Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Psalm for the 31st day

Edward Poynter, Miriam, Dalziel's Bible Gallery, Tate Collections, 1864
EXODUS 15
Song of victory
It was then that Moses and the sons of Israel sang this song in honor of Yahweh.

Yahweh I sing: He has covered Himself in glory,
horse and rider He has thrown into the sea.

Yah is my strength, my song,
He is my salvation.
This is my God, I praise Him;
the God of my father, I extol Him.

Yahweh is a warrior;
Yahweh is His name.

The chariots and the army of Pharaoh
He has hurled into the sea;
the pick of his horsemen lie drowned in the Sea of Reeds.
The depths have closed over them;
they have sunk to the bottom like a stone.

Your right hand, Yahweh, shows majestic in power,
Your right hand, Yahweh, shatters the enemy.
So great Your splendor, You crush Your foes;
You unleash Your fury, and it devours them like stubble.
A blast from Your nostrils and the waters piled high;
the waves stood upright like a dike;
in the heart of the sea the deeps came together.

‘I will give chase and overtake,’ the enemy said.
‘I shall share out the spoil, my soul will feast on it;
I shall draw my sword, my hand will destroy them.’
One breath of Yours You blew, and the sea closed over them;
they sank like lead in the terrible waters.

Who among the gods is Your like, Yahweh?
Who is Your like, majestic in holiness,
terrible in deeds of prowess, worker of wonders?
You stretched Your right hand out, the earth swallowed them!
By Your grace You led the people You redeemed,
by Your strength You guided them to Your holy house.

Hearing of this, the peoples tremble;
pangs seize on the inhabitants of Philistia.
Edom's chieftains are now dismayed,
the princes of Mo’ab fall to trembling,
Canaan's inhabitants are all unmanned,
on them fall terror and dread;
through the power of Your arm they are still as stone
as Your people pass, Yahweh,
as the people pass whom You purchased.

You will bring them and plant them
on the mountain that is Your own,
the place You have made Your dwelling, Yahweh,
the sanctuary, Yahweh, prepared by Your own hands.

Yahweh will be King for ever and ever.

Sing of Yahweh: He has covered Himself in glory,
horse and rider He has thrown into the sea.

Exodus 15:1-18, 21 Jerusalem Bible (1966)

The book of Wisdom

The edition still usually available.
The Jerusalem Bible (1966) has included within the Old Testament most of the books that are accepted by the Orthodox Church as scripture, though two or three are omitted.

Apocrypha are books that have always had a bit of controversy attached to them. Different national churches of Orthodoxy also can have different lists of which books they include in their bible. For example, the Ethiopian Orthodox have, I believe, the longest list of Apocrypha, including the book of Enoch. These books are usually very interesting to study and uncover some profound truths. In many of the books are found additional prophetic references fulfilled by Christ. The early Church was aware of these, and that's probably why they were accepted as scripture in the first place.

The book of Wisdom (of Solomon) is one of the lesser known books of the Apocrypha, but it is full of wisdom, as its title suggests, and even prophecy. In the Jerusalem Bible it is found immediately after the Song of Songs (of Solomon). In my study bible (the one I write in) there are lots of underlinings and notes. I also put tabs on the edges of the pages so I could find the books more quickly, but as many have found out, this is a mistake. The paper that most bibles are printed on is too fragile and thin to support the tabs, and over the almost 40 years that I've had this copy, many of the tabs have torn the pages or fallen off. Don't try this!
I would like to share some of my favorite passages of the book of Wisdom in this post. If you find these interesting and want to get a copy of the Jerusalem Bible, be advised that this version is not the same as the New Jerusalem Bible currently being published. The original (1966) Jerusalem Bible has recently been republished in hard cover, but there are still plenty of copies in used book stores and on the internet of the "phone book" edition of the JB, which is the one that I use as a study bible. A leather-bound copy, on the other hand, will be very rare and can cost as much as $250. I have, however, been fortunate in coming across some copies that are leather-bound for as little as $10. When I find them, I buy them and hold on to them until someone comes along who wants one. Then I say, 'This one has been waiting for you…'

The book of Wisdom starts out…

Love virtue, you who are judges on earth,
let honesty prompt your thinking about the Lord,
seek Him in simplicity of heart;
since He is to be found by those who do not put Him to the test,
He shows Himself to those who do not distrust Him.
But selfish intentions divorce from God;
and Omnipotence, put to the test, confounds the foolish.
Wisdom 1:1-5

There are prophetic passages
that can only have been fulfilled by Jesus…

[The wicked say to each other]
Let us lie in wait for the virtuous man, since he annoys us
and opposes our way of life,
reproaches us for our breaches of the law
and accuses us of playing false to our upbringing.
He claims to have knowledge of God,
and calls himself a son of the Lord.
Before us he stands, a reproof to our way of thinking,
the very sight of him weighs our spirits down;
his way of life is not like other men's,
the paths he treads are unfamiliar.
In his opinion we are counterfeit;
he holds aloof from our doings as though from filth;
he proclaims the final end of the virtuous as happy
and boasts of having God for his father.
Let's see if what he says is true,
let us observe what kind of end he himself will have.
If the virtuous man is God's son,
God will take his part
and rescue him from the clutches
of his enemies.
Let us test him with cruelty
and with torture,
and thus explore this gentleness of his
and put his endurance to the proof.
Let us condemn him to a shameful death
since he will be looked after
—we have his word for it.
Wisdom 2:12-20

In the book of Wisdom there are passages equating Wisdom with the Holy Spirit, and in this guise the feminine pronoun is used. This has led to the writing of ikons of holy Wisdom, where she is seated on a throne in the foreground, while Christ is farther in and up seated on the cherubim and seraphim, and seated on the Father's throne, the invisible God…

For within her is a spirit intelligent, holy,
unique, manifold, subtle,
active, incisive, unsullied,
lucid, invulnerable, benevolent, sharp,
irresistible, beneficent, loving to man,
steadfast, dependable, unperturbed,
almighty, all-surveying,
penetrating all intelligent, pure,
and most subtle spirits;
for Wisdom is quicker to move than any motion;
she is so pure, she pervades and permeates
all things.
She is a breath of the power of God,
pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty;
hence, nothing impure can find a way into her.
She is a reflection of the eternal light,
untarnished mirror of God's active power,
image of His goodness.
Although alone, she can do all;
herself unchanging, she makes all things new.
In each generation she passes into holy souls,
she makes them friends of God, and prophets…
Wisdom 7:22-27

A large part of the book of Wisdom is taken up with recounting the history of the world and interpreting it from a spiritual perspective, showing how God was present and working in it through His Holy Spirit…
The father of the world [Adam],
the first being to be fashioned,
created alone, he had her [Wisdom] for his protector
and she delivered him from his fault;
she gave him the strength
to subjugate all things.
But when a sinner [Cain] in his wrath deserted her,
he perished in his fratricidal fury.
Wisdom 10:1-3

Speaking of God's forebearance with Egypt during the Exodus…

For Your great strength is always at Your call;
who can withstand the might of Your arm?
In Your sight the world is like a grain of dust that tips the scales,
like a drop of morning dew falling on the ground.
Yet You are merciful to all, because You can do all things
and overlook men's sins so that they can repent.
Yes, You love all that exists,
You hold nothing of what you have made in abhorrance,
for had You hated anything, You would not have formed it.
And how, had you not willed it, could a thing persist,
how be conserved if not called forth by You?
You spare all things because all things are Yours,
Lord, lover of life,
You whose imperishable spirit is in all.
Wisdom 11:21-12:1

There is really too much in this book to give but a small sample, and even this can do it little justice. It is a great book of wisdom, as its title suggests, and whether you agree that it should be included among the books of the Bible or not, it is still worth reading. I can hardly lay my eyes anywhere in this book without finding treasures of divine truth. Speaking of what cured the Israelites of snake bite when they were in the wilderness…

But, for Your sons,
not even the fangs of venomous serpents
could bring them down;
Your mercy came to their help
and cured them.
One sting—how quickly healed!
—to remind them of Your oracles
rather than that,
by sinking into deep forgetfulness,
they should be cut off from Your kindness.
No herb, no poultice cured them,
but it was Your Word, Lord,
which heals all things.
For You have power of life and death,
You bring down to the gates of Hades
and bring back again.
Wisdom 16:10-13

Today in your hearing


Thus says Yahweh,
“Let the sage boast no more of his wisdom,
nor the valiant of his valour,
nor the rich man of his riches!
But if anyone wants to boast, let him boast of this:
of understanding and knowing Me.
For I am Yahweh, I rule with kindness,
justice and integrity on earth;
yes, these are what please Me
—it is Yahweh who speaks.
Jeremiah 9:22-23

See, then, that the days are coming—it is Yahweh who speaks—when people will no longer say, “As Yahweh lives who brought the sons of Israel out of the land of Egypt!” but, “As Yahweh lives who brought the sons of Israel out of the land of the North and back from all the countries to which He had dispersed them”. I will bring them back to the very soil I gave their ancestors.
Jeremiah 16:14-15

Doom for the shepherds who allow the flock of My pasture to be destroyed and scattered—it is Yahweh who speaks! This, therefore, is what Yahweh, the God of Israel, says about the shepherds in charge of My people: You have let My flock be scattered and go wandering and have not taken care of them. Right, I will take care of you for your misdeeds—it is Yahweh who speaks! But the remnant of My flock I Myself will gather from all the countries where I have dispersed them, and will bring them back to their pastures: they shall be fruitful and increase in numbers. I will raise up shepherds to look after them and pasture them; no fear, no terror for them anymore; not one shall be lost—it is Yahweh who speaks!
Jeremiah 23:1-4

Yahweh says this:
Now I will restore the tents of Jacob,
and take pity on his dwellings:
the city shall be rebuilt on its ruins,
the citadel restored on its site.
From them will come thanksgiving
and shouts of joy.
I will make them increase, and not diminish them,
make them honoured and not disdained.
Their sons shall be as once they were,
their community fixed firm in My presence,
and I will punish all their oppressors.
Their princes will be one of their own,
their Ruler come from their own people.
I will let Him come freely into My presence
and He can come close to Me;
Who else, indeed, would risk His life
by coming close to Me?—it is Yahweh who speaks!
And you shall be My people and I will be your God.
Now a storm of Yahweh breaks,
a tempest whirls,
it bursts over the head of the wicked;
the anger of Yahweh will not turn aside
until He has performed and carried out
the decision of His heart.
You will understand this in the days to come.
Jeremiah 30:18-24

Sunday, January 29, 2012

All things visible and invisible

Just a story…

The end of January, and spring is already here. He cannot get enough fresh air in his room or into his lungs, and he throws open both windows wide. Coolness hovers just outside, refusing to pour in—there is no breeze. He ponders the invitation to call a priest to visit his humble home and, praying profusely, splash its rooms and ikons with holy water, the water that was blessed three weeks earlier. Is it still fresh? Does the Spirit still indwell it? Or like the manna, does it go bad if you don’t use it daily?

Stavrakis sits and ponders. He went to church today, this Lord’s day. That makes two in a row. Each time the worship was so different. Last week, no choir, just a cantor chanting in husky, male syllables that intimidated not just the women but even most of the men from singing along. Today, a mixed choir reappeared like an orchestra on tour, bright with womanly voices and, if there were any males among them, they were cleverly disguised. Stavrakis sang both services as best as he could. He loved to sing.

As usual, a blind man is always something of a mystery, and even in church people tend to avoid him. Is it because they think he might accidentally bump into them as he stumbles around the temple? Or are they afraid of hurting him? Perhaps they’re thinking he has been hurt enough already, so it’s better to let him be, leave him alone to work it out with the Lord. After all, who is a better friend and comforter than God? Stavrakis, the blind widower of an insane wife, maybe God doesn’t love him. Who knows?

Without sleeping on it, he decides to call the priest and leaves a message, ‘Come sit with me, take a little tea, and bless my house, Father. I am always at home,’ on the answering machine. It isn’t as though he has been regular at this. He can’t even remember the last time he had his house blessed. Had he ever? He simply can’t remember. Maybe that’s why his house fell into ruin. Stavrakis was never one to be very keen on blessings. When he could still see, it seemed to him that God’s blessings around him every day were enough.

On a walk to the market, he hears a familiar voice. It’s the priest. ‘Thank you, Stavrakis, for your message.’ He feels for the father’s hand, bows slightly and kisses it, smiling but saying nothing. Then the two of them part ways with no more said, as if they were strangers. Did the priest smile? A blind man has the hardest time seeing a smile when you don’t speak. Stavrakis asks himself, ‘Does this mean he will he come and have tea with me? Will he bless my house?’ He doesn’t know if the two activities can be combined, and wonders.

Later, a shallow knock at the door. Stavrakis, lost in meditation as he lies on his bed reciting from memory and praying  the psalms, thinks he is dreaming. Did I hear a knock? He pauses, and breathes deeply, a little nervously. Did the father come after all? Is he at the door? Better hurry down to see, that is, as much as a blind man can, and while he descends the stairs he hears another knock, unmistakably clear this time. Tap-tap-tap! There it is again. Tap-tap-tap! Always threes, everything Orthodox has to come in threes.

‘Agios! Agios! Agios! Kyrios o Theos…’ Stavrakis mutters to himself as he covers the last few steps to the door handle. To do anything outside himself, he must extricate himself from his prayer. He swims in it as a fish swims in water, unaware that it even is water, unaware that it is swimming. ‘Father, is that you?’ he asks as the door swings open. He’s answered by meeting a faint fragrance of Bethlehem incense, the same as he burns at his own ikon stand against the east wall of his dining room.

‘It is you, Father! I didn’t know if you’d come!’ The priest greets him with clerical reserve tempered by some natural human warmth. ‘I don’t know what to do, Father, so I hope you do!’ he jokes with the young priest to break the ice and make both of them feel a little more comfortable. Slowly, after a few more words of welcome and greeting on both sides, the father begins the prayer. As he prays in each room, Stavrakis stays near, making the responses, smelling the incense, feeling occasionally the overspray of the aspergil as the priest casts holy water about the rooms.

Then, it is over. Stavrakis is afraid to ask, but he forces himself. ‘Father, would you care to take tea with me? I would consider it a great blessing to sit down with you. Maybe we could talk a bit.’ There is a long pause, and then a negative but apologetic response. Then, another longer pause. ‘What’s he waiting for?’ he asks himself. Then, he remembers. ‘Give the priest something for his trouble in coming out to see you.’ His alter ego responds, ‘But that’s what the tea was for!’

‘Perhaps God doesn’t accept tea as an offering,’ he jokingly muses. ‘Even goat’s hair, He will accept as an offering, so say the rabbis. But tea? That’s another matter.’ Stavrakis’ heart is still Jewish like his mother’s, even though she didn’t survive long enough to make a Jew out of him. His Greek father’s grief at her death, like a family curse, was passed on to him: His dead wife, though she didn’t die early, early died her love for him, making life with her impossible to the end.

‘Father, I am sorry, but I didn’t think ahead to have any money in the house to give you as an offering for coming here to bless. Please, look about you. Is there anything in my house that you or Holy Church could use? If there is, please take it. Anything you can see. Please forgive me.’ The young priest takes a few steps and Stavrakis hears the jingle of something metallic, then the sound of something being put down on the dining room table, above which is mounted an ancient Hebrew manuscript.

‘No, brother Myron. There is nothing that I can see that Holy Church or I need to take away from you as an offering. I have already received an offering that I cannot see from you, and so we give you an offering that you cannot see. Your offering is spiritual, ours only material. But please, accept it, let it be our offering to the God you worship in this house, who has blessed me very much.’

And having said those words, the young father departed, leaving his censer on the table for Stavrakis’ prayers.

Loveless

Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to Him to call his attention to its buildings. ‘Do you see all these things?’ He asked. ‘I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down…
Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold…’

Matthew 24:1-2, 12 NIV

The love of most will grow cold.
This verse comes from Christ’s discourse on the end times, and there are many seemingly more startling predictions than this one in the passage—impersonators of Christ, wars and revolutions, famines and earthquakes, persecution, apostasy, and false prophets—and then this, the love of most will grow cold. It seems almost anti-climactic. Yet Christ included it. It must be an important sign, and a sign it is.

This is my experience practically every day.
This is our experience, though because its presence is so pervasive, we’ve all become used to it and don’t notice it. If we did, it might drive us to despair. What am I talking about? ‘The world’s not all that bad!’ Sorry, brothers, sorry, but it is. Even close to home.

At first I wanted to say of this love growing cold, that unwillingness to affirm the other person is its hidden root, but no, even that root doesn’t go deep enough. Jesus plainly calls its cause—wickedness—in Greek anomía, lawlessness. Ironic, that lawlessness causes lovelessness? I should have stopped here, but forgive me, brethren, for this worthless ramble.

We love because we feel we are loved. Loved by whom? Well, for starters, think of a child, one who knows that his parents love him, especially that his mother does. That makes it possible for him to love, and love he does. But what if his mother doesn’t love him, and he knows it? Right from the beginning, the inner emptiness caused by that lack of love can turn his love inwards, to self-love. ‘Well, if mommy doesn’t love me, I’m looking out for number one,’ or, as we read in C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle, ‘The dwarfs are for the dwarfs!’ A lot of loveless people start out this way, crushed children grow up into crushing adults.

In a general sort of way, the love of most grows cold because they don’t really believe that God loves them, personally. Why don’t they? Well, it’s probably because they don’t believe that God exists at all. Imagine this—living in a universe without God. If you don’t open your eyes in the morning and look at the universe, it may not even exist! When you die, for sure the universe is gone. But if there is a God, could that be why the universe continues, whether any one of us is alive to experience it, or whether we are dead? This God, like the character of Christ in the film Jesus of Nazareth, doesn’t even blink. If He did, what would become of us?

This is my experience practically every day.

People protect themselves from the imposition of others. They see that something they know and could say or do would lighten someone’s burden, help them in some way, but they withhold it. ‘Why should I lend a hand? I’m busy,’ or worse yet, ‘Serves him right, he’s old enough to know how to do that. Too bad, you dope!’

Parents turning away their children, eager to push them out of the nest. Children abandoning their parents, ignoring them until they want something. Employees making a co-worker’s job difficult because they can’t be bothered to share what they know. Drivers cutting people off, making other unsafe manoeuvres, honking their horns at anyone who gets in their way. Customer service people who respond only to your exact question, unwilling to help you ask the right question to solve your dilemma. Why? What would it cost them?

How can anyone have such hatred towards another creature? They see someone crushed, they crush him lower. They see someone in distress, they say, ‘It’s none of my business.’

And when do these people attend? When do they extend themselves for others? When there is profit to be had, plain and simple. Calling ourselves Christians, we try our best to live in love according to our ability, because we know that he who lives in love lives in God’ (1 John 4:16) and ‘whoever loves his brother lives in the light… but whoever hates his brother is in the darkness’ (1 John 2:10-11), and yet we somehow are able to provide ourselves with reasons why we should withhold our love from this or that person. ‘Why should I help him after all he’s done to me?’ or ‘Let her learn for herself what I had to go through!’

Christ help us!

Why doesn’t our own past suffering soften our hearts towards those suffering now? Do we think by handing over a five-dollar-bill we can satisfy the justice of God? Does making a party for our friends and being generous to those from whom we expect benefits or praise make up for our callous hearts?

We draw near to the time of Christ’s resurrection, or rather it draws us near, the Father draws us near to His Son, if we will let Him. We confess, ‘All is forgiven in the resurrection,’ echoing the teachings of the fathers. We shout at the end of the midnight service of Pascha, ‘Epikranthi! It was vexed!’ speaking of Hades’ state when it discovered it had tried to hold the uncontainable God, and ‘Anesti Christos! Christ is risen!’ speaking of the single event in the universe that has annihilated annihilation.

Are we willing, at last, to rekindle in us the only fire worth having, the only flame that never goes out? Come, receive the light from the unwaning Light!’ Though in this world of darkness that Light still shines, without being put out, yet also without being grasped, can we walk in that Light? Can we live in love? Or is our love going to grow colder? Upon those who walked in darkness, a Light has shone’ (Isaiah 9:2).

Φωτιζου, φωτιζου, η νεα Ιερουσαλημ, η γαρ δοξα Κυριου επι σε ανετειλε. Χορευε νυν και αγαλλου Σιων…

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Sinners

I know that I’m a sinner and that I deserve to die for my sins, but what I find is that I have been given life, and life in abundance.

Every day I wake anew and realize that though I have been tried and convicted and am living on Death Row, I have been given yet another reprieve from my sentence, another day in which to serve that part of it, that must be served on earth.

But I am a very bad, a very unworthy servant. I spend my days in idle fantasy, conspiring to sin and to sin boldly whenever I have the chance, whenever the warden is looking the other way, like a pig loving to wallow in its filth. Yet when the Master calls, I am immediately straightened, and I run to Him to do His bidding. 

If only He would call me every moment! or do I just pretend not to hear so that I can pursue my nature. Yes, when He calls I run to do His bidding, but in between those calls, I sink back into the darkness in which I was conceived and into which I was born.

Only death, it seems, will cleanse this criminal of the guilt of his crimes. That’s why he begs the governor not to write any further reprieves, though he knows it’s not the governor who writes them, but the King, the Master Himself.

O glorious God whose face is terrifying but whose back is mercy, You who come speaking Your Name to us while hiding us in the cleft of the Rock to shield our weakness from annihilation as You pass by! Why did You create us, knowing that we would instantly fall from Your obedience, drift away from Your love? The mystery of Your nature dwarfs the mystery of our own. How could a sinless God love us who are nothing but sin in the flesh? How could He that is pure Spirit desire us who are but spittle and clay? Yet You do love us, You do desire us, and for this we revere You.

Yes, Lord, Holy One who has descended lower than our fall, we revere You while we run away. Catch us, Lord, don’t let us escape, burn our scoundrel selves by Your divine Fire that purifies without destroying us who cannot in any world deserve such mercy. Yours is the Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory of utter humility, of unimaginable self-emptying. Join us with You in that Kingdom, share with us who hate You by our deeds but love You by our sorrows the Power, that the Glory that was Yours before the world ever was, O Christ, fell the forests of our sinful flesh, that we might finally cry out to You, Amen.

Amen, and again we cry, Amen.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us, sinners.

Sorry

When you can’t apologise, when you can’t ‘say sorry’—as we taught our boys when they were little—what a mess things become!

Were you the one in the wrong? You don’t think so. You think it was ‘the other guy’? And he’s not willing to apologise, and so you shouldn’t have to? He’s weird anyway, as he usually is. Not quite right in the head. That’s why it doesn’t bother you to talk about him behind his back. After all, who is he to you, really? Just a nobody and a nothing. You were just putting up with him, helping him out in bad times. Now it’s all over. Goodbye and good riddance!

I wonder how much of this kind of thing goes on inside us ‘behind our backs.’ I know that’s a funny way to put it, but I wonder just how much we let ourselves ‘off the hook’ when it comes to personal relationships. Perhaps this is where ‘the rubber meets the road’ in the life of a Christian. We think it's better to ‘just say nothing’ and maybe the problem—or the person—will just go away. Of all that can go wrong in our lives, this is about the worst.

When we know we're right, all that matters to us is who is wrong. We hold ourselves aloof from our neighbor as though from filth. And why? Because he deserves it! This happens between friends and neighbors, but worse yet, it happens between members of the same family. My only brother, for example, has cut off all contact with me for over thirty years, and without even letting me ask him why. This is not a complaint, but a lament. Yet, life goes on.

The way I was brought up, one didn't worry so much as to who was right or wrong in a situation. We were taught to apologise quickly, to restore peace between ourselves and another. We were expected to put the relationship above the reputation. But teaching and even personal example can't be passed on, despite all our best efforts. People seem to almost want to be offended so they can justify themselves in pursuing revenge, even if it is only to ostracise.

Lord, I do not understand it. I do not understand. How can anyone have such hatred for their neighbor? their brother? their parent? Who is the enemy here? Who has offended? Who has done harm? We say we walk in the footsteps of Jesus, but in truth we don His robe and want to snatch up the crown He did not want but traded for thorns, so that we can sit not at His right and left—no, it gets worse even than that!—so we can sit in the judgment seat.

We want what we want, and if we cannot have it, someone must be to blame, anyone, just as long as it is not ourselves. We put ourselves first at all costs, banishing fear of God and replacing it with our righteous rags, little realising that salvation or damnation lies with our fellow man. As the bible and the fathers teach, he who loves his fellow man, truly loves him, will be saved, but he who hates his neighbor has never seen life, and never will. He has killed himself.

Sorry is not just a word, but a condition, a state of soul. To be sorry is to seek peace with all men whom we may have offended without knowing it or intentionally. To apologise in words and actions is impossible unless we are sorry within. Of all the places where we can lose, we lose the most here, when we pretend to be sorry, but within reserve the right to murder our brother with everything that is in us. Who needs a knife? Even so soft a weapon as the tongue will do the trick.

Lord have mercy on us! Without our brother we are lost, and true are the words handed over to us by Holy Church, ‘You can be damned alone, but you cannot be saved alone.’ Teach us to count how few days we have left, Father, to love and serve You in humility, loving and serving the people around us, being sorry for ourselves and them, for our having offended You. Give us time to repent, so that in falling behind we can be found running ahead.

Running after You, running after Jesus.

Broken

There’s something about Christianity that makes outsiders (if there is such a class of persons) think that it’s a crutch for the weak, a form of consolation for losers, a kind of drug, ‘an opiate for the masses,’ as Karl Marx put it. Well, there is some truth to this idea, but it’s not what Christianity’s detractors think. Moreover, so many Christians are afraid that this idea might be true, that they go to extremes to prove that it isn’t.

Orthodox Christianity says that what’s wrong with man is that the ikon of God is broken, and we’re that ikon. They say that Christ came to fix the ikon. Well, that’s one way to put it, and I want to get over that idea right away, not because I disbelieve it, but because as delicious as it sounds to those who want to creep away from the idea of an angry God who can only be appeased by the death of His Only Son, it can be misunderstood even more than some other theories of how salvation works.

The truth is, though, that man is broken, and some Christians are in such a hurry to fix him, that they actually shove God out of the way in the mad, and hopeless, attempt. Why mad and hopeless? We may be broken, but we can’t fix ourselves, no matter how hard we try.

Being broken is what we are, no matter how some of us try to cover it up. Admitting we are broken does not mean that we’re happy with it. It doesn’t mean that we don’t want to be made whole again. It’s our confession of being broken that places us in a position where God can work on us.

Some people think that Christianity is a kind of self-help and self-empowerment program. They start with the knowledge that man is broken, but then they take charge of the situation. Mining the Holy Scriptures for verses that they can claim as God’s promises and His spiritual principles for overcoming, sure enough, they put God to the test—the proof (of God) is in the putting (allusion intended).

Christian businesses with names like ‘Believer’s Voice of Victory’ or ‘This Is Your Day’ bombard the unchurched masses with slick entertainment and self-improvement promotions. These are not ministries and have nothing to do with Christ or Christianity, except that they draw on the Bible for their vocabulary. They know that man is broken. They know who’s in the audience. They offer to fix them, for a price of course. Yet it’s not their job, and in fact and act, they can do nothing.

I have a brother in Christ who repeatedly confesses that he is broken. Furthermore, he wants to remain broken. How can that be? Doesn’t he want to be whole? He lives a normal life, has a job, goes to church regularly, and he is living victoriously over his enemies, the world, the flesh and the devil. How do I know this? Because of the fruits of his life. But also, when he receives the praise of men, he somehow skillfully evades it, always turning it back immediately to God, and in such a way that you feel he didn't even notice what he was doing. Talk about playing a game of ‘hot potato’!

Broken, because that state is where we are just by being human, is what draws the love and help of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit to us. Admitting it, confessing it always, and turning to Jesus, that’s what opens us to the merciful heart of our loving God. Yet, this is not how Christians are taught to be any longer.


Many churches set human standards before their members instead of the Word of God. The leaders of these churches preach themselves, not ‘Christ, and Him crucified.’ Go to almost any church web page and prepare yourself to hear about the virtues and accomplishments of their leaders. They set themselves up as examples of ‘successful’ Christians, again placing before you not Christ, but themselves. They hold out to you these images of a ‘happy life,’ while hiding the cross, except to wear it as jewelry. But the true cross is the happy life, because it is life with Jesus.

Not ‘success’ is ours for the taking, brethren, but being broken, like the flask of ointment was broken, that the feet of Jesus might be anointed.

Ours is to stay close to Jesus, hanging on to His precious words, not as magic promises that we can force Him to grant, but as they are, the living words of the living God, spoken to us for our hearing, that we may have faith. And what is this faith? It is trusting Christ and only Him to be our saviour, confessing no other, waiting on Him to make us whole, without looking, without measuring ourselves to see if we’ve grown, looking only to Jesus and not at ourselves.

Yes, brothers, let’s be broken for Jesus, who said…

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Matthew 5:1-11 NIV

Friday, January 27, 2012

Ahavat Achim

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

Psalm 133
Brotherly Love

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

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

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


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

You keep me alive

God desires and seeks the salvation of all. And He is always saving all who wish to be saved from drowning in the sea of life and sin. But He does not always save in a boat or a convenient, well-equipped harbor.

He promised to save the Holy Apostle Paul and all his fellow-travelers, and He did save them. But the Apostle and his fellow-passengers were not saved in the ship, which was wrecked; they were saved with great difficulty, some by swimming and others on boards and various bits of the ship's wreckage.




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

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

Who She is

For the most part, my experiences as a blog writer have been very positive. I have tried to stay away from topics that would incite controversy, but not always with complete success. Sometimes I've expressed ideas that I thought might draw down criticism or judgment, and I received none. Sometimes I've written what I thought could not possibly draw me into an argument, and yet it did. Even when countered, I've tried very hard not to let my blogs become arenas for verbal battles. I was not always this way.

I first started blogging as a parallel testimony to what I was doing 'on the street,' which was reading the Word of God aloud publicly. I wanted to document what happened when I did this. Surprisingly, I rarely encountered any opposition or aggression when reading the Bible publicly unlike others who, preaching their own message while waving around a black leather-bound book, often drew crowds of mockers. I tried to follow what Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes, to be strong when the Word is strong, to be weak when it is weak.

What my experience taught me about this was, you can't force Jesus down people's throats, especially when you've got Him sandwiched between slices of your denominational philosophy. Though my 'mission' on the street was carried on in this pacific way, sometimes in the blog world I was not quite so harmless. Sometimes I criticised, even blasted, people and systems that I have a problem with. In my comments on the blogs of others, I also pressed what I thought was my advantage. This was, to be sure, quite wrong of me, if I were a follower of Jesus.

How little we see, sometimes, when we hide Him from view by our smoggy intentions. Smog, mind you, not smoke, not the smoke of the Presence, which surrounds Him alone, but smog, the unhealthy byproduct of our anxieties. Yet we mistake the one for the other. We hide ourselves from God when He comes calling, and then complain that He hides Himself from us, when we call. This is the ground floor of the human condition, which I share with everyone I meet, and our experience together is that only One can raise us from this degradation, yet we try to raise ourselves by lowering others.

My blog was visited just now by a woman who implies that she is the Woman mentioned in the book of Revelation. When I followed back the link to a web page that she provided in her comment, I couldn't believe my eyes. Rarely does one encounter another human being whose audacity is so glaring. Yes, I've labored under the delusion that something I might say or do could help save someone. This is a common delusion, especially of those who would 'teach' others. I know there is only One Teacher, the Messiah, and at my best I am only repeating what has been handed over to me.

I deleted her comment, which was harmless enough, though it carried a sectarian overtone and a premonition of higher knowledge, so that no one who came here might be confused or tantalised by the claims she makes in her web page. But it still astounds me, and startles me that such a person could exist. We hear of public figures like the Puerto Rican reincarnation of Paul the Apostle who later was divinely upgraded to being both the second coming of Jesus Christ, and the Antichrist, all at the same time. He tells us that sin is no more, and that he comes to rule the earth.

Such impositions on the mortal mind stagger my imagination. Again, because audacity seems to outdo itself with every new messiah, once only male but now female too. What Bible verse cannot be twisted by our imaginations to serve our glorification? I think back on my own life and shudder with shame, for I am no different in kind, only in degree. How simple the story is, that God has revealed through Jesus Christ His Son, and how believable it is, once we admit the truth about ourselves, which we must admit before we can ever admit the Truth about Him.

Enigma, that is what life is, and we ourselves, all enigmas awaiting resolution. Everything partial, all things opaque to us except ourselves, and yet we cannot even see ourselves clearly. My favorite poet writing his 'Song of Myself,' how luxuriant, how confident his pronouncements. I love his Leaves of Grass, not because they are true the same way that Christ is True, but because he reveals in them the truth about himself and about us, even about me, who for all our wonderful beauty, life, energy, darkness, pain, and weakness, remain asleep and dead, until He bids us, 'Rise!'

Evening confession. Outpourings of a blind old Greek with a Jew's heart, rich in his poverty, owning nothing but his own sinfulness, seeking no one but the Eternal, even knowing that finding Him is the losing of himself. The end of all things is nigh, but not as prophesied by bibliolators or boasted by Sabine women clothed in the sun who use the moon as a swing. The dragon that seeks to swallow the Man Child is not the same as the dragon whose year has just begun, that harmless creature who carries the Son of Heaven home when his mandate is foreclosed.

Infinite Mercy stands waiting, hidden behind our walls, to reveal Himself, at every moment knowing exactly where we need Him most, and why we are in need. He does not wait as we wait. He is ready when we call, echoing unknowingly His calling us. His forgiveness covers even our audacity in believing we are God, that we do not need Him, that our freedom originates in ourselves. His salvation in bathing us does not drown us in the process, but makes us clean again, forgetting our uncleanness forever.

Yes, and the Woman clothed with the sun, yes, we will find out exactly who She is.

Christ fulfills all


More and more I say again and again to myself and to others, ‘Just follow Jesus. Do what you see Him doing. He is still doing it, even in today's world, not as a historical figure that you can read about and study, but as living people, men and women called to be saints today, alive not with their own life but with the life of Christ who personally lives in them today, living lives of grace, of peace, of healing, of forgiveness, of reconciliation, yes, following Jesus.

These words by a recent Church Father come from his writing called, The Agony of the Church, and continue the theme that I presented in the post Inclusive. Christ is the New Testament that completes the Old Testaments, not of the Jews only, but of all nations and cultures, and Holy Church, following her Master closely, deals with the peoples as He does, not as Caesar does, loving them, not lording over them, yes, following Jesus.

By His birth [Christ] included and bound together the lowest and the highest, the natural and the supernatural: stable, manger, straw, sheep and shepherds on the one hand; stars, angels, magi and Davidic royal origin on the other.

By His life He included the austerity of the Indian monks, of John the Baptist and the Nazarenes on the one hand; and on the other the Confucian moderate feasting, in the houses of friends, at the marriage feast and on other solemn occasions.

His life-drama was interwoven into the lives of all classes of people: men, women and children, Judaists and heathen, King Herod and the proconsul Pilate, priests and soldiers, merchants and beggars, learned sophists and ignorant fools, the sick and the healthy, the righteous and the sinful, Jews and Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, and all others who could be met in Palestine, the very market of races and creeds.

He was by no means a party man like the Pharisees and the doctors of law. He called both the Pharisees and their enemies to follow Him. He went to the temple to pray, but He also prayed alone in the desert. He kept the Sabbath and He broke the Sabbath by healing the sick and doing good on this sacred day. He came not to destroy the Law, but He brought something which was higher than the Law and even included the Law itself, i.e., love and mercy.

He rebuked people who used to pray and say, ‘Lord, Lord!’ And yet He prayed very often Himself. He rebuked those who were fasting, and yet He used to fast Himself. What He really looked for was neither prayer nor fasting, but the spirit in which one prayed or fasted.

He commanded the people to give to Caesar things which were Caesar’s, and to God that which was God’s. He did not criticise this or that form of government, nor did He accentuate Monarchism, Republicanism, or Socialism as one form preferable to another. Under His scheme all forms of government were included as equally good or evil according to what place they reserved for God, what gifts they duly gave to God, and by what spirit they were inspired.

He followed the customs of His nation, and did not break them or evade them purposely. He took food according to the Law, and washed hands according to the Law, and went to the Holy City and took part in worship in the temple (though He was ‘greater than the temple’), according to the Law. It seems that He excluded no form of worship or social life, though He despised the unclean and petty spirit with which the hypocrites filled these forms. And when it came to a dispute He, the Messenger of a new spirit, naturally tried to save rather the pure spirit even without a form than a form filled with an impure spirit. Therefore He felt bound to say, ‘Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man,’ or ‘to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man,’ or ‘thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet,’ etc.

Even so, too, He embraced all nationalities and races. Nothing was for Him unclean that God had created, nothing but unclean spirits. When the Roman centurion asked help from Him, He gave it. And when the people beyond the Israelitish boundaries, from the coasts of Tyre and Sidon, cried after Him, He did not listen to the exclusivistic warnings of His disciples, but He distributed even there His divine mercy. He was mindful even of the people of Nineveh. And when He sent His disciples, He sent them to ‘all nations.’

Finally, He included the natural and the supernatural. He talked with spirits. He saw Satan as lightning fall from heaven. He stood amongst Peter, John and James on one side, and Moses and Elias on the other. All the people saw lilies in the field and sparrows upon the roof, but He saw more, He saw how His Father clothed the lilies and how He fed the sparrows. He united the natural and the supernatural in His teaching.

‘Love those who love thee’ was a natural teaching, but He added, ‘and those who hate and persecute thee,’ which was supernatural.

‘Give to them who give to thee’ was a natural teaching, but He added, ‘and to them who do not give to thee,’ which was supernatural.

‘Bless those who bless thee,’ but He added, ‘and those who curse thee,’ which was supernatural.

And He united the natural and supernatural in His death. He suffered and died in agony. He rose from the dead, descended to Hell and ascended to Heaven. For Him there was as little boundary between heaven and earth, between nature and supernature, as between Israel and Canaan, or as between man and man, or form and form.

His wisdom was inclusive from the beginning to the end. What did He ever exclude—save unclean spirits? His disciples were as exclusive as anybody could be, exclusive when judging and acting according to natural wisdom. But when they looked at Him, they were reconciled. He was the Holy Wisdom, in which everyone could find a mansion for himself, every disciple, every nation, every form of worship, everything—but the unclean spirit.

Nikolaj Velimirović, Bishop of Ohrid and Žiča

Fellowship

I just read a message which I regularly receive by email from Pastor Zac Poonen in Bangalore, India. He is a 'Protestant' pastor, in the sense that he does not 'belong' to either the Roman Catholic or the Orthodox 'church', but from my point of view he is simply a man of God, and I, as an Orthodox Christian, make no distinction between him and any other Christian or Church father who is gifted with wisdom and prophetic insight. All wisdom comes from the Divine Logos, the Word and Son of God, Jesus Christ, and all prophecy is 'seeing things as they are' without absolute reference to past, present or future. If these are bestowed on a believer, what does it matter what he is called or calls himself?

What Pastor Zac writes about in his messages is nothing sectarian or cultish, but the plain and simple truth. What he writes about in the message I am reproducing in full below is just another angle on a topic that I write about frequently. Why? Because it cries out to be heard, from the very pages of the holy Gospel. Reading what the pastor has written made me say to myself, 'Well, it's a pity that we Christians can't get along, that we can't follow Christ and imitate His love for us by loving each other, but we are just a tiny, faithful remnant living amidst an unholy, unrighteous, apostate and rebellious crowd of imposters who call themselves 'Christians' and falsely believe that they are 'the Church.' It's too bad that we can't love them and get along with them, but they're just so awful. Even Christ would understand, if only He knew what we have to put up with!'

Yes, this is the kind of inner dialog and self-justification that must be going on inside of us when we separate ourselves from each other, refusing to acknowledge Christ in each other, because of doctrinal differences. Does doctrine matter? Well, yes, it does. Does doctrine guarantee salvation or place us in peril of damnation? I'm not so sure. Does faith alone save? Well, yes and no. Faith without works—that is, without love—is dead, so let me ask, 'Does dead faith save?' I have no problem with 'salvation by faith alone,' as long as the rejoinder is, 'but only the obedient believe—that is, have saving faith.' Yes, we Orthodox 'possess' the living faith of the dead, not the dead faith of the living—or do we? How can we know for sure what kind of faith we 'possess'?

It all boils down to the nature of our loves and our hates. All and everything are worthy of our love—and love means genuine benevolence fully laden with fear of God, with faith and love—and only one object demands our hate—sin itself. Why? Because it is sin alone which murders our fellow men, and ourselves. Let us flee from the spiritual suicide of hating our brothers, by loving not only fellow believers in Christ, but loving all human beings for whom Christ came and gave His life—for Jews, for Muslims, for Hindus, for Buddhists, for the rich, for the poor, for the black, for the white, for the righteous, for the wicked, for our friends, for our enemies—in short, for our neighbor.

Brethren, now here is the message that Pastor Zac wrote this week. Without qualification, let's admit the Truth when we meet it, wherever we find it, and not only when it appears to come from sources we consider 'authorized.' Why? Because this is how the Lord Himself confounded the wise and authorized of this world, by pouring out His Spirit on all mankind, according to His generosity and our capacity. One is Holy, One is Lord, Jesus Christ, to the glory of God the Father…

Valuing True Christian Fellowship
Zac Poonen

Despite man's advancement in many areas, human relationships continue to present problems all over the world. Business concerns and agencies spend huge sums employing personnel to promote harmony among workers. Well, one might think it is understandable that self-centred, unconverted people find it difficult to get along with each other, but surely when people are born-again and have become new creatures in Christ, such problems can never arise. For, after all, when God is the center of one's life and service, what possible room can there be for the petty problems that besiege others?

Yet, sadly, no proof is needed of the fact that Christians fight and quarrel with each other, all over the world. Many are not even on speaking terms with some of their fellow-Christians; some cannot even stand the sight of certain other Christians. The Name of God continues to be disgraced in the world by the behaviour of professing believers.   Jesus said that the world would identify His disciples by their intense love for one another. This was - generally speaking - literally fulfilled in the first two centuries of the Christian era. The world looked at the Christians with amazement then, and exclaimed, "Behold how these Christians love one another!" Today, the story is different and the world often says, "Behold how these Christians hate one another!"

Relationships are indeed most important. Gifts, talents, methods, techniques, programmes and finances are all secondary to people and to inter-personal relationships. The church can fulfill her God-ordained function as the light of the world only when there is true Christian fellowship among her members. Likewise, an individual believer can become a minister of life to others only when he himself has learned to live according to the law of love with his fellow-Christians.

The Bible plainly and repeatedly teaches that no Christian can have fellowship with God without fellowshipping with other believers. You cannot walk with God if you do not walk in love with your fellow-believer. The cross on which Jesus died had two planks - a vertical one and a horizontal one: Jesus came to bring peace not only between man and God (vertically) but also between man and man (horizontally). The vertical and the horizontal relationships go hand in hand. You cannot have the former if you ignore the latter.

John, the apostle of love, has some very strong words to say on this matter. One of the evidences, he says, of genuine conversion is that a man begins to love his fellow-Christians. If a man does not have this love, it is a sure indication that his conversion is spurious and that he is heading for eternal death (1 John 3:14). Doctrinal correctness was not the only test that the apostles applied to ascertain where a man stood in relation to God. Later on in the same letter, John says that if a man claims that he loves God while hating his brother, he is a liar. Mark that! The proper name for such a man is not "believer", but rather, "liar"! And John's logic is irresistible. He says a brother is visible whereas God is invisible. If you cannot love the visible, it is impossible to love the invisible. (1 John 4:20).

Now compare this with the experience of most "believers." Love for God is usually assessed in terms of busy activity in Christian work or in terms of rapturous feelings of delight experienced in a meeting. These can be most deceptive. I have come across believers who are out of fellowship with other Christians, who testify nevertheless to "wonderful times of prayer" and to "amazing results in service." How could they possibly be walking with God when they have not even made an effort to settle matters with other members of God's family against whom they have a grudge? Surely Satan has blinded their minds to the truth of Scripture!

Often, we do not realise what we deprive ourselves of, when fellowship is broken with other believers. The Bible tells us that we can discover the breadth, length, depth and height of Christ's love and be filled with all the fullness of God only along "with all the saints" (Ephesians 3:17-19). It is only as we know the reality of fellowship with the believers God places us with, that we shall be able to enter into an experiential understanding of the love of Christ and of the fullness of God.

The one who cuts himself off from any fellow-Christian, thereby deprives himself of the experience of Christ's love and grace which could have been his through that person. When we fail to live by the law of love, we rob ourselves of some of Christ's riches and some of God's fulness.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

After a dream

I awakened in the dark, the last scenes of a strange dream still ebbing through my mind. I was traveling, and at a stopping point had gone to a temple to worship at vespers. I returned to where I had left my belongings. Where were they? Where was my coat, my blanket? Where was my satchel full of tools? The blanket, I found. The jacket and the satchel were gone and the tools scattered all over the room, tiny nails that I used in my work, strewn in their hundreds all over the floor. Who would help me gather them up, and where would I put them, since my bag was gone?

In my room with uncovered windows, not a hint of light—it was still pre-dawn. I lay there as always when He awakens me, and I began to talk to Him, to thank Him for all that He has done for me. I stopped almost before I began. Something was different. The darkness was warm and calm, His presence filled every minute of space and time. I was enfolded, and it was my turn to listen, His to speak. “My will is your certainty. My good will your protection.” Nothing is more certain than the future, nothing more certain than the past. “I was there at your beginning. I am here with you now. I will be there at your end.”

I started again to thank Him and praise Him, but the smoke of His presence filled the temple, and I was driven back. In the silence He spoke what words cannot repeat. I listened while I recalled the days of old. How I wanted to find Him but did not know what He would be for me when I found Him. How I did not find Him, but He found me. How I wanted to choose Him, how I wanted to dedicate my life to Him. How I did not choose Him, but He chose me. How He said to me, “Not this offering,” pointing at my vegetables, “but This,” pointing at His Lamb.

“You were with Me when I laid the earth’s foundations, and you will be with Me when I close the door on this icy age.” Did I do something to deserve this? Was it my choice, my free will that did this? How was it that in the flow of time I appeared and did something that could raise me out of that flow? “You would not have called to Me, if I had not been calling to you. You will never understand this, never grasp this, until you shed the skin from your eye and see Me as I see you. It is enough that your eye should be single and your body full of light.”

I took pause, selah. The darkness surrounded me, and the silence. My thoughts and deeds, apt for their time, my friends and loved ones I will never see again on earth, my current circumstances provided for, what will happen, who will yet come, all unknown to me but as certain, as apt, as providential as the past, as this moment. He set me on my feet and bade me walk in His ways, shielding me from harm, entrusting me to His commandments. Nothing different will ever happen to me, because on me His day has already dawned, the day without end. Rest in that, my soul, selah.

Grave light began to mix with the darkness. I could see my hand before my face. I reached over and took up my psalm book, opened it randomly to the 57th psalm. Lamenatzéach al tashchét, leDavíd mikhtám, kevarchó mipnéy Sha’úl bam‘aráh… “For the Conductor, a plea to be spared from destruction, by David, a Michtam, when he fled from Saul, in the cave…” Chanéyni, Elohím, chanéyni… “Favor me, O God, favor me…” My eyes could barely make out the letters on the page, and they closed by themselves, my spirit contemplating the rest of the psalm without reading it. Then I rested, and fell back to speaking to the Lord.

So it was He that chose me of His free will, just as He chose to ascend the Cross of His free will, for me. So it was He from the beginning who had me in His sights, not I who was looking for Him. So it was He saved me and called me ‘Brother’ before I came to the place of meeting He had arranged for me, to that holy rendezvous.
“I waited until you noticed the signs I had been sending, and then by the signs I sent you, you understood that I was standing behind your wall. I spoke to you when you believed not in Me, but in the signs. When you believed in the signs, you were ready to hear My voice.”

So it was He who kept me from wandering in the past to the lands from which there is no escape. It was He who kept me out of the prison from which there is no release. When I asked Him to keep me from the sin that kills eternally, because in me is no strength to resist it, He had already placed His seal on my heart, on my arm, to prevent me, and I, not noticing, asked Him for what He already bestowed. “Glory to You, O God. Glory to You, O God. Glory to You, O God.” And the hymn of the 1st Tone started up in my mind,
“Though the tomb was sealed by a stone and soldiers guarded Your pure body, You arose, O Savior, on the third day, giving life unto the world…”

The morning is now full. When dawn really came, and the sun rose a little to the southeast of the mountain and started pouring its light into my room, I took up my psalm book, which I had been clasping to my chest, and prayed parts of several psalms, whatever verses my eyes fell on. I was still held in suspense by what I heard in the pre-dawn darkness, even as I am now. So the future is as certain as the past. It is finished. The words I use to say these things, though, I have said, read or heard before, without knowing what they meant.

I bless Yahweh, who is my counselor,
and in the night my inmost self instructs me…
Psalm 16:7 Jerusalem Bible

Psalms for the 3rd Day
15 16 17 18 (English)
18 19 20 21 22 (Hebrew)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Who pleads for you?

My hope is the Father,
my refuge is the Son,
my protection is the Holy Spirit:
O Holy Trinity, glory to Thee.
from the service of Compline

One is Holy,
One is Lord,
Jesus Christ
to the glory of God the Father.
Amen.
from the Divine Liturgy

Lord, God Almighty, You alone are holy. You accept a sacrifice of praise from those who call upon You with their whole heart. Receive also the prayer of us sinners and let it reach Your holy altar. Enable us to bring before You gifts and spiritual sacrifices for our sins and for the transgressions of the people. Make us worthy to find grace in Your presence so that our sacrifice may be pleasing to You and that Your good and gracious Spirit may abide with us, with the gifts here presented, and with all Your people. Through the mercies of Your only begotten Son with whom You are blessed, together with Your all holy, good, and life giving Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages.
from the Divine Liturgy, prayer of the Proskomidí

With God on our side, who can be against us? Since God did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up to benefit us all, we may be certain, after such a gift, that He will not refuse anything He can give. Could anyone accuse those that God has chosen? When God acquits, could anyone condemn? Could Christ Jesus? No! He not only died for us—He rose from the dead, and there at God’s right hand He stands and pleads for us.
Romans 8:31-34 Jerusalem Bible

He… has offered one single sacrifice for sins, and then taken His place for ever, at the right hand of God, where He is now waiting until His enemies are made into a footstool for Him. By virtue of that one single offering, He has achieved the eternal perfection of all whom He is sanctifying.
Hebrews 10:12-14 JB

Saturday, January 21, 2012

In a new love

Dietrich Bonhoeffer with students, Spring 1932
A true Christian is made by faith and love toward Christ.
Our sins do not in the least hinder our Christianity
according to the word of the Savior Himself. He deigned to say,
‘Not the righteous have I come to call, but sinners to salvation; 
there is more joy in heaven over one who repents 
than over ninety righteous ones.’

Likewise, concerning the sinful woman who touched His feet,
He deigned to say to the Pharisee, Simon,
To one who has love, a great debt is forgiven, 
but from one who has no love, 
even a small debt will be demanded.’
From these judgments
a Christian should bring himself to hope and joy,
and not in the least accept an inflicted despair.
Here one needs the shield of faith.

Sin, to one who loves God,
is nothing other than an arrow from the enemy in battle.
The true Christian is a warrior
fighting his way through the regiments of the unseen enemy
to his heavenly homeland.

According to the word of the Apostle,
our homeland is in heaven,
and about the warrior he says, 
‘our warfare is not against flesh and blood, 
but against principalities and powers, 
against the rulers of the darkness of this age, 
against the spirits of wickedness under heaven.’

The vain desires of this world separate us from our homeland;
love of them, and habit, clothes our soul
as if in a hideous garment.
This is called by the Apostles, ‘the outward man.’

We, traveling on the journey of this life and calling on God to help us,
ought to be divesting ourselves of this hideous garment
and clothing ourselves in new desires,
in a new love of the age to come,
and thereby to receive knowledge of how near or how far we are
from our heavenly homeland.

But it is not possible to do this quickly;
rather one must follow the example of sick people, who,
wishing the desired health,
do not leave off seeking means to cure themselves.


No one can hurt you…

…if you are determined to do only what is right; if you do have to suffer for being good, you will count it a blessing. There is no need to be afraid or to worry about them. Simply reverence the Lord Christ in your hearts, and always have your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you all have. But give it with courtesy and respect and a clear conscience, so that those who slander you when you are living a good life in Christ may be proved wrong in the accusations that they bring. And if it is the will of God that you should suffer, it is better to suffer for doing right than for doing wrong.

1 Peter 3:13-17 Jerusalem Bible

Friday, January 20, 2012

The good life


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 to 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.

And you were dead,
through the crimes and sins in which you used to live

when you were following the way of this world,
obeying the ruler who governs the air,
the spirit who is at work in the rebellious.


We all were among them too in the past,
living sensual lives, ruled entirely by our own physical desires
and our own ideas,
so that by nature
we were as much under God's anger as the rest of the world.


But God loved us with so much love
that He was generous with His mercy:

When we were dead through our sins,
He brought us to life with Christ—

it is through grace that you have been saved—
and raised us up with Him and gave us a place with Him
in heaven, in Christ Jesus.

This was to show for all ages to come,
through His goodness to us in Christ Jesus,
how infinitely rich He is in grace.

Because it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith;
not by anything of your own, but by a gift from God;
not by anything that you have done,
so that nobody can claim the credit.


We are God's work of art, created in Christ Jesus
to live the good life as from the beginning
He had meant us to live it.


Ephesians 1:17 - 2:10 Jerusalem Bible

Orthodoxy on trial

The triumph of Orthodoxy is not what we so boldly play it up to be on the Sunday dedicated to this name. Yes, they fought hard battles and long, the victors now becoming the victims later, then exchanging places as readily as dancers, as imperial and sacerdotal whims gave way to one another, and crowds of old men, some saints and others mere savants, dissecting each other's brains to an atomic level, and straining each other's syllables spoken, sung or scribed through sieves of partiality so clogged with flesh and blood, that it's a wonder anything came through.

It's not really about whether we make ikons or break them, whether we fellowship with saints above or only with those below. Nor is it about whether we can name a faithful virgin of Israel the mother of the ineffable God or only of the God-Man she bore, or whether Himself He had at all times an unobstructed and single will, nature, and being, or only appeared so.

It's not really about whether the Spirit can come on whomsoever He wishes with the anointing that teaches everything infallibly, or on all who call upon Him, or only on those upon whom human hands have been laid, over whom human tongues have prayed, generation after generation, unbroken, from the beginning.

The triumph of Orthodoxy is to be put on trial, tested by every antagonist, human and inhuman, visible and invisible, rational and irrational, using every temptation, to glory, to humiliation, to wealth, to poverty, to power, to weakness, to joy, to sorrow, to health, to sickness, to life, and to death, and thus tried, to come forth as a bride made beautiful for her Bridegroom, without any flaw, dressed in spotless white, with a heart purged of all malice, forgetful of all injury, seeking only to love, to love all without measure, without exception, unaware of her exaltation, her eyes fixed forever on her Beloved.

Unless we are put on trial in this way, we will never triumph.
Today we are one day closer to it than we were yesterday.
Are we ready?