Sunday, August 29, 2010

New ikon blogs in Argentina

In visiting brother Pandelis’ blog this afternoon, I happened to look at the scrollable messages in the sidebar and discovered one written in Spanish which he could only respond to by saying, “Hmm...Sorry, I can't speak Spanish:)”. Well, I can, and it was just a request to place a link to her ikon blog in his sidebar, from Elena at the Taller de Iconografía San Nicolás (St Nicholas Ikonography Workshop). In following up the hyperlink embedded in the message, I found Elena's blog as well, Iconos de Elena Storni, as well the one mentioned above. The workshop is in Adrogué, Provincia de Buenas Aires, in the Republic of Argentina. There are a lot of photos of the women who write the ikons in this workshop. They are a Roman Catholic group, as far as I can tell, but much of their work seems to be in the strictest Byzantine tradition. Since I also have an ikon blog, Ikonostasis, I will post links to this site and Elena's in that blog, and here as well.

I just wanted to share these two sites with those who have an appreciation of ikons, and to introduce us to what's happening in Christ in the southern half of the Western hemisphere.

Now, for the Spanish version…

Al visitar al blog de mi hermano Pandelis esta tarde, se me ocurrió vistazo a los mensajes en la barra lateral y descubrió uno escrito en español, que sólo pudo responder a diciendo, "Hmm ... Lo siento, no puedo hablar en español:)". Bueno, pero yo puedo, y fue sólo una petición de Elena en el Taller de Iconografía San Nicolás para colocar un enlace a su blog de iconos en la barra lateral. Al seguir el enlace en el mensaje, me encontré también el blog de Elena, Iconos de Elena Storni, así como la mencionada anteriormente. El taller se encuentra en Adrogué, Provincia de Buenas Aires, en la República Argentina. Hay un montón de fotos de las mujeres que escriben los iconos en el presente taller. Creo que ellas son un grupo católico, pero gran parte de su trabajo parece estar en la más estricta tradición bizantina. Debido a que también tengo un blog de iconos, Ikonostasis, voy a publicar enlaces a este sitio y el otro de Elena en ese blog, y aquí también.

Sólo quería compartir estos dos sitios con los que tengan un conocimiento suficiente de iconos, y para introducirnos en lo que está pasando en Cristo en la mitad sur del hemisferio occidental.
[Ikon by the hand of Elena Storni]

"Spas el Salvador en el silencio" es un icono de Cristo antes de la venida a los hombres, transmite la imagen angélica del Hijo de Dios, antes de su encarnación. Es la única imagen de Cristo en la que en la aureola, en vez de la cruz, hay una estrella de ocho puntas. Se representa al Salvador con forma de ángel, como un joven con manto blanco de largas mangas.

"The Saviour in Blessed Silence" is an icon of Christ before His coming to men, transmitting the angelic image of the Son of God before his incarnation. It is the only image of Christ in which the halo, rather than the cross, is an eight-pointed star. It represents the Saviour in the shape of an angel, as a young man with long white coat sleeves.

On Psalms and Salvation

The image above and all the images used in this post are psalm paintings by Christa Rozier, and can be viewed at Psalm Paintings. Prints are also available at this site.

Years ago, when you wanted to buy a copy of the New Testament, not the whole Bible, especially in a pocket-sized edition, what you would get was usually The New Testament with Psalms, Authorized King James Version. As I remember it, I don’t believe I ever saw a New Testament ‘by itself’ until I bought my first copy of Good News for Modern Man, possibly the first colloquial English version, now available as the Good News Bible, even with Apocrypha!

It’s a good thing to have the New Testament by itself for portability. I have an NIV version that I carry in the cigarette pocket on the left sleeve of my hoody, and I read it whenever I’m caught somewhere with time on my hands. I still wish it had the Psalms in it, though. That wouldn’t really make it much bigger.

Publishing the New Testament alone without the Psalms makes it possible to just read the Bible for knowledge without being put in a position where an encounter with God is not only possible, but probable. Sure, most people who have a pocket NT probably are already committed Christians, but this isn’t about one’s ‘status’ as a Christian; it’s about the Reality to which the scriptures point, and that is God Himself.

Of all the books of the Bible, the Psalms are most full of the ‘worship in spirit and truth’ that our Lord spoke to the woman of Samaria about. The Old Testament division called the Torah, or the Pentateuch, has books detailing the ceremony of worship and the layout of ancient Israel’s sacrifice-based religious system. In the division called the Nevi’im, or the Prophets, we see glimpses of the worship that ‘the Father wants,’ and this carries us back again to the Psalms, many of which were already in existence at that time.

The Psalms are the heart of the ceremonial worship of both Judaism and historic Christianity, and in the personal worship of Judaism and ancient Christianity represented today by Orthodox, Roman Catholic and ‘high church’ Protestantism. Among some of the modern forms of Christianity, the Psalms are just another book of the Bible to be mined for props to their ever-redundant ‘pop worship.’ If a text can’t be made to fit what the band is playing up there, they just change or replace it. The Psalms are a timeless melody from God’s heart that the world wants to fit into its concept of ‘praise.’

The first psalm appointed for today, the 29th day of the month, is Psalm 139. Can anyone find a passage in the Bible to rival this psalm in both revealing the secret door of the soul that leads to the Father, and then take them through it?

Yahweh, You examine me and know me,
You know if I am standing or sitting,
You read my thoughts from far away,
whether I walk or lie down, you are watching,
You know every detail of my conduct.

The word is not even on my tongue,
Yahweh, before You know all about it;
close behind and close in front You fence me round,
shielding me with Your hand.
Such knowledge is beyond my understanding,
a height to which my mind cannot attain.

Where could I go to escape Your Spirit?
Where could I flee from Your Presence?
If I climb the heavens, You are there,
there too, if I lie in She’ol.

If I flew to the point of sunrise,
or westward across the sea,
Your hand would still be guiding me,
Your right hand holding me.

If I asked darkness to cover me,
and light to become night around me,
that darkness would not be dark to You,
night would be as light as day.

It was You who created my inmost self,
and put me together in my mother’s womb;
for all these mysteries I thank You:
for the wonder of myself, for the wonder of Your works.

You know me through and through,
from having watched my bones takes shape
when I was being formed in secret
in the limbo of the womb.

You had scrutinised my every action,
all were recorded in Your book,
my days listed and determined,
even before the first of them occurred.

God, how hard it is to grasp Your thoughts!
How impossible to count them!
I could no more count them than I could the sand,
and suppose I could, You would still be with me...

Psalm 139:1-18 Jerusalem Bible

Compare the experience of this psalm in praying it with what goes on typically in a worship service. There really is no comparison, is there? The intimacy that indwells this psalm is absent from most church services. In my experience, though, it can be found in the public worship of synagogues, churches and assemblies in proportion to how much of the Bible, in particular the Psalms, are in those services. It would be difficult to imagine Christ being very impressed with many of the things we do in our public worship. This isn’t a matter of ‘what would Jesus do (or think)?’ but rather, ‘what does Jesus do?’ for you see, He is present at those worship services, at least at those where He is welcome. As for those where He is unwelcome, He comes anyway still looking for His sheep. Christ can and does go anywhere.

When we have worshiped with the Jews at their synagogue, we noticed immediately how often we heard the name ‘Jesus’ recited or sung in their congregation. Being able to read Hebrew, we would hurriedly try to find the place in their siddur or prayer book where the name occurred, so we could see the context. The prayer books are Hebrew on one page and English on the facing page.

What we discovered was that it wasn’t the name ‘Jesus’ they were singing—after all, how could they? They’re Jews!—but the word ‘salvation.’ When they were singing ‘yeshuató’ they were saying ‘His salvation’ and so on. What were they reciting and singing? The psalms, of course! The word ‘salvation’ and its verbal counterparts occur many times in the Psalms. That is in fact what the psalms are concerned about more than anything—salvation.

The original meaning of salvation wasn’t as we now mostly think, ‘dying and going to heaven,’ but rather being saved from the life of bondage in Egypt. In this sense, Moses was both liberator and savior of Israel. In this sense Joshua was a savior. After Israel came into the land of Canaan, the judges were there to lead Israel and save them from the assaults of their heathen neighbors. As such there were many saviors in Israel, some of them women, like Esther and Judith, who saved their people Israel from grave danger.

The entire Old Testament is actually a record of God’s saving acts on behalf of His hereditary people Israel, to bring them from bondage to freedom. At the end of the long line of saviors in Israel appears the One who is the Savior, the one who is Salvation, so much so that the Most-High sends His angel to impart the name to this Child—Yeshua, Salvation. He saves His people from bondage, but not just from bondage to an earthly tyrant, but from death itself, from She’ol. For what worse tyrant can there be than death?

In the same way that Jesus Christ does not point to the truth but Himself is the Truth, so does Jesus not lay out a religious system to dispense salvation but Himself is Salvation. This is why true Christianity, if we can even use the word ‘Christianity’ to describe it at all, is emphatically not a religion, but a personal encounter with the crucified and resurrected Living God, the God-Man Jesus Christ, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life, and who by His very name Jesus, is the Salvation of the world.

The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. They seized Peter and John, and because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day. But many who heard the message believed, and the number of men grew to about five thousand. The next day the rulers, elders and teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and the other men of the high priest’s family. They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?”

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. He is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone.’ Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.

Acts 4:1-13 NIV

Thursday, August 26, 2010

He is the Truth

I love the Muslim people, but I do not love the religion of Islam. I also do not love the religion of Christianity. There are times when the Christian religion acts as an oppressor of its own people and of other peoples. That happens when churches build up systems, allowing the people to remain in ignorance of the Word of God (Jesus Christ), and continuing to emphasize the "religion" of Christianity.

Yes, I worship God in the temple, but I prove my worship to be genuine by imitating the apostle Paul, who said, "the God I worship spiritually by preaching the Good News…" and by following what James the brother of Jesus said, that "pure, unspoiled religion in the eyes of God our Father is this, coming to the help of orphans and widows when they need it, and keeping oneself uncontaminated by the world."
Jesus Christ is the Truth, He does not just tell us about it. He is the Truth. When you read the Gospel of John in the Holy Bible you can easily see that the teachings of Jesus are true. You can also easily see that Jesus did not come to start a new religion. Jesus was and still is a Jew. He is alive now, not like the hidden imam or anything like that, but really alive. He came to break the chains of religion. He came to bring to us the possibility of true union with God.

Yes, God is One, but His Oneness is not merely mathematical unity. God is so completely and perfectly One, so absolutely without a partner, that His Oneness is not changed or diminished by letting His Word (Jesus Christ) shine out as Light to the world of men, or by letting His Holy Spirit warm us and change us, mere humans, into the children of God, living in Him, joining in His Oneness while remaining forever truly ourselves.

This is what Christianity should be all about, not what passes for Christianity in the world—churches and religious groups fighting each other blindly.

I invite my Muslim, my Christian and, yes, my Jewish brothers to know the Truth of God, that is, Jesus Christ, son of Mary, the Living One, the Word of God through whom all things were made in heaven, on earth and everywhere, and in whom all live and move and have their being. I invite you to get a copy of the Holy Bible, and read what Jesus Himself has said and done, and see for yourself who is and who is not a prophet of God.
Jesus declared, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the Kingdom of God unless he is born again."
John 3:3 (NIV)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Pressing on

Ο δε ειπεν αυτοις· Δια τουτο πας γραμματευς μαθητευθεις εις την βασιλειαν των ουρανων ομοιος εστιν ανθρωπω οικοδεσποτη οστις εκβαλλει εκ του θησαυρου αυτου καινα και παλαια.

Then said he unto them, “Therefore every scribe which is instructed unto the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old.”
Matthew 13:52

Hopefully I am like that householder bringing
‘out of his treasure things new and old.’
I like to go back through this blog and find old posts that could be aired again. This short one is from August, 2006…

Trusting in God, who makes use even of our mistakes and failures, the Christian pilgrim presses on, not looking back (cf. Philippians 3:12-14), not even judging oneself, leaving all judgment to Him (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:3), knowing that everything works out for the best for those who love Him (cf. Romans 8:28). There is no loss with Jesus.

Trusting in God, who makes use of our weaknesses to train us for a weight of glory that is all out of proportion to them (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:7-12, 17), we push against our weaknesses as a weight lifter pushes against the weights, to build spiritual muscle, until the Lord, our trainer, moves us to the next exercise.

In short, through Jesus Christ, all that binds us can and will be not only overcome but transformed, as we are changed through Him into the Image that we reflect (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:18).

A baby's ramble on prayer

Aιτειτε και δοθησεται υμιν, ζητειτε και ευρησετε, κρουετε και ανοιγησεται υμιν
Matthew 7:7

Eαν τι αιτησητε εν τω ονοματι μου, εγω ποιησω
John 14:14

My good brother in Christ and fellow blogger wrote,

Consider a prayer asking for anything you can think of: something shallow, like a new car. Something more meaningful, like our gentle old grandmother being rescued from cancer. This whole exchange is rooted in the assumption that things are meant to go a certain way. If we had not prayed, we would have not gotten the car, grandma would have succumbed to the cancer. One of the crazy things about this is, sometimes we act like we’ve got a reality by democracy. We do our little prayer chains and prayer requests and all those things as if the idea is, if enough people vote our way God will change the world. Another crazy thing is, that we act like God must be simply making it up as he goes. Or that we are so different than those people who tried to argue God out of his plans. Because, the thing is this: if God had a plan for us not to get that car, we are asking him to change the plan for us. We’re not any different than those people in the bible… except that, oftentimes, we’re doing it for much more selfish reasons.

This was a very perceptive post. I liked what he wrote a lot. It was very realistic. I especially liked what he said about the democracy of the prayer chain. “…if enough people vote our way God will change the world…”

It makes me wonder, really, why people do these things.

Jesus does say,
“Whatever you agree upon in prayer, ask, you will get it.”
(cf. Matthew 7:7, John 14:14, wow! the chapter and verse numbers!)
The reality, though, is that this doesn't seem to happen
much of the time.

Is it because we haven't enough faith?
Or because we haven't fasted?
Or because we're too sinful for God to hear us,
let alone grant our request?
Or because He has already decided to do something His way not ours?

The Jews have a saying in the Talmud that I have made much use of.
“Undo your will for the sake of Heaven, and Heaven will undo its will for your sake.”

Of course, you know by Heaven they mean God. You know how the Jews are, they are afraid to say "God" in case that is taking His name in vain. God bless ’em!

A large part of the problem is that existence is not as linear and flat and “Yes or No” as we think it is. As C. S. Lewis wrote, “it all seems planless to the darkened mind, but that's because it is ALL plan” (Perelandra). When the picture is too big for us to see, and it usually is, existence and the events and things that fill time are too much for us, yet we pray to move mountains, and that is really some mountain!

For me, it boils down to this. Prayer, like most divine things, is a mystery. It's not ours to understand it, but ours to do it, not looking for mechanical results, but accepting that it is necessary only because God commands us to do it. When Christ says, it will be done for you,” He isn't promising that it will look the way you expected, but also, He doesn't want us to cynically ‘spiritualize it’ in our philosophical way, like the fox who couldn't reach the grapes calling them sour, and say, “Well, He answered my prayer, I just don't know how,” and then pretend to believe it. All these humanistic workarounds to try to justify God to our intellects are just a waste of time.

Prayer is a commandment and a mystery, just like everything else that has to do with, not only God but, existence.

“The Being” (Greek > Ο Ων, Ηο Ón) has had a contraction within Himself, making room for us to be, like a woman's body makes room in her womb for the embryo, then for the baby. Neither we nor the unborn baby know what's going on. We just exist, not even knowing that we exist, until God says it's time for us to be born for real.

And when that happens, intellect, watch out!

Incredible


A seminarian wrote,

I remember listening to a debate in my apologetics class regarding good works. One classmate made the point that Mother Teresa never did anything good because she did not have a regenerated heart. This is a controversial statement for two reasons. The second is that most people assume that she was a Christian because of her works, though that is debatable based on her writings and what she professed.

To be sure, this debate was taking place in a Calvinist (I would like to say evangelical, but I no longer know what this term means to others besides myself) seminary, where they will be very careful to reiterate that we are never saved by works (which by the way, all Christians believe, even Roman Catholics), but the conclusion that they came to, that it is doubtful that Mother Teresa was a Christian, is incredible.

Mother Teresa is someone whom I know fairly well, from reading about her work among the poorest of the poor (including among us who are not so poor), and her testimonies as well as what others have written about her. I know a fellow Christian when I see one. How can anyone doubt that she was a Christian? Well, I suppose the same people would doubt that a Roman pope could be a Christian… but my point is, that we are wasting our time and efforts to no avail, and in fact endangering our own souls, to judge others like this. In our effort to discern what is the correct doctrine of salvation or whatever, by our shallow judgments we trample the work of Christ in His saints, when they do not fit our presumptuous dogmatic schemes. Lord, have mercy!

Just call me a mad dog barking at a dumb wall that will not fall down no matter how hard I bark, but bark I must just the same. There are people trapped behind that wall, separated from the simple Truth who is Jesus Christ, the Lord and Savior of our souls, who also is knocking on the doors in that wall, seemingly to no avail.

Like the merchants of Gadara, they fear the Man who sent their livestock careening to their deaths down the cliffs by the Galilean lake. They care little about the man whose life was straightened by the Master's words, nor that he who ran naked and gashed himself is now in his right mind and clothed. They hear the Man knocking whose teachings they say they glorify and guard against the wrong-minded, and they themselves do not open the door. He might cast their livestock, their investment, into the lake too, and then they would have nothing, be nothing, except (if they still wanted it) to be His disciples. He might tell them, as He told the Gerasene demoniac, that He didn't want him to follow Him, but rather to go and tell others what had been done for him. And that's just not good enough for them. They want to sit on thrones to the Master's right and left. But can they drink the cup that He has drunk? Or will they, like the one ‘enthroned’ on the cross to His left, say, "Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us!"
(Luke 23:39)

For all the saints...

This morning I read a very moving account of a modern Orthodox saint, Matushka Olga, who reposed as recently as 1979. She was a native Alaskan Orthodox, of the Yup'ik nationality, and the wife of a presbyter (that is what "Matushka" means, "little Mother"). Brother Pandelis in Australia has posted the complete story, but I want to quote just one passage, the testimony of a woman who had been damaged by sexual abuse, whom Matushka Olga helped. To read the whole story and especially this passage in context, click HERE. What it tells of Matushka is hard to believe, but I have also known people like this who did and said similar things. The saints are all around us. "Being encompassed by so great a cloud of witnesses..."

Only after this did Holy Mother Olga speak. She spoke about God and people who choose to do evil things. She said the people who hurt me thought they could make me carry their evil inside of me by rape. She was very firm when she said, "That's a lie. Only God can carry evil away. The only thing they could put inside you was the seed of life which is a creation of God and cannot pollute anyone." I was never polluted. It just felt that way because of the evil intentions of the people near me. What I had held inside me was the pain, terror, shame, and helplessness I felt. We had labored together and that was all out of me now. She burned some grass over the little flame and the smoke went straight up to God who is both the judge and the forgiver. I understood by the "incense" that it wasn't my job to carry the sins of people against me either. It was God's, and what an ever-unfolding richness this taste of salvation is. At the end of this healing time we went outside together. It was not dark in the visioning prayer. There were so many stars stretching to infinity. The sky was all shimmer with a moving veil of light. (I had seen photos of the northern light but didn't know that they move.) Either Matushka Olga said, or we both heard in our hearts -- I can't remember which -- that the moving curtain of light was to be for us a promise that God can create great beauty from complete desolation and nothingness. For me it was like proof of the healing -- great beauty where there had been nothing before but despair hidden by shame and great effort.

And even as Matushka Olga was a healer in Christ for this woman, so can we also be healers and helpers on the Way to those whom the Lord places in our paths. Let's make best use of the time, to do what we do in the Light, so that the people among whom we walk can give glory to God.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Not a bone was broken

Like the scourged and beaten body of Christ, nailed hand and foot to the wood of the Cross, punctured by a lance, pierced by a circlet of harsh thorns, left to die for lack of water, stripped of a robe that would not be rent but gambled for by enemies, but of which not a bone was broken, so are we, His suffering body, His church.

Like that body lying in the rich man’s virgin tomb, cold and dark, waiting to be embalmed by precious oils that were never to be, sealed away from the land of the living by a seemingly immovable stone, so are we, His body dead to the world, hidden from its eyes, buried like seed scattered on good soil, dying in order to live.

Like the risen body of Christ, still marked by the sign of the nails in hands and feet, still bearing the gash in which unnumbered souls find new birth and release from the curse, unrecognizable to its enemies except by their astonishment and dread, seen by all eyes from farthest east to farthest west, so are we, when He comes again.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Not a matter of talk but of power


It seems I am forced to blog whether I want to or not.

I have been in a sort of dialog with a Christian brother who has an excellent blog on the Greek New Testament, which I often read, both to check out his insights and to fill in the blanks in my own knowledge of the scriptures. This brother identifies himself very strongly as a Calvinist, but I do not identify myself as an Orthodox, but only as a Christian. I can't escape the stinging rebuke that holy apostle Paul throws at the Corinthians.

Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? For when one says, "I follow Paul," and another, "I follow Apollos," are you not mere men?

Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him; for God's temple is sacred, and you are that temple.

Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a "fool" so that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God's sight. As it is written: "He catches the wise in their craftiness"; and again, "The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile." So then, no more boasting about men! All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas, or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.
1 Corinthians 3:1-4, 16-23

Our dialog has been about what I call wearing Christian brand names. I don't find these brand names in the Bible or in the undivided Church, so I prefer not to use them. My brother, on the other hand, sees them as indispensable. In my folly, I answered him thus…

I like the way you list your questions, "But what does Christ think of the nature of man? Totally depraved or not? What does Christ think about election? Unconditional or conditional? What does He think about the atonement? Was it universal or particular to the saints? What does He think about His saving grace? Is it resistible or irresistible? What does He think about His elect? Will He keep them to persevere to their death or can they lose their salvation?"

Why do I like your questions? Because they show me what you're thinking about, and they also show me how far above your thoughts and my thoughts are the thoughts of Jesus who, though we can put our questions into His mouth, will never ask them in reality. Our questions are bound up in our partiality, our mortality, our speculation and our fear. We ask them always out of self-interest, hoping to justify ourselves, even while we claim to be disinterestedly seeking the truth. The only certainty I have about our questionings, yours and mine, is that they are the product of our hopeless and self-unredeemable depravity, our rebellious willfulness. What I know for certain is that they are the fire that ignites the whole wheel of God's creation, desiring to pull it all down on top of ourselves in chaos and ruin. Face it, we are brats, and the depth of our utter blasphemy proves only one thing: That Christ who came to call sinners to repentance, the dead to life, and the damned to salvation, has performed an inconceivably mighty feat, and all without our help, without our even wanting it! All our questioning and travail of self-justification does nothing to add to what He has done for us, but instead, only delays our reconciliation.

"What does Christ think of..." is dragging Him down to the level of our partiality, mortality, speculation and fear. His humanity, though, is the new humanity of the New Adam, into which He is transforming those whom the Father has drawn to Him. His humanity is not ours as it is, but ours as it will be after He has transformed us into the image of Himself, the New Adam.

Jesus Christ is Θεανθρωπος, the God-Man. Would you make Him a Calvinist, so you can include Him when you say "we..."?

Forgive me, brothers, but I cannot escape the holy apostle's words, "Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him; for God's temple is sacred, and you are that temple." Nor can I ignore what the same apostle says in closing his instructions on this topic…

I am not writing this to shame you, but to warn you, as my dear children. Even though you have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. Therefore I urge you to imitate me. For this reason I am sending to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church.

Some of you have become arrogant, as if I were not coming to you. But I will come to you very soon, if the Lord is willing, and then I will find out not only how these arrogant people are talking, but what power they have.
For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power…
1 Corinthians 4:14-20

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Interpretations of love

There are so many interpretations of love among people.
One interpretation says…

We must love people, that is, want what is best for them,
have a good will toward them,
but we don't necessarily have to want to be with them,
or put up with them.

This is where many a marriage ends up, and many a congregation.
This is the love that can be commanded
and, once we've hedged the commandment with escape clauses,
we're free to follow this "commandment."

Though there are many kinds of love among us,
the Word of God is the only teacher of what love is.
How we apply it depends on how much we want to see.

For me, just to look, really look, at another human being,
or even at a fellow creature,
without thinking, without measuring, analyzing,
just looking,
for me love comes to the surface quickly.
I want to know the person I am looking at,
and spontaneously I want to love them.

Freedom intervenes to set the limits.
Does the other person want to be loved, or is it an intrusion?
Do I want to activate the love which naturally rises in me,
or will I let it die,
look the other way,
because I realise there will be a price to pay?

I hold myself "ready to love" others,
because Jesus may come to me in the guise of my brother.
I do not fret over whether I should or must love my neighbor
in an active way.
I just love the one who is put before me this moment.
If love requires action beyond that point,
I try to do whatever love demands.

The aftertaste of love is prayer, specifically intercession.

Mother Gavrilia says, "Love does not get tired."
I know what she means…


Once, when I was loving the brother whom God placed before us,
it didn't matter to me that I had to stay with him the whole day,
eating little, taking no rest, just making sure he was fed,
that he would stay awake (we were all up many hours that day!),
that he had somewhere to go while waiting for his bus connexion.
I just wasn't tired.
I could've stayed up all night with him, because I was loving him.

Love just doesn't get tired.

Have you ever noticed how
John 3:16
(the often quoted scripture)
and 1 John 3:16
really go together,
and how the 3:16 in John's first letter is really a completion
and commentary of the 3:16 in John's gospel?

Friday, August 20, 2010

Saving grace

וייקץ יעקב משנתו ויאמר אכן יש יהוה במקום הזה ואנכי לא ידעתי׃
ויירא ויאמר מה נורא המקום הזה אין זה כי אם בית אלהים וזה שער השמים׃

And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the Lord is in this place and I knew it not! How dreadful is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!
Genesis 28:16-17

This passage, in slightly different wording, was chanted as an introit by the choir of my family church, the parish of Saint Mark, in Portland, Oregon (Episcopal then, now, schismatic Anglican). It was my favorite introit, and the chanting of it, even though it happened only once a year on the anniversary of the dedication of the church, is indelibly engraved in my memory, and I can chant it still.

We were a very high church congregation, but then it was a flawless act, covering unbelievable wickedness and hypocrisy. Little did I know it at the time. To me, the place was all magic, and in a good sense. It was in that darkly sparkling nave that I saw and venerated my first real ikons, old Russian ones blackened with the centuries, for ours was a unique parish, commemorating the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Pope of Rome, and the Patriarch of Constantinople, in every mass.

We were moved from that old church, into real Orthodoxy, the Greek Church, by a fortuitous accident, just as the old ship of Episcopalianism was about to disappear beneath the waves of the world's seductive charms. The parish of Saint Mark almost followed, but at the last minute threw its lot in with one of the new continuing Anglican groups, and it has floundered ever since. Only later did I find out what depravity was hidden beneath the brocaded chasubles and immaculate altar frontals.

This is a comment of sad reminiscence, but also a testimony that the Lord in His divine economy and faithfulness can still lead us to the Truth, to Himself, out of Babylon, and still preserve for us the tokens of His saving grace. “Oh, how dreadful is this Place, this is the house of God, and gate of Heaven, and men shall call it the Palace of God” (Introit for the dedication of a church, The English Hymnal, 716).

Thursday, August 19, 2010

At once

Και παραγων ειδεν Λευιν τον του Αλφαιου καθημενον επι το τελωνιον και λεγει αυτω, Ακολουθει μοι, και αναστας ηκολουθησεν αυτω.

And as he passed by he saw Levi, the son of Alphæus, sitting at the place of toll, and he saith unto him, Follow me. And he arose and followed him. Mark 2.14

The call goes forth, and is at once followed by the response of obedience. The response of the disciples is an act of obedience, not a confession of faith in Jesus. The cause behind the immediate following of the call by response is Jesus Christ himself. It is Jesus who calls, and because it is Jesus, Levi follows at once.

This encounter is a testimony to the absolute, direct, and unaccountable authority of Jesus. Because Jesus is the Christ, he has the authority to call and to demand obedience to his word. Jesus summons men to follow him not as a teacher or a pattern of the good life, but as the Christ, the Son of God. There is no road to faith or discipleship, no other road — only obedience to the call of Jesus.
What does the text inform us about the content of discipleship?

Follow me, run along behind me! That is all.

To follow in his steps is something which is void of all content. It gives us no intelligible program for a way of life, no goal or ideal to strive after.

At the call, Levi leaves all he has — but not because he thinks that he might be doing something worthwhile, but simply for the sake of the call. Otherwise he cannot follow in the steps of Jesus. The disciple simply burns his boats and goes ahead.

He is called out, and has to forsake his old life in order that he may ‘exist’ in the strictest sense of the word. The old life is left behind, and completely surrendered. The disciple is dragged out of his relative security into a life of absolute insecurity (that is, in truth, into the absolute security and safety of the fellowship of Jesus), from a life which is observable and calculable (it is, in fact, quite incalculable) into a life where everything is unobservable and fortuitous (that is, into one which is necessary and calculable), out of the realm of the finite (which is in truth the infinite) into the realm of infinite possibilities (which is the one liberating reality).

Again, it is no universal law. Rather is it the exact opposite of all legality. It is nothing else than bondage to Jesus Christ alone, completely breaking every program, every ideal, every set of laws. No other significance is possible, since Jesus is the only significance. Beside Jesus nothing has any significance. He alone matters.
When we are called to follow Christ, we are summoned to an exclusive attachment to his person.

The grace of his call bursts all the bonds of legalism. It is a gracious call, a gracious commandment. It transcends the difference between the law and the gospel. Christ calls, the disciple follows; that is grace and commandment in one.

‘I will walk at liberty, for I seek thy commandments.’ (Psalm 119.45)
Discipleship without Jesus Christ is a way of our own choosing. It may be the ideal way, it may even lead to martyrdom, but it is devoid of all promise. Jesus will certainly reject it.


And they went to another village. And as they went in the way, a certain man said unto him, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest. And Jesus said unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of heaven have nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay his head. And he said to another, Follow me.

But he said, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. But he said unto him, Leave the dead to bury their dead, but go thou and publish abroad the kingdom of God. And another said, I will follow thee, Lord; but suffer me first to bid farewell to them that are at my house. But Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand unto the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.
Luke 9.57-62

The first disciple offers to follow Jesus without waiting to be called. Jesus damps his ardour by warning him that he does not know what he is doing. In fact, he is quite incapable of knowing.
That is the meaning of Jesus’ answer. No man can choose such a life for himself. No man can call himself to such a destiny, says Jesus, and his word stays unanswered. The gulf betwen a voluntary offer to follow and genuine discipleship is clear.
Where Jesus calls, he bridges the widest gulf.

The second would-be disciple wants to bury his father before he starts to follow. He is bound by the trammels of the law. He knows what he wants and what he must do. Let him first fulfill the law, and then let him follow. A definite legal ordinance acts as a barrier between Jesus and the man he has called. But the call of Jesus is stronger than the barrier.

Nothing on earth, however sacred, must be allowed to come between Jesus and the man he has called — not even the law itself.

Now, if never before, the law must be broken for the sake of Jesus. Therefore Jesus emerges at this point as the opponent of the law, and commands a man to follow him. Only Christ can speak in this fashion. He alone has the last word. This call, this grace, is irresistable.

The third would-be disciple, like the first, thinks that following Christ means that he must make the offer on his own initiative, as if it were a career he mapped out for himself, but the third is bold enough to stipulate his own terms.

He lands himself in a hopeless inconsistency, for although he is ready enough to throw in his lot with Jesus, he succeeds in putting up a barrier between himself and the Master. ‘Suffer me first.’ He wants to follow, but feels obliged to insist on his own terms. Discipleship to him is a possibility which can only be realized when certain conditions have been fulfilled.

This is to reduce discipleship to the level of human understanding. The trouble about this third would-be disciple is that at the very moment he expresses his willingness to follow, he ceases to want to follow at all. His desires conflict not only with what Jesus wants, but also with what he wants himself.

If we would follow Jesus we must take certain definite steps.

The first step, which follows the call, cuts the disciple off from his previous existence. Jesus makes it clear from the start that his word is not an abstract doctrine, but the re-creation of the whole life of man. The only right and proper way is quite literally to go with Jesus.

The call to follow implies that there is only one way of believing on Jesus Christ, and that is by leaving all and going with the incarnate Son of God. The first step places the disciple in the situation where faith is possible. If he refuses to follow and stays behind, he does not learn how to believe.

This step is not the first stage of a career. Its sole justification is that it brings the disciple into fellowship with Jesus, which will be victorious. The road to faith passes through obedience to the call of Jesus. If men imagine they can follow Jesus without taking this step, they are deluding themselves like fanatics.

Discipleship is not an offer man makes to Christ. It is only the call which creates the situation, and the situation in which faith is possible is itself only rendered possible through faith.
Only he who believes is obedient, and only he who is obedient believes.

If we are to believe, we must obey a concrete command. Without this preliminary step of obedience, our faith will be only pious humbug, and lead us to the grace which is not costly. Everything depends on the first step. It has a unique quality of its own.

This first step starts as an external work, which effects the change from one existence to another. It is a step within everyone’s capacity, for it lies within the limits of human freedom. To take this step it is not necessary to surrender one’s freedom.

Come to church! You can do that of your own free will. You can leave your home on a Sunday morning and come to hear the sermon. If you will not, you are of your own free will excluding yourself from the place where faith is a possibility.

Once we are sure of this point, we must add at once that this step is, and can never be more than, a purely external act which can never of itself bring a man to Christ. Nevertheless the external work must be done, for we still have to find our way into the situation where faith is possible.

We can only take this step aright if we fix our eyes not on the work we do, but on the word with which Jesus calls us to do it. In the end, the first step of obedience proves to be an act of faith in the word of Christ.

Unless he obeys, a man cannot believe.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer


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

Knowing the Personal God

I don't usually copy someone's entire post and publish it here at Cost of Discipleship, but this time, the post is short enough, and it is so exceptional. This is taken from Fr Stephen's blog Glory to God for All Things. I have not even changed the title as I sometimes do. If you've never visited his blog, I simply recommend it. As for this post, it is a gem of evangelical truth…

The word personal has a commonplace meaning in English. If I have personal knowledge of an event, it means that I was actually there and saw what took place. Personal knowledge of another person, means that we have actually met, spent time together and shared information. Difficulty arises when this commonplace use of the phrase is mistaken for its theological meaning.

The word person, is pretty much a Christian invention, or certainly comes to a place of importance through its use in Christian theology. In Greek, it is the word prosopon, which originally meant the face, while in Latin the word was persona, which originally meant a mask. In both cases the words were taken up to do service in the efforts of early theologians’ to give expression to the Christian understanding of the Triune God. Person, in its various forms, came to be used for the more technical Greek term hypostasis, and referred to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in their unique aspects. Thus we had three persons in one being.

The word was also used as the Church sought to give expression to what it knew of Christ. Thus we learned to speak of the person of Christ who was both human and Divine: one person, two natures.

In all of these early uses, the term carried far more weight than its commonplace meaning today. Today we mean little more than individual when we say person. To apply that meaning to the persons of the Trinity would be to fall into serious heresy.

And to a degree, to apply that same commonplace meaning to human beings is at the very least a disservice, if not outright error. For there is something about our existence as persons that is precisely linked to our creation in the image of God and the truth of our existence of which the commonplace meaning knows nothing.

Fr. Sophrony Sakharov says that to be created as person is to be created potentially and not actually. That is to say, there is something very “open-ended” in our existence as persons. It is not a limiting term but a term which describes something of infinite capacity. We are created potentially, because we are not yet what we shall be. We are commanded to be conformed to the likeness of God – and this is our goal in Christ. This is far more than moral perfection, but has an ontological meaning as well. Indeed, when Scripture speaks of this aspect of our destiny it generally does not speak in moral terms, but in terms of knowledge and relationship.

“Then I shall know even as I am known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

“We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2).

That capacity of knowledge – which is another way of speaking about the fullness of our communion with God – is also a way of speaking of our capacity for love. It is the gift of personhood that we are (by grace) capable of loving everyone and everything. We would not be commanded to love even our enemies were it an impossible thing. Apart from Christ we cannot become what we were created to be – but we were created to love in just such a manner – for to love less is to be less than the image and likeness of Christ.

Our commonplace language, even in our faith, speaks of a personal relationship with Christ. It is correct to do so, and even to mean by it that you have “first-hand” knowledge of Christ. It also speaks of mutual obligation which is again correct in the covenantal relationship that God has given us. But it is also true in a less commonplace sense that we have a personal relationship with Christ – in that the nature of our relationship is that between persons. As such it has an infinite capacity and is open-ended. It will grow and become far more later than it is now. It will also mean a participation and a communion, a knowledge that is inherent to personal existence, even though we frequently are not aware of this capacity that is ours.

It is only in knowing the Triune God that we become what we are meant to be – that what it means to exist personally is fully revealed in us. A short quote from Fr. Sophrony:

The Person is He Who alone and genuinely lives. Aside from this vital principle nothing can exist: ‘In him was life; and the life was the light of men’ [John 1:4]. The fundamental content of this life is love: ‘God is love’ [1 John 4:8]. the personal being realizes himself through loving contact with another person or persons.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Come, labor on!


Come, labor on.
Who dares stand idle on the harvest plain
while all around us waves the golden grain?
And to each servant does the Master say,
"Go work today."

Come, labor on.
The enemy is watching night and day,
to sow the tares, to snatch the seed away;
while we in sleep our duty have forgot,
he slumbers not.

Come, labor on.
Away with gloomy doubts and faithless fear!
No arm so weak but may do service here:
by feeblest agents may our God fulfill
His righteous will.

Come, labor on.
Claim the high calling angels cannot share:
to young and old the gospel gladness bear.
Redeem the time its hours so swiftly fly
the night draws nigh.

Come, labor on.
No time for rest, till glows the western sky,
till the long shadows o'er our pathway lie
and a glad sound comes with the setting sun:
"Servants, well done."

Jane L. Borthwick (b. Edinburgh, Scotland, 1813; d. Edinburgh, 1897) wrote this text and published it in her Thoughts for Thoughtful Hours (1859) in seven, six-line stanzas. Borthwick revised the text into its present five-line form and published that version in her Thoughts for Thoughtful Hours of 1863.

One Sunday morning in the first years of my Christian life, this hymn, sung to the tune called Ora Labora, moved me very deeply, to tears actually, as I sang it with the congregation in the small neighborhood Episcopal church of Saint Andrew in North Portland. It was possibly around this time of the year, late summer. I have never forgotten that day, nor this hymn which I have memorised. I still quietly sing it whenever I remember that experience, which confirmed the call that God has on my life. Today I remember both, as I meditate on the word, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8) and gratefully reflect that I feel that call no less now than when I first received it. God is faithful.

Λαζαρε δευρο εξω!

Lazarus, come forth!

Don't you just hate it when someone who doesn’t even have a college diploma challenges trained seminary graduates “who has letters after their names” (as Spyros ‘Amerikano’ Chalkiopoulos asked Mrs. Durrell in the film My Family and Other Animals) on points biblical or theological? I know I do, because it really shouldn’t be necessary.
Why don’t the seminaries teach them these things?

There is no Catholic way of salvation, there is no Protestant way. There are only explanations and interpretations, and these are undoubtedly human. These are not what is meant by the concept of παράδοσις, parádhosis, ‘the handing over’ of the truth of the Gospel.

The παράδοσις is what was handed over verbally and practically by Christ and His holy apostles to the believers. Most of what is meant by this term has ended up in the New Testament. In fact, if you believe in the divine economy, all of what was handed over by the apostles is in the New Testament. The problem seems to be all about interpretation. It is this human failing, the desire to ‘be right,’ that has tried to rip asunder the seamless robe that clothes the Body of Christ.

Staying in the Word, reading, hearing and living it as it is, we will have returned to that place where we again put on that seamless robe. There is one faith, one Lord, one baptism, as we know. It is mankind in its argumentative and speculative vanity that has tried to tear the robe to shreds, while all think that they have gambled for the entire robe, and won it. The seamless robe is intact, but only for those who really want to wear it, and who want to share it with Christ's holy and pure Body.

Like Lazarus, we are still tangled in our strips of mortuary linen like dead men. Jesus still calls out to us, “Come forth!” We don't have to remain dead, unless we want to. Like Lazarus, once you know for sure that it is the voice of Jesus calling you out, who would want to stay in that tomb?

Wake up from your sleep,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.
Ephesians 5:14 Jerusalem Bible

There is only one way of salvation, and it is simply but amply testified throughout the scriptures. We need to really believe that the Word of God, not our interpretations of it, is what constitutes the Truth. That is the παράδοσις. That is what the apostles handed over to us. That is what makes our faith, if we believe their testimony, apostolic.

I am for tearing off the costumes we wear in front of each other as we go into battle. Why? Because our battle is not with each other, but against the powers of wickedness in the heavens. If we really want to fight each other, let’s strip ourselves, and see—we're all the same! Then, let’s put on the only garment worth having, because He gives it to all who believe in Him, His own skin! All who have been baptized have put on Christ, as the scriptures say. And what baptism is that? Being buried with Christ in His death, so as to rise with Him in His glorious resurrection.

I’m trying to move beyond thinking about God, to just living in Him. I’m trying to cut through the knots of tangled lore that have kept us encamped on the devil’s playground so long, fighting each other.

What would happen, if suddenly the various Christian missions and denominations in a majority Muslim country like Indonesia or Malaysia (which still allow the existence of Christianity) suddenly were seen to absolutely and without reserve support each other in everything, even without coalescing into one uniform institution? Everything that they disagree about, they would agree to just pray and ask the Lord to intercede for each other’s folly, and then, with that out of the way, just “go, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them.”

Hey! What if we can’t agree on how and whom to baptize, and when? Well, that’s just some more folly that we have to ask the Lord to forgive and correct. Meanwhile, let’s all just go in to the harvest field, and work, because night is coming when no one can work, and because “the time is close.”

But what about groups like the Mormons, who say they are Christians, but really aren’t?

I’ve thought about groups like the Mormons, and of course, there are others besides them who straddle a ‘gray area.’ I think the fearful divide is the question whether one accepts the Holy Bible as the only divinely revealed scripture on earth. If the answer is ‘yes,’ then we start from there, if we must, to peel people ‘off the salvation list’ by testing them on other things.

But do you see what that makes us? Judges, and corrupt judges at that, because we can only see as through a glass darkly and have no view at all of what is happening in a person's soul, where they meet God face to face.

We have to learn to trust more in God and in the Word of God, Jesus Christ, and simply follow His directions and instructions without adding to them. Look where we have ended up by adding to the παράδοσις: ‘The world’ drives by mega-churches and through intersections (in Kansas and elsewhere) where there’s a different church on each of the four corners. Shameful, and blasphemous, that we who say we believe in Jesus Christ trash His words and His prayer so boldly, thinking it will not bite us in the end.

One more time—what would happen if we all supported each other (barring those groups, I suppose who deny the Word of God is the sole divine scripture on earth) and defended each other to every attack from the outside?

Overnight, the non-Christian world would be astonished and possibly fall like a house of cards, because at last, they have seen what Jesus said, “They will know you are Mine because you love one another.”

This is not a plug for the ‘ecumenical movement’ which I do not believe in. This is a plea for obedience to the word of Jesus.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Except that moment


I don’t believe one has to understand or even know all that can be understood and known about the Godhead, even such essential doctrines as the Trinity, to be saved. Salvation happens when any soul turns sincerely and uniquely to Jesus as its Savior, and that is the core out of which all other experience, knowledge and understanding spring.

The thief on the cross beside Jesus knew only one thing, Jesus is the Messiah, the King of Israel. He didn’t even understand salvation apart from being merely remembered by Jesus. He hadn’t been instructed. He hadn’t been confessed of his sins. He hadn’t been baptized. He hadn’t received the Holy Eucharist. He hadn’t read the bible. He knew no other fact, other than the fact that the Man who hung beside him had ultimate and perfect power to save.

What astonishing faith! Knowing they were all going to be dead very soon, he asks the Man beside him who likewise would be dead, to remember him in His kingdom. For me, what’s happening when a person is joined to Jesus unto the kingdom and life eternal, is exactly the same as what happened with the thief. Everything else that engulfs that moment of saving recognition can be dispensed with, when necessary. Everything can be dispensed with, except that moment.

Thank you, Father, I didn't know

This morning, a wonderful snippet from Fr Milovan's blog Again and Again, shows us how great is the mercy of God, of Christ, who accepts us, as we come to Him, sins and all…

…after the Great Entrance I can’t confess anymore, not because I’m physically tired or something is preventing me, but because there is no sense in confessing anymore. We’ve entered into the mystery, what are we going to confess now? If you have something, if something is bothering you, come earlier. If not – and there is always something for us to confess: if you put on the cleanest suit, how much dust is on you! – approach with boldness, even if you are a sinner, but also a son of God, adopted through Christ, and say: “I am, Lord, that which I am and, behold, I sinful and unworthy, but I am not at peace with this, I do not identify with this. I desire to identify with You. Take my sins and destroy them, as You destroyed the sins of the world.” … Therefore, all the Holy Mysteries are completed before, until the Great Entrance.

Today a sister brought two children after Liturgy and said: “If you could read a prayer, Father.” I said, “I saw the children took communion.” She said, “They did.” “Then, what do you want now, after a rich meal do you want a snack? Don’t, please, the Liturgy is the greatest prayer.” And the woman, thankful, said: “Thank you, Father. I didn’t know.”

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

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Grace

A baby is born. If all goes well, it is born with no serious danger to mother or child. Though we know what pains the mother endures in giving birth, no one has yet told us of the labor of being born. No one remembers, unless they are hints of it, those odd, terrifying dreams we sometimes are plagued with as children, of darkness, of our extreme smallness, of the threatening largeness of our room, of the strange terror of seeing light through our slightly open nursery door, those strange dreams that bridge our sleeping and our waking.

A baby being born, first the head emerges, again, if all is as it should be, with foamy hair and then suddenly, there is an absolute urgency for the rest of the body to follow. Everyone is tense, and the labor of birth is one that cannot be stopped, it must press on till completion—Push!—till the babe is out. There is the struggle for air, to clear the passages of fluid so the little creature can draw in its first breath, and exhale it as a cry. When it does, everyone exhales too a massive sigh of relief, and then the cord must be clamped and cut. For a moment all attention has focused on the child, but very quickly returns to the mother. The midwives attend her and the child, for it seems both are totally helpless.

This is how it is with us. We come into the world unasked but welcomed as Job says, “Why were there knees to receive me and breasts that I might be nursed?” (3:12). We come into the world totally helpless. Everything must be done for us. Not only do we not know where we are, but we cannot even see clearly. If we see at all, what is that sensation? What are those movements in that brightness, those shapes what are they? And now, what is that vibration? It’s different from the smooth, dark and rumbling sounds we thought were our world. Then something pops, and we hear the new sounds even more loudly and clearly. But where are we? What are we? Totally helpless.

Being born is not much different than being born again, that is, from above, as Jesus tells us, “unless a man is born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). He is just as helpless to do anything for himself as that newborn babe. Everything has to be done for him. Everything is pure gift, even the fact of his birth is pure gift, and all is due to a sacrifice that he is totally unaware of, by a being, his mother, whom he doesn’t even know yet, but begins to know, as his lips feel her soft nipples nudging his unknowing mouth. This is how it is with us in being born again. Everything is gift, all is grace and love and generosity, and we little know at first, and even for long afterwards, how great the sacrifice was offered on our behalf. But we feel the Spirit nudging us, coaxing us to feed and, in feeding on the pure milk of the Word, to drink, be filled, and grow.

We are totally helpless in our new birth. Who can deny that all is grace, that everything offered to us has been given for free, that Someone chose us to be born, not we ourselves? And how can we overlook this miracle? And why would we want to? We all have been born into the most beautiful of all worlds, even though the devil’s envy has defiled it with the spectre of physical death. We all can be born again into a world even more beautiful, that cannot be deformed by the destroyer of souls, because he cannot even see it.

Totally helpless in our birth, we grow by love into the image of our earthly parents and our heavenly Father, until we too conceive, and bear, and love, all for free, until our lives become grace itself.

Indeed, from His fullness we have, all of us, received—
yes, grace in return for grace,
since, though the Law was given through Moses,
grace and truth have come through Jesus Christ.
John 1:16-17

To be His presence among men

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

Mother Maria [Skobtsova] is remembered in the context of the Russian Emigration [after the victory of communism there], the French Resistance [during World War II] or Ravensbrück concentration camp [where she died]. But her achievement extends beyond the circumstances of her life, and it outlives them. For above all, by way of her Christian dedication and in her own distinctive style, she demonstrated what it means to be human.

In the process she sacrificed her personal serenity. Since her life was completely interwoven with the destiny of her contemporaries, their turmoil was hers, their tragedy was hers. And yet she was not swept away by it. She was anchored in God and her feet rested on the Rock.

Infinite pity and compassion possessed her; there was no suffering to which she was a stranger; there were no difficulties which could cause her to turn aside. She could not tolerate hypocrisy, cruelty or injustice. The Spirit of Truth which dwelt in her led her to criticize sharply all that is deficient, all that is dead in Christianity and, particularly, in what she mistakenly conceived to be classical monasticism.

Mistakenly, for what she was attacking was an empty shell, a petrified form. At the same time, with the perception of a seer, she saw the hidden, glorious content of the monastic life in the fulfillment of the gospel, in the realization of divine love, a love which has room to be active and creative in and through people who have turned away from all things and, above all, from themselves in order to live God's life and to be His presence among men, His compassion, His love.

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
John 3:16

This she understood, this she lived for. This is also what she died for.

Anthony Bloom, Metropolitan of Sourozh