not stay deaf to my crying.
I am Your guest, and only for a time,
a nomad like all my ancestors.
Psalm 39, verse 12

Psalms for the 26th Day: Psalm 119, verses 105~176

Nun (verses 105-112, Jerusalem Bible)
Now Your Word is a lamp to my feet,
a light on my path.
I have sworn to observe, I shall maintain,
Your righteous rulings.
Yahweh, though my suffering is acute,
revive me as Your Word has guaranteed.
Yahweh, accept the homage that I offer,
teach me Your rulings.
I would lay down my life at any moment,
I have never yet forgotten Your Law.
The wicked have tried to trap me,
but I have never yet veered from Your precepts.
Your decrees are my eternal heritage,
they are the joy of my heart.
I devote myself to obeying Your statutes—
compensation enough for ever!

Tav (verses 169-176, Jerusalem Bible)
Yahweh, may my cry approach Your presence,
let Your Word endow me with perception!
May my entreaty reach Your presence;
rescue me as You have promised.
May my lips proclaim Your praise,
since You teach me Your statutes.
May my tongue recite Your promise,
since all Your commandments are righteous.
May Your hand be there to help me,
since I have chosen Your precepts.
I long for You, Yahweh, my Saviour,
Your Law is my delight.
Long may my soul live to praise You,
long be Your rulings my help!
I am wandering like a lost sheep:
Come, and look for Your servant.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Ευαγγελισμός της Θεοτόκου

I could not let this day pass unnoticed, even by Romanós the sinner, and so I am posting my favorite painting of the Annunciation to Mary (Greek, Ευαγγελισμός της Θεοτόκου, Evangelismós tis Theotókou), which is commemorated this day. Happy feast day to all whose names are Evángelos and Evangelía, as well as those Mary's who sometimes celebrate their nameday on this feast. Chronía pollá! Many years!
Aside from her virginity, which is an act of God in her life, the Orthodox also see Mary as the first Christian, the first to have received (accepted) the first words of the Good News of salvation, preached not by flesh and blood, but by the angel Gabriel,

Rejoice, so highly favored!
The Lord is with you.
Mary, do not be afraid; you have won God’s favor.
Listen! You are to conceive and bear a son,
and you must name him Jesus.
He will be great and will be called
Son of the Most High.
The Lord God will give him the throne
of his ancestor David;
he will rule over the House of Jacob forever
and his reign will have no end.
The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
and the power of the Most High will come
and cover you with its shadow.
And so the child will be holy
and will be called the Son of God.
Luke 1: 28-35 passim

Mary’s response?

I am the handmaid of the Lord.
Let what you have said be done to me.
Luke 1:38


The symbol of Nicæa says that Christ was born of a virgin, and that is what we believe. Something extraordinary about that birth carried itself forward and colored everything in its path, to be sure, and as the early Christians pored over the scriptures (of the Old Testament) they began finding what they felt were prophetic utterances that could be applied to Mary. Hence, the Akáthistos Hymn, written by a convert from Judaism who was a deacon in the Church of Antioch, my name day saint Romanós, which hymn is sung on Fridays during the Great Fast.

Wrong turns

Sometimes, in spite of all your hopes to the contrary, the evening visit of a dear friend can take a wrong turn, and you both find yourselves strangely at odds with you know not what. Still, God is with us, and His Word remains hidden in our hearts, that we might not sin (cf. Psalm 119:11).

And this same kind of mis-chance can afflict not mere visits, but lives shared over many, many years. Despite all your hopes to the contrary, a wrong turn taken early and unknowingly can likewise set you strangely at odds with you know not what, and so with each other.

It's no mistake that the story of Adam and Eve's sin and their expulsion from Paradise should have to this very hour more meaning than all the books on psychology and gender relationships ever written.

This may be the most dangerous time in all of history to be alive and trying to be married and raise a family (unless, of course, you are living in a primitive culture untainted by feminism. or in a Christian isolationist sub-culture).

Despite all your biblical faith and idealism, you may not make it through, unless you both agree to utterly accept (and put into practice) what the Word plainly teaches—giving no accommodation to the new "truth" of the world system—and be ready to suffer for it.

Half-hearted struggles

Forgive me, brothers, but this is not a new post, but one from last December which somehow got taken off the air, and I found it again while doing blog housekeeping. I reread it and decided to post it for today, as it is somewhat appropriate as a topic during the Great Fast. Thank you, brothers, who commented on it when it was first posted. Your thoughts are still there.

As I often see on the cardboard signs held up by people begging at the ends of interstate off-ramps, "Anything helps," the same is true in the macrocosm, such as this call to action promoted by Jeff Goins.
I suppose I can go to the jeweler’s and have them cut off my gold wedding band (my finger has grown too large to get it off, even with soap), sell the gold, and turn in the money to the poor. Better yet, I could sell anything I have that is just an expensive hobby or valuable investment. Who cares about what or who will support me when I am retired? God cares. He will provide.

Basically, I'm a pretty simple person. My "carbon footprint" is more like a hoof print, not very large.
My house looks spacious and empty compared to most others' because I have only the furnishings that are necessary to offer basic hospitality. My electric bill even in winter is under $25 a month. I have a computer, but I don't have TV or any but the most basic appliances, a fridge, a range, a micro-wave. My door is always unlocked when I'm home, and any number of people know they are welcome here. Some just open the door and let out a "Hello! Anyone home?" and if I'm upstairs in my room, I shout back "Come in! Welcome!" as I descend the stairs to meet them.

Saint Basil the Great says, "We are all deceived." That's what came to mind when I read the opening line of this post by a fellow Christian, "it’s only the space between us that allows [us] to hold on to our delusions that the world makes sense." This is the same Church Father who also wrote, "Property is theft."

Yet, we go on living as if we were here for our own benefit, our own enjoyment. The truth is, and I speak for myself, I am willing to be selfless, welcoming, loving and generous to people whom I like. True, I like everyone I meet at first, and only when they have proven themselves difficult to deal with do I write them off, and avoid them. Such are the ways of the fleshly man, proving that though I claim to be "already dead," I am not dead yet.

The struggle goes on, day by day.

Don't fault yourself for your $5 mocha, brother, especially if you are buying it to share moments with a friend. To be with even one friend is to be with Jesus, who says, "the disciples do not fast when the bridegroom is with them" (cf. Mark 2:19). As for living a wasteful lifestyle, Christ has set us free from that, as well as from all our sins, in the Resurrection.

If you live with Jesus, without guilt-tripping yourself into obedience you can attain a lifestyle that is pleasing to Him. How? By knowing that He is with you, not by imagining what He would do or want you to do, and then trying to do it, but by simply doing what you see Him doing. Another way of saying this is, since you and Christ are one, let Him do in you and through you what He always does. Let Him be your practical righteousness, not just your theoretical righteousness.

Remember, Christ is all and in all. He may be asleep in your boat, so in the stormy sea that engulfs your life, cry out to Him, "Lord, save me, I am going down!"

He is faithful. He will do as you ask.

Quid pro quo

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Klímakos

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

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

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

—Brother Giles of Assisi

A truly great poem

I keep returning to Jim Swindle's poetry blog to reread this short poem, written in memory of a young boy whose brain tumor cut short his life. My blog is supposed to be about discipleship and its cost, not a venue for entertainment, and I am bewildered to know if I am failing the mark. But if speaking strength to the human heart is to minister, and if discipleship includes ministering to others, then perhaps for me to feature a poem like this is not too far off base.

A Child's Death
by Jim Swindle

Too early, we say, taken—
Gone now, much too soon—
This child, still in his morning,
Sunset before noon.

The Lord, though, has his reason—
Hidden from our eyes—
Permitting such short season,
Tender crop for skies.

He doesn't cause the leaving—
This fruit of Adam's sin—
And tempers our great grieving:
The dead will rise again.

Jesus said,
“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live...."
John 11:25

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A ramble on history

The old photos scattered about this post have nothing to do with the topic, except that they're part of my personal history, and I enjoyed looking at them again, and maybe you will too.
(They will get a bit larger if you click on them.)

I like to read history. No, I love to read history. I admit it. I read history books (and other books besides). But my favorite history book is, again I admit it, the Holy Bible. [Stage left and right, almost inaudible gasps of horror from unseen characters off stage.] Yes, though almost no one with whom I went to university (or even high school), and certainly no one educated in the last decade at any respectable institution (we’re not talking about Oral Roberts’ “school”), would agree with me when I say that the Bible is a book of history (gasp!), that’s still what I believe it to be, my favorite history book and, in my humble opinion, the best and most useful history book on the planet.

That being said, I want to add that most of my favorite books about the history of religion, particularly the Christian religion, are not books written by Christians, or at least not by authors who allow their confessional sympathies to interfere with their “objectivity.”

Two of my favorite history books are ones I had to read for college courses. I come back to them and read them year after year; they always seem interesting and fresh at each reading. One of them is simply entitled A History of England, and the author is David Harris Willson of the University of Minnesota. Though a history book, the history of England is inseparable from the history of Christianity in Britain, and as such reading it has edified me not just educated me. My professor was the great Dr. John Forbes, a member of the Society of Friends (Quakers) who was passionate about the Book of Common Prayer (as am I).

The other book is The Western Heritage of Faith and Reason, authored by five scholars, though the first listed, Eugene G. Bewkes, is usually shown as the author. I’ve quoted passages from this book on my blog before. It says truer things about God, the human condition, and His remedy for it, than many a book that has meant to, but didn’t. And it does so without taking sides, any more than the Bible itself takes sides. Neither book forces the reader to believe in the Jewish God or the Jewish Messiah; both simply give you the facts, and leave it to you to decide. I like that. That’s real history.


So tonight I was eating a humble supper made by my own hands and reading one of my perennial favorites, A History of Knowledge by Charles Van Doren. (I rarely read the scriptures when I’m eating, because I don’t want any accidents to happen with my clumsy eating habits.) I’ve read this book cover to cover several times, but the author’s style is congenial and reasonable, and I can always find something interesting no matter where I pick it up. This evening it was the chapter “Wisdom of the Ancients,” and the section entitled Judaism, that I read. I like the way this man writes, even when I disagree with him. He often comes close to confessing faith, but then prudently backs off, so as not to distract his readers. He tells us the story of Abraham, as though we were total strangers to it…

Abraham was the founder of Judaism. The account of his life in Genesis, though considered today to be not entirely historical, is nevertheless in accord with historical facts dating from the beginning of the second millennium BC. According to the story…

And he retells the story in his own words, how Abraham and some of his family members migrated from Ur ultimately to Canaan, and then asks…

Was there such a journey between Ur, a real place, and Canaan, another real place? There is historical and archaeological reason to think so, apart from the biblical narrative. Why did Abraham leave Ur? Was he fleeing religious persecution, seeking new economic opportunities, or was he driven by some divine command, real or imagined?

The author seems to be writing one of those multiple choice questions that is designed so only a complete fool would choose the wrong answer. We all know the answer is (c) “driven by some divine command” even though he tries to throw us off with that half-hearted “real or imagined.” Then, he goes on to say…

At any rate, within a few hundred years there were many Jews in Canaan, worshipping one god, Yahweh. In a world full of polytheistic religions, they had become monotheists—the first, probably, in the history of the world.

Yeah, right! If you’ve read much history yourself, or gone to university and studied, you can easily see through Van Doren’s popular history style: it’s got more holes in it than Swiss cheese, but it’s just as tasty, and you don’t have to worry about getting poisoned!

Of course, it’s oversimplifying to say that “Abraham was the founder of Judaism,” since most people now know that the Muslims consider him the founder of Islam, or at least one of its founders. And it’s a blatant anachronism to say “within a few hundred years there were many Jews in Canaan,” because we know that there were no people called “Jews” until at least the time of the division of the land of Israel into a northern kingdom, Israel, and a southern, Judah. And it’s very largely speculative to say the Jews “had become monotheists—the first, probably, in the history of the world.”

Or is it? Van Doren, remember, is trying to write from an “objective” and secular viewpoint, one that believes in evolution both biological and cultural. That point of view, ignoring much contrary evidence, posits that pre-historic man was an animist and a polytheist, worshipping as gods anything powerful or mysterious outside his ken. By gradual improvements in his powers of observation and reason, ancient man works his way up to higher forms of religion. Human sacrifice gives way to animal (that’s their usual interpretation of the biblical account of the sacrifice of Isaac), then to symbolic, then given up altogether. Many gods are seen to begin a process of liaison and mutual assimilation, first into pantheons, then triads, and finally to a monad, just one god. But then, is that god the god of just his own people, or of everyone? At this point, Van Doren doesn’t blush to ask…

Yahweh at first was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Did that mean he was not the God of mankind, the only God? It is impossible to determine when Yahweh, or Jehovah, took on the universal character that he possessed by the time of Jesus, and that he possesses to this day. Suffice it to say that the God of Abraham, perhaps once a tribal deity and as such one (perhaps the greatest) among many, is now the One God worshipped by Jews, Christians, and Moslems the world around.

Hmm, yes. I knew that last line was coming. Why? Because I’ve read it before about ten times, I also know he’s writing “popular” history and, let’s face it, he has unknowingly fallen under the spell of Western academia’s moral anemia in regards to an objective assessment of Islam. No, Charles, Yahweh is the One God worshipped by Jews and Christians yes (though some Jews don’t think so), but He is not the god worshipped by Muslims as a whole, unless by some known to Him alone. The Muslims themselves admit it; in Malaysia they have forbidden the Arabic word “Allah” to be used as a translation for “God” in Christian publications. Why? Because they don’t want the name of Allah profaned by being applied to a Being who is patently not him. Amín, Muslim brother, and again I say amín! Your Allah is not the same Being as the Living God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the One whom Jesus (not the prophet, but the Saviour of the world) called His Father. Yes, we are in agreement there!

It wasn’t my intention to write a polemic against Islam or any religion, but merely to show that there is history, and there is history. Some books are well-written and interesting, others less so, but their authors are never quite free of inherited biases oft well-buttressed with pseudo-rational arguments and a priori assumptions. This is true of history books written by Christians as well as non-Christians. This is true of books in general. This is true of blogs. No wonder Father John Goodyear’s reply to me, years ago when I was wavering in my Christianity, in response to my plea for a word, only said three…

Guard your reading.

Fr John Goodyear holding John Seraphim (center) after his baptism in the baptistry of Saint Mark's church, Portland. Romanos (left), Anastasia and grandmother Nana (right), 1985

Fr Leo's visit to the EP

PERSONAL EXPERIENCE
AT THE ECUMENICAL PATRIARCHATE
by Presbyter Fr Leo Schefe,
Holy Transfiguration GOC,
Anchorage, Alaska

Back in 1998, Presbytera and I lived in Thessaloniki. I had been ordained as a presbyter there in 1996 and served as a priest of the Church of Greece for nearly three years. In 1998, the two of us, with some of our paréa, went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. On Holy Saturday we were in the Holy Sepulchre Church at the site of Christ’s tomb. It was a great blessing to receive the holy light from the Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, to be a personal witness to this recurring miracle which faithfully occurs in the Holy Sepulchre Church each year. This was truly an amazing experience and, although people have written about it over the centuries and in recent times submitted videos evidencing this miracle on the Internet, there is nothing that compares to being there in person.

As soon as I returned to Thessaloniki from the Holy Land, I made another pilgrimage, this time on my own. I was given the opportunity to serve as the “on duty” priest at the monastery of the Holy Trinity at the well known theological school on the island of Halki, which has been closed since 1971, a half-hour ferry ride from the city of Constantinople. It was my privilege to serve there for seven weeks.

I arrived during Bright week and left at Pentecost, thus it was my blessing to serve the Pentecostárion there. Before I left for Halki, I was advised that I should dress in “street clothes,” i.e., not in clerical clothing. The country of Turkey does not allow clerics to dress as clerics in public. For me, that meant no cassock or rasso. Way back then I still had a business suit tucked in the back of my closet at home, why I am not sure, but it came in handy for the trip and I made sure I was wearing it when I arrived in Turkey. After ordination, I had no use for the suit any longer, but inertia being what it is, I still had it. It was a good looking suit and it still fit. I will admit, though, that after two-plus years as a priest it felt very strange to be in a suit again and I looked rather odd wearing it with my very long hair and long beard. The locals on the island of Halki made sure I was aware that obedience to the country’s laws not be taken lightly. That is, if I were to be arrested for whatever reason, I could disappear and never be heard from again. There’s no habeas corpus there.

I learned I could relax the suit idea and instead wear simple black trousers and matching black long sleeved T-shirt with my black kondo (vest) instead. I gave the suit to a grateful young Armenian man who was employed at the defunct theological school at Halki. He related to me how he couldn’t keep a job in the city once his employers found out that he was a Christian. Sadly, this problem was not just his.

Once I shed the suit, I ended up looking the part of an eccentric hippy instead of an uncomfortable, out-of-place presbyter. A researcher I met at Halki suggested I looked akin to a 19th century Russian peasant.

His All-Holiness, Bartholomew, would visit the school regularly, often with guests. I had the privilege to meet with his All-Holiness several times. I found him personable and easy to communicate with. He was very warm and kind to me during my stay. As I related at the beginning of this article, there is nothing quite like experiencing things first hand. All during my stay, I learned of the plight of the Patriarch, the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Orthodox Church in Turkey from those who had lived there all their lives. I learned of property confiscations, vandalism, personal threats and riots against Christians. It was disheartening and shocking to learn that just a few Christians live in Constantinople these days—Constantinople, the great Byzantine city. Countless numbers of Christians have been forced from their lives there.

The librarian on Halki, George, befriended me. He was a former tour guide and exceptional musician, although I cannot now remember the name of the mandolin-like instrument that was his favorite—it may have been the Oud. George received a blessing to take me on a tour of Constantinople.
Our first stop, of course, was the Church of Holy Wisdom—Agia Sophia. The scale of this church is immense and, once more, the personal experience is what communicates the grandeur, not to mention all the history and suffering that has taken place there since the fall of the city. I stood in awe of the beauty and could only imagine what it must have been like when the Emperor of Rome was present before the Ottomans stormed the city on May 29, 1453. Imagine the Patriarch, a dozen visiting bishops, a small army of priests, seven or so deacons and two full choirs, perhaps two dozen or more in each, choir members with topnotch skills, adding to this the Emperor with all his retinue; billowing clouds of incense and bells. We have a description of what the envoys from Vladimir, the prince of Kiev, saw when visiting Agia Sophia, their report noted that the worship struck them as though that they didn’t know if they were in heaven or on earth. Even in the current state of the Great Church, now held as a state museum, I could, in my mind’s eye, envision their wonderment.

George commented to me that it was against the law to pray in Agia Sophia. One can only guess how many silent, fervent prayers are offered there routinely.

I saw many beautiful and amazing sites in the city, but Agia Sophia always remains at the forefront of my mind. After the tour, George and I walked by the many shops that had been taken from Christians during some horrible uprisings against the Orthodox. It is because of these firsthand experiences that I do not hesitate for a moment to testify for the adoption of the Alaska Senate Joint Resolution 28 this Friday, March 26, at 1:30PM. I encourage as many who feel sympathy and concord with the Patriarchate as I do, to follow suit. You can read more details of human and religious rights violations against the Ecumenical Patriarchate at http://archons.org/.

The situation of the Patriarchate in Constantinople actually requires more than our sympathy, it requires our action as the continued existence of the Patriarchate is at stake. It is a sacred duty to speak in support of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The Turkish government insists that it must approve of any new Patriarch and that candidate must be a Turkish citizen having served in the Turkish army. This cuts the field of candidates very thin indeed. How many unmarried Orthodox clergy can boast Turkish citizenship and military service?

As an aside, as I was leaving Constantinople by bus, I came across a twenty-something American couple who were leisurely traveling around the world. When I met them and we began to chat, I was attired in my “Russian peasant garb” and dark sunglasses. However, as soon as we crossed the Greek-Turkish border, I reached into my bag and pulled out my cassock and quickly attired myself properly. As is often the case with world travelers, we exchanged email addresses. Later, to my surprise, I read on their website that they had met a man who looked like a member of ZZ TOP and was suddenly transformed into an Orthodox priest before their very eyes. Now, I wonder who that might have been?

Lovers are the greatest fighters

The Greek word φιλοτιμο (philótimo)

How to explain it in English?

Perhaps an example would help.
Let’s say someone shows me that he considers me worthy enough to undertake an expedition. If I honor the idea of undertaking an expedition, then I’m trying voluntarily to fulfill his expectations, expectations not in any way forced upon me, this way protecting the ground of our relationship, because this relationship can be essential only if based in our common appreciation and understanding of the specific value of undertaking an expedition.

Thus we understand philótimo to mean love for the continuation of an honor someone reveals for me, my will to become worthy of our common appreciation of a value, in order to protect and advance my relationship with the other.

This means also that our common value has at the same time a primary and a secondary importance. A primary, because without it a relationship is impossible, and a secondary, because the relationship by itself is the ultimate purpose, and not the cultivation of a value. The wish of my friends for me to become better, takes inside me the ‘form’ of philótimo — or, philótimo is the ‘existing in me’ equivalent of their hope and love for me — or, philótimo is my better self, trying even from the outside, to make me better.

To have the virtue of philótimo, you need societies where forces such as the feeling of obligation, of duty, etc, are not very important, compared with the demands existing in love and friendship. What a ‘mechanical’ society achieves through discipline, sense of duty, ideologies, etc., a society in friendship achieves even more strongly through philótimo. This is why Plutarch said that lovers are the greatest fighters, because they avoid by all means to appear to their beloved ones as cowards or as anything inferior and unworthy of their expectations.
— Quoted almost verbatim from the Éllopos blog

Brothers, philótimo is one of the two primary virtues of our Orthodox Christian faith. (The other is philoxenía, love of strangers, hospitality.) This is because everything we do in our following of Christ is done freely and willingly, without the sense of obligation or duty, but only for love. This is the gospel as applied to our lives. Christ is the Friend who invites us to the expedition, Christ the one who calls us áxios, áxia, worthy of it, and Christ, through the Holy Spirit, the implanter in us of philótimo, the love of honor.

Yes, Plutarch was right. Lovers are the greatest fighters.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Keep Me Awake


In the dawn...
keep me awake, O Lord
keep me awake
I want to see You
and sing to You a hymn of praise and honor

Lord, our Good Shepherd,
may You find me
because I am lost and weak
but I really long for You and Your Love
Cleanse me O Lord and grant me Your mercy
to come near, closer to You

My sin is ever before me
and I am ashamed
Lord, heal me and restore me
so that I might gaze upon Your Beauty in awe
and Your faithfulness and deliverance
shall be in my heart and mouth

Lord, how great and trembling it is
to follow behind You
in the steps of Your Holy Feet
Joy! Joy! Joy!
even the way is narrow
and the thorn bushes along the side
but gazing upon Your Humility and Love,
strengthens us and comforts us

in the day light...
May Your blessing be upon us
teach us and guide us with Your commandments
to walk patiently in the rocky, stony roads

Lead me in the Beautiful path among the loving brothers and sisters,
Your rational flock
those through whom You also manifest Your Love
may we be united in one voice, mind and spirit
to glorify You, our Master!
and to love our neighbors

In the night...
let us rest and take shelter in You
because You are our Only Joy!

Keep me awake,
keep me awake O Lord,
that I may sing to You
in fervent Joy that comes from You!


Fellowship of Orthodox Christian University Students at the U of NSW

Though I don't post a "followers" gadget for the same reasons as expressed in the quote from Elder Epiphanios which is found on this featured blog F.O.C.U.S. UNSW, I found these brothers by checking the list of "followers" at my dashboard this morning. I'm not sure how long they've been there, but I noticed that a follower had been added since the last time I checked. I've placed a permanent link to this new (to me) blog in the sidebar under Orthodoxy. When you visit the blog for the first time, make sure your speakers aren't cranked up too high unless you want to be blasted with some robustly male Greek Byzantine chant. Our Australian brothers have the right idea, opening with the praise of God, and right up front they witness to the spirit of Orthodoxy with the words of Elder Epiphanios...

I want whoever is near me to feel that he has room to breathe, not that he is suffocated. I don’t call anyone to me. I don’t hold onto anyone. I don’t chase anyone away. Whoever wants comes, whoever wants stays, whoever wants leaves. I don’t consider anyone a supporter or a follower.

Monday, March 22, 2010

There is nothing else

I read something last night that is really sticking with me today. When we pray, even simply, “Lord, remember…” and invoke someone by name, all is fulfilled. For in that moment we have done what all of creation is purposed to do: the one praying, the one prayed for, and God have all been brought near.

There is nothing else.

Η Ανάστασις - Resurrection

In a recent post I wrote about the importance of believing in the parousía (pah-roo-SEE-ya), the return of Christ, and how there is a correlation between such belief and our lifestyle. Those to whom the Second Coming is a distant or possibly symbolic event are less likely to conform their lives to the gospel, whereas those who do believe in it, regardless of whether it is sooner or later, usually attempt to live as the gospel and the apostles teach. You might say, “That’s not true! I know people who say they believe in Christ’s coming again, and they live more worldly and decadent lives than even unbelievers!” I agree, of course, but saying you believe, even preaching it, doesn’t qualify as real belief, that is, real faith. The world has seen enough of this pseudo-Christianity to last it a thousand more years of determined rejection of Christ—that is, if there were a thousand more years left. But that wasn’t what I was writing about. Real faith and real belief have consequences, as do false faith and merely formal belief. We have Christ’s word for it, “By their fruits you will know them” (Matthew 7:16).

Today, driving home from work, I was thinking about a friend and co-worker of mine, a lovely and intelligent woman, mother of two wonderful kids, and wife of an industrious and responsible man. Her husband is a Roman Catholic, and for this reason perhaps the children have been baptised and attend religious services. I’m not exactly sure how much or how often, but they know who Christ is. The younger one, my special friend Jesse, proudly told me one day when he was visiting me at work, “I’m a Christian!” (I was explaining to him some of the photos and pictures I had hanging up on my wall at the time, and we were talking about languages as well, and names, and I showed him how to write his name in Hebrew, and in Chinese!) I don’t censor my conversation in terms of mentioning God or Christ, even with children, but neither do I have an agenda to push on others. When I talk to whomever, I am just myself, and the bible, and Jesus, and God, are just what’s inside of me. What’s inside just comes out.

But I was thinking about his mom, with whom I often work on marketing projects. She is one of the most intelligent women I’ve ever worked with, and possibly the most logical and dispassionate. We’ve talked about personal things sometimes, and I know that she is from a Christian family, mainstream small town Protestant, but that somewhere along the way her childhood faith escaped her. From our occasional talks, reading between the lines, it seems that she first gave up the idea of ‘church’ being a worthwhile pursuit, and later the whole premise of Christianity, that a man can be God in the way that Christians say Jesus was. “Well,” I asked myself, “how could she have done that?” And an idea similar in importance to the one I wrote about earlier impacted my thoughts.

It is not only important but indispensable to believe in the anástasis (ah-NAH-stah-sees), the resurrection of Christ, and there is a direct correlation between such belief and our world view. Those to whom the Resurrection is a religious and possibly symbolic event are less likely to conform their minds to the gospel, whereas those who do believe in it, regardless of whether they rationally understand it or not, usually attempt to think and reason from the gospel and the apostles, rather than into them. In other words, they are able to accept the bible as it is, to let it examine and direct them in their thoughts, rather than subjecting the bible to their thoughts, which will have quite different intellectual and practical results.

Thinking back to my friend, I know she is a person of good will, and honest and impartial in her deliberations, yet she can let her partial knowledge of human history in general and her personal experience of ‘church’ and ‘Christians’ dissuade her from faith in Jesus Christ. To her, He was just a man, a great teacher perhaps, but just a man. She doesn’t even consider whether He really rose from the dead, because to her that’s a scientific impossibility, and even if He had been resuscitated somehow, He would still have died as an ordinary mortal. He’s just a historical person at most, maybe interesting to some, but certainly not worth taking seriously or building your life around. She’s happy enough to just try to live a good life, even knowing her idea of good still derives from what she knows of Him, and if there is a God, she’s covered; if not, at least she lived well.

I don’t know for sure, to be honest, if this is her state of mind, and if it is not, I apologise should she read my words. I would be happy to be proved wrong, and glad to shut my mouth, if she in fact does believe in Jesus, but prefers to conceal her faith, as she may have reasons. The point I am trying to make is that real belief in the resurrection of Christ produces in the person who has it a firm and unshakable conviction, hope and faith, and in their actions an unremitting love for others, “love never gets tired” (Mother Gavrilía).

Real belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ is what divides the Church right down the middle, separating ahead of the Day of Judgment the sheep from the goats. “My sheep recognize My voice” (John 10:27), says the Lord Jesus, “who is, who was and who is to come” (Revelation 1:8). Those who really believe in the Resurrection know for sure that Jesus is alive, alive as Man, alive as God, as one “who became dead, but is alive forever” (Revelation 1:18), and so they cannot speak of Him in the past tense, “Jesus was, Jesus said,” except when describing an action of His that He did once on earth, and yet even there, they draw the line very close. They may say, “He was crucified, suffered and was buried, and on the third day rose according to the scriptures” (Symbol of Nicaea), but in everything else they speak of Him as if He were with them, in their midst, even now, at this present moment, because He is“Christ is in our midst! He is and ever shall be!”

For those who live in the knowledge of His real Presence with us, because of their belief in the Resurrection, to hear His voice, to receive His call, to follow Him today and to say and do what they hear Him saying and see Him doing in the scriptures and in the world, these are mystíria (miss-TEE-ree-ya) yet not mysterious. This knowledge and what flows from it is not esoteric (hidden) unless you want it to be, as holy apostle Paul writes, “There are no hidden meanings in our letters besides what you can read for yourselves and understand” (2 Corinthians 1:13 JB).

This is the foundation stone of Orthodox faith: that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, and that He is with us now, and to the ages of ages, and where this Jesus is, there also His disciples are. For this reason, we speak not only of Christ in the present tense, “Jesus says,” but also of His holy apostles and beloved saints, His sheep, “Paul writes.

Why is this?

Because in Jesus, all who believe in Him are alive, as He is.
This is the Communion of Saints, forever alive in the Living God.

Like the Jews who to this day cannot accept Y’shua ha-Mashiach as their Messiah, because they do not believe in His resurrection and for no other reason, “They hated Me for no reason” (Psalm 69:4, John 15:25), so also the Christians and non-Christians who cannot accept Jesus Christ and believe in Him for who He really is.

It’s not because of what He did or didn’t do, what He fulfilled prophetically or didn’t fulfill, what He taught or didn’t teach, “the sabbath was made for man not man for the sabbath” (Mark 2:27), but because they do not or will not believe that “Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more” (Romans 6:9 KJV). To do so would immediately and irrevocably turn their world upside down. Hence, within the Church enclosure, religion, outside it, derision, is how the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ is tamed for the safety of the world in place of its salvation.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.
John 3:16-21 NIV

I am the Resurrection and the Life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?
John 11:25 NIV

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Another like C. S. Lewis ?

I haven't been blogging much of late, nor visiting many blogs, just those of a few well-gifted friends, and I have nothing of my own to post at the moment. I just wanted to bring to your attention a new book—and I the anti-apostle of books, for sake of The Book!

Visiting Fr Milovan's blog, I was directed to Fr Stephen's blog, and then to a news page, and finally to a landing page advertising this new book by an author whom I'd never heard of, but who, I think, may be another like C. S. Lewis, a former atheist graciously apostatized into the Christian faith. This author is Peter Hitchens, relatively unknown brother of the more famous Christopher Hitchens, outspoken, public atheist. (From a comment posted on Fr Milovan's blog by orrologion, I learned that Christopher Hitchens is also a "formal" apostate Greek Orthodox, as he was chrismated into Orthodoxy before marrying his first wife, a Greek Cypriot.)

From a single quotation in Fr Stephen's post, I was able to discern that here we have a formidable confessor, one apt for our anti-Christian age, and drawn no less from the bowels of the mother of latter-day impiety and even from her favored class, the world intelligentsia. Peter Hitchens writes,
Why is there such a fury against religion now? Because religion is the one reliable force that stands in the way of the power of the strong over the weak. The one reliable force that forms the foundation of the concept of the rule of law. 
The one reliable force that restrains the hand of the man of power. In an age of power-worship, the Christian religion has become the principal obstacle to the desire of earthly utopians for absolute power.
Perhaps on the surface it may seem he is not saying much, not much that we didn't already know, but I have a feeling that this brief thought is the tip of an iceberg, one that can withstand the effects of the all-pervasive and over-confident global warming of the world culture, as it tries to steer us all into the abyss.

If you have time and inclination, check out that news page linked above, and read a little more of what this Peter Hitchens has to say. Not that Lewis doesn't still speak, even in this day and age, but perhaps he will be joined by another who speaks out of and into the particular world of today.

God be with you, brethren, as we finish our temptation in the wilderness before Pascha, and let's stay together and follow our Lord and Master to His life-giving death in Jerusalem, so that we can witness again His resurrection, hidden as it is from the world.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Preparation

And a voice came from the throne, saying, “Give praise to our God, all you His bondservants, you who fear Him, the small and the great.” And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude and as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty peals of thunders, saying, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.”
Revelation 19:5-7

Who is the Bride? It is the Church of the Lamb, of Christ. Who is that Church? It is those who make themselves ready for the coming of the Lord. The holy apostle John writes, “if we walk in the light as God is in the light the blood of Christ cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). That takes care of the contamination of sin on God's side. If we walk in the light of Christ, His Blood cleanses us from all sin. But we too must prepare ourselves.

And everyone who has this hope purifies himself as He is pure.
1 John 3:3

This verse speaks about our becoming like Christ, when He returns. What is the one mark of those who have the hope of Christ’s return in their hearts? They purify themselves constantly. Everyone who does not have the hope of the parousía, the return of Christ, can be identified by this fact: He does not purify himself in his daily life to Christ’s standard of purity.

Having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, and [let us] perfect holiness in the fear of God.
2 Corinthians 7:1

The Temple of God has no common ground with idols, and that is what we are—the Temple of the Living God. We have God's Word for it: I will make My home among them and live with them; I will be their God and they shall be My people. Then come away from them and keep aloof, says the Lord. Touch nothing that is unclean, and I will welcome you and be your Father, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Almighty Lord.
2 Corinthians 6:16-18 Jerusalem Bible

The condition for these promises to be fulfilled is that we cleanse ourselves. What do we have to cleanse ourselves from? From all defilement of flesh and spirit. It is thus that the Bride of Christ makes herself ready. It's obvious that not all believers can claim to be part of the Bride of Christ, because the vast majority of them don’t have the slightest interest in cleansing themselves.

In a large house there are not only gold and silver vessels but also vessels of wood and of earthenware, and some to honour and some to dishonour. Therefore if a man cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honour, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work.
2 Timothy 2:20-21

We all start out as dishonourable vessels, christianized, maybe even converted, but not Christ-like. But we can cleanse ourselves and become honourable, sanctified (separated from sin first by will, then by deed) golden vessels that are useful to the Master for every good work that He has in mind for us. It all depends on how seriously we take our calling to cleanse ourselves.

I have heard the saying for many years, "What to do until the Messiah comes..." and often it comes from a very irreverent and even flippant attitude, even from people who call themselves believers. People even write books about it.

When I was still living in my sins, an unbeliever who didn't deserve by any means the grace of God, I was working at my job, sanding some desk tops (I was trained as a furniture maker). My mind was never idle but always bristling with thoughts about God, the true God that I was beginning to understand was nothing and no one I had up till now known, the living God that I was beginning to suspect might actually exist. (I believed in the God of religion, but only as a man believes that there is fire because he gets burned by it.)

Suddenly, I felt that someone was standing behind me, actually not standing on the floor that I was standing on, but somewhere else, higher up and behind me, a little to my left. I could see Him, somehow, though I never actually turned around. I knew who He was, and I asked Him,

"When You return, will You know me, will You recognize me?"

No answer, just the feeling of His persistent, sorrowful, pitying look, as He gazed upon me long and hard, saying nothing. Then I found myself answering my own question. "No, He won't recognize me, because I don't recognize Him." The experience faded and I spent the rest of the work day thinking about what this meant.

It became clear to me, then, that it is more important to believe in Christ's return than anything else. It was to be held as a certainty beyond all doubt. This was the beginning of the my conversion to Christ, to know that He would come again for sure. Everything else that I learned and believed about Him flowed out of this.

And when He comes again, what then?
I ask myself these questions every day... waiting.