Saturday, April 30, 2011

Anything you ask for

In the closest following of Jesus, the miraculous is not only possible, it is inevitable. It is into the life of this kind of faith that we are called, but very few Christians even consider it.

‘Ordinary’ Christian faith usually means just ‘trust Jesus’ and ‘God will take care of everything, no need to worry.’ But this is not the kind of faith that Jesus is leading us to when He says, ‘I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, Go, throw yourself into the sea, and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him.’ (Mark 11:22-23)

Brother, yes, you are on the edge. Yes, you are standing on the precipice of something miraculous. We all are. Some of us have stepped off into that ‘walk on the waters’ and have known that kind of faith, but it is too strong for our weak human nature, and we dash back to safety. But the call doesn't go away, and when we have been strengthened, we go out again, following the call, into the realm where ‘all things are possible, if you only believe.’

Everything that Jesus said is true. He wasn't joking when He said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.’ Neither was He joking when He said, ‘Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.’ (Matthew 18:19)


Jacob wrestles the ‘angel’ of Yahweh, who is the pre-incarnation appearance of the Word of God, later to be born and known as Jesus, who lets Himself be almost overpowered, but to stay Jacob’s winning the match, He shoves His hand into him and dislocates his hip.

Still, Jacob doesn’t let go, but demands that the Stranger bless him, before he will let Him go.

This is an awesome testimony of God’s incredible love, that He puts Himself under one of His own creatures, to let Him get the best of Him, for precisely this reason—He wants to be asked for His blessing.

This is one of the pivotal episodes in human history, and no one, but no one, even saw it happen, except God, and Ya‘aqov.

This is why the personal encounter between us and the Lord is no different: It replicates this event for each one of us.

This is why our holy God is supremely to be praised, and man-made gods and religions so detestable: Because our God comes to us, because only a real God could and would do that.

All the fake gods in the universe rolled into one, no matter what they are named, cannot even wrestle a meatball.

What's in a name

A few days ago I was reminded of an old movie that I knew of but had never watched, by reading about it at Walk in Wisdom, in a post titled Thinking of one and many. Aunt Melanie writes,

There is an old movie, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, which illustrates how one person—through faith and acceptance of life’s challenges—can have a positive impact on many people. This movie is based on the life of the British evangelical missionary, Gladys Aylward… who went to mainland China in 1930 and remained there for 20 years. The movie, made in 1958 and filmed in Wales, is not totally accurate to Aylward’s life and work. Aylward, who died in 1970, was very disturbed by the Hollywood version of her mission. For today’s posting, however, I will discuss the movie in itself and try not to refer to the real person. In the movie, the Chinese villagers gave Aylward the name Jennai [人爱], meaning the one who loves the people…

Aunt Melanie's post made me remember things I'd not thought of in years, from my earliest childhood till now, and everything in between. And so, I began to reminisce.

I am an orientalist, and it runs in my family, probably because Polish people, like Russians, are attracted to the Orient and to strange cultures. Like my grandparents, I have a house full of unusual, strange stuff from all over, but particularly from East Asia. Well, there's more to my connexion with China, Japan and the Far East than just ‘stuff.’

My burden for China, and later, for Japan, was with me since I was a three year old child, and I am still wondering, fifty-seven years later, what is the purpose of it?

When I was three years old, I remember laying out a large National Geographic map on the floor of our sunny living room, and studying it. I think it was a map of only North America. My eyes kept getting drawn into the large pink area of the map, and I tried to sound out the country name. I was just then learning how to read. C… Ch… Chi…nah… Mommy, does this say China?

No, Normie, that spells 'Ca…na…duh…', that's Canada, replied my mom. Mommy, I want to go and live there when I grow up! I piped up emphatically.

Hmm, well, that is a strange prophecy! As a 21 year old young single man just out of college, I did, in fact, wave goodbye to my mommy one morning and drive away to Canada, never to return—except to return a few months later with my future wife, to show her to my mom and ask her permission, so that I could ask her to marry me when we got back.

‘My, what a pretty Indian princess!’ my mom said to me privately in the car, looking on as my girlfriend walked off to use the ladies’ room at a rest stop. To mom, anyone with dark hair and olive skin who lived beyond the Mississippi River must be an Indian. We brought mom and my little sister back with us to Alberta, where they tried living with us in our commune.

Mom was always unconventional, and the hippie movement intrigued her, everyone living together, sharing everything, pooling resources, ‘from each according to ability, to each according to need.’ After a few weeks, we sent them back on an airplane to Illinois. Commune living wasn’t, for them, what it was cracked up to be.

I did leave home and immigrate to Canada, that ‘big pink’ area on the map, but it was not Canada, but China, that I really wanted to reach. The whole range of my life from childhood through adulthood has been colored by my love for Asian history, art, and cultures. Now, a whole lifetime later, is the door finally opening for me? Is it for a last look at what I wanted but never could achieve? or is it opening because it’s about to open wider, and I will finally be granted my desire?

Names. I’ve toyed with the idea before of having a Chinese name, and after I went to Japan the first time, of having a Japanese name as well, and why not? I have a Greek name, Romanós, a Slavic name, Román, a Hebrew name, Ari Shim’on, why not a Chinese name, or a Japanese one?

Translating my family name into Asian was easy. Górny (pronounced in Polish, GOOR-neh) means the same thing as the Chinese Gao 高 (Gow), and even starts with the same letter. As a first name, I liked Ningrui 宁瑞 (Ning-ZHWAY) because it starts with an N as does my English name, Norman. Gao Ningrui 高宁瑞. I liked that.

For my Japanese name, you use the same character, but in Japanese that kanji is read as Taka 高. But Japanese family names need two syllables, so I added Yama 山, which also has the same meaning as my family name, ‘mountain’. Also, when I visited Japan in 2008, one of my favorite trips was to the mountain village of Takayama. That settled it. My Japanese family name would be Takayama 高山, written with two kanji.

First name? Well, I liked the sound of the Japanese name Kitaro (KEE-tah-ro) and so I was playing with the idea of being called Takayama Kitaro. Still, I wasn’t really happy with my personal name (first names come last in Asian culture) in either Chinese or Japanese.

Then, I watched the film The Inn of the Sixth Happiness and deeply identified with its heroine, Gladys Aylward, the missionary, whose Chinese personal name was Ren Ai 人爱. Because I identified so strongly with the missionary in the film, I decided to use a variant of her name for my Chinese first name.

From now on, my Chinese name will be Gao Ren Ai 高仁爱 (in Pinyin spelling the sound ‘J’ is spelled with an ‘R’ but you still say, Jen Ai), using three characters, as is customary in Chinese culture. My three-character Chinese name is on the painting of bamboo.

My Japanese name uses the same characters but is pronounced differently. There’s also an interesting twist to it. Most Japanese names are written with four kanji, not three as in Chinese, otherwise they sound incomplete. Well, what to do then?

My full Japanese name is written with the four kanji Gao Shan Ren Ai 高山仁爱 which, when pronounced in Japanese, become quite different—Taka Yama Jin Ai—or, grouping the syllables, Takayama Jinai… perfect! The family name is two syllables or more, and written with two kanji instead of just one as in Chinese.

The personal name stays exactly as in Chinese, but in Japanese is read and pronounced as Jinai (Jin-EYE). My four-character Japanese name is on the painting of the mountain. Oddly, the four characters can also be read and understood to mean ‘Mountain love.’ How beautiful!

Now, here’s the odd twist. If we reduce my Japanese name to the bare minimum—two kanji for the family name, Takayama 高山, and only one kanji for the personal name, choosing Jin 仁, the three-character name that results is not read ‘Takayama Jin’ as you would expect. That sounds horrible in Japanese.

The character Jin 仁 when standing alone as someone’s name is read Hitoshi (Hee-TOH-shee). Hence the name is read ‘Takayama Hitoshi,’ which sounds very respectable indeed! My three-character Japanese name is on the painting of the three birds. Again, very beautiful, and meaningful. Thanks to Aunt Melanie for giving me this idea!

In closing, a Chinese lesson.
Gao 高 = tall, high, lofty.
The Japanese equivalent, Taka, means the same.
Shan 山 = mountain (not used in the Chinese name, because implied).
Japanese, Yama, means the same.
Jen Ai 仁爱 > Jen 仁 = the bond of benevolence between two human beings (hence the character’s shapes, the ‘radical’ for human 人 joined to the number two 二 + Ai 爱 = love, hence ‘brotherly love’.

In Japanese, the two parts taken alone both mean love:
仁 being close to agápi love, 爱 similar to éros love.
Eros, in Greek, is the intimate love between human lovers,
and also the love between humans and God.

What a blessing this day is! We are alive, the world has not yet met its end, nor our lives, and here we are, by His grace, sharing the only love worth having, the love which made the worlds. And all for the sake of what's in a name.

Friday, April 29, 2011

They looked up

Christian Orthodoxy can be annoyingly vital sometimes, especially in the context of worship. For all the ceremony, lightning flashes of Divinity, of God's audacious and holy Spirit, will keep touching down in our midst, unpredictably but consistently, when we least expect Him but need Him most, and anyone of us can be the conductor of that awesome and Divine power.

One Lord's day four years ago it was Fr Jerry's turn. Not only in the sermon which is the meat of my post, but in his humble and Christ-loving prayer, this genuine follower of Jesus by the simplicity of his personal faith, truly mediated to us by his every action the mystírion of God in Christ
(1 Corinthians 15:51-52).

Fr Jerry's sermon might be too long for a post, but I want to share with my readers and visitors to my blog, the following passages that lit me up. In some of the things he says, he was drawing on the words of Fr Alexander Schmemann, an Orthodox theologian, but because of his heartfelt delivery, I would say that Fr Jerry [Markópoulos, pastor of St George's Greek Orthodox Church, Eugene, Oregon] has made all these words his own. Here they are…

Either Christ is risen or He is not risen, one or the other!
If He IS risen… this unheard of victory over death actually occurred… everything in the world truly has become different and new, whether people know it or not.

…We as believers …are responsible that others should know and believe that they should see, hear and enter into this victory and joy.

The first Christians called their faith not a religion, but the Good News, which it was their purpose in the world to spread and proclaim. They knew and believed that Christ's resurrection was not merely the occasion for an annual feast, but the source of powerful and transfigured life. What they heard whispered, they shouted from the housetops!

"Yes, but what can I do?" my sober and realistic reason responds. "How can I proclaim or shout or witness? I, who am just a powerless, little grain of sand lost among the masses?"

But this objection by reason and "sound mind" is a lie, perhaps the most terrible and demonic lie of today's world. This world has somehow convinced us that strength and significance come only through large numbers, multitudes, and the masses. What can one person do against everyone else?

Yet, it is right here…
Christianity affirms that one person can be stronger than everyone else, and this affirmation is precisely the Good News of Christ.

This is truly the image of Christ—
a man with no authority, no hostility, and no earthly power whatsoever.

One man! Forsaken, betrayed, cast aside by all, but—victorious!

What would happen if each of us… forgetting about… numbers, multitudes, and masses, were to transmit this joy and this faith to just one other person, were to touch just one other human soul? If this faith and joy were secretly present in every conversation, even the most unimportant, in the sober realities of our daily life, they would immediately begin, here and now, today to transfigure the world, and life.

Christ said, "The Kingdom of God is coming not with signs to be observed." (Luke 17:20 NASB)

The Kingdom of God comes with power, with light, with life, and with victory, each and every time I and every believer carry it with us from the church into the world, and begin to live by it in our own lives.

"Now when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salomé bought spices, that they might come and annoint Him. Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. And they said among themselves, 'Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?' But when they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away, for it was very large."
(Mark 16:1-4)

They looked up!
With the fear of God, with faith and love, they drew near
and they looked up!

The Gospel of the Myrrh-bearing Women is a great example of THIS reality—That despite how large the stone is, we need only to approach with the fear of God, with faith and love, and God will roll away the stone.

We can't resign and give in to the problems at hand and say, "It's too difficult!" because the reality is, God has made ready the way for us to travel. Invisibly present, He walks in front of us. If we follow Him… the moment will come when… we will attain an unshakeable certainty of His presence in our lives.

…We know and believe that there is more than suffering, there is more than sorrow and death.
There is God's grace.
There is God's love.
There is God's power.
There is God's eternal life.
There is God's victory over death in Jesus Christ.

Brothers, you should've been there! Fr Jerry ended his homily the same way John Chrysostom ended his homily on Pascha, with a shouting session! This is an example of what I meant when I wrote earlier that "Christian Orthodoxy can be annoyingly vital sometimes." With his last few words, Fr Jerry drew a shouted response from the hearers. This is how it went…

Christ is risen!
[The hearers shouted back, "He is truly risen!" each time.]
And we have the power to live Easter lives!
Christ is risen! [He is truly risen!]
And we can be transmitters of this joy to others!
Christ is risen! [He is truly risen!]
And we can touch the souls of others!
Christ is risen! [He is truly risen!]
And the Kingdom of God comes with power!
Christ is risen! [He is truly risen!]
And together we can transfigure the world and life!

Father Jerry, beloved Gerásimos, my brother in Christ, I will never forget your words! Christós anésti. Alithós anésti o Kýrios…


Between religions, there are defections going in two directions all the time. The devil particularly delights in defections from clerical families. I have never heard of the son of an Orthodox presbyter becoming a Muslim, but I’m sure it happens from time to time.

We tend to rejoice (why should we not?) when Muslims or other non-Christians embrace Christianity, especially when we can tell from their living testimony that the conversion is genuine. Many times, though, converts talk as if they have really accepted our faith, when in fact they have just exchanged one religious ideology for another.

The same is true when Christians become Muslims or Jews, probably more so, because though Christianity expresses itself as a religion, at its core it is something entirely different: it is the presence of the living God who interacts with us in the most intimate terms.

In Islam and Judaism that intimacy cannot occur, unless believers in those creeds are actually in a relationship with Jesus Christ without knowing it. Aside from what anyone says, Christian or non-Christian, churched or unchurched, there is no mediator between God and man except the God-Man Jesus Christ, who is both Son of the Father and the Word of God.

Though we churchables define and try to confine Him within our doctrinal formularies, we know from watching Him in the written gospels and in today’s world where He is still active, that like the Spirit of God, He goes where He wants to go. He can go and show Himself anywhere, and He usually does.

Yes, He abides with us, among the sheep of His pasture, the flock that He guides, but at the same moment He is before His Father’s throne interceding for us, and again at the same moment He is out walking the world seeking His lost sheep.
Do we accompany Him there?

All of us, no matter who we are, or in what state of life, are poor before the Lord. We know we lack and all of us try to make up for it somehow. Just because we find what we think we lack in our native religious culture is not a sign that we have found it, found Him, who alone fulfills our every true desire and withers our every fantasy.

What we think about God is what comprises our religion, but He loves us and saves us without our thoughts, even without our doctrinal beliefs, that is, totally without our help. He loves us and saves us only because we come to Him in whatever way, crying out to Him,
‘I am Yours, save me!’

Don’t we believe that He knows all about us? Don’t we believe He knows who it is we’re crying out to? Just as He loves us in this unconditional way—what else can unconditional mean, if not, total abandon on our side, total mercy on His?—so we must continue to love our children, even when they sin, even when they stray.

It is not when our families have turned out as we expected because we faithfully carried out our responsibilities, because we were good examples, or because we loved and provided for them sacrificially, that we can consider ourselves blessed. These are the works and the expectations of the natural man. What if Christ wants to change us into men and women supernatural? What might that look like? This is not to say that when families stay true to the Lord in everything, it is not a good thing, or blessed, but that what we do when we are driven into the wilderness, proves our faith and purifies our inner man.

It is when things have not turned out as we expected, when we have suffered disappointments that mock our faithfulness, when our family members reject not only the faith we tried to hand over to them, which was the best we had, but when they reject us as well, and we still love them, still pray for them, still welcome them, still praise the good they do, refrain from judging them, abstain from blaming them, still want them even when they don’t want us, that we can consider ourselves blessed. ‘Be perfect,’ says the Lord Jesus, ‘as your heavenly Father is perfect…’

The Border

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The ways of the Affectionate

We're nowhere close to the day of Christ's ascension yet, but I cannot pass by these words without leaving at least a trace of them for visitors to my blog. They are from a homily posted by Fr Milovan on his blog Again and Again. To read the entire homily, click here.
In the excerpt below, I have made a few corrections to spelling and grammar. Otherwise, it is presented here as it is (italics added).

…If He is the beauty that is within you, then He must have passed by your world. He set it alive within you and through you. The world has no existence without you, it does not exist apart from you. The world is your quadrant and you are its playground. Your world is printed, in its magnitude, on the face of God. Since this world is His creation, it will remain forever after He has baptized it, in the Last Day, in His global and eternal Light. It shall remain united in its matter, mind and light all together.

The world will become your Lord’s vestment upon the Second Coming of Christ.

Starting from this vision, Christianity is then knit into history and rooted in eternity at the same time, global and covering the universe with light; Christianity is responsible in time but free from its bondage. It is present in matter and motivates this matter with the motion of the spirit. That is why Christianity does not withraw from the flow of time just for the sake of a “romantic” eternity, nor does it passively stand like a viewer watching the course of events as if it were independent of human beings.

The believer doesn’t escape to a desert—not even if it became his hermitage—for he will have the whole world in his heart and prayers. Someone of us may seek solitude for peace and tranquility’s sake, but he has never deserted. His profoundness will become deeper as he stands in the divine presence.

The world is entirely included in Christ’s salvation plan.
Everything in the world is His dearly beloved with the exception of sin. Everything in it is attracted to heaven. Our mind is attracted towards heaven as far as this mind is awake, loving and hugging existence. But never in a way that we shall detest all the good in our world, not in a way that we should become indifferent to the construction, improvement and organizing of the world.

We can never say that this world ascends through its own powers, nor does this world progress automatically towards the better.
But we do preach that God elevates humans, surrounding them with His loving care.

The world is elevated and does not ascend by itself.
It struggles, and God accepts it and pulls it up to Himself. He, who is sitting up on high in His Bright Body, opens up and embraces him who is longing for Him.

After the Ascension of Christ, tomorrow the universe, in its turn, will be received up. These are the ways of the Affectionate.

—Metropolitan George (Khodr) of Mount Lebanon

Make believe Jews

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

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

Isaiah 1:11-16a

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

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

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

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

Isaiah 1:16b-20

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you believe this?

Seven inscriptions

The question as to why there aren't explicit prohibitions of personal abuse against wives (and presumably husbands) and children in the Law of God is interesting. Can it be that, as evil as they sometimes could be, the children of Israel didn't stoop so low or hadn't even thought of such a thing?

True, the Ten Commandments make no direct reference to such practices, but neither do they refer to homosexual acts and other perversions either, at least not directly. But if you study carefully, even without the help of rabbinical authorities and Church fathers, you can find them in the scriptures.

The way the Law works is this: First, a single commandment (a prohibition, simply to test our basic attitude—obedience or rebellion). Second, the seven laws (called the Noachic laws, also binding on all humans descended from Noah).

Third, the ten commandments (binding originally only on the people Israel, but extended by the prophets, particularly by King David in his psalms, to include ‘all those who fear the Lord,’ that is, everyone who believes in and worships Yahweh).

Those ten commandments being broken even before they were given, the Fourth inscription, all the commandments of Torah, traditionally 613, and binding only on Israel. As these couldn't be kept either, Christ reduces them back to two:

Fifth, the first and great commandment and the second like unto it: ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your mind, heart, soul and strength, and your neighbor as yourself.’ This is proven, by Christ's ongoing manifestation as human beings, to be one:

Sixth, ‘Whatsoever you do to the least of these, that you do unto Me.’ Brotherly love, or hate, are both theological. ‘If you say you love God (whom you can't see) but hate your neighbor (whom you can see), you are a liar.’

The kinds of crimes against humanity that we are concerned with are actually covered in six ‘inscriptions’ of the Law, and we expect to see them spelled out, but we don't find them in the way we want to, so we ‘improve’ on the Law.

This improving on the Law is not blasphemous or mankind taking things out of God's hands: He expected us to do what we have done, make systems of human laws. He knew ahead of time that our specificistic laws were, like His, directed against law breakers.

The righteous have no need of any but the inscription of the Law on their hearts, which is wordless but not meaningless, and a preventative and protective shield rather than a punitive construct.

We need not look for a written law against something we know to be wrong. That we know it to be wrong is proof positive that the Word of God has established it. Even the six inscriptions of the Law cannot vie with this one, the Seventh:

Deep within them I will plant My Law, writing it on their hearts. Then I will be their God and they shall be My people.
Jeremiah 31:33

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Ποιητής Ουρανού και Γής

Poet of Heaven and Earth…

A six-year-old Scottish girl named Lulu wrote a letter to God: ‘To God, How did you get invented?’ Lulu's father, who is not a believer, sent her letter to various church leaders: the Scottish Episcopal Church (no reply), the Presbyterians (no reply), and the Scottish Catholics (who sent a theologically complex reply). He also sent it to the Archbishop of Canterbury, who sent the following letter in reply…

Dear Lulu,

Your dad has sent on your letter and asked if I have any answers. It’s a difficult one! But I think God might reply a bit like this –

‘Dear Lulu – Nobody invented me – but lots of people discovered me and were quite surprised. They discovered me when they looked round at the world and thought it was really beautiful or really mysterious and wondered where it came from. They discovered me when they were very very quiet on their own and felt a sort of peace and love they hadn’t expected. Then they invented ideas about me – some of them sensible and some of them not very sensible. From time to time I sent them some hints – specially in the life of Jesus – to help them get closer to what I’m really like. But there was nothing and nobody around before me to invent me. Rather like somebody who writes a story in a book, I started making up the story of the world and eventually invented human beings like you who could ask me awkward questions!’

And then he’d send you lots of love and sign off. I know he doesn’t usually write letters, so I have to do the best I can on his behalf. Lots of love from me too.

+Archbishop Rowan

The above story and letter by the archbishop was found here.

Brotherly love

Psalms for the 28th Day
132 133 134 135 136 137 138

Psalm 133
Brotherly Love

How good, how delightful it is,
for all to live together like brothers:

fine as oil on the head,
running down Aaron's beard,
running down Aaron's beard
to the collar of his robes;

copious as a Hermon dew
falling on the heights of Zion,
where Yahweh confers His blessing,
everlasting life.

שִׁיר הַמַּעֲלוֹת, לְדָוִד
הִנֵּה מַה-טּוֹב, וּמַה-נָּעִים
שֶׁבֶת אַחִים גַּם-יָחַד
כַּשֶּׁמֶן הַטּוֹב, עַל-הָרֹאשׁ
יֹרֵד, עַל-הַזָּקָן זְקַן-אַהֲרֹן
שֶׁיֹּרֵד, עַל-פִּי מִדּוֹתָיו
שֶׁיֹּרֵד, עַל-הַרְרֵי צִיּוֹן
כִּי שָׁם צִוָּה יְהוָה, אֶת-הַבְּרָכָה
חַיִּים, עַד-הָעוֹלָם

Saving souls

A group of Polish nuns have made it their task to save boys from going down the ‘path of evil’ if they would fall under the temptation of using the services of ‘ladies of the night.’ Twelve nuns, to be exact, are sitting by the phone ready to be of help. ‘Instead of prostitutes, call us,’ says their ad.

‘Being a man is a great thing. God gave man the privilege of being a father, to take care of a family. They need to act bravely and not be subject to weaknesses,’ said Sister Teresa behind the project hotline.

The Dominican Sisters do not scare the men by talking of the eternal flames of hell.

‘Even when someone sets out on the path of evil we should not be judgmental, but return them to the correct path,’ says the emergency line in Krakow.

‘I don’t know if it’s because of Spring… but we have been bombarded with phone call these last few days,’ says Sister Teresa.

Found this story posted at Fr Milovan’s blog Again and Again, which gave rise to the following thoughts…

An unusual and unexpected ministry, to be sure, but even if out of the help of the twelve sisters just one man is saved just once from 'the path of evil', that might lead him to better things and have a more lasting effect. These sisters are planting seeds that may bear fruit in righteousness and even holiness. Nothing we do for Christ, no matter how ridiculous it may look to others or even to ourselves, is wasted. God is economical. He saves us.

My question is, but why send women to do 'a man's job'? I'm, not asking this of God, or questioning His providence, but thinking out loud, and wondering why the art of being a true man is not passed on from man to man, from father to son, from spiritual father to spiritual son. If even one father handed over the image of Christ in himself to even one son, what would society look like? By 'handed over' I mean, not just sit down and have a 'father to son' talk—even that isn't done anymore!—but to hand over the image of true man, one day at a time, but every day, by nurturing, supporting, challenging, teaching, keeping close enough but not enslaving, rehearsing, reviewing, testing, praising, warning but not blaming, revealing what love means when it walks as a man.

Lord, have mercy on us! that we cannot hand over to our sons what You and Your holy apostles try so hard to hand over to us! Or have we or they, our sons, not been willing to receive what would be handed over, if we wanted it? It’s never too late, Lord, in Your time until You come again for us, so give us grace to seek You, both to give You and to receive You, for 'You are so strong, we are so weak, and our brothers so hungry.'

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Passion bearers

The victory of Christ was won as He hung, and died, on the Cross.
The work of Christ is His descent into Hades
and His Preaching to those in prison.
The wages of His work is
His Resurrection.

A passion bearer does not summon himself or herself.
He or she cannot see this path and choose it.
The call can only come from Christ.
The path is wholly unknown.

People look on.
They think about what they see and hear.
A passion bearer, if they meet one, draws out the thoughts
of their heart.

One who loves Christ will look on with wonder.
One who hates Christ looks on in scorn.

Some of those who love Christ are confirmed in their religion,
others are drawn to look at their life in a new way.

The haters and the indifferent, the world supplies with analysis,
‘masochism, fanaticism, madness’ on their tongue.

A passion bearer is happy where others can see only sorrow,
and persists in pursuing love at all costs,
as a rich man giving alms.

Easy and dutiful and expected, we move on quickly from His Passion,
we skip through Hades, eyes covered with blinders
to shield us from bright darkness,
and then we reappear,

has come
to the whole world.
From whence is it come then?
We look on in wonder, full of Paschal joy,
the passion bearers laud, with them shout ‘Victory!’
while they continue, quietly, to harvest souls from the darkness.

Yes, the laborers will receive their wages.
Grapes do not yield wine, till they are crushed.

— Romanós

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Fully His

Since I am a fool, I want everyone to know. Stay away from me…

Most people, thank God, are way too smart, too educated and sophisticated to be wasting their time reading my humble blog.
To those who do, I apologise profusely. Why?

Because I say that, on a day to day basis, even using a translation, an ordinary believer can read the scriptures with confidence that he or she can understand most of it, in its plain meaning. For those who are sourcing doctrines (quite a different application), I say that we need to study the original texts of the scriptures to be sure we have the correct understanding of them. Someone counters, that there are many different versions of the original text, though the differences are trivial, so what do you do with passages that appear in some but not all versions? And what about people acting on texts they don't really understand? How exasperating!

Yes, which original text? And yes, the differences are trivial. And yes, there's that text about handling snakes, and yes, idiots try to force their way into God's hands by imitating such things and justifying themselves and their carnal and base beliefs, using it. And yes, something about that snake handling passage seems somehow inconsistent with the rest of God's Book, just as the other New Testament pseudepigrapha also seem somehow alien to the Spirit of the Bible. And yes, even if you leave it in, it’s still forcing yourself into God's hands to try to imitate that and seek your deliverance in it.

We are not idiots, however; we have minds and spirits trained by the Word of God, if we only let Him train us.

The Bible says, ‘You have not lost the anointing He gave you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. The anointing He gave you teaches you everything.’

Who writes this? The human author was John, the author of the gospel and the epistles, and the one to whom the Revelation was granted. And yes, I don't care what bible scholars tell me, I believe it is the same person, but, yes, it doesn't really matter, as long as we really believe what it says.

Because not man, not woman, not bible scholars, not pontiffs, not saints, not bishops and presiding elders, not the king, not the emperor, not my mother or father, not you, and not me have anything to add, elaborate, amplify, enlighten, make comprehensible or comprehensive, or more useful, or more relevant, than what God the Author, the Revealer, the Sanctifier, the Enlightener, the Teacher, the Father, the Savior tells us into our obedient and welcoming ears, directly and fully and without doubt, and salvifically.

No, we are not idiots. I do not pick up snakes to prove I am a Christian. I do not speak in strange tongues to prove that the Holy Spirit is in me, upon me, and with me. I don't need to prove my faithfulness to God's Word by going out and blasting sinners, holding them up to ridicule, hating them or judging them and excluding them from the promises of God.

But though everything be taken away from me, I will not, cannot deny the Word of God, and with the saints I will stand my ground, I will defend them even when I don't agree with them one hundred per cent, and I will stand on the Word of God, because there is no other foundation, there is nothing solid in the whole created universe to stand on, except that precious, holy, divine Word, who is the Son of God, one of the Holy Triad, glorified in the heavens and on earth, and fed to us spiritual infants, verse by verse, spoonful by spoonful, day after day, until we are fully grown and mature, fully reflecting His glory, fully alive in Him with that life that has existed from before the beginning of all things, fully His.

With the fear of God…

I can't believe that I found this essay, quite by accident, but what the author writes really speaks to me and defines very well how I feel about worship, what I think worship is, in the context of liturgy, or what goes on in church. Thank God that in at least some churches, the Divine Liturgy still conforms to worship as described in the following essay, which I found here.

Leviticus 10: The prohibition against drinking alcohol prior to divine services (verse 8) immediately follows the tragic account of Nadab and Abihu (verses 1-7), a fact suggesting that these two priests may have been intoxicated when they undertook the unauthorized liturgical rite that cost them their lives.

In any case this latter incident discloses the danger inherent in divine worship. This probably needs to be emphasized, because some of those who drive off to church each Sunday morning seem not to be aware that they are placing their very souls in peril. (Otherwise they would be dressed with modesty and dignity, arrive on time, stay until the service is over, and avoid distraction and gossip while they are in church. Indeed, sometimes the behavior of the clergy up in the sanctuary is even worse.)

Worship, after all, is encounter with God,
and God is anything but safe.

Throughout Holy Scripture, therefore, we find the theme of danger with respect to the things of God, particularly the rites and appointments associated with the divine worship. Nowhere in Holy Scripture is worship portrayed as completely safe.

In this sense biblical worship is nearly the opposite of ‘seeker friendly,’ the adjective describing worship along lines dictated by the religious tastes of the uninitiated, worldly, unrepentant, and spiritually immature folks who are likely to drop in at church on Sunday morning.

Those that would draw near to God must resolve to feel uncomfortable (very much like Moses, when he was commanded to take off his shoes at the burning bush), at least until they become accustomed to the discipline of the worship.

The experience of the holiness of the true God is not native to man (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:27-32; Hebrews 12:28-29).

These reflections pertain with special intensity to those charged with the oversight of divine worship, the stewards who safeguard the sacred mysteries (1 Corinthians 4:1-5; 6:9-11; Revelation 22:14-15).

It is instructive to observe that St. Paul warns such men (for Holy Scripture never envisions women in this ministry) especially against the evils attendant on the drinking of alcohol (1 Timothy 3:3; 2 Timothy 4:5).

This is to me what Orthodox worship is—biblical worship—and why I firmly believe that it is the heritage of all followers of Jesus. If we are to worship God in communal assembly at all, it is in the Divine Liturgy, which has been handed over to us as the heritage of the saints. Anything else that we do ‘at church’ can take any number of forms as needed, and as really necessary (not just to make pious busy-work). But worship is something that God thought was important enough to lay out for us, at first in the Torah for His original hereditary people Yisrael, and then with the coming of His Son, in the Divine Liturgy of the new Israel, the Church. That is one thing that "Orthodox" means—straight worship—and there it stands as it has stood for centuries.

מִזְמוֹר קיט

Psalms for the 26th Day (English)
119: 105-176 (Nûn~Tav)
Psalms for the 26th Day (Hebrew)
119: 97-176 (Mém~Tav)

Psalms, the heart of the scriptures and of the soul of man, the cry of the soul of kings, and of priests, painting them prophets—what a blessing to have this gateway to the throne room of the Most High!

I reach for my copy of Tehillim, the Hebrew psalm book, on this cool, cloudy morning. All my windows have been open all night, and the sun hasn't warmed the air yet. The air is still, and the sound of birds opening their songs is all to be heard.

“26th Day of the Month” proclaims the header.
The reading begins at verse 97, so I have to turn back a few pages to find the psalm number, to call it out in Hebrew…
Mizmor Qoph Yod Tét, Psalm 119
Then, I return to my place, and see, what a perfect verse to begin the day!

מָה-אָהַבְתִּי תוֹרָתֶךָ: כָּל-הַיּוֹם, הִיא שִׂיחָתִי
Máh ahávti toratèkha, kol hayyóm hi sichatí…
O how I love Your Torah! All day long it is my conversation…

I try to complete the reading, but as I take it into me, verse by verse, my spirit takes seláh, pause, my eyes close and I am lost in wonder, as the Word reminds me of all God's wonderful works. I never quite reach my destination, the end of the psalm. But the day is freshened by this beginning. I will return to it later in the day, and by nightfall, the whole psalm portion will have been read and prayed. God is good.

In the English 30-day psalm cycle, Psalm 119 begins at the end of the 24th day, taking in the first four stanzas, numbered by the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, Aleph, Bét, Gímel, Dálet. Then, stanzas through Mém follow as the psalm portion for the 25th day. And on the 26th Day, the remainder of Psalm 119, beginning at stanza Nûn, verse 105 by our reckoning, is to be read and prayed.

Psalm 119 has become for me a kind of favorite, almost a statement and rehearsal of my personal faith and life in Christ, and also something akin to an owner's manual—I am the apparatus, He is the Owner, but in the case of this apparatus, the apparatus needs to read the instructions, not the Owner!

In my original Jerusalem Bible, the book will almost always automatically fall open at the page where Psalm 119 for the 26th day is marked, so it probably has been read more than any other page in the book. I almost always start any bible reading by reciting verse 105, “Now Your Word is a lamp to my feet, a light on my path.” I find the minor difference between the English and the Hebrew psalm portion for this day interesting: The Hebrew starts with, “O how I love Your Torah…” while the English commences with, “Now Your Word is a lamp to my feet…” Really, two ways of saying the same thing, how valuable, how indispensable, is God's Torah, God's Word, in the life of the disciple!

Tehillim, praises, Psalms, songs, truly the heart of the scriptures and of the soul of man!

Now I know why they used to be included in every edition of the New Testament, though nowadays it is possible to find them omitted. Not only do they present in condensed form the main truths of the Old Testament, providing the prophetic background for the New, but they also teach the disciple to pray, and form his inner man. You can read the New Testament alone all you want, but without prayer, it is impossible to enter into the life described there, you remain a spectator or philosopher only. Psalm 119 concludes,

Yahweh, may my cry approach Your Presence;
let Your Word endow me with perception!
May my entreaty reach Your Presence;
rescue me as You have promised.
May my lips proclaim Your praise,

since You teach me Your statutes.
May my tongue recite Your promise,
since all Your commandments are righteous.
May Your hand be there to help me,

since I have chosen Your precepts.
I long for You, Yahweh, my Saviour,
Your Law is my delight.

Long may may soul live to praise You,
long be Your rulings my help!
I am wandering like a lost sheep:
Come and look for Your servant.

No, I have never forgotten Your commandments.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The end of myth

From the creation of the world to the birthing of a child, from the work of fire transforming wood into ash to the alternation of day and night, from considering all appearances and all disappearances, the mind of man from unwritten times till now has evolved explanations of how and often why everything happens in the world around him.

Modern man puts on an air of superiority and treats with patronizing indulgence, and often overt contempt, the cosmologies and the pseudo-sciences of ancient and primitive men. The world tree, the cosmic egg, mythic images for the unenlightened to help them feel less afraid in a universe which, when they confront it without them, is too terrifying.

So the mind of man thinks, and his thought fits everything he sees, hears, tastes, smells and touches into a complex, ever-increasing pattern of perceived relationships that gives meaning to the universe. The more primitive the tools of analysis at his disposal, the more primitive (we think) his body of explanations, and we call them ‘myths’.

But as I see it, having better analytical devices, having what we call a scientific basis for interpreting and understanding the world around us does not deliver our thought from one intrinsic and inevitable characteristic: Everything we analyse, and our very conclusions and body of knowledge, we are still cutting down to fit into a very limited frame, our mind.

Our thought, with all our sophistications, even now still has the nature of myth, no less than what we consider the childish fancies of the ancients and the primitives. We all still deal in myths, man’s explanation—from miniscule observations—of the meaning, purpose and nature of the universe. We simply replace the older anthropomorphics with new, ‘new lamps for old.’

So then, human thought itself is a myth, that is, in the sense that it is a generator of explanations of what is inexplicable. Religion, then, becomes no less rational than science, and science is no more than a religion. Experimental evidence is still siphoned through a conduit too narrow for it, and so experiments, whether scientific or magical, lead to the same conclusion: the universe as a subset of man’s mind.

But along comes a Man, from all appearances at first, an ordinary man, not prominent, not wealthy, not intellectually trained, from a primitive people, living in an ancient and tradition encrusted culture, one of those less attractive to most moderns and even to most of His contemporaries, the road-building Romans and the philosophical Greeks.

He is trained in the family profession, woodworking, and in the national religion, synagogue Judaism. He has very little to make anyone think Him special, except an incident in His adolescence, when He was found engrossed with some members of the educated elite in prodigious discussions (and then whisked quietly away by his embarrassed parents).

Surprising them all, and us as well, this boy in the fullness of His manhood becomes an itinerant preacher (though not of His ancestral religion) and even a miracle-worker. Oddly enough, though He seems quite capable of it, He does not waste a thought to giving answers to most of the questions that His contemporaries, and us, have about the universe.

He passes them over in silence. He does not contribute to the growing body of myth that we now hold up as our claim to be rational beings. Instead, when He teaches at all, it is on practical matters, and even His miracle-working, from supplying a shortage of wine at a wedding party, to healing the sick and (gulp!) raising the dead, is all very practical. Myth has no place in Him.

If this man lived, taught, worked wonders, and passed into history, we might have thought Him a great teacher, perhaps, or at least someone worth studying, analyzing, writing books about, and adding to our ever-increasing matrix of myths, but not only did He not contribute to the myth, He shattered it. He is an embarrassment now, as He was then, to the myth-makers.

He gives us plenty to think about, but that is not His intention. He did not come to increase our thought but to coax us over the imaginary lines that our thought produces in us. He comes now not to refine our thought, which is no more than myth, but to call forth our faith, which paradoxically carries us over imaginary lines and delivers us from myth.

If we could show the location of His tomb, or better yet, find His bones, then the universe would still be safe inside the reliquary of our science and religion. We could still say with confidence that we know the universe to be rational, and this is how it works, from greatest to smallest detail. Yes, and there are the bones of the great Teacher. We have an explanation even of Him.

But no, He has not left us that option, He has not spared our thought or our myths, He has not deposited His soul in She’ol or His bones in a grave, He has not experienced corruption, but instead He has emptied Hades of its inhabitants, dissolved the imbecility of dark, partial human reason in the bright lightning flash of His divinity.
He has made the end of myth.

Dry wood

We are dry wood, and the Word of God is fire.

Everything in us aches to be burned by that Fire, to be transformed from mere sticks into bright light.

Why we are not transformed is because
we do not let the Fire near us.

Our holy and divine ancestors, the saints of all times, were most of them unable to read or write, yet they were saved by coming to the divine services and hearing the Word of God, seeing it in the ikons, feeling it engulf them in the liturgy. Like men drowning in the tempestuous seas who find a piece of wreckage tossed about, they grabbed onto it and held fast, and the currents brought them at last safely to shore.

And here we are, we can hold the written ikon of the Word, the precious and all-divine and only Holy Scripture, the Bible, in our hands, our eyes can see the letters, our lips read the words, and our minds understand them, by day or by night, alone or in a crowd.

Yet we hide ourselves from the Book who is a Man who walks among us unobserved by our lack of desire, while we speak of faith and feel justified by our works, all of them worthy in our eyes, but worthless because we use them as Adam used the bushes to hide from his divine Lover.

We are dry wood, that is the weakness of our nature,
and dry wood is made for the Fire.

Come, brothers, let us run to the Word brighter than all created things, Himself the Creator and Lord of all, the Almighty, and let ourselves catch fire from Him. That is what He made us for.

As He spoke at the beginning, so He speaks at the end,
'Let there be Light.'

There was evening, and there was morning, one Day.

Sentenced to immortality

Joking around with a co-worker this Bright Monday afternoon, I said, ‘I can hardly believe I’m really here! I thought I was gonna die over the long weekend!’ My buddy replied, ‘You can't die! No dying is allowed in this company!’ I wondered if he knew what he was saying, as for us who are in Christ, as I often witness during my church tours at the Greek Festival, ‘For Christians death doesn’t exist anymore. Christ defeated it and its power over us has been removed. Nobody has to die anymore, unless they really want to. For those who believe in Christ, there is no death, only sleep for their bodies, and wakeful rest for their souls in Paradise, until the Day of Judgment.’

Right after this, I happened to look at Fr Milovan's blog Again and Again, and found this…

Sentenced to Immortality
by Saint Justin of Chelije

Man sentenced God to death; by His Resurrection, He sentenced man to immortality. In return for a beating, He gives an embrace; for abuse, a blessing; for death, immortality. Man never showed so much hate for God as when he crucified Him; and God never showed more love for man than when He arose. Man even wanted to reduce God to a mortal, but God by His Resurrection made man immortal. The crucified God is Risen and has killed death. Death is no more. Immortality has surrounded man and all the worlds.

By the Resurrection of the God-Man, human nature has been led irreversibly onto the path of immortality, and has become dreadful to death itself. For before the Resurrection of Christ, death was dreadful to man, but after the Resurrection of Christ man has become more dreadful to death. When man lives by faith in the Risen God-Man, he lives above death, out of its reach; it is a footstool for his feet: “O Death, where is thy sting? O Hades, where is thy victory?” (I Corinthians 15:55) When a man belonging to Christ dies, he simply sets aside his body like clothing, in which he will again be vested on the day of Dread Judgement.

Before the Resurrection of the God-Man, death was the second nature of man: life first, death second. But by His Resurrection, the Lord has changed everything: immortality has become the second nature of man, it has become natural for man; and death – unnatural. As before the Resurrection of Christ, it was natural for men to be mortal, so after the Resurrection of Christ, it was natural for men to be immortal.

By sin, man became mortal and transient; by the Resurrection of the God-Man, he became immortal and perpetual. In this is the power, the might, the all-mightiness of the Resurrection of Christ. Without it, there would have been no Christianity. Of all miracles, this is the greatest miracle. All other miracles have it as their source and lead to it. From it grow faith, love, hope, prayer, and love for God. Behold: the fugitive disciples, having run away from Jesus when He died, return to Him because He is risen. Behold: the Centurion confessed Christ as the Son of God when he saw the Resurrection from the grave. Behold: all the first Christians became Christian because the Lord Jesus is risen, because death was vanquished. This is what no other faith has; this is what lifts the Lord Christ above all other gods and men; this is what, in the most undoubted manner, shows and demonstrates that Jesus Christ is the One True God and Lord in all the worlds.

Because of the Resurrection of Christ, because of His victory over death, men have become, continue to become, and will continue becoming Christians. The entire history of Christianity is nothing other than the history of a unique miracle, namely, the Resurrection of Christ, which is unbrokenly threaded through the hearts of Christians form one day to the next, from year to year, across the centuries, until the Dread Judgment.

Man is born, in fact, not when his mother brings him into the world, but when he comes to believe in the Risen Christ, for then he is born to life eternal, whereas a mother bears children for death, for the grave. The Resurrection of Christ is the mother of us all, all Christians, the mother of immortals. By faith in the Resurrection, man is born anew, born for eternity. “That is impossible!” says the skeptic. But you listen to what the Risen God-Man says: “All things are possible to him that believeth!” (St. Mark 9:23) The believer is he who lives, with all his heart, with all his soul, with all his being, according to the Gospel of the Risen Lord Jesus.

Faith is our victory, by which we conquer death, faith in the Risen Lord Jesus. Death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin. The Lord “has removed the string of death.” Death is a serpent; sin is its fangs. By sin, death puts its poison into the soul and into the body of man. The more sins a man has, the more bites, through which death puts its poison in him.

When a wasp stings a man, he uses all his strength to remove the sting. But when sin wounds him, this sting of death, what should be done? One must call upon the Risen Lord Jesus in faith and prayer, that He may remove the sting of death from the soul. He, in His great loving-kindness, will do this, for He is overflowing with mercy and love. When many wasps attack a man’s body and wound it with many stings, that man is poisoned and dies. The same happens with a man’s soul, when many sins wound it with their stings: it is poisoned and dies a death with no resurrection.

Conquering sin in himself through Christ, man overcomes death. If you have lived the day without vanquishing a single sin of yours, know that you have become deadened. Vanquish one, two, or three of your sins, and behold: you have become younger than the youth which does not age, young in immortality and eternity. Never forget that to believe in the Resurrection of the Lord Christ means to carry out a continuous fight with sins, with evil, with death.

If a man fights with sins and passions, this demonstrates that he indeed believes in the Risen Lord; if the fights with them, he fights for life eternal. If he does not fight, his faith is in vain. If man’s faith is not a fight for immortality and eternity, then tell me, what is it? If faith in Christ does not bring us to resurrection and life eternal, than what use is it to us? If Christ is not risen, that meant that neither sin nor death has been vanquished, than why believe in Christ? For the one who by faith in the Risen Lord fights with each of his sins there will be affirmed in him gradually the feeling that Christ is indeed risen, has indeed vanquished the sting of sin, has indeed vanquished death on all the fronts of combat. Sin gradually diminishes the soul in man, driving it into death, transforming it from immortality to mortality, from incorruption to corruption. The more the sins, the more the mortal man. If man does not feel immortality in himself, know that he is in sins, in bad thoughts, in languid feelings. Christianity is an appeal: Fight with death until the last breath, fight until a final victory has been reached. Every sin is a desertion; every passion is a retreat; every vice is a defeat.

One need not be surprised that Christians also die bodily. This is because the death of the body is a sowing. The mortal body is sown, says the Apostle Paul, and it grows, and is raised in an immortal body. (I Corinthians 15:42-44) The body dissolves, like a sown seed, that the Holy Spirit may quicken and perfect it. If the Lord Christ had not been risen in body, what use would it have for Him? He would not have saved the entire man. If His body did not rise, then why was He incarnate why did He take on Himself flesh, if He gave it nothing of His Divinity?

If Christ is not risen, then why believe in Him? To be honest, I would never have believed in Him had He not risen and had not therefore by vanquished death. Our greatest enemy was killed and we were given immortality. Without this, our world is a noisy display of revolting stupidity and despair, for neither in Heaven nor under Heaven is there a greater stupidity than this world without the Resurrection; and there is not a greater despair than this life without immortality. There is no being in a single world more miserable than man who does not believe in the resurrection of the dead. It would have been better for such a man never to have been born.

In our human world, death is the greatest torment and inhumane horror. Freedom from this torment and horror is salvation. Such a salvation was given the race of man by the Vanquisher of death – the Risen God-Man. He related to us all the mystery of salvation by His Resurrection. To be saved means to assure our body and soul of immortality and life eternal. How do we attain this? By no other way than by a Theanthropic life, a new life, a life in the Risen Lord, in and by the Lord’s Resurrection.

For us Christians, our life on earth is a school in which we learn how to assure ourselves of resurrection and life eternal. For what use is this life if we cannot acquire by it life eternal? But, in order to be resurrected with the Lord Christ, man must first suffer with Him, and live His life as his own. If he does this, then on Pascha he can say with Saint Gregory the Theologian: “Yesterday I was crucified with Him, today I live with Him; yesterday I was buried with Him, today I rise with Him.” (Troparion 2, Ode 3, Matins, Pascha)

Christ’s Four Gospels are summed up in only four words. They are: “Христос воскресе! Ваистину воскресе!” (Christ is Risen! Indeed He is risen!”) In each of these words is a Gospel, and in the Four Gospels is all the meaning of all God’s worlds, visible and invisible. When all knowledge and all the thoughts of men are concentrated in the cry of the Paschal salutation, “Christ is Risen!”, then immortal joy embraces all beings and in joy responds: “Indeed He is risen!”