Thursday, August 30, 2012

Rescued by wedding guests

Whenever I return to a stint of reading the early fathers, that is, those before and just after the peace of the Church wrought by Constantine, I’m always struck by their modernity and the freshness that leaps out at me as I read. It makes me wonder just what ‘modern’ means.

I’ve read somewhere that the beginning of ‘modern’ times occurred in different centuries in different places. Some say in Europe they began in AD 1300 with Dante, others that Francis of Assisi is the first ‘modern’ man in the West: it all depends on when the writer thinks the medieval age ended. In the Far East, modern times are said to have begun during the Northern Sung dynasty, around the year AD 1000, and the criteria are such things as the appearance of printing, paper money, and machinery.

In my view, what I mean as ‘modern’ has to do with machinery definitely, but even more with the frank and unafraid willingness to question everything to get at the root of truth. This is something that I think we lost during the ‘Church Age’ in the West, when other priorities were substituted for it. The religiosity of medieval Christianity did not even make room for real questions to be asked, hence, the stagnation that took centuries to overcome.

Back to my topic, the written testimonies of the early Christians.

Eusebius’ History of the Church was my leisure reading matter this morning. His text reads as fluently and frankly as if it were written just yesterday, and the events he recounts are both easy to picture and believe as accurate. What a far cry from the miracle stories of Christian piety, always avid to believe anything as long as it’s monstrous—like St Nicholas of Myra reassembling and revivifying the bodies of some boys who had been hacked to pieces and concealed in barrels of pickles—or was it wine?

I read for a long while about the Church Father Origen of Alexandria who escaped being canonized as Saint Origen for some of his eccentricities of belief or at least of expression. One of his funnier speculations was that our resurrection bodies would be perfect spheres, but he also speculated on pre-existence of the soul and other ideas bordering on pagan philosophy. This speculation, in spite of his sufferings in the Decian persecution, earned him the indignity of being a suspect of heresy. Looking at him through the ‘modern’ approach that one finds in Eusebius’ history, I’d say that Origen deserves better from his ‘carping critics’ as Eusebius calls them. I guess Origen will just have to be classed with Martin Luther, who also falls under the axe of true piety, as he cries out,Let the saints canonize themselves!’

Now, for the real topic, a story that I found both exciting and interesting, written in History of the Church, Book 6, Chapter 40, entitled What happened to Dionysius. The account itself was written in a letter by Dionysius, and it is quoted in the book.

I speak as in the presence of God, who knows whether I am lying. I did not act on my own judgement or without God when I made my escape; but even before that, when Decius announced his persecution, Sabinus then and there dispatched a frumentarius to hunt me out, and I stayed at home for four days waiting for him to arrive. But though he went round searching every spot—roads, rivers, fields—where he guessed I was hiding or walking, he was smitten with blindness and did not find the house; he never imagined that when an object of persecution I should stay at home! It was only after four days, when God commanded me to go elsewhere, and by a miracle made it possible, that I set out along with the boys and many of the brethren. That this was indeed a work of divine providence was proved by what followed, when perhaps we were of use to some.

Let me interject two observations:

Dionysius tells, almost casually as if it were nothing remarkable, that God commanded him to go elsewhere. These early Christians like us had, and knew they had, direct access to God, without having to resort to a chain of command as later develops in the Church, eventually making it unimaginable in the Dark Ages that anyone but a perfect saint could actually talk to God and get His personal attention, as does Dionysius. This, to me, is a sign of modernity.

The other thing I want to notice is his use of the word miracle. As he continues to tell his story, the miraculous aspect reveals itself to be the acknowledgment that God was personally and intimately directing the flow of events. This too strikes me as modern, that is, frank and honest, not given to exaggeration or tale-spinning.

Now, to finish the story, Dionysius continues…

About sunset, my companions and I were caught by the soldiers and taken to Taposiris; but by the purpose of God it happened that Timothy was absent and was not caught. When he arrived later, he found the house empty except for a guard of servants, and learnt that we had been captured without hope of release…

And how was God’s wonderful mercy shown? You shall hear the truth. As Timothy fled distracted, he was met by one of the villagers on his way to attend a wedding-feast—which in those parts meant an all-night celebration—who asked why he was in such a hurry. He told the truth without hesitation, whereupon the other went in and informed the guests as they reclined at table. With one accord, as if at a signal, they all sprang to their feet, came as fast as their legs could carry them, and burst in where we were with such terrifying shouts that the soldiers guarding us instantly took to their heels. Then, they stood over us, as we lay on bare mattresses.

At first, God knows, I thought they were bandits who had come to plunder and steal, so I stayed on the bed. I had nothing on but a linen shirt; my other clothes that were lying near I held out to them. But they told me to get up and make a bolt for it. Then I realised what they had come for, and called out, begging and beseeching them to go away and let us be. If they wanted to do me a good turn, they had better forestall my captors and cut off my head themselves. While I shouted like this, they pulled me up by force, as my companions who shared all my adventures know. I let myself fall on my back to the floor, but they grasped me by hands and feet and dragged me out, followed by those who witnessed the whole scene, Gaius, Faustus, Peter, and Paul, who picked me up and carried me out of the village, set me on a donkey bareback, and led me away.

Now, in conclusion I ask you, brethren, isn’t this a great story? Doesn’t it ring true, and even entertain us in a way that doesn’t offend true piety, by the candid artlessness of the author? Here we have an example of what a Christian was like in the third century, before the beginning of the Church Age. There’s a lot here to be learned, and also to help us examine ourselves, to make sure that the faith that we have is the same as that of these early Christians. Reading books like these makes me think that what we have known as the ‘modern’ age has not so much to do with an era of chrónos time, but rather with moments of kairós time scattered through human history.

If this be true, what of those who call the present ‘post-modern’? Must we, like Dionysius, have to be yanked out of our resignation by Christ’s wedding guests, flung bareback on an ass, and set free?

Giving it up, or just giving up

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

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

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

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

Glory to You, O God, glory to You.

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

That which we have sown

But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat,
and went away.
Matthew 13:25

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
Matthew 5:9

How great it must be to be called a son of God! The only one who was ever worthy to be called the Son of God now gives His disciples the dignity of sharing with Him the divine nature. Though He is One of the Holy Triad, He has flung open the gates of paradise to those He calls friends, even brothers, welcoming them into the life of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. The Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace, who is it for, if not for them?

Do we take it for granted that if we say we are followers of Jesus, that we are also peacemakers?

In this saying of the Lord, along with the others in what is called ‘the Beatitudes,’ there doesn’t seem to be any blanket requirement to ‘believe in Jesus.’ In fact, He is teaching not His disciples, but ‘the crowds.’ Does this mean that they, that just anyone, can be recipients of the blessings He is proclaiming? It almost seems that His words are the preamble to belief in Him.

He is giving the crowds their first glimpse of what they’re in for, if they follow Him. Yes, by the end of this passage, He lets the cat out of the bag, ‘Blessed are you when people abuse you and persecute you and speak all kinds of calumny against you on My account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven; this is how they persecuted the prophets before you’ (Matthew 5:11-12). Christians are quick to assume they are the ones Christ calls blessed, but what if they are the other ones?

Christians are not perfect. Sometimes they have misunderstandings, disagreements. Sometimes they have arguments. Sometimes they take offense at each others’ words or deeds. Sometimes through weakness they even give offense, sometimes blind to their own sin they accuse others. When this happens, we can depend on other Christians to step in and be peacemakers, step in voluntarily, not be forced in by one side or the other. But we can depend on one of them to be a peacemaker, right?

It would never happen that any of those who confess Christ and follow Him would even think of doing anything other than being a peacemaker when brothers are at enmity, right?

So what does a peacemaker do?
Encourages each side to approach the other in repentance and humility, to forget for the moment whatever it is that seems to have caused the trouble, to abandon self-righteousness, for each to put himself in the other’s shoes, to let love cover any perceived offenses.

Yet this is not what some Christians do. Not only do they not work for peace, but they themselves are the cause of division, of strife. They plant seeds of suspicion, distrust, and evil motives, trying to disrupt holy fellowship between brothers that they themselves cannot have because of the spirit of envy that is in them. Holy fellowship shames them, and so they do all in their power to disrupt it, following the father of lies, planting lies, hoping not for peace but for judgment and calumny.

Where there once was love and trust, they plant hatred and suspicion. ‘There is not just one offended person in this situation. At this point, he has offended you repeatedly by his refusal to read communication, refusing to meet…’

They try to manipulate others and egg them on in their fratricidal fury, ‘You didn’t ask him to mediate, but to be your witness that he is in the wrong.’ Instead of working for peace, they demonize and slay with slander, ‘That whiny conniver has subtly turned the tables on this—he is an expert at that—and suddenly the man you wanted to be your witness against him is his witness against you!’

Rather than seeking peace and reasons for reconciliation, they fuel the fire of hate, ‘He’s not innocent in this. He’s been childish, foolish and recalcitrant. He will not hear, he will not see. He sees only his man-made religion and his self-styled images of Jesus. He loves what he thinks Christianity is, having made it into something palatable. But the raw reality of face to face service is not in his religion. He wants to be thought of as an innocent martyr, but rather than accept rebuke from you in a Christ-like manner, he doesn't even consider the possibility that he is wrong. No, he is offended, not by what you say, but that you didn't say it right, or with the right attitude, or in a church, or with your pants on, or in a synagogue, or holding your mouth just so or some other such thing.’

Yes, there are Christians who talk like this not to make peace but to make war, jealous of a unity in the spirit that they cannot have themselves, so they attempt to destroy it in others. New Nicolaitans, they make use of their age, authority, or some other advantage, to conquer others in secret, just as the devil does, ‘divide and conquer.’ Their work is just the opposite of the work of Christ, yet while they perform it they crown themselves with righteousness, and they trample brotherly love and all other good. I have seen this happen again and again, and I always ask myself, ‘How can they have such hatred?’

It makes me really sick at heart when I consider these things, how those whom we trust to love us and present us with prayer to our heavenly Father sometimes seek to slay us, thinking they are doing God a favor. What kind of earthly parent does that to his own child? It is not for nothing that our Lord warned us, ‘a man's enemies will be the members of his own household’ (Matthew 10:36), yet we do not listen, we do not watch, but gladly let ourselves be marched back into prisons of flesh and spirit, herded by hate against our brothers.

‘Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness’ (James 3:18), but what about those who sow in war?
What do they harvest?

Sad when we see the workers of enmity unleashing their rage in the world, but more than sad when they call themselves Christians. We cannot stop them, they will keep going from bad to worse, disheartening the brethren with their accusations and lying spirits, but as for us, ‘let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up’ (Galatians 6:9).

And what will we reap? What else, but that which we have sown.


It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. 
And because of this I rejoice.
Philippians 1:15-18

What a strange thing for holy apostle Paul to say! How much stranger that even in the first generation of disciples the spirit of dysangelical competition arises, at a time when there are many still alive whose testimony includes knowing Jesus Christ ‘in the flesh.’ This is before the Church had taken on an institutional form. Even ‘imperial church’ is centuries in the future. Human nature, somehow tricked into the sin of betraying one’s teachers instead of remembering them (cf. 2 Timothy 3:14), asserts itself from the very start. Yet Paul, a genuine apostle, ‘called to be’ what he is, says he rejoices, because ‘Christ is preached,’ no matter what the motivation.

Such incredible faith! He doesn’t stop to fill our ears with recrimination. He doesn’t tell us who is teaching what false doctrine or compare ideologies of salvation. He knows that the Message will get through to those who are looking for it, even if the delivery is ‘from false motives or true.’ The seeds of factionalism sown by the enemy of mankind are always taking root in hearts full of envy and rivalry which, despite their flowering piety and religious fragrance, bear hateful fruit, hidden under biblical foliage. It is a dreadful fruit of judgment that is offered, though it seem ‘good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom’
(Genesis 3:6).

Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience. We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart. If we are ‘out of our mind,’ as some say, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. 

So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. 

We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
2 Corinthians 5:11-21

What is lacking in those who take it upon themselves to deceive and be deceived regarding divine things is, as the apostles writes, ‘to fear the Lord’—in modern terms, what we mean by ‘awe’—and that permits them to erect religious prisons in which they bind themselves and others. They may call their creations ‘ministries’ or ‘societies.’ They may paper their walls with Hebrew and Greek to affect an air of antiquity and authority, but they ‘take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart,’ and so betray not only their teachers, who themselves are only disciples, but the Teacher Himself.

Like the apostle before he meets the Lord on the Damascus road, they ‘live for themselves’ while persecuting the believers. As Paul is struck blind by the One whom he is, in fact, persecuting, they regard not only Christ, but the faith, and everyone to whom they preach ‘from a worldly point of view.’ Being thus blinded, even speaking the words of holy and divine scripture, they worship the words they speak, not realizing that ‘all this is from God,’ nor knowing that ‘if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!’ And what is this ‘new creation’? Christ living among us.

Reconciliation—a word and an idea that eludes them who ‘preach Christ out of envy and rivalry’—is the only ‘ministry’ given to the disciples by the Lord. How can that be? We can do only what we see Jesus doing, and He does only what He sees the Father doing, ‘who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.’ How is this ministry expressed? Reconciliation to God in heaven is accomplished by reconciliation to the brethren on earth. ‘Whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen’ (1 John 4:20).

Just as the holy apostles, as various as they were in personality, opinion, educational level and social status, worked together as sýnergoi, co-laborers, without dividing themselves or competing against each other, we live with them and with each other the life of the Holy Triad on earth, ‘not counting people’s sins against them,’ but for the sake of divine love ‘convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died,’ being willing to lay down our lives for each other. This is what the Holy Church was, is, and always shall be, everywhere ‘on earth as it is in heaven.’ There is no envy or rivalry among us in the Holy Trinity.

So, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.

You are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.

Let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.
1 John 4

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Κρισις και ελεος

People seldom judge you for your real faults. Instead, they judge you for their own faults which they apply to their image of you, or they judge you for not living up to their expectations, or because they think you are not following the rules—not their rules, of course, but the Rules.

Your real faults—and here you may or may not know them—usually go unnoticed, uncriticised. It takes too much time and trouble to look at people as they really are. It’s easier to imagine them. It’s easier to worship—or to demonise—them, but to take them ‘as is’, we haven’t time.

Ever afraid to come home? If the answer is ‘yes’ then it is a question of having a home at all, because home is all about welcome, acceptance, affirmation, interest in one another, love. ‘Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere…’

He wasn’t talking only about a comfortable spot to rest. In all the world, no such place was found for Him, or offered, until a rich man offered His newly excavated tomb, and there, He was finally able ‘to lay His head’. Is this the only home we have to offer those we say we love?

Brethren, let us love one another, as the holy apostle says, quoting His Divine Master who also says it to us. He never said, ‘Judge one another as I have judged you,’ but rather, ‘Love one another as I have loved you. Then you will be My disciples. Greater love has no man than this…’

Judgment is the law of this present age.
Mercy is the law of the age to come.
‘How blessed are the merciful,
for they shall have mercy shown them.’

* Κρισις και ελεος, krísis ke éleos, ‘judgment and mercy’

Let your words ring true…

…and do not let them appear to create a divide between the systematic and holistic aspects inherent in Orthodox Christianity and all other Christianities.

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 does 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. Keeping our eyes on Jesus, following Him closely, other sheep will follow, if only we give them room.

A tree is known by its fruit

Despite the darkness and terror spread by misguided proponents of all religions, God remains who He is, and nothing we do that is evil, even in His name, reflects on Him, but on us. Pity us, poor creatures who, worse than irrational beasts, devour each other like this.

                  Who a man follows is revealed by his walk.
                  Who a man listens to is revealed by his talk.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Walking on egg shells

I once read a letter from someone who said they couldn’t continue ‘walking on egg shells’ forever to maintain a relationship. That really struck a raw nerve. Who hasn’t had this experience? And who hasn’t been relieved when it was over? What the one who penned this line may not have given a thought to was, perhaps the other person in the relationship was ‘walking on egg shells’ too.

A curious turn of phrase, walking on egg shells. By that we mean we’re putting up with someone, we’re swallowing our pride or our good sense or whatever makes us feel we’re better or smarter or more correct than the other person, and just letting them ‘walk all over us.’ It’s an unfailing recipe for instant martyrdom complex. Why we paint ourselves into this kind of corner is beyond me. Do we do it for money, or out of fear of rejection?

Actually, fear is probably the motivating factor, the universal principle—just plain fear. Even when we rationalize it, and say we’re doing it for ‘love’ or for ‘peace’ or for some other worthy purpose. We do it because we don’t want to face something or someone, in the truth, at least the truth as we know it. That’s why I say, it’s painting oneself into a corner.

Walking on egg shells, though, is very similar to something else we do, following the instructions of the Lord: covering the offenses of others, for love’s sake. We remember the scripture that says, ‘Love covers all offenses’ (Proverbs 10:12), and we follow it. Why? Because we love the other person, and we know the Word is true. The love, though, makes all the difference.

Putting up with someone is a far cry from loving them, isn’t it? If I’m walking on egg shells I am pretending to love, and some part of me can’t go on in this way for ever. It tires out. It begins to count the cost. It begins to divide. It builds walls. It begins to grumble, then to accuse. If there ever was a kernel of love there, it pops it.
And nothing grows from popped corn.

But love is not like this. Love never tires. Love never stops giving. Love never takes back its words or its gifts. Love never fights back. Love never accepts defeat. Love never slams the door, but keeps its door open, even if just a crack. Love isn’t afraid. Nothing can rob love. Love never loses anything or anyone. Love covers all offenses without qualification. Love waits.

There really is almost nothing that love cannot do. Almost nothing, the same as we say of the Lord. He can do everything. He is almighty, yet He cannot force the will of a sinner, though He can help a saint who comes to Him defenseless, weaponless, and with open arms. When we say that God is love, repeating the scriptures, we confess of Him what is also true of us.

If He did not create us to love, He didn’t create us at all. But He did create us, and so what are the consequences? Was it a mistake for Him to make us out of the dust of the earth and then breathe heaven itself into us? Can we continue living in a world we have made, walking on egg shells, instead of freeing ourselves to live in His world, where we don’t walk, but run?

Draw me in your footsteps, let us run.
The King has brought me into His rooms…

Song of Songs, 1:4

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Now Your Word is a Lamp

Psalms for the 26th Day
119: 105-176 — 97-176 (Hebrew)

נ (Nún)

Now Your Word is a lamp to my feet,
a light on my path.
I have sworn to observe, I shall maintain
Your righteous rulings.
Yahweh, though my suffering is acute,
revive me as Your Word has guaranteed.
Yahweh, accept the homage that I offer,
teach me Your rulings.
I would lay down my life at any moment,
I have never yet forgotten Your Law.
The wicked have tried to trap me,
but I have never yet veered from Your precepts.
Your decrees are my eternal heritage,
they are the joy of my heart.
I devote myself to obeying Your statutes—
compensation enough for ever!

The Hebrew discipline of daily psalm reading starts the reading for the 26th day at verse 97, at the letter Mém…

מ (Mém)

Meditating all day on Your Law
how I have come to love it!
By Your commandment, ever mine,
how much wiser You have made me than my enemies!
How much subtler than my teachers,
through my meditating on Your decrees!
How much more perceptive than the elders,
as a result of my respecting Your precepts!
I refrain my feet from every evil path,
the better to observe Your Word.
I do not turn aside from Your rulings,
since You Yourself teach me these.
Your promise, how sweet to my palate!
Sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Your precepts endow me with perception;
I hate all deceptive paths.

Meeting again the verses of the psalm for the 26th day is always, for me, like running into a faithful and comforting friend at the end of a long and arduous day of struggle. He holds me closely to him for a moment, then looks me in the eyes and says, ‘Don't worry! That day is over. The new one is here, when we can serve the God of heaven together and joyfully keep His commandments! You are Home!’

It is fitting that the psalm for the 26th day falls on Thursday this month, the day of Christ's holy eucharist, His giving thanks to the Father, and by the mercy of Christ our God, I too give thanks, for I am home, in His Word, where I want to live, and where He lights up my path.

The psalm of this day is so precious! Listen to this, just one more stanza, starting with verse 129, at the letter Pé…

פ (Pé)

Your decrees are so wonderful
my soul cannot but respect them.
As Your Word unfolds, it gives light,
and the simple understand.
I open my mouth, panting
eagerly for Your commandments.
Turn to me, please, pity me,
as You should those who love Your name.
Direct my steps as You have promised,
let evil win no power over me.
Rescue me from human oppression;
I will observe Your precepts.
Treat Your servant kindly,
teach me Your statutes.
My eyes stream with tears,
because others disregard Your Law.

As anyone who prays the psalms will have noticed, much of their content forms the basis of Orthodox liturgical chant. The familiar doxology at the conclusion of the orthros (dawn) service includes a whole series of psalm verses after the original text of the ancient hymn Δόξα σοι τω δείξαντι το φως (Glory to Thee who hast shown us the Light), and among them is the thrice-chanted verse from Psalm 119, "Blessed are You, O Lord, teach me Your statutes" (Psalm 119:12), in Greek, Ευλογητός ει Κύριε, δίδαξον με τα δικαιώματα σου (Evloghitós ei Kýrie, dhídhaxon me ta dhikaiómata su), and in Hebrew (omitting the Hebrew script), Barúkh attá Adonáy, lammedéyni hhukéykha. This hymn is so deeply engraved in my consciousness that I often wake up in the morning singing it.

Glory to You who have shown us the Light!

By the way, the full text of the doxology in transliterated Greek with an English translation is hymn #38 in my booklet Singing the Work of the People, which can be downloaded by clicking HERE.

Friday, August 24, 2012

It is I

‘Death is a sickness like any other,’ it has been written, but so is sickness a death, and so is death an invasion of privacy and illusion-shatterer like no other. We live our lives peacefully and prosperously in the short spells of quiet that are evacuated between cataclysms, we live as individuals, as societies, even as worlds. Clenched between the jaws of inflexible fate, without daring to delve the depths of the illusion that has captured us and freed us in the vise of time, we wait purposely ignoring the end of all. Like the sudden darkness and violence of a storm that makes our road impassable and causes us to halt, either for an hour or forever, without our foreknowledge or permission, an unwelcome diagnosis of terminal illness, or the death of a child, puts an end to what we were and pushes us into what we must be. Nothing remains the same, if anything remains of us at all.

By whose mercy or caprice, or whether by mindless, existence-taunting chaos, these brief moments of order and reason, that tempt us to hope, open to receive us and feed our illusions, we dare not ask. Swept along with the whole universe, if there be such a place, we cannot keep anything material but wisdom that adheres to the soul, that the soul itself, our souls, are nonetheless real, though everything around us, our implacable enemy, denies what we know to be, crushed by what is not. We do not choose, we realize, and in fact there is no choice. We march because that is what we are, seen between two unseens, without destiny or destination, proof only to ourselves that we exist at all, movements excruciated from primordial clay. Neither yesterday nor tomorrow hold meaning, so we grasp today to convince ourselves that if we can have nothing else, at least we can have that.

God appears, uninvited if not unexpected. The religious delightfully moan in welcome, the illiterate cover themselves with rocks, neither make sense of this or can really distinguish epiphany from mindless fate. Inexorable, impossible of deflection like the high walls of the narrowing chasm inside which we will disappear as we have seen others disappear, we hope we can charm him or her or them or it by clever constructions. Instead, though we fear to admit it, we fail to follow the only avenue that would focus our attention on the opening, as we crumple in self-defeat and congratulate ourselves on having avoided the end one more time. Meanwhile, the Light shines, we do not know from where, and so we shut our eyes, and fight on. This is why we are made, we think that we think, but know that these are just the turnings of immense wheels, and once again swoon to be mashed between their teeth.

In the night, awake, always awake in the night while others sleep, obsessed with the science of unknowing, in the darkness discerning light, out of wandering being delivered to the mark as an arrow takes flight, the archer aiming not at the bird perched on the high branch, seeing not even its head, only its neck, does he pass his test. Always, everywhere, overcome by the terror of the task, thinking it is kill or be killed, we are charioted forward to engage, what is against what is not, and we emerge, as we have been forewarned, almost alone. It seems no one has survived, the world is full of ghosts, but flesh and blood, decapitated, mangled forms fill the field of vision where great deeds were done. This was no mere clashing of worlds. We find no one with whom to share the victory. We return to forgetting all, because all is pain. Then He comes to take us by the hand, and we walk upon the ageless sea.

‘It is I. Do not be afraid.’

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Not a tame Lion

We get used to the idea of God's love building up and reinforcing positive structures, but it also makes things fall apart in ways that are orderly, predictable, convenient and necessary. The entire rebirth of the universe relies on God's sovereignty, and He's not a tame lion.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


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

Christ among us, not ideology

…the Christian is in a different position from other people who are trying to be good. They hope, by being good, to please God if there is one; or—if they think there is not—at least they hope to deserve approval from good men. But the Christian thinks any good he does comes from the Christ-life inside him. He does not think that God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us; just as the roof of a greenhouse does not attract the sun because it is bright, but becomes bright because the sun shines on it.

And let me make it quite clear that when Christians say the Christ-life is in them, they do not mean simply something mental or moral. When they speak of being "in Christ" or of Christ being "in them," this is not simply a way of saying that they are thinking about Christ or copying Him. They mean that Christ is actually operating through them; that the whole mass of Christians are the physical organism through which Christ acts—that we are His fingers and muscles, the cells of His body. And perhaps that explains one or two things. It explains why this new life is spread not only by purely mental acts like belief, but by bodily acts like baptism and Holy Communion. It is not merely the spreading of an idea; it is more like evolution—a biological or super-biological fact. There is no good trying to be more spiritual than God. God never meant man to be a purely spiritual creature. That is why He uses material things like bread and wine to put the new life into us. We may think this rather crude and unspiritual. God does not: He invented eating. He likes matter. He invented it.

— C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Book 2, What Christians Believe, Chapter 5, The Practical Conclusion

The power of nothing

Thoughts seem to circulate in the mind of Christ with a life of their own, actually, no doubt with the life that God gives them, but it never ceases to amaze me how we are often found musing on the same ideas, even when we are far apart, even when we aren’t in touch with one another.

A thought has been besieging my mind the last few days, a thought about how unreality, call it fantasy, call it day-dreaming, better yet, call it ‘nothing’, afflicts and affects us, sometimes to the point where we are, where I am, paralysed against the doing of any good thing, anything at all.

It is a passage from C. S. Lewis’ book The Screwtape Letters, the first book of his many of us had ever read, which keeps drifting in and out of my thinking.

‘…Nothing is very strong: strong enough to steal away a man’s best years not in sweet sins but in a dreary flickering of the mind over it knows not what and knows not why, in the gratification of curiosities so feeble that the man is only half aware of them…’

This is the dreadful scenario, that it might be me he is talking about. These words are put in the mouth of a devil intent on snaring human souls, his advice to a ‘younger devil’ (if there really is such a thing, for Lewis’ is writing a quasi-allegory). He continues, explaining that one needn’t worry about big sins: a plethora of small ones will do the trick, will cause the soul of a man who unconsciously commits them to shrivel, to become what it has pursued: nothing.

‘You will say that these are very small sins; and doubtless, like all young tempters, you are anxious to be able to report spectacular wickedness. But do remember, the only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from [God]. It does not matter how small the sins are, provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed, the safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.’

I wrote just now that it amazes me how people are often thinking the same thoughts, alleging that we all participate in the mind of Christ, which is of course our hope. I have experienced this many times. It was reading what Fr Stephen wrote once in his blog that made me decide to put down these thoughts in mine. He writes,

‘… Our battles against, anger, lust, greed, envy, etc., are all struggles with things that are not. They have no more existence than we ourselves lend to them. And since we ourselves are not the Lord and Giver of Life, their existence is as nothing. And yet we find ourselves attracted to nothing—our minds constantly employed in dialog with nothing. The sweet work of repentance that is set before us as followers of Christ, is nothing other than the return to reality. God does not call us to spend our time thinking about what we imagine Paradise will be like. He invites us into the reality of Paradise now, which we can know through forgiving everyone for everything; by being generous in our almsgiving; by praying honest, simple prayers.’

It isn’t just his notice of what Lewis calls ‘the power of nothing’ that distinguishes Fr Stephen’s words, but his ready and refreshing and simple reminder of the way out of it—repentance, forgiving everyone for everything—‘right away’ is all that I would add—and then, the rest of the Lenten discipline which some of us try to follow for the whole year: generosity and real prayer. He continues,

‘It is quite possible for our lives to be dominated by things which have no existence. Our dreams and fantasies, our fears and anxieties, take on an existence that overwhelms everything else. Not only can such concerns not be defeated on their own ground (they are the masters of the unreal world) they must be slowly dragged onto the very ground of reality, Christ Himself, so that they can be revealed in their powerlessness and swept away with the dust of non-being.’

These words may seem hopelessly idealistic, even poetic, but they are nonetheless true. I marvel at myself, writing what I think but usually being prevented from acting on what the words mean. That was my pervasive meditation for hours this morning as I wandered in and out of prayer on my bed. In prayer, with God, out of prayer, nowhere, holding on to nothing, searching for that something I can almost just remember—but only a temptation—again, just nothing disguised to my mind as something great. But only God is great. Only He is real and true. And only in His presence, in prayer, am I delivered from the power of nothing over me.

O Heavenly King, Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, Who art everywhere present and fillest all things, Treasury of blessings and Giver of Life, come and abide in us, and cleanse us of all impurity, and save our souls, O Good One.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Dragging the Dead Dogs

I chanced across an interesting, slightly dated (and possibly retired), Orthodox blog while looking for graphics. It is called The Orthodox Fool. I have added a link to it in the sidebar of Cost of Discipleship blog under Look here… but I also republished it (with very slight editorial corrections—you know me!) as one of my own blogs.

Since the author is anonymous, I can only tell you that the writing is not mine, but I have expressed many of the same ideas in a different way, as you will realise if you take the time to visit my version of this blog, which I call, from the name of its first post, Dragging the Dead Dogs. I don't like to write about problems except when I can suggest a peaceful solution, but I know that some of you are having struggles right now, and to know that others are struggling too, can help.

Sometimes I myself think, ‘Alas, brethren! All we have to rely on now is the peace of Christ! Ah yes, but lucky for us, He truly is ‘a good God who loveth mankind.’


‘When you go to the Temple, be on your guard. Go near so you can hear. The offering is more valuable than the sacrifice of fools, even if they are unaware of doing wrong,’ writes the wise Qohelet (Ecclesiastes 4:17 JB). Who knows what he meant when he originally wrote down his thoughts in that ancient scroll? But as with the rest of holy and divine scripture, the Lord knows what would be made of His words from the moment they were received by the Qahal, the Church, until the end of time. I find myself remembering this verse and applying it very often these days.

‘You can tell them by their fruits,’ says the Lord in the holy gospels. ‘Can you pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles?’ His metaphor (Matthew 7:15-20) shows how ridiculously easy it is, or should be, for the disciple to distinguish false prophets from true. For what is a prophet after all, but one who dares to speak in God’s name, claiming authority which can only be given by God, who also accompanies that authority by signs? What signs? There are many. Read the bible. ‘Signs and wonders’ are more than story-telling. Infallibly, Christ’s sheep know His voice.

And so we were recently hearers of a seminarian’s homily, which seemed to revolve around the idea that what we need to do is attend more religious services, and at those we do attend, to arrive on time and not leave before they’re finished. The rewards of this good behavior were amply held out to us, and also the reverse. Heaven isn’t gained by those who stay away, but those who come to church punctually and faithfully, will have their reward. Honestly, I’ve never doubted that, but it is a general truth that cannot be used to corral and regiment the unruly flock of Christ.

For we are unruly. We follow a Lord who, though He fulfilled every commandment was yet called a law-breaker. Indeed, He observed the faith festivals of the Jews because He was a Jew, but wherever He went He revealed the Reality underlying all religious observance. What Reality? Well, that He and the Father are One, and that if we have seen Him, Jesus Christ, we have seen the Father. He keeps telling us in the gospels that He is only saying and doing what He hears the Father saying and what He sees Him doing. ‘The disciple is not superior to his Teacher’ (Matthew 10:24). We are unruly.

For the following of the Lord Jesus Christ is not the road of rules, but His life revealed to us in the scriptures is the rule of the road.

Our seminarian piously recounted for us the story of a man of his acquaintance who was very holy—so holy in fact that, like the Theotokos and many other saints, he was vouchsafed the date of his repose. What made this man holy was his faithfulness and piety. He never missed a service at the seminary chapel, Sundays or weekdays. Never came late, but always early or on time. He prayed daily the Chairetismoi, the poem written by Romanos the Melodist to glorify the Mother of God. He had a spiritual father to whom he frequently confessed and to whose word he was obedient.

The reward of his piety was a vision of the Theotokos three days before his death, which he revealed to his spiritual father. His sacrifices had been accepted, he was told. He would enter paradise in three days. And true to her word, he reposed on the third day. Such are the blessed rewards granted to the saints of God.

I have no doubt the man was a saint. I also don’t believe that the preacher even told us a tenth part of the good that this man of faith carried out for God. I wonder what it was like to know him when he was still alive in the flesh. Did he share with the young men at seminary anything of his real life, that which lay as the foundation of the pious building that they could see? Probably not, for the saints are invisible in their comings and goings, their mercies and their acts of love, invisible to themselves as well as to others. He worshiped and loved Panagia.’ I wondered, ‘Does the preacher know why?’

To hear his homily, one would gather that the highest form of devotion to God is religious activity, piling up divine liturgies, orthros and vesper and paráklisis services, placing oneself in the hands of a spiritual father—in short, becoming essentially a ‘white monastic,’ that is, to be living like a monk, but in the world, not within the monastery. I’m sorry but I don’t even remember what the gospel lesson was at that service. If he touched upon it in his homily, perhaps it was an exegetical opening for whatever else was on his mind to tell us. We all listened respectfully, as he concluded his story.

And I repeated to the man next to me in the pew who was looking a bit uncomfortable and squirming in his seat, ‘Christ’s sheep know His voice.’

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The vanity of appearances

A saint is not remarkable on the surface;
all his riches are internal, in his soul.

A peasant came a long way to the monastery to see Sergius of Radonezh. When he asked for the abbot, he was told that he was working in the garden. The peasant went off to the garden and saw a man there in poor and dirty clothing, hoeing along with the other workers. The peasant returned to the monastery dissatisfied, thinking within himself that the monks were making fun of him, and repeated, that there might be no mistake, that he wanted to see the famous holy father, Sergius.

Sergius arrived back at the monastery just then, and welcomed the peasant, serving him at table. The saint looked into the heart of his guest, and saw there the thoughts about himself. To quiet him, he told him that he would see Sergius if he waited a little.

Just then, a prince arrived at the monastery with his nobles. Both the prince and the nobles bowed low to Sergius and asked his blessing. The monks then removed the peasant from the room to make room for the new guests, and this peasant looked with wonder from afar, and peered to see that which he had spurned the sight of from nearby. He chided himself for his ignorance and was deeply ashamed.

When the prince had departed, the peasant quickly went up to the saint, fell at his feet, and asked his forgiveness. And the great saint was gentle with him, and said: “Don’t grieve, my son; you thought a true thing of me, reckoning me as nothing, while others are deluded in thinking me something great.”

Saturday, August 18, 2012

You are blessed

You are blessed, Lord,
You are blessed,
because no matter what I am going through right now,
You are here with me,
You are covering me.
In You life goes on, Lord,
in You the dead have life,
in You the cries of the unheard are heard,
in You the unloved are loved,
in You the brokenhearted are restored to joy,
in You the feeble are made strong,
in You the poor are become rich,
in You the blind receive their sight,
in You the captive are made free.

You are blessed, Lord,
You are blessed,
for raising me from my bed of sins,
for standing me on my feet and directing my steps,
for opening to me the gates of repentance,
for leading me in the path of righteousness,
for taking me by the hand,
for taking my first steps for me,
for loving me as if I were Your only son.

You are blessed, Lord,
You are blessed,
because You have not forgotten me,
because You have not abandoned my soul to She’ol
or left me lying in the land of death,
because You have surrounded me with songs of deliverance,
because You have fed me on the wild rock honey,
because of Your love, Lord,
because of Your love,
just because.

Xυμα καρδιας - Largeness of Heart

και εδωκεν κυριος φρονησιν τω σαλωμων και σοφιαν πολλην σφοδρα και χυμα καρδιας ως η αμμος η παρα την θαλασσαν
1 Kings 4:29 Greek Septuagint

There is only One Church, One Body of Christ, and that cannot be, that has never been and shall never be, divided, for Truth is One, yet we do not let ourselves see things this way. Like the soldiers at the foot of the Cross, we would rather gamble in the attempt to have all of Christ's garment or none of it, not realising that it isn't possession of the robe of Truth, but to be nailed next to Him, stripped naked and rejected with Him, that matters.

Here is a testimony with many applications, written by the servant of God, Christian pastor Zac Poonen, of Christian Fellowship Church, Bangalore, India. What he writes is quite Orthodox in both theory and application, because it comes from a spiritual understanding of the Word of God. Anyone can learn from what he says, because here is the secret to living the life of heaven on earth, what elsewhere I have called ‘the life of the Holy Triad.’

Seek to have Largeness of Heart
by Pastor Zac Poonen

In 1 Kings 3:16-28 we have an example of Solomon’s wisdom. Two prostitutes stood before him for judgment one day. They were living in the same house and had delivered babies within a few days of each other. One night, one of them accidentally rolled over her child while sleeping, and killed it. When she realised what had happened, she immediately exchanged her baby with the living one. In the morning, when the other woman realised what had been done, she claimed her living child back. An argument arose between them then, as to whom the living child belonged to. How was Solomon going to decide in a situation like this? God gave Solomon wisdom. Solomon suggested that the living child be divided into two, and one half given to each woman. The first woman, whose child it really was, said, “No, please don’t kill it. Give it to the other woman.” But the second woman said, “No, kill it. You can have half and I can have half.” Immediately everyone knew who the true mother was. Then Solomon said, “Give the child to the first woman.” All Israel heard of that judgment and feared the king because they saw how God had given him wisdom.

Here is how we can apply Solomon’s wisdom today: Suppose two brothers are working together in a church and they fall out with each other. One of them then splits it into two and pulls out with his group. Is he the true mother? Certainly not! The true mother would say, “No. Don’t divide the church. You can have the whole church to yourself.”

Don’t ever split a church of believers. It is far better to leave the church intact, pull out yourself, go elsewhere and start an entirely new work, without causing a split in the first church. God will bless you. If God wants to give you that church to lead, because you are the true mother, He can even kill the other woman one day and give you the child. He killed Saul and gave the kingdom to David. He can do such things today too. But don’t ever cut a living baby into two. Don’t divide a church. Go and work somewhere else. Let God give you everything from His own hand. Don’t ever grab or divide.

That’s the principle I have followed whenever I have disagreed with a church’s leadership. I didn’t try to split the church, to get some of them to follow me. I went elsewhere and said, “Lord, let me start from the beginning all over again. Give me another child. I won’t fight for that one.” And I can testify today that God has blessed me abundantly in my work, because of that attitude. So I would recommend that to you.

In Chapter
4:29, “God gave Solomon wisdom and very great discernment and breadth of mind, largeness of heart, like the sand that is on the seashore.” Remember Solomon was a very young man. So young people can ask God to give them all these four gifts mentioned here. Not only wisdom, discernment and breadth of mind but also largeness of heart, like the sand that is on the seashore”. This means (for us) a large heart that can take in all of God’s people who are like the sand on the seashore (Genesis 22:17).

Consider a brother who belongs to another denomination, who disagrees with us about water-baptism or speaking in tongues; but God has accepted him. Our prayer should be, “Lord, give me largeness of heart to warmly receive him - even if he doesn’t work with me or agree with me.” I want as many brothers and sisters as God has children!

Consider a child of God who has a conviction on some matter that is different from ours. Can we accept that person? I remember once when a sister came to me for baptism and she was wearing some gold jewelry. Now, I have a conviction that gold should not be worn by believers. That is my understanding of
1Timothy 2:9 and 1 Peter 3:3. And this sister was wearing gold. Would I baptise her or not? The Lord asked me one question at that time: “Would you say that I have accepted her?” And I said, “Lord, as far as I can see, she is truly born again and so you have accepted her.” Then the Lord said, “How can you reject one whom I have accepted?” So I baptised her—with her gold! She may get light on that matter later; but it is not my business to judge her. I want to accept all those whom God has accepted—even if their convictions are different from mine.

I remember once concerning some issue, the Lord asked me, “How long did you take to understand this matter?” I admitted that it had taken me some years. Then why couldn’t I be patient with that person who was taking time to understand the issue?

We all need largeness of heart. When we are young, we tend to be zealous and narrow-minded, narrow-hearted, and we accept only those who agree with us on every issue. I am ashamed to say that I was like that when I was young. It was one of the many foolish 

attitudes I had. But as I grew older, and knew the Lord better, I discovered that I needed to have largeness of heart.

More than the entire world

What is beautiful and well-made belongs to the world
and cannot comfort those who want to live a spiritual life.
There is no wall that will not eventually be torn down.
One soul is worth more than the entire world.
What must we do for the soul?
We must begin spiritual work.
We must have only the right kind of concern.
Christ will ask us what spiritual work we have accomplished,
how we helped the world in spiritual matters.
He will not ask what buildings we made.
He will not even mention them.
We will be held accountable for our spiritual progress.
I want you to grasp what I am trying to say.
I am not saying that one must not construct buildings,
and not construct them well,
but one must take care of the spiritual life first
and then mind the rest,
and do all that with spiritual discernment.

Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain

“Remember who your teachers were…”
2 Timothy 3:14

Into whatever adventure

Psalms for the 18th Day
90 91 92 93 94
Psalm 91
God's protection

If you live in the shelter of Elyon
and make your home in the shadow of Shaddai,
you can say to Yahweh, ‘My refuge, my fortress,
my God in whom I trust!’

He rescues you from the snares
of fowlers hoping to destroy you;
he covers you with his feathers,
and you find shelter underneath his wings.

You need not fear the terrors of night,
the arrow that flies in the daytime,
the plague that stalks in the dark,
the scourge that wreaks havoc in broad daylight.

Though a thousand fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
you yourself will remain unscathed,
with his faithfulness for shield and buckler.

You have only to look around
to see how the wicked are repaid,
you who can say, ‘Yahweh my refuge’,
and make Elyon your fortress.

No disaster can overtake you,
no plague come near your tent:
he will put you in his angels’ charge
to guard you wherever you go.

They will support you on their hands
in case you hurt your foot against a stone;
you will tread on lion and adder,
trample on savage lions and dragons.

‘I rescue all who cling to me,
I protect whoever knows my name,
I answer everyone who invokes me,
I am with them when they are in trouble;
I bring them safety and honor,
I give them life, long and full,
and show them how I can save.’

This is the God, the Father whom Jesus our Lord trusted with such certainty that He was willing to take every promise with Him to the Cross, so that we too, believing in His name, can go boldly forward into whatever adventure Yahweh sends us.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Indonesia tercinta saya

We have been experiencing a heat wave in Portlandia, summer finally arrived after a long, cool spring, and this sunny, hot weather always puts me in mind of living in my other homeland, Indonesia. I first discovered it last December and January, when I spent three whole weeks living there with my adopted son Yudhie and his friends and relatives, never staying in a hotel or going out of our way to see ‘the sights’ but just living there together, enjoying each other’s company, and going where occasion and the road sent us.

It is a warm country, and not just because it straddles the equator. The people of Indonesia, everyone I came to know, were very warm hearted, very generous and hospitable. When you don’t know them personally, they are respectful and correct, but once they know you are ‘one of them’ their gracious hearts and homes are open to you. I suppose people are like that everywhere, but when you experience that in a place you did not expect to find it, it’s just wonderful.

Today, the day felt like a day in Singaraja or in Tangerang or Lampung, sunny, hot, but still a bit breezy. I just miss being surrounded by Indonesian people. Perhaps I will see some of them tomorrow, if I go to eat at one of the warungs downtown. Yes, we have two authentic Indonesian warungs (food carts) in Portlandia, both of them are benar bagus sekali (really great)! Indonesian food is definitely Asian and based on rice, but the spices and the preparation of meat, fish, seafood, vegetables and fruit make it unique.

Today I want to congratulate my friends and relatives of Indonesia on their Independence Day, which is the 17th of August, already over by the time anyone reads this. I hope it was a beautiful day for them. They’re also getting ready for the Idul Fitri holiday, which marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, on Sunday the 19th. Though this is a religious holiday for Muslims, everyone in Indonesia has the day off to celebrate with their friends. Well, it falls on a Sunday. I wonder, do they have Monday off work to compensate?

The video above is a sample of what happens on the bus going just about anywhere in Indonesia—Street musicians, pengamen, get aboard the bus and perform, then pass an envelope for donations. They don’t have to pay the conductor for the ride, and they get off and climb aboard another bus to perform, and earn their living. It’s easy to be generous with these talented young people. By the way, I have a blog, Yndonesia, which you can find HERE.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Beyond tomorrow

Even while she was still with us, I found myself talking to her, asking her, when alone and needing some comfort, especially when I awoke in the middle of the night, for prayer. It was hard to understand, and to accept, the story she told us, about the angel, but then, we had no trouble hearing and believing the other story, but that was all about her Son. This time it was about her but, unlike the first visit of Gabriel, which brought the word of good news, this visit seemed nothing but the harbinger of sadness.

How could we put up with it? How could I live suddenly alone? She was my mother, more than only mine, for twenty-four long years. She was a mother to all of us, and it was wonderful to be back in the Holy City again with the brothers, all of us returned to where it all began. Like the scripture says, ‘From north and south, east and west, I gather you.’ She was so calm, and her eyes looked so dreamy, almost as if she were going to weep, when she told me, ‘Just think! Only a fortnight, and I will see him again!’

See him again? ‘What do you mean, Mother? Is this why we have all come back to Jerusalem? Is this why you were so insistent that we all find ourselves here, together, as we once stood on the Olive Mount, watching him go? So that as the angels declared, we could watch him come back in exactly the same way we saw him go?’ Words such as these with half-hope and excitement I blurted out, forgetting all else, and spoiling the serene moment that surrounded the lucid jewel of her expectation.

‘No, no, beloved Son, not that! Not even he could tell us that, nor could an angel of the Most-High! Only the Father knows that time, that hour.’ Still perplexed, I waited for her to continue. What she related was difficult to grasp, and to accept. To blunt its sharpness, she reminded me that the same message would one day be vouchsafed to me as well, but not yet. I too would see the day I would go forth to meet him, but that day was yet far off. No, this was her time. Angels always bring good news.

The word had gone out, I don’t know quite how, but all of us, all except Thomas, were now somewhere in the City, or close by. Over the course of a few days, I had chance to meet with them, with Cephas, with my brother Jacob, with all of the brothers, by ones and twos, and I handed over to them the news that our Mother, our beloved Mother, the Mother of our beloved Master, had given me. It was never easy, and there were tense moments, words of astonishment and incomprehension, even of disbelief.

‘Of this we are sure,’ I told them, ‘that on the fourteenth day after the angel’s visit, the Master will welcome his Mother into the Life eternal, carrying her as a babe in his own arms, escorted by the angelic host.’ No, we would not see what she would see, but we were privileged to encircle her bed at that precise moment, and through her eyes, the Light of Light, even the true God of true God—blessed, blessed, blessed be He!—was to shine on us, casting away forever all shadows from her life and ours.

Twenty-four years of living together, her silence as well as her testimonies teaching and strengthening me, crossing lands and seas, preserved by her witness, by her very being, the Mother of my Lord and Master, Jesus, of my Savior… over, forever over! I was disconsolate. But when had I not known it, understood that this time of blessing would also come to an end, that all that is human must, like a book, be finished and closed? Yet the One who writes us and fills the world with our testimony, He lives.

‘Evening came, and morning came, day one,’ I began counting, clinging desperately to the words of scripture, fervently hugging to myself every moment I was able to spend with her, while she continued living as she always had, caring for me, creating the inner world for me to retreat to after laboring so hard to build the outer—but I, while she waited so patiently and with unperturbed certainty for her Son to arrive, I could not keep myself on task, I could not work. It was a very strange kind of fasting.

Little did I think to feed my body, even though with foods from her hand I would never taste again. No, but I fed my eyes with her beauty, yes, her beauty, for though she was my Mother, to see us together, one would think at most she were my sister. But now, my hair grown white, my beard and side locks the same, though still young inside I was, outside those who did not know me took me for an elder of Israel, and she for my young bride. And indeed, a bride she was, whom we knew as ‘the Unwedded.’

Sojourning among the Gentiles in the northlands, in Ephesos of Diana of the hundred breasts, we walked together, meeting the people where they were, her womanly witness the hidden foundation of mine seen and heard, and when we coaxed her to speak, she speaking of her Son, Jesus, enlivened all hearts and minds, unleashing many from the bondage post, and watering their lives as a life-giving fountain. How many miracles followed us wherever we were sent. Yes, she was a water-bearing rock, for me.

And that day we were cast ashore, alive, from the raging sea. Who would imagine that a humble daughter of Israel would be found following her young son, taking ship and sailing to the copper island, to Cyprus, to visit the only man living who was dead and brought back to life after lying four days in the tomb? But the God and Father of us all, who sent His beloved Son to us as her Son, guarded our path wherever we went, toppling idols as He did when we were cast, boatless, on that rocky shore.

‘Zeus and Hera!’ they shouted, the villagers, as they ran to greet us and ask us to preserve them from the wrath of the earth quake. But we were only humans, the mother of Jesus, and his beloved friend. We sat down together on the shore, made fires to warm ourselves, and waited for the rescue that the Lord would decree, meanwhile calming their frightened faces with the story of the only Lover of mankind. How they took to it! how they believed! not from my lips only, but from the Mother of us all.

My mournful thoughts return to that final day. Long since I had stopped counting as the day drew near. The days count themselves when we are afraid of what lies ahead. It happened so peacefully, everything so in order, as if everyone were directed intimately in thought, word and deed. We gathered around where she lay, and waiting, our fast more natural and unconscious than our own heartbeats. Expecting a miracle, she just fell asleep, and we, afraid to awaken her, just looked on. Fragrance filled the room.

What happened next, I cannot remember clearly. It seems I was brushed aside as others more vigorous in intention and plan—it was obvious they knew what to do—took charge. I saw the holy body of my little Mother carried away somewhere and I, still grieving, sat with my back against a wall, wondering what I would do next, what life I would have beyond tomorrow. My brother Jacob came and raised me up and so much as said, ‘Come along,’ and my body sheepishly followed, my mind lodged in my heart.

The next thing I remember was the sealing of the tomb. My eyes saw, but my heart did not believe, and inwardly I wretched to the core of my being. ‘You will not abandon my soul to She’ol,’ I murmured to myself, remembering my Master, who trampled death by death and bestowed Life to everyone in the tombs. Like Thomas who said it aloud when, arriving a few days later and coming to see us, Mother and me, like Thomas I cried inside, ‘I don’t believe it! It’s impossible! She can’t be dead!’ as I looked on.

And Thomas did finally arrive. Why was he allowed to be late? Why was he the only one not there? Just like the last time, he missed the Lord when he came among us, resurrected. Only this time, none of us saw the Lord with our physical eyes, as we did behind that locked door, in that room. But we believed the word that the angel spoke to Mary, as she told us, ‘The God who loves me is coming.’ Sometimes we have nothing to rely on but our faith but, as Jesus said, ‘Your faith has healed you.’ So, faith is enough.

Again, he must see with his own eyes, or he will not believe! ‘Thomas, can’t you let anything alone? Why must we disturb the rest of her body in the tomb, just for you? We told you, she has been taken by her Son, our Lord. Isn’t that enough for you? Isn’t faith enough?’ He regained his calmness and after a moment, ‘No, faith is not enough, not for me. I want to see her one more time. It’s not that I don’t believe what you’ve told me. I just want to see what all of you saw. Can you grant me that?’

Suddenly, we were ashamed of ourselves. How thoughtless, how unfeeling of us. She was his Mother as well as ours. In fact, Mary had a very tender place in her heart for Thomas and always seemed to dote on him more than on the rest of us when he appeared at her door. They seemed to understand each other, the mother of faith and the brother of doubt. So we relented. With a slow, silent pace we walked to the garden where her tomb was. We broke the seal and with difficulty shifted the stone covering.

There was that fragrance again! The same fragrance we smelled in the room when she fell asleep! Like roses, only richer, deeper, like an essential oil. There were roses scattered about the floor just inside the tomb, at least that is what I saw. Cephas went right in, as he did the last time, but I stayed outside, somehow afraid of what I might see. Thomas followed him closely, and Cephas bumped into him as he abruptly turned about and pushed past him to shout, ‘She is not there! Her body has disappeared!’

Now, as I lie here and ponder the darkness of unknowing, how great is the wisdom of God! how profound His mystery! He does not ask our permission before He moves. He just decrees His will and performs it! ‘Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth, as it is in the heavens!’ we pray over and over, yet when He does what we have asked, we are dumbfounded. The Mother of our Master, of our Lord, yes, the Mother of our God—how can we say such things?—but yes, the Truth is dawning on us.