Saturday, October 29, 2011

Return to the Throne

Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One… O Father, how alone this feels, yet I hold on to these words, comforting the old man in me! O heavenly Father, O Father of us all, may your Name be held holy! May Your kingdom come and Your will be done here on earth as in the heavens! I thank You, heavenly, holy, high God and Father of my Lord Jesus, my beloved friend and brother … Y’shua!
Father, Abba! How so much has changed! I am afraid that I am not new enough to follow any longer, not strong enough to fall forward. I am still only a Hebrew of the Hebrews, though like a Gentile of the Greeklands I speak this alien tongue, so that we all can know who You are and why he has come. Y’shua, Jesus!

I thank You, Father, for this Sabbath rest. I give thanks to Your mercy, that I have this bed on which to lie and take selah under Your wings in this long pre-dawn darkness of Shabbat. I am grateful to You and to the kind woman who opened her door to me, to us strangers, as we flee the wrath of antichrist and his unholy city. I have labored there long, Father, who knows my every act, word and thought. I thank You, Father, for counting me worthy to suffer for Your Name. This northern autumn’s days are so dark and becoming darker and the nights longer. Are these signs of the times, Lord? Now the beast’s tenth year is upon us, and my heart flees to You, and to a place of refuge, like a bird flies back to its mountain.

Yet I am troubled as I lie here before You on my bed, meditating on Your mercies and Your mighty works, for nothing and no one comes to us without Your will, without Your knowing. Who was he, that beautiful youth, one of the House of Israel, dark hair of head and beard lush and glistening, bright of eye, and amiable of speech, who greeted me on the road, seeing me, an old man no longer Hebrew-kempt, shorn of sidelocks, white mop of hair cropped as an elder of the Greeks? Who was he who with a smile called out, ‘Pou ypageis, kyrie? Where are you going, sir?’ stopping to greet me, as our opposite paths met on the same road? What could I tell him? I was doubly ashamed, as a Jew a Greek, as a Greek a Jew.

He was obviously a Jew, a lover and keeper of Torah, young and full of bright devotion, overflowing with love for fellow man, even for me. You can always tell when a man’s love asks nothing in return, like the sun he shines, like the rain he falls watering every field. He was a Jew, yes, but why would a Jew like that greet me? Like so many others, why did his tefillin not hide me from his eyes? His sidelocks not shield his ears from me? Why did he not take me for a Gentile, and save his greeting for his brothers? But no, he stopped and took selah with me, the two of us standing in the road, with my companions around us, wondering as was I, who is this man? At that moment, he heading into Rome, and we heading out of it.

‘Pou ypageis, kyrie?’ O Lord my God! What was I to say to him? Should I have told him the truth, that I was running away? That would be new to him, but not to myself. When have I not been running away from You, and much closer, from my Lord, Jesus of Nazareth? When have I not been stopped in my tracks by Your words meeting my fearful ears, yet coming at me just the same? When my brother came jubilantly bringing the good news, ‘We have found the Messiah!’ what did I do? Yes, I ran, but at first the other way. It was Jesus who had to call me to him and rename me ‘Rock’, giving me a heavy weight to carry to keep me from fleeing hastily. Yet rocks make strong foundations too, he said, even knowing me.

What was I to answer? You are always watching, listening. Even I cannot evade that knowledge. I could not lie, but could I counter with a question of my own? Unnerved by but still attracted to his friendly face, I answered, ‘Leaving the city…’ and then, ‘Say, where are you going this fine Sabbath eve? Should you be stopping somewhere soon? It is nearly sundown.’ I wanted him to know, though I do not look like a Hebrew, I am not entirely severed from Your people. Instantly my heart sank, ashamed of my cowardice. Here I was, a follower of Jesus, a witness to his resurrection, again denying him, today as always, when to speak but a word might heal my soul, and share salvation with this young brother.

‘Yes, it will be night soon, when no one can work,’ he responded. I was startled to the depth of my being to hear those words, for who but my Lord once spoke them, etching them forever in my memory? ‘But do not be anxious. Where am I headed? I am going to prepare a place for you.’ I looked at him more closely, my eyes poised in a squint as though peering at the sun. Who was this boy? As I paused to approach the answer that I was afraid might be true, he touched my shoulder quickly and, after giving it a firm squeeze and aiming a serious smile at me sidelong, he released me and continued on his way. The old man in me half-paralyzed stood up, ‘But where should I go?’ He called back, ‘Return to the throne!’

Now I am confused, Lord. O Lord my God, Holy One of Israel, have mercy on me, and reveal to me what I am to do, for dawn is breaking, and the sun of the Sabbath day is about to rise. Enlighten my eyes, or I shall sleep in death, and my enemies will say, ‘we have overcome him!’ Why must I always not understand? Why must I always be too late to grasp the Truth? Yes, I ran to the tomb and was bold to enter therein, weighing my faith against my doubt. Now that I thought it was all over, I was not afraid anymore. But what was ‘all over’? What part of me was ready to die with Jesus on the cross, to say with him, ‘It is finished’? Why not the whole man? No, the old man must run to his death, not from it.

Who was that youth, whom I met on the road yester eve? Who was that beautiful, handsome boy who wore his Torah-faithfulness so confidently and lovingly? He was suddenly there to meet me on the road. You placed him in my path. No, you placed me in his! Blessed be Your Name, Lord God, our God, Holy One of Israel, Most-High! …
… Lord of life and destroyer of death, Master, anointed One, why did you not tarry with me, as you did once with the brothers on the road to Emmaus, even just long enough to break bread with me? I know who You are now, my Lord and my God, I know who you are, but too late to fall at Your feet and worship You. Yes, Lord, yes, I love You, I love You, I love You and will care for Your sheep.

Get up now, my body, arise from your bed of remembrance, take up your cross and follow Him. Wake up the others. Your path is to follow Him on the road, on the royal road of the cross, no matter what it costs, for He has already paid the price, the ransom has been paid, your accounts are clear, you have been bought and paid for. Now, let us arise and go forth to purchase others by the Blood, the Blood of the Lamb without spot, sacrificed before the world ever was, before all ages, for the Life of the world. Get up now, brothers! No, we are not on the road to Ostia. We are not heading out to safety. There is no safety in this world of mere men, only in the city, the City of God, where we go, to return to the Throne.

Simultaneously published in my newest blog, Eyewitnesses.
All rights reserved.

By Your love and Your faithfulness

There are many whom the Lord has called to be saints and who accepted His call, and He was faithful to make them what He called them to be—saints. We tend to prefer reading about the more famous of these, rather than to be saints ourselves, and often console ourselves with these stories for not being what or who we think we should be, that is, if we are Christians.

The truth is really quite different, and the path of sainthood has nothing directly to do with our self-improvement. While we watch ourselves minutely, we overlook both our real faults and God’s actual work on what He knows them to be. We think we rely on His mercy to forgive our imagined sins, while He in His mercy is building the new man in us.

Looking at our old man and hoping to reform him, we miss the truth that our old man has only one destination—death—and that the new man is created, formed and born in us by God’s creative love without our help, and as complete as Adam was on the day He was made of soil and inbreathed soul. What we do as the new man matters. It is to obey the commandment.

The old man is given but one commandment which he cannot keep, and he is exiled from Paradise. The new man is given but one commandment which he can keep, and he is admitted into Paradise. We look in vain for ladders of attainment to climb over a wall that is for us unscalable, when the gates are thrown open wide to them who have been sent, and only to them.

A common criminal—some say a robber, some say a thief—was admitted into Paradise on nothing more than a few words’ pledge. To catch the ear of the Lord of all, we must be scaffolded somewhere near His throne, so He can hear the words we speak. Never mind the deeds. He knows them all. He too is surrounded by a pack of dogs, the same that cornered and ravaged us.

A taunt to come down and save himself does not degrade Him who is raised on high of His own will, whether it comes from the barking dogs below, or from one whom luck or fate has also raised, unwilling, on high. Death is the only way out, the release from fate, from the machinery of the Law that snares all who live, as they fall into its ever meshing teeth, to be crushed.

Some must labor from the first hour, some from later, from midday, or even only from the start of the eleventh hour, and some receive their wages, it seems to us, without doing a thing. We want to be with these last, if we can, or at least with those who labor from the eleventh hour. Whether robbers or just thieves, we hope to be on the right side of majesty, to catch the Lord’s ear.

But He has found us out, and He meets us where He chooses. Our plans are not His, and our righteousness is but filthy rags. What He wants to give us we do not desire, and yet His mercy waits. He wants to clothe us in Himself, but He will not clothe corpses, only living men. He will not pour His new wine into our old wineskins—He does not want us to burst—but only into new.

Father, everything is in Your hands. We do not see those hands, nor do we see You, and so we falter day by day, grumbling amidst Your blessings which we do not desire, because our treasures are stored in another kingdom, not in Yours. Saying we believe, we form ourselves in our own image, because we do not trust You to form us in Yours. Religion is our protection, against You.

As You know everything about us, the falseness of our prayers, the vainglory of our good deeds, the insincerity of our worship, our misguided intentions, our carefully concealed evasions, our private fantasies, everything that we do under cover of night, how can You still love us? How can You bear our shame with us, and for us? Yet You do, and for this we cannot even thank You.

Because even our thanks is only a lesson memorized. And yet You love us. Our words, our vain musings, catch Your ears, yet You promise Paradise to us who have done nothing to deserve it. All things You have arranged so wisely, even Your Divine Nature You have distributed among us so amply, raining Yourself down upon our deserts like manna. Though One, You enter our tent as Three, and we call you ‘Lord.’

Crying ‘Lord, have mercy!’ we deny Your mercy already bestowed. Praying ‘Hear our prayer’ we confess that we believe but do not trust that You hear us before we call. All our worship is without spirit and truth, O Lord, until we know for sure that thanksgiving is the only sacrifice of praise we are capable of, for all You have done, all You are doing, and all You shall do as long as the age endures.

‘Not by us, Yahweh, not by us, by You alone is glory deserved,
by Your love and Your faithfulness.’

Sunday, October 23, 2011

This fiery pillar

Anyone who departs from the laws of life is, involuntarily and inevitably, self-destructive and responsible for his own disintegration.
‘For there are many still in need of cleansing from the life they have led, people who have the garment of their life unwashed and filthy, who dare to attempt the upward path on the basis of their own irrational perception. As a result, they are destroyed by their very own reasonings. For heretical opinions are nothing but stones which kill the very person who has devised the evil doctrines’ (Gregory of Nyssa, Life of Moses 2:161).

Above the whole of creation, the ‘transcendent cause’ holds everything in its power. The whole rhythm of life is directed towards the end and perfection. In our work all of us serve the ‘one’ aim in one way or another. In the struggle one is either transfigured by partaking in and submitting to the strange Power, or one destroys oneself by opposing it voluntarily or involuntarily. Either way, the work calmly proceeds. Such is the superior power of the eternal.

Heresies are self-destructive; in the created universe they cannot put down roots to nourish them eternally. The one area of indestructible power is occupied by that which truly exists. It acts and moves with all the mystical splendor proper to its nature, to its boundless and sure omnipotence. Thus the ‘ill-founded impudence of heresies’ becomes apparent, and at the same time the unfailing operation of the truth is underlined.

The universality of the Truth is something we can only feel and approach when we have reached the point where all comments and disputes have ceased, and everything is tested in the mystery of silence: ‘Words are an instrument of the present age; silence is a mystery of the age to come’ (Abba Isaac, Letter 3).

Truth conceals within it the whole. It contains the beginning and the end: it has self-awareness and the capacity for adapting itself, defending itself and respecting all things.

It is necessary that Orthodoxy should exist. The Orthodox must spread their roots into the bottomless depths of their faith. In this way they fulfill swiftly and quietly every obligation they have to love God and their brothers, those near and those far away. ‘Owe no one anything, except to love one another’ (Romans 13:8).

The faithful do not have a mission to persecute heresies, irrespective of the way they themselves live, for this only creates a climate congenial to the tares of heresy. ‘Because of you My name is blasphemed among the gentiles’ (cf. Isaiah 52:5), the Lord would say in such a case. One is not truly Orthodox simply by virtue of persecuting heresies, anymore than one is in Paradise if one simply curses hell.

Orthodox life is of great importance. It is ‘what is perfected before God,’ in the words of St. Ignatius. It is fulness and divine self-sufficiency: it is a confession, the persecution of falsehood, and the salvation of man. ‘For the clear knowledge of that which is, serves as a purification of notions about that which has no real existence.’ (Gregory of Nyssa, Life of Moses 2:22). Orthodoxy does not have the fire of the holy inquisition. It lights an incorporeal flame which cools the holy but burns the impious. This fiery pillar of uncreated grace and life gives the path of the faithful shade by day and light by night.

Magic disappeared in the Middle Ages not as a result of the obstinate insistence of the inquisition, but because of the progress of natural science. Our obstinate insistence, even when cloaked with a good disposition, cannot prevail. ‘It reigns, but does not last forever.’ The course of history is in itself a cleansing process. Led mysteriously by the Holy Spirit, history brings us to Orthodoxy. Before Abraham was, there was ‘Orthodoxy.’ Every age is an age which opens up new paths, which offers new potentials for Orthodoxy, for knowledge of the Truth, because it brings new crises. It puts to the test all systems grounded on the face of the earth which ‘passes away’(cf. 1 Corinthians 7:31).

— Archimandrite Vasileios,
Hymn of Entry, pp. 97-99.

Nothing would be impossible

It’s no wonder that the world does not follow the teachings of the Church. Except for when the world is masquerading as the Church for its own reasons, it is happy to ignore what the Church has to say at best, and at worst, it likes to entertain itself by mocking it.

The Church, however, has no teachings, even when it says it does because it’s full of its own authority, and it’s that false authority that the world loves to mock. The world incites the Church to claim an authority it does not have, so that the world can mock it,
‘See, you’re no better than us!’

The Church has no teachings and no authority of its own: it has only what Christ has given it, what Christ has handed over to it, as a steward receives from his Lord what is not his, but what is entrusted to him. What has been entrusted to the Church is teachings and authority, from Christ the Only Teacher of mankind, the Only Authority, of whom God the Father says,
‘You are My Son’
(Psalm 2:7).

There is a difference between the perceived truth and the actual truth which even members and leaders of the Church sometimes fail to discern. Discernment, διακρισις, dhiákrisis, is here the key word. So often what the Church has is not discernment, but judgment, κρισις, krísis. When the Church exercises the former, the world fears and respects her, when the latter, she is made a laughingstock.

Declarations are human things, the works of those who take on their shoulders the mantle of the King of kings of kings, relying on His promises to be with them, but as rulers not as servants. The world knows when we are playing the game that it plays, even when we are dressed up in that robe.

Only Christ can wear that robe, and when He reigns from the tree, He has already taken it off, and reigns naked, not only mocked but also rejected by the world which does not know what it is doing, does not know what He has accomplished from that throne of suffering, on which as King of Glory, He reigns.

Reigns, not rules. Discerns, not judges.

There is a Kingdom that, as Christ says, is not of this world. That Kingdom in time has no rights, no power, not even the power to save from death. Christ says, ‘Do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father who would promptly send more than twelve legions of angels to My defense?’ (Matthew 26:53).

The scourge and crime of abortion is to be opposed, to be sure, but how? With what weapon that the world cannot turn against us, or that we will not snap in two on a rock? The world brings its epileptic son to the disciples for healing, and they cannot heal him. Yet Jesus shrives the boy with a word.

‘Faithless and perverse generation! How much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him here to Me!’ (Matthew 17:17) Christ is speaking not only to the wounded and demon-infested world, but to the disciples as well, who come to Him privately and ask,

‘Why were we unable to cast it out?’ He answered, ‘Because you have little faith. I tell you solemnly, if your faith were the size of a mustard seed you could say to this mountain, “Move from here to there,” and it would move; nothing would be impossible to you’ (Matthew 17:20).

And some manuscripts add, ‘As for this kind [of devil], it is cast out only by prayer and fasting.’

Except that moment

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

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

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

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Thorn in the flesh

The best that is in us, and the worst that is in us—thank God!—are both hidden from the world. This is both a condition of the natural order of things, and also a work of grace. What defines and divides the good man from the wicked is the desire to tamper with this condition, to override it, to glory in the best we have and are, and to conceal the worst in us. Though we are all guilty of tampering in this way, when we obsess over it, we paint ourselves into a corner from which there seems to be no escape.

Everyone has a signal obstacle to happiness, or what he thinks will make him happy, in this world. It is something he cannot, or should not, have or be or do. It is God’s answer to original sin, His firewall against total infection, His preventative medicine against our final dissolution and death. It is called by Paul a ‘thorn in the flesh.’ Some people think this is a punishment from God, or something bad, but it is actually the opposite. Medicine can taste bad, but if it is the right medicine it can cure whatever ails you.

God is faithful. He also grants our requests before we ask. He knows all about us, and He has no need to wait for the right moment in time. Just as He was the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world for the sake of sinners who had not yet been created or fallen into sin, so His tender care, so watchful, so sheltering and healing, is prepared for us even before we ask for it. When I discovered what my signal obstacle was, I prayed to the Lord, asking Him to never let me be in a time and place where I could be felled by it.

I am still standing, though lesser things have felled me, because He remembers my prayer, He hears me before I asked, He knows me before I was born, He follows me in my wanderings, He surrounds me with songs of deliverance even before my ear was opened, He is the faithful and the true Witness of my every thought, word and deed, He is my just but merciful Judge, He is there with me when I will close my eyes in my last sleep, and He removes forever from ‘this body of death’ the fortuitous thorn that nailed down my flesh.

Glory to You, O God, glory to You!
Draw me in your footsteps, let us run… (Song of Songs 1:4).


When meeting a guest at the airport whom you have never seen before and who has never seen you, you stand outside the arrival gate and hold up a sign with their name written on it. If all goes well, they will see you holding up their name and come right to you.
There will be no mistaking.

I wish it were this easy
to meet the greatest of all unforeseen guests,

Could we stand, waiting patiently for Him, holding up a writing of His name for Him to recognize us? And if we could, how long could we stand? For most of us it would seem He is the Guest who never arrives. Like one who must stay up very late at night to view a lunar eclipse, we get tired and cranky, and then, disgusted with ourselves, we just go back to bed. I speak from experience.

Waiting is something few have patience for.
Waiting for God, even fewer.

The writer of the Wisdom of Solomon describes the natural man’s search for God, in which there is mistaking creatures for the Creator.

Yes, naturally stupid are all men who have not known God
and who, from the good things that are seen,
have not been able to discover Him-Who-Is,
or, by studying the works,
have failed to recognize the Artificer.
Fire, however, or wind, or the swift air,
the sphere of the stars,
impetuous water, heaven's lamps,
are what they have held to be the gods
who govern the world.

If, charmed by their beauty,
they have taken things for gods,
let them know how much the Lord of these excels them,
since the very Author of beauty has created them.
And if they have been impressed
by their power and energy,
let them deduce from these
how much mightier is He that has formed them,
since through the grandeur and beauty of the creatures
we may, by analogy, contemplate their Author.
Small blame, however, attaches to these men,
for perhaps they only go astray
in their search for God and their eagerness to find Him;
living among His works,
they strive to comprehend them
and fall victim to appearances, seeing so much beauty.
Wisdom 12:1-7 Jerusalem Bible

‘…fall victim to appearances, seeing so much beauty.’

Lord our God,
prevent us, we beg You, of falling victim to appearances,
of mistaking for You those things which our hands have made,
our hearts have loved, or our minds have thought.
Give us the eye of faith by which to see You,
and blind us to all other things
that resemble You.
Grant us, merciful and loving Lord,
Your forgiveness for our idolatry,
our idealism, ideology, ideas
that we forge to hold You
Who are uncontainable
except by suffering.
Save us, O Lord,
from ourselves
without You.
Be with us,
we cry.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Overheard on the Basel Road between Steinen and Brombach, at night

The boy says to his father:
Father, nearly always when I see
Rötteln Castle stand out like that,
I wonder whether our house will go that way too.
It stands up there, doesn't it,
as gruesome as Death
in the Dance of Death at Basel.
The longer you look at it
the more uncomfortable you feel.
And our house sits up on the hill like a church,
and the windows glitter, it looks fine.
Tell me, Father, will it really go that way too?
I think sometimes that it simply couldn't!

The father says:
Bless you, of course it can, what do you think?
Everything starts young and new
and everything goes on gently towards old age,
and everything has an end
and nothing stands still.
Do you hear the water rushing?
And do you see up there one star beside the other
in the sky?
You'd think none of them budged,
but everything's on the move,
everything comes and goes.

Yes, that's how it is,
it's no use looking at me like that.
You're young still. Never mind, I was young too,
I have changed now, and age, old age, is coming on,
and everywhere I go, to Gresgen or Wies,
to the fields or the woods, to Basel or home,
it's all the same, I am on the way
to the churchyard willy-nilly
and by the time you are as old as I am,
a grown man,
I shan't be there anymore,
and the sheep and the goats
will be grazing on my grave.

Yes, it's true,
and the house is growing old and dirty too;
the rain washes it dirtier every night
and the sun bleaches it blacker every day,
and the beetles tick in the wainscots.
The rain will come through the loft,
the wind will whistle through the cracks.
Meantime you will have closed your eyes too
and your children's children will come and patch it up.
At long last it will get the rot in the foundations
and then there'll be no help for it.
And by the year two thousand
everything will have tumbled down,
and the whole village will have sunk into its grave.
In time the plough will go where the church stands,
where the mayor's house is, and the rectory.

The boy says: Why, fancy that!

His father says: Yes, that's how it is,
it's no use looking at me like that.
Basel is a fine town, a grand town, isn't it?
There are houses there, some churches aren't as big,
and so many churches,
why some villages haven't as many houses.
It is a crowd of people,
there is lots of money there and lots of fine gentlemen,
and a lot of people I have known lie in the cloisters
behind the Minster Square and sleep.

There's nothing for it, Son,
the hour will strike when even Basel
will go down to the grave too,
and just poke up a limb here and there
out of the ground, a beam, an old tower, a gable;
the elder will grow on it, beeches here, firs there,
and moss and fern, and herons will nest in it —
such a pity! and, if people then
are as foolish as they are now, ghosts will walk there,
Frau Faste (I have an idea she has already started,
at least that's what they say) and Lippi-Läppeli
and heaven knows what besides!
What are you nudging me for?

The boy says: Not so loud, Father,
until we are across the bridge and past the hill
and the wood over there!
There's a wild huntsman hunts up there, didn't you know?
And look, it must have been down in the bushes there
that girl who sold eggs was found,
half-decayed, a year ago.
Listen how Laubi
[one of the pair of oxen drawing the cart] snorts.

His father says: He's got a cold. Don't be so silly!
Gee up, Laubi, Merz! and let the dead be,
they can't do anything to you.
What was I saying?
About Basel, that it will fall down too one day —
and if long after a traveller goes by,
an hour or even half an hour away,
he will be able to look across, if there is no mist,
and will say to his mate who is with him:
‘Look, that is where Basel stood.
That tower they say was St. Peter's Church.
A pity it's all gone.’

The boy says: No, Father, are you serious?
I can't believe it.

His father says: Yes, that's how it is,
it's no use looking at me like that,
and in time the whole world will burn up.
A watchman will go out at midnight,
a foreign chap nobody knows,
he'll glitter like a star and cry,
‘Awake! Behold, the day is come!’
and the sky will turn red
and there'll be thunder everywhere, first soft,
then loud like that time in ninety-six
when the French bombarded so fiercely.
The ground will shake so that the church towers will rock,
the bells will sound and ring out for the service
by themselves to all and sundry, and everyone will pray.
Then the day will come;
O God preserve us, there will be no need of any sun,
the sky will be nothing but lightning
and the world will be all afire.
And a lot more will happen that I've no time for now,
and at last it will catch fire and blaze and blaze,
wherever there is any land,
and no one to put it out.
I suppose it will burn out by itself.
And what do you think it will look like then?

The boy says: Oh, Father, don't tell me any more.
But — what'll happen to the people
when everything blazes and blazes?

The father says: Why, the people won't be there
when the fire comes, they — well, where'll they be?
You be good and live decent, wherever you are
and keep a clean conscience.
Do you see how the sky is splendid with bright stars?
Each star is as it might be a village,
and farther up perhaps there is a fine town,
you can see it from here,
and if you live decent
you will go to one of those stars
and you'll be happy there,
and you'll find your father there, if it is God's will,
and poor Bessie, your mother.
Perhaps you'll drive up the Milky Way
into that hidden town,
and if you look down to one side, what'll you see —
Rötteln Castle! The Belchen will be charred
and the Blauen too, like two old towers,
and between the two everything will be burnt out,
right into the ground.

There won't be any water in the Wiese,
everything will be bare and black and deathly quiet,
as far as you can see;
you'll see that and say to your mate that's with you:
‘Look, that's where the earth was,
and that mountain was called the Belchen.
And not far away was Wieslet;
I used to live there and harness my oxen,
cart wood to Basel, and plough, and drain meadows
and make splints for torches,
and potter about until my death,
and I wouldn't like to go back now!’

Gee up, Laubi, Merz!

Die Vergänglichkeit. Gespräch auf der Straße von Basel zwischen Steinen und Brombach, in der Nacht
The original in Alemannic German can be found here.

Everyone knows

Cost of Discipleship, this blog, was never intended to be more than a site where I could record and publish my experiences and thoughts in the following of Christ. At the beginning, it served in large part to describe the experience of witnessing publicly by reading the Holy Scriptures aloud in Portland.

After that initiation into personal evangelism I continued on, still blogging my experiences and thoughts, and promoting those of others, especially poetry, that I felt should get as wide a readership as possible. For myself, I never know if the post I am currently writing will be my last one. Several times I thought so, but then I’d write again. Cost of Discipleship really has been simply a work of saying ‘Yes’ to the Lord when He asks me to do something. It’s not a case of me ‘hanging out my shingle’ and hoping to be ‘discovered.’ I like to think that what I write about will help people, hundreds of people, unknown to me, and who will never acknowledge to me that they have been helped. At least, this is what is happening, I hope.

To this end, I have tried to stay clear of controversy, though not always have I been successful. There are things that I have written because I had to, there could be no holding back, come what may, even at the risk of causing controversy. As a matter of fact, very little controversy has occurred. I never argue, at least that’s my principle—I just deliver the message, and then stand aside. Most of my readers have been of like mind, knowing that what’s important is not whether we agree or disagree. What’s important is that whatever we think or say or do, we are following Jesus. He has a way of shutting us up, as regards our opinions and thoughts, though not with arrogance as a mere man would, but with meekness. In fact, it is remembering the meekness of our Lord that helps us to be meek.

But there can be issues sometimes that require not discussion but action, and thoughts that, whether they are agreed with or not, still provoke a response in us. The literal cost of discipleship is not something easily calculated or written about in books and blogs. It is something we simply pay by being willing to testify of Jesus Christ, who alone is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Our testimony may or may not be received. Most of the time we will evade those who hate us because of it, but sometimes, like our holy apostle John, we will be banished and incarcerated ‘on the isle called Patmos.’ And like him, while we are in that place of exile and affliction, we too are often caught up ‘on the Lord’s Day’ to hear words and see things that He wants to reveal to us, many of which we couldn’t reveal to others, even if we wanted to.

There are dangers in this world, both to the body and the soul, that the life of discipleship, of following Jesus, do not take away. ‘Though a thousand fall at your side, though ten thousand are dying around you, these evils will not touch you,’ is a promise that has many facets. Though these evils did not touch Jesus, still He hung on the Cross and gave up His life there. Though these evils did not touch the martyrs, still they suffered the ill treatment and even death at the hands of those that hated them for Christ’s sake. Though these evils do not touch us, circumstances happen in which we find ourselves becoming passion-bearers, events beyond our control, in which we, like Christ, allow ourselves ‘to be led like sheep to the slaughter,’ opening not our mouths. It is there that we are granted ‘the peace that the world cannot give.’

When troubles happen and we nevertheless carry on, hopeful and determined to remain faithful, the world says of us, ‘He is in denial.’ They say this too, when they accuse us falsely of what we have never done. It is a kind of mantra with them, and they think it bolsters their own confidence or authority. But there are times when we can say the same of the world, ‘They are in denial.’ History is full of such times. In fact, almost all of human history is built on our civilization being ‘in denial.’ Denial of what? Not of what, but of Whom. Right from the beginning, ‘It’s not my fault. The woman tempted me, and I ate.’ Then, almost without time to recover, ‘Who am I? My brother’s keeper?’ Yet the truth has to be known before it can be denied.

We are now approaching, no, now approaching us are, the events that will close this present age. We won’t have to declare ‘For the time is close’ very much longer. When the most evil fiend has finally revealed himself in great terror ‘against Yahweh and His Anointed, and the kings on earth are rising in revolt,’ the world in unity with them says, ‘There is no threat. It is a religion of peace!’ Anything and anyone is preferable to them, even this ‘religion of peace,’ even surrender to it while it devours them, anything and anyone is preferable to acknowledging Him ‘Who Is, Was and Is to Come, the Faithful and True Witness.’ Theirs is truly living ‘in denial’ and a greater denial cannot be imagined. It’s not even necessary for me to spell out what the world is surrendering to. Everyone knows.

Glory to You, O God! Glory to You!

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever. The angel said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true. The Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent his angel to show his servants the things that must soon take place.”
Revelation 22:1-6 NIV

Laboratory of myself

Christians express their faith in many ways. Some are religious, others are not. To those who are indifferent, anyone who is a Christian is classified as religious. That’s a self-defense mechanism for those who use it. Without looking into it, these people categorize as religious anyone who confesses Christ and follows Him, so that they have their excuse for not doing likewise: ‘I am not religious.’

But not all followers of Jesus are religious. I certainly am not. I am not a religious Christian, but a scientific one. I know that the Living God is not static, but personal, dynamic and interested in working with me, to bring me fully into the Truth. Having created me, He wants me to love Him in perfect freedom, to become by grace what He is by nature, and this requires a response on my part.

I am scientific in my approach to God, but it is not that I study God scientifically, but rather that I allow myself to be studied scientifically by God, and by myself under His direction. It is the scientific approach that works best for me.

In the laboratory of myself, experiments are done one after the other, following the instructions in the manual, that is, the Holy Bible.

Someone has called the Word of God the wiring diagram of the universe. I would not call it that, even in its written form as the Divine Scriptures, but I have found it to be the manual to the human species, full of experiments that anyone can do to find out who they are, who God is, and what we are created to be. To read the Bible and not do what it commands is like going to lectures and skipping lab.

I did that in college. Let me warn you, it doesn’t work.

We learn by doing, at least I do. We know we are the image of the unseen God, and that knowledge should launch us on a journey of exploration and experimentation to find our Source. This is not an individualistic pursuit, however, because essential to the scientific method is to work with others, compare results, help each other, and in the end all arrive at the Truth. Solitary scientists often lapse into fantasy.

What is the point of all this?

There are groups that call themselves ‘Christian Scientists’ but aren’t really scientists, it is only their name. There are Gnostics who claim salvation or at least superiority through the acquisition of knowledge, but they don’t really know a thing. There are those who call themselves ‘Catholics’ because they’ve agreed on doctrines that they say are universal, even though it’s obvious they aren’t. There are the Orthodox who believe they have the fullness of Christianity—and that they may have—but what good is it, if they guard it as a treasure to cache instead of spending it for what it can buy?

All these are mere names defining nothing and no one.

What defines us as followers of Jesus Christ is our willingness to let ourselves be disassembled and put back together again. We can’t know in advance the outcome of the experiments done in the laboratory of ourselves, but we want to do them anyway. We want to let ourselves be molded by the hands that made us, not the other way round, molding images that our hands, our thoughts, have made. Those we know would be only idols.

Formal idolatry has long ago vanished and been replaced by the idolatry of fantasy—religious fantasy, psychological and philosophic fantasy, deified opinion, mitered and sceptered personality cults.

Yet the Truth is always the Truth wherever it appears, even if it appears outside the gates, and we can never go wrong in following it, no matter what anyone says.

Fantasy always fades. Only Truth stays bright.

Jesus Christ, we know, is the Truth. For humanity there can be no other Truth, because Truth is One. Let Him enter the laboratory of yourself, do the experiments as He directs you, reading the instructions in His Book, performing what is written there, and learn what He has set aside for you to know, for though it may seem humble compared to worldly wisdom, it is the scientific Truth.

It is only what really is, and only what really is, is worth being.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

And you too

Blessed be God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who has blessed us with all the spiritual blessings of heaven in Christ.

Before the world was made, He chose us, chose us in Christ,
to be holy and spotless, and to live through love in His presence,
determining that we should become His adopted sons,
through Jesus Christ, for His kind purposes,
to make us praise the glory of His grace,
His free gift to us in the Beloved,
in whom, through His blood, we gain our freedom,
the forgiveness of our sins.

Such is the richness of the grace
which He has showered on us
in all wisdom and insight.
He has let us know the mystery of His purpose,
the hidden plan He so kindly made in Christ from the beginning
to act upon when the times had run their course to the end:
that He would bring everything together under Christ, as Head,
everything in the heavens and everything on earth.

And it is in Him that we were claimed as God's own,
chosen from the beginning,
under the predetermined plan of the One who guides all things
as He decides by His own will;
chosen to be,
for His greater glory,
the people who would put their hopes in Christ before He came.

Now you too, in Him,
have heard the message of the truth and the good news
of your salvation,
and have believed it;
and you too have been stamped
with the seal of the Holy Spirit of the Promise,
the pledge of our inheritance
which brings freedom for those whom God has taken for His own,
to make His glory praised.

May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, give you a spirit of wisdom and perception of what is revealed, to bring you to full knowledge of Him. May He enlighten the eyes of your mind so that you can see what hope His call holds for you, what rich glories He has promised the saints will inherit and how infinitely great is the power that He has exercised for us believers.

This you can tell from the strength of His power at work in Christ, when He used it to raise Him from the dead and make Him sit at His right hand, in heaven, far above every sovereignty, authority, power, or domination, or any other name that can be named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. He has put all things under His feet, and made Him, as the ruler of everything, the Head of the Church, which is His Body, the fullness of Him who fills the whole creation.

This, then, is what I pray, kneeling before the Father, from whom every family, whether spiritual or natural, takes its name:

Out of His infinite glory, may He give you the power through His Spirit for your hidden self to grow strong, so that Christ may live in your hearts through faith, and then, planted in love and built on love, you will with all the saints have strength to grasp the breadth and the length, the height and the depth; until, knowing the love of Christ, which is beyond all knowledge, you are filled with the utter fullness of God.

Glory to Him whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine; glory be to Him from generation to generation in the Church and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever. Amen.

Ephesians 1:3-14, 17-23; 3:14-21 Jerusalem Bible

Εγγυς - Near

I can’t help it. I love the Church. I don’t care if she is imperfect.
I can’t help it if she’s all too human. What would you have her be?
She can only be what she is, but by faith,
she will be what Christ, her divine Bridegroom, has made her.
Yes, she is His Bride, she, and no other.

The apostle writes,
‘Do not stay away from the meetings of the community,
as some do, but encourage each other to go;
the more so as you see the Day drawing
(Hebrews 10:25).

What if the meetings of the community are occasions
for glorying in the flesh?
What if going to them angers and upsets you?

Well, ask yourself then, ‘Why is this?’

What are you doing
that you notice the glorying in the flesh of the brethren?
Who is it that you have your eyes on,
them, yourself, or the Lord?

Ask yourself, ‘Who am I to be angry?
And why should I be angry?’
Who is being offended? Who is offending?

To offend is a choice, to be offended, the same. Yet God, who has the greatest and most just cause to be offended by our sinful thoughts, words and deeds, He forbears. The ‘righteous’ put themselves forward to castigate and judge the unrighteous, and the ‘correct’ advance to rebuke those who offend them.

All the while, the eye is not single, the body is not full of light, in the one who lets himself be offended by the folly of others, in the Church, or in the world, it doesn’t matter.

‘When you go to the temple, be on your guard.
Go near, so that you can hear;
the sacrifice is more valuable than the offering of fools,
even if they are unaware of doing wrong’
(Ecclesiastes 4:17).

I know whom it is that I have trusted,
I know in whom I have believed.
I know the truth He speaks, and that truth is strong to save,
as He has said, and sets me free.

Free from what?
Free from judgment, free from fear, free from ignorance,
free from hatred, free from every bondage
to what can be seen, heard, touched, tasted or thought.

How can one say he loves God and His Christ,
while he hates the Church?

Perhaps he hasn’t yet grasped what the Church is.
Perhaps he only hates the false images of the Church
that have tucked themselves into the corners of his mind.
Perhaps he thinks that the Church is only what he sees.

The world thinks that Jesus Christ is only what it sees.
The world thinks He’s just a man.
Looking past His miracles
because ‘just a man’ can’t perform miracles,
‘It must be sleight of hand—He’s just tricking us!’

So the Church too is only what he sees.
A broken down, corrupt, self-centered society of hypocrites.

‘They’re just a bunch of hypocrites!
They’re just play-acting, pretending to be sinners
so they can pretend that they’re saved!’

Looking past their miracles—hypocrites can’t perform miracles
—he focuses on what he’s chosen to see,
just as he’s chosen to be offended.
It’s a vicious circle, literally.

Yet the Church, like Christ her Divine Bridegroom, is different on the inside than she appears on the outside. Her exterior may be plain, it may be rude, it may be disfigured, as it is written of her Spouse,
‘His appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being and His form marred beyond human likeness’
(Isaiah 52:14)
that He was not recognized for who He was.

So it is with the Church. Those who look only at her outside never really enter her and see her from the inside. Even when they seem to enter her, they still stand apart as her judge, just as Pilate while in the presence of Christ stood apart, and asked mockingly,
‘What is truth?’

The Bible cannot be understood outside of the Church,
nor dogma outside of divine worship.

Neither of these, not the Church nor its worship,
are within our control as followers of Jesus.
All that is within our control is our own wills,
and free will was granted to us as a test of our being.

Do we chose to take offense and give offense through the abuse of our free wills, or do we choose to follow the commandment?
‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself’ (Luke 10:27).

And who is our neighbor?
It is everyone we meet, and not least our brothers in the faith,
with whom we are joined in one body, the Body of Christ, the Church,
to whom the apostle writes,
‘my greetings to the Lady,
the chosen one, and to her children,
she whom I love in the truth’
(2 John 1).

This is why I say, I love the Church. This is why I encourage you too, brethren, to love her. Don’t set yourselves up over her to judge her, but treat her as Christ has treated you, overlooking your sins and giving you time to repent. This is what John the Revelator means when he writes,

Happy the man who reads this prophecy aloud, and happy those who listen to him, if they keep all that it says, because the time is near.
Revelation 1:3

The fifth seal

When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. And they cried with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Then a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed.
Revelation 6:9-11

A British woman aid worker was shot dead in Afghanistan Monday [October 20, 2008] by Islamic extremists because she was a Christian. Two men rode up to Gayle Williams, 34, on a motor-cycle and one opened fire at close range, hitting her seven times in the head and legs. Ms Williams, from London, had been walking to work in an affluent suburb of the capital Kabul and was said to have died before the police reached the scene. The attack was seen by children going to school. She had only recently arrived in the city having fled Kandahar in the south after threats of violence against foreigners and would have been varying her route to work as a precaution. She was a volunteer with the British-registered Christian charity Serve Afghanistan, which works with the disabled. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the shooting, saying on its website: "Our people carried out this attack. The reason that we killed her was because she was spreading Christianity."

I found this report on the blog Lionheart. For the full post, click here, or you can search the internet for Gayle Williams and find many angles on her martyrdom.

In an Islamic country, it doesn't take much to die for Christ.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Giving (it) up

Any religion, any religious version of Christianity, can be a definite obstacle to the following of Jesus Christ. One of my premier mentors, martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer, writes in his book Cost of Discipleship that the Church of his time and place, Germany between the world wars, made real discipleship, real following of Jesus Christ, almost an impossibility. It is this kind of Christianity, as religious observance, that taught me the doctrine and the discipline of Christian life, but didn’t deliver me into the hands of the living God. Maybe that is simply not what the Church in its institutional form is meant to do.
I don’t know. Maybe for some of us at least, we have to ‘make the journey out and in.’ In my case, I didn’t go very far out before I realized I was alone, alone because without Him. That realization quickly led to the moment when the Lord called out to me, and I responded, doubtfully at first but trusting, with ‘Yes.’

One of the chief obstacles many people have to becoming a Christian is the notion that they must ‘give up’ their former way of life. Now, it’s true that the holy apostles say this very thing, but they do not say it, nor does the Church, in order to make our lives difficult. It’s not as though it were up to us to do the impossible: That’s God’s job, more specifically, Christ’s. The impossible? Yes, of course, the impossible: Turning mortal men and sinners even at their best, into immortal, divine and holy beings who are not only worthy of eternal life with God, but who actually want it. I think that when we follow the gracious call of Christ ‘for real,’ we aren't worrying any longer about what we're giving up, but looking forward to what we are receiving—from Him, His friendship, His love, and yes, especially His life—eternal life. Hence the saying, ‘keep your eyes on Jesus’ and the certainty that whatever happens, ‘there is no loss with Jesus.’

Honestly, there is such an impassable and clean break with my childhood religious faith, with all of its ‘give up this, give up that,’ that ever since I met the Lord and received His call, I have never felt that I am giving anything up, but that only and always I am on the receiving end of His unquenchable love and inexhaustible grace. The Son of God gave up all for me, and in following Him I have no consciousness of loss or deprivation. Everything is pure gift, pure love lavished in abundance. Well, was I a desperate sinner before I met the Lord? I don't know. I lived a pretty straight and narrow life. You can't wander far or misbehave much when you're raised in the straight-jacket of religious Christianity. But the depth and faithfulness of Christ's grace in my life tells me that whatever I might’ve looked like on the outside, I must’ve been desperately sinful for Him to cover me so completely with His forgiveness and mercy.

And He continues to do that, not only for me, covering my sins, forgiving me when I fall, but for all, for everyone, for you. He says,
‘I have not come for the righteous, but for the sinners.’ What a gracious love! Proven because he who has been forgiven much, loves much. Wait a minute! I guess there is one thing I’ve had to sacrifice after all: Hating my brother. But then hating is so hard, it takes so much out of you, that giving it up is a pure pleasure. And yet even this ‘sacrifice’ was not of my own power or even of my own volition. As the Bible says in some manner on almost every page, ‘It is not I, but Christ who lives in me, who can do all things,’ and I’ve found that following Him is not so much about ‘giving it up,’ but just ‘giving up.’ Yes, ‘Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit, for You have redeemed me, O God of Truth’ (cf. Psalm 31).
Glory to You, O God, glory to You.

These thoughts were inspired by reading this poem by brother Jim Swindle at Vine and Fig.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Who do we think we are, and whose?

Jesus Christ is the reason for the existence of the Church. We are His bride, hidden in Him from before the beginning of the universe, and revealed to the world when they pierced His side, and we emerged as Eve did from the gash in Adam’s side.

Set your hearts on God’s kingdom first, and on His righteousness, and all these other things will be added as well.

If you make my Word your home, you will be my disciples, says the Lord Jesus Christ, and He adds, Whoever loves me keeps my commandments.

The institutional Church can exist from generation to generation by promoting itself, by tantalizing us with hope of salvation if we dedicate ourselves to participating in churchly activities. It is satisfied with us if we just show up on Sundays, and if some of us lend a hand in running its earthly functions.

In that institutional Church, however, is the actual Church in which live the apostles, the prophets, the martyrs—in brief, the saints—those who follow Jesus and who know Him and are known by Him. They do what He says, not for show, not for authority, not for reputation, not for money—just because He commands them, and they obey.

Only the obedient believe.
If anyone would be my disciple, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me, says the Lord Jesus.

If we promote religion, we can worry about church statistics, and busy ourselves with trying to figure out why the youth, or any segment of the baptised members, are becoming less and less interested in “church,” and we can try to devise ways to stop this emigration of saved souls back to the world. We do this to no avail, because we are ourselves still part of this world to which they are slowly escaping, and we are using the world’s methods, thinking in a worldly way, and haven’t ourselves left this world.

If we promote Jesus Christ and the Gospel, who He really is, the living One who is in our midst, and live in His Word, making our home there, placing all our trust in Him on a moment-by-moment basis, learning of Him and taking on His yoke, then we ourselves have left this world behind and live already by faith in the new world that He has prepared for us. Then our lives become living words, testimonies of the Gospel in our very flesh, so that not only the youth of the Church, but even those we meet outside, are confronted by a new reality that invites them into itself. We become and are a city set on a hill that cannot be hid. We become for the world either the sweet fragrance of salvation or the stench of death, depending on their response to Christ, who lives in us.

The Church exists because it is in Christ and will always exist because He is in our midst. The question really is, who do we think we are, and whose?

Once we give the right answer, we will no longer have to be anxious for anything, because it is not we ourselves, but Christ in us, who does everything.

We will know the truth, and the truth will make us free.
And who doesn’t want that kind of freedom?

Give the Word a voice

Photo from the blog Witnessing Encouragement

People need the word of God. If they won't read it on their own, if they won't come to church and hear it, if they go to churches where the word is not preached and heard and lived, then we must bring the word to them. Perhaps some of them would hear it, if they knew it was there. Just read it, don't just tell them about it. The word is strong, but we are weak. Give the word a voice, your voice.

Take the word of God with you wherever you go. Read it in the street, on the bus or train, in the lunch room or during a break on the loading dock. God gives us so much free time. Why let our minds wander after fantasies. All His word needs is a voice. Read it out loud, give the gift of faith to one who needs it, for faith comes by hearing. One of the Church fathers writes…

Let us allow Christ to speak through us. He desires it more than we do. For He made this instrument and wouldn’t want it to be useless and idle. He always wants to keep it in His hands. Why, then, don’t you make it useful for the Maker’s hand? Why do you allow your soul to be unstrung, relaxed through luxury, and allow the whole harp to be useless to Him? One should keep all its parts completely stretched, well strung and reinforced with spiritual salt. For if Christ sees your soul tuned this way, He will make His music through it. When this has taken place, you will see angels leaping for joy—archangels and the cherubim, too. So then, let us become worthy of His spotless hands. Let us invite Him to strike our hearts.

— John Chrysostom

Monday, October 17, 2011

You Are My Savior

One of the most beautiful ancient Christian churches is the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. It is always a blessing to me when I can be with my Ethiopian brethren, especially in worship. The Eritrean Church shares the same ancient faith and worship as the Ethiopians, the difference being in language: the Ethiopians speak Amhara and the Eritreans speak Tigrinya, both languages rooted in antiquity and related to Hebrew. The Emperor Haile Selassie (Glory of the Trinity) was the last Orthodox Christian emperor in history, descended through the Queen of Sheba from King Solomon.

Probably my most beloved Christian song is an Ethiopian devotional called You Are My Savior. Whenever I hear it, like the Bride in the Song of Solomon, ‘I tremble to the core of my being’ (Song of Songs 5:4 Jerusalem Bible). This song, of all others, seems to be the song that is going on inside me all the time. I sometimes awake in the morning hearing it. It is a great blessing. It is the song that is playing when you reach this blog, at least for a little while. After I remove it, you can still go here to hear it and watch the video that goes with it. There are also a selection of other Ethiopian songs at my blog, here.

As I have nothing more to offer, I hope you enjoy this spiritual song. May it bless you.

Liberation is near

At her blog Old Pages — New Life, Aunt Melanie posts excerpts from her spiritual reading. I've enjoyed reading them and sharing her mind in Christ. That's the most meaningful fellowship there is, when people know not only the same Lord, but even the same ideas. A few days ago she posted this excerpt entitled The Blessings of Christianity from Our Christian Heritage by James Cardinal Gibbons. I read this book at the beginning of my conversion and it helped me a great deal, though it did not cause me to become a Roman Catholic. The excerpt starts out like this, and I left the comment following…

What are the blessings that Christian civilization confers on the individual, the family, and society?

It has delivered us from idolatry and led us to the worship of the one, true, and living God. Our Saviour came down from heaven to shed light on that illimitable world which lies beyond the tomb, and to reveal to us a new life which begins with death. He has made known to us our origin and destiny and the means of attaining it.

He has brought not only light to our intellects, but also peace to our hearts, that peace which springs from the knowledge of the truth and the hope of eternal life.

Cardinal Gibbons is quite right, but modern people, even modern Christians, think and act as though Christianity has been and is anything but a blessing to civilisation. What it took centuries to build up by the humble and patient labors of our pious forefathers has been essentially dismantled—deconstructed is the word they like to use, with pride—in the short space of a century.

They say that the Great War (1914-1918) was the end of the height of civilisation in the Western world. Those of us who were born half a century later tend to think that the year 1963, marked by the assassination of President Kennedy, was the end of ‘the happy days.’ I think both are correct.

Civilisation, the Christian civilisation in which wars were fought but according to the law of war (which was rather chivalrous), ended at least during World War I. Some have said that the American Civil War was actually the turning point, and in some senses it may have been, but that war evoked one last movement of grace critical to the healing of our nation, provided by President Lincoln, himself a martyr and saint (in my book, at least).

So here we are. Castaways on the desert isle of time’s end, Christianity as an institution being behind bars that it has itself erected, and authentic discipleship now, like the French resistance in World War II, always on the run in a hostile, catch-as-catch-can world.

Shadows of the past are still speaking, propped up by mere inertia. Pope and patriarchs, presiding bishopess and moderators, charismatic magi running Christian centers and praise-a-thons, all of them sheep without a shepherd yet trying to shepherd others. I won’t say it’s a case of the blind leading the blind, because I do not claim to have sight either. I do have my hearing, though, and I can still recognize the Shepherd’s voice when I hear Him.

But does all this discourage me? No, not in the least. I feel that it is a rare privilege to live in the time at the end of all things, and I believe the Word of God who says, ‘When these things begin to take place, stand erect, hold your heads high, because your liberation is near at hand’ (Luke 21:28).

A clash of kingdoms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Matthew the Poor)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Pavel Florensky

We have to hand it to Christian Orthodoxy for its honest willingness to make room for non-conformity. Unlike other forms of religion, Christian or not, that allow, nay, even demand, that their followers put up with all kinds of immoral and irrational individualism in their midst, Orthodox inclusiveness and its live-and-let-live mentality is not based on ethical, philosophical or dogmatic relativism. Believing themselves to be the heirs and custodians of unchanging truth in their Head and members, they make room for the unlimited personal expression of that truth among them. Any deviation from this practice and principle can be traced to an unconscious adoption of unorthodox attitudes and always results in an alienation from Orthodox identity that, once noted, is just as unconsciously corrected by mass reassertion of Christian liberty.

What's the practical application of the above?
Even geeks can witness.

The painting reproduced above depicts the Russian priest and martyr Pavel Florensky (left) walking with the philosopher Sergei Bulgakov. Although both men are notable for their Christian witness, it's Pavel Florensky, the geek and martyr, that is the subject of this post.

Pavel Alexandrovich Florensky was born in 1882 into a middle class family in western Azerbaijan (Russian Caucasia). After graduating from Moscow State University in 1904, he refused to accept a teaching position at the University. Instead, he proceeded to study theology at the Ecclesiastical Academy in Sergiyev Posad. Together with his fellow students Ern, Svenitsky and Brikhnichev he founded a society, the Christian Struggle Union (Союз Христиaнской Борьбы), with the revolutionary aim of rebuilding Russian society according to the principle of Vladimir Solovyov. Subsequently he was arrested for membership in this society in 1906. However, he later lost his interest in the Radical Christianity movement.

After graduating from the Academy, he taught philosophy there and lived at Troitse-Sergiyeva Lavra until 1919. In 1911, he was ordained into the priesthood. In 1914 he wrote his dissertation About Spiritual Truth. During his life he published works on philosophy, theology, art theory, mathematics, and electrodynamics. Those who are interested in finding out more about Pavel Florensky can read the article about him in Wikipedia, but our interest in him is not for his ideology, writings or other accomplishments, but his simple, matter-of-fact Christian lifestyle, which was a potent witness to those around him, and which led to his martyrdom in 1937.

After the Russian Revolution he formulated his position thus: ‘I am of a philosophical and scientific world outlook developed by me, which contradicts the vulgar interpretation of communism... but that does not prevent me from honestly working for the state service.’

Can you tell from this that he was a geek? Well, I can.

After the closing down, by the Bolsheviks, of the Troitse-Sergiyeva Lavra (1918) and Sergievo-Posad Church (1921) where he was the priest, he moved to Moscow to work on the State Plan for Electrification of Russia (ГОЭЛРО), under the recommendation of Leon Trotsky who strongly believed in Florensky's ability to help the government to electrify rural Russia. According to contemporaries, Florensky in his priest's cassock, working alongside other leaders of a government department, was a remarkable sight.

Can you imagine that? In a country controlled by atheistic, anti-Christian communism, here was a man who was not only a practicing Christian, but an ordained priest, working a secular job, doing his best for bosses who he knew hated everything he believed in and was, dressed in the visible garments of his true profession, and doing his best! And he really was a geek, thinking and knowing things that he could only have learned from his conversations with God, things others can hardly understand to this day. Among other things, for example, he proclaimed that the geometry of imaginary numbers predicted by the theory of relativity for a body moving faster than light is the geometry of the kingdom of God. Somehow, he was even able to publish his books during those awful times.

But there he was, as the record shows, ‘in his priest's cassock, working alongside other [communist] leaders of a government department.’ Even if he didn't witness to them in words (though he probably did), his presence among them was witness enough. And among people, let's remember, who were his declared enemies.

Pavel Florensky is an extreme example, maybe, but the fact of his witness for Christ among his contemporaries is a challenge, and an encouragement, to me every day. Like Christ, he did not run away from the world of sin and death. Instead, again like Christ making His descent into Hades, Florensky descended to the prison of his lost neighbors, at work and in the street, a priest of God without a visible church in a God-hating land.

In 1928 Florensky was arrested and exiled for ‘agitation against the Soviet system and publishing agitation materials against the Soviet system.’ What were these ‘agitation materials’? His monograph about the theory of relativity…

Later, he was moved and served at the Baikal Amur Mainline camp until 1934, when he was moved to Solovki, where he conducted research into producing iodine and agar out of the local seaweed. In 1937 he was transferred to Saint Petersburg (then known as Leningrad) where he was sentenced by an extrajudicial NKVD troika to execution. He was shot immediately after the NKVD troika session in December 1937. Most probably he was executed at the Rzhevsky artillery range and was buried in a secret grave in Koirangakangas near Toksovo together with 30,000 others who were executed by NKVD at the same time.

I love this man.

Anyone who loves his life loses it; anyone who hates his life in this world will keep it for the eternal life. If a man serves Me, he must follow Me, wherever I am, My servant will be there too.

John 12: 25-26a Jerusalem Bible