Sunday, September 30, 2012

Hidden and revealed

The Truth never changes.

All praise for every good thing belongs to God alone, because it is Only He that prepares us for every good work and gives us the means to do the work.

If my actions and love for anyone can teach any lesson, it should be this: The Kingdom of God has already begun, even here on earth while we are alive and waiting for Jesus to come in glory.

The proof that we are the Church, His Body, is that He is among us even now, as the Risen Christ, and if we believe this, we will see Him walking among us and hear His voice speaking. Then, all we have to do is follow Him every day, and do the work we see Him doing, and speak the words we hear Him speak.

This seems like a mystery, but really, it is also quite practical. Holy apostle Paul says that the mystery is Christ among us, that gives us the strength to do every good work. We are still the Early Christians, and we can keep living as they lived, even now.

Love one another as I have loved you, says the Lord Jesus, and no greater love is there but for a man to lay down his life for his friends. Jesus is not asking us to lay down our lives and die for Him, not yet anyway, but we can at least be kind to one another, and help each other whenever we can.

If God provides the means, we do the work. If He withdraws the means, then we stop working, and wait for Him to move again, and wherever He goes, we follow.

No worry, no anxiety.

Why? Because it is not we who are working, giving, suffering, loving, being patient, being generous, being helpful, no, it is not us, but Christ in us.

Again, as holy apostle Paul calls it, the mystery of Christ among you. So, it is not I, but Christ living in me.

You are called to this very same kind of life, but it is not your job to try to make yourself into what you think God wants. All you have to do is follow closely behind Him, and you will begin to change into His image, as you do what you see Him doing. It is the easiest thing in the world to do.

That's why Jesus says, "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure. Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:25-26, 28-30 NIV)

Yes, and pray for Romanos the sinner.

God's work of art

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

Saturday, September 29, 2012

How? What? Where?

Why we come up with so many excuses for not following Jesus and doing what He commands is, we are unable to see Him. Honestly, we just don’t know what He looks like. Besides that, we also don’t seem to be able to recognize His voice among so many that claim to be His, but aren’t. Who or what are we to believe? All that must be settled, so we think, before we can follow Him or, if that is too extreme for us, then at least do what He commands. This is true, of course, only for those Christians to whom faith is not just a religious experience, but the initiation into the mysteries of Christ. If you are satisfied just to be a believer, don’t read on, but please make sure you attend church this Sunday.

What does Jesus look like? That’s a question we dare not ask ourselves, either because it seems too bold, even irreverent, or because deep down we think it doesn’t really matter. Yet in either case, we use it as an excuse for staying put. We dream of the open road, but don’t really want to travel it.

          ‘You road I enter upon and look around!
          I believe you are not all that is here;
          I believe that much unseen is also here.
          I think heroic deeds were all conceiv’d in the open air,
          and all great poems also;
          I think I could stop here myself, and do miracles…’
(Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass, ‘Song of the Open Road’)

Leave it to unchurchable poets to sing about and to enjoy the freedom of the sons of God, while we who say we know Him transhumanize ourselves into icy statues, caricatures of the Divine Image on whom we are modeled, instead of accepting Life from Him who raised Lazarus after four days of death, and who robbed Hades of the rest of the dead universe, and for ever.

How do we want to see Jesus? returning to our excuses. Is it the historical Y’shua ben Maryam, the Aramaic-speaking artisan’s son turned baffling rabbi and then incomprehensibly rejected messiah? He hung on the scaffold while day turned to night and the earth shook, breathed His last, all the while we and the rest of the world, believers and unbelievers, not knowing what He was doing, or why, or how.

We see His humanity walking on a spit of history engulfed between empires, hear the words He spoke to others—never to ourselves—watch Him work wonders that we could never do, and the longer we watch and think about Him, we grow less and less able to follow Him or hear His voice. He retreats farther into dark history than He ever retreated into bright heaven at His ascension. He’s a little brown man who doesn’t speak our language, doesn’t know what we have to put up with, and so we’ve no choice but to just believe, and let Him slip through our midst as He did the crowd that wanted to stone Him.

Or we see His divinity re-imaged to fit the cultural sensibilities of ours and earlier ages, now a white, American Jesus—at least we don’t crown Him with a baseball cap!—or a black man curiously resembling a muscular antebellum slave, as He invites an adoring woman with arms raised to be loosed. When He reveals His deity to us in the Bible we downplay it and make Him out to be ‘just a man,’ and when He shows us His humanity in the only Book where it is depicted, we exalt Him to divine status and entrench ourselves in ‘I could never do that!’ ignoring the evangelist’s closing remarks, ‘all the world wouldn’t be big enough to contain all the books’ that would have to be written to describe the acts of Jesus Christ.

All the world wouldn’t be big enough? All the books? What books? Now I’m getting confused. What about our reasons for not being able to follow Jesus and do what He commands? We can’t see Him. He is not just the historical Jesus, yet the Jesus of theology belongs to the saints. We can’t hear His voice, or at least can’t distinguish it from everyone else’s. We can’t know His teaching because of all the interpretations. Our road isn’t open like that lying poet’s. It’s full of road blocks that we didn’t put there. Like the Greeks who came and said, ‘We want to see Jesus!’ what’s the answer given us? Did they get to see Him or not? Do we? Is it our fault that we can’t ‘stop here’ ourselves ‘and do miracles?’

Gentleness, meekness, a child’s trust, a Jew’s shrewdness, a gypsy’s innocence and sense of adventure. ‘If you want to see well, pluck out your eyes and be blind. If you want to hear well, be deaf. If you want to walk well, cut off your feet,’ says ludicrously wise brother Giles of Assisi, and he seems to know what he’s talking about. He’s not talking about the Lord, but about this world. If you want to see Jesus as He really is, stop imagining Him as you want Him to be. If you want to hear His voice, stop listening to other voices, even ones that claim to tell you about Him: just listen to what He says. And if you want to follow Christ in this world, cut off your programs and plans, and just walk in His footsteps. How? What? Where?

The books of the Holy Gospels. The lives of the Holy Prophets, Apostles and Saints. Yes, keep to what is written, whether on paper in ink, or on flesh in blood. The Book, yes, the holy and divine scripture, is not primarily written in human words on parchment, but in human works on skins—our own. Yet not to depart from the unchanging Message, make it your home, your clothing, your food, your wealth. What is this Message? It is the life of Christ written in your flesh. It is living the life of heaven on earth. But it all begins in the Bible, in the written Word of God, especially in the Holy Gospels. So, you and I can see Jesus and hear His voice, today.

In the beginning was the Word: 
the Word was with God, and the Word was God…
John 1:1

They say

They say, this is the year of the End.

They have made movies and documentaries about it, to entertain us, to enlighten us or to frighten us. They must think, ‘we’re on a roll’ and they roll with it, yes, all the way to the bank.

Ahmadinejad, the Mahdi, and Jesus. Were his hearers at the United Nations amused, as they listened to a man spout stories while deep underground in faraway Iran another story rumbles?

The all-knowing Maya anciently ended their calendar in this year we call twenty-twelve. No need to continue the thing, since the reason for counting time will have been worn out by then.

We never seem to run out of prophets of doom, whether geo-political, economic, or merely natural. In my short sixty-one years I somehow have survived half a dozen earth-ending comets.

Am I standing with the crowd of mockers who say, ‘Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.’ I think not.

I profess the Symbol, ‘He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.’ And, ‘I expect the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the age to come.’

I notice there is no talking of the End in this confession, except to say what is real ‘will have no end.’ They know they would play with fire who mock the judgment, so they are silent about it.

Instead, they offer fantasy for sale, the kings of this world, and the prophets of the next, both false. They know which side their bread is buttered on. They know how to feather their own nests.

‘I have heard what the talkers were talking, the talk of the beginning and the end, but I do not talk of the beginning or the end. There was never any more inception than there is now, nor any more youth or age than there is now, and will never be any more perfection than there is now, nor any more heaven or hell than there is now.’
(Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass, ‘Song of Myself’)

No, the world will not end this year, and when it does end, it will not even be noticed by those who threaten or prophesy, who promise perfection or hell or heaven which they cannot deliver.

The end does not come like that, but in the way the blessed Revelator writes, ‘for the Time is near,’ yes, the Time is always near. Moment by moment it is not dribbled out. We are drenched in it.

‘There was never any more inception than there is now, nor any more youth or age than there is now, and will never be any more perfection than there is now, nor any more heaven or hell than there is now.’

I am the Alpha and the Omega, says the Lord God, who is, who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.
Revelation 1:8

Outside the world

This is the life we live outside the world.

We still have to live in this world, but that world to come is for us so fully present that we feel its breezes blowing on us, even while we walk in this world.

That world to come is for us so fully tangible that we sometimes scrape ourselves on the door jambs of that narrow gate as we pass through it, going in and out.

That world to come is for us so fully real that we feel truly at peace and at home only when we are together, following the Lord, in this world strangers in a strange land.

Heaven is no more a pious dream for us than God Himself is, who is our Father, Friend and Guide, who welcomes us into His presence beyond all worlds, and sets our feet down in heavenly places.

This is the life we live outside the world, which is so rich that we are willing to leave all behind even before death’s door, to inherit the world to come, prepared for us before the foundation of the world.

Glory to You, Christ our God, for You have made mere fisherman wise by sending upon them the rain of fire of Your Spirit, as You said,
‘I have come to bring fire to earth! O, that it were ablaze!’

We follow You, Jesus, in this world,
and You refresh us in the world to come, even now.

Barukh ha-ba ba-shem Adonay.
Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.
Barukh ha-olam ha-ba.
Blessed is the world to come.

Brethren,
this is the life we live outside the world.

This fiery pillar

Anyone who departs from the laws of life is, involuntarily and inevitably, self-destructive and responsible for his own disintegration.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

That eye which is single

Tradition.

In a positive light, the word brings to mind images that speak a sense of welcome familiarity, of comfort, ‘there’s no place like home,’ and maybe of security as well, safety from unwanted change. In a negative light, the word conjures up notions of irrational and oppressive conservatism, ‘it’s always been done this way, don’t ask why,’ and a challenge to personal freedom.

Considered from a Christian perspective, tradition is also viewed both positively and negatively. As one would expect, ancient Christian communities like tradition; ‘reformed’ and modern sects hate it resolutely, basing their rejection on Christ’s indictment of the traditions of the scribes and Pharisees.

Tradition, as it has been handed over to me (for that’s what tradition means, ‘handing it over,’ παραδοσις, parádhosis) is something at once progressive, efficient, practical and effective.

Though many think tradition hidebound, it is actually progressive in the sense of moving us forward without hindrance, without waste, without danger to ourselves or others. Having evolved over time, it is not the product of a single individual or even a small group. It’s not limited either to time or place. For all these reasons it is uncontrollable, and rather than being controlling, which is one of the chief criticisms against it, it liberates. We just go along with it, and with no direct effort on our part, it ploughs furrows in us which it then plants with good seed. It’s when we harden ourselves to it as dry, thirsty soil ironically repels water, that we remain sterile.

When does tradition become the enemy? When it is no longer true to itself, when men of today try to capture it and harness it to their own ambitions for personal power and advantage. In doing so, they actually depart from tradition while they say they are enforcing it. Tyranny then replaces the free give and take from which tradition draws its very life. Again, the paradox that those who force tradition on others are in fact distorting and betraying it. Why? Because tradition is life being aware of itself and living in that awareness, not allowing itself to be eclipsed by temporal demands, not sacrificing truth for the sake of ideologies. Tradition is no ideology. It simply is.

Those who consider themselves progressive and believe most firmly in evolution are ironically the chief opponents of tradition. Yet tradition is the proof of evolution and a demonstration of God’s hand in it.

That God should create things instantaneously and that we should experience these creative acts as evolutionary trails stretching over immensely long periods of time only adds more weight to the probability that creationism is true. It is a function of scale, that what is instantaneous for the Being should appear verily to take ages from the viewpoint of those whose existence is part of the act of creation. The chasm between the Creator and His creation is more than one of size or even of being; it is immeasurable because it is unfathomable. This makes it all the more remarkable that the Being has bridged the chasm for us, and opened to us a possibility of transformation that defies analysis and reveals evolution itself to be very much ‘an indoor affair’.

The door that has been opened to us gives us egress out of what we thought was an immensity but upon looking back turns out to have been nearly nothing. The nihilist is right after all, but of what use is being right, if you cannot have what really is.

One final thought, brothers, and then I will quiet down before I do any more damage.

Without human society the individual doesn’t exist. The individual is a construct based on ideas, whereas the true state of humanity is that of an organism composed of a multitude of coordinated units. It is for this reason that the Body of Christ is so significant a perspective on human history, and why becoming ‘one body and spirit’ with one another is more than a mere metaphor. He shouldn’t have revealed this truth to His holy apostles if it weren’t significant, nor spoken to us so insistently about His being in the Father, and with the Spirit as well, in us and among us. What has been revealed is so much more than any one of us can imagine or behold.

Hence, back to tradition.
It is that eye which is single,
so that the whole Body can be full of Light.

Open to us the gates of repentance

The Day of Atonement has come and gone. The veil once rent to admit every sinner into the Imperishable Presence, clasping the fringe of the garment of the Eternal High Priest as He goes in to plead for us till the end of Time, has disappeared. The Pharisee in me writhes with embarrassment, knowing that he can’t hide much longer, and the publican in me hasn’t yet arisen from the floor, where his face is cast downwards, his forehead kneading the pavement and drenching his pillow with tears. Why is it that we stone one another so frequently? Why is it that we love to triumph over our defects in others but not in ourselves?


The heartless reasoning that we put on as mental clothing, wrapping ourselves in the very vanity that we thank God we’ve been delivered from! Don’t we understand yet that fig leaves will not cover our nakedness before the Lord? Don’t we understand yet that He has already provided for us a covering, the fleece of the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world? We stand proud and cast glances of pious false pity at everything and everyone we feel ourselves superior to. We are caught dead in our tracks as we ready ourselves to stone our infidelities in the other harlot, while ignoring the written Word of God, that His own finger carves not on tablets of stone but doodles in the dust of our hearts.

O heavenly God hidden in weakness and rejection! Becoming sin for us, You have taken away our shame and hold out to us in Your open, pierced palms the Bread of Life, yet we turn away to consume the bread of suffering, of tears, we prefer to remain in our camps and grumble at manna and quails! Forty years are not enough to purge us of our insane cravings, we want to enter the land of promise but without walking there on the only road possible, following Jesus. Instead, pining after dead Moses whose body has disappeared, we collect fragments of broken tablets and stay in the wilderness.
Save us, O Lord! Save Your people and bless Your inheritance!

Help us, heavenly Shepherd. Guide us, quietly but firmly, back to the flock, back to dwell close by the shepherd’s tents. Make us meek again, renew our childhood, open to us the gates of repentance.

The original artwork in this post is by the hand of Darlene Slavujac Thau.
You can see more of her oil paintings, pastels and watercolors by clicking here
or on her link in the sidebar, Slavujac Biblical Artist.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Το ευαγγέλιον αιώνιον

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Brethren, let us enter into the Living Word and, casting aside all worldly cares, receive and be received by the King of All.
The ikons are scenes from the book of Revelation painted in the portico of Dionysíou Monastery on Mount Athos.

A servant's heart

One virtue that nearly all ethnic and religious groups pride themselves on is their hospitality, or at least what they perceive as their spirit of hospitality. For those whose spiritual roots are in the Hebrew and Greek scriptures of the Holy Bible, their hospitality is the obvious response to such verses as,

For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe. He administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing. Therefore love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
Deuteronomy 10:17-19 NKJV

Let brotherly love continue. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels.
Hebrews 12:1-2 NKJV


The Greeks among whom I live call this virtue philoxenía, literally, love of strangers, and the remembrance of Abraham’s hospitality to the three strangers when he was camped at the oak of Mamre is always at the back of our minds, visually in the form of the ikon, emotionally in the feeling of gratitude we have for God’s kindness to us.

Hospitality, though, has its limits for most people, even for Christians, even for me. The different kinds of hospitality we offer others, from shallow and formal to deep and unconditional, almost makes it hard to imagine them all being one and the same virtue.

I want to say that at some point, hospitality crosses a line. It ceases being just making people comfortable and happy and then seeing them on their way. The author of the letter to the Hebrews writes, “Let brotherly love continue,” and though that is a good thing, must it stop there?

Or perhaps he meant more when he wrote, “Let brotherly love continue.” Could he have been thinking along the lines of holy apostle John? who writes, “This has taught us love—that He gave up His life for us; and we too ought to give up our lives for our brothers.” (1 John 3:16 JB)

One genuine virtue that seems to go unnoticed by Christians (I can only remark on them, since they are my social and religious group)—even while they are busying themselves with “works of hospitality”—is having a servant’s heart.

No, I don’t mean talking about having it and praising others who we say have it, but actually having it—a servant’s heart.

Those who have a servant’s heart are like women, as women used to be by and large before the changes wrought in them by feminism. Having a servant’s heart is not thinking of the virtue of hospitality, not limiting it by what we are willing to do for others, but being watchful, being careful of the ones we want to serve, and then
doing all we can.

Like the eyes of a servant watching his master,
like the eyes of a maid on her mistress’s hands,
so we keep our eyes on the Lord our God,
as we wait for His kindness.
Psalm 123:2

But having a servant’s heart is not only for women:
Putting the other before yourself in everything is what makes a man a man in the truest sense. The Man of men Himself demonstrated it, and His manhood was not diminished but attained the image.

How can it be so hard for us to see that it is by emptying ourselves of the glory of our individual being, in living for others with a servant’s heart, that we have been proven to have already passed over from death to life?

Regarding Christianity at least, what holy apostle Paul has written to his younger colleague Timothy is true, “The only purpose of this instruction is that there should be love, coming out of a pure heart, a clear conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5 JB), and in this he was only handing over what he had heard from the Lord,

For the Son of Man Himself did not come to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.
Mark 10:45 Jerusalem Bible

Monday, September 24, 2012

Manna

They asked him, ‘What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’ ‘Sir,’ they said, ‘always give us this bread.’

Then Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.’

John 6:30-40

Whenever I turn to the Holy Bible, I am always refreshed. No matter what I am thinking about, or what I am doing, whether I am happy or sad, full of motivation or simply bored, whether I am feeling well or sick, whenever I turn to the Word of God, I am always refreshed: Thought yields to wonder, sadness dissolves and joy crowns mere happiness, boredom evaporates and motivation is purified, sickness and health are shown to be left and right hands of Divine providence. God is good. He speaks our language. Without leaving heaven, His presence fills the earth, renewing all who receive Him.

The written Word of God, the Holy and Divine Scriptures, partake of the Divine Nature of the Only-Begotten Son and Word of God, He who is also called the Holy One of Israel, who lives amidst our praises, who alone is the Savior of the human race. The Bible is manna. It falls freshly upon us every day and must be gathered freshly each morning. When it is only gathered occasionally and saved ‘for future use’ it only ‘breeds worms and stinks.’ Yes, the Bible gathered once and hoarded (or hidden) breeds worms and stinks, literally, becoming death for them who disobey the command.

What command?

When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, ‘What is it?’ For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, ‘It is the bread the LORD has given you to eat. This is what the LORD has commanded: Everyone is to gather as much as they need. Take an omer for each person you have in your tent.’ The Israelites did as they were told; some gathered much, some little. And when they measured it by the omer, the one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little. Everyone had gathered just as much as they needed. Then Moses said to them, ‘No one is to keep any of it until morning.’ However, some of them paid no attention to Moses; they kept part of it until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell. So Moses was angry with them.

Exodus 16:15-20

It was to fulfill the will of God that Jesus Christ came and pitched His tent among us, revealing the secret hidden from the world, that the manna that rained down on the people of Israel in the wilderness was still only a type and a prophecy of the Manna that was to come. Christ is Himself that Manna, that Bread of Heaven, as He taught the incredulous Jews. Though many doubted, yet some believed. Now that we know that the Christ, the Messiah of Israel, is not only the Son but also the Word of God, uniting in Himself the Divine and the human natures, it is easy for us to believe His words, ‘I am the bread of life.’ It wasn't so easy for His first hearers. And yet, knowing this, do we really believe?

Pick up and read. Go, gather the manna early and eat it before it spoils. He has rained Himself down on us from the beginning and continues to rain down on us, drenching our dry, crusty furrows with His truth. His mercy has been revealed in the Holy and Divine Scriptures till the end of time. Pick up and feed. He is the Bread that comes down from heaven. He is the Manna that conforms to the taste of each one—not that our desires change Him, but that He changes our desires, purifying us as He is pure, uniting our wills to the will of His Father in heaven. As His Word unfolds He brings light, and the simple understand. Pick up and read. Remember His promise, ‘The amount you measure out is the amount you will be given…’

Yes, the Word of God is Manna, now and always, unto the ages of ages.


Love and hate

We love those whom we want to love, and we hate those whom we want to hate. Reasons why we love someone are real, but love itself has a greater reality than those reasons. Love is its own justification. It’s different with hate.

Hate knows that it’s unreal, that it’s an intrusion of nothing into something, and without an army of reasons to justify it, it can’t support itself. Once we’ve decided to hate, we have to work very, very hard, making up reasons to justify it.

Reasons we can find, reasons we can fabricate, whatever it takes to prove our hate, to justify ourselves for hating, we make the effort. It doesn’t matter that we pay a very high price. We’re even willing to stake our lives on it, when we want to hate.

Who goes searching through the Bible to look for proof texts to justify his love for his neighbor? Sure, the words are there, even voiced as commands, ‘You shall love the Lord your God… and your neighbor as yourself’ (Matthew 20:37-39).

The passages enjoining love do nothing for our ego. They neither magnify nor diminish us in our own eyes; they are simply there to be followed, and if we want to love, we don’t need them to justify ourselves. Love is its own justification.

When we hate, our ego is like a drowning man grappling for a plank to hang on to, and if he finds enough planks, he feels safe. So passages enjoining not hate, but providing what we think are reasons to hate others, are found, and we cling to them.

This is exactly the kind of behavior that has given Christianity a very bad taste in the mouths of those who are haters in the second degree. They justify their hate of Christians not by bible proof texts, but by the behavior of the haters of the first degree.

The haters of the first degree carry signs that they say speak for God, for righteousness. They say they are His witnesses, but I doubt very much that the god for whom they are witnesses is any different than the god of terrorists. Hate is hate, and it cripples.
It doesn’t matter what name we place on love or on ourselves when we love: it is obvious to all what we are, and what we are doing. They may not like us, they may not like our love, and they may persecute us for it, as did pagan Rome, but they can’t deny it.

It doesn’t matter what name we place on our hate or on ourselves when we hate, either: it is obvious to all (but ourselves) what we are (for hate blinds those who practice it). Even the world, all on its own, can raise itself above hate sometimes, though not ingloriously.

But we know where love comes from, and wherefrom is hate. ‘Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God’ (1 John 4:7).
‘Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother’ (1 John 3:12).

Yes, we love those we want to love, and hate those we want to hate. The better way is to hate no one at all, but to love our neighbor as God has loved us, for that is truly the yoke that Christ calls ‘easy’ and the burden that He calls ‘light.’

Merciful

If a man readily and joyfully accepts a loss for the sake of God, he is inwardly pure. And if he does not look down upon any man because of his defects, in very truth he is free. If a man is not pleased with someone who honors him, nor displeased with someone who dishonors him, he is dead to the world and to this life. The watchfulness of discernment is superior to every discipline of men accomplished in any way to any degree.

Do not hate the sinner. For we are all laden with guilt. If for the sake of God you are moved to oppose him, weep over him. Why do you hate him? Hate his sins and pray for him, that you may imitate Christ Who was not wroth with sinners, but interceded for them. Do you not see how He wept over Jerusalem? We are mocked by the devil in many instances, so why should we hate the man who is mocked by him who mocks us also?

Why, O man, do you hate the sinner? Could it be because he is not so righteous as you? But where is your righteousness when you have no love? Why do you not shed tears over him? But you persecute him. In ignorance some are moved with anger, presuming themselves to be discerners of the works of sinners.

Be a herald of God's goodness, for God rules over you, unworthy though you are; for although your debt to Him is so great, yet He is not seen exacting payment from you, and from the small works you do, He bestows great rewards upon you.

Do not call God just, for His justice is not manifest in the things concerning you. And if David calls Him just and upright (cf. Psalm 24:8, 144:17), His Son revealed to us that He is good and kind. ‘He is good,’ He says, ‘to the evil and to the impious’ (Luke 6:35).

How can you call God just when you come across the Scriptural passage on the wage given to the workers? ‘Friend, I do thee no wrong: I will give unto this last even as unto thee. Is thine eye evil because I am good?’ (Matthew 20:12-15).

How can a man call God just when he comes across the passage on the prodigal son who wasted his wealth with riotous living, how for the compunction alone which he showed, the father ran and fell upon his neck and gave him authority over all his wealth? (Luke 15:11 ff.).

None other but His very Son said these things concerning Him, lest we doubt it; and thus He bare witness concerning Him. Where, then, is God's justice, for whilst we are sinners Christ died for us! (cf. Romans 5:8). But if here He is merciful, we may believe that He will not change.

Far be it that we should ever think such an iniquity that God could become unmerciful! For the property of Divinity does not change as do mortals. God does not acquire something which He does not have, nor lose what He has, nor supplement what He does have, as do created beings.

But what God has from the beginning, He will have and has until the [unending] end, as the blest Cyril wrote in his commentary on Genesis. ‘Fear God, he says, out of love for Him, and not for the austere name that He has been given. Love Him as you ought to love Him; not for what He will give you in the future, but for what we have received, and for this world alone which He has created for us.’

Who is the man that can repay Him? Where is His repayment to be found in our works? Who persuaded Him in the beginning to bring us into being Who intercedes for us before Him, when we shall possess no [faculty of] memory, as though we never existed? Who will awake this our body for that life? Again, whence descends the notion of knowledge into dust?

O the wondrous mercy of God! O the astonishment at the bounty of our God and Creator! O might for which all is possible! O the immeasurable goodness that brings our nature again, sinners though we be, to His regeneration and rest! Who is sufficient to glorify Him?

He raises up the transgressor and blasphemer, he renews dust unendowed with reason, making it rational and comprehending and the scattered and insensible dust and the scattered senses He makes a rational nature worthy of thought.

The sinner is unable to comprehend the grace of His resurrection. Where is gehenna, that can afflict us? Where is perdition, that terrifies us in many ways and quenches the joy of His love? And what is gehenna as compared with the grace of His resurrection, when He will raise us from Hades and cause our corruptible nature to be clad in incorruption, and raise up in glory him that has fallen into Hades?

Come, men of discernment, and be filled with wonder! Whose mind is sufficiently wise and marvelous to wonder worthily at the bounty of our Creator? His recompense of sinners is, that instead of a just recompense, He rewards them with resurrection, and instead of those bodies with which they trampled upon His law, He enrobes them with perfect glory and incorruption.

That grace whereby we are resurrected after we have sinned is greater than the grace which brought us into being when we were not. Glory be to Thine immeasurable grace, O Lord!

Behold, Lord, the waves of Thy grace close my mouth with silence, and there is not a thought left in me before the face of Thy thanksgiving. What mouths can confess Thy praise, O good King, Thou Who lovest our life? Glory be to Thee for the two worlds which Thou hast created for our growth and delight, leading us by all things which Thou didst fashion to the knowledge of Thy glory, from now and unto the ages. Amen.

Isaac the Syrian, Homily 60

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

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Make no mistake

People build their lives on a foundation of certainties. They couldn’t live them any other way. Certainties are things they can count on to be there day after day, dependably. They know for sure about these things because over a long period of time, they’ve found them to be true.

Some of these certainties are natural. The sun rises every morning. Their hearts can be depended on to keep beating. They are locked into relationships with family and co-workers. Their cars will probably start up in the morning so they can go to jobs that they will probably still have.

Again, what they consider certainties are based on what they have observed and experienced to be true. As it is with the details of daily life, so it is with matters that have a greater scope, a more enduring nature. These are certainties about one’s self and about others that matter.

Sometimes I say things about myself and others that might seem excessively optimistic, even to the point of boasting, and to many these seem to be beyond certainty. They think in their hearts, ‘How can he say that? Only God can know such things. How can he be so sure of that?’

The truth is, I am no soothsayer, no prophet. Neither am I a man confident of his own virtue. As I see others fall around me, I know I can fall, and sometimes I do fall, yet I say of myself or others, ‘Unbreakable’ and ‘You can trust him. He is faithful. He has never disappointed me.’

Yet to me, these things I say are true. They are words of my testimony. They are the certainties I build my life on. Knowing and depending on them make it possible for me to live day in, day out, despite every challenge that comes against me, every obstacle that tries to block me.

But make no mistake. I know that I can count on myself and on these others whom I call brothers and friends, not only because I have observed their behavior over a long period of time (and sometimes not long) and can depend on them to be and act a certain way.

It is precisely because my confidence is not in myself or in these others, not in our strength or our love or our faithfulness, not in ours but in Christ’s, that I can live on a foundation of such certainty that even the threat of death, let alone lesser fears, cannot dislodge me, or us.

We are not play acting or giving lip service when we exclaim, ‘Not by us, Yahweh, not by us, by You alone is glory deserved! By Your love and Your faithfulness’ (Psalm 115). Brothers, we know whom we have believed in, and we know that it is He who gives us the power to stand, and His sure guarantee.

Ours is the Faithful and the True, the Living One. We know it is not by our own strength that we can be and do everything. It is only He, only He. Thank you, my friends, for sharing this confidence with me, and for walking with me, helping me to follow along behind the flock of His companions, walking behind Jesus.

Saving moments

Psalms for the 6th day were Psalms 30 to 34.

After getting home from work,
I read them and meditated on the meaning they've had for me these many a year. And I spoke them in prayer, and received back, as the Lord never fails me, He's the faithful one.

Hear, Yahweh, take pity on me;
Yahweh, help me!
(Psalm 30:10)

Back in 1975, we were still on the trail of that elusive commodity, the "perfect" commune.

Chuck and Tish owned a half section of land on the western slope of a mountain outside of Harrisburg, Oregon, and another half section down in the valley. The upper section was organized as a commune called "Ahimsa" (Sanskrit for "non-violence"), and they had invited us to live there if we could make it work.
They were letting their friends build homes out in the wilds, and the commune was going to be very (as we say in Greek) idio-rhythmic. In other words, people did not share everything in common materially or spiritually. They only shared the land and each other's company. Everyone was expected to have their own income and build themselves a home at their own expense. The ethos of the commune was to be "spiritual", but in the New Age sense—all paths ultimately lead to God.

Before we moved down here, we visited Ahimsa in the spring of 1975. That's when I took the photos that illustrate this post. At that point, I was still a New Age spiritual seeker myself, though Anastasia was a "born again" Christian. We didn't go to church, though, because I had a problem with the hypocrisy I heard tell of. Our visit left us both with a positive impression of the commune, and so we packed up our transportable belongings in about 120 boxes and shipped them via Canadian Freightways to the Portland terminal. Our irreplaceables went into a car carrier that I built out of plywood and mounted to the top of my 1972 Pinto hatch-back. (In the end, we didn't join Ahimsa. Chuck and Tish ended up becoming Mormons. We became Christians. I don't know what became of the others at Ahimsa.)


We arrived in Corvallis the evening of Rosh Hashonah, September 5, 1975, and stayed with a young Jewish couple we had known in Edmonton, Debbie and Harold. (Next morning we drove to Salem with them for our first experience of synagogue worship.)

This is not going to be the story of how I smuggled my wife and child into the U.S., but rather how I found myself, on the Thursday morning of November 6, 1975, ready to meet the Lord.
(Let the reader understand: I'm not now talking about just any Lord.)
Let me cite a verse from the psalms for the 6th day…

Happy the man whose fault is forgiven,
whose sin is blotted out;
happy the man whom Yahweh
accuses of no guilt,
whose spirit is incapable of deceit!

All the time I kept silent, my bones were wasting away
with groans, day in, day out;
day and night Your hand
lay heavy on me;
my heart grew parched as stubble
in summer drought.

At last I admitted to You I had sinned;
no longer concealing my guilt,
I said, "I will go to Yahweh
and confess my fault."
And You, You have forgiven the wrong I did,
have pardoned my sin.
(Psalm 32:1-5)

That morning I was at work, a rough sawyer in an old furniture mill in Albany. It was cold outside. The wind was blowing through the cracks in the barn-like plank walls. My fingers were freezing, even though I had gloves on. Behind me, a large planer was roaring. My off-bearer was shivering as he slid the scrap off the saw with one hand into a waste bin, while with the other guiding the good rips onto a cart.
I heard a voice inside my head, "Why do you resist Me…?"

I will instruct you, and teach you the way to go;
I will watch over you and be your advisor.
Do not be like senseless horse or mule
that need bit and bridle to curb their spirit
to let you get near them.
(Psalm 32:8-9)

Quickly, I sensed this was not just my imagination. I waved my off-bearer a signal, "Go empty the wood box!" That would take him at least 15 minutes, maybe longer, because it meant dragging a heavy load of wood down to the boiler hut. "He's probably going to want to warm himself there," something in me quipped. As he hauled his heavy load away to be burned, another heavy load was going to be hauled away and burned, one only I and the Off-bearer could see.

You, who have seen my wretchedness,
and known the miseries of my soul,
have not handed me over to the enemy,
You have given my feet space and to spare.
(Psalm 30:7b-8)

The talk began, slowly at first, then more heatedly. I argued with the voice. Sometimes I seemed to switch sides. I wanted to surrender, but then, I had investments. How could I give these up? Would I get something to replace them? What? How can you bargain with Him? What are you expecting? He's already told you everything, and you know it's all true.

The Word of Yahweh is integrity itself,
all He does is done faithfully;
He loves virtue and justice,
Yahweh's love fills the earth.

By the Word of Yahweh the heavens were made,
their whole array by the breath of His mouth…
(Psalm 33:4-6)

My temperature was rising, in spite of the biting cold around me. With every last ounce of my will, my flesh resisted the voice, and I kept feeling hotter. "This can't be happening to me! You know I want to accept You, but I can't, I can't!" Finally, I asked Him to remove what was binding me.

Hear, Yahweh, take pity on me; Yahweh, help me! (Psalm 30:10)

That which I couldn't do of my own power, somehow He called forth from me. "All that I am, and all that I have, I surrender to You, Lord, to You, Jesus. I don't want anything now, nothing but what You want me to be and to have." This was the jist of what came tumbling out of my lips, along with sobs, because by now my face was a liquified mess. A coolness like a stream of icy water flowed over my head and then my body. I don't know what it was, but it pacified me. The planer with its attendee still roared behind me, none hearing or seeing what was happening to me, and me hearing and seeing nothing outside of me.

Every face turned to Him grows brighter
and is never ashamed.
A cry goes up from the poor man, and Yahweh hears,
and helps him in all his troubles.

The angel of Yahweh pitches camp
around those who fear Him; and He keeps them safe.
How good Yahweh is—only taste and see!
Happy the man who takes shelter in Him.
(Psalm 34:5-8)

Something that can't be put into words really, yet I've tried on this and other occasions. This time I'm only hinting at it. What is this thing that happens to us? Once I wrote a post, Born again? When? in which I tried to recount what happened to me that morning. That's my testimony, or at least part of it, because the new life in Christ, the birth from above, is really an event in kairós time—though you can sometimes pinpoint it on a calendar, it really encompasses more than a moment. You can't look at it, you can't even remember it, as it really is, was and is to come, because it's hidden with the One who will give it back to you on the last Day.

Our soul awaits Yahweh,
He is our help and shield;
our hearts rejoice in Him,
we trust in His holy Name.

Yahweh, let Your love rest on us
as our hope has rested in You.
(Psalm 33:20-22)

Because I am

There are two absolute uniques in my life, and many more that are not quite absolute, but almost.

Unique is the person of Jesus Christ, as the Son of God in the Holy Triad, as living Truth, Teacher, and Savior.

Unique is the Bible as the only (written) expression of the Word of God on earth.

These are my two absolute uniques, from which I cannot budge.

Of course, in a mystery, they are really One unique.

From the time of my adolescence, I was driven to find or make something that was unique, that was true, that could save me. Though I am Greek by faith and even by culture, my family is Polish on both sides, and at least nominally Roman Catholic. I am the only Orthodox member of it.

I grew up in a dysfunctional family with an obsessively religious mother (who nevertheless did not believe in the Catholic church and never attended until she did in her casket at death), and a philosophically leaning non-religious father. His mother tried to make a Catholic out of him, but his skepticism about churchly things was the result of being snagged by the ear and pulled out of a private pew at Saint Hedwig’s parish in Chicago by a priest. He made his mother join a different parish. He’d never set foot in that church again.

We had a bible in the house, a King James version in a dusty, beige cloth cover. The pages were yellow and brittle, the font in two columns too small to read, and the language too archaic to understand. I knew there was something special about this book, but I never saw anyone reading it, or even try to, until I picked it up and tried. Discouraged as a child, I picked it up later and started studying it when I entered high school. It was still mostly unintelligible, but by then I knew I had to have something unique and powerful that I could believe in. I worked my way through Genesis to Proverbs, then skipped over to the Gospels.

In the ninth grade, I began copying sayings from that bible that made sense to me into a notebook, numbered them, and began writing, or at least gathering, my first “scriptures.” At that point, I didn’t think of the bible as unique, but as one of many sources from which I could draw saving knowledge. This mistake came from the fact that my family stopped going to church when I was 8 years old, and from that point on, I was on my own, with whatever tidbits of Polish catholic piety I had absorbed. Truth seemed to be wherever I could find it. Church was a mysterious, dark, fragrant place in my memory.

Little by little the notebook grew, but after doing this for awhile, I gave it up. It was obvious to me that my “scripture” was just a notebook of ideals that I wasn’t able to live up to. I started delving into non-Christian religions and the occult, reading my way through the explosion of New Age literature that was emerging in the 1960’s. There wasn’t an area I didn’t explore. I even bought and read a paperback of the Satanic Bible by LaVey. “What trash!” I thought at the time. I never fell for it, but I was curious. Still, my older sister and my mother believed in the supernatural and E.S.P., and both claimed to have such gifts. I cautiously followed along, sometimes witnessing unexplainable things.

In college, I came into contact with Christian students and for the first time met people of my own age who believed in Jesus in a way I hadn’t encountered before. They seemed to think of Him as a unique person, one like no other. They also not only read the bible but had copies of it in modern English. I didn’t know such people or things existed. To me, Christ was a statue in my grandmother’s living room, His presence or protection over me was a plastic image of the Sacred Heart that had glow-in-the-dark rays coming out of it and hung on the wall above the light switch in my bedroom since I was a little boy. Of course, there was Blessed Mother, who was also a statue. The statues of Jesus and His Mother always had their hearts showing.

I still needed a guide, something that would save me, because now I knew that couldn’t be a person. In college and from reading New Age books, I had found out that Jesus was a good moral teacher, and that everybody was potentially, if not already, God. We were all just little gods trying to find our way back to being the big God. I couldn’t quite figure out what was to happen to us, though, when we got there. Would we really be merged into Him like a drop of water falls into the sea and disappears? Somehow, this thought seemed a bit too simple.

When you don’t recognize anything or anyone as unique,
my goodness, have you got a problem!


In college, and I won’t go into detail, I started writing again, and fadged up a book of “scriptures” far more original and sensational than my little notebook ever was. At the same time, though, I bought my first modern English bible, the New English Bible, and began reading it, starting with the Psalms. After a short time, I bought my first copy of the Jerusalem Bible, and that was the beginning of my conversion to Christ. Starting with the Old Testament, with Genesis, I met in literary form, a new Being, Yahweh, who began following me everywhere and making me see things in a new way. I was sure that He was a unique being, as well as a unique person. It wasn’t long before I was sure that the bible was also something unique.

I’ve given my testimony as to how I came to Christ in other places, so I won’t repeat it here, but my meditations this morning showed me all that I have just written in a flash, and how important, how crucial, it is to know that there are two uniques, Christ as the Only Begotten Son of God, and the Bible as the expression in human language of Who He is. Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not leaving out God the Father, or God the Holy Spirit. When we speak of Jesus Christ being unique, we are also speaking of the Father and the Holy Spirit as well, since in essence, in being, the three are One, the Holy Triad. As Christ said, “If you have seen Me you have seen the Father,” and “I will send you another Comforter, who will tell you of Me.”

There, the two uniques, but what of a third? Well, to tell you the truth, there’s more than a third. There’s billions. Those uniques are you and me, and all our fellow creatures who have been created to know, to love and to praise God, as scripture says, “Let all that have breath, praise the Lord.” Made in the image and likeness of the One God, who is unique, more One than even a mathematical unity can express, how can we also, each of us, not be like our Maker? We also are unique. It is understanding this, that you and I are as unique as God is, and that Jesus Christ died for each of us as though we were the only man or woman on earth, that provides the answer for the question of our personal existence. Why are we here?

“You are here,” He responds, “because I am.”

Saturday, September 22, 2012

I am with you

The world encounters Orthodox Christianity. People hear about it and become curious, or they see it happening somewhere and maybe they are startled, or even put off. It is not something that one can take in all in an eyeshot, not even really in a panorama, except as one takes in a beautiful photograph or painting. All that can be seen that way is very superficial and almost meaningless, except as beauty has meaning without needing proof.

When they get a little closer to Orthodoxy, they want to hurry up and classify it. They want to ask questions, “Is it Catholic, is it Protestant, is it an Eastern religion, what is it?” but they nearly always want to classify it as a religion. Oddly, sometimes even people within Orthodoxy want to do the same, because they have taken on so many of the world’s expectations of what is needed, what is important. If it can be called a religion, then it can be firmly rejected, or firmly (and fanatically) accepted, and there it is. It’s been identified, pigeonholed, and done. “Yeah, I know what Orthodoxy is.”

But Orthodox Christianity is not a religion, though many of its adherents think of it that way. Orthodoxy is nothing less than the daily proclamation of a profound and powerful mystery—the resurrection of Jesus Christ—and the opening to all mankind, in every place and at every moment of time, the possibility of true brotherhood, and of divine sonship. The life of the Holy Triad is open to us, taking away the purposelessness of life alone in a Godless universe.

Jesus Christ came to pitch His tent among us, not only in His incarnation, but by His life-giving death and resurrection. He is the One who had become dead, and is alive again. He is no mere historical figure to be studied and speculated about. He was, is and is to come, the single most active Person in the history of the human world. He is here now among us.
He is calling us at this very moment, not to religion, but to follow Him.

Who can refuse His call? and why would anyone want to?

ιδου εγω μεθ υμων ειμι
πασας τας ημερας
εως της συντελειας του αιωνος


Behold, I am with you,
every day,
unto the very end of time.

Matthew 28:20

He opens the tombs

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

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

... But the Lord descends into the souls of those who seek Him. He goes into the depths of the hellish heart and there He commands death, saying, "Release those captive souls that seek after Me, those that you hold by force in bondage." He breaks through the heavy stones that cover the soul. He opens the tombs. He truly raises to life the dead person and leads that captive soul forth out of the dark prison.
“Remember who your teachers were…”
2 Timothy 3:14

Night driver

When I was a young dad with wife and four sons in tow, we used to travel every year, at least once, but sometimes several times, from Portland, Oregon, to Kelowna, British Columbia, usually for a vacation stay at Nana’s house (my mother-in-law) in the summer time, but occasionally even in late autumn with snow already on the roads.

Until my boys grew up, I was the only driver in the family; my wife never learned to drive. The trip was, with two or three rest stops, a twelve to fourteen hour drive each way. When the journey got a late start, it would be dark night near the end of it, and there was always the possibility that I could fall asleep at the wheel. Thank God, that never happened, not even close. But I had a method to keep myself awake on those long drives.

I would alternate the heater with the air conditioner, so that when I began to get drowsy, I’d change from one to the other. The passengers were usually by this time all asleep and didn’t notice or complain about what I was doing. When the heat was on and I got drowsy, I’d switch to the A/C, and when it got so cold in the car I was again beginning to fall asleep, I’d turn the heat on and point the vents at my face. Hot, then cold. Cold, then hot.

Not the heat, not the cold, were what mattered, were what I was all about, but getting my family and myself to our destination, that was the ticket. The alternative to a safe arrival was unthinkable, so whatever it took to get us there, that’s what I did. I think the application of scripture to our lives is something like the heat and the cold, alternating back and forth on our night journey, keeping us awake, so we reach our destination.

Even the Law of God, even the Sabbath, is not more important than the salvation of a single human soul, ‘for the Son of Man is master even of the Sabbath,’ and He has also given us the authority, His authority, to choose what is best, when, why, where and how, so that we reach the place of safety, and joy, that He has gone to prepare for us. The love of God is undoubted, it is His essence. His wrath is what we see when we look at Him without wanting Him.

And it was to want Him, that’s why He created us, so ‘Face could look upon face,’ because He first wanted us.