Saturday, July 31, 2010

Philótimo and leventiá

It appears we shall be forced to learn to speak Greek, whether we like to or not, that is, if we want to use a single word to describe a set of illustrious virtues to aspire for in Christ. My policy has been to use words from the Greek bible to replace outworn or heavily loaded words in "Christian English" in order to convey their pure and original meaning. Here are two words which I am not sure are in the Greek bible, but they may be. What they stand for, though, is not to be missed.

This morning I found the following on the blog of John Sanidopoulos, Mystagogy, which I found very valuable, and I want to share this with all my readers. Click on the linked blog name to read the same in its original setting, or else read it below. I'm not leaving anything out. This is excellent…

In ancient Greece, two virtues were particularly philosophized about and discussed for their unique value, and were summed up as "kalos k' agathos" or "beautiful and good". These were two internal characteristics that extended towards all their external ways of life. The singular balance of beautiful and good made up a man who was both healthy in soul and body, in other words, an Athenian gentleman who was a perfect and ideal man.

Though all cultures, to a certain extent, possess their own set of virtues that are unique, it is commonly held that modern Greeks are especially abundant in two virtues that are almost untranslatable in the English language, yet bear a certain resemblance on a deeper level to the virtues of the ancient Greeks. These two virtues are Philótimo and Leventiá.

Whereas in ancient times more emphasis was placed on external beauty as a sign of virtue, Christianity helped the Greek people de-emphasize the external factor of personal beauty for a deeper internal love of beauty within one's soul. It removed a more "selfish" characteristic and emphasized instead, in imitation of Christ, a certain "selflessness" that places the welfare of others above that of one's self. Such self-sacrifice bordered on a particular form of martyrdom that was deemed heroic, noble and full of integrity. These are the characteristics of a person who possesses philotimo. It is a person who is filled with love, humility and hospitality.

The Greeks are also a suffering people who have had much acquaintance with being oppressed, especially in recent times under the Ottoman Turks. These times called for a special courageousness to behave bravely and with honor to overcome oppression. Even in the midst of hardships and humiliation, one was expected to develop an internal form of excellence that would not show one as ever defeated, but always show one victorious even in the midst of apparent defeat. This is best exemplified once again with self-sacrifice on behalf of others. These are the characteristics of leventiá.

In his appeals to the Greek people who would visit him, Elder Paisios would invoke these two virtues in order to reach their "collective unconscious". It has been said that if you want to encourage Greek men to agree with you and bring them higher to a more lofty ideal, you have to appeal to their philótimo. Furthermore, if you want to give Greek men encouragement to fight for what is right and true, then you would appeal to their leventiá. Though leventiá is more commonly applied to young men, in truth it could apply to all men. Typicially when a child or teenager displays characteristics of being a leventis, he is called a palikari to show that he is in the preliminary stages of being a leventis through his determination in displaying a good and manly heart.

Elder Paisios was absolutely correct when he once said that "Greeks may have a pile of faults, but they also have a gift from God, philótimo and leventiá; they celebrate everything. Other peoples do not even have these words in their dictionaries."

Philótimo
, according to Elder Paisios, means "the reverent distillation of goodness; the radiant love of the humble man bereft of himself, but with a heart full of gratitude to God and his fellow man; because of his spiritual sensitivity he tries to repay even the slightest good that others do to him."

Leventiá means courage, honesty, generosity of heart, directness, manliness and in general the willingness to lay down ones life for others.

Here are just a few ways Elder Paisios used the term philotimo to appeal to his listeners:
"Those who have philotimo, because they move within the heavenly sphere of doxology, joyfully accept their trials as well as their blessings, and glorify God for them. Thus, they are continuously receiving God’s blessing from everything and are melting internally out of gratitude towards God, which they express in every spiritual way possible, like children of God."

"Unfortunately, in our day, words and books have multiplied and experiences have diminished, because the worldly spirit, which pursues all conveniences and avoids all bodily effort, influences people. Most of us find rest in much reading but little or no implementation. We simply marvel at the holy athletes of our Church without realizing how much they’ve labored, for we have not toiled so as to be able to understand their toil, to love them and to struggle out of philotimo in order to imitate them."

"Those, however, who struggle with philotimo and do not give themselves rest, removing their egos from every one of their actions, help very positively. For only then are the souls in need of help given rest, and only then will their own souls find inner rest, in this life as well as in eternity."

"When one realizes one's sinfulness and the great mercy of God, the heart cracks, as hard as it may be, and real tears fall of themselves and then man prays and weeps without effort. This is because humility works continuously together with philotimo and drills on the heart so that the springs increase, and the hand of God continually strokes the hard-working and philotimo child."

Friday, July 30, 2010

Nothing is enough

He has given me all, everything I have, all I am. There is nothing I have that He has not given, nothing of my being that He has not created. All is from Him, nothing real from myself. Nothing.

And what do I give Him in return? What can I give Him who has given me all and who Himself has all and is all? We are not separated from each other as a rich man is from a poor man. No, the contrast is much greater. We are separated from each other as being is separated from non-being. I only am because He wills it. I cannot even say ‘I am’ as He can say ‘I am.’ When I say it, it is only a confession that He is. When He says it, it is His very Name.

I try at least to thank Him, as dust thanks the light for revealing it to itself. But even in the open mouth of my thanksgiving “He fills the hungry with good things” (Luke 1:53), or as the psalmist declares of the Lord Yahweh, “you have only to open your mouth for Me to fill it” (Psalm 81:10). As Francesco di Bernardone says, “We are all poor in the eyes of our Lord,” and it is our poverty, our very nothingness, that attracts His grace and draws down His unbounded mercy. As General Lowenhielm asserted in his testimony at Babette’s feast, “we come to realize that mercy is infinite. We need only await it with confidence and receive it with gratitude.” God is good. What else can we say of Him? Nothing is enough, yet He accepts all.

Just not a joiner

I guess I’m just not a joiner.

Today I was looking at some of the links on the masculinist—is there such a word?—webpage Angry Harry. There are actually quite a lot of ‘men’s movement’ sites out there, many of them in the United Kingdom where Angry Harry hails from. I agree with their basic position on feminism, its nature and its objectives, but I don’t visit this site very often, and though many of these sites want to enlist you in some form or another, I never join any of them.

Yesterday I also came across another site which some in the Christian blogosphere have joined. New Monasticism Network, A network of ecclesial communities arising out of contextual mission.” I looked the site over but could not find anything that it would add to my life except another detail to manage. I was a little repelled, too, by the title and the subtitle. Something about it seemed pretentious. That’s probably just the old man in Romanós rejecting something new. Who knows.

The other day an ecology canvasser came to my door, a tall, dark and accented young man seeking my assistance and support for his current project: getting Oregon to be the first state in the nation to ban the use of plastic bags. Ban plastic bags? Well, yes, they are strangling the planet and take literally forever to go back to the elements. I never like to stand in the doorway talking to a missionary through the screen, so I invited the young man in. He acquiesced with some trepidation.

I never did learn his name (unusual for me) but I did find out that his accent was British, and that he was the offspring of a Burmese mother and British father. I offered him a seat on the sofa and asked him if he’d like some refreshments, or if he needed to use the washroom, both of which offers he declined. As he informed me of his mission to save the planet starting with my state, I prodded him with questions, asking the five why’s.

I reminisced with him about my own youthful missions to save the planet, and what became of them, counter-cultural efforts with people’s food co-ops and the like. As a matter of fact, not a single one of them survived. Bringing our own containers to the food co-op meant that almost no bags or other containers had to be used, and the garbage we used to accumulate that couldn’t be worked back into the soil of our garden amounted in a week’s time to hardly fill a waste paper basket.

What happened to all that?
The world moved in and took over the movement, improved it and made it more profitable as well as trendy. After all, if you’re going to save the planet, you should at least do it in style. So, after all our work, my young friend has to start over at ground zero, and canvass for signatures on a petition to be forwarded to the halls of government, so that virtue can be legislated, or maybe, so that freedom to be bad can be eradicated. That’s one way to save us from ourselves.

Sitting with me in my front room, the young man looked around nervously as he tried to enlist me in his campaign. I offered my moral support, but I told him that there was a more urgent need that required my full attention. I tried to talk to him about Jesus, who is still the most active person alive in the world today, and about His divine ikonomía, which goes deeper than the symptoms of ecological crisis to their embarrassing source, humanity’s sin, and has provided the way out.

Now his eyes were open. He understood where he was. Now he knew why those mysterious pictures, the hanging oil lamps and the censer, and that ancient-looking scroll across the room hanging on the wall above the dining room table. This guy was a religious nut! But that only gave him another angle to try to get me to join his crusade. “I believe that saving one’s soul can be done while saving the planet, don’t you? And wouldn’t it be good for your soul to give me at least a small donation?”

I looked at him quizzically, trying not to have the “Aha!” look of a zen master who has just been enlightened by understanding a kōan. “Golly, I really don’t have any money in the house, I don’t think, and I don’t give to feel good. But here, if there’s anything you see in this room that you need or could use, please take it! Anything.” He looked around and grinned and then said, “Are you sure you don’t have anything, even a dollar, that I can have, so that I can show that we have your support? It’s really important.”

“Okay, wait here,” I responded, “there just might be a dollar in my wallet that I was saving for a candle offering at church tomorrow. If it’s there, you can have it!” And I jumped up and went upstairs to find my wallet. Fortunately, there was a dollar in my billfold.
“Hmm,”
I thought to myself, “he’s such a nice boy, I wonder what else I can give him to reward him for his efforts, something just for him, that he can’t record in his little book, or spend.” Then I looked over at a small stack of chongnings on my desk.

“Maybe he would like a thousand year old Chinese coin!” I said, quickly finding the best one in the stack, with beautiful Chinese calligraphy designed by the emperor Song Huizong himself, and applied to all coins cast in the year A.D. 1102. The piece was a large, “value-10” coin, round with a square hole in the middle. In today’s money, it would be worth about $10 or so, and was the price you had to pay to enter a bath house in 12th century China. I thought he might like that.

“Well, you’re in luck,” I said as I came down the stairs to where he was still sitting. “There was a dollar in my wallet, but I felt bad that you had nothing for yourself, so I thought you might like this,” I said as I handed him the big, brassy chongning. “This is a coin cast in the year 1102 during the Northern Song dynasty. It was worth about ten dollars back then. You could use it to get into the baths, or to purchase a very nice supper with meat and rice wine. The inscription was written by the emperor himself.”

The young man accepted the coin and smiled. “Even though I am Burmese, I am very interested in Chinese culture and history. Thank you! I really appreciate this!” Then he carefully put it away among his things, and tacked the dollar to his clipboard, and got up to leave. “Are you sure you wouldn’t like a drink of water at least, or anything? I have ice fruit bars!” I didn’t want to let him pass my house without even a drink, but he refused. I thanked him for stopping by, wished him success, and made to shake his hand.

The look on his face was one of being startled. It were as if he had never shaken anyone’s hand before. I never let anyone go without at least a handshake. So he timidly extended his hand, and I took it in mine, first the modern way, and then I slipped my grip into the comrade’s handshake, which it seemed he was also unaware of. After a moment, he regained his composure and I walked him out, past a large batik map of Indonesia, a framed wayang, and another frame with photos of my Javanese son, Yudhie.

“Sorry I couldn’t do more to help you. I guess I’m just not a joiner,” I said as he passed out of my life for ever, and again I wished him success. Hopefully I planted good seed, though, that may sprout, grow and bear fruit. Hopefully he won’t forget his visit to Romanos’ house, and not just because of that old coin.

In His arms

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, the sinner.

The fast of Christ’s holy Mother’s repose draws near, reminding us that we must prepare, we must repent of the sin which clings so closely, that we may, like her, be received in His arms and carried as a newborn infant to Paradise. For all that Christ did for her He has promised to do for His disciples and lovers, whom He declares to be His very own relations, saying, “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice” (Luke 8:21). Let’s not only hear His words, but do what He commands and so stay near Him, following behind Him closely. Christ goes on before, clearing the path ahead endlessly, preparing a place for His disciples. Have mercy on me, Lord, and let me be counted among them, even as the least.

Some words, brethren, to start us on the path of illumination which has only one destination, the holy death which is life immortal. First, a word on prayer…

Bishop Theophan the Recluse used to say that praying only with words written by another is like trying to talk in a foreign language using only textbook dialogues. Like many other Church fathers, he said that we must look for our own words in order to pray. I suppose that this is truly possible for us (if we dismiss artificially “invented” prayers of our own) only in moments of desperate need, real anguish, either for ourselves or for others. In such moments we do not “recite” prayers, we simply cry out to God, “Lord, please come to him and comfort him!” The audacity of prayer is born only in the audacity of love. Saint Makarios said, “Love gives birth to prayer.” Therein lies the mystery and the meaning of prayer.

We can recite endless litanies, we can endlessly finger our prayer ropes, but unless we have love, unless we have learned to grieve for others, we have not even begun to pray. We can thus go through all our life without having begun to pray. That’s why Abba Antony said, “Let’s learn to love sorrow in order to find God!” He did not say, “Let’s look for sorrow,” but “Let’s love it,” because sorrow is a cup offered us by Christ, and drinking it, we begin to partake of prayer.

Unless we are truly sympathetic to human suffering, we are merely carrying out a “prayer rule,” not really praying. To carry out a prayer rule is good and necessary, but only when we realise it is a means, not an end in itself. We must realise that it is only a spur to encourage our efforts.

Imagine a man peacefully fishing from the shore. Everything is fine, everything is according to fishing rules, the brightly colored float bobs on the surface. The man does not realise that there is no baited hook attached to the line. The float is just a pretence, and actually there is no fishing taking place. To many people their prayer rule is such a baitless float. Only the hook of suffering can catch real love.

And now, just a few more words, this time on fasting…

Fasting means trying to overcome that which is “too human” in us. It means trying to overcome the limitations of our nature and to introduce it to limitlessness, to make it breathe eternity.

Fasting must be understood, in the first place, as abstention from non-love, not from butter. Then it will become a time of light, a “joyous time of Lent.”

Non-love, animosity, is the most terrible form of indulgence, a gluttony and intoxication with the self. It is the very first, the original offense against the Holy Spirit of God. “I appeal to you by the love of the Holy Spirit,” writes Saint Paul (Romans 15:30).

Love is the opposite of pride and hatred. In our evening prayers, we ask forgiveness for those sins which are a breach of love.
…if I have reproached anyone, or become angered by something; or slandered anyone in my anger; or have lied or slept unnecessarily; or a beggar has come to me and I have despised him; or have saddened my brother and quarreled with him; or have judged someone or have allowed myself to be haughty, proud or angry …or have laughed at my brother’s sin…
It seems to me that I have been found out. It’s all written down in the prayer book, all the things I’ve done! And before I was halfway through the prayer, my internal advocate was already reasoning my defense, making excuses for me. Why is that advocate so silent in me when it comes to defending others and overlooking their sins, not just my own?

Lest this post devolve into an academic exercise, I want to bring it to a close by returning to the theme of the time we are about to enter.

Someone is coming for us. Someone who loves us more than our parents, our spouses, our kids, our friends. Someone is coming for us and in His arms we will be gently carried into the land of all joy, into Paradise. Actually, in His arms we find Paradise, because it is all in Him. The New Adam is Paradise, and just as His earthly Mother was made all-holy by being His chosen dwelling-place, so each of us is transfigured to the degree we let Him live in us while we live in this world. And as her repose prefigures the rapture of all who “will be taken up in the clouds,” we can look forward with confidence to our own repose, because like her “we shall stay with the Lord forever”
(1 Thessalonians 4:17).


With such thoughts as these you should comfort one another.
1 Thessalonians 4:18 Jerusalem Bible

Ωστε παρακαλειτε αλλήλους εν τοις λόγοις τούτοις.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

…for Whom the waters do not part

The following is an incredible testimony, given as a homily by an Orthodox presbyter, Fr Jonathan. I cannot help but bow in awe and thanks to the Lord who grants it to men to speak such things. The mystery of salvation through Christ is indeed very deep. Thank you, brother Eric John, Hilarius, for bringing this to my attention.

Consider who Jesus is. We know that He is fully God. We know that He is rightly called prophet, priest, and king. We know that He not only represents, but in a certain sense is the true and holy Israel of God. It should not be lost on us that God's people are now called "the Body of Christ." This Man who is God walks up to the River Jordan. And what happens? What should we expect to happen? Well, a man who is versed in the Old Testament and who also knows Who this Jesus is might have a very reasonable expectation. In the Old Testament when the people of God, the Israel of God, come up to the waters while running from pharaoh, the waters part. In the OT when the prophet of God comes up to the river Jordan, the waters part. In the OT when the ark of the covenant, which was God present to His people, came to the river Jordan, the waters part. This man well versed in the OT, when seeing Jesus come to the waters should have every expectation that they too will part. Jesus is the fullness of the presence of God, He is the fulfillment of all prophecy, He is the true Israel of God, all people of God are in Him. But the waters do not part. Instead, God enters into the chaos and death of the water, and He is covered. With Christ, all bets are off, the rules of the game have changed. God is now not seeking a people for whom to part waters. He is seeking a community of the drowned.

When you enter through baptism and chrismation the Orthodox faith, and are therefore baptized into Christ, do not think that God is in the business of going about separating waters for you. No, this is not the path you have chosen. You have chosen to hold fast to the One for whom the waters do not part. You die with Him, in Him, through Him, as Him, for Him. Orthodox Christianity is the exact opposite of "health and wealth" spiritual economics, which infects not just Pentecostalism, but much of American Christianity. God will heal whom He will, God will allow the deaths of those whom He will, but in a real and certain sense, friends of God, as those who are the dead in Christ, you have given up any right to claim that God must part waters for you. As Bonhoeffer said, "when Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die." A dead man can claim nothing as his own.

The mystery takes us further. That day not only does Jesus come up to the water and the waters stay still to swallow Him up, but it is this very day that for the first time God reveals Himself in His fullness: Father, Son, Holy Spirit to humankind. The threefold nature of the Godhead is revealed to us at the moment in which God reveals Himself as the God for Whom the waters do not part. In the feast of Theophany we learn that God reveals Himself formally and most clearly in the very midst of human suffering. Indeed, we may even speak with St. Cyril of this mystery of the suffering of the impassible God.

Throughout Christian history so many faithful have been led to seek some sort of magic help potion from God or his agents, or at the very least thought that God would give them a statistical advantage, as if they were a bit more likely to have things go well if God were in their corner. Both are lies. Of course we pray that God bless us, and we have faith that he will. But we may seek blessing in a different spirit when the waters have already passed over our heads.

Most Holy Theotokos, joy of all who sorrow, pray for us.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Seek the LORD while He may be found

The idea of cultivation and exercise, so dear to the saints of old, has now no place in our total religious picture. It is too slow, too common. We now demand glamour and fast flowing dramatic action. A generation of Christians reared among push buttons and automatic machines is impatient of slower and less direct methods of reaching their goals. We have been trying to apply machine-age methods to our relations with God. We read our chapter, have our short devotions and rush away, hoping to make up for our deep inward bankruptcy by attending another gospel meeting or listening to another thrilling story told by a religious adventurer lately returned from afar.

The tragic results of this spirit are all about us. Shallow lives, hollow religious philosophies, the preponderance of the element of fun in gospel meetings, the glorification of men, trust in religious externalities, quasi-religious fellowships, salesmanship methods, the mistaking of dynamic personality for the power of the Spirit: these and such as these are the symptoms of an evil disease, a deep and serious malady of the soul.

For this great sickness that is upon us no one person is responsible, and no Christian is wholly free from blame. We have all contributed, directly or indirectly, to this sad state of affairs. We have been too blind to see, or too timid to speak out, or too self-satisfied to desire anything better than the poor average diet with which others appear satisfied. To put it differently, we have accepted one another's notions, copied one another's lives and made one another's experiences the model for our own. And for a generation the trend has been downward. Now we have reached a low place of sand and burnt wire grass and, worst of all, we have made the Word of Truth conform to our experience and accepted this low plane as the very pasture of the blessed.

What God in His sovereignty may yet do on a world-scale I do not claim to know: but what He will do for the plain man or woman who seeks His face I believe I do know and can tell others. Let any man turn to God in earnest, let him begin to exercise himself unto godliness, let him seek to develop his powers of spiritual receptivity by trust and obedience and humility, and the results will exceed anything he may have hoped in his leaner and weaker days. Any man who by repentance and a sincere return to God will break himself out of the mold in which he has been held, and will go to the Bible itself for his spiritual standards, will be delighted with what he finds there.

Let us say it again: The Universal Presence is a fact. God is here. The whole universe is alive with His life. And He is no strange or foreign God, but the familiar Father of our Lord Jesus Christ whose love has for these thousands of years enfolded the sinful race of men. And always He is trying to get our attention, to reveal Himself to us, to communicate with us. We have within us the ability to know Him if we will but respond to His overtures.
(And this we call pursuing God!) We will know Him in increasing degree as our receptivity becomes more perfect by faith and love and practice.

—Aiden Wilson Tozer (1897-1963)

Seek the LORD while he may be found;
call on him while he is near.
Isaiah 55:6


דרשו יהוה בהמצאו קראהו בהיותו קרוב׃

You will seek me and find me
when you seek me with all your heart.
Jeremiah 29:13


ובקשתם אתי ומצאתם כי תדרשני בכל לבבכם׃

Family

In the case of real toy soldiers or statues, if one came to life, it would obviously make no difference to the rest. They are all separate. But human beings are not. They look separate because you see them walking about separately. But then, we are so made that we can see only the present moment. If we could see the past, then of course it would look different. For there was a time when every man was part of his mother, and (earlier still) part of his father as well: and when they were part of his grandparents. If you could see humanity spread out in time, as God sees it, it would not look like a lot of separate things dotted about. It would look like one single growing thing—rather like a very complicated tree. Every individual would appear connected with every other.

— C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
Book IV, Chapter 5, “The Obstinate Toy Soldiers”


Years ago, newly reborn as a Christian, when I read these words it were as though a dream too good to be true came true for me, it were as though some invisible threat were suddenly collapsed and trapped forever under a weight that could not be removed. The very core of my being, that I could not express without misunderstanding or instant criticism, was justified. What I suspected, what I wanted to be true, that God is a ‘family man’ and that He really created us to be too, and that ‘family’ was more than what I had experienced growing up, really was true.

Later on, when I had read the psalms enough to notice them and have my favorites, Psalm 133 had the same effect on me, and still does, every time I read it. Here was what humanity was made for. Here was what brother should mean to brother, what father should mean to son, and son to father, even what husband and wife should mean to one another.

How good, how delightful it is
for all to live together like brothers:
fine as oil on the head,
running down Aaron’s beard
to the collar of his robes;
copious as a Hermon dew
falling on the heights of Zion,
where Yahweh confers His blessing,
everlasting life.

This is what I was longing for when I ran away from home, on my own personal ‘road to find out,’ looking for this in a New Age hippie commune, where I was the only non-hippie there, and quickly ejected as some kind of antibody. They knew that despite appearances, I didn’t really want what they wanted. I wanted more than mere appearances. I wanted the reality. That was something they must’ve instinctively known was impossible for them, without Christ. So man’s curse turned for me into God’s blessing. God is a ‘family man’ for true, and He wanted me to be one too.

But family, like everything else that’s true, cannot be created by human effort alone, for man, fallen man, though starting out even with right intentions in mind and right actions in hand, will fail, will fall into the same old heresies of self-love, envy, pride and wrath. Only Christ can teach us what love is, and therewith provide in Himself the only true foundation for what we call, and long for, as ‘family.’

So it’s not surprising then when the mystery of division rears up even in the midst of ‘the best of families.’ It’s sad to me and distressing in the utmost to witness parents weighing and calculating their rights against their children to the penny, unwilling to continue to be the sheltering tent of love over them, not realising that they are the foundation on which their son or daughter builds their house, but ejecting them perforce with a spirit almost of competition or ‘survival of the fittest’ with which an animal in the wild might eject its offspring. I am embarrassed by it when I see it, almost embarrassed at being a human myself, even though this attitude is completely foreign to me.

Only the grace of God working in us can produce fruit for love, remake us in the divine image that was shattered by the fall when we ejected ourselves by knowingly breaking the only commandment given to us, consciously taking the only thing that was not permitted us. When we get what we want, denying what we need, it only crushes us lower, so that the things we want become more and more debased, and so that we can no longer hear our hearts crying out for love, and so our own love grows cold. Greed shrivels the soul. The fruitless fig tree withers under Christ’s curse. Was it really not at fault? Can God Himself be wrong to demand from us what He has given us in trust?

These ramblings I offer to the good Lord who called me in the depths of my being and said to me, “Do not be afraid, it is I” (John 6:20), asking Him to forgive my sins and negligences, and my betrayals of the love He has entrusted to me, and to other parents, and asking His mercy on us all.

Cleanse us, Father, from our iniquities and save us from ourselves, unite us to You and to each other in the bonds of love, knowing no debts and holding no accounts between us except to love one another, knowing that we are all worth more than money, and that we have been bought and paid for, by the blood of a Lamb without spot, Your only Son our Lord, Jesus Christ.

The narrow gate

To believe in Christ's words and deeds is easy, for it only involves believing in our hearts and confessing with our tongues. But the test of the truth of our faith is by our deeds and behavior. After faith comes the "narrow gate" and the hard way, which everyone who has believed in Christ must go through. The narrow gate is the critical point at which one crosses from the wide way, which leads to destruction, to the hard way, which leads to life. It is where the heart and conscience are examined in the light of the cross.

The worst enemies hidden within a believer are hatred, feuding, anger, judgment—including judging others without judging oneself—defaming others, and trying to remove the speck out of their eyes while ignoring the log fixed in the pupil of one's own eye (cf. Matthew 7:3).

Unfortunately, there are those who find these sins insignificant and are oblivious to them. They are unaware that these sins have become part of their nature. They practice them shamelessly as if Scripture and the Day of Judgment did not exist—as if there were no narrow gate in front of them.

Faith to them will be of no use, because those who behave in such a way have trampled on love, despising and abusing it.

Love is God. It is the testimony to the true Faith and its effectiveness. Christ's teachings will always remain on a higher plane than that which the human race will ever attain to, even by its utmost efforts, in order that humanity may ever remain penitent before God and Christ, and therefore, hold fast to Divine Grace.

“Remember who your teachers were…”
2 Timothy 3:14

Monday, July 26, 2010

Beginning my studies

Beginning my studies the first step pleas'd me so much,
The mere fact consciousness, these forms, the power of motion,
The least insect or animal, the senses, eyesight, love,
The first step I say awed me and pleas'd me so much,
I have hardly gone and hardly wish'd to go any farther,
But stop and loiter all the time to sing it in ecstatic songs.

—Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

This short canto in Uncle Walt's marvelous epic poem always comes to mind whenever I turn aside from the cares of the world and go to meet my Lord in the pages of His verbal ikon, the holy Bible. I start reading, and by the third or fourth verse, my spirit almost detaches from me and wants to "stop and loiter… to sing it in ecstatic songs."

I know the feeling, the experience he is describing in his poem, even in the study and contemplation of merely earthly things. I shouldn't say merely, because as Walt tells us on almost every page of his book Leaves of Grass, nothing is merely anything, and everything is, like the grass, "…the handkerchief of the Lord, a scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropt, bearing the owner's name someway in the corners, that we may see and remark, and say Whose?"

Little did he know that he was saying, in effect, it is all ikon. I am not scandalized by the poetic ravings of this great unchristian soul, because I know that he is being elusive in an almost apophatic way. The greatness of his soul and the unqualified yearning for the love of the great Comrade, whom he knew as Christ, speaks to me at least, who also find it unconsoling to hug a statue of Christ to my breast. I want Christ, and only Him, for real.
Back to beginning my studies, as the psalmist chants, "even standing on the threshhold of God's house is better than…" (cf. Psalm 84:10) and you can put there anything you like. Nothing compares even remotely to the joy awaiting us in every verse and syllable of God's precious and living Word, from beginning to end. I never find any of it boring or tedious.

Not boring and tedious? What about the opening chapter of Matthew with all those begats? Don't I find, so they ask me, those repetitions monotonous?

Actually, no, I don't. In fact I love to read the genealogies. Reading them gives my tongue a chance to exercise (if I am reading them in Greek), my memory a chance to relive in brief the stories associated with many of the names, almost like watching a slide show.

And then there's the rhythm or cadence, especially in Greek you can almost dance to it with those lithe steps, arms all linked, gamboling first to the right and then abruptly left for a couple more, before being pulled to the right again, as if a wave of the sea had you by the legs and was dragging you into the deep.

Yes, even the names of the ancestors of God can pause me, "beginning my studies the first step pleased me so much…" How can they not? These are names that are aglow with life, the life of Him who said, "I am the Resurrection and the Life" (John 11:25), and "Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing My day; he saw it and was glad" (John 8:56).
So here am I, stopping and loitering in your sight "to sing it in ecstatic song." Well, not singing exactly, but "at night his song is with me—a prayer to the God of my life" (Psalm 42:8). This is how it is for me. No sooner do I open the Book than I want to read it aloud and share it, for there is no other undying, divine scripture on earth.

I have hardly gone and hardly wish'd to go any farther,
But stop and loiter all the time to sing it in ecstatic songs.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Love

To the least promising of men He showed such love…

Zacchaeus the parvenu, the short, rich man everybody hated, the publican who’d made an ivory tower of his ill-gained wealth—this Zacchaeus was freed for good and all by a visit from Christ. All it took was a glance and a cheerful greeting, “Zacchaeus, hurry down! I’m eating at your house today.” Zacchaeus welcomed Him joyfully and vowed, “Listen, Lord, I’ll give…”

People expected nothing good from Zacchaeus, and so he expected nothing good from them. And all at once here was Somebody who loved him, who enjoyed sitting at table with him and showed confidence in him.

Feelings that seemed forever dried up began to flood his being, buoy him up, transport and convert him. Everyone else had pushed him deeper into his sterility. Everyone else had decided to put up with him as he was, hopelessly evil and avaricious.

But Jesus had hoped in him for all time.

Appearances never fooled Him. He knew that people try to look wicked as well as good, and that both kinds are equally piteous. We’ve become so evil because no one’s loved us or discovered the real us, because no one’s inspired us or wanted us to be better.

God loves those to whom He can give the most, those who expect most from Him, who are most open to Him, need Him most and rely on Him most for everything.

God alone knows what He expects of us, what response He’s looking for, and how many people’s destinies depend on ours.

“Simon, there’s something I want to tell you. Those who need little forgiveness feel little love, but those who need much forgiveness respond with great love.” Only God knows how to love. And only those who realize that they’ve been forgiven and loved thus are capable of loving thus themselves.

“Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” Only those who have answered His love by returning and diffusing it will be invited to enter into it more deeply.

“My sheep know My voice and follow Me.” They won’t rest till they’ve done for another what God has done for them. With the same love and the same patience God showed, they’re going to help their neighbor discover in himself the new being God has awakened in them, the face He showed them so they could at last recognize and accept themselves.

They’re going to help someone find out that he, too, is capable of the perfect faithfulness, gratitude and love that were revealed to them, for Jesus didn’t say, “Love one another,” but “Love one another as I have loved you.”

I wish these words were mine, but I have only made them mine by trying to live out what they say. The passages above are taken from Fr Louis Evely’s book That Man Is You (1966). I offer them to you, brethren, following the precept,

“Remember who your teachers were…”
2 Timothy 3:14

Saturday, July 24, 2010

…hear His call, follow Him, and do what He commands

Let’s just be honest with ourselves and admit that we never wanted to be saints, if that means to live our earthly lives as though the resurrection of Jesus Christ really happened, and if that further means that we do what He tells us to do.

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.
Matthew 7:24-29

The crowds were amazed at his teaching, because He taught with an authority that their usual teachers didn’t have. Being amazed is like telling someone who’s trying to follow Jesus and do what He commands, “You have a gift. You can’t expect everyone to want Jesus as much as you do.” Being amazed is a way of excusing yourself from doing likewise. Hence, the Church divides helter-skelter at the voice of Jesus into two camps, the enthusiasts and the run of the mill. The first group can be comfortably hidden from view in monasteries or behind a clerical collar, so as not to embarrass the other half, while it patiently endures its weekly dose of churchianity.

The cult of invoking the saints can be justified by saying that we ask them for their prayers—which they can be expected to be offering anyway—just as we ask other members of the Church to intercede for us. The main difference is the saints are in heaven, and have nothing better to do, whereas our earthly neighbors are, like us, caught in the hustle and bustle for survival, and can’t be depended on to pray even for themselves, let alone for others. That’s why we offer an “I’ll pray for you,” instead of actually standing in prayer with our neighbor right then and there. The saints in heaven will actually pray for us; that’s how they got where they are, we think.

Ensconced and comfortable in the mystery of an ambiguous humility, a devout woman bows and bows before an ikon and kisses it, and leaves a flower. I asked her, what she was asking the Mother of God for, and why. She responded, “Well, I really need God to grant me…” and then added, “I am way too sinful to pray to God myself, but Panagía will ask for me.” This same woman never goes forward to communion either, except once a year, at Pascha. She is a gentle and devout woman, and she even goes and stands outside a locked church on her street to say her prayers, and yet in her day to day life she lives as though the resurrection were nothing more than its ikon decorated with flowers.

Church has got to be one of the most boring things that contemporary Christians have to put up with, and they make no secret of it. Handling the things of faith and of God with such familiarity and for so long, and with the confidence that they are right in all their beliefs and customs, they are like guests who lick the silver platters after dumping the feast off to the side at a banquet without eating a morsel. No one in their right mind would do that, of course, but at the wedding banquet of the Lamb, that’s what most of them do. They don’t partake of the feast of faith themselves, but by their contrivances, they keep others from it by their cry of “the doors! the doors!” I am speaking metaphorically, you understand.

This evening I discovered a webpage of a contemporary Christian—I don’t know what exactly to call him—entertainer, no, that’s not right, but he’s trying to incite people to go back behind what they usually think of as Christianity or church by means of what seems to me to be a form of entertainment. By using what will attract and keep people’s attention, he can then knock them out with his message. The image of his online webpage (below, right) can be enlarged for a closer look, or you can of course go to it yourself and see what he’s all about. Looking past the slogans, “to believe is human; to doubt divine,” and “i believe in the insurrection,” and looking at the rest of his introduction, it seems that he’s trying to get people to realise the resurrection of Christ.

He says, “The task today does not lie in some naive attempt to return to the early church.” With that line alone, he quickly disposes of a large part of my own life in Christ and my testimony that “we are the early Christians.” Of course, I don’t try to be that by any special method of my own. I just follow Jesus’ instructions to “make My word your home,” and that’s quite enough. He’s not actually saying what he seems to be at first. Rather, I think he’s trying to derail the evangelical strategy of discrediting the historic Church from Constantine on, and restore something better than just fixing symptoms: Let’s get back behind it all, to the resurrection of Jesus. My thought is, if that’s what he’s trying to do, why not just do it? Enough of jargonising and word substitutions.

Clothing the most powerful divine intervention in the history of the universe, Christ’s third-day resurrection and all that follows from it—for that too is the resurrection, not solely the moment when He literally rose from the dead—clothing it with something we think is more attractive and inspiring… “we must call a new army of agitators… dissidents courageous enough… a new breed of individuals brave enough to turn back so as to advance… through a provocative cocktail of incendiary theology… that will strip everything from us, everything we hold dear and inaugurate a new year zero… belief in the event of Resurrection means nothing less than participation in an insurrection.”

This string of passages, taken out of context not to distort them but merely to reveal their high points, is almost an icon of the extremes to which contemporary Christianity is willing to depart from the language of the holy scriptures, and from the authentic presentation of the Good News and the life of discipleship, in order to recapture them. What? In order to recapture the life in Christ we have to depart from it, wander the battlefield, or perhaps the minefield, of contemporary cultural struggle clothed in its terms, ideologies and even fantasies, and that somehow will let us retake the promised land? We hope to arrive at Christ’s glorious resurrection by convincing ourselves that we are bravely taking part in an insurrection?

Nope! For one thing, it is bad theology, unbiblical theology, no theology at all, really. Sorry, but the only insurrection is that of satan and his angels against the King of kings of kings, blessed be He. The anointed Son of Man, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, descended from the race of David, has trampled death by death and abolished the power of the devil, and His Word is Truth. So, why all this talk of us joining an insurrection? All we need to do is intend to be the saints of Jesus, to do what He commands. We are already enlisted, not as insurrectionary guerillas, but as co-combatants and comrades in the Jesus people army. We’re the police force, not the rebels. We follow the rightful and true King who not only pretends to be alive, but actually is, and for evermore.

Brothers, in case some of you may know this author and artist and like him and his works, don’t think that I am any more critical of him than I am of myself when I see I’m swerving to right or left into the ditch of my own plan of salvation. To err is human, and to forgive divine, and I’m the first (of sinners, as we say but don’t ever really believe). He seems to be heading in the right direction—for there really is only one right direction—to the living God, but he doesn’t seem to know not to “use the Torah as a spade to dig with,” or not to “put the crown to his own use.”

Christ is to be exalted above all our human constructs, His Word to be held pre-eminent above all our human talk. The way to receive Christ, the Resurrection and the Life, is simpler and doesn’t require our help at all, except to hear His call, follow Him, and do what He commands. And the garment we put on is Christ Himself, the Lord our Righteousness.

As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Isaiah 55:9 NIV

כי־גבהו שמים מארץ כן גבהו דרכי מדרכיכם ומחשבתי ממחשבתיכם׃

Friday, July 23, 2010

Holy prophet Ezekiel

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
Hebrews 12:1 NIV

Τοιγαρουν και ημεις τοσουτον εχοντες περικειμενον ημιν νεφος μαρτυρων, ογκον αποθεμενοι παντα και την ευπεριστατον αμαρτιαν δι υπομονης, τρεχωμεν τον προκειμενον ημιν αγωνα.

9th Friday after Pentecost
Phocas the Holy Martyr, Bishop of Sinope
Ezekiel the Prophet
Pelagia the Righteous of Tinos
Hannah the Righteous, mother of Samuel the Prophet
Trophimos & Theophilios and the 13 others martyred in Lycia
Anna of Levkadio

Today I remember always the holy prophet Ezekiel, Yechezkél in Hebrew, as he is commemorated on the calendar of the Greek Church, where he is joined by many others, that “great cloud of witnesses” described in the letter to the Hebrews. This morning when I opened my email, there was only one missive, a weekly homily sent to me from a church in Bangalore, India, written by their chief pastor Zac Poonen. He is a remarkable Christian pastor, evangelist and I would say, even a remarkable apostle, and I always look forward to hearing a word from him. Well, this morning his message was taken from the book of the prophet Ezekiel, and since it is his feast-day, I want to share this word with you…


The New Covenant Life
and The New Covenant Church
by Zac Poonen

There is a beautiful prophecy of new covenant life in Ezekiel 36:25-37. This is a description of how the Christian life, as God intends it to be. He first promises to cleanse us thoroughly, removing all idols from our heart, and then to remove our hard heart and to replace it with a soft one, and then to put His Holy Spirit within us and then to make us walk in His ways and cause us to obey His commandments and thus to save us from all our uncleanness (Ezekiel 36:25-29). But all this can happen only when we pray to God and ask Him to do it for us (Ezekiel 36:37). If we don’t ask for this life, we won’t get it. And when we come into this glorious life, we “will loathe ourselves in our own sight” (Ezekiel 36:31), as we think of our past life. This is one of the primary marks of a Spirit-filled man that he detests himself for all the sin he sees in his flesh and cries out saying, “O wretched man that I am, I am the chief of sinners” (Romans 7:24; 1 Timothy 1:15). A Spirit-filled man does not see any sin in others before he sees the same sin within his own flesh and he loathes himself for it. The closer we get to God, the more aware we become of our own sin.
God took Ezekiel to a valley full of dry bones and told him first of all to prophesy to them (Ezekiel 37). The Word of God went forth and the bones came together and flesh covered them. But they needed something more than just the Word of God – they needed the Holy Spirit’s power as well, just as we see in Genesis 1. There we see that it was the joint operation of the Word of God and the Holy Spirit that brought life out of death. It is the same here and it is the same even today. When the Holy Spirit came upon these dead bodies, they stood up and immediately became a powerful army of soldiers for the Lord. This is a picture of what God wants to do in the church today. Many Christians are initially exactly like those dry bones, stiff and dead, despite the correctness of all their doctrines. As they respond to the Word of God, they begin to gather together as Christians (bone comes together to bone) and they begin to live decent lives (There is a certain amount of beauty when the flesh covers the bones). But there is one more thing
that these Christians need if they are to be a mighty army for God. They need to be endued with the supernatural power of God’s Holy Spirit.

There is also a picture of new covenant life and of the church in Ezekiel 40-48. This is pictorially described as a temple. Our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19) and the church is also the temple of God (1 Corinthians 3:16). In Ezekiel 43, we read of the glory of God that had left the temple returning to the new temple – the new covenant church that was established from the day of Pentecost onwards. The Lord calls the church “the place of My throne” (Ezekiel 43:7). The law for this new covenant church is described thus: “Its entire area shall be Most Holy” (Ezekiel 43:12). In the old covenant temple, only a small room at its western end was called “Most Holy” – where God dwelt. But in the new covenant church, the entire church (temple) is Most Holy. To build the church as God’s temple today, we must follow this one fundamental law - absolute holiness for every member in it. Sin must not be tolerated in any form in anyone.

The Lord speaks of two types of ministers in His temple – symbolized by the sons of Zadok and the Levites in Ezekiel 44:9-19. The sons of Zadok symbolize the wholehearted disciples of Christ who are permitted “to minister to Him”. The Levites symbolize the compromisers who are permitted only “to minister to the people”. There is a vast difference between these two types of ministries. Jesus never served the people primarily. All His service was done to the Father alone, even when He served people – and that is how we must serve God too. It is when we begin to serve the people that temptations to compromise and to please people enter in. From such a holy temple (Spirit-filled church or Spirit-filled individual) a trickle of water begins to flow out that becomes a river and finally becomes many rivers (Ezekiel 47). This is the passage which Jesus quoted in John 7:37-39, where He spoke of “rivers of living water flowing out” from a man who is filled with the Holy Spirit. This is what began on the day of Pentecost and has been flowing through godly men and women ever since. This life begins as a little trickle before it becomes a big river and many rivers.

The Lord gave Ezekiel a little taste of what it means to live a Spirit-filled life in Ezekiel 47:3-6. He led Ezekiel step by step into this river. After walking in it for about 500 metres, the water reached Ezekiel’s ankles. After another 500 metres, it came up to his knees. After another 500 metres, the water came up to his waist. And after yet another 500 metres, it was so deep that Ezekiel had to lift his feet off the ground and be carried by the current of the river. We can go forward in our walk with God continuously as Ezekiel did. Or we can stop at some point. God will never compel us to go further than we want to. When Elisha followed Elijah (2 Kings 2), he continually tested Elisha to see if he was hungry for more or satisfied with what he already had. Because Elisha was not satisfied until he got God’s best, he got a double portion of the anointing upon his life. We see Ezekiel also being tested here in a similar way. He also wanted to enter into the river more and more until he had entered into “waters to swim in”. You can experience a measure of the Holy Spirit’s workings in your life and still stop at some point less that is less than God’s best. Notice this also: When the water was up to Ezekiel’s ankles, or up to his knees or even up to his waist, his feet were still on the ground. But it is when our feet are taken off from the earth, that we know that we are really filled with the Spirit. At that point, we are “detached from the earth and from earthly interests and from attachment to material things” and we begin to be “led by the Spirit, according to the will of God and not our own will”. The last verse of the book (Ezekiel 48:35) mentions the name of this new covenant church as, “The Lord is there” - Jehovah Shammah. This is the church that you and I are called to build – where people recognize that the Lord is there in our midst in all his glory. But to build it, the Lord needs people like Ezekiel who will obey Him totally.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Open door

We are still the early Christians, at least,
we can be if we want to.

This doesn’t mean trying to set up yet another church denomination to ‘purify’ the Church of all the accumulations of tradition and what not that seems to obscure the Good News. Actually, it isn’t the traditions per se that obscure the Good News. Administered rightly, the traditions do what they were designed to do: amplify the Good News and integrate it into our personal lives.

What obscures the Good News is something so close to us that we can’t often see it. It’s our tendency to want the appearance rather than the reality of anything. The mind awake knows better, knows this tendency and refutes it, saying as C. S. Lewis writes, ‘I want God, not my idea of God.’ This is what the Christian mind awake realizes about God and, this being its starting point, begins to untie the knot of its self-deception.

Acknowledging the holy scriptures formally does nothing to promote our life in Christ. We must with the fear of God, with faith and love draw near to them. We must humbly bow our stiff necks and tender our tough hearts into the faithful care of the Word of God. Studying them in this way, we are drawn to the same life that the holy apostles and early church brothers lived.
Why?
Because we realize we want it.

When I read the first letter of holy apostle Paul to his spiritual son Timothy the other day, I didn’t read a daily portion. I couldn’t read any less than the whole book, cover to cover, short as it is. It drew me into itself, not in the imagination, but in the spirit of the life it contains. Reading it this way, I was placed right then and there, living the same church life that they live, with them.
Why? Because it’s still happening.

As I said at first, we are the early Christians, and that’s that, but only if we want to be. Once you discover that through living in the holy scriptures, once you have had a taste of that life, that real Church life, you realize there really isn’t any other kind, everything else seems fake, seems contrived. Fellowship with the saints becomes more than a review of history, and you realize what it means to have an indelible baptism.

Christ is not religion to me, nor are He and His holy apostles and saints too exalted to be my friends, nor is the Holy Spirit an excuse for me to rest in comfortable exile from my heavenly home.

Instead, the Book is the door that was left open in my path, and I walked through it to find that all it says is true, that there is a heavenly country, that paradise still exists, that the Church has never changed, never been divided, and that it’s my Home now, and to the ages of ages.

Behold, I have set before thee an open door,
and no man can shut it.
Revelation 3:8

Ιδου, δεδωκα ενωπιον σου θυραν ανεωγμενην,
και ουδεις δυναται κλεισαι αυτην.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Passions

Εξ ύψους κατήλθες ο εύσπλαγχνος,
ταφήν καταδέξω τριήμερον,
ίνα ημάς ελευθερώσης τών παθών,
Η ζωή καί η Ανάστασις ημών, Κύριε δόξα σοι.


You descended from on high, O merciful Lord,
and accepted the three‑day burial
in order to free us from our passions.
Glory to you, O Lord, our life and our resurrection.

Resurrectional Apolytikion, Tone 8


I don’t know why, but this was the first Greek hymn I ever fell in love with. I sang it constantly for years, and I still do from time to time. Later, after worshipping the Lord in the Anastasis service for many years, and having heard my beloved bishop Anthony (of blessed memory) sing with great gusto the apolytikion of Tone 2, Ote katílthes, ‘When You descended,’ in which occurs a phrase I love more than anything, ti astrapí tis theótitos, ‘by the lightning flash of deity,’ that hymn became my favorite. Now it almost sings itself inside me wherever I go, keeping me always present at the moment when the angel speaks the words, ουκ εστιν ωδε, ηγερθη γαρ καθως ειπεν, ‘He is not here, for He has risen as He said’ (Matthew 28:6).

But, back to the 8th tone hymn, it is the words τών παθών, ton pathón, from the passions, that has kept catching my ear from the first time I ever heard it sung.

The passions? What are they?
Some translations propose ‘from the sufferings.’ The word ‘our’ is implied earlier in the verse where it’s the direct object of the verb ελευθερώσης, eleftherósis, You liberate. Whatever is meant by ‘passions,’ Christ came to free us from them. That’s what we’re singing about.

Yet, in the world today, outside and inside the Church, we hear voices throwing around this word ‘passion’ in relation to good things as well as bad, positive as well as negative. Young Christians intent on serving the Lord often say, “I have a passion for Jesus,” or “I have a passion for ministry,” and what they’re saying is that they have a strong feeling. But is it feelings, if that’s what they mean by ‘passion,’ that will keep them going and strengthen them to follow Jesus, or to serve His people, from beginning to end?

The ‘passion’ that young people have, how many times does it get traded or sold for something less than they bargained for? How many Christians have in middle age the same fervor for Christ that they had when they first decided to follow Him? These people are not hard to spot, if you know what to look for. They are those who, no matter what their age, seem somehow to be always young and fresh, their spirits unaffected by the physical deterioration that comes with age.

Living fulfillments of Psalm 1, planted by water streams, yielding their fruit in season, their leaves never fading. Age they have eluded, as they will also elude death.

Εγω ειμι η αναστασις και η ζωη. Ο πιστευων εις εμε καν αποθανη ζησεται… Πιστευεις τουτο? ‘I am the Resurrection and the Life. If anyone believes in Me, even though he dies, he will live… Do you believe this?’ (John 11:25-26)

We sing of Christ that He ‘accepted the three‑day burial in order to free us from our passions.’ Perhaps following Him even there, to the rich man’s virgin tomb, in the darkness of death we will shed our passions as the souls in Hades shed their shadows. He emptied the graves once. He will do it again. And that, very soon.

For the time is close.

Absolute

Remember the Good News that I carry, ‘Jesus Christ risen from the dead, sprung from the race of David’.
2 Timothy 2:8 Jerusalem Bible

Μνημονευε Ιησουν Χριστον εγηγερμενον εκ νεκρων εκ σπερματος Δαυιδ κατα το ευαγγελιον μου

“Truth is so absolute, so real, so personal…”

We have grown so accustomed to be told that what we believe or know to be true is just our opinion, that we have retreated into a subservience, into a state of submission, to the prevailing culture, where there are no absolutes in anything.

Yet, most of the facts of our everyday existence, as well as the findings of hard science and the immutable laws of mathematics, are absolute truths. We fail to notice this, or else are forced to think that these are ‘objective’ while everything else is ‘subjective.’

The world wants us to believe that there are no either/ors in the world of truth, only a continuum of opinions, infinite at both extremes, and as long as we’re willing to be located at some point on that continuum, smiling in both directions, they are happy.

Yet, if we are Christians, it is not because we belong to a ‘faith tradition’ but because we have come to know a Person, and we have evidence that He has come to know us, and not only come to know us, but has changed us in a very absolute way.

Something called ‘the Good News’ really exists. It has an ‘objective’ reality. It is not something we made up, nothing we could have invented, any more than we could have invented the flow of history or the principles of mathematics. It’s real ‘all on its own.’

Yet, some Christians think that it’s their private possession, a kind of consolation prize for having to put up with living in such a contrary and sinful world. Owning it justifies them in feeling superior, or embattled, foxes unable to eat the wild grapes.

This Good News is absolute, is real, and is personal, no matter how you look at it. Jesus Christ risen from the dead, sprung from the race of David. Either it’s true, absolutely true, real and personal, or it’s simply false, a personal opinion, an assertion.

If it is true, why are we not shouting it from the housetops? If it’s true, why are we not living as if it really happened? If it is true, why do we let people tell us, ‘it’s your opinion, it’s just a story, like every thing else that’s too good to be true’?

No, brothers. There is absolute Truth. You can’t own it. He owns you. It’s not a spade to dig with, unless you dig your own grave. It’s not a crown for you to wear, but one for you to cast at His feet. Never surrender to the lie, not even by being nice.

There is absolute Truth. He is there, always, and He is with those who accept Him. He has made them the children of God. There is also the lie, and the father of lies, and however he dresses it up, the lie is still what it is, a denial of Him who is.

As holy apostle John writes,
‘Children, be on your guard against false gods.’

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Certainty

A Christian brother left this comment on my post Tampering

"I'm wondering how we distinguish between counter-productive tinkering and the passion for constant improvement that has been a chief strength of such companies as 3M and Walmart."

His thought brought forth in me this immediate response, which I have tried to put into words…

We don't have to wonder how to distinguish them. Not in advance, not in general. We distinguish them as they come, availing ourselves of the discernment given us by the Holy Spirit.

It's not as if we were judging others, or even the world system, by some predetermined and exclusive philosophical viewpoint. That would make Christianity into an -ism or a religion, like all the others that follow dead gods.

We have the gift of discernment through the Holy Spirit, so there’s no need to wonder about anything. This gift is a “point of use” article of our spiritual armament. It’s meant to be used at the right time, in the right place, and in the right way.

That gift isn't so lofty or otherworldly that we should only use it on formally ‘spiritual’ matters. The gift of discernment is given exactly to use in the situations I am describing. This is where our Christianity leaves the coffee social after the service and the delightful bible study fellowship and strikes terror like a divine lightning flash into the guts of demons who amuse themselves by small, incremental unimprovements to their patients (for they are doctors, only of a very different sort from the great Physician).

Our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, is the one who was dead but is now alive, and lives for evermore. Their gods, whatever they call them, were never alive, are dead now, and dead for evermore.

Holy prophet Isaiah keeps reminding us of this over and over again, yet we still can’t seem to keep our feet on the Rock and our eyes on Jesus. But when we are able to stand firm on the Rock of His written word, the divine scriptures, the Bible, discernment is given us when, where, and how we need it, and not for our own glory. We don’t use it, as much as by means of it, He uses us, to testify again and again to the Truth.

Truth is so absolute, so real, so personal, so powerful, so able to conquer through apparent defeat, so able to live even though it is constantly put to death, that when we simply live in the Truth, absolute certainty is granted to us. Again, not the false certainty of triumphalism and religion, but the certainty of the Kingdom of God, in which we knowingly live as first-born sons and citizens of heaven.

That certainty replaces all guesswork, all anxiousness, all doubt.
It comes to those who use the gift of discernment,
and do not just talk about it.