Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Things I’ve said before

In the desert, a nomad like all my ancestors…
The author of this blog is not a theologian trained in schools where they study what cannot be studied—theology.

He studied the humanities, something which can be studied because it is worldly, human knowledge.

He drew his faith and piety from parádhosis, παραδοσις, ‘handing over [the goods]’.

He received it in the way faith and piety are transmitted—from teacher to disciple, from parent to child, from elder to disciple, from Christian to Christian, in other words, by personal relationship.

For this reason he is one who experiences divine things, not one who learns about them, having faith as a guide and not knowledge (encyclopedic-scientific information).

He ‘walks by faith and not by sight,’ as Apostle Paul says
(2 Corinthians 5:7).

This is why his words sometimes seem harsh. He does not entertain the compromises that reveal little faith, nor accommodations to avoid being unpleasant to people of contrary views, nor any false brotherliness.

He believes at all times that ‘honesty is the best policy.’

‘…it will be no use… to sail for the World’s End with men unwilling or men deceived.’
C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Whether you have a degree or not (I don't), whether you're ordained or not (I'm not), as a follower of Jesus there isn't a moment when you're not available for ministry, not a location where you're exempt from doing His will. It's all just a matter of choice.

Not only in a ‘Christian’ context does the seed of the Word get planted in the souls around us by every action, every word, even every thought that issues from our being.

The call of Jesus is so fundamental, so basic, so universal, and so available (in the Word of God) that most people miss it.

The incense smoke screen between the sacred and profane is pierced by a mere puff of breath, of the Holy Breath, το πνευμα το αγιον, to pnévma to ághion, who lives in us.

It's good to say, ‘His will, not mine.’ As a follower of Jesus, it's good to keep repeating in your heart, ‘Not my will, but Yours, not my thoughts, but Yours, not my love, but Yours, not my life, but Yours.’

Over and over, we whisper it under our breath, we wake up hearing it flowing as the blood pulsing through our temples, we feel it reverberating with our every heartbeat. It is the background silence, ησυχία, isychía, to our waking stream of thought.

Everything is consecrated now, all water is holy water, all paths walked in obedience to the call of Jesus become paths to Paradise, though they pass through the valley of the shadow of death.

Go with God, dear brethren, and pray for Romanós the sinner who prays for you.
I am here with you.

Christ is born! Glorify Him!

The wrath of the Lamb


                    Lo! he comes, with clouds descending,                    
                    once for our salvation slain;                    
                    thousand thousand saints attending                    
                    swell the triumph of his train:                    
                    Alleluia! alleluia! alleluia!                    
                    Christ the Lord returns to reign.
                    
                    Every eye shall now behold him,
                    robed in dreadful majesty;                    
                    those who set at naught and sold him,                    
                    pierced, and nailed him to the tree,                    
                    deeply wailing, deeply wailing, deeply wailing,
                    shall the true Messiah see.


In the Western Christian world, the season of Christmas is ushered in by four weeks of Advent, remembering Christ’s second coming, during which the hymn quoted above is sung, certainly from the tone of the hymn, a frightful prospect for ‘those who set at naught and sold him,’ and a far cry from the spirit in which this season begins in the Orthodox world, ‘Today the Virgin comes to the cave to ineffably give birth to the Word before all worlds. Dance, O universe, upon hearing this…’

Reading the book of Revelation, in Greek, Η Αποκάλυψις του Ιωάννου, I am always struck by this very strange phrase, the wrath of the Lamb.’ If anything could present a more ironic picture, it would be a very, very angry lamb. Almost universally, the lamb is considered an animal of meekness, gentleness and, for children, even cuddliness. Notice I said ‘almost.’ There is something about lambs we don’t know, but the Word of God does, at least about THE Lamb.

When Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Divine Logos came the first time, He was born of woman, in an obscure place, at a time rushed and unnoticed—a census was being taken, was He even counted? Was anyone even there to receive Him? Did anyone know Who He was? Not really. Only His parents, and a handful of shepherds in the area. Only later did some astrologers from Babylon come in search for Him, and a little after that, a jealous and illegitimate worldly authority, Herod, tried to ‘nip Him in the bud,’ by having his soldiers cruelly kill all male children recently born in the area. ‘Innocent?’ he cried, ‘Not innocent! Guilty! Guilty of the womb! Guilty of the stars! There's room for only one king on this throne! Only Herod, only me!’

It will be a different story when Jesus Christ returns to earth in His second and glorious coming. It will be something like what the hymn relates, those who rejected Him ‘deeply wailing, shall the true Messiah see.’ The book of Revelation, a more reliable source than this hymn, says that they will cry out to the mountains and to rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us away from the One who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!’ (Revelation 6:16) The ikon that is always on the right side of the royal doors in an ikonostasis shows Christ seated on the throne. That’s who they’re talking about.

The wrath of the Lamb… so that’s why they fear him! That’s why our world is filled with people afflicted with the malady of Christophobia, the fear of Christ. There is a wonderfully well-written article by Srdja Trifkovic at the site Serbianna entitled Battling Christophobia in California and Serbia. I should rather have called it, Battling World Christophobia. Reading this article gave rise to the ramble above. I really latch on to a concept once a keyword has been cut for it, and Christophobia is that word. Read more at the link above, but here are some samples of what Trifkovic writes in his article…

The intention of post-moderns to destroy real people, with their natural loyalties, traditional morality, and inherited cultural preferences, is the same everywhere.

It is Christophobia, the incubator of countless secondary pathologies that are imposed and celebrated on both sides of the Atlantic under the label of diversity.

Western conservatives, he says, are hoping to save the key institution of the West—namely, Christianity—but Christianity did not originate in the West, and therein lies the crux of the matter: “The development of the West since 1054, in opposition to the Orthodox East, was a revolutionary act. The West, at its core, is revolutionary; hence the shouting of our conservatives for history to stop, while intermittently effective in slowing the slide, has proven vain. The West’s defining act was the fundamental innovation of the filioque. The fruit of the schism was apparent in successive heresies and rebellions, which led to the wars of religion that would kill millions and tear Europe apart. Later subversives would translate the revolutionary logic into decidedly unchristian contexts such as the French and Bolshevik revolutions, with monstrous results.”

While the unraveling of Western Christianity has been under way for a thousand years, it gained a new head of steam in our time. With Vatican II, Roman traditionalists were dealt a tremendous blow, and they are still suffering its consequences. Meanwhile, “The more traditionally minded Protestant denominations are now sprinting toward Sodom, while the newer ‘Bible churches,’ holding the line somewhat more effectively on the moral front, show themselves very much of this world in their Dionysian revels featuring ‘Christian’ rock music and self-help philosophies about how to succeed in the world of mammon without really trying. The job of shoring up what remains of traditional Western Christianity is, needless to say, not getting any easier.”

Orthodoxy, on the other hand, does not lend itself to the political realm, precisely because its kingdom is not of this world. It is impossible to turn Orthodoxy into a “movement” in the modern political sense, yet the Orthodox view on most political issues today largely tracks the views of traditional Roman Catholics and Protestants, in spite of their theological and ecclesiological differences: “Even in a decidedly Protestant and “revolutionary” country such as the United States, the Orthodox easily recognize the practical wisdom embodied in a document such as the Constitution and its principle of limited government. They are more than anyone averse to the deification of political figures and of the state that has been the bane of the modern era. But they are by nature ill-adapted to navigating the turbulent waters of modern politics, which grow ever more frenzied and anti-Christian.”

The greater part of the article discusses in more detail political and social issues that are not within the range of either my blog or my mindset. I am, and always will be, a rather apolitical Orthodox disciple. What is important to me is God, the Bible, following Jesus, witnessing for Him, and holding wide open the doors of the Church, not arguing or combating the evil one. He has already been defeated by Christ, both in His forty days’ temptation, and in his suffering on the Cross, and since no man can be greater than his Master, I can only hope the same for me, through enduring temptation and dying on the Cross, to enter Paradise with the good thief. But I did find it interesting that there are many in the world who are not of the world, and whose role in the Body of Christ is to unmask false ideologies and defrock false authority.

Knowing that to see the Lamb when He appears will be terror and wrath to the lost, let’s use what time remains to open their eyes to Him Who is, the Holy One, the Eternal, the Only Lover of mankind, the One who says, ‘Do not be afraid; it is I, the First and the Last; I am the Living One, I became dead and now I am to live for ever and ever, and I hold the keys of death and Hades’ (Revelation 1:17).

Christ is born! Glorify Him!

The best medicine

Only a religion that laughs at itself—but not at God—has half a chance at saving us from ourselves and delivering us safely to our destination. A serious faith—one that cannot let a giggle go between its passions and prayers—has little chance of saving anyone because it has no actual destination, only an itinerary: 'Climb aboard! We're on our way!'

Visiting the blog of a commenting reader of this, I found the poster that I reproduce here, a colorful rendition of what I thought was going to be a serious prayer, until I got to its ironic ending—ironic, but how true—and I was able to close and affirm it with more than a verbal 'amen'—with a smile and a little laugh as well. Nothing disrespectful here.

I have written on the question, Did Jesus ever laugh? Of course, He did, even if we don't find a bible verse 'Jesus laughed' to support this. Unless we believe in the manhood of the Christ as well as the deity, we cannot accept the fact that His daily life and concerns were no different from our own. Semantic wars have been fought over this. It is important.

My favorite film on the life of Christ, Jesus of Nazareth, portrays a very serious Jesus. In my opinion, it has only one real flaw. Christ doesn't laugh, He hardly ever smiles, He never even blinks His eyes. Resembling an ikon, this is the monophysite Christ of the Christian idealist. The beauty of the Transcendent moving among us as Immanent.

My other favorite film about Jesus is The Gospel of John. Here, Christ not only smiles, but laces His words with at least hints of laughter, all without detracting from one very serious fact: Here is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. He doesn't look much like the Christ of the ikons, but He walks much like the God who loves us.

Alexandria versus Antioch. That's how the sides in the semantic wars over the Divine Nature lined up. Neither side was entirely right or wrong. In the end, both were fused in a dual unity just as the God-manhood of the Christ was proclaimed. But history is long and people forget. We are always falling asleep and always being awakened. Does God laugh? I don't know, but I know that Jesus does.

Thank you, Winter, for bringing me around to rekindle this fact: God is love, love laughs, and laughter is, as they say, the best medicine.

Andrew the Apostle

Iconography by the hand of Matthew D. Garrett
November 30 is the feast day of holy apostle Andrew the First-Called.
Happy name day to all Andrews and Andreas.
God grant you many, many years!
Download a printable 8½x11 PDF file of this poster.

Χριστός Γεννάται, Δοξάσατε!

Thinking about Christmas, the nativity scene, an almost universally recognized symbol of the holiday, one that in recent times has provoked so much controversy, begging the question, where does private religion end and public indifference begin: I wondered to myself, how many people, Christian or not, even know where and when this Christmas tradition began? Once you’ve seen it—the straw-filled manger with baby, surrounded by adoring mother, standing-guard father, curious shepherds, and three visitors richly-robed and crowned—even without reading the bible, you know what’s going on, and unless you have a spoil-sport streak in you, you’re not likely to be offended by seeing a public display.

I was thinking about Francesco di Bernardone, the 12th-13th century Italian saint, who so greatly astonished his contemporaries, and me as well when I first read their accounts of him, that they believed he was, after Christ, the most perfect man who ever lived, a veritable second Jesus. His closest female disciple, Chiara Offreduccio, was likewise compared to the blessed virgin Mary. In one account, a devil who was being driven out of a possessed person, angrily revealed that St Francis and St Clare were purposely sent by God in His mercy to renew and refresh the Church, which had become so carnal and corrupt that if it didn’t repent and revive, He would’ve had to destroy it. I accepted all this uncritically.

From these same medieval records, we know that on a Christmas Eve of a certain year, Francesco had the idea to celebrate the midnight mass with a live representation of the Nativity of Christ. Out of this initial inspiration a tradition grew up, year after year, which eventually spread through the whole Church, changing to fit various cultures. Surprisingly, many groups of Christians that reject the traditions of Catholicism are avid promoters of the nativity scene, some of them using it to dislodge other traditions which they see as pagan superstition: they set out crèches instead of jack-o-lanterns at Halloween! But enough of this nonsense. For the disciple, Jesus is ‘a light that darkness cannot overpower.’

Thinking back to the stories about Francis and Clare, and of all the saints, as a new Christian my feeling for them was one of awe, and I held them in great reverence, as did my relatives and most other people around me. My faith was a religious faith, a kind of children’s version of Christianity, and imagination supplied what was lacking in personal experience. People can go through their entire lives never moving beyond this simple faith, and who’s to say it’s wrong? But for me, that was not enough, though at the time I little knew how insufficient it really was. Growing up in Christ opens your eyes to see the saints in a new way. It doesn’t diminish their stature. It magnifies it, because they cease being images; they come alive.

And coming alive, they invite you into their company, where no one is even thinking of being religious or of becoming saints. Why not? Because where they are is Paradise. There is no need of religion there, because men see God and speak with Him face to face. Why is where they are Paradise? Because they are in Christ, and they know it, and He is Paradise, and that is all that they know. When you follow them as they follow Him, very soon that is all that you know too. Nothing that you ever did before as a religious Christian goes away or is abandoned. You just grow up. Grow up into the stature of Christ. Francesco’s stigmata don’t cease being wonderful; they are just no longer a source of wonder: only Christ is.

Christ says, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’ This is not mere rhetoric or a pious promissory redeemable in heavenly assets. Life in Christ never can be because it never was or will be ‘pie in the sky,’ but it is always here, always today, always yes, because of His word, ‘Behold, I am with you till the end of the age.’ If we cannot wrap our minds around concepts like the Holy Trinity, we can at least experience the effects it has on us. I must say ‘it’ because no human language contains the fourth person pronoun comprised of the other three, which is singular and plural, masculine and feminine in the same iteration. ‘All who have been baptised into Christ have put on Christ.’ Incomparable to each other or to anyone, they are ‘saints.’

We are entering into the time beyond times, the great kairós of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Why let ourselves look on uncomprehending? Why not enter into the Nativity of the Son and Word of God, as Francesco of Assisi shows us? The pre-eternal Divine Nature reveals Himself as a new born child, and we can migrate with the magi following the star that stops and shines above where the Child lies. We have not and never come too late. The star still shines. The Child still is born, and He lives, and His birth of a virgin womb renews, recreates all human nature, and soon, even the whole material universe. ‘The ox and the ass know their Master’s crib.’ What about us? What about you? Christ is born! Let us glorify!
Χριστός Γεννάται, Δοξάσατε!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Prayer at the close of day

This prayer to the Holy Spirit was posted today in Fr Stephen's blog, Glory to God for All Things, and although I have many prayer books, I don't think I've ever seen this prayer in any of them. I think it is quite good and would like to share it with my readers who may not regularly visit Fr Stephen's blog. It's a prayer but at the same time a self-examination, something which can be hard to do in one's own words. I am laying the text out in a format that for me is easier to read, but otherwise the prayer is exactly as it appears at the source. I've also borrowed the graphic.

O Lord, the Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth:
Have compassion and mercy on me, Thy sinful servant!

Absolve me, who am unworthy.
Forgive all the sins I have committed this day
both in my humanity and my inhumanity,
behaving worse than beasts in sins voluntary and involuntary,
known and unknown, from my youth,
from evil suggestions, haste and despondency.

If I have sworn by Thy name
or blasphemed it in thought;
if I have reproached anyone or become angered by something;
or slandered or saddened 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 or quarreled with him;
or have judged someone;
or have allowed myself to become haughty, proud or angry;
or, when standing in prayer, my mind has been shaken
by the wickedness of this world;
or have entertained depraved thoughts;
or have over-eaten, over-drunk or laughed mindlessly;
or have had evil thoughts
or seen the beauty of someone
and been wounded by it in my heart;
or have spoken inappropriately;
or have laughed at my brother’s sins
when my own transgressions are countless;
or have been indifferent to prayer;
or have done any other evil that I can not remember—
for I have done all this and more:

Have mercy, O Master, my Creator, on me,
Thy despondent and unworthy servant!

Absolve, remit and forgive me, in Thy goodness
and love for mankind that I, who am prodigal, sinful and wretched,
may lie down in peace and find sleep and rest.

May I worship, hymn and praise Thy most honorable name,
with the Father and His only-begotten Son,
now and ever and unto ages of ages.

Amen.

Mercy

I traffic in trifling offenses, 
all the while playing games with God’s mercy, 
when I forget that the problem is not so much these sins
of commission or omission, 

but the fact of my human existence
being another instance of sin itself. 

I don’t need anyone to tell me that, and the proof is plain. 
I see it all around me in others.

Why should it not be true of myself? 
The wages of sin is death, 
and despite the saving grace of God who came in my sinful flesh though He was the only Sinless One, 
I must die.

What irony!
 
That the only Man who should not have died
because He alone is sinless, 

was put to death! 
Had we not killed Him,
He would have lived forever in His sinless flesh. 


Which of these is easier, to say “Your sins are forgiven,” 

or “Raise yourself up from death on the third day”? 

To prove that His mercy is towards us, 

His Father through the Holy Spirit’s life-creating power, 
commanded Him, “Take up your body, and live again!” 
And that is what He did, 
and so Christ, having been voluntarily put to death,
was raised to life, 

and is alive forever,
as He declared to John on the island of Patmos, 

granting the world great mercy.

But as for me, I am the sinner. 

No one has to teach me what the grace and mercy of God is, 
or what it feels like to be the dwelling-place
of Christ in the Holy Spirit. 

Christ living in me is so unlike the old man 
that His presence can sometimes feel like a fire 
that sears flesh and separates bone from bone, 
grating against hardened attitudes and wrong desires 
with soul-shattering intensity. 

No need to pretend that there is anything good in me of my own. 

Everything is grace, everything mercy and love 
poured out like cooling water over the furnace of my flesh, 
which in sins my mother conceived me, 
causing that cast-iron prison to break asunder, 
cracked open by the meeting of earthly and unearthly in me. 

There is no priest waiting for me to confess, 

waiting to ask me, “What’s on your list today?”
I know better than to play games with God’s mercy 

in the presence of His anointed, 
whose eyes and ears become those of my Master. 

I only cry to Him, “Lord, have mercy! 

All that I long for is known to You, 
my sighing is no secret from You. 
Take my life, and make it Yours. 
O Lord, for You alone are Holy.”

How strange it is, how unexpected, 

that salvation should work in this way: 
That what is to live forever, by grace, 
is incubated in something like a rotten timber, 
destined for the flames; 
that as it grows and takes the shape of its Maker’s will, 
it still must bear the humiliation of its origin in decay, 
until at last it is freed.

But is it really strange, really unexpected?
 
Yes, but only to our mortality, 
which cannot think beyond itself to see what mercy 
waits for those who sleep. 

Thinking it is awake, it only dreams, 

and left to itself, it never escapes its dreams. 
But blessed are those who sleep in the Lord, 
for they shall awake, 
and upon waking, they shall gaze their fill on His likeness.

Είη το όνομα Κυρίου ευλογημένον 

από του νυν και έως του αιώνος.
Blessed be the name of the Lord 

from this time forth and for ever more.

No place like home

To the Jews who believed in Him Jesus said, “If you make My word your home you will indeed be my disciples, you will learn the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
John 8:31-32 Jerusalem Bible


Immediately upon hearing these words, argument and self-justification breaks out. Instead of attending to the first statement, the ‘if’ of Jesus’ word, His hearers latch on to the second statement, that in being His disciples ‘indeed’ they will be made free by the truth.

They take charge of the word He just spoke to them and immediately jump on it, assuming the worst, accepting it as an accusation or challenge to what they think they are. “We are descended from Abraham and we have never been the slaves of anyone! What do you mean…?”

Nothing has changed, not with the Jews who believed in Him (for those are the very people that He was addressing and who came back with an argument), nor with the modern Christians (who also say they believe in Him, as long as…). They too pass over the ‘if’ of Jesus' word. Instead, they focus on themselves, not on Him, not on what He is really saying.

What He is really saying they don't even hear. What He is really telling them is the straightforward path to discipleship and fellowship with Him, and they meet it with silence.

So, the silence of the Word is met with silence, with non-recognition, by those ‘who believed in Him.’

Who can receive the word of Jesus in silence, just as He speaks it, without the interference of the ‘believing’ but questioning mind?
For this defines a great divide, a great gulf which cannot otherwise be bridged, between what we are and what we think we are, what the Word declares and what we think it declares, between discipleship and our need to justify ourselves.

The call to discipleship is answered by a simple ‘Yes’ and, as Ignatios of Antioch writes in his letter to the church at Ephesos,

“a man who has truly mastered the utterances of Jesus will also be able to apprehend His silence, and thus reach full spiritual maturity, so that his own words have the force of actions and his silences the significance of speech. Nothing is hidden from the Lord; even our most secret thoughts are present to Him. Whatever we do, then, let it be done as though He Himself were dwelling within us, we being as it were His temples and He within us as their God. For in fact, that is literally the case; and in proportion as we rightly love Him, so it will become clear to our eyes.”
(Ignatios of Antioch, Ephesians, ch. 15)

For what does the Word Himself declare to us?

Jesus replied, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and We shall come to him and make Our home with him.”
John 13:23 JB

Except for Jesus

I can no longer condemn or hate other Christians for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble they cause me. In intercessory prayer the face that may have been strange and intolerable to me is transformed into the face of one for whom Christ died, the face of a pardoned sinner.
— Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

This is of course very true, that if and as we pray, intercede, for others, we cannot condemn or hate them. I wish I could say that this is a general truth in general practice, but it is not. By and large the Church of today does
not pray, even when it goes through the motions formally in liturgies and litanies, even when it gathers in little clutches of ‘Spirit-filled’ prayer. No matter where you go in Christianity today, real prayer is at a bare minimum, carried on probably more in private, in ones, twos and threes, perhaps a few more, but still pitifully thin. So should it surprise us that the churches are in the state they're in?


Bonhoeffer says, “A Christian community either lives by the intercessory prayers of its members for one another, or the community will be destroyed” (ibid.). This is rather strong language, but is it true? I think it is. What we see around us is in fact destroyed Christian communities. Notice he didn’t say, ‘annihilated’ but ‘destroyed.’ I would be interested to know whether the word he used was zerstört (German, utterly destroyed) or some other expression.


Coming from America's greatest poet, quoted on the 4th of July in my blog, “no man has ever yet been half devout enough; none has ever yet adored or worship’d half enough,” and these words coming from a man who was certainly not a mainstream Christian, if he was a Christian at all. Yet, I agree with him, adding, “no man has ever yet prayed enough, interceded enough,” and I can say that with only one objective piece of evidence—myself.


I don't know what else to say. I try to pray without ceasing. I even pray while I am consciously sinning, if you can call that prayer. Yet, even my standing before God as I am in complete confession of my sinful state, trusting in His mercy and grace alone to save me from myself, I know that the greater sin is my inability or lack of dedication to pray, asking for the needs of the brethren. I hold up the lives of those I love, but rarely those I hate, or am indifferent to. And my prayer to Him, to help me to pray better, to intercede more manfully, seems to me to be pure hypocrisy.


In the end, I can only say, “Lord, let it be unto me according to Your will, not according to my deeds, for I am pitiful, blind and lost, except for Jesus.”

Saturday, November 26, 2011

You cannot be too gentle

You cannot be too gentle, too kind.
Shun even to appear harsh in your treatment of each other.
Joy, radiant joy, streams from the face of him who gives and kindles joy in the heart of him who receives.
All condemnation is from the devil.
Never condemn each other…
Instead of condemning others, strive to reach inner peace.
Keep silent, refrain from judgment.
This will raise you above the deadly arrows of slander, insult, and outrage and will shield your glowing hearts against all evil.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Five new blogs

Eyewitnesses
Short stories, memoirs of the first generation of Christ's disciples, eyewitnesses of the resurrection and what followed from it.
Hidden in the Clefts
My prayers, collected from various posts in 
Cost of Discipleship.
Gift of Tears
My poems, written for and posted 
in Cost of Discipleship.
Signs of Life
My poems, previously published or unpublished, some posted in
Cost of Discipleship, from the 1980's.
Living in Luxury
My song lyrics, previously published or unpublished, some posted in Cost of Discipleship, from the 1980's.
All of these blogs are works in process. As you may have guessed, I like to write, and seeing in a corpus what I've written so far helps me see where I might go next. I was surprised to see I had written so much. I never know when a blog post will be my last. Other projects and work are taking up most of my creative energies right now, and it's easier for me to just collect and review. To begin with, I'm only copying posts to the new blogs. Later, the originals may disappear from Cost of Discipleship. If you're interested, take a look!

Αιωνία η μνήμη - Memory Eternal

My beloved mother reposed on this day twenty-five years ago. It seems a lifetime and a world away. The proof of the resurrection of Christ in me is her faith, in which she now is safely harbored in life eternal, waiting for the rest of us to arrive, her whole life in God now poured out for others as she always wanted, but could not achieve, on this earth. Out of the sound of her accuser's cries, she rests in the paradise of God. Αιωνια σου η μνημη, αξιομακαριστος και αειμνηστος αδελφη ημων. May your memory be eternal, dear sister, for you are worthy of blessedness and everlasting memory. Może pamięć wieczna, droga siostro, bo jesteś godzien szczęścia i wiecznej pamięci.
I post this at the clock time of my mother's repose, just as I marked it in my Jerusalem Bible, after parsing off the psalms for the twenty-fifth day, the day of her birth (on Christmas) and her death (Tuesday of Thanksgiving Week).

Though these wretches have almost done for me,
I have never abandoned Your precepts.
Lovingly intervene, give me life,
and I will observe your decrees.
Lasting to eternity, Your Word,
Yahweh, unchanging in the heavens.
Psalm 119:87-89
corresponding to 7:30 p.m., November 25, 1986

Biography

My mom was the second child of her parents, Pawel Milewski and Maria Kozinska, the eldest of three sisters, and she grew up in inner city Chicago in the 1920's and 30's. The family was Roman Catholic from Warsaw, Poland. Their house was in a Mafia infested neighborhood, and my uncle, her brother, married a Sicilian. The household was very cultural in a Central European bourgeois sort of way, and it didn't change after the war.

As a child staying there in the 1950's, everything was just as it was in the 20's. I always felt it to be a magical place, another world filled with wonderful things I never saw anywhere else… persian rugs in profusion, rare tropical birds uncaged on their perches and other birds, just as rare, in their cages with the little doors often open, so they could exercise their wings at will, plastic covered overstuffed couches, my grandmother's collections of rare dolls, her little family of rare dogs… pekingese, pomeranian, spits, chihuahua… the half-lot garden which I remember now as being a veritable paradise to explore but which was only a strip of ground two and half yards wide that flanked the house on one side, where the lawn swing was.

There too was grandpa's basement hide-out, his workshop, and the little bedroom in the back porch that had a secret connexion back to the kitchen through a high windowlike opening where a large cookie jar was placed on the ledge, reachable from the kitchen or the bedroom. One always hoped to be invited to stay the night, because of those cookies that could be had without asking.
This is where my mother grew up.
I love this old photo from her first holy communion. Mom is the girl on the right. It would have been taken around 1928. The clothes the kids are wearing, and their non-chalant poses, are so cute. It's nice to know that Mom’s crowd was a lot like ‘the Little Rascals

My mother did not have a happy life, but rather one with a lot of personal tragedy, and as a result she fell away from Christian community from about age 40, and became even more isolated. She and her siblings were a violent bunch, and what could have been a virtue in her, a vibrant and athletic personal energy, gradually decayed into a life of unending vendetta, and a kind of mental illness set in. She made her marriage unendurable, and it ended. Eventually her devotion to her children drove all of them off except me, except that I moved away, first to Canada, then to Oregon, and never to return. So she wrote me often.

From a letter dated January 4, 1974…

I’m always and forever thinking about God, and never—not once—have I blamed God for my unlucky life. Just knowing that God and I know this to be true is what’s keeping me on till God wants me. Even if everyone on the face of the earth ignores me or is angry at me, I don’t care. I have God if no one else, and I’m happy. I can pray and talk to God and I know He hears me. I’m always praying for everyone, but I don’t go telling them, and I ask God to forgive them, because they don’t know any better.

I do not demand from God. I only feel I got what I had coming, and I will get what I deserve. There is only One God, and He only knows. I even thank God for all the bad luck I’ve had. Hard to believe, but it’s the honest truth. And again I say, God and I only know this. I expect to be punished by God, if I need it, but also forgiven, if I deserve it.

I really wish I could be a nun, even at this late age. By God’s standards I am a sinner, but God understands and forgives me, I know. All I ask God is to help me do the right things, to be with me always, there to help me in this way, and to forgive me and give me another chance. All I can do in return is live a life like God wants us to. I never ask God to give me something, only to help me and show me the way to do my best, and never to give up.

You see, I’m not without sin, but I don’t blame God. I ask Him to stand by me and never lose faith in me. I can’t help myself, and maybe I’m taking longer [than I should], but I’ll always keep on trying, because I know God is with me.

I could say more, but I’ll close on this note. We’re all sinners. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

And from another letter, written September 2, 1974, these words about her repentance…

I sit and think all the time, how we only have one life, and how people can really waste it, like I did. The only time I feel so good is when I’m trying to go to sleep. I talk to God, and I just can’t explain how I feel and what I see, how it will be when I’m gone. You know, I feel so very happy, and I’m not afraid. God will remember me and forgive me, because I never blamed God for my bad life. I only remember what was good, and how happy I was. The rest that happened was only when I went off [on] the side road, and it took me longer to get back. Remember, it was [when we lived] on Ross Street, you were telling and showing us about that road, and how one can stray. It took me longer [to get back] because the devil was stronger than me. I feel I could have done something sooner and will never forgive myself for straying that long, but I know God will forgive me. So now, all there is for me is the straight ahead road, and I’m sure not turning either way. It’s too close to the end to let the devil win again.

If you’ve read this far, I thank you, brethren, for helping me stop and remember the soul of this dear sister, my mother.

Our God

Our God, the living God of Israel, whose Divine Word became a man for us and for the whole human race, out of pure love, to save and to deify all souls that do not resist Him, can never be circumscribed by our thoughts or our beliefs, nor can the words even of Jesus be used by us to deny salvation to anyone, but only to extend it, graciously.

Our hope for the salvation of unbelievers is nothing compared to the mercy and love of God which our imaginary lines cannot restrain, for His Son came not to condemn the world, but to save it, and to bestow eternal life. Not everyone who believes is aware of their own faith, nor does everyone believe who says or thinks they do.

God is incapable of making a mistake. No one whose soul seeks Him, whether they know Him or not, is condemned, and no one is saved by no matter how much religious devotion, if all along they were seeking only themselves. God, not man, knows the difference, and infallibly.

All who have faith, wait. As for the others, let them judge, saved or condemned, to no avail. Only God is God, and only God is love.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Μεγαλύνει - Magnificat

Μεγαλύνει η ψυχή μου τον Κύριον
και ηγαλλίασεν το πνευμά μου επι τω Θεω τω σωτηρί μου…

Magnificat anima mea Dominum,
et exsultavit spiritus meus in Deo salvatore meo…

My soul doth magnify the Lord :
and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
For he hath regarded :
the lowliness of his handmaiden.
For behold, from henceforth :
all generations shall call me blessed.
For he that is mighty hath magnified me :
and holy is his Name.
And his mercy is on them that fear him :
throughout all generations.
He hath shewed strength with his arm :
he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He hath put down the mighty from their seat :
and hath exalted the humble and meek.
He hath filled the hungry with good things :
and the rich he hath sent empty away.
He remembering his mercy
hath holpen his servant Israel :
as he promised to our forefathers,
Abraham and his seed for ever.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son,
and to the Holy Spirit,
as it was in the beginning, is now,
and ever shall be, world without end.
Amen.

My soul doth magnify the Lord…

(Book of Common Prayer, Luke 1:46-55)

Beauty

‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.’
— John Keats (1795–1821), Ode on a Grecian Urn

Early one morning I was at the market purchasing some medicine and a couple of items of grocery. As I was walking past the refrigerated displays, I approached a woman who was making a careful selection of a carton of eggs. Her back was to me, and she was rather tall, but she looked very familiar somehow.

A feeling of my childhood came over me and then quickly yielded to speculative thought. It was very cold that day. Even though it was still November, an autumn month, the air was very chilly that week. In fact, that's probably why I started to feel sick the afternoon of the day before, catching a chill sitting at my desk at work. The office was very cold.

The woman was dressed in a simple but elegant long coat with luxurious fur collar, something that seemed a little out of place.

Her head was covered by a white scarf with subtle raised patterns on it. The way the head scarf was arranged over her head, combined with the long coat, and underneath a long skirt, summoned feelings I hadn't had since a young boy.

That's exactly how my grandmother dressed, my sophisticated Warsaw busia, who would never go out unless she was sure of being properly attired and head covered, but not with any old babuszka on her head, rather, something elegant like this woman's head covering. I could tell from her height and her confident stance, even from behind, she was no grandmother.

As I passed her, I very quickly and shyly looked at the face peering out of the white silken head scarf. Ah, just as I thought! An African woman. I looked hurriedly away so as not to make her uncomfortable. The speculation that my mind played with as I came up behind her, that she might be an Eastern European Orthodox woman, quickly dissipated.

One part of me fully expected to see a Polish or Russian face with rosy cheeks peering from under that headscarf, but another part of me wasn't surprised that it was probably an Ethiopian or even a Somali woman, though neither of them should have been dressed quite that way. The Somali women especially are too colorful, and their head coverings are Islamic.

This woman wore her clothing and scarf like a European woman. I'm still at a loss to decide what her ethnicity was, but she was definitely an African, and though I did not look at her facial features long enough to visualise them, I knew she was a beautiful woman. Her beauty radiated from her feminine heart, expressed in her choice of clothes, and her womanly confidence.

I haven't seen such women in a long time.

I grew up in inner city Chicago in the 1950's and early 60's. My mother wouldn't dream of leaving the house without something on her head. This wasn't just something to wear to church. No, every journey outside the home, her head was covered. My mother was very modern, though, and I knew by her style, she would do everything differently.

My older sister, five years my senior, reluctantly covered her head too when she went out, from about the age of 8 to her high school years. She would wear the head scarf, but once she passed the first house on the opposite side of the street, I think she often took it off and put it away in her purse. I did the same with my spectacles, because I was ashamed of being ‘four eyes.’

I remember, in my 7th and 8th grade class, most of the girls still tied at least a skimpy little scarf over their bouffant hair styles, and it made them look almost comical. They were all very pretty, and it seemed to me a bit ridiculous that they'd cover their heads like that. We were almost all second generation children of Polish, Ukrainian, Slovak, Greek and Italian immigrants.

We moved away suddenly as I entered high school to a new, suburban village where everyone was a transplant from somewhere else. Everyone had to form new relationships and evolve new customs and ways of dressing. I almost never saw girls or women with covered heads in that town, or anytime after that. Femininity would learn to express itself in a different way.

A lot of thoughts like these passed through my mind as I walked past the woman selecting eggs. The mystique of woman, something totally absent in today's society, was located in her. I could feel that too, and ‘I was awed by the beauty’ of it. Again, quickly, images of the Theotokos and all the women saints in the ikons, surrounding Christ the true Man, held me.

‘What have we lost?’ was answered with ‘What we have lost!’ in my rational mind, as I realised that I had just experienced a glimpse of a lost world, the world of my childhood, where men and women knew who they were, were confident enough in it that they could be different, where the secret doctrine of ‘man builds the outer world, woman nurtures the inner’ was still happening.

Strains of Chopin's Nocturne #2 in E-flat major drift through my head, as I remember that lost world. The autumn sun filtering in through the lace curtains in Busia's sitting room, as I sat quietly with her while she taught me to embroider. Embroider? Yes, for Poles it is not an art for women only. Perhaps my older sister was too rambunctious, but I could sit still.

Women's things were for women, and men's for men. Busia never went down to Grampa's workshop where he handcrafted small items of carved furniture. She let him be, and he returned the favor. There she was, all afternoon, tending the roses and vegetables in her half-lot garden, while he sat on a wooden stool talking man things with my other grandpa.

Beyond all argument in words, wisdom is proved by living, and living by the Word of God.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Let your words ring true…

…and do not let them appear to create a divide between the systematic and holistic aspects inherent in Orthodoxy, and other expressions of Christianity.

We can be thankful for what we have accepted from our holy and pious ancestors in the faith and from the saints with whom we are living and working out our salvation today, and we can also praise them.

The opportunity lies in our invitation extended to those who haven’t yet ‘seen the true Light… received the heavenly Spirit… found the true faith.’ This is no scolding, but an invitation to greater love,

that greater love which causes us to lay down our lives for our brothers. And who are our brothers? People even closer to us than our neighbors, and yet even between them we draw no distinction.

We are all met by Christ Himself, regardless of whether we are Orthodox or not, even Christians or not. We are all met by Him and offered eternal life, by the Savior of the world who did not let His divinity overwhelm His humanity.

In the same way, let’s walk together in the seamless faith which confesses no tear, moving through the world as the One Body of Christ wearing His undivided garment, that which soldiers wagered to win.

‘He who does not gather with Me, scatters,’ says the Lord Jesus Christ, who does not notice anything about us other than our need. Just as holy apostle Paul says, we are unspiritual. The Spirit in us must take us to Himself.

The sheep who were wandering aimlessly without a shepherd have been gathered and are being gathered by the Shepherd of souls, who is presenting us to His Father, the heavenly King.

Come let us worship, and fall down before Yahweh our Maker, for we are the people He pastures, the flock that He guides (Psalm 95). Keeping our eyes on Jesus, following Him closely, other sheep follow, if only we give them room.

Blessèd thanks

He has given me all, everything I have, all I am. There is nothing I have that He has not given, nothing of my being that He has not created. All is from Him, nothing real from myself. Nothing.

And what do I give Him in return? What can I give Him who has given me all and who Himself has all and is all? We are not separated from each other as a rich man is from a poor man. No, the contrast is much greater. We are separated from each other as being is separated from non-being. I only am because He wills it. I cannot even say ‘I am’ as He can say ‘I am.’ When I say it, it is only a confession that He is. When He says it, it is His very Name.

I try at least to thank Him, as dust thanks the light for revealing it to itself. But even in the open mouth of my thanksgiving “He fills the hungry with good things” (Luke 1:53), or as the psalmist declares of the Lord Yahweh, “you have only to open your mouth for Me to fill it” (Psalm 81:10). As Francesco di Bernardone says, “We are all poor in the eyes of our Lord,” and it is our poverty, our very nothingness, that attracts His grace and draws down His unbounded mercy. As General Löwenhielm asserted in his testimony at Babette’s feast, “we come to realize that mercy is infinite. We need only await it with confidence and receive it with gratitude.” God is good. What else can we say of Him? Nothing is enough, yet He accepts all.

Repent for me, Spirit of God

Where can you look, my soul,
where you will not see the signs of His love for you?
Everywhere you turn, outside yourself or within,
are the signs of His love.
The very comforter you lie on to rest, He provided.
Your holy ikons and books,
all your holy things given out of love,
out of solicitude for your needs,
all the gifts of His friendship.

And within, the secret things He has divulged to your soul,
and the love with which He taught you
the languages of His Holy Scripture.
And through all your lonelinesses and trials,
He has stood beside you,
comforting and defending you, never judging you,
because He knows the Word planted in you
will purify you and raise you after any possible fall.
Such was and is His great love for you, my soul,
such was and is His respect for you.

Yet, like a stranger you turn away from Him,
as if He were an enemy to be despised.
You judge Him, as if He were a criminal to be punished.
Worse than His people who accused Him,
when He fed them with manna and quails and gave them drink
from a rock that followed them.
And worse even than them whom He healed and fed,
and who nevertheless gave Him up to be crucified.

What madness is this?
What ingratitude hidden amidst the foliage of piety?
Is this the kind of Jew you are, my soul,
continuing the work of your fathers who slew the prophets?

Lord, have mercy.

I go to You, Lord,
as one who has not yet made a beginning of serving You,
yet the time is close.

Repent for me, Spirit of God,
press me harder through the sieve of repentance.
Hold back my coarse and useless dust,
let through only the flour refined by Your grace.
Moisten me, then, with real tears and knead me,
yeastless, into a level loaf.
Pierce me all over,
that in the earthen oven of tribulation
my body may bear the stripes darkened by the fire,
to guide the fingers that must break me in pieces
for the brethren.

Yes, Lord, I go to You as one
who has made not even a beginning of serving you.

Lord, have mercy.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Family

In the case of real toy soldiers or statues, if one came to life, it would obviously make no difference to the rest. They are all separate. But human beings are not. They look separate because you see them walking about separately. But then, we are so made that we can see only the present moment. If we could see the past, then of course it would look different. For there was a time when every man was part of his mother, and (earlier still) part of his father as well: and when they were part of his grandparents. If you could see humanity spread out in time, as God sees it, it would not look like a lot of separate things dotted about. It would look like one single growing thing—rather like a very complicated tree. Every individual would appear connected with every other.

— C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
Book IV, Chapter 5, “The Obstinate Toy Soldiers”

Years ago, newly reborn as a Christian, when I read these words it were as though a dream too good to be true came true for me, it were as though some invisible threat were suddenly collapsed and trapped forever under a weight that could not be removed. The very core of my being, that I could not express without misunderstanding or instant criticism, was justified. What I suspected, what I wanted to be true, that God is a ‘family man’ and that He really created us to be too, and that ‘family’ was more than what I had experienced growing up, really was true.

Later on, when I had read the psalms enough to notice them and have my favorites, Psalm 133 had the same effect on me, and still does, every time I read it. Here was what humanity was made for. Here was what brother should mean to brother, what father should mean to son, and son to father, even what husband and wife should mean to one another.

How good, how delightful it is
for all to live together like brothers:
fine as oil on the head,
running down Aaron’s beard
to the collar of his robes;
copious as a Hermon dew
falling on the heights of Zion,
where Yahweh confers His blessing,
everlasting life.

This is what I was longing for when I ran away from home, on my own personal ‘road to find out,’ looking for this in a New Age hippie commune, where I was the only non-hippie there, and quickly ejected as some kind of antibody. They knew that despite appearances, I didn’t really want what they wanted. I wanted more than mere appearances. I wanted the reality. That was something they must’ve instinctively known was impossible for them, without Christ. So man’s curse turned for me into God’s blessing. God is a ‘family man’ for true, and He wanted me to be one too.

But family, like everything else that’s true, cannot be created by human effort alone, for man, fallen man, though starting out even with right intentions in mind and right actions in hand, will fail, will fall into the same old heresies of self-love, envy, pride and wrath. Only Christ can teach us what love is, and therewith provide in Himself the only true foundation for what we call, and long for, as ‘family.’

So it’s not surprising then when the mystery of division rears up even in the midst of ‘the best of families.’ It’s sad to me and distressing in the utmost to witness parents weighing and calculating their rights against their children to the penny, unwilling to continue to be the sheltering tent of love over them, not realising that they are the foundation on which their son or daughter builds their house, but ejecting them perforce with a spirit almost of competition or ‘survival of the fittest’ with which an animal in the wild might eject its offspring. I am embarrassed by it when I see it, almost embarrassed at being a human myself, even though this attitude is completely foreign to me.

Only the grace of God working in us can produce fruit for love, remake us in the divine image that was shattered by the fall when we ejected ourselves by knowingly breaking the only commandment given to us, consciously taking the only thing that was not permitted us. When we get what we want, denying what we need, it only crushes us lower, so that the things we want become more and more debased, and so that we can no longer hear our hearts crying out for love, and so our own love grows cold. Greed shrivels the soul. The fruitless fig tree withers under Christ’s curse. Was it really not at fault? Can God Himself be wrong to demand from us what He has given us in trust?

These ramblings I offer to the good Lord who called me in the depths of my being and said to me, “Do not be afraid, it is I” (John 6:20), asking Him to forgive my sins and negligences, and my betrayals of the love He has entrusted to me, and to other parents, and asking His mercy on us all.

Cleanse us, Father, from our iniquities and save us from ourselves, unite us to You and to each other in the bonds of love, knowing no debts and holding no accounts between us except to love one another, knowing that we are all worth more than money, and that we have been bought and paid for, by the blood of a Lamb without spot, Your only Son our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Signs

It is Wednesday afternoon and I just received a link to this marvellous (truly marvellous) story about some (currently) ‘weeping ikons’ from my συγκοινωνὸς ἐν τῇ θλίψει καὶ βασιλεία καὶ ὑπομονῇ ἐν Ἰησοῦ (Revelation 1:9) ‘fellow-partaker of tribulation, kingdom and perseverance in Jesus,’ brother Eric John. I would publish it today, but for the fact it would interrupt the daily posting of St Innocent’s tract, Indication of the Way into the Kingdom of Heaven. So, I am am posting it just a few days ahead. I have seen myrrh-flowing ikons here in America, and have even recently been anointed with myrrh from one that was ‘passing through’ not many months ago, but the whole idea of relics and ikons flowing myrrh or weeping still seems rather incomprehensible to me. That is my fault, and has nothing to do with their reality. The following article is reproduced verbatim from the blog Second Terrace. This is something to think, and pray, about. God grant us His mercy in these days leading up to the parousía of the Christ.

The weeping of the icons

The icons of the Theotokos are weeping. They are doing so at the churches of two of my priest-friends.

At one place, a young boy noticed the strange gleaming, streaming down the face and robes of the Mother of God, during the Great Entrance. The choir was singing "We who mystically represent the Cherubim ..." My friend heard the shuffling of feet behind him, as one side of the church crossed the aisle, in irresistable wonder, to see better.

At the place of my other friend, the oil cannot be contained, and needs to be soaked up by cotton.

In both places, my friends refuse to publish press releases. In fact, they avoid media attention altogether, rightly fearful of the spectacle that the News would bring. One can only imagine: apparition-seekers, professional skeptics, celebrity-addicts. "Did you hear in one place a man was arrested with paint in his bag?" my friend told me, with no small anxiety. "The man was going to throw it on the miraculous icon, to stop the weeping."

So the news gets out through informal channels, much like the messianic secret, and the attendant miracles, resonate like fire through the networks of family and neighbors. And the people now enter these places with a hush, with aching curiosity, that in this time of doubt there would be something, still, that is obvious, but cannot be figured out.

Of course, the miracle remains despite the comic flesh-and-blood cycle proceeding around it. In both places, hunkiness obtains -- and some of you know exactly what I mean. Despite the pastor's poignant plea to venerate with reverential care, some have rushed to the icon, wiping it childishly with their palm and smearing their faces in a rush. Some have begrudged the amount others have gained, thinking that the blessing can be quantified, measured out, like a cash economy. Some have wondered why the same miracle doesn't happen in their more deserving places, as if God should follow an objective criteria of grace and blessing.

My friend complained that one of his colleagues even wondered, aloud, in front of the laity: "What omen is this? What bad thing is about to occur? Hundreds of icons wept like this in Russia before the Revolution came."

That last remark is not exactly, historically true. But nonetheless, it is a native thing to interpret the supernatural as doom. I have heard this sort of thing frequently. I also hear it in my head.

Signs, first of all, always impend the other-ness of God. Other-ness, especially the numinous sort, is always upsetting, even to the faithful. Familiarity is nice, mainly because it exists wholly within the extrapolations of past experience. Everything familiar is completely predictable, understandable, categorize-able, and -- best of all -- define-able.

Weeping icons are never familiar.

Signs are wild. They haunt the daylight and lurk in dreams. They are heavier and more substantial than the common mass of the world. I think old men dream dreams, and young men see visions, in the before and after and sideways of Signs.

They are also offensive and scandalous. If these weeping icons are true (and I believe they are), then there are some troubling implications. I would never advocate the scientific observation of or experiementation with them, but consider this "thought experiment." Imagine that one of these weeping icons had been weighed before the onset of the miraclous exuding of the oil.

Then, after the weeping, collect all the miraculous oil, until the icon is completely dry. Weigh the oil (or "chrism," or "myron"). Weigh the icon. The oil will possess an observable, weighable mass.
So will the icon: but the weight of it will not have changed from its "pre-miracle" weight. Which raises the question: where did the mass of the oil come from?

Indeed, most people presume—as a "default" presumption -- that the oil somehow seeped from the depths of the wood or the many layers of the icon painting. Surely, some condensation exuded from the "building up" process of icon writing? And yet, if this experiment would be performed, no such loss of mass would be observed.

There are variables, I'm sure, that may not be so easily observed, and these variables I think are provided by God so that skeptics may not have their sensibilities overthrown so ruinously. Wood in various levels of humidity will absorb water. And, it may be possible that various condensates from the atmosphere, reacting to the surface of the icon, can form as beads of "perspiration."

As I said, I am happy that these "escape" clauses exist for the sake of materialists who God would not want to be so broken. Yet, I am more than willing to accept the limits of materialist predicates. I am also willing to accept the inadequacy of mathematical and physical laws: Godel's Theorem itself suggests that mathematics cannot sufficiently explain itself. And if it cannot, neither can any science.

So we are left with the icons that weep, and a sign to be accepted or rejected. A sign that is manifested, largely independent of appropriate or boorish behavior. It is affected by faith. I know of one instance where a weeping icon was placed on an analogion before the people. But because some were so bitter and unforgiving in the audience, the icon ceased to weep, and only began to manifest the sign again when it was returned to an atmosphere of faith.

I wonder. I wonder why this sign of myrrh-gushing is so substantially linked to the intercessory ministry of the Theotokos, the Mother of God? Is it necessarily "weeping"? Is the Theotokos grieving, like Rachel, for her children sinking into exile? Mourning because her family is so strung out by the pallid mists of the prince of the air?

I wonder, too, how this iconic myrrh-gushing is related to the myrrh-gushing of the relics of the saints —like the oils of Demetrios and Nicholas, in Thessolonika and Bari? Is there some eschatological mystery? Is there a harbinger of the succession of societies and cultures? Which I happen to think.

They make me wonder, these icons, with the hair raised on the back of my neck and my skin chilled by the frisson of mysterium tremens: I do not doubt that the Theotokos holds nothing but maternity toward us, and that Christ her Son is Shepherd, Samaritan and Friend. This I do not doubt: I quickly believe every story of miraculous healing, especially in conjunction with appearance of this miraculous myrrh. One little girl, in a certain place, told her mother during Divine Liturgy that the Theotokos was crying.

It was the great icon of the Theotokos in the apse above the Altar, in the dome. And the oil was dropping straight onto the floor. The priest collected the oil. After Liturgy, he anointed the girl. At that hour, the girl was delivered of her cancer, and the weeping ceased. So I interpret the sign of the icons weeping as Christ caring for His own, but signaling to the world that it is being judged.

This dual meaning is a hard dichotomy for us, for we are asked a question with which the first generations of the Church knew very well. Perhaps successive moments in history, particulary after Constantine, forgot the scandal of the question. But it would be good to serve it up again.

Look at the weeping icon. She asks this: "Will you trust Him? The God Who is love, but Who is also terrible?"