Sunday, July 31, 2011

In His arms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Ωστε παρακαλειτε αλλήλους εν τοις λόγοις τούτοις.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Which will it be?

Divine humanity, or human divinity? Which would we rather have? This is the question that is presented to man in every generation from the first to the last.

The first is not in our control, something we could not even guess at, something only dreamt of by those whose hearts persistently seek the Most-High, wondering what He is.

The second is what we found ourselves left with. Since we couldn’t discover divine humanity, we consoled ourselves by inventing human divinity.

Human beings, worthy or unworthy, raised some of themselves to the status of gods. The ancient heroes of the Greeks, of the Indians, of the Chinese, gods.

The wielders of earthly power, those in whom their peoples invested the ring, orb and crown of authority, lauded ‘guardians of mankind’ and ‘benefactors,’ gods.

Those fools who once graced the courts of kings with levity to assuage the harshness of our earthly exile, now electronically glorified, our entertainers, gods.

Human divinities all, they are sculpted images of the human nature, to be worshipped by their adorers, or vilified by opponents who worship not men but things.

Yet, divine humanity, after long ages, He did appear. Him, the bedreamt of prophets and prophet-kings, has appeared, does appear, and now lives among us.

No sculpture, no painted image can convey Him to us better than He Himself can, walking in our midst, as one of us, though we do not recognize Him but in retrospect.

He is Divine Humanity, having taken our human nature into the fiery folds of His sixfold wings up to the Throne of the Divine Nature, making us enter heaven, and the heaven of heavens.

Making us sit upon His Throne and upon His Father’s Throne, making us sup with Him and with His Father and the Spirit Holy at the banquet Table, in the light of a thousand suns.

Every molecule of our humanity transformed in Him into Divinity, no particle of darkness remains, no shadow, only light, light, wonderous light, bright, bright, brighter.

Divine humanity, or human divinity? Which do you choose?
‘No one lights a lamp to hide it under a bushel.’
‘A city set on a hill cannot be hid.’
‘I set before you life,
And death.’

Thursday, July 28, 2011

You keep me alive

God desires and seeks the salvation of all. And He is always saving all who wish to be saved from drowning in the sea of life and sin. But He does not always save in a boat or a convenient, well-equipped harbor. He promised to save the Holy Apostle Paul and all his fellow-travelers, and He did save them. But the Apostle and his fellow-passengers were not saved in the ship, which was wrecked; they were saved with great difficulty, some by swimming and others on boards and various bits of the ship's wreckage.



Though I live surrounded by trouble,
You keep my alive—to my enemies’ fury!
You stretch Your hand out and save me,
Your right hand will do everything for me.
Yahweh, Your love is everlasting,
do not abandon us whom you have made.
Psalm 138:7-8 Jerusalem Bible

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

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Abstract

The place where I come from is a small town
They think so small, they use small words
But not me, I'm smarter than that,
I worked it out
I'll be stretching my mouth
to let those big words come right out
I've had enough, I'm getting out
to the city, the big big city
I'll be a big noise
with all the big boys,
so much stuff I will own

And I will pray to a big god,
as I kneel in the big church

My parties have all the big names
and I greet them with the widest smile
Tell them how my life is one big adventure
and always they're amazed
when I show them 'round my house to my bed
I had it made like a mountain range
with snow white pillows for my big fat head
And my heaven will be a big heaven,
and I will walk through the front door


— Peter Gabriel, Big Time

How sad it is, to know the truth about something and, with a gleam in your eye and a tight smile on your lips, to enunciate that truth to an audience that you think probably doesn’t have or know that truth. They may be visitors to your church, to whom you are giving a ‘tour.’ They may be students or auditors in your class or seminar to whom you are revealing the truth. In either case you feel quite justified. They came here. They asked for it. Now, you’re going to let them have it. Always, however, with that gleam in your eye, that tight smile, those controlled, well-rehearsed words. How often you’ve practiced them, over and over in your mind, so that when you had the opportunity, they could come pouring out.

Any questioning, however slight, you accept as a challenge to your—oops! I mean, the Church’s authority—and you grasp the handle bars of your wingèd intellectual vehicle even more tightly, as you careen into your opponent with astonishing precision and speed, knocking them off their high horse—splat! face-down on the pavement where they belong. Of course, the gleam in your eye and the tight smiling lips are consistent all the way. You do not betray the slightest lack of nerve. You know that you’re right. You know that they know that you know you are right. That’s all that matters, really. They invited themselves here. It’s your forum. They are your guests. Like the heaven that treats the myriad creatures as straw dogs, you have shown your mettle.

We all want to be right. We all want recognition somehow, for whatever it is we think we’re proud of, whether it’s something as mundane as our good looks (is that really mundane?) or something as sublime as the creed we hold, whether it is Godly or the opposite. Our own brains are a fertile field for the sowing of our thoughts and desires, and we make them come up the way we want them to, or so we think. We get our house in order and we receive our guests with contingent hospitality, to show off our treasures, humbly laying them at their feet, so they may worship us with a clear conscience, and we can be self-effacing as we pass them another refreshment, more chunks of our own flesh, or our blue blood to drink.

I am a Christian. I belong to an ancient church. I confess and try to practice an ancient faith. I keep my door unlocked to the stranger, but there are some to whom I cannot unlock it, because I am just a man, and what they might require of me is that I give as God gives. Perish the thought. I am just a man, Lord, just a stupid man! Ask my wife, my friends, they’ll tell you. I am worthless. Yet I keep pretending to be someone I am not. I escape one trap of conceit to fall headlong into another, and while I am burning my neighbor’s house down to save him from his worldliness, I find that my bridges have been burned. Who was it working behind my back? Was it that ancient One, the only Lover of mankind? He is so unfair. Why can’t He leave me alone, so that I can make myself out to be the Solomon of the thousand lusty love chants, at once wise and voluptuous?

A spectacled older gentleman standing surrounded by his admiring students, almost three generations of them, never having learned the lesson that love conquers all, even our own vain hearts, our useless, suffocating knowledge, or our pretended wisdom, and instead, promotes himself under a thousand masks, hoping to brand his greatness on yet another generation’s unmarked hide, so they will remember him with awe, how he vanquished the infidels, the antagonists of the truth, and established once again the triumph of Orthodoxy. Now, we don’t need to pray as we sing the words, ‘Soson, Kyrie, ton laón Sou…’ Save, O Lord, Your people, because his invincible wisdom, his teaching, has secured the faith and those confessing it against all its enemies. We can sing now, just to follow the tradition, to live in the luxury of the world-conquering faith. Nothing more to do.

Man has closed the door on God, so he can be heard better as he talks about Him. Once they made Him out to be a great Craftsman working on a gigantic clockwork, and having assembled it, and wound it up, gave Him permission to go away and leave it to continue ticking forever. Now they were free to not talk about Him anymore, for what was the need? This time around, we bring Him back to animate our discussions, tying Him hand and foot by our ease, gagging Him with our mouthsome words, deafening ourselves from the voice of many waters heard by the eager ears of John the Revelator, so that we can hear ourselves better, and glorify Him by our works, so that men, seeing them, will glorify us in return. Not without cause does the tree-bound Lord cry out, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ and though we no longer tremble at it, pant His parting prayer, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Life as it is

Forgive me, brethren, for this is a very long word, and I forgive you too, if you decide to pass on it, and I especially thank you, if you turn it off and go read your bible.

I don't know why, but I am thinking about human mortality today, as you will see from the posts I published, and the poem I recently wrote, Inevitable Gate. I reminded myself that the Obon お盆 festival will be soon taking place at the Oregon Buddhist Temple, and that’s an event I like to attend, or at least visit even briefly. The following reflections were written after my visit to the Obon festival last year.

The temple itself has made a complete cultural shift to American religious ways: The sanctuary is a converted Protestant church with a raised stage at the front, and pews, complete with prayer books and hymn books in racks on the back sides, a piano at the front, even a Buddhist flag on the right, and an American flag on the left. The Buddhist flag looked something like the rainbow flag of the ‘diversity’ movement, but the stripes go the other way, both ways actually. That’s really diverse!

This temple follows the largest Buddhist sect in Japan, the Jōdo Shinshū 浄土真宗, or ‘True Pure Land School.’ I started going to the Obon festival because of seeing it in a Karate Kid movie years ago, and I’ve also been attracted to East Asia for most of my life, at least from my teen years. The Obon festival is something like Memorial Day, or the Christian feast of All Souls. It’s about remembering and honoring the ancestors.

I quote from the handout I received at this year’s festival…

The origin of Obon is traced to Buddhist legend. One of Buddha’s disciples, Mogallana, was concerned about the whereabouts of his deceased mother. With his extraordinary sensory powers, Mogallana saw that his mother was suffering in the realm of the Hungry Ghosts. In sympathy, he sent her some food, but when she tried to eat, the food burst into flames. Mogallana went to the Buddha for help. The Buddha told him to bring offerings of food to the monks who were in retreat for a period of meditation and study during the monsoon season. On the 15th day of the 7th month, Mogallana brought the offerings to the monks. Upon doing this, Mogallana saw that his mother’s sufferings were relieved. He was so happy that he danced with joy. Everyone around him joined in his dancing.

In the Jodo Shinshu sect of Buddhism, we do not believe in ghosts. We see this legend as an example of the joy one experiences in seeing life and death clearly. An important part of this joy is to remember and appreciate those who have gone before us. Obon is a time when relatives and friends visit gravesites and columbariums of loved ones. Offerings of flowers and incense are made and special temple services are conducted.

Obon is a joyous time that expresses an acceptance of life as it is.
It is a Celebration of Joy.

I can tell that this is exactly what Obon is to the Japanese, a celebration of joy, because their happiness, expressed even in comical and slapstick ways untypical of ordinary Japanese behavior, is so very obvious. Like many things in Asian culture, we sometimes come upon what we least expect. It would be like seeing someone break dancing at a funeral dinner. We are so solemn in the presence or the memory of death. For many Asians, it’s different. And that surprises me, in view of the fact that they have no certainty about the state after death, or do they?
When I read what they wrote, that “Obon is a joyous time that expresses an acceptance of life as it is,” it made me ask myself just what people think life and death are. We think we know what life is, and some of us think we know what death is as well, and in detail. I’ve always been attracted to and intrigued by what poet Walt Whitman wrote,

I wish I could translate the hints about the dead young men and women,
And the hints about old men and mothers, and the offspring taken soon out of their laps.
What do you think has become of the young and old men?
And what do you think has become of the women and children?
They are alive and well somewhere,
The smallest sprout shows there is really no death,
And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it,
And ceas'd the moment life appear'd.

All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.

Has any one supposed it lucky to be born?
I hasten to inform him or her it is just as lucky to die, and I know it.
I pass death with the dying and birth with the new-wash'd babe,
And am not contain'd between my hat and boots…

Two lines in particular speak to me, each in a different way, “to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier,” and “[I] am not contain'd between my hat and boots.”

The first speaks with a hopeful voice, the second with defiance. I don’t know about uncle Walt, but for me it is the indefatigable, undefeatable fact of the resurrection of Christ that loads each of these lines with meaning. Reading his entire book ‘between the lines’ I hazard a guess that uncle Walt could only have written as he did, had he known the One that we confess as Jesus Christ. Perhaps he didn’t confess Him openly, simply because he was, after all, a Quaker, one of those who hold Christ too precious to try to imprint Him directly on others’ minds, being satisfied to drop hints here and there by their actions more than their words.

Back to what grabbed me in the festival handout, the phrase “an acceptance of life as it is,” and laying aside now my musings, what is the hard rock reality of this saying?

It seems to me that one word from Jesus is more than enough to cut the question to the quick. “The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matthew 6:22-23 KJV).

In Greek, single is απλους (aplús), evil is πονηρός (ponirós), related to the word πόνος (pónos), pain, and therefore they are an unusual pair to be contrasted. The normal word in Greek for evil or wicked is κακός (kakós), and we note that πονηρός is Christ’s word to designate satan, ‘the evil one,’ at the end of the Lord’s Prayer, απο του πονηρου, ‘[deliver us] from the evil one.

What ‘life as it is’ can only mean is ‘what we see of it.’
Hence the word of Jesus, speaking of that eye which can be single, or can be diseased (as another translation has it). Every human soul is desperately seeking joy and is quick to fasten it onto anything that gives at least a little hope, even to nonsensical things. Whole cultures can be animated by a single thought, like that single eye, and the same is true of the diseased thought, like that diseased eye.

It’s pitiful to seek and convince oneself to find joy in pain, in what causes the ultimate pain, πονηρός, and that is, death, because you cannot see its opposite, that which is απλους, and that is life, the single life that gives true and even eternal life to the world. Yet, even in this pitiful state, people dream dreams that give waking hints of the real ‘life as it is,’ which still eludes them.
Why does it elude them? They’re afraid to really awaken.

“Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”

Ephesians 5:14 NIV
It’s ironic how the one form of Buddhism which has become the largest in Japan so minutely mimics the truth that is in Christ. So much of true doctrine is already there in a foreign garb.

What makes it foreign? The culture?

No, not at all. It’s the substitution of a myth for the reality. It’s much the same in India, where the monotheistic but mythological religion of Lord Krishna has evolved or perhaps even received theological truth but attaches it and attributes it to a mythic god who may never have actually existed. Certainly, there was a man called Buddha in history, and so also was there a man called Shinran 親鸞, the monk of the Tendai school who founded the Jodo Shinshu sect.

This Pure Land religion of Amida Buddha, a mythic being who never existed, mimics the theology of Christianity. Other Buddhists try to attain liberation by jiriki 自力 (self-power), in Christian terms, works. The Pure Land Buddhists insist that man is too hopelessly corrupt and sinful, and must rely on tariki 他力 (other power), in Christian terms, grace.

Pure Land Buddhism is considered the ‘easy path’ because one is not compelled to perform many difficult, and often esoteric, practices in order to attain higher and higher mental states. Jesus said, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29 NIV). He really said this, because He really exists.
All the various esoteric practices of the other Buddhists are considered useless to the followers of Shinran. Only the constant remembrance of Amida Buddha, especially by repeating his name (though not as a work, only as an offering of thanks to him), will bring salvation, entrance into the Pure Land. Again, holy apostle Paul writes, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). In essence, the monk Shinran had come to the very same conclusion about mankind’s sin as had the apostle Paul. His only mistake was not knowing Whose grace, Whose tariki, it was that would bring him and his followers to the Pure Land, Paradise.

This is not a condemnation of Buddhism or the Japanese culture, but a testimony that the Word of God is He who enlightens all men, as holy apostle John declares in his gospel. There is nothing in Buddhism or any other religion that is seeking joy that is inimical to the gospel. In fact, it is the gospel, the good news, and that alone, which is ‘the desire of the ages,’ of all people, in all times. All the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve cry out with the same voice, “Save us!” and all to the same Holy and Mighty and Immortal, the Being, even when they do not know Who He is. And He hears their cry, and He calls out to them, “I am coming!” and to us, “Whom shall I send?” As the Lord Jesus commands, “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Matthew 9:38).

He is the completion and the fulfillment of every people’s ‘old testament’ and will take each one up to glory with Him on high, but only when they allow their past to die, so that He can raise it and them to Life immortal. That is when they will finally be able to really see ‘Life as He is.’

Bring me to life

Are you afraid of death?
If you are, you are afraid to confess your faith in Christ the Lord!
It means that your faith is not strong and your prayer is not strong, that your soul has been lulled to sleep by the littleness of your faith, by the half-heartedness of your faith, or by your lack of faith.

Arise, you who are asleep in your soul.
Arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light and eternal justice, and through them eternal life as well.
And then you, like an immortal valiant hero, will turn to battle all the deaths which in this world are storming your soul, and you will utterly vanquish them forever.



Bring Me To Life

How can You see into my eyes like open doors
leading You down into my core
where I’ve become so numb without a soul
my spirit sleeping somewhere cold
until You find it there and lead it back home

(Wake me up)
Wake me up inside
(I can’t wake up)
Wake me up inside
(Save me)
Call my name and save me from the dark
(Wake me up)
Bid my blood to run
(I can’t wake up)
Before I come undone
(Save me)
Save me from the nothing I’ve become

Now that I know what I’m without
You can't just leave me
Breathe into me and make me real
Bring me to life

(Wake me up)
Wake me up inside
(I can’t wake up)
Wake me up inside
(Save me)
Call my name and save me from the dark
(Wake me up)
Bid my blood to run
I can’t wake up)
Before I come undone
(Save me)
Save me from the nothing I’ve become
Bring me to life
(I've been living a lie, there's nothing inside)
Bring me to life

Frozen inside without Your touch
without Your love
Darling only You are the life among the dead
All this time I can't believe I couldn't see
kept in the dark
but You were there in front of me
I’ve been sleeping a thousand years it seems
got to open my eyes to everything
without a thought without a voice without a soul

Don't let me die here
There must be something more
Bring me to life

(Wake me up)
Wake me up inside
(I can’t wake up)
Wake me up inside
(Save me)
Call my name and save me from the dark
(Wake me up)
Bid my blood to run
(I can’t wake up)
Before I come undone
(Save me)
Save me from the nothing I’ve become
(Bring me to life)
I’ve been living a lie, there’s nothing inside
(Bring me to life)

He opens the tombs

When you hear that at that time the Lord freed the souls from hell and the regions of darkness and that He descended into hell and did an amazing work, do not think that this does not have any personal meaning for you.

Man, indeed, can readily accept the evil one. Death has its grip on the children of Adam and their thoughts are imprisoned in darkness. And when you hear mention made of tombs, do not at once think only of visible ones. For your heart is a tomb and a sepulcher. When the prince of evil and his angels have built their nest there and have built roads and highways on which the powers of satan walk about inside your mind and in your thoughts, then really, are you not a hell and a sepulcher and a tomb dead to God?

... But the Lord descends into the souls of those who seek Him. He goes into the depths of the hellish heart and there He commands death, saying, "Release those captive souls that seek after Me, those that you hold by force in bondage." He breaks through the heavy stones that cover the soul. He opens the tombs. He truly raises to life the dead person and leads that captive soul forth out of the dark prison.

Inevitable gate


Die at Vrndávan, die at Práyag,
die where Ganga is born,
or where she flows,
or die where she meets her lover the sea.

Die at Makkah,
or at Yerushaláyim,
or in a cave on Holy Athos,
or where heaven meets earth,
a mountain no one can see.

It is only a meeting at the inevitable gate.
He will not carry you away like a thimble tied with string,
for she makes her request.

Faithfulness has its reward,
a power that breaks the claims of Death,
Yama cannot resist, for his prison has been imprisoned.

Lightning strikes, shining from east to west,
returning from west to east,
to earth itself in the soil of the heart,
making holy ground.

To die is different from what anyone expected,
and luckier,
and the place of death
lovelier than any choice can arrange.

— Romanós

Monday, July 25, 2011

When I survey the wondrous cross…

The title of this post is the first line of the favorite of hymn of the man of God, Matthew Bigliardi, Episcopal bishop of Western Oregon. I will never forget how he came to conduct a revival service at my little parish of Saint Andrew on Portland's north side thirty years ago. He was a humble man, yet courageous and bold as a lion in taking captives for Jesus Christ. His letters in the church newspaper read like the New Testament epistles. He knew how to say Yes to God, and No to the world, even when that world, in the form of the Episcopal establishment, smilingly started cornering him for the kill. That he would not ordain women as priests was only one of his aberrations in their eyes. They thought he needed help, so they forced him to agree to the ordination of a bishop co-adjutor, just to help him out of course—just to help him out of a job. Within a few months, he was forced into retirement and sent packing into exile in California, where he shortly reposed. Bishop Matthew Bigliardi, man of God, whose symbol was the honeybee—they were embroidered all over his vestments, with honeycomb in the margins—May his memory be eternal.

Reading the following passage on the taking up of one's cross reminded me of this great bishop. This is what Charles Spurgeon writes about the cross, which I have borrowed from the blog Marks of Authentic Mission. My Christian brother in Northern Ireland, Andrew Kenny, has many other good things on his blog.
Check it out.

Take up the cross, and follow Me.
Mark 10:21

YOU have not the making of your own cross, although unbelief is a master carpenter at cross-making; neither are you permitted to choose your own cross, although self-will would fain be lord and master; but your cross is prepared and appointed for you by divine love, and you are cheerfully to accept it; you are to take up the cross as your chosen badge and burden, and not to stand judging it too severely. This day Jesus bids you submit your shoulder to His easy yoke. Do not kick at it in petulance, or trample on it in vain-conceit, or fall under it in despair, or run away from it in fear, but take it up like a true follower of Jesus. Jesus was a cross-bearer; He leads the way in the path of sorrow. Surely you could not desire a better guide! And if He carried a cross, what nobler burden would you desire? The Via Crucis is the way of safety; fear not to tread its thorny paths.

Beloved, the cross is not made of feathers, or lined with velvet, it is heavy and galling to disobedient shoulders; but it is not an iron cross, though your fears have painted it with iron colours, it is a wooden cross, and a man can carry it, for the Man of sorrows tried the load. Take up your cross, and by the power of the Spirit of God you will soon be so in love with it, that like Moses, you would not exchange the reproach of Christ for all the treasures of Egypt. Remember that Jesus carried it, and it will smell sweetly; remember that it will soon be followed by the crown, and the thought of the coming weight of glory will greatly lighten the present heaviness of trouble.

The Lord help you to bow your spirit in submission to the divine will before you fall asleep this night, that waking with tomorrow's sun, you may go forth to the day's cross with the holy and submissive spirit which bec
omes a follower of the Crucified.

— Charles Spurgeon, man of God (1834-92)

Your Word is Truth

Books of science fiction, especially from the 1960’s and ’70’s, tend to wander into fantasy about alternative religions, as they are mirrors of the real world in which they arise, where any religion is superior to the simple truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Why is that? Because mankind is a religious animal, and we are by nature shocked and offended by a God who becomes one of us precisely to put religion to death.

And so, these novels tend to promote religions, many of which resemble those we already know on earth, especially Buddhism, which seems to be a favorite. But religion is always only man’s best shot at escaping the horrible mess we find ourselves in, because we can’t accept that to escape our predicament—sin—means death to us, death to the world as we know it. So we take our best shot at whatever it is we’re searching for.

Buddhism is man’s best shot at achieving some kind of personal inner peace, if not salvation, given that there is either no God, or He is far too big and busy to deal with us.

Hinduism is man’s best shot at achieving some kind of personal safety, now and possibly in future lives, by satisfying the need for worship of the myriad hypersomatic beings, devas, that invisibly infest the human world.

Islam is man’s best shot at achieving some level of moralistic order in society for the masses, and justification for the immoral excesses of a select few, at the cost of a total denial of human freedom, while promising an otherworldly reward for the surrendered, and threatening thisworldly punishment for the unsurrendered.

Judaism is man’s best shot at achieving some kind of personal salvation, and a sense of righteousness, given that the only God has chosen the people of a certain lineage, to which they belong, to bring everyone to a knowledge of Him, while remaining outside His promises.

Christianity is man’s best shot at achieving some kind of personal salvation, with the least possible commitment to righteous living or self-sacrifice, by formal adherence to or membership in religious associations, while trampling on the call of the one they call Lord.

In the wasteland that is this world, I have waited, and been fortunate to have met two or three followers of Jesus who stand firmly on the Word of God, keep their lamps lit, remain vigilant, wait on the voice of Jesus at every moment and desire to do what He commands, and are willing to suffer for the sake of His name.
I didn’t look for them.
I waited, and He sent them.

And I too can only hope to be one of them, by continuing to open my door when He knocks and to welcome Him into my house, which I want to be His.

Help me, Lord, to seek not my own, but Your will alone, and to be willing to accept everything that happens to me at Your hands, for You alone are the lover of mankind, and Your Word is truth.

I bless You, Lord, at the assemblies.
Psalm 26:12

Witness


O’ of what salvation do you boast
One that any man can work out!
You flee from youthful lust,
And yes you should,
You also fight those thoughts,
The ones that shame you most,
But can you dig deep within,
And though you do not sin,
Can you bring purity within?

All works of man,
Like white washed tombs,
Lively as it might seem,
Just lifeless bones within!
The way I talk, the way I walk
I can polish my outside,
But who can tear the flesh apart
And bring purity inside?

I can hide the thoughts I have
By actions that seem so righteous;
The grinding of my teeth
To be mistaken for a smile;
I can clench my fist in anger
But cross my hands behind;
I can seem so much better
Than one whose anger killed a man;
But on that great and terrible day,
When all the dead shall rise,
I will need to answer for my anger,
No more any place to hide,
With the killed and the killer,
Standing side by side.

You who sing of an empty grave
To prove your saviour lives,
I who once was an empty sepulchre
Decked up and called a wonder,
I who was a wretched sinner,
Till by grace I did surrender,
This life I live, my greatest proof
My saviour once dead, now lives.

The Postman

1 Timothy 1:16 But for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show forth all long-suffering, as a pattern to those being about to believe on Him to life everlasting.

Our salvation is not a life which we could have lived by ourselves, but something which was impossible for us, but is becoming a reality by God's grace working in us.

That the LIFE of JESUS may be manifested in each and every aspect of our walking, talking, thinking and doing. My life should be the proof that Jesus lives.

Two Sorrows

Myself, I have nothing to say right now, pushing my way through some dense forest, to find the source of that Light up ahead, because I know Who is waiting for me there. But I heard my friend speaking these words from his heart, and they strengthened me. I needed to hear this just now. Perhaps this poem will speak comfort to you as well. It is entitled…

Two Sorrows

Regret not that sorrow coming from heavenly places
Such as this bears the fruit of repentance and life

But resist at every turn the sorrow of the world
Within it is the seed of despair and the bloom of death

The Father’s hand preserves all things in Christ
Such a preservation as this calls joyous, sorrow

Each hair counted even when cut
Each foot washed though filthy
Each wound cleansed of corruption
Each sight cured in blindness
Each hand held though frail
Each heart healed with tears

Is it better for us to live deaf from our sins all our days
Or be given words that stab our lungs and steal our breath?

Blessed is the sister that gives such words kindly
Cursed is the brother whose weak tongue fails him

He who has from the days of Cain comforted sinners downcast
Will send myrrh-bearers with their fragrant oils to your door

— David Dickens, Nothing Hypothetical

We die with gratitude

The two Christian girls waited in the Chinese prison yard for the announced execution. A fellow prisoner who watched the scene from his prison cell described their faces as pale but beautiful beyond belief; infinitely sad but sweet. Humanly speaking, they were fearful. But Chiu-Chin-Hsiu and Ho-Hsiu-Tzu had decided to submit to death without renouncing their faith.

Flanked by renegade guards, the executioner came with a revolver in his hand. It was their own pastor! He had been sentenced to die with the two girls. But, as on many other occasions in Church history, the persecutors worked on him, tempting him. They promised to release him if he would shoot the girls. He accepted.

The girls whispered to each other, then bowed respectfully before their pastor. One of them said, "Before you shoot us, we wish to thank you heartily for what you have meant to us. You baptized us, you taught us the ways of eternal life, you gave us holy communion with the same hand in which you now hold the gun.

"You also taught us that Christians are sometimes weak and commit terrible sins, but they can be forgiven again. When you regret what you are about to do to us, do not despair like Judas, but repent like Peter. God bless you, and remember that our last thought was not one of indignation against your failure. Everyone passes through hours of darkness.

"May God reward you for all the good you have done to us.
We die with gratitude."


They bowed again. The pastor's heart was hardened. He shot the girls. Afterwards, he was shot by the Communists.

—dc Talk, Jesus Freaks, Volume I, Martyrs, pp. 109-110.

Lord, have mercy

The real world is just too real for us.
We cannot see, and we lose our way.

The father of Anders Breivik, a Norwegian man who went on a rampage and killed seventy-six persons, declares publicly and reiterates that his son should have committed suicide rather than kill all those innocent people.

Yes, commit suicide, my son, and spare those innocent people.
Words spoken too late, words spoken too little, not words of wisdom but of despair. Where there is no faith, the impossible happens.
What father says this to a son?

He disowns his son in full view of the world. Disowns what son?
From his manse in the south of France, not Norway, he can formally give up a son that he abandoned at age one, disassociating himself from the fruit of his life.

An apple never falls far from the tree. What are you hiding, Mr Breivik senior? What would you flee from, you who would not kill seventy-six innocents? It was only one that you did not kill but sentenced to a certain death. Yes, flee, but to what refuge?

How blessed are the merciful, for mercy shall be shown them.
Lord, have mercy on Your world.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Ha-Shamáyim

The perfection of anything solely human
consists in the fact that it must end.

The perfection and the glory of anything Divine
consist not in the fact that it has no end,
but that it has no beginning.

The raising of Lazarus from death was made perfect
when he died again.

The raising of Christ from death was made perfect
when He rose to die no more.

He not only opens to us the doors of paradise,
but shows us how we in Him were always there,
that we had no beginning as well as no ending,
that we were never solely human
but always partakers of the Divine nature.


The captive is soon to be set free; he will not die in a deep dungeon nor will his bread run out. I am Yahweh your God who stirs the sea, making its waves roar, my name is Yahweh Sabaoth. I put my words into your mouth, I hid you in the shadow of my hand, when I spread out the heavens and laid the earth's foundations and said to Zion, ‘You are my people.’
Isaiah 51:14-16 Jerusalem Bible

Friday, July 22, 2011

Instructed by your works

…and pray without ceasing in behalf of other men. For there is in them the hope of repentance that they may attain to God. See, then, that they be instructed by your works, if in no other way. Be meek in response to their wrath, humble in opposition to their boasting: to their blasphemies return your prayers; in contrast to their error, be steadfast in the faith; and for their cruelty, manifest your gentleness.

While we take care not to imitate their conduct, let us be found their brethren in all true kindness; and let us seek to be followers of the Lord—who ever more unjustly treated, more destitute, more condemned?—that no plant of the devil may be found in you, but that you may remain in all holiness and sobriety in Jesus Christ, both with respect to the flesh and the spirit.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Strange mercy

Recently I have become interested in the history of my family and our ancestral country, Poland, which until the aftermath of World War I had been deprived of nationhood for about a hundred and twenty years, being divided unequally between Prussia, Austria and Russia. My ancestors came from all three divisions, and in reading an old book, a sort of journal written by a Danish academic describing the living conditions of the country during the last decades of the 19th century, precisely the era in which my grandparents left Poland for America, I am beginning to understand what drove them to leave their beloved homeland.
Conditions, especially in Russian Poland, were severe beyond modern sensibilities. Imagine, being forbidden under pain of harsh punishment, to speak your native language in public, or of being told, as a child in school by a teacher speaking a foreign language, that you were not a Pole, that there is no such thing, and that you are a Russian. The author of this book, George Brandes, has no reason to misreport what he saw. He was sympathetic to their plight, but had no propaganda motive in writing his book. It was simply a description of life as it was at the time. Those are the best history books, in my opinion, usually free from historical bias, and sometimes precious because they reveal the author’s heart in the matters described.


Two descriptions, one of a Polish man who was an utter scoundrel, and one of a fallen woman, caught my attention as examples of strange mercy. I want to share them with you, as a glimpse of another, vanished world, a different expression of Christianity.

A young man of good family ran into debt to the amount of 80,000 rubles, borrowed of all his relatives, impoverished them at last, and carried it so far that he borrowed of everyone he met, of strange ladies, of ladies of his own country whom he met abroad in a hotel; he did not despise even a loan of five or ten rubles. Finally, when he had not a copeck left, he entered a monastery in Paris as a novice. There was general edification in his family. A short time after, he writes home to a pious old aunt, explains to her that each of the other brothers has given the monastery a sum of money, and begs her urgently to advance him a small sum, only 6000 roubles, so that the other monks should not despise him. As soon as he receives the money, he leaves the monastery, travels at full speed to America, spends the sum to the last penny, returns to France, becomes a monk again, and is to-day one of the most popular father-confessors in Paris.

The following incident from real life shows a variation on the same type, and illustrates at the same time peculiarities of Polish character of an entirely different kind.

A rich lady of the Polish aristocracy, very austere and demure in her whole conduct, peacefully and, as it is called, happily, married, who had a worthy husband, a beautiful home, and who had never been in love before, seemed to fall under a spell when she became acquainted with a certain elegant young nobleman. She abandoned husband and children, house and home, and allowed herself to be carried off to Paris under a forged passport. The young man was kind to her for about a week, then, gradually sold all her articles of value and ornaments, locked her up when he went out to amuse himself with the money, and soon left her so completely in the lurch that, stripped of everything, she was compelled to write to her mother for aid. Her mother brought her home, and her husband declared that he was willing to take her back again on the condition that she first kneeled down at the threshold of the house and asked pardon of all, even the servants, for the bad example she had given. She submitted, and he has never since said a reproachful word to her, or recalled the past by any allusion.
— George Brandes,
Poland, A Study of the Land, People and Literature, 1903, pp. 62-63

I have nothing to add except that I know the spirit of forbearance and mercy that the husband had. I know that his love must have been very great, because of the last sentence in the story, that he ‘never since said a reproachful word to her, or recalled the past by any allusion.’ That is something very, very hard to do for most people. I have known a few who have been able to do it, and that, even more than any formal statement of forgiveness, is the proof of real pardon. This is the kind of forgiveness that only God can show, and only those who follow His command at all costs.

Counterfeit of love


War is sweet when brothers stick together,
and bitter, when every man is for himself.
Faith is fake when men manipulate the scripture,
but when they let it form them, firmly fruitful.

This is the proof of scriptures.
What book, when men obey it, brings grace and peace,
but hate and war when they surrender to it all?
Yet either, only worshiped, slips men’s souls.

Beauty, and the body, incite to love
that enters by the eyes and departs the same,
that is no love, but feeling and self pleasing.

Love, and the soul, incite to beauty,
that enters by the heart and does not gray,
that keeps its youth and knows no age.

Lost to pleasure only, enslaved by need,
devouring flesh, burnt up in the fire of passion,
the memory infected yields life for death.

Counterfeit of love, it blinds its victims,
making dark seem bright,
but love, it dies as it is seeded,
and rises to be harvested as light.

— Romanós


Fire that burns not,
our Creator, we contain.
As your Mother let us be,
Fueled of myrrh with flowers crimson;
Fragrance writ-cross world's four winds
And so grant not slumber, but to wake!

Together

‘I was born a Christian, and I will die a Christian.’ That has been the defiant confession of many a new martyr under the Turkish yoke over the centuries—men and women who were Christians, usually Orthodox, who somehow were coerced into accepting the Islamic religion, and who later openly renounced it, and with these words went to their deaths.

I can say the same words, and mean what I say, but not with the same effect. I was ‘born a Christian,’ that is, I was born into a Christian family, a family that had been Christian for possibly a thousand years, maybe longer. As a baby, my mother took me to the little church in the basement of a Catholic convent in Chicago, and had me ‘christened.’

That christening didn’t guarantee my salvation, didn’t make me a Christian in reality but in potential, placing me in an environment in which I would be raised in the knowledge and, hopefully, the love of God. Mine wasn’t a perfect upbringing—far from it—but it provided an indelible basis to my life, my thoughts, my feelings, that made faith possible.

Yes, I know about believer’s baptism, and I don’t have a problem with it, but I am with those who believe in the baptism not only of individuals, but of families, yes, even tribes, even whole nations. ‘Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don't remember if I baptized anyone else,’ writes the holy apostle Paul, whose call was preaching, not baptising.

The Christian family. One father, one mother, many children, living together according to the Word of God, following the commandments, teaching the faith to one another by love, protecting, nourishing, injuring but forgiving, remaining one, staying together, even if the walls are blown down by the tempest, the foundations shattered by the tremors, of life.

‘Even if we lose everything, we’ll still have each other, wandering as gypsies if we have too,’ we used to say. The family is more than the house it lives in. So also, I read last night in an old copy of the Anglican Digest that I saved from my first years as a Christian, ‘The Church is what’s left after the building burns down.’ How true! because the Church is the greater family.

What else is the Christian faith for, if not for this? ‘The only purpose of this instruction is that there should be love, coming out of a pure heart, and clear conscience, and a sincere faith’ (1 Timothy 1:5). To make a home in this exile world for the nomads of the Most-High God, a home that is not tied to time or place, but moves with the family as it follows the marching orders, ‘When the cloud moves, we move.’

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

What do I mean by these words


What do I mean by these words
which contradict each other?
What is this course I am counseling
that seems to lead nowhere sound?

These words,
like sparks spraying
from the sharpening wheel,
while what really is the matter
is shaped and sharpened,

they only indicate,
not the direction of my soul
nor advice to any,
but there is a wheel turning,
and one fashioning a tool
somewhere.

Again, seek,
stopping to undo your shoes,
the holy mountain,
and then cease,
dropping to your knees
beside the stream
that issues from the root
of an enormous tree,
flowering and bearing fruit
like a luscious fountain,
and know this — unlike my poems,
this is no dream,
only attainable ingress
into living eternity.

Leave behind all the talk
lavishing your spirit.
Approach the source of song,
more searing as you near it.

After words,
return to your proper place and peel
the skin from your eyes
that were so draped and darkened.

They only vindicate,
not the inspection of your soul
nor the price of plenty,
but Wisdom is wild,
learning does not languish
in its lair.

Where have you been by your own words,
my sister or my brother?
Take your resourcefulness querying
beyond me to holy ground.


—Romanós

שִׁירוּ לַיהוָה שִׁיר חָדָשׁ

Psalms for the 20th Day (Hebrew)
97 98 99 100 101 102 103

מִזְמוֹר, שִׁירוּ לַיהוָה שִׁיר חָדָשׁ-- כִּי-נִפְלָאוֹת עָשָׂה
הוֹשִׁיעָה-לּוֹ יְמִינוֹ, וּזְרוֹעַ קָדְשׁוֹ
הוֹדִיעַ יְהוָה, יְשׁוּעָתוֹ; לְעֵינֵי הַגּוֹיִם, גִּלָּה צִדְקָתוֹ
זָכַר חַסְדּוֹ, וֶאֱמוּנָתוֹ-- לְבֵית יִשְׂרָאֵל
רָאוּ כָל-אַפְסֵי-אָרֶץ-- אֵת, יְשׁוּעַת אֱלֹהֵינוּ
הָרִיעוּ לַיהוָה, כָּל-הָאָרֶץ; פִּצְחוּ וְרַנְּנוּ וְזַמֵּרוּ
זַמְּרוּ לַיהוָה בְּכִנּוֹר; בְּכִנּוֹר, וְקוֹל זִמְרָה
בַּחֲצֹצְרוֹת, וְקוֹל שׁוֹפָר-- הָרִיעוּ, לִפְנֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ יְהוָה
יִרְעַם הַיָּם, וּמְלֹאוֹ; תֵּבֵל, וְיֹשְׁבֵי בָהּ
נְהָרוֹת יִמְחֲאוּ-כָף; יַחַד, הָרִים יְרַנֵּנוּ
לִפְנֵי יְהוָה-- כִּי בָא, לִשְׁפֹּט הָאָרֶץ
יִשְׁפֹּט-תֵּבֵל בְּצֶדֶק; וְעַמִּים, בְּמֵישָׁרִים

I really cannot help myself; I love the Hebrew psalms, more and more as I read them more and more. They express so much in so few words. They are truly a literary and spiritual masterpiece. As for their sounds, the cadence of words, the rhyme of thoughts, to read them aloud refreshes body and soul, and rejoices the spirit that God has put into man. They are truly the heart of the holy and divine scripture. Nothing can be added to them, nothing taken away. One approaches them in poverty, and departs from them rich. One arrives dead in sin, and takes leave alive. The blind man receives his sight. The cripple recovers the use of his limbs. Going away one is never empty-handed or hard-hearted. Though we sometimes approach offeringless, we come away laden with blessing.

Psalm 98 – Mizmór Tzádde Chet

Mizmór,
Shíru l’Adonáy shir chadásh, ki nifla’ót ‘asáh;
hoshí‘ah lo y’minó uz’róa‘ qod’shó.
Hodía‘ ’Adonáy y’shu‘ató,
l’eynéy hagoyím gilláh tzid’qató.
Zakhár chas’dó ve’emunató l’veyt Yisra’él,
ra’ú khol ’afséy ’áretz ét y’shu‘át ’Elohéynu.
Harí‘u l’Adonáy kol ha’áretz,
pitz’chú v’ran’nú v’zamméru.
Zamm’rú l’Adonáy b’khinnór,
b’khinnór v’qol zim’ráh.
bachatzítz’rot v’qol shofár,
harí‘u lifnéy hammélekh ’Adonáy.
Yir‘ám hayyám um’lo’ú,
tevél v’yosh’véy vahh.
N’harót yimcha’ú khaf,
yáchad harím y’rannénu.
Lifnéy ’Adonáy ki va lish’pót ha’áretz;
yish’pót tevél b’tzédeq, v‘ammím b’meysharím.

Sing Yahweh a new song
for He has performed marvels,
His own right hand, His holy arm,
gives Him the power to save.
Yahweh has displayed His power,
has revealed His righteousness to the nations,
mindful of His love and faithfulness
to the house of Israel.
The most distant parts of the earth have seen
the saving power of our God.
Acclaim Yahweh, all the earth,
burst into shouts of joy!
Sing to Yahweh, sing to the music of harps,
and to the sound of many instruments;
to the sound of trumpet and horn
acclaim Yahweh the King!
Let the sea thunder and all that it holds,
and the world, with all who live in it;
let all the rivers clap their hands
and the mountains shout for joy,
at the presence of Yahweh, for He comes
to judge the earth,
to judge the world with righteousness
and the nations with strict justice.

Το ευαγγέλιον αιώνιον

Και ειδον αλλον αγγελον πετόμενον εν μεσουρανήματι, εχοντα ευαγγέλιον αιώνιον ευαγγελίσαι επι τους καθημένους επι της γης και επι παν εθνος και φυλην και γλωσσαν και λαόν,
λέγων εν φωνη μεγάλη, Φοβήθητε τον Κύριον και δότε αυτω δόξαν, οτι ηλθεν η ωρα της κρίσεως αυτου, και προσκυνήσατε τω ποιήσαντι τον ουρανον και την γην και την θάλασσαν και πηγας υδάτων.


וארא מלאך אחר מעופף במרום הרקיע אשר היה לו בשורת עולם לבשר את ישבי הארץ ואת כל גוי ומשפחה ולשון ועם׃
ויאמר בקול גדול יראו את האלהים והבו לו כבוד כי באה עת משפטו והשתחוו לעשה שמים וארץ את הים ומעינות המים׃

Va’ére mal’ákh ’achér me‘ôphéph bimrôm ha-raqí‘a ’asher hayáh-lô besôrat ‘ôlám l’vassér ’et-yosh’véy ha-’áretz v’et-kol-gôy ûmishpacháh v’lashôn va’ám:
Vayyomer b’qôl gadôl yer’û ’et-’Elohîm v’havû-lô kavód kî va’áh ‘ét mishpatô v’hishtachavû la‘oseh shamàyim va’áretz ’et-hayyám ûma‘yenôt hammáyim:


Then I saw another angel, flying high overhead, sent to announce the Eternal Gospel to all who live on the earth, every nation, race, language and tribe. He was calling, “Fear God and praise Him, because the time has come for Him to sit in judgment; worship the Maker of heaven and earth and sea and every water spring.”
Revelation 14:6-7

The Good News, the Gospel, the Evangélion, there is only one, but because it is the Word that contains all that is, was and is to come, the seen as well as the unseen, the expressible in human language and the inexpressible, we find it described in the Holy Scriptures in various ways, we see its contents never fully but pieces of it here and there. Why? Because the Good News is the life of Christ, the Gospel is our lives in Him, the Evangélion is the summation of all things, all being in Him Who Is. Sounds mystical? Well, it is the Mystery, the Mystírion, the meeting of God and man, of God as Man, and of man in God, but as for it being mystical, no, it is not, at least not in the way that people think.

There is only one Good News (cf. Galatians 1:7), and though it reaches us in various times and places (cf. Hebrews 1:1-4), expressed in parts, all of these parts form a single whole (cf. Ephesians 4:16), which clothe the soul gradually, dressing us up in what becomes our wedding garment (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:3), eventually clothing us in the Bridegroom Himself (cf. Galatians 3:27), as the Bride is enfolded by Him and folds into Him. Again, it is the Mystery. ‘My Beloved is mine, and I am His. He pastures His flock among the lilies’
(Song of Songs 2:16).

The first words of the Good News are spoken by an angel standing on the earth (cf. Luke 1:26-38) before the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David (cf. Revelation 5:5) is sown in the fruitful field of the Virgin Daughter of Israel, and they are spoken to her alone. The last words of the Good News are spoken by an angel ‘flying high overhead’ before the Day of Judgment begins for the whole world, and they are spoken to everyone who lives on earth, ‘every nation, race, language and tribe’ (Revelation 14:6).

Between the words ‘Rejoice, so highly favored!’ and ‘Fear God and praise Him’ the door to heaven has been flung open, the gates of paradise have been unlocked, ‘the blind see again, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, the Good News is proclaimed to the poor’ (Luke 7:22). This is the Day of Redemption, the Day of the Good News, the acceptable Day of the Lord. Why? Because between the first and last words the Eternal Gospel, we have been granted this time to enter into the Living Word.

Brethren, let us enter into the Living Word and, casting aside all worldly cares, receive and be received by the King of All. The ikons are scenes from the book of Revelation painted in the portico of Dionysíou Monastery on Mount Athos. To see more of them, as well as other interesting posts, photos and videos of the Holy Mountain, visit the Athos - Agion Oros blog.

Ikons don't lie

That’s a curious notion. I don’t think I’ve ever heard it said that way before, but it’s a statement of a truth that Orthodox Christians take for granted. “Ikons don’t lie,” means something like this: You can depend on an ikon to faithfully represent what is written in the Holy Scriptures, or what we know from the life of the Church in history. Anyone pictured in an ikon has to have existed, not exactly as they are depicted (though often the image is nearer their real appearance than many think). Any thing and any event shown in an ikon has to have existed or taken place. Modern historical critics notwithstanding, we believe what the ikons show us; we accept them as “Gospel truth.”

A limited number of figures in an ikon are known representations of invisibilities. Thrones, Dominations, Sovereignties, Powers,” and other “bodiless powers” (cf. Colossian 1:16 JB), or of intangible yet real entities, “that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray” (Revelation 12:9 NIV). The former are depicted as winged men, winged wheels, flames of fire, and the like; the latter is often shown as a dragon (a mythological monster) or as a dark-hued human. We understand what’s going on. We’re not taken in, we know the reality is there but can’t be shown directly, so we accept what’s been handed over to us.

When a person really understands this, that ikons don’t lie, he can begin to explore the writer’s mind and share in his spiritual vision. (The painter of an ikon is called its writer.) Many people are drawn to Orthodoxy at first because of the ikons, attracted to them by the experience of the holiness of beauty. Hopefully they won’t stop there but, following the path indicated by the ikons, soon come to the beauty of holiness. Ikons are there partly to assist in dividing the wheat from the chaff in us, and among us. This is an invisible winnowing, outside the ken of most of mankind, but it has effects.

Why are ikons so important to the Orthodox?
Why are they considered indispensable?

It’s supposed to have something to do with the Incarnation.

If the invisible, eternal God never came among us, He could not have been depicted—hence, the iconoclasm (ikon-breaking) of the Jews who believe in the pre-incarnate God and cannot conceive of Him any other way. If the Eternal had not come and “pitched His tent” among us, we would indeed be transgressors in depicting Him. As such, in Orthodox ikons, the Father is never depicted, “Not that anyone has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father” (John 6:46 NASB); nor is the Holy Spirit, “The Spirit breatheth where he will; and thou hearest his voice, but thou knowest not whence he cometh, and whither he goeth” (John 3:8 Douay-Rheims). Only the image of a dove, the sign not the appearance of the Holy Spirit, or flames of fire, again a sign of His presence, yet not His face, are shown in the ikons.

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” Jesus answered: “Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?”
John 14:8-9 NIV

Jesus Christ, who is the Word of God before all ages (cf. John 1:1), tells us that to see Him is to see the Father. The holy apostles continue in His teaching, writing “He is the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). All these testimonies are foundational to the Orthodox Christian understanding of ikons. Jesus Christ is the ikon of the Father. We are ikons of Jesus Christ. Whoever honors Jesus Christ, whoever honors the Word of God, honors the Father. Whoever honors human beings, who are ikons of Jesus Christ, honors the Lord. This is the less talked about meaning of ikons.

Why is it less talked about?

Maybe, because it has practical significance. Maybe, because people would rather not admit it.

If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.
1 John 4:20 NIV