Thursday, June 30, 2011

Théosis

Some people talk as though it were totally barbaric and unworthy of Him that God should have created a world in which such a thing as sin exists, that has so corrupted His chief creation, Man, that He now must punish him with eternal torment in fire, unless he accept the bloody death of a unique Man, who is also somehow His only-begotten Son, who sacrificed Himself voluntarily to satisfy the requirement of His angry heavenly Father, whose Law demands blood to compensate for its violation, as a ransom for his sins, so that he can be regenerated in sinlessness as his first forefather Adam was originally created.

This is like saying that
God created a good universe
into which His chief creature, Man, was placed
with the expectation that he would always be of one will with Him,
while at the same time allowing an evil agent into it,
which He knew would corrupt Man’s will,
and then forcing Himself to eternally punish this Man
and all his descendents from their very births
to eternal damnation for breaking a Law
which He established and to which He is now bound,
when He could have either not created that Law at all,
or else overridden it for Man’s sake,
or else not allowed the evil agent to deceive Man
and cause the sin that must now be avenged,
since God is holy
and cannot tolerate sin.

Well, what would you have?
A good God who created a good universe
into which He placed a good creature, Man,
who sometimes acts against what he knows intuitively is right
by a standard he didn’t create
but which the good God did,
whose Son also entered that good universe
and somehow was accidentally put to death
but was rescued and resuscitated somehow,
so that His teachings could be learned and followed,
restoring Man,
if not to his originally perfect and righteous state,
at least to a state in which his moral failures
are somewhat in control,
allowing most men to live together in relative peace and safety
and to enjoy a reasonable level of freedom and happiness?

Religion.

That would be nice!
That is how Man would like it.
That is how Man in his natural state would like to see existence
and give it meaning.

That is how a civilised and worthy God
would have set things up,
that is, if He exists.

Let’s have none of this sacrificial talk!
Away with the barbaric demand for blood by an angry God,
who is unfit to be called Father
if He has to send His only Son
to a humiliating, bloody, excruciatingly painful death,
to save His creatures from a sinfulness
He almost willed them to have,
to save them from an eternal and fiery torment
that He imposes on all who reject His love.

His love?
Would a loving God have such a plan?
Would He create beings only to torture them
for not being His robot slaves?

With all due respect to those
who try to prove God
loving, righteous, rational, and worthy of our praise
by departing from the words
of holy and divine scripture
to paint a picture of Him
in colors that are pleasing to our sense
and standard of right and wrong,
of what we call love, and mercy,
and what we would honor as holy

—I know what they are trying to do,
to make God lovable
so that we will love Him and believe in Him


This strategy in the end
does not produce the effect in us
that the Word of God was revealed to produce,
does not raise us out of our mortal, human reason
to immortal, divine faith,
does not deliver us from death and bring us to true life,
does not equip us for and acculturate us
to what we can only call
—because it is just the other side of our ontological “event horizon”
and we cannot express it any other way—
life eternal.

The real universe,
not the one that scientists explore,
test, measure and define by human standards,
not the one that sociologists and historians archive
and try to understand,
not the one that moralists and would-be theologians
devise as a frame of reference
to interpret the results of the studies
of the other two groups,

but the real universe
—what really exists,
what really operates and animates
all that we can see, hear, touch, taste, smell, feel
and philosophize—
is so beyond our human capacities
as to be conveyable to us
only in what seems miraculous or magical,
or else so out of sync with what we should have expected
that it seems barbaric and primitive in the extreme.

Not that real universe,
but its Creator,
has told us about that existence
which lies just beyond our human nature’s “event horizon”
by taking up a literature as the vehicle of His Word,
and that is what we call the Holy Bible.

Why holy?
Because it is, like Him, totally other,
fully incomprehensible to those
who would fit it into the container of their minds alone.

The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not grasped it.


The Bible teaches us,
as a mother teaches her toddler using baby talk,
how to take the first steps into that real universe
where there is no other map that we can yet read,
where there are features
that could harm or even destroy us
in our present state of being and level of maturity
if we met them without warning.

We must listen very carefully,
mimic and memorize the instructions
just as we receive them
,
even in the limited language that we know thus far,

because for us,
where we are headed,
where we have no choice but to be headed,
is a state that now can only seem to be
the magic of existence.

It will only be magic
until we find out and understand what lies behind it,
until we find ourselves actually and even factually
crossing that “event horizon”
that limits our mortal, human vision,
until by faith we come to
immortal,
divine being.

Théosis.


But I, when I am lifted up from the earth,
will draw all men to myself.

John 12:32 NIV

The faith that sings

It seems difficult to enter into discussion with someone who, by the very slips they display in their challenges, demonstrates at the outset an irrational prejudice against things that are patently undemonstrable or arguable on the basis of discussion at all. Orthodox simply do not 'adore' ikons. To even pose such a inquiry begs the question and supplies its own answer.

Archimandrite Vasileios says something to the effect that dogma cannot be understood outside of worship. The same thing, in my experience, can be asserted of holy and divine scripture. Sitting somewhere and studying the bible can lead us to one set of conclusions, experiencing it in worship leads us to sometimes a very different set, sometimes diametrically opposed.

The question then becomes, what is the Bible after all? Is it a book that fell from heaven infallible and ready to be implemented as the rule of a spiritual police state, as the Muslims believe of the Qur'an? Or is it something quite unexpected and different, a verbal mirror reflecting a living God whose will was to become the Man He always wanted us to be.

If it is a kind of mirror, it shows us ourselves as we are, and Him as He is, and bridges the gap between in such a way that migration from death to life becomes a possibility. Then, we realise that it is not meant for us to analyse the reflective surface of the mirror, which is what it is only so that we can become what He is by seeing Him and following His movements reflected in it.

History shows that the Church has understood since the beginning that the scriptures are without doubt the expression of God’s infallible word, paradoxically eternal and before the Church and yet temporal and within the Church, never over it, but rather the ground which supports it and on which it is being built, and a fertile soil for the fruition and harvest of souls.

The argument against the Orthodox faith and church, waged both on a personal and on an institutional basis, is undercut by the testimony of the fruit that it has itself produced, not very good fruit, and the kind of tree that it has proven itself to be. A very old tree that still produces much good fruit is not likely to be cut down in favor of a young tree whose fruit fails to ripen.

Reality, scientific but even spiritual reality, does not yield itself easily to quantification. Not everything perfect can be reduced to numbers and counted. Reality is not about structure but about relationship. A circle exists, and not three of its diameters make its circumference, but the relationship can be expressed only by pi, a constant, though not a number as man thinks it.

All divine things exist and operate in a frame of reference that cannot be encompassed by the human mind. The mistake of proud man is to take ownership and responsibility for what is beyond him in every way, seeking to bend it to fit his expectations. So doing, we kill what is alive, not realizing either what true life is, or that Life has come to pitch His tent among us.

This is the dividing line between religion, whether Christian or non-Christian, and the encounter with Him Who Is. Whether we start out with reams of rules or pages of pictures, neither is complete until we discover that neither was the Truth until both were taken in His hands, transformed by His touch, and given back to us breathing the fragrance of His myrrh-bathed wounds.

Sadly, the Bible’s reputed defenders worship what cannot be worshipped, as they decry us who worship only the Divine Nature, God in Three Persons, for whose love our hearts lean in veneration of all that pertains to Him, even each other, following the only divine commandment: Love one another as I have loved you. A greater love has no man than this, to lay down his life for his friends.

That is the faith that sings.

Ambassador

For anyone who is in Christ, there is a new creation;
the old creation has gone, and now the new one is here.
It is all God's work.
It was God who reconciled us to Himself through Christ
and gave us the work of handing on this reconciliation.
In other words,
God in Christ was reconciling the world to Himself,
not holding men's faults against them,
and He has entrusted to us the news that they are reconciled.
it is as though God were appealing through us,
and the appeal that we make in Christ's name is:
Be reconciled to God.
For our sake God made the Sinless One into sin,
so that in Him we might become the goodness of God.
2 Corinthians 5:17-21

The Lord sends people to us, and us to people. That's a fact. If you witness for Jesus Christ—and who cannot?—He continually places people in your path.

The Lord is drawing a young man close to you at work who belongs to a sect that denies the full deity of Jesus Christ, a sect that the world despises. He has found out you share a common interest, perhaps it is history. He knows you are Orthodox and he respects that, and the two of you are getting closer every day.

He is married and has two beautiful children and a faithful wife. He is an innocent, virginal soul, and he is trying to live according to the commandments. There is something in both of you that makes you recognize each other somehow. You both know you are not the world's friend, but Someone else's.

What do you do?
You simply love him, and desire for him the same blessing of God that you desire for yourself. You do not divide by words or actions. You simply be who you are in Christ, remembering whose ambassador you are.

You leave the outcome of every word and action in His merciful hands. You let God be God in your midst. You welcome the one that God has placed in your path.

We cannot draw imaginary lines barring anyone from our love. Anyone can be saved and know the Truth, know Jesus Christ. With every new person whom God sends, let us be as loving, supporting, welcoming and free as we can.

Quoting holy apostle Paul, "I am all things to all men," this is what I can be because I am not afraid to lose anything, because nothing God gives us is ever lost, unless we throw it away.

Love this young man as much as you love the brethren, and pray for his salvation. The Lord will open your mouth and fill it with good things whenever you are with him, if you just forget yourself and any agenda.

It's because those who represent the Church approach others with a sword in their mouths—‘Orthodoxy is the true faith’—that they slay rather than save many of the people that God sends to them.
Don't be like that!

Be an ambassador, not a conquistador. There is nothing and no one for you to conquer, only souls that are falling before the God you serve, if only you don't frighten them away.

Love whoever God sends to you and call him brother, even though he belongs (for the time being) to a heretical sect, because that's only a name he's taken on. Let's see what the Lord has in mind in bringing you together.

Think of this: He loves God, and God loves him, and you love both.
Be patient, welcoming, and loving, and see what God has in mind.
No one can come to the Son unless the Father draws Him.
He drew you to the Son. Now, let Him draw your brother.

The crown of scripture

To ‘study’ the bible as one studies a specimen under the microscope, except perhaps for bible scholars (if there really is such a thing), is the wrong way to study it. It's equally wrong to pretend to give people ‘the big picture’ by not making them study it at all, but instead by entertaining them. Both these approaches to the written Word of God are ways to escape the main function of scripture, which is to bring us face to face with our sin, and with our Saviour.

We say we study the bible, but actually the bible is studying us. We may think we are rightly dividing the Word of God, but actually the Word of God is rightly dividing us. That is, if we let Him. (Jesus is the Word of God. The bible is His icon.) Rightly dividing us from our sin, from the world and all its pomp, and from the power of the evil one.

People think we're so blessed to live in an age when there are so many amazing resources available, yet it's precisely this mistaken attitude about technological resources that has changed Christianity from a living faith and close walk with the Lord to a kind of dinner theatre about such a faith and walk.

We have become detached from the Word of God like a doomed fetus becomes detached from the uterus and then dies, which the mother may not discover for days, but which can kill her as well if it is not discovered in time. That mother is the Church, that fetus is the believers who do not live in the Word but only ‘watch a movie’ about it and think they've ‘got it.’

To live in the Word of God is to make the holy and God-breathed scriptures, the bible, our daily bread, our constant companion, our very home.

This means never being without it, physically, when possible, even if it's only a slim New Testament and Psalms tucked into a pocket.

This means rising in the morning with the Word on our lips, praying and thanking the Lord in the words of psalms and prophecies, not just five times a day as Muslims do, but all through the day (and night).

This means turning not to vain and sometimes vile entertainments (making excuses for the profanity in them), but turning to the bible for refreshment, for relaxation, for recreation.

No, you can play sports, go on hikes, collect stamps, read novels, write poetry, play the guitar, have an electric train set, or even a speedboat… but what’s on your mind, really?

I'm no different from the rest. I often have to yank my attention back to where it belongs, visit the mansion that Christ my Lord and Saviour has prepared for me in His Father’s house. What? You thought He was talking about the heavenly mansion? Well, yes, of course, that one too. But the study of and meditation on the inspired words of the divine and holy scriptures, that is like a foyer leading into the heavenly mansion, and a foyer is part of the house, isn't it?

Paradox upon paradox, that the churches that claim most strongly to be centered on the bible have the most trouble cleaving to it, but find ever more numerous by-paths and supposed short-cuts to keep them off the One True Highway to Heaven—the Word of God.

Who is Max Lucado? A better question is, why is Max Lucado? And why all these dozens of ‘Christian’ authors and their books? Isn’t the Word of God in the form of the bible enough for us? Isn’t the Holy Spirit here with us to help us understand it? But how can we hope to be disciples of the Lord, if we do not stay constantly at His side?
And how do we do this?

By ‘never letting the sacred volume out of our hand,’ as Jerome says.

Instead of expanding your facilities and upgrading your film stash and other technological enhancements, get back to the bible, teaching it, studying it, learning it by heart, worshipping with it, praying it, prophesying with it, evangelizing with it, healing with it, feeding on it and living in it.

There is no other divine scripture on earth, no other literature whose sum is greater than the total of its parts, no other book so alive that it doesn’t need to be enhanced with movies and computer games.

And we think that we can do better than the living God who provided this crown for us?

This is the law and the prophets


The source of the disciple's life lies exclusively in his fellowship with Jesus Christ. He possesses his righteousness only within that association, never outside it. That is why his righteousness can never become an objective criterion to be applied at will. He is a disciple not because he possesses a new standard, but only because of Jesus Christ, the Mediator and very Son of God. That is to say, his righteousness is hidden from himself in fellowship with Jesus. He cannot, as he could once, be a detached observer of himself and judge himself, for he can only see Jesus, and be seen by Him, judged by Him, and reprieved by Him. It is not an approved standard of righteous living that separates a follower of Christ from the unbeliever, but it is Christ who stands between them.

Christians always see other men as brethren to whom Christ comes; they meet them only by going to them with Jesus. Disciple and non-disciple can never encounter each other as free men, directly exchanging their views and judging one another by objective criteria. No, the disciple can meet the non-disciple only as a man to whom Jesus comes.

Here alone Christ's fight for the soul of the unbeliever, His call, His love, His grace and His judgment comes into its own. Discipleship does not afford us a point of vantage from which to attack others; we come to them with an unconditional offer of fellowship, with the single-mindedness of the love of Jesus.

When we judge other people we confront them in a spirit of detachment, observing and reflecting as it were from the outside.
But love has neither time nor opportunity for this. If we love, we can never observe the other person with detachment, for he is always and at every moment a living claim to our love and service.

But does not the evil in the other person make me condemn him just for his own good, for the sake of love?

Here we see the depth of the dividing line. Any misguided love for the sinner is ominously close to the love of sin. But the love of Christ for the sinner in itself is the condemnation of sin, is His expression of extreme hatred of sin.

The disciples are to love unconditionally. Thus they may effect what their own divided and judiciously and conditionally offered love never could achieve, namely the radical condemnation of sin.

If the disciples make judgments of their own, they set up standards of good and evil. But Jesus Christ is not a standard which I can apply to others.

Christian love sees the fellow-man under the cross and therefore sees with clarity.

There is only one judgment, one law, and one grace. Henceforth the disciple will look upon other men as forgiven sinners who owe their lives to the love of God. ‘This is the law and the prophets’—for this is none other than the supreme commandment:

To love God above all things,
and our neighbors as ourselves.

— Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, Book 2, Chapter 18

He is the Truth

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

You are My witnesses

You are my witnesses
Call the world to the court and have them speak

Because they trust in me
They will understand truth and abide in love

Sufferings are coming
But those dragged into the streets
and in false houses
and before thrones
and into prisons
and trampled by feet
and spit on by evil men
Will yet not lose a hair on their heads

Out of beautiful mouths
They will speak words that strike down kings

If you were their witnesses
They would love you as their own

But do not stumble!
For nothing of this world
nor any measure of it
nor past despair
nor future fears
nor the exalted
nor the fallen ones
nor our enemy the grave
Will take you from me.

— David Dickens

Other poems just like this one can be found at his blog, Nothing Hypothetical. I don't know what it is or why, but his verses speak to me very strongly, something like a combination of the Bible and Walt Whitman, my favorite poet. I don't apologize for liking Whitman any more than I apologize for following Jesus and bearing witness to Him, but I know which one of them is the Master, and which one was just trying to be free. I hope he made it.

David, thanks for continuing these poems. Your others are every bit as foundational as this one. I thank God for your talent and testimony. Truth is Truth. Glory to God.

The Father seeks

Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.
John 4:23

It is the ‘seeks’ in the verse that bothers me. It makes it seem as though God somehow needs our worship, like some kind of megalo-maniacal egotist of the universe. Rock stars seek fans. That's what makes them do some very wild things. That's how they grab people. But how does God grab us? What wild things does He do to catch our attention? The matter of God ‘seeking’ worshippers, has to be put into perspective somehow. I even checked the Greek to make sure the word was in fact ζητεi, and it was. Yes, He ‘seeks’ us, but this is how.

God is looking down from heaven
at the sons of men,
to see if a single one is wise,
if a single one is seeking God.
Psalm 53

When I think of His seeking us this way, it all makes sense. He already knows we want to worship. Why? Because He made us that way. In fact, as I wrote in a recent testimony, we are nothing but praise. That is an old teaching within Judaism and Christianity. ‘Face desired to look upon face,’ is how the Jews put it. Existence itself is the antithesis of what God is, beyond existence and its source. This is the deepest longing of mankind, even deeper than love, even deeper than erotic love which, as the Greek Church points out, is merely love of God as reflected in our physical natures.

The three loves, αγαπη, φιλια, ερος, agápi, phília, éros. Disinterested, brotherly love, the love between friends and comrades, and the love of the Beloved. It is very easy to see why idolatry from ancient times right up to the present always includes a dimension of sexual fantasy. Moderns don't call their idols ‘gods’ except in metaphor, but that's what they are. Yet worship is reserved to God alone. In Greek, it is λατρεια, latreía. So we see the source of the suffix added to so many false gods: idol-latry, biblio-latry, even Mario-latry. Worship, latreía, is reserved for God alone.

Strange, then, that when Christ reveals to the Samaritan woman the mystery of worship in spirit and truth, He doesn't use this word to refer to the worshippers. Instead, He calls them προσκυνουντες, proskynoúndes, ‘those who bend the knee in front of’. He could have called them λατρευοντες, latrévondes, ‘worshippers’, but He didn’t. Of course I understand that though Christ spoke Greek as well as Aramaic and Hebrew, He wouldn’t have been speaking Greek to the Samaritan woman, at least I don’t think so. It would’ve been Aramaic. John, however, who writes in very easy and basic Greek, was still careful to choose the right words.

The detail difference between latreía and prosk‎‎‏ýnisis may not be significant in this passage, may not be intended to show a contrast. I don’t think so, but that doesn’t mean I’m right. Prosk‎‎ýnisis, by the way, is the word usually translated ‘veneration’ but sometimes as ‘worship’, which greatly scandalises Protestants, especially when applied to our veneration of ikons and of the saints, especially Mary. Some Orthodox publications translate prosk‎‎‏ýnisis as ‘worship’. Alas! We Orthodox are just closet idolators as bad as the Roman Catholics to some people, even worse, according to a former best friend, because we ‘pretend’ to be evangelical.

But there are only two responses we can have to God, as human beings: either we worship Him, or we don’t. Worship means to ‘consider worthy’ and of anything or anyone we can come into contact with ever, God is, arguably, the Most Worthy. The question is, what does ‘worship’ look like? That is what I think the Lord was getting at in His talk with the Samaritan woman. Just because we appear to be worshipping God, even building great temples and shrines to glorify Him, what is it we are actually doing? Factually, yes, we go to church, we go through the motions of worship. But what is it we are actually doing? Christ tells us, ‘in spirit and in truth’, that’s the kind of venerators the Father is looking for. It is really all or nothing. This thought, if nothing else, should make us stand up in church.

Apostles

Two men more unlike each other can hardly be found, and yet here they are, cheek to cheek, the father and father of the Church, proving that there is more than mere flesh and blood involved in spiritual parenthood.
"What is born of the flesh is flesh. What is born of the spirit is spirit" (John 3:6). Yet the flesh is not to be discounted, for that is what we are made of to begin with, where we start from, but that is not where we end up.

Today is the commemoration of holy apostles Peter and Paul. The ikons show their appearance as it has been handed over to us generation after generation. I love it that the family is so faithful in keeping the treasury of faith intact. Peter is always shown with a head of thick white or gray hair and a short beard and mustache, an industrious and fair small businessman. Paul always has his characteristically balding pate, his hair and mustache dark, his beard and sidelocks curly, just as you would expect of a man who was groomed to be a great rabbinical scholar in Israel.

Did they ever really hug each other like this? Well, probably not often, but even once would be enough to warrant it being recorded on spiritual film. Two men almost fated by their backgrounds to be enemies, or at least to feel superior to each other. The one a man of the people, roughly educated, speaking just enough Greek to trade and just enough Hebrew to pray, attending to the business of wife and family and providing others with a livelihood, a small town fisherman, careful of his affairs, clannish with his friends, loyal, trusty and true. The other, a cosmopolitan man of some means, a tent-maker probably by hereditary trade, though trained for better things, the study of Tanakh—the Torah (law), the Nevi'im (prophets) and the Ketuvim (writings)—unmarried because not yet a rabbi worthy of a wife, Greek and Hebrew second nature to him, Aramaic for dealing with all classes of men, prepared to meet every man on his own ground, a man for all seasons.

Our ikons and paintings show them together, but this is a spiritual unity not a historical and personal one, for little did they actually collaborate in their preaching of the Good News. Between them, though, the Lord who chose them, "you have not chosen Me, I have chosen you" (John 15:16), has all the bases covered until the end of time, with the help, of course, of the other ten. When we see Peter in the ikon, we should remember that it is not he alone, but all the original apostles, that are there represented. The holy eleven, or twelve if you count Matthias who was chosen by lot to replace Judas Iscariot, are with Peter. And among them all, there is not a single one that is not a friend for our inmost soul.

They walked with the Lord. They were present for most of His miracles. They touched Him, ate with Him, lived with Him. He slept in their presence, and they in His. They were as close as a band of brothers could be. Their fellowship seemed impenetrable, but for the intrusion of the "one untimely born" Paul (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:8), who would not have been found walking with them and with Jesus during His three year mission. He had more important things to do then, to sit at the feet of the sages of Israel thirstily drinking in their words, so that he would become worthy of their company and fellowship. If Paul had been among the Pharisees who knew and met Jesus, like Nikodemos and Joseph, he wouldn't have been quiet about it. But no, he admits to having been born "too late."

We are now at the end of the Apostles' Fast, and tomorrow the rest of the holy apostles will be commemorated. With them we share the Good News of the Kingdom, of the Living One, Jesus the Christ, "the Word co-eternal with the Father and the Spirit, born of the virgin for our salvation" (Ton synanarchon Logon, Resurrectional Apolytikion, Tone 5). We are not imprisoned as holy apostle John was on Patmos, "for having preached God's Word and witnessed for Jesus" (Revelation 1:9). We are still free to do these things, there is still a little more time left for us to go out into the field of the world to the harvest of souls.

What is keeping us idle? What treasure have we counted more precious than the death of God's Son which has granted us eternal life and great mercy?

Now is the acceptable time of the Lord, now if ever, the fields are white for the harvest, and the sower and reaper rejoice together, to reap what in reality they have not worked for, to reap what others have planted, following Jesus the Lord of the harvest, who says,
"He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me, scatters" (Luke 11:23).

Though it be the eleventh hour, come, brethren, labor on.
The Lord of the harvest is always ready for us.
Let's not just honor the apostles.
Let's join them.

Living in the material world


In the material world of things around us the farmer works the earth. So also in the spiritual world there are two elements to be considered. It is necessary for man to work the soil of his heart by a free deliberation and hard work. For God looks to man’s hard work and toil and labor. But if the heavenly clouds from above do not appear and the showers of grace, the farmer for all his labor avails nothing.

This is the sign of Christianity. However much man should do and how many justifying works he should perform, he should feel that he has accomplished nothing. And when he fasts, he should say, “I have not fasted.” When he prays, let him think, “I have not prayed.” Persevering in prayer he should say, “I have not persevered. I have only begun to practice asceticism and to labor.” And even if he is righteous before God he should say, “I am not righteous. I am not working, but I begin each day.” He ought every day to have the hope and joy and confidence in the future kingdom and in redemption and say, “If today I have not been delivered, tomorrow I will be.”

It is like the man who plants a vineyard. Before he ever begins work, he entertains hope and joy as he ponders in his mind the vineyards and counts up his profits, even though there is no wine yet. And in this way he puts himself to work. Hope and expectation make him toil enthusiastically and for some time even he undergoes great expenses, paid out of his pocket. It is like one who builds a house or cultivates a field. At first he undergoes expenses to himself, but in the hope of future profits. It is the same way in this matter. Unless a person keeps before his eyes joy and hope, namely, “I shall obtain salvation and life,” he cannot bear patiently afflictions or the burden or accept to travel along the narrow road. For it is the presence of hope and joy that allow him to labor and bear afflictions and the burden of traveling along the narrow path.

St. Macarius, Spiritual Homilies, 26.10 12

No other name

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 139:1-18 Jerusalem Bible

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acts 4:1-13 NIV

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

What it's all about

Christianity is not all about doctrine. Christianity is all about grace. It is all about mercy and love. This is not, however, what one would think, looking at the Church. But the Church is Christianity, and Christianity is the Church. We must look deeper than the externals of history, and more finely at what the Church is, really is, in day to day life. Even there, we may find masquerades going on, but also the true.

Orthodoxy is true not because of the heroic stand against papal claims by such saints as Photios or Mark of Ephesos. Orthodoxy is true because it sings, and because it sings even in the face of sin. It is true because such saints as Elder Porphyrios can love and bless prostitutes. It is true because of such confidence in the victory and mercy of Christ that it can be gracious to sinners, because Christ is.

Doctrine and dogma are the results of a qualitative analysis of the life of the Church, that is, what the Church actually does. They are formed and accepted spontaneously and organically. When they are formulated in lecture halls or in convocations they often reflect nothing real, are merely ideologies, which the evil one uses to divide the undivided Body of Christ. Anything that resists the love and work of Christ is not Christianity, no matter what it is called.

What is the love and work of Christ? It is what we see Jesus doing in the gospels. It is what we see the Holy Spirit doing in the acts and epistles. It is what we see the saints doing who have abandoned all to follow the Lord. It is what we participate in when we follow them. It is mercy applied to the undeserving. It is love lavished on the unlovable. It is refusal of the claims of the unreal. It is forgiveness of offenses. It is justification of the sinner.

Study the scriptures. Turn to them and learn. They mean what they say and will give you language to say what you mean. They uncover the truth about you, but then cover you with the truth about Christ. They baptise and chrismate you into the life of the new creation. They offer you the water that once drunk will quench your thirst for ever. They feed you with the bread of heaven that once eaten preserves you to life eternal. They are mercy, grace and love.

Confession

The Church of God expects to experience injustice and hostility historically. It is precisely that it is persecuted and does not fight back or take revenge, but prays for the forgiveness and salvation of its persecutors, that qualifies it as possessing the true faith and being the true Church. It is precisely at that moment when the Church takes revenge or remembers the offenses it has endured and passes on hostility and resentment to its next generation that it is betraying Christ and proving to everyone that it follows not the God whose throne is the Cross and who trampled death by death, but the old Adam, whom death tramples.

How can I be a member of a church institutionally some of whose members and even some of whose leaders are betrayers of Christ? Well, because I too am a betrayer of Christ, but by His call refuse to give in to defeat, since He has won the victory for me, and for these others, whose blasphemies they call loyalty to Orthodoxy, while trampling down not death by death as Christ does, but their brothers, whom they hate, as death does. Like it or lump it, I too am a sinner following Christ, and if He picks me up every day, He will pick up these others too. Meanwhile, we all suffer the strain of forgetting Him while we glory in our own ideas, fleshly and blind though they be, and mistake our loves and hates for truth.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Monday, June 27, 2011

That one is you

The Orthodox fathers use the sun as an analogy to the Holy and Divine Triad. The sun itself is the Heavenly Father. The light of the sun is the Divine Word and Son of God. The heat of the sun is the Holy Spirit.

No one can see the sun, except by the light, which enters our eyes and shows it to us. We have no other way to be in contact with the sun or even know for sure that it is there, but for the light (and the heat). If you approached the sun to touch it, you would be incinerated long before you reached it. The Father, thus, is ever intangible and unreachable to us, in His essence.

The light of the sun, though, both shows us what the sun looks like and tells us that it is there. ‘Who sees Me sees the Father,’ says Jesus, the Son and Word of God. In Jesus the Father is both visible and reachable. We make our prayers known to the Father through the Son. Moreover, light itself has two natures. It is both particles (photons) and waves (pure energy), and in the same way, Jesus the Son of God is both human and Divine. Yes, and He is the Phos ek Photós, ‘Light from Light.’

The heat of the sun would be evidence, even to a blind man, that the sun, or at least some source of heat, is out there, because he can feel its effect on him. In a similar way, even if a man is spiritually blind, he can still feel the warmth of the Holy Spirit falling on him, telling him that there is a Father in heaven, yet he can still move out of that sunlight and into the shadows. It is his choice.

There was never a sun without light and heat, yet the light is not the sun, nor is the heat the sun; each is distinct, yet inseparable from the source. In the same way, the Orthodox fathers teach that the Father is the source and principle of the Godhead, of the Divine Nature. The Son (only one of Him) is begotten eternally from the Father as light emanates eternally from the sun. As heat proceeds from the sun by means of the light that emanates from it, the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father alone, but by means of the Son of God, who said, ‘I will ask the Father and He will send you another Advocate.’

Co-eternal, consubstantial—these are words that seem overpowering and mystery-laden, making the Holy Triad seem to be unthinkable and unexperienceable by man. But the Orthodox fathers show us that the mystery is not that God should be three yet one, but that we could have ever imagined a God who is only one.

The unity of the Divine Nature, ‘Hear, O Israel, Yahweh is our God, Yahweh is One’, is not diminished by His being a Triad. His Oneness is so One without second, so beyond numerical oneness, that even His triadic nature does not take away from it.

God is changeless, and yet He is One. God is changeless, and yet He is love. There can be no love except ‘between’ and no pure love, impartial and selfless love, except between ‘three.’ Hence, the Divine Nature says, ‘Let us make man in Our image.’

No one has ever seen God, only the Son of God, Jesus Christ, has made Him known and shown Him to us, being Himself God and yet not the Father. And the Holy Spirit, that third member of the One God in Triad, is our own membership in that Society of Persons which we call the Holy Trinity. Through Him, through the Spirit, we take our places at the banquet of the Divine Nature, becoming by genuine adoption what Christ is by nature, sons and daughters of the Most-High.

Théosis (divinization) is what we were made for, sotiría (salvation) is the process of our transfiguration.

Christ ‘was, is, and is to come.’
We were saved, are being saved, and are to be saved, that is, to be one with the Divine and Holy Triad, as Christ prays, ‘that they may be One, even as You, Father, and I are One.’

See the Orthodox ikon of the Holy Trinity, the original written by Andrei Rublev, posted above. There you will see the three ‘angels’ seated around a table, with one place left open for another.

That one is you.

True joy

Elder Porphyrios brings the blessing of Holy Epiphany to a group of prostitutes. This account was borrowed from Salt of the Earth blog.

In the old days, during the feast of the Theophany, we used to sanctify homes. One year I also went to sanctify. I would knock on the doors of the apartments, they would open for me, and I walked in singing “In Jordan, You were baptized O Lord….”

As I went along the road called Maizonos, I saw an iron door. I opened it, walked into the courtyard which was full of tangerine, orange and lemon trees, and proceeded to the stairs. It was an outdoor staircase that went up, and below it was the basement. I climbed the stairs, knocked on the door, and a lady appeared. Since she opened I began my common practice singing, “In Jordan, You were baptized O Lord….” She stopped me abruptly. Meanwhile, girls began to emerge from their rooms after hearing me from the left and right of the hallway. “I see that I fell into a brothel,” I said to myself. The woman walked in front of me to stop.

“Leave”, she told me. “It is not right for them to kiss the Cross. I will kiss the Cross and then you should leave, please.”

I took seriously her disapproving attitude and said: “I cannot leave! I am a priest, I cannot go! I came here to sanctify.”

“Yes, but it is not right for them to kiss the Cross.”

“But we don’t know if it is right for them or you to kiss the Cross. Because if God asks me for whom it is more right to kiss the Cross, the girls or you, I probably would say: ‘It is right for the girls to kiss and not you. Their souls are much better than yours.’”

With that she became a bit red in the face, so I said: “Leave the girls to come kiss the Cross.” I signalled for them to come forward. I began to chant more melodically than before: “In Jordan, You were baptized O Lord…” because I had such joy within me, that God had ordained things so that I may also come to these souls.

They all kissed the Cross. They were all made-up, with colourful skirts, etc. I told them: “My children, many years! God loves us all. He is very good and allows the rain to fall on the righteous and the unrighteous’ (Matt. 5:45). He is the Father of everyone and God cares for everyone. Let us make sure to come to know Him and for us to also love Him and to become good. May you love Him, and then you will see how happy you will be.”

They looked at me, wondering. Something took a hold of their tired souls.

Lastly I told them: “I rejoice that God has made me worthy to come here today to sanctify you. Many years!”

“Many years!” they also said, and I left.

Born blind

We are born blind, we never had eyes, we have never seen light, nor known it, nor experienced it, we have no idea even of what it is, just what others have told us. But did they have eyes? Were they born with sight? Or do they speak of what they imagine but never see?

This is how it is, for us, for every human being who has ever walked the earth, but One. We are born blind. We hear the world around us, but cannot see it. We know it’s there, we bump into it, sometimes hurting ourselves, until we learn how to navigate through the darkness.

Darkness? Our world doesn’t look dark to us. It’s light, it’s beautiful, there’s so much in it to see and experience. Yes, but all that you say we are seeing, all of it, my brothers, is dark and featureless, as shallow yet as deep as a starless night, and yet you say you see.

Let me, one blind man who does not see but feels, tell you that as wonderful as it would be for a man born blind to be granted the faculty of sight, that is how wonderful, and even more, it will be when we who have been born blind and see only this world are granted to really see.

To really see, when we have received our sight, we cannot remember anymore that seamless darkness that was what we thought the world to be. We will be able to close our eyes for a moment—only the demons are eyelidless—and see the world we left behind.

And just as we close our eyes to better pray, so there will we close our eyes for our brothers who live yet in that world born blind, which never since it sold them had eyes nor sighted birth, as we intercede without ceasing for those who await with longing to receive their sight.

And open them again, to receive Him who was always everywhere present, filling all things, the Lord and Creator of Life, to receive Him into our hungry eyes, to become what we behold, finally, finally, after waiting for what seemed for ever, waiting only to be fulfilled, to see only Him.

Open our eyes

O God, how can we whose minds are so unstable keep our eyes focused on You, so that we can do what we see You doing every day and all around us? For You fill our world at every moment with creatures just like us, falling into need and sin, or arising out of it following the call of life that You’ve planted in us, though we might not know it. Your Word has been strewn among us, seeking that fertile humus in which it can sprout, grow and eventually bear fruit, so that it does not return to You void.

Open our eyes, Lord, to see the world as You see it, at every moment, in every place hearts crying out for mercy, to receive it, but also to bestow it. Show us, Father, that we are not alone, and that to show mercy can be as humble as yielding to another’s infirmity, to overlook our brother’s ignorance, to forgive one who injures or insults us before, or even without, being asked.

Help us to see that mercy has no size limit, large or small, visible or hidden. It is an arrow that never fails to hit its mark. That to stand confidently before Your seat of mercy is to be merciful wherever we are, just as You are merciful. And to always pray what we hear Jesus praying every day, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

Ποιητής ουρανού καί γής


Yes, I am still alive. I have to pinch myself sometimes, just to make sure. I have to read a word I’ve written, to make sure I have not gone mad, or gone missing. Where am I? Always and forever, here, because He is here, am, because He is. Mine, because He has given me myself, His gift, once and only, inimitable, unfeignable, the same yet different from all His other gifts, which as they gently fall from His caring hands, form themselves into worlds, persons, creations, visible and invisible. He is Lord, and we are nothing but praise, returning back to Him the reflection of His blessed face, which He has imprinted in our depths, singing back to Him the song with which He sang all that is into being. Empty, so that He may fill me. Silent, so that He may teach me. Slow, so that He may quicken me. Dead, so that He may raise me.

O Lord, how wonderous You are among Your saints!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Fasting

Fasting is never a form of self-punishment.
Fasting is never a way to build our heavenly bank account.
Fasting is an act of worship, giving back what we always knew
never really belonged to us, so that God can bestow on us
something greater, Himself.
Fasting is an act of hospitality, cleaning out, emptying some organ or attribute of us, so that God can have more room during His visit.
Fasting is always a deliberate spending, even wasting, of our lives
on the slim chance that we might buy the world for God.
Fasting is always an act of abandonment, even of desertion,
of what we thought or have been told was our post or position in life,
in the hope that we will be proven wrong after all,
and find that God alone was right.
Fasting has little to do with food, but we do sometimes forget to eat while we're doing it.

Day by day

A few days ago, I heard from one of my sons that the current thinking of the leadership of our community is that we must go ‘all English’ in order to keep the youth involved. I hope this was a misunderstanding on his part of something he heard at church, because thinking like this is not only illogical but shallow. If it produces any results, they would likely be not what was expected.

Youth, or for that matter, Christians of any age group, are not ‘attracted’ to church activity by making it seem more like what they’re used to. Every church that has tried this has found itself getting caught up not in the gospel or real spiritual life, but in an endless recycling of half-baked ideas that moves them further away from what they thought they were seeking, or did they have it right in the first place?

Church attendance is not increased by devices or by attractions, or by replacing the ‘same ole, same ole’ with something new. The church thinks it’s doing us a big favor when they throw out the liturgy books we’ve finally gotten used to, replacing them with slim, abundantly illustrated, footnoted, and explanationed versions, that have even the Greek transliterated into phonetic English.

Few people will pay any attention to the transliterations. The Greeks, myself included, know most of the services by heart and don’t need the books—know them by heart in Greek, I should add. I used to pray and sing the English versions of the texts, but except for the Lord’s Prayer, I have given up, tired of the frequent re-translations of once familiar texts. Hasn’t the experience of the other churches taught us anything?

No, church attendance is not increased by anything short of taking the time to really make disciples, not just telling the people in your congregation to ‘disciple themselves.’ The language issue is really a non-issue, because, as my son told me (and he is still among the ‘youth’), it doesn’t matter what language the liturgy is in, because if you’re there for the right reasons, you already understand what’s going on.

The Church, like everyone else, wants to take shortcuts, wants to do as little with as little as possible to achieve as much as possible. Much of what? Whatever looks good, feels good, sounds good, is fun, gives us a chance to show off our religion or our charity, but what of the gospel, what of the life of sanctification? Yes, we preach it and teach it, but there is almost no follow-up.

‘Invite your neighbor or an unchurched family member to come to church.’ Does this exhortation sound familiar? It doesn’t matter what church you go to, this message is preached. ‘Fish, go and do your job! Invite others to become fish caught in a net like you are. It will be fun. We have so many programs for you to do, the more the merrier.’

Now, there’s nothing at all wrong with this exhortation, but itself, it is not the Message. ‘Come to church’ is simply not the Message. It is not the good news. If it were, then people would be attracted to it like a poor man is attracted to a rich man who had limitless wealth to give away. People are not that stupid, and some are even too smart for their own good. ‘Nobody could be that rich!’

Why isn’t the church filled on the Lord’s Day? Where are the youth? Is salvation and the life of discipleship so unknown to them, that all, young and old, would exchange it at the drop of a hat for a trip to the beach, the mall, or the golf course? And if it is so unknown to them, why? ‘There are two or three days left in the Apostles’ Fast. Why not try to read a chapter each day of the gospels?’

A chapter each day? Not a chapter each ten minutes, and the whole book in three or four hours? Can people who spend hours of their time pursuing lifeless drama not turn aside and be quiet with the Word of God longer than one chapter’s worth a day? The suggestion even sounds apologetic, even sounds as if you know that no one is listening, no one is going to listen. No one obeys.

No, the Word of God is eternal life between two covers and an inch and a quarter thick. It needs eyes to read it mentally, and lips as well if read aloud, which has the added benefit of possibly drawing others in to listen. Hours of church attendance are nothing compared to the hour and a half it takes to read Paul’s epistle to the Romans, in effect, that is. And what is the effect? To truly be present when we are worshipping in church.

Myself, I am an unworthy, living an unworthy life. Like the Church, I don’t go seeking the lost sheep, I don’t go out on the sea at night casting my nets to bring fish into the Kingdom. I wait for the sheep to come to me. Like the Church, I should put up a sign that reads, ‘Fish wanted. Please apply within.’ I receive the call of Christ, and I respond. I don’t think about who is doing the work, but about Who is calling.

I was told by my dear sister in Christ who sits on the parish council, that I should not wait for the church to ask me to volunteer; I should call the church and say, ‘I have free time. What can I do?’ I told her, ‘sorry, that isn’t the way I do it.’ That puts me in control. That puts discipleship to death. The call of Christ is not volunteerism. Christ accepted those who responded to His call, not those who put themselves forward and asked Him, ‘what can I do for you?’

The Church that acts on the call of Christ goes forth to make disciples, and making disciples, opens doors to their hearts to the deeper call of Christ day by day. It doesn’t wait for the lost sheep to find its way back to the fold. It doesn’t hang out a tiny net and wait for fish to jump in, or for a whole school of fish. It doesn’t turn people into sheep and then scold or shame them for being that.

I was told once by a man who claimed to be a priest (and his claim was good, canonically speaking, he had been duly ordained) that he was afraid of the people he came to serve. I was astonished, but in watching him ‘work’ in the community, I could see that for him, at least, his statement was true. He was afraid of us. He said that all priests were afraid of their people. I disagree.

But a priest should do one thing that many are afraid of doing today—actually, there are many things, but let’s concentrate on just one—that is, of identifying the real spiritual resources among their people, and call those who have them. In this, the priest of God is truly an ikon of the Lord Jesus Christ, who was not afraid to call any man to any task, especially to the impossible.

Day by day, never perfect, never worthy, never righteous, never wise, but trying to walk by faith, not by sight, trying to follow the Master whose blessed feet tread not the tame path of religion, but get dusty from the world’s roads, following Him even when it hurts, even when tired, even when unhappy, even when tempted, even having sinned, even when accused, judged and imprisoned falsely, day by day.

A new gospel

There is a new gospel, a fresh gospel, that is preached to every person, in every circumstance, and that gospel is going to always be slightly different from the gospel preached to the next guy. That is the strength of the gospel, not its weakness: that it can be all things to all men.

Paul was not saying something astonishing or scandalous when he says he is all things to all men: he was only saying of himself (since he was the servant of that gospel) what is true of the gospel itself, fitting itself into the ears of each one, for ‘faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.’

Isn't that what is so good about the good news? That Christ who is Himself one person of the Divine and Holy Triad, sheds the might of His divinity, coming down to our level, to live among us, to speak our language, not just to feel our pain and endure the temptations we suffer.

If He must die on the Cross for our salvation, that cannot be conveyed to us, placed within our reach, without it being sized and fitted to the broken hearts of each of us. Yes, the Man of Sorrows, but also, the God of Joys. The latter doesn’t balance the former; it engulfs it like the sea engulfs a pebble, leaving no trace.

Hence, the gospel, always new, always fresh, containing all, supporting all, adapted to all, welcoming all, transforming all, but one by one, even as one by one we each receive the call, and one by one are seated at our places in the banquet of the Divine Nature, the wedding feast of the Lamb.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Morning

The morning sun just rising over the eastern mountains cutting slices of reality with its sharp shafts of rose-red light claiming its share of the white stucco walls of old Portland row houses, and the birds strangely silent, perhaps watching with stunned anticipation the arrival of another cloudless day, and me sitting quietly looking beyond mere computer screens into the world’s utter west, populated by trees upon trees, greens now slowly awakening to the gold-washed waves pouring over them, and wondering what the day will bring. My morning tasks still unformed in the empty future ahead of me, one unpleasant task, the return of a broken-glassed picture frame that would not yield to assembly.

What treasures will arrive on my doorstep today? Already they have been piling up against my unopened front door, waiting for me to discover them. Joy, joy amidst suffering, blending what cannot be with what is, and all held in fragile friendship in the hands of God, who for the love of his suffering siblings joined them to prove on the battlefield of His body that victory is at the bottom of defeat, and that redemption can be purchased only at a price beyond our paying, and that of all worlds this one is the best and only, because our Beloved has pierced our defenses and shown us the way out, to perfect freedom, fearless, radiant, unfleshly and immortal. He is glorified by the piping of a solitary bird that now sings, again and again, the threefold call, ‘holy, holy, holy,’ out of the wooded depths.

Your day, O Lord, your day that you have bestowed on us, grant us to behold your face in every moment, and feel your touch.
Savior, come, and do not delay.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Yes, except for love…

…laughter is the best medicine. A new friend that the Lord has recently sent me, a Christian brother who lives in Chennai (Madras), in south India, comes originally from a Christian village in the Tamil country, called Manapad. He sent me a link to the village website, and I have been visiting it and learning about this ancient Roman Catholic community evangelized by miracles and by Francis Xavier. The following stories, written by Fritz Miranda (it seems all the villagers have Portuguese surnames, though they are native Indians) added a good dose of laughter to an evening after a busy work day. Like the stories of all simple and pious peoples, regardless of their religion, you can sense their every day devotion and innocence. Mr Miranda titles his stories Of Angels and Devils, but for me, these are stories only of angels. Read the original (I have slightly edited it), and visit the Manapad site here.

1
This happened long time ago in St James Church, Manapad.

Dominic was collecting offerings from the congregation. He was an angelic kind of boy. His dream was to become a priest when grown up. Now as a prelude, he is one of the altar boys who help the priest in the Mass. He was in his usual attire of red vestment and white surplice. People were inserting coins in the collection box Dominic was carrying. The choir was enthralled in the offering hymn. He suddenly spottted a bed bug running across the dupatta of an old lady who was in the crowd. The angel in Dominic stopped him to save the woman from the bug. He took the bug and showed it to the lady. Then he promptly squeezed the creature until death. His plight didn’t just end there. Right away he found another one. Then one more. And more. The lady had been sheltering a school of bugs on her person. The angel was really concerned. Dominic put the collection box aside, squatted near her, and started picking the bed bugs from the dupatta—much to the embarrassment of the lady—and killing them on the church floor. A bloody scene was unfolding in full view of the congregation. Even the choir was now looking at this little altar boy who was killing bed bugs. Good Lord! The priest had to wait until Dominic killed all the bugs and returned to the altar.

2
Every duty is holy, and devotion to duty is the highest form of worship of God!

Altar boys help the priest. Taking bread and wine for the Eucharist, ringing the bell during benediction and collecting offerings are some of the duties assigned to them. Normally, two boys are there in an ordinary Mass. They are required in the Mass. But they are not required to be seen too much. They add beauty to the sacrament. But they are not the focus. They are angels in that heavenly atmosphere. Unfortunately some times, the devils in them do resurface.

Pinpin had a devilish instinct of eating jaggery a bit too much, no matter where he was. He would bring jaggery in his pants pocket and would taste it from time to time in the sacristy when he thought no one was looking. His weakness for jaggery was so invincible that he would also carry a spoon in his pocket for the easy handling of it during the service. In the altar, taking a spoonful to the mouth while the whole congregation is looking is real a challenge. But Pinpin had perfect timing. On occasions when the heads are bowed in prayer, Pinpin would raise his robe, put a hand down into his pocket, and have a mouthful. All in a flash. Yip! Yip!

3
Eiden was smart guy who never ate jaggery in church, nor chocolates. But then, his story ended in tragedy.

It was a fine morning Mass until he found that the bell had been forgotten. Worse, the priest that day was a man who calculates in fractions. As the time for raising the Holy Communion neared, both the boys' faces turned ashen in horror. Without chiming of the bell, the service would be incomplete. The priest might kick them, had the bell was not sounded. Still hopeful, Eiden evaluated the possibilities. No time to bring the bell from the sacristy. The great moment arrived in seconds. The priest raised the Communion. Eiden was quick. ‘Ting Ting Ting Ting….’ He mimicked the bell. Laughter exploded from the other boy, who had been till now, trembling in fear. Alas! The solemnity of the Holy Mass was lost. Not discouraged, Eiden continued the ‘Ting Ting Ting…’ for the wine too. The priest noticed the difference. Certainly he couldn’t allow comedies in his Mass. Eiden saw the reddened eyes of the priest when lowered he chalice.
Sure, Eiden could not expect rewards for his presence of mind. When the Mass was over the priest thrashed him in the sacristy.

4
Pranchi's deed was remarkable. He threatened a corpse in the coffin. It happened this way in a funeral service.

Altar boys carry wooden crosses in the funeral procession. First cross, second cross and the third cross. Fine! Priest finished, ‘Pasta nosta…’ for the peaceful resting of the departed soul. The coffin was lowered into the grave. The scene was melting in sorrow with quiet crying. At last the lid was put in place. The priest took a handful of earth and threw over the coffin. Now it was the turn of Pranchi who was carrying the First Cross to throw a handful of earth, as per ritual. Pranchi was new to the funeral services. He was confused for a moment as to what to do. Now some people shouted at him, ‘First Cross, throw now! First Cross, throw now!’ meaning the altar boy who carries the First Cross to throw a handful of earth over the coffin.

Pranchi misunderstood. In a reflex, he threw the cross he was carrying into the pit. Good heavens! The heavy wooden cross met the coffin with a loud ‘BANG!’ Surely, the corpse could have woken up in shock and jerked. The gathering was stunned for a moment, caught exactly between grief and uncontrollable laughter.

And…

There are many more stories of these guys. Pity, I have only a few KBs for this kind of article. Now all these angels and devils have become bankers, businessmen, general managers and vice-presidents. Some priests too. Forgive these devils dear Lord! For they knew not what they were doing!

Fritz Miranda.

Note: Names mentioned in the incidents are fictitious and the intention of this article is not to offend anybody but to reminisce the moments those were lived in our days in Manapad.