Monday, February 28, 2011

Witness at the edge of night

…I was told over and over, “But the deeper I went into the Church, the more deeply I felt myself as belonging to the people of Israel,” and, “The more I am Christian, the more I feel myself a Jew.” What is more, this Jewish identity had become positive and internal, rather than the negative, externally reinforced anti-Semitism that was their basic identification with Jewishness before entering the Church. They did not become ‘Russian’ in the Russian Church, but ‘Jewish.’

Father Alexander Men' probably needs no introduction to many of you. He is the late priest in the Russian Orthodox Church who was found murdered by an axe in September 1990, and whom the late academic Sergei Averintsev called "The man sent from God to be missionary to the wild tribe of the Soviet intelligentsia."


This post about hieromartyr Alexander Men' consists entirely of quotes from an online article sent me by a dear sister in the Lord. To read the entire article, click HERE. Father Michael is an Orthodox priest of Russian Jewish origin. Photo is of Alexander Men' as a youth.

It was an issue of how to maintain your difference. ... To stay a spiritual personality. Not to be completely engulfed. In this sense, the Church helped to support the human personality, the personality of the intelligentsia, for whom personhood is extremely important. Not to be completely dissolved into the aggressive Soviet mass. … It was the power that I found to stay myself. (Father Michael)

For another Russian-Jewish intellectual affected by the wave of baptisms in the late sixties:

… Living in the Soviet Union, and always being bothered by the constant lie, you had the sensation that there must be a great deal that they are simply hiding. I was led to a sense of readiness, readiness to believe in something else. I didn't know what that something was, but the readiness was there. ("Osip")

There were and are, of course, many ways to respond to such inner "readiness." They could have sought out Judaism, to the extent that was feasible in the Soviet Union of the time. They could have become Zionists, and tried to go to Israel. Or they could have followed the secular dissident pattern of, say, Sakharov. Indeed, in the sixties, these paths did not seem so disparate, as one interviewee acknowledged:

From the same underground came the dissident movement and the Zionist movement. Discussions would take place in the same house…
I didn't hide the fact that I went to church. For those Jews in those days the fact that we were Christians was not an issue. Most of them had been in Stalin's camps. Christians were not enemies. They were all allies. In those days we were a minority of outcasts.
(Father Michael)

For many of these "outcasts," as I have said, it was Father Alexander Men', by both example and word, who showed them the way out of what has been variously called the ideological lie, the vacuum, the cellar, or the prison of Soviet culture. Born a Jew, thus an outsider, a "dissident" by birth, trained as a scientist in a Soviet institute, Men' came to represent for these intellectuals the best of all worlds.

Men' clearly had charisma. But he also had a message that appealed to a generation straitjacketed in their institutes for Historical Materialism and Marxism-Leninism. The way out of the cellar that he showed them celebrated the highly sensual ritual, the materiality of Russian Orthodoxy not as a utilitarian end, but as the incarnation of mystical Truth and as a sign of the possible deification of creation. Spirit and matter, religion and secular knowledge were not so far apart, after all. Engineers, historians, and mathematicians were attracted by Men's readiness to build a bridge between the Church and secular society, between science and religion: "This idea of dialogue with the world has stuck with me all my life," wrote the Jewish priest [Fr Michael].

…perhaps the most radical, and controversial of the followers of Men' now gather to pray in the basement of the building housing the Center for Human Rights, near the Nikitskie Gates [in Moscow]. To be clear, this small community is not part of the Patriarchate of Moscow. It belongs to the so-called Apostolic Orthodox Church, founded in May of 2000 through the authority of the True-Orthodox (Catacomb) Church, a body that never reunited with the Moscow Patriarchate since the 1920s. It is sometimes called Gleb Iakunin's Church, for its founder, the famous dissident from the 60s. At the recommendation of Iakunin, this dissident Church's synod canonized Father Aleksandr on September 8, 2000.

The canonization of Men' was, and still is, highly controversial. Many followers of Men' with whom I spoke agreed that the canonization was perhaps deserved, but nonetheless, in this form and by this splinter Church, nothing more, and nothing less than an unnecessary provocation: We split with them over this, Men's brother explained. I understand their views, but it was all done on their own, which only disturbs the situation. Men's son, Mikhail, currently the deputy major of Moscow and a controversial figure in his own right, wrote: "I look on this as a provocation directed against all my family. ... by an organized group of people having no relationship to the Russian Orthodox Church."

But a saint he is, say some. The makeshift Church of the New Martyrs, led by Father Yakov Krotov [photo right], is divided by an iconostasis with only three icons: the Mother of God, Christ, and one of Father Aleksandr. The wall is punctuated by wide arches in place of the closed royal doors of a traditional icon stand, thus making the altar fully visible, and accessible, to the congregation. The services are conducted in Russian, rather than the Church Slavonic recognized by the Russian Orthodox Church, and, thus, also easily accessible to the worshippers. There is no choir; the congregants themselves are expected to chant the entire service, and Father Iakov recites all prayers aloud, rather than mumbled as is usually done in the Orthodox Church. All of these innovations, Krotov believes, make his service more democratic, more inclusive, and more in the spirit of Father Aleksandr Men's own teachings.

Does he deserve sainthood for this legacy, as those in Gleb Iakunin and Iakov Krotov's Church believe?

According to one of Men's Russian Jewish Christians:

I do think that according to the Orthodox definition of a saint, Fr. Alexander is a saint. There are a few different types of saints. One of these types is a person who lived a great life, was extremely important for his time and people around him, bravely preached about faith in the time of danger, wrote beautiful books about faith, and died as a martyr. Who will fit this definition better then Father Alexander Men?

The OCA [Orthodox Church of America] website gives the following definition:

It means only that, within the context of his age, he manifested the image of God in himself in some way — that he was an ikon, an original creation, a new creature in Christ.

Canonization does not make a man a saint. Rather, it establishes the fact, publicly and for all to see, that the man is already a saint…

Was Father Alexander Men' such a man? I don't know. I never met him. I don't believe in saints. I don't even believe in Jesus Christ. And I'm crazy about Jews converting to Christianity. I do know, however, that his ministry, and, even more, the presence of his spiritual children, grandchildren, cousins, and fellow travelers, especially among the Jews, continue to press the case of his significance, and in so doing, to test the saintliness of the contemporary Church itself. "In his day," in the "cellar" of the Soviet Union, he did something unusual. He was an "original creation" as an intellectual in the Church.

"Pasha," a Russian Jewish Christian now living in New York suggested the following:

To show you are a Jew in Orthodoxy is a kind of litmus paper. Jewry is the verification of faith for a Christian. Why? If you take this paper, Jewry, and you immerse it in someone's faith, and the paper changes color, even just a little, then that is a marker that something is not right in his faith. True Orthodoxy, the Orthodoxy his followers believe was preached by Men', is thus associated with tolerance and ecumenism, with what they see as the true message of the gospels. And any Orthodoxy that does not accept Jews, that flunks the litmus test, must have abandoned its true ecumenical form and become intent only on its own ritualistic laws. Did Men' revolutionize the Russian Orthodox Church? By no means. Was he a messiah? Absolutely not. Does his legacy point out to the Church how it might "heal itself"? In a quiet, sometimes defeatist and always paradoxical way: Yes.

More good testimonies

Throughout the era of the Communist domination of Eastern Europe, there were many heroes who suffered and died in prison for trying to help Christians behind the Iron Curtain. One of the most well-known of these heroes is Pastor Richard Wurmbrand, a Jewish convert to Christ and a Lutheran minister who started an underground ministry in Romania in 1945. Of the next twenty years, he spent fourteen in prison. Finally ransomed out of Romania in 1965, he established a ministry to smuggle Bibles and practical aid to the families of Romanian martyrs. He died in February of 2001, suffering to the end from the maltreatment he had received at the hands of the Communists. Pastor Wurmbrand himself and those whose stories he relates are shining examples of how faithful Christians can not only survive, but be illuminated through the dreadful sufferings of imprisonment. The color photo of Pastor Wurmbrand comes from this web site dedicated to his memory, and is from an original given to the designer of the site. It is used with her permission.

A Lutheran Pastor’s Firsthand Account
of Prison Life
by Pastor Richard Wurmbrand

I am a Christian from an Orthodox country — the country of Romania. Having been in prison for fourteen years for my faith, it is now my missionary work to help persecuted Christians in Communist countries. I would like to tell you the stories of several Orthodox Christians with whom I was privileged to come into contact during my time in prison. Their examples and their deeds have been a constant source of encouragement to me throughout the years.

Always Rejoice

The first man was a priest who was put in jail at the age of seventy. His name was Surioanu. When he was brought in with his big white beard and white pate, some officers at the gate of the jail mocked him. One asked, “Why did they bring this old priest here?” And another replied with a jeer, “Probably to take the confessions of everybody.” Those were his exact words.

This priest had a son who had died in a Soviet jail. His daughter was sentenced to twenty years. Two of his sons-in-law were with him in jail — one with him in the same cell. His grandchildren had no food, they were forced to eat from the garbage. His whole family was destroyed. He had lost his church. But this man had such a shining face — there was always a beautiful smile on his lips. He never greeted anyone with “Good morning” or “Good evening,” but instead with the words, “Always rejoice.”

One day we asked him, “Father, how can you say ‘always rejoice’ — you who passed through such a terrible tragedy?”

He said, “Rejoicing is very easy. If we fulfill at least one word from the Bible, it is written, ‘Rejoice with all those who rejoice.’ Now if one rejoices with all those who rejoice, he always has plenty of motivation for rejoicing. I sit in jail, and I rejoice that so many are free. I don’t go to church, but I rejoice with all those who are in church. I can’t take Holy Communion, but I rejoice about all those who take. I can’t read the Bible or any other holy book, but I rejoice with those who do. I can’t see flowers [we never saw a tree or a flower during those years. We were under the earth, in a subterranean prison. We never saw the sun, the moon, stars — many times we forgot that these things existed. We never saw a color, only the gray walls of the cell and our gray uniforms. But we knew that such a world existed, a world with multicolored butterflies and with rainbows], but I can rejoice with those who see the rainbows and who see the multicolored butterflies.”

In prison, the smell was not very good. But the priest said, “Others have the perfume of flowers around them, and girls wearing perfume. And others have picnics and others have their families of children around them. I cannot see my children but others have children. And he who can rejoice with all those who rejoice can always rejoice. I can always be glad.” That is why he had such a beautiful expression on his face.

Heaven’s Smile

Let me interrupt to tell you about another Orthodox Christian. He was not a priest, but a simple farmer. In our country, farmers are almost always illiterate, or nearly so. He had read his Bible well, but other than that he had never read a book. Now he was in the same cell with professors, academicians, and other men of high culture who had been put in jail by the Communists. And this poor farmer tried to bring to Christ a member of the Academy of Science. But in return, he received only mockery.

“Sir, I can’t explain much to you, but I walk with Jesus, I talk with Him, I see Him.”

“Go away. Don’t tell me fairy tales that you see Jesus. How do you see Jesus?”

“Well, I cannot tell you how I see Him. I just see Him. There are many kinds of seeing. In dreams, for instance, you see many things. It’s enough for me to close my eyes. Now I see my son before me, now I see my daughter-in-law, now I see my granddaughter. Everybody can see. There is another sight. I see Jesus.”

“You see Jesus?”

“Yes, I see Jesus.”

“What does He look like? How does He look to you? Does He look restful, angry, bored, annoyed, happy to see you? Does He smile sometimes?”

He said, “You guessed it! He smiles at me.”

“Gentlemen, come hear what this man says to us. He mocks us. He says Jesus smiles at him. Show me, how does He smile?”

That was one of the grandest moments of my life. The farmer became very, very earnest. His face began to shine. In the Church today there are pastors and theologians who can’t believe the whole Bible. They believe half of it, a quarter of it. Somehow they can’t believe the miracles. I can believe the whole of it because I have seen miracles. I have seen transfigurations — not like that of Jesus, but something apart. I have seen faces shining.

A smile appeared on the face of that farmer. I would like to be a painter to be able to paint that smile. There was a streak of sadness in it because of the lost soul of the scientist. But there was so much hope in that smile. And there was so much love and so much compassion, and a yearning that this soul should be saved. The whole beauty of heaven was in the smile on that face. The face was dirty and unwashed, but it held the beautiful smile of heaven.

The professor bowed his head and said, “Sir, you are right. You have seen Jesus. He has smiled at you.”

Pure Orthodoxy

Now, to come back to this priest, Surioanu. He was always such a happy being. When we were taken out for walks, in a yard where there was never a flower, a piece of herb, or grass, he would put his hand on the shoulder of some Christian and ask, “Tell me your story.”

Usually the men would talk about how bad the Communists were. “They’ve beaten me and they’ve tortured me and they’ve done terrible things.”

He would listen attentively; then he would say, “You’ve said plenty about the Communists; now tell me about yourself. When did you confess last?”

“Well, some forty years ago.”

“Let us sit down and forget the Communists and forget the Nazis. For you are also a sinner. And tell me your sins.”

Everybody confessed to him — I confessed to him, too, and I remember that as I confessed to him, and the more I told him sins, the more beautiful and loving became his face. I feared in the beginning that when he heard about such things he would loathe me. But the more I said bad things about myself, the more he sat near to me. And in the end he said, “Son, you really have committed plenty of sins, but I can tell you one thing. Despite all of these sins, God still loves you and forgives you. Remember that He has given His Son to die for you, and try one day a little bit, and another day a little bit, just to improve your character so it should be pleasant to God.”

My experiences with this priest were among the most beautiful encounters of my life. He is no longer on this earth. He was an example of what real Orthodoxy is all about. There exists such Orthodoxy. I don’t see much point in becoming an Orthodox from a Lutheran background or from a Baptist background or from any other background unless one desires that kind of Orthodoxy. His was an excellent Orthodoxy, a pure Orthodoxy. May God help us all to be truly Orthodox, after the example of so many saints who are depicted on the icons, and after the example of so many saints alive today.

This is the mug shot of Pastor Wurmbrand taken in 1947. It clearly shows that he is of the people of Israel, and so I want to share these photos also, as it is an evidence of his martyrdom. As I have said and written many times in this blog, Orthodoxy is the heritage of all followers of Jesus, but there is a man-made kind of Orthodoxy which saves no one, and an Orthodoxy which is of the Spirit of God, where men worship the Father in spirit and truth and are thereby transformed by Him and taken up into the life of the Holy Triad, even while they live on earth. It is the second kind of Orthodoxy that I want, because only that kind is real.

When Pastor Wurmbrand was dying, he confessed to Romanian Orthodox presbyter Fr George Calciu that, in his heart, he loved Orthodoxy, but considered he was not worthy of it, and because of this he did not succeed in becoming fully Orthodox. This was his own opinion of himself, and it held him back, but surely not in the eyes of the Lord whom he served, of whom he witnessed, and for whom he suffered. As I have written elsewhere, true Orthodoxy cannot be contained in its vessel, but continually overfills and overflows it.

Glory to You, O God, glory to You!


So what does one do to enter the Orthodox Church seeking this kind of Orthodoxy?

One may not meet there the kind of Christians we think we are, or hope to be, only religionists and ceremonial spectators. One may not find priests like Fr Surioanu or Fr Calciu, only businessmen dressed in clerical collars or fancy robes. One may be annoyed or scandalized by what seems unorthodox or superfluous, nationalistic or impious, or, as one woman put it to me recently, "It's just wrong!" My response is the only one I have a right to give, because I did it myself.

You just go forward as to an altar call. You enter and lay down your life, trusting in the Lord whom you serve now and whom you want to serve better, trusting that He will always be your Lord, that no one can ever change that or stand between you and Him, and that what the Church is, who it is, will be revealed to your eyes, as you begin to find your place in it, keeping your eyes on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of your faith. The Lord will send to you, or send you to, people like yourself, with whom you can work out your salvation, serving Him together, according to your call. No fear that anyone will take this from you, and never mind those people or things that would have kept you out.

As I said to myself, putting on my tie in front of a mirror on the morning I was going to be received into the Orthodox Church by chrismation, and as Pastor Wurmbrand thought of himself, "How can I do this, I'm not worthy," you too will hear the words spoken to you as you are baptised or chrismated, "Axios! Worthy!"

Now, the new life really begins. Go where He sends you, and always say, "Yes," when He calls.

Love without limits

I think it's time to post this again, originally written back in 2007…As a young man, having just accepted the Lord at age 24, I was in informal apprenticeship in cabinetry to Philip, a man 32 years my senior, who became my spiritual father in every sense of the word. He was and still is my standard for what Christian manhood looks like.

Even though we both worked in an old inner city furniture factory and both on the time clock (though he was, in fact, the foreman of the whole shop), we both worked off the clock several times a week. He did it to make up for deficiencies and mistakes by the crew. I did it because I wanted to spend as much time with him as possible.

One example of the love he showed…

A young co-worker was assigned the task of machine mortising a cart load of bed posts. Philip or I set up the machine. The fellow started off well, but somewhere along the way he got distracted and started putting the pieces into place the wrong way. By the time anyone noticed, thirty or more posts had mortises in the wrong place.

Philip passed by and immediately saw what was happening (I was following him). He said, ‘Norman, take Joe over to the parts racks and have him start putting away parts, it looks like he needs a break from this boring job!’

I grabbed the guy by the shoulder and said, ‘C'mon, let's go!’ as Philip quickly moved the cart of ruined parts out of the way and covered them with a tarp, so the manager wouldn't see them. Then, when I got back, I finished mortising the bed posts that were left.

After work, Philip and I punched out and hung around till everyone was gone. Then we dragged out the cart of spoiled work, cut plugs, glued and hammered them into place, drum sanded them flush, and then lickedy-split Philip mortised the whole load, while I assisted him by off-loading them. All this took about 2 hours. By then, it was dark.

Next morning, everything was ready to go, and no one but Philip and I knew how. What happened to the boy who made the mistake? Philip never told him. He got moved to jobs requiring less concentration. Philip tried to match every man under his care to jobs that suited the capabilities of each.

After working closely with this man for four years, the company closed and the equipment sold off piece by piece. Portland's furniture industry days were over, moved to the South. I got a new job as a cabinetmaker, Philip retired early.

Within the year, when I was home in Illinois visiting my Mother for (what we later learned would be) the last time, Philip quietly passed away. His wife came home from work one afternoon, noticed him sitting in his favorite chair in the basement rec room, and when she went to talk to him, found he was gone.

Love without limits, without drawing attention to itself, quiet, strong, consistent love.

Love that he received from his Master, he was quick to pass on to others.

1 Corinthians 13

Undefiled

The testimony of a young brother in a new Orthodox nation

It is only by His Grace and by Unspeakable Mercy of God that He reveals Himself and His kingdom to us. Let's receive what He wants to reveal and give us, patiently and with joy, and peace in heart!

This what God keeps doing in me: filling me with His love and mercy despite my unworthiness. Praised be our God! And the deepest and most tender joy in my life is to know Him and that He invited me to enter into His Holy Church.

I fall in love with Orthodox Church because I see how God loves her so deeply and keeps her undeviled [undefiled] by the evil one just like a Husband who doesn't let His Wife be deviled [defiled] by wicked men...

She is my mother now. Even though she looks old, unchanging, rugged, old fashioned and the world doesn't see it. I love her so deeply. I won't try to scrutinize her as if I am above her, nor I judge her or say anything against her because only Christ deserves.

…What I know is that Scripture is written for us and not us for Scripture, that's why Church is established before the Scripture.
God is divine.

Proud

The proud man thinks he can comprehend everything with his mind. The Lord does not grant this… The Lord does not manifest Himself to the proud soul. Pride is difficult to detect in oneself, but the Lord leaves the proud to be tormented by their impotence until they humble themselves.
Staretz (Elder) Silouan of Mt Athos
1866-1938

“Remember who your teachers were…”

2 Timothy 3:14

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Ikons

Seeing that naturalistic ikon of the Mother of God holding the Child Jesus in the platytera of the Kiev cathedral of St Vladimir made me think of another image that is deeply etched in my memory, and it has to do with the way the Savior's arms and hands are portrayed in the ikon by Vasnetsov.

The infant Christ isn't doing with His hands any of things we normally see Him doing: He's not holding an open or closed evangelion in one arm and blessing with the fingers of the other. No mystic spelling of the Divine Name with those tiny fingers.

Instead, He's doing what any child being held like that is likely to do: He's all arms, and His gaze is direct, lively and true. With them He speaks greater blessing and desire for us than anything else He could have done. He's here, and He's one of us. He even has a mother. Yes, He is the Son of God, but even His heavenly Father needed a daughter to become His Mother.

What the ikon made me remember is a scene in Franco Zeffirelli's film of the life and passion of Christ, Jesus of Nazareth. Everything about that film is, to me, ikonic, and it is obvious that the casting and the costumes were done with reference to Orthodox ikons. When Christ stands before the tomb of Lazarus about to call him forth into life, He suddenly and abruptly raises His arms in the same way as He does in the ikon. I was hoping the arms would be in exactly the same position as in the ikon but, alas, they are in mirror image. Yet, the enigma of why He holds up His arms like that, resembling the hands on the face of a clock—what is He trying to tell us? Do Zeffirelli and Vasnetsov know something we don't? Or am I just being captured by an odd visuality?

Back to the ikon. In most images of the Theotokos with the Child Jesus, the focus seems to be on the Mother, even when by her hand gestures and her look she is supposed to be inviting us to worship her Divine Son. The same is true of most Western art renditions of ‘the Madonna.’ But in Vasnetsov's work, the Divine Child practically leaps out at us, and the look on the Mother's face is something like, ‘Don't say I didn't warn you!’ I just love this image, it's so real.

Although Zeffirelli's film Jesus of Nazareth is now somewhat dated, it's still a very powerful film about Christ. In the same scene, the raising of Lazarus (which is one of my favorites) as Christ approaches the moment when He will call Lazarus forth from the tomb, there is a gradual movement of the camera toward His face, as He is praying to His Father, thanking Him beforehand for letting Lazarus be raised, confirming His authority as the Resurrection and the Life. In this frame taken from the film, we can see the resemblance to the face of Christ as depicted in the traditional ikon, ‘Holy Face.’

Yes, Zeffirelli was thinking of ikons when he directed this film. And why shouldn't he have? They have passed into the human psyche and so deeply that most people don't even notice they are there. We all know what Jesus looks like in our hearts, even though our minds may deny it.

Ikons, ikons! Where would we be without them? And the more closely we look at God's world and our own, the more ikons we find, until we finally discover, it is all ikon, and all pointing to the Artist.

Free

Awoke this morning with a vague emotion of unworthiness, sandy eyes, and a very dry throat, ‘my palate is drier than a potsherd and my tongue is stuck to my jaw’ (Psalm 22:15). Slept all night long with my window shut. That must have something to do with it.

Even in very cold weather, even with snow on the ground, I usually sleep with my window wide open, not just a crack but with the sash thrown up all the way, for fresh air. It may be hot or cold, but to sleep in the open air, under the naked stars, is best for the soul.

Then, I awake not feeling unworthy, but cleansed by night sounds and refreshed by the breath of morning, all I feel in my soul upon arising is thankfulness. I am no more if I ever was: it is only He, who comes to me, ‘out of His pavilion like a Bridegroom’ (Psalm 19:5).

Unworthy. So it is when we sleep, sealed in our room, and breathing only our own breath. In man, stale is unworthy, and unworthy we are stifled. An act of openness is all that is required, to sleep, like a bird, breathing the unknown air, ‘and, on waking, to gaze our fill on His likeness’ (Psalm 17:15).

Gracious are You, O Lord, forgiving us all our trespasses and freeing us by your unconditional mercy, not looking at our offenses against Your Law, but at the little creatures that we are, that Your hands have made, wanting only to release us from our cages, to fly out and breathe, free.

Sunday of the Last Judgment

‘On the western wall of the Kiev Cathedral of St. Vladimir, remarkable for its murals, right over the entrance to the church is a wonderful representation of the Last Judgment. First of all, we are struck by the mass of people, their faces, eyes, and you have the vivid awareness that you are among them. Involuntarily, you try to find yourself, to determine your place according to your spiritual state. And within you occurs, as it were, a private judgment upon yourself. There are faces expressing terrible sorrow, a totally perished life trembles in them. There are others, full of malice, hatred, murmuring, envy, insatiable desires. Life passed on, but something is gnawing at them and will eternally gnaw at them.

‘But here, rays of light start to break their way through the enormous clouds, and they show us other faces: quiet, calm, joyful, happy. This is life! And the closer they are to the Throne, the more clear these faces are. And over the Throne shines the Cross. On the Throne is seated the Lord Savior of the world Himself, and around Him, John the Baptist, The Apostles, all the Saints are praying, triumphing. Here is harmonious rejoicing. Only one cry, one wail disturbs it. The Mother of God has fallen on the shoulder of Christ, and she alone is pleading for the salvation of sinners, for mercy for all those without hope…’


Receiving in an email from my dear sister in Christ, Presvytera Candace of Anchorage, Alaska, a meditation on the Last Judgment (by her cousin, Fr Demetrios Carellas), along with a remarkable image portraying it, I was encouraged to go online and look for a larger example of it.

In the process I found at least one other image that I also found remarkable. The original image I was seeking is above. The other one I found is at the end of this post.

What distinguishes the ikonography in the Ukrainian cathedral church of St Vladimir in Kiev (right) is that it is not Byzantine but naturalistic. The artist is Viktor Vasnetsov, of the revivalist school, a painter of historical paintings. The realism of his paintings in this cathedral is, to me, very startling.

In the second image, the Christ child looks more lively and ‘for real’ than I have ever seen Him anywhere, and not in a bad way. We can never get enough testimony regarding the manhood of Jesus Christ. The hero-worshiping spirit of the old man has to be constantly corrected by the matter-of-fact spirit of the new man in Christ:
God became man. Accept that fact. It will make it so much easier for you in the long run. You can't be more spiritual than God.

Here's the other image I found, a detail of the platytera in the cathedral at Kiev, the wall above the altar, always reserved for images of Christ in the arms of His mother. Who wouldn't want to receive the blessing of this Baby?

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Universal peace for those…

…who love Your Law!

ש, Unjustifiably though princes hound me,
Your Word is what fills me with dread.
I rejoice in Your promise,
like someone on finding a vast treasure.
I hate, I detest, delusion;
Your Law is what I love.
Seven times daily I praise You
for Your righteous rulings.
Universal peace for those who love Your Law,
no stumbling blocks for them!
Waiting for You, Yahweh, my Savior,
I fulfill Your commandments.
My soul observes Your decrees;
these I wholly love.
I observe Your precepts, your decrees;
You know how I keep to Your paths.

Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit,
both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.
Amen.


Universal peace for those who love Your Law!

This passage from Psalm 119:161-168, of the 26th day, is what instantly came to mind as I viewed the following pictures of a young brother being baptised and chrismated (anointed) into the Body of Christ in Australia.

Leaving behind all argument, all disputation, he enters the womb of his new Mother, the Holy Church, to be born again of the eternal womb. In truth, he is now adelphós, a ‘womb-mate.’
Glory to You, O God! Glory to You!



I look to no one else in heaven,
I delight in nothing else on earth.
My flesh and my heart are pining with love,
my heart's Rock, my own, God for ever!

台灣基督正教會

Just wanted to remind myself that the Holy Church is
everywhere we go…




כי ממזרח שמש ועד מבואו גדול שמי בגוים ובכל מקום מקטר מגש לשמי ומנחה טהורה כי גדול שמי בגוים אמר יהוה צבאות׃

διοτι απ' ανατολων ηλιου εως δυσμων το ονομα μου δεδοξασται εν τοις εθνεσιν και εν παντι τοπω θυμιαμα προσαγεται τω ονοματι μου και θυσια καθαρα διοτι μεγα το ονομα μου εν τοις εθνεσιν λεγει κυριος παντοκρατωρ

万 军 之 耶 和 华 说 : 从 日 出 之 地 到 日 落 之 处 , 我 的 名 在 外 邦 中 必 尊 为 大 。 在 各 处 , 人 必 奉 我 的 名 烧 香 , 献 洁 净 的 供 物 , 因 为 我 的 名 在 外 邦 中 必 尊 为 大 。

My name will be great among the nations, from the rising to the setting of the sun. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to my name, because my name will be great among the nations," says the LORD Almighty.
Malachi 1:11

Two gulls

Remarkable events have a way of happening only once in a lifetime. They may not last long, but they can have long lasting effects, even if only in the imagination and the memory.

I had to make an early morning trip to the market, just as the sun was rising. Very gold, clear and bright, the sun hung just above the horizon by the time I arrived. The frigid pre-dawn was still hanging in the air, everything quiet but for the sounds of birds. I went inside and got my groceries for the day. Good news, the Chilean grape harvest had finally arrived in Oregon, and I had first pick of them.

As I wheeled my little cart to the back of my van to unload it, and before I could throw open the hatch, two very large seagulls came flying straight at me. In the beak of one of them was a bread roll, what we call a hoagie, and the bird dropped it at my feet and flew off with the other faster than it takes to think about it. The roll was dropped so quickly, it should have bounced, but it lay there as still as from a mother’s hand.

The gulls had flown up to a lamp post and were sitting on it, watching me. Yes, I know this was probably just an instance of two gulls fighting over some food, play fighting really, for neither looked really interested in the bread they’d delivered. But there was something about the whole scene that flickered through my mind, reminding me of the story of Elijah and the raven.

The bread they dropped me was entire, except for missing a little off one end, broken so cleanly off it almost looked like it were cut with a knife. Though it happened so quickly, I had noticed that the bird’s narrow, pointed beak had been grasping it at that end, else it couldn’t have found a hold, as the crust was by now very hard. I picked it up just to take a closer look, and then, breaking it in two, put it down again, as if to say, ‘Thanks, brothers, but this one is for you.’ I got into my van, and drove off.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Walking on egg shells

I recently read a letter from someone who said they couldn’t continue ‘walking on egg shells’ forever to maintain a relationship. That really struck a raw nerve. Who hasn’t had this experience? And who hasn’t been relieved when it was over? What the one who penned this line may not have given a thought to was, perhaps the other person in the relationship was ‘walking on egg shells’ too.

A curious turn of phrase, walking on egg shells. By that we mean we’re putting up with someone, we’re swallowing our pride or our good sense or whatever makes us feel we’re better or smarter or more correct than the other person, and just letting them ‘walk all over us.’ It’s an unfailing recipe for instant martyrdom complex. Why we paint ourselves into this kind of corner is beyond me. Do we do it for money, or out of fear of rejection?

Actually, fear is probably the motivating factor, the universal principle—just plain fear. Even when we rationalize it, and say we’re doing it for ‘love’ or for ‘peace’ or for some other worthy purpose. We do it because we don’t want to face something or someone, in the truth, at least the truth as we know it. That’s why I say, it’s painting oneself into a corner.

Walking on egg shells, though, is very similar to something else we do, following the instructions of the Lord: covering the offenses of others, for love’s sake. We remember the scripture that says, ‘Love covers all offenses’ (Proverbs 10:12), and we follow it. Why? Because we love the other person, and we know the Word is true. The love, though, makes all the difference.

Putting up with someone is a far cry from loving them, isn’t it? If I’m walking on egg shells I am pretending to love, and some part of me can’t go on in this way for ever. It tires out. It begins to count the cost. It begins to divide. It builds walls. It begins to grumble, then to accuse. If there ever was a kernel of love there, it pops it.
And nothing grows from popped corn.

But love is not like this. Love never tires. Love never stops giving. Love never takes back its words or its gifts. Love never fights back. Love never accepts defeat. Love never slams the door, but keeps its door open, even if just a crack. Love isn’t afraid. Nothing can rob love. Love never loses anything or anyone. Love covers all offenses without qualification. Love waits.

There really is almost nothing that love cannot do. Almost nothing, the same as we say of the Lord. He can do everything. He is almighty, yet He cannot force the will of a sinner, though He can help a saint who comes to Him defenseless, weaponless, and with open arms. When we say that God is love, repeating the scriptures, we confess of Him what is also true of us.

If He did not create us to love, He didn’t create us at all. But He did create us, and so what are the consequences? Did He make a mistake to make us out of the dust of the earth and then breathe heaven itself into us? Can we continue living in a world we have made, walking on egg shells, instead of freeing ourselves to live in His world, where we don’t walk, but run?

Draw me in your footsteps, let us run.
The King has brought me into His rooms…

Song of Songs, 1:4

The power of nothing

Thoughts seem to circulate in the mind of Christ with a life of their own, actually, no doubt with the life that God gives them, but it never ceases to amaze me how we are often found musing on the same ideas, even when we are far apart, even when we aren’t in touch with one another.

A thought has been besieging my mind the last few days, a thought about how unreality, call it fantasy, call it day-dreaming, better yet, call it ‘nothing’, afflicts and affects us, sometimes to the point where we are, where I am, paralysed against the doing of any good thing, anything at all.

It is a passage from C. S. Lewis’ book The Screwtape Letters, the first book of his many of us had ever read, which keeps drifting in and out of my thinking.

‘…Nothing is very strong: strong enough to steal away a man’s best years not in sweet sins but in a dreary flickering of the mind over it knows not what and knows not why, in the gratification of curiosities so feeble that the man is only half aware of them…’

This is the dreadful scenario, that it might be me he is talking about. These words are put in the mouth of a devil intent on snaring human souls, his advice to a ‘younger devil’ (if there really is such a thing, for Lewis’ is writing a quasi-allegory). He continues, explaining that one needn’t worry about big sins: a plethora of small ones will do the trick, will cause the soul of a man who unconsciously commits them to shrivel, to become what it has pursued: nothing.

‘You will say that these are very small sins; and doubtless, like all young tempters, you are anxious to be able to report spectacular wickedness. But do remember, the only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from [God]. It does not matter how small the sins are, provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed, the safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.’

I wrote just now that it amazes me how people are often thinking the same thoughts, alleging that we all participate in the mind of Christ, which is of course our hope. I have experienced this many times. It was reading what Fr Stephen has recently penned in his blog that made me decide to put down these thoughts in mine. He writes,

‘… Our battles against, anger, lust, greed, envy, etc., are all struggles with things that are not. They have no more existence than we ourselves lend to them. And since we ourselves are not the Lord and Giver of Life, their existence is as nothing. And yet we find ourselves attracted to nothing—our minds constantly employed in dialog with nothing. The sweet work of repentance that is set before us as followers of Christ, is nothing other than the return to reality. God does not call us to spend our time thinking about what we imagine Paradise will be like. He invites us into the reality of Paradise now, which we can know through forgiving everyone for everything; by being generous in our almsgiving; by praying honest, simple prayers.’

It isn’t just his notice of what Lewis calls ‘the power of nothing’ that distinguishes Fr Stephen’s words, but his ready and refreshing and simple reminder of the way out of it—repentance, forgiving everyone for everything—‘right away’ is all that I would add—and then, the rest of the Lenten discipline which some of us try to follow for the whole year: generosity and real prayer. He continues,

‘It is quite possible for our lives to be dominated by things which have no existence. Our dreams and fantasies, our fears and anxieties, take on an existence that overwhelms everything else. Not only can such concerns not be defeated on their own ground (they are the masters of the unreal world) they must be slowly dragged onto the very ground of reality, Christ Himself, so that they can be revealed in their powerlessness and swept away with the dust of non-being.’

These words may seem hopelessly idealistic, even poetic, but they are nonetheless true. I marvel at myself, writing what I think but usually being prevented from acting on what the words mean. That was my pervasive meditation for hours this morning as I wandered in and out of prayer on my bed. In prayer, with God, out of prayer, nowhere, holding on to nothing, searching for that something I can almost just remember—but only a temptation—again, just nothing disguised to my mind as something great. But only God is great. Only He is real and true. And only in His presence, in prayer, am I delivered from the power of nothing over me.

O Heavenly King, Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, Who art everywhere present and fillest all things, Treasury of blessings and Giver of Life, come and abide in us, and cleanse us of all impurity, and save our souls, O Good One.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Unspoilt Mind

A monk’s certainty comes from his experience. For us, this is harder to grasp, but the same experience is there if we avail ourselves of it.

The modern world has reduced faith to an ascent to a trivial intellectual proposition. When we doubt (for it is not if, but when) we seem estranged from the divine. But for those of deeper traditions, faith is a life lived which makes the confession of that life a much more certain thing.

I am no monk, but I know some.

David Dickens, Nothing Hypothetical

And now, his poem...

Unspoilt Mind
by David Dickens

A boy rides his bike down the alley
But sees a horse and canyon deep.
A stick in hand and pot on his head
In his young mind flourishes a knight.
Each long lonely walk in the woods
Conjures friends from far away places.

A young man sits at his school desk
But journeys oft to distant stars,
Spots a young woman cross the room
As Venus rises out the foam of the sea.
Later upon the sport field of grass
A mirage of the wars of men long ago.

An old monk stands silent in prayer
His thoughts clear as spring rain,
Kisses images of his fathers and mothers
Hung round the walls of the Nave.
What he knows of them in person
Is no distraction of a spoilt mind.


And now, my response...

I cannot believe the beauty and fragrance of this poem,
evocative of realities to the seventh power,
of visions that launch the mind beyond its power to see.

And incense I smell, more like the resin of weeping trees,
or the aroma of the freshly cut grass of graves,
heavy with the dew of the morning of the age to come.

I should not say I cannot believe,
but that belief is merged into knowing,
and knowing into being, and being into —
can it be Him I see there standing,
supporting all that is and is not,
seen and unseen, through pierced flesh,
whether mine or yours, still His?
Brother and co-sufferer, I salute you!

Axios!

Just talking to God

A while back, reading the testimony of a young Christian man who converted from a very strict form of Islam, I came upon this passage,

"…one day, I was sitting on the steps of my house. I don't know why or how—I broke all Islamic rules of praying and 'talked' with 'Allah' directly. I prayed in a whisper, ‘Allah please never leave me alone!' I don't know why I said that but right then I heard something I have not forgotten since. Someone, out of the blue, answered, 'I won't.' Shocked, I looked up and around—I didn't see anyone. I knew someone had answered me because I wasn't sleeping. I was all awake, thinking. Then I wondered what a Moslem is never suppose to think about at all—I thought, maybe 'Allah' had answered me."

For him, that was the beginning of his conversion to Christ…

"It was this thought that started the doubts in my mind about Islam."

The passages quoted are, by the way, in Part 4 of his testimony, which can be read in full starting here. The blog has several contributors. His blogger identity is Avenging Apostate, and the testimony is his.

Now, two things that he said stood out to me.

First, that in Islam one doesn't approach God directly in one's own words, but only through the ceremonial prayers that one says five times daily, accompanied by bodily movements. I am pretty sure that there are Muslims who love God and speak to Him in their own words; in fact, I know there are, because they have written these words down in poetic form. But for the ordinary rank and file Muslim, what he says is true. I know this for sure, because one of my close college friends, Shahid Yusuf from Pakistan (who incidentally taught me to chant the call to prayer in Arabic) explained this to me. He was surprised that anyone would feel worthy enough to speak to Alláh directly, just as our Christian brother testifies.

Second (and this is less important from my point of view), that after praying his direct prayer to Alláh, he audibly heard a voice give a response, yet there was no one nearby. I do not doubt this was a miracle, but it reminds me of the testimony of Augustine of Hippo. With him, it was the voice of a child who chanted ‘Take up and read!’ from an unseen location, probably on the other side of a garden wall, when Augustine had cast his eyes upon a copy of the letters of apostle Paul which he had acquired but not yet read. In this case too, I would say, it was a miracle, even though we might be in a better position to explain it away as coincidence misinterpreted by an agitated state of mind. Of course, something like this could be said of our new brother's hearing the words "I won't!" without seeing the speaker.

Back to the first idea, that one can speak to God directly, in one's own words. This really stood out to me for several reasons. Let me start with my personal history.

As a child, I accompanied my parents to church, Sunday school and related events, even being an altar boy, until I was in my ninth year of life. After that, the family just stopped going to church. Before that happened, however, I had memorised all the customary prayers and pious actions (bowing, making the sign of the cross, etc.), and even after we stopped going to church, I still continued "playing church" with my little brother and our friends.

Every night, before I went to sleep, I prayed my prayers, either kneeling against the bed, or lying in bed on my back and looking up at the ceiling above me. My parents never prayed with me. I just knew what to do. The other thing that I began to notice, though, as I was growing up, was that my mother never said the church prayers at all, but little by little I began to notice her staying up all night, and hearing her just talk to God. Usually, she did not do this out loud, but sometimes she did, and that is how I figured out that it was okay to pray this way. I never asked her about it; I just started doing it too, talking to God. I can't remember when I began, but it was certainly by the time I was in high school.

Years later, after I had finished college, moved away to Canada, and was married, my mother wrote me a few letters that I saved, because they contained her testimonies. In her letters she wrote,
"I just stay awake in the night, and I talk and talk to God, and I know that He will forgive me for all the bad things I have done, even though I deserve to be punished for them." I wrote a little bit more about my mother and her testimony in my post Sorting out the past, and also have quoted longer passages of her testimony.

The idea of just talking to God, though, is what grabbed me. After becoming an adult, practicing Orthodox Christian, learning all the prayers by heart, and so on, I still primarily pray by just talking to God (without, of course, rejecting the memorised prayers).

In the book Beginning to Pray, Metropolitan Anthony Bloom explains that prayer starts out using the written prayers but it needn't stop there. We can just talk to God, because as we get closer to Him, He lets us know that this is good, talking to Him, our Father, in our own words.

Malli talking to God in her own words, from the film Ushpizin.

My final thought on prayer being this ‘just talking to God’ is:
It seems to me that one becomes more able to and more desirous of talking to God in this way, the more one makes the holy scriptures a daily and constant preoccupation. In other words, as we read the bible more and more, we are led to put its teachings into practice more and more, and we are gradually changed into people who can approach God more and more on intimate terms. At any rate, this has been my experience.

The testimony of the brother that got me started on these thoughts, well, I recommend that you read it. Of all the testimonies by former Muslims that I have read, this is the best written and easiest to relate to. I've also linked to his blog From Jihadist to Human in my sidebar in the Mission to Islam category. May our good and loving God continue to protect him and raise him up as a good witness of our Lord Jesus Christ.
To God be the glory.

At the crossroads

Judaism and Christianity, two religions that for the most part agree that they believe in the same God, but disagree on how one can please Him, intersect at numerous crossroads. One of these is the crossroad of the Temple, an earthly (and heavenly) building in which God and man meet each other. Though this meeting can and does happen anywhere, in the Temple, the Beit HaMikdash, the context of that Meeting takes on a unique significance. If this weren’t true, even for Christians, there would be no reason to have church buildings, since we (I am a Christian) believe that the body of the believer is the temple of the Holy Spirit.

This morning I discovered an interesting post on the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, the so-called Third Temple, and because this may not be a subject of much interest to most visitors to my blog, I will not quote too long a passage from it. For me, however, this subject has a great deal of meaning and significance, even as a Christian. Just as there is really only one Church which has not been and can never be divided, might there also not be only one Israel which has not been and can never be divided? And if that were true, might the crossroads of Judaism and Christianity be more important than we think?

Rabbi Tzvi Fishman writes,

The Beit HaMikdash (Holy Jerusalem Temple) is not just a building. Something takes place within the building. The main goal of the Beit HaMikdash is not the courtyard and chambers and walls of the building, but rather the service of G-d which is conducted inside. Yes, we could construct the outer shell of the Beit HaMikdash today, but what would we do there?

Beit HaMikdash means the holy House of G-d. This is the intersection point of G-d’s Divine Presence, known as the Shechinah, with the world. The whole concept of the Beit HaMikdash is the fear and reverence for G-d. This means that a person, and the Jewish Nation as a whole, on ascending to the Beit HaMikdash, are to put the fear and reverence of G-d as the main goal and aspiration of our lives, with an utter commitment to the commandments of the Torah and its Divinely-given laws.

Now I ask you – is the Nation ready for this?

[Full article]

Aside from all the speculation and even preparation that various individuals and groups have invested in the rebuilding and restoration of the Temple in Jerusalem, there remains the basic question that this honest rabbi asks, ‘Is the nation ready for this?’ As the rebuilding of the Temple and the return of Jesus Christ are two roads that intersect at a crossroad, the same question can be asked of Christians, this time referring to the event in which we put our trust. It’s a question, in fact, that we should be asking ourselves every day. ‘Are we ready?’

We often ask ourselves, ‘Am I ready?’ but with a slightly different emphasis we can and should ask ourselves ‘Are we ready?’ just as this rabbi asks his people Israel. And why is this? Because it isn’t only what we do and are in our individual lives that matters to Christ, but what we do and are in following Him together. Are we people who live as though we really believe the angels’ words? “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen Him go…” (Acts 1:11).

Soon we will be coming to the Sunday of Judgment, and we, no less than the Jews, will have to face our Lord and Christ, and they their Lord and Moshiach, as it is written, ‘Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple’ (Malachi 3:1). With or without the Third Temple on the mount, the Lord will come, as He Himself declares, knowing all things, and what the prophets meant. Both the old and the new Israel, or maybe the one Israel if we are one, will meet the Lord on that Day.


Let’s live, then, at this moment and for the time that remains, as people who can say, ‘Yes, Lord, we are ready.’

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A clash of kingdoms

Everyone in the Church, each one who has been baptised into Christ and into the fullness of the Holy Spirit, must inevitably confront the enemy in the wilderness of this world as long as he lives, though, as with Christ, this takes place under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This is because man’s very acquisition of the Spirit of truth constitutes a declaration of war on the spirit of falsehood.
“The Spirit of Truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.” (John 14:17)

The world cannot tolerate God’s chosen, the children of God, who have received the Holy Spirit and are led by Him, “for as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” (Romans 8:14)

When we examine this inevitable conflict with the enemy and study its causes and aims, we find, amazingly, that it is the Holy Spirit who is the instigator of war with the powers of evil and darkness, and that it is He too who is the guarantor of victory and the effective power that can never be overcome. As soon as Christ was anointed and filled with the Holy Spirit, He was led out by the Holy Spirit Himself to be tempted by Satan.

So it is with us: as soon as we receive the Holy Spirit and are baptised and anointed and enlightened and filled with the Spirit of truth, it is as if we have declared war on the devil, and we immediately enter into the struggle with the powers of darkness and the spirit of falsehood, which holds sway over the thinking of this world and forces it into evil and sin.

It is the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, the Spirit of wisdom and right guidance, who alone can reveal in power and righteousness the movements and sly tricks of the devil in his thinking, conscience, behavior, and his body itself, no matter how deceptive they may be. The Holy Spirit has a greater, deeper, and wider power than the deception of the devil, and He brings it to bear when we throw ourselves down beneath the Cross and ask for help. The Spirit of truth is immeasurably stronger than the spirit of evil and reveals all the tricks of the devil, firmly overcoming them one by one, and giving illumination, understanding, and irresistable, divine wisdom. As the Apostle Paul says, “We are not ignorant of His designs.”
(2 Corinthians 2:11)

Perception, enlightened by the Holy Spirit and committed to divine truth, is the strongest weapon that can be used to defeat the devil when he is at work in the mind of man, trying to corrupt the conscience to allow the follies of sin and evil.

The devil can only enter us through our mind and imagination, for sin begins with a movement of the mind and can only be ended by enlightenment that reveals how false falsehood is. We can only acquire this mental enlightenment by the Holy Spirit, or by the Word of God (Scriptures), for the Word is at one and the same time a work of the Holy Spirit, the power of God bearing divine authority, and the essential mind that forms and build all minds.

This is why the Lord uses Scripture, a terrifying weapon against the deceit of the devil: “It is written, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God’”. (Matthew 4:7) Neither must we ever forget that the Word of Christ is itself spirit and life, or that the whole Bible is inspired by God, written through the Holy Spirit. It is for this reason that the “Word” found in the Gospel is an effective means of directly and constantly drawing near to the Spirit and mind of God for anyone who believes in Christ, for it bestows mental illumination, and even the power and authority of God, that reveals and brings to nothing all the maneuvers of the devil. The result of this is victory over the world and a greater share in the mystery of eternal life.


Christ defeated the devil for us so that we would not be defeated by him, and for this reason our names are written in heaven. Christ was victorious because He is the Son of God, and we because He granted us victory, for we have become sons of God in Him. Victory over the devil is therefore first and foremost a sign that we are chosen and adopted in Christ and through Christ. He did not give us authority to trample on every power of the enemy simply so we would rejoice and boast of our power; it was rather so we would not fear the enemy and be defeated by his deceptions and falsehoods, becaused then he would deprive us of mastery and victory that are ours in Christ, and deprive us of our salvation and everlasting life as His chosen.

To put it more clearly and concisely, we may say that we have been given the power to defeat the kingdom of the devil so that the Kingdom of God might rule supreme, and the power to cast out the devil, so the Holy Spirit may dwell in us and trample on every power of the enemy, so that the power of the Holy Spirit may control our whole life. It is also the power to bring to nothing all the tricks and ideas and plans of the devil, so we can acquire the mind and holiness of Christ. This is the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit against the devil and all the power of the enemy in our lives, and this is how the Kingdom of God is found on striving, sweat, tears and through constant, relentless struggle.

(Matthew the Poor)
1919-2006

Simple

Just read your bible as if it were the only book in existence.
It's good for you.

Don't worry about being good.
Just keep talking to the God your eyes can't see.
Your heart will cover for you.

Smile like you've just inherited a million dollars,
and go out of your way to start giving it away.

When you go to church, remember that it's just another room.
Don't forget to go outside for some fresh air.

Finally, remember, exercise and sleep are good for you,
and when you shower, don't forget to wash the soles of your feet.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Chaneyni, Adonay, chaneyni!


Chaneyni, Adonay, chaneyni!
Have mercy on me, Lord, have mercy!


The cry goes up from all of God’s people, from the most high king, David, to the lowliest of his subjects, from the fearsome prophet Elijah to the honorable forerunner of the Ever-King of Israel, from our first forefathers Adam and Eve, down to the mother of our last Forefather the New Adam, all of them—except the New Adam— sinners, all of them hating the net in which they are caught, all of them looking with unwearying eyes for the redemption, for the Redeemer, not knowing, but only hoping, in what they believe, waiting and crying out, endlessly falling like ripe wheat before the reaper, ‘Chaneyni, Adonay, chaneyni! Have mercy on me, Lord, have mercy!’

And the Voice finds a body and speaks the Answer to their cries: ‘Blessed are the merciful, for mercy shall be shown to them!’

All generations waited for the mercy of the Being and only the last, and only a very few of them, heard the Voice proclaim, ‘mercy is within your grasp, it has always been in your hands, what you asked for was always with you, not judgment and condemnation, but mercy. Blessed are the merciful…’

He has come to give back to us what we lost by our betrayals, by our unfaithfulness, by our unmercy, by our sins, to give back to those who not only ask for it but who also give it, mercy.

All the islands have awaited His true Law, and all generations, and here we are, we hear it from the ends of the earth, His eternal gospel, angel-borne, yet from His own lips, endlessly. We hear it, and we know it, but do we have hope, will He find faith on earth? No question of right or righteousness, for only One is without sin, His righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, and His Word is Truth. But will He find faith on earth among those who hear the Word awaited for ages, who speaks for ever now?

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.
Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven,
for in the same way they persecuted the prophets
who were before you.

Matthew 5:3-12


Chaneyni, Adonay, chaneyni!
Have mercy on me, Lord, have mercy!

Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace

Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace

‘I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world’ (John 16:33), says Jesus Christ, and so, His disciples, those who are called by His holy apostle Paul the Body of Christ, are called by Him into His heavenly kingdom of great peace. In the Body of Christ, there are many parts, they are not all the same, yet they work together for the good of the whole.

‘Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink’ is how the same holy apostle puts it (1 Corinthians 12:12-13), and he elaborates even further, saying, ‘From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work’ (Ephesians 4:16).

How beautiful is the Body of Christ!

How beautiful the hands that served the wine and the bread and the sons of the earth! How beautiful the feet that walked the long dusty roads and the hills to the cross! How beautiful the heart that bled that took all our sin and bore it instead! How beautiful the tender eyes that chose to forgive and never despise! And as He laid down His life, we offer this sacrifice: That we will live just as He died, willing to pay the price.

How beautiful the radiant Bride who waits for her Groom with His light in her eyes! How beautiful when humble hearts give the fruit of pure lives so that others may live! How beautiful the feet that bring the sound of good news and the love of the King! How beautiful the hands that serve the wine and the bread and the sons of the earth! How beautiful is the Body of Christ!
(Twila Paris)

What unites the saints is the freedom of the Spirit. They are free from their wills, from themselves. This is the proof and assurance of the genuineness of their truth. It is not the man speaking, but the Spirit of God. Thus a trinitarian balance reigns within them and flows round about them because in them is no ‘individual’ initiative, no arbitrary dealings, no partial view, but a universal manifestation. The Lord's judgment is just because He seeks not His own will, but the will of the Father who sent Him (cf. John 5:30).

The Comforter consoles the people of God and leads it ‘into all truth’ because He does not speak of Himself. What is important is not that we should achieve the project we have set ourselves to achieve, but that the Holy Spirit should do with us and within us what He wishes, when He wishes, regardless of whether this seems, or is, disastrous for our projects and our good resolutions.

This release from his own will and total captivity to the freedom of the Comforter means that man's theological testimony can be heard, like a message of resurrection, from the whole of his behavior and his being. It makes the course of his life into a script which can be clearly read, theologically mature and universally saving. Theology is a creation, a superabundance of life, a gift, an overflowing, an involuntary movement. It emanates from the whole body of the life of those who are spiritually liberated, like the sound that comes from all the vibrating metal of a bell.

Fortunate is the man who is broken in pieces and offered to others, who is poured out and given to others to drink. When his time of trial comes he will not be afraid. He will have nothing to fear. He will already have understood that, in the celebration of love, by grace man is broken but not divided, eaten and never consumed. By grace he has become Christ, and so his life gives food and drink to his brother. That is to say, he nourishes the other’s very existence and makes it grow.
(Archimandrite Vasileios)


The life we share in Christ puts all of us ‘into the arena’ no less than it put the early Christians. Why is this? Are we any different from them? No, we are the same. We are the early Christians. The world puts us into the arena, but actually they do not know what they are doing. They are only following the orders of the One they do not know, who loves us so much that He is willing to let us share with Him His passion, so that we can share His resurrection. There is no other way to life. He says, ‘Do not be afraid. It is I’ (John 6:20).

Like our Lord Jesus Christ who after His baptism by the honorable forerunner and prophet John the Baptist went into the desert where He was put to the test by satan, we are driven by the Spirit into the wilderness for exactly the same purpose: to provoke the evil one to reveal himself, so that he can be overcome. How overcome?
By ourselves?
Not at all, but by the Word of God who lives in us and has already transfigured us into images of Himself, full of His own authority and power.

Yes, we are put into the arena. We are driven into the wilderness. That is what this world is, what life in this world is, a battle, yet we are called to live in the heavenly kingdom of great peace. What is this kingdom? Where is this kingdom? ‘The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst,’ says the Lord Jesus Christ (Luke 17:20-21), who is both king and kingdom, and who alone is our peace.

‘Christ is in our midst! He is and ever shall be!’ the liturgical greeting that must be lived and not just said, is the road and the destination at one and the same time. How can we not be at peace with one another when we are in Him who ‘makes His home in the praises of Israel’ (Psalm 22:3)? We recite and we preach, ‘One Lord, one faith, one baptism’ (Ephesians 4:5), yet we tear the Body of Christ apart with our own hands and words, putting to death in our bodies not sin as Christ put to death in His, but rather the peace that He came to give, the peace that He alone is. ‘For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility,’ as the holy apostle writes (Ephesians 2:14).

Have we forgotten what is written? ‘Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms’ (Ephesians 6:10-12). Let’s remember these words, ‘Live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace’ (Ephesians 4:1-3).

‘I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world’ (John 16:33).

Yes, brothers, the heavenly kingdom of great peace!