Tuesday, October 30, 2012

My neighbor

‘Jesus Christ will not condemn people for dedicating themselves to errors about Him if they did so unknowingly and if it resulted in love and mercy. Their love is not lost to incorrect doctrine, but is accepted and points to the extreme humility of Christ.’


“Yes, yes, that's right, but…” is what you will hear many say after reading the above words or anything like them. Maybe they won't say this out loud, but inwardly. People just won't let go of their doctrinal possessions. Although I am Orthodox, and believe the literal truth of such concepts as ‘the Trinity’ and that salvation in fact can only come to human beings through Christ, all these thoughts seem, in my mind, a world apart from ‘what am I going to do with the person standing in front of me right now?’

That person is, in act if not in fact, Christ. What I do with or to or for that person is what I do with, to or for Jesus. Do I believe in Christ? Do I believe in the person who stands before me? Is that person God? No. But he or she is the only real contact I will ever have with God while living in the body on this planet. I may ‘meet’ Christ in the holy mysteries or in the bible. But I can actually touch Him only in the form of my fellow man. Do I love and serve and believe in Jesus Christ? No more than I love and serve and believe in ‘the one that He has sent,’ that is, my neighbor.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Even in hell

‘The point of all our toiling and battling is that we have put our trust in the living God, and He is the Savior of the whole human race, but particularly of all believers’ (1 Timothy 4:10) has always intrigued me ever since I first read it. This verse, considered in combination with the more famous John 3:16, that ‘God so loved the world’ tends to remind me of the little known concept that when Christ descends into Hades, He empties it. Who wouldn’t go with the living God when He finds you where you are, even in hell, and bids you, ‘Come forth!’

For the fundamentalist Christian, you must accept Christ as personal Lord and Savior or you go to hell for your sins.

For the Orthodox, the personal Lord and savior ‘of the whole human race, but particularly of all believers’ even harrows hell to rescue the soul that nailed Him to the cross, ‘for God so loved the world, that He sent His only-begotten Son…’

God is mercy.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Ahavat Achim

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

Psalm 133
Brotherly Love

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

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

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


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

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Who do you trust?

Lord, help me always to tell it like it is.

We witness to the Lord Jesus Christ wherever we are, as second nature, without thinking about doing it, without personal intention or expectation, only the unspoken prayer, “Give the increase.”

A co-worker calls to me from over the cubicle wall. “You gotta see this!” I get up immediately, drawn by the hint of incredulity in the speaker’s voice. I round the corner and sit in an empty chair near the PC screen, as my friend reads aloud to me what he’s found on the internet, “Man is willing to pay $50,000 to Jews willing to relocate to Dothan, Alabama!” and then, “Hey man, this is for you!”

Even though he knows I’m a Christian, there’s just something about the label “Orthodox” that makes this friend, and many other people I’ve known over the years, think that I’m some kind of Jew. It doesn’t help that I’m bearded. A short conversation sprang up between us on the subject of the news story that concatenated a whole string of facts and ideas. Jews leaving small town America for the big cities, then, the depopulation of Polish Jewry, leaving hundreds of abandoned synagogues and cemetaries all over Poland, then the instant celebrity of any Polish Jewish boy who actually wants to be bar mitzvah’d. Then, as invariably happens, food comes up. “Yeah, aren’t rubens tasty with kosher corn beef and swiss cheese? Uh, wait a minute, even though the ingredients are kosher, that combination isn’t. Why?”

Then the conversation moves along as to how the rabbis added layers of “kosher” laws to the original single injunction “You must not boil a kid in its mother’s milk,” and how ridiculous this is, in view of what Abraham and Sarah offered to God the Holy Triad at their campsite at Mamre. Maybe God didn’t like the taste of meat and dairy at the same dinner (which is what He was served up), and so the next chance He got, He laid down the law about the “mother’s milk and kid’s meat don’t mix” thing.
Then the talk moved on to what happened to the two angels that visited Lot in Sodom, and then what happened to the city, and how Lot escaped with his two daughters, his wife having looked back and been morphed into a salt pillar. And then how what happened next gave rise to the Orthodox saying, “Do not defile yourself in the wilderness, where in the city you were pure.”

I can’t remember the rest of the conversation, but I have to remark on the faithfulness of God, who does not let His Word go forth and return to Him void. Whether my friend identifies himself as a Christian or not, he could find meaning in, and welcomed the exchange of ideas and stories recounted on a colloquial level, in fact he initiated it. This is how we witness. We just remain willing to defenselessly and joyfully deliver the Message that He wants to send. He appoints the rendezvous, and it’s always, as Sergei Fudel calls it, “a miracle of unexpected joy” (Light in the Darkness).

Did I bring Christ into the conversation? Did I announce the “four spiritual laws?” Did I ask my friend if he is saved? No, that isn’t how it works. I have no agenda. But I am ready to say whatever I hear the Lord saying, and whenever the Lord commands it. “Not my will, Lord, but Thine!”
Another co-worker showed up with a question, and as I was actually on my way out the door when this conversation occurred, I just let it go with a “Good night, guys, have a good evening! See you tomorrow!”

On the drive home, I got to thinking. All these folks I work with are very nice people, and at least a couple of them have told me they were or are Christians, and in the past (I’ve known them several years) we’ve sometimes shared a little about our Christian lives, or at least our upbringing. I know what some of them reject. In fact, almost no one in my office “goes to church” except me. Yet, they’re all nice people. This is the product of religious Christianity. When C. S. Lewis said that Christ came not to make nice people but new men (Mere Christianity), he was writing about this very thing.
So, as I was driving home, I was turning over in my mind, what is the source of my belief, what does my life in Christ grow out of (for this is the only thing Christian life can really mean)?
I thought back to one of my favorite concepts, that though we have five sense organs to give us knowledge of the natural world, we have one sense organ to give us knowledge of God (I should say spiritual world, but that would not be enough). That sense organ is the brain, in which resides the mind. The mind is the eye with which we can see God—everything else we use it for are like “extras” thrown in by the Maker. The problem is that most people use the mind for very opposite purposes, either because they don’t know any better, or because they do, and they don’t want to see God (Romans 1:20-21). When people have asked me why I believe in God, I sometimes say, “Honestly, it’s not really belief per se. I just know He’s there. In fact, He’s here with us right now in this very room, as we’re talking. It’s like I can see Him, not with my eyes, of course, but with my mind. I guess you could say, with the eye of faith.”
Then as I drove along, I started wondering how people must see me, and others whom they know are followers of Jesus, or at least call “religious” folks. They sometimes know that we pray, or say prayers, or talk to God, or whatever. But they, even when they claim “to believe in a God,” simply don’t pray. They don’t really think that there’s Anyone there listening. I can see their point. On the purely natural level, there’s no evidence of anyone or anything that “hears” all our thoughts and words, and “sees” all our actions.

So where do we, where did I, get that notion in the first place?
I can see how people can accept the concept that there is a God, but not know anything about Him, because there’s nowhere to find “more information” except—in the Bible! And that Book has had the most wild history of promotion and defamation of any book known to man, not to mention a whole slough of writers intent on making us believe that though it’s God’s Word, it’s not perfect (implication, not reliable), and that it must be studied in the context of its time and place.

Back to the notion that Someone is there that knows everything about us, hears all we say and think, sees all we do. For me, that has come primarily from the book of Psalms, which is rich with detail on the nature of God, Who He is, what He loves, what He hates, what He does and can do (there’s nothing He can’t do, but there are things He won’t do). I’m sure there are many places in the Bible where God’s nature is revealed simply enough for anyone to understand, but for me the Psalms are that place.
Now this is where “faith” actually does kick in, even for me. It is by faith that I accept and believe that what the Bible says about God is true in the first place.

Yes, faith—this is the stumblingblock for those who may claim to “believe in a God,” but cannot bring themselves any closer, let alone confess Him before men. They may justify their disinterest by their agnosticism, and their agnosticism by their biblical illiteracy, and their illiteracy by the corruption of the institutions representing Christianity. But without taking the personal initiative to seek the Lord where and when He can be found (Isaiah 55:6), that is, in the Word of God, they cannot hope to be justified or become children of the Promise, putting false hope in the “goodness” they attribute to the “God” in whose existence they say they believe, but of whom they have no objective knowledge.

So then, though the mind can “see” God, only faith can tell us of His attributes, and “can guarantee the blessings that we hope for, or prove the existence of realities that at present remain unseen” (Hebrews 11:1). And that faith cannot be arrived at by any amount of human thinking or speculation. That was the heresy of the false gnosis of ancient times. Instead, we have been given (as the Jews say) “the precious Implement by which the world was created,” that is, the Word of God. We have been given it (again, as the Jews say) “not to be made into a spade to dig with,” in other words, not something to serve us, to bolster our opinions and thoughts. Instead, we have been given the precious Implement “through Whom all things were made” (Symbol of Nicæa), and Who alone can remake us, as the Psalms declare.
What is faith then?

Of course, in an everyday sense, it really comes down to trust. Without realising it, everyone lives their life day by day based on trust that “things are as they think they are.” This is like not being afraid to enter the highway and jump into a lane of fast-moving cars, because you trust that the fear of instant chaos, damage or death will keep everyone on the road in their lane. This is like not being afraid to fly to Japan on a jet airliner because you trust what the scientists have discovered about the laws of physics, you trust the pilots to know how to fly the plane, and you trust the entire apparatus of the airport maintenance system to make sure there’s fuel in the plane and so on.

In various other areas of life, we have come to trust, or have faith in the reliability of various human institutions, and so we are able to live our earthly lives and function in relative peace and stability. We know we can trust scientists, as long as they stay scientific. We know we can trust doctors and other professionals, as long as they stay true to their various disciplines. Why then this lack of trust, this absolute disdain of theologians and clergy, and of “organized religion”? Sorry to say, a large proportion of these people have not stayed true to their discipline, wandering where they don’t belong, or bending the Bible to fit their agendas. However, there’s nothing more I need say about it here.
What I want to say is one more thing. Just as we trust a scientist when he stays scientific, we should trust a theologian when he stays theological. What is the discipline of the scientist? To study the natural world, do experiments, get results and publish them, so others can duplicate them. What is the discipline of the theologian? To study the Bible, do experiments (follow Jesus), get results (the life of salvation) and publish them (make disciples of all nations). If a theologian can’t be found where you live, find them among the Church fathers, or become one yourself.

True science requires honesty, study and hard work, but it’s worth it. True theology, the same.

The true scientist trusts the natural world to be true, takes it at face value, tests it, confirms its truth, and himself can be trusted. The true theologian trusts the Bible to be true, takes it at face value, tests it, confirms its truth, and himself can be trusted.

Who do you trust?

Earthly gods

September 24-27, 2012, the fifth meeting of the Inter-Orthodox Network of Initiatives for Research of Religions and Destructive cults was held in Novi Sad [Serbia]. The article below, loosely translated by Fr Milovan, appeared in the Политика, Serbia’s premier paper. I have seen this phenomenon in the local Orthodox community where I live, and it is a great danger. ‘…and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’

When the Spiritual Father Makes Himself the Criterion

The faithful, in their battles with temptations, turn to their spiritual fathers, the clergy and monastics, but they too can fall under temptation in abusing their call and from a spiritual father they become totalitarian spiritual leaders who seek unquestioning obedience.

When such a priest or monk places themselves – instead of God – as the measure or criterion; when they bring the faithful in constant dependence on themselves, when they begin to involve themselves in every detail of their lives and tell them when to sleep, eat, live, then they cease being spiritual fathers and become gurus, says Bishop Porfirije, Vicar Bishop of Jerag.

“Instead of this he should spiritually lead and teach the faithful to be father, friend and brother to them, someone who, above all, has love towards the faithful and spiritual children, attempts to support the freedom of the faithful so that, in going to Christ they become that which they are. A spiritual father should lead the faithful to God, and not attempt to lead the faithful to himself leading them to a completely slavish, subordinate tie to his own person, blocking the image of Christ. Such spiritual fathers have a guru mentality and abuse the authentic, healthy and sincere need of every person’s yearning towards God, for the mystical, the metaphysical,” says Bishop Porfirije.

Guruism was one of the key terms and phenomena discussed by the participants of the recent Pan-Orthodox Conference Network of Initiatives for Research of Religious and Destructive Cults, held in Novi Sad, and one of the lecturers was Bishop Porfirije. “Orthodox guruism”, even though the very phenomena of a “spiritual totalitarian” is in no way foreign to other churches and faith communities, can draw in those who look to the Church and Christianity in order to find a magical solution to all of their problems, while those who openly and sincerely approach their faith, can even turn from the Church, encountering such spiritual teachers who do not preach that which their faith essentially is, notes Bishop Porfirije.

In the participant’s review of this conference, the term guruism was not taken from its traditional, historic meaning of a spiritual teacher in the Hindu religious tradition, but in its broader meaning, connected with the idea of its activity within a manipulative sect, explains Andrei Protic from the Center for anthropological studies.

“It is about the appearance of false spiritual or ideological leadership which always uses manipulation in receiving their followers, requiring total control over them. These are sort of pseudo-religious leaders who attempt, in a manipulative manner, to make their followers dependent on them, their system of values and their ideas,” says Protic.

On the one hand, the real goal of such groups is that the leader of the movement or cult be worshiped as the only authority or source to the solution of all problems, while on the other hand is the economical abuse of the followers, points out Metropolitan Christopher of the Orthodox Church in Cyprus.

“Such cult groups, in abusing or exploiting various problems and temptations in offering people an easy, quick and successful solution, are hiding their true faces and present themselves falsely so that people would think that in such organizations they will solve their spiritual and existential problems. The Orthodox Church acts against such phenomena in three ways: first through sermons it attempts to bring to light the truth of the Gospel which has as its goal to completely build up the man and make him a free person with a perspective towards eternal freedom; then, through a studying of the contents of the teachings and the dangers which arise from such groups and through public announcements that people know what they are about. Finally, the Church also deals therapeutically, attempting to assist the victims or the families of the victims in distancing themselves from their dependency to the cults and sects and to freely, at their own pace, become more active in the spiritual life of the church,” notes Metropolitan Christopher.

It is exactly this third way, however, which can be problematic. Rehabilitation of the victims of false prophets and other “earthly gods” is very difficult and requires the organized work of a psychologist, social workers, priest and even lawyers, says Aleksandar Dvornik, one of the most renown Russian anti-cult activists and director of the Center of St. Irineus of Lyons, which deals with these phenomena.
— Jelena Calija

Not ashamed of Christ

The following is, in my opinion, one of the best testimonies of a disciple of Jesus Christ that I have ever read, and I am in a hurry to publish it again here, and of course send you back to read it again at its source. If this is what blogs are for, then they're worth every bit of time we spend on them. I am glad I lived another day to read this, and know that Christ is faithful, not just on paper, but in our own flesh. Yes, Jesus Christ saves…

NOT ASHAMED OF CHRIST

It was one of those days. Everything went wrong that could go wrong. In fact, things had been going wrong all week. My mood spiraled downward into self-flagellation. If everything was going wrong, then it must be because there was something wrong with me. That day seemed to symbolize my whole life — conflicted relationships, hardship and struggle, and blockades which held me back from being all that I could be.

Risen from the Past

What was the purpose of my mere existence, my emotional tendencies, and my mental reservoir of events and people? Was it only to cope with and make sense out of all the years behind me? Was it just to go down memory lane and feel sad? Was it only to survive my losses and subsist on what was left? I felt ashamed of myself–of my inadequacies and sins, of the abuses I had suffered, of what could have been but never was. And now it was too late. I could never go back and make it right. Amends were impossible. Goals were improbable. And the day at hand was a burden.

Why had God allowed my life to go down a zig-zaggy path? Yes, why. Had He allowed it? Or was it the result of my own will, or of misguided authorities, or of evil perpetrators? Was it just another muddy puddle of sin in this fallen world, and was the great thing to step out of that mud or to be lifted out and to be liberated onto the straight path? Was it my destiny to see with my own eyes the difference between dark and light by having lived on both sides of the spectrum? Was that my learning curve? Was that the purpose of my life? To be saved from its totality and finality? To be risen through Christ?

Shame and Faithlessness

If the reality of sin as brokenness, the many fragments of which constitute the bulk of my life, serves as an aid to understanding the nature of sin and the gift of salvation, then why should I feel ashamed? Is that not the same as feeling ashamed of Christ, of the Gospel, and of His ability to continue doing marvelous works on earth? If I am lifted from the mud puddle even at the eleventh hour, is that not all the more reason to be grateful and cheerful? Is it not faithless to think that my existence is defined by an embarrassing and disappointing personal past and not by the impact of the Crucifixion upon that past and into the present?

Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this faithless and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.
Mark 8: 38

On this account I am suffering these things; but I am not ashamed for I know him in whom I have believed and am confident that he is able to guard what has been entrusted to me until that day.
1 Timothy 1: 12

Please do not misunderstand me–I am not rationalizing or justifying the commission of sins, nor am I excusing or minimizing the trauma that other people can inflict upon us. I am saying, generally, that life is unfulfilling and unrewarding but that Christ enables us to work out our salvation through these dynamics nonetheless. This is the only thing that makes life worth living. It is a transformational process, and for that we cannot feel ashamed of Christ or of His condescension to our level. He knows how to reach each one of us as individuals.

Suffering with Hope

When I look back over my life, I have all the evidence I need that a spiritual life is better than a worldly life. Moreover, a life of misfortune and uncertainty is better than a life of resignation and conformity. It seems that the stuff with which Christ could work, the stuff of which I am ashamed, is what permits me to experience transformation and to know the difference between dark and light. Only sinners need to be saved. Only the sick need a physician. I never want to go back to the darkness of my former suffering. If I am to suffer, then let me suffer for Christ as His disciple. Let it be a suffering with hope that I will be found worthy, though unworthy, on that final day.

My comment to the author…

This piece of writing, this testimony, is perfect. I mean it. It is perfect. I am not saying you are perfect in the way that most people understand the word. Nor am I perfect. But your self-expression is perfect. God has granted you His great mercy to 'tell it as it is' with a clarity and honesty that He endorses with incredible power. At this depth the darkness has been transformed to light, a light that can now be shared, to help light the way for others who have fallen or tunneled deep, but not yet deep enough. They who read your words, as well as I, can truly take heart, because you make us know by your words that we are not alone there. You are there, and Christ is there, and soon we will all have arrived at this place where we know for sure, the tombs have been opened and are emptied of their dead. The darkness and cold chill of that hour before the sun rises was worth enduring, because out of the sea of darkness the sun rises as faithfully and predictably as we have been told. This is no accident, that sun rises, and Son resurrects, both utterly and predictably certain. The prophets did not lie, the saints do not fib, our own pains and sorrows, even our very bodies of sin and death, were really only just seeds whose purpose was to be buried, planted so they could sprout and grow in to the light, producing at last ears in plenty, sixty- or a hundred-fold. Everything the religious believe is true, and all they or we ever need to do is to admit our brokenness, turn ourselves in to the Healer, and be still. His therapy takes time, but that is what time is for. Biological life was made for death, but death for resurrection. Matter was only the embryo of spirit, and spirit only the Spirit scaled down to meet us. Our blindness was a blessing that resulted in sight, and sight itself only the vehicle of our transformation: to see Him is to be transfigured into Him.

Yes, Sister, this piece of writing, this testimony, is perfect.



Friday, October 26, 2012

Be true to Truth

Lifted verbatim from Aunt Melanie's blog Desert Dimension, simple, straight words of encouragement and affirmation for the Christian soul…

We know that through Jesus Christ we are delivered from sin and death. Christ tells us that the truth will set us free, and that we reach truth by remaining in His word. How do we define truth and freedom?

Jesus then said to those Jews who believed in him, If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.
John 8: 31-32

Biblical Truth

All the words of the Bible are truth. As expressions of truth, for example, we have the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes. If we abide in such truths, we are freed from sin and death. Personally, I have found truth to mean the opposite of lies and idolatry, and freedom to mean the opposite of dysfunction and oppression. Yet, truth is attainable and freedom is operable within adversarial environments.

Biblical truth also involves more than, or other than, doctrinal declarations. Biblical truth anchors the individual in a relationship with Christ and in a lifestyle of discipleship. While there are doctrinal separations between Catholicism and Orthodoxy, and then again regarding Protestantism and within Protestantism, biblical truths such as the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes have not been altered—and these are the general lifestyle truths of discipleship as practiced by everyday Christians.

Knowing, Speaking, and Living the Truth

It is not insubordination if average Christians study the Bible to know truth and to be set free—free from false authorities and oppressors inside and outside church structures. Perhaps this freedom does not emerge politically, civically, or administratively, but the individual is released spiritually and emotionally from bondage. It is not wrong for Christians to speak the truth. To speak truth, and to speak it with love, is to affirm our faith. Christ spoke the truth. Nonetheless, He did not defend Himself in an argumentative manner against the Pharisees, and He did not answer to a corrupt justice system in which He would not get a fair trial anyway. This is because Christ could not be tricked. He could not be distracted, defocused, or derailed from His mission. He demonstrated the truth of His teachings through His lifestyle, culminating in crucifixion (i.e., no greater love) for mankind. The crucifixion of Christ changed the world in a way which argumentation or court transcripts could never accomplish.

Truth Forever

As I read the Bible and notice words and concepts which I never noticed before, I gain a certain mental equilibrium through its truth—through illumination of who is who and what is what and how it all happens. You can persecute and exile me, browbeat and ridicule me, misunderstand and misjudge me, dismiss and ignore me, but you cannot drive me crazy or take the truth away from me once I have seen its radiant light.

You can be the biggest egomaniac in the world (or in the church), but I am not obliged to indulge or pamper you, follow or join you, and defend or excuse you. In other words, I will not and cannot idolize you. And, I will pay a price for this—the price of discipleship. Yet, I am free, or freed. I can only follow, or try to follow, the Ten Commandments. I can only live in accordance with the Beatitudes. I can only worship Christ. Truth is truth, whether or not you and I recognize it and accept it. However, nobody can be a disciple without it.

And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.
Matthew 10: 28

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Hurt


You say you want to seek the truth, but it's hard to find
No one to help you, your friends don't have the time
So you ride around in your car, switch on the radio
You want to relate to something you once read in a book
What kind of a way to try to take a look

Until I got hurt I was looking, I was on my way
Until I got hurt, until I got hurt, darling I painted my face grey
Until I got hurt, 'til got hurt, why didn't I
I didn't think of this, until I got hurt
'Til I got hurt, baby, I didn't know what love is

You say you want to learn to laugh, 'cause music makes you cry,
But the tears you shed are only in your eye
So you turn to any phony mouth with a tale to tell
But he's just a hoaxer, don't you know, selling peace and religion
Between his jokes and his karma chewing gum

Until I got hurt, I was looking, I was the same as you
Until I got hurt, until I got hurt, darling I did not know what to do
Until I got hurt, 'til I got hurt, why didn't I
I didn't think of this, until I got hurt
'Til I got hurt, baby, I didn't know what love is

Young son, don't let me down, young son
I'm trusting you to keep on, never turn away now
Hold on, never let go, now hold on
Turn your heart to the bright sun
Love will come your way
'Cause till you make that final show
You'll never know what love you've been missing
Missing

You say you want to seek the truth, but you work alone
No one to help you and nobody to push you on
So you sit at home drinking your wine, television on
You wait for a miracle, 'cause you say, one day one'll come along
But wishful thinking, boy, any minute now, you might be gone
I'd like to help you, brother, but that would be wrong

Until I got hurt, I was looking, I was on my way
Until I got hurt, until I got hurt, darling I didn't know which way
Until I got hurt, 'til I got hurt, why didn't I
I didn't think of this, until I got hurt
'Til I got hurt, baby, I didn't know what love is

Until I got hurt, oh I didn't know, what love is

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Shepherds

I don’t know what made me think of Saint Spyridon of Tremithous this morning, but he is on my mind. Maybe it’s because I am amazed that this man, who lived in the 3rd to 4th century on the island of Cyprus, was a shepherd, someone who tended a flock of sheep, and at the same time was elevated to the rank of bishop by his people. Even though he was their bishop, he still tended his flock of sheep. I’m surprised that none of the ikons I have found of him ever show him in the guise of a shepherd, but he is always shown wearing that funny little cap—I wonder if that was part of his shepherd’s garb? But what of his “rational sheep” as the flock of Christ followers is called in the Akathistos hymn written by Saint Romanos? How can a man tend to the spiritual care of this flock, when he has also to care for his worldly affairs, in Spyridon’s case, his flock of literal sheep?

Now I remember!—That’s what brought him to my mind. I was asking myself my perennial question: What is it that men do who are given the title of “pastor” in the Church? What makes them our pastors, that is, our shepherds? For that is what pastor means. This question has baffled and stumped me for many years, as I watched the processions of goldenly clad clergy pass me by, surrounded by chanting and clouds of incense smoke. That’s the question that never fails to pop into my head as I pass by churches with witch’s hat-shaped steeples and billboards that say things like “Meet Pastor Peg!” or have directory lists of names with imposing titles after lines of dots. Somehow, I just can’t get over the impression that “pastor” is no longer a description of what ordained priests and ministers do, but just an honorific title—like the title of proistámenos—regardless of whether he leads his flock to Christ, or to market.

Back to Saint Spyridon.
His fame seems to rest on his many reported miracles, on the fact that he was an attendee of the 1st Ecumenical Council of Nicæa, and on his relics (that is, his unembalmed body) which are held to be incorrupt. Oh yes, and then there’s the fact that his slippers have to be replaced every year because they miraculously wear out, probably due to the fact he walks all over the island of Corfu watching over its people and looking for opportunities to do them good. Perhaps they should get his incorrupt feet something more substantial to wear, and then they wouldn’t have to replace them as often.

For me, though, the fame of Spyridon of Tremithous has more to do with what his real life says about what a man of God is called to be. If he is called to be a pastor, he follows and imitates the Good Shepherd, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Though he may have to deal with worldly affairs, he still doesn’t neglect his first call, really his first love, and that is, to shepherd the people of God, looking after them, looking for them, calling them each by name, keeping them together, leading them Home. Spyridon could tend his flock of literal sheep without abandoning his rational sheep. That’s the real miracle. That’s true incorruptability.

May those whom we name “pastors” likewise follow his example, and even more, the example of the Good Shepherd whom Spyridon followed as a true disciple, saying and doing exactly what he heard and saw Him saying and doing. God grant us true shepherds to replace the hirelings, for the sheep are scattered, and the time is close (Revelation 1:3).

Sunday, October 21, 2012

His merciful face

We cannot do wrong, I think, when we judge with the scale weighted in favor of mercy, because God does not judge without mercy those who judge with it.

On the other hand, we can do wrong when we judge with severity, and that also puts us personally in very grave danger, for what can we appeal to in our defense, when we are judged by God?

Christ says, ‘How blessed are the merciful, for they shall have mercy shown them.’
He never says, ‘How blessed are those who judge justly…’ and well could He have quoted reams of laws out of the Torah, or even verses from the psalms, about judging justly if He had so desired. But no, He knew we didn’t need any help there.

As He Himself says, He came not to condemn the world, but in order that the world would be saved through Him. Since all that the world had seen of God up till then was His face of judgment—because that’s all they wanted to see—He had to come in person to show His merciful face.

From now on, no one can ever again put a man-made mask on the face of God, whether too severe or too lax: God Himself has shown up, and shown us ‘the light of His face’ and that is, above all, mercy.

What do you mean? ‘Show us the Father!’
I’ve been with you all this time!
Don’t you know that to see Me is to see the Father?

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Into that darkness

Farewell, beloved brother! Farewell, brother beloved of the Lord! Though we loved you well, our love could not heal you of that sickness, nor stop you from descending into that darkness of the grave. But we knew, I knew, that the man who loved you would heal you, would not let his holy one experience corruption, would not leave his lover’s bones scattered at the mouth of She’ol. I sent word to him by a servant, ‘Come, Master! The man you love is ill,’ knowing he would come in time and raise you from your bed of sickness as he had many others. I knew he would come, but he did not.

I was devastated. I was destroyed. But then as now, I prayed, ‘I have faith, even when I say I am completely crushed.’ Only now, I know for sure that which before I had merely hoped, because he who said, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Do you believe this?’ proved on the battlefield of his body that even the vanquished is victor, that not sickness only is swallowed up in health, but death in life. Yet here I sit beside you, watching, as I did many years ago, a second time talking to you as alive, though you sleep, and this time for good. I need send no message by a servant. I know he comes. He knows I call.

He comes, yes, but nothing ever happens the same way twice. Then, our house in Bethany was full of rich Jews, friends from Jerusalem, come to help us through those awful days of wretched mourning, only to see that all they could do was nothing. The grief of death remained in me, cold, stiff, dead, incapable of rising on its own, except as a statue with sculpted sorrow on stone lips, with unseeing eyes, unhearing ears, locked forever in formal poise. Then, sister roused me from my hopeless reverie, ‘The Master is here and wants to see you.’ I fell at his feet, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother…’

That time by his words he remade the world, yours, and ours. The crowd of consolation looked on, in consternation, as he stood among us before your tomb and wept, and they said to each other and to us, ‘So now he weeps! Where was the wonderworker when his beloved lay dying? He could have prevented…’ but we didn’t listen to them. Already by his presence, my eyes were beginning to see, my ears to hear, as they saw and heard you, brother beloved, emerging in your swaddling like a wrapped babe, as his words, ‘Lazarus, here, come out!’ undying resounded from that first moment, and even now.

Yes, even now, as I sit here before your quiet body a second time, but nothing ever happens the same way twice. Our house on this Greek isle again hosts your mourners, few Jews among them, but gentiles, and their sorrow is not grief, nor is mine, only a chill to the bones and a quietude, the same as we experience when we pray in the purple, pre-dawn darkness in a cemetery of the just, waiting with them for the final sunrise. ‘Eternal be your memory, dear brother, for you are worthy of entering into life,’ this song cutting broad swathes of melody in the fields of our hearts, healing us as he has healed you.

Healing you, brother beloved of the God who walks among us, who loves us more, invisibly, even than when he was visible among us. Healing you he comes, even as he knows I call. Yet the day is dark. Dark as that prayer cried out in the house of separation. Once, he delayed his coming, that we might descend into that darkness with you, proving us in the weakness of our human faith helpless and lost. Then, standing before that darkness, he called you, and us, out of it once and for all. Yet the darkness remains. It is the world. It is where we must live, no, where we must die in order to live beyond it.

I remember our last walk together, yours and mine, before you took to your bed, and our last talk. We reminisced. We were wealthy, once, many years ago, living in our villa in Bethany outside of Jerusalem. I could not remember how you met the Lord, but you reminded me, ‘I was that rich young man who at first went away.’ The Lord was attracted to your beauty. You always were a handsome man, even as you are now, lying before me, asleep in the body, soul listening to my thoughts. He was attracted to your beauty, but not to what is only seen, for he knows all men. He looks into our hearts.

Even in letting you go, after telling you, ‘If you would be perfect, go and sell what you own, and give to the poor, and come and follow me,’ he knew. He knew you would return. And he has replaced our former riches with treasure that cannot be depleted, his words, even taking from us our old wealth and granting us a new, ‘A man had two sons. He went and said to the first, “Go and work in the vineyard today.” He answered, “I will not go,” but afterwards thought better of it, and went,’ and again, ‘Many who are first will be last, and the last first.’ Wealth not to buy things, but to purchase men’s souls.

He who is infinitely rich became poorest of the poor to walk among us, teaching us, we are all poor in the eyes of the Lord. Yet that poverty is true wealth, because he has bestowed it. You reminded me of these, and other sayings you heard from his lips. And I revealed words he spoke to me, or heard him tell to the crowds when I followed him into Jerusalem that final week. I remember how surprised I was when I heard him tell of what you dreamt when you lay in your tomb, ‘There was a rich man who used to dress in purple… and at his gate there lay a poor man called Lazarus…’ and like Joseph, interpret it.

These things, dear brother, let me rehearse in your presence as I sit watching over you. By mercy you were once raised from death, and by grace you have now been freed, this time forever. We spend all our lives trying to hide from the darkness of the fact that everything is moving, unstoppably, toward dissolution and death, towards nothing. Then a man appears who not only commands the dead to ‘come out’ but at last even disappears himself into that darkness, and then reappears, alive. ‘Man makes an end of darkness when he pierces to the uttermost depths the black and lightless rock…’

Friday, October 19, 2012

During the night

It’s a strange thing, at times almost beautiful
though amidst a scene of desolation, the peace
that descends in all quietude on the place
where once a great house stood
that has gone up in flames during the night,
leaving whisps of smoke curling to a soft morning breeze
and, underfoot, littered invisibly
among charred, fallen timbers, glowing embers.

Or as Job, having finally fallen asleep
where he lay alone in the ash pit scraping his sores,
abandoned there by his faithless wife
who had mocked him, ‘Why persist in your blamelessness?
Curse God, and die!’ is suddenly awakened
in the dark night by the almost inaudible voices
of argumentation going on somewhere
in the blackness above him
between his advocate Yahweh and his antagonist,
one claiming to be a son
(or could it have been a daughter) of God,

‘No! He only serves You
because You supply all his needs!
Desert him, and see
how he will curse You to Your face!’

What must be fulfilled will be fulfilled.
The fruit of pride, rebellion and apostasy
remains on the tree a little longer.

Then, without warning, for not having been harvested
its loathesome weight bows the tree down
until finally it splits, exposing light, living wood
within the fissured bark
of the ravaged trunk and branches.

The tree will be cut down, savagely,
by a relentless axe, neither the evil fruits
nor the pain of wrath will be remembered henceforth.
Only the fresh, hopeful sprigs arising
from the otherwise barren stump will bear witness
to what could have been,
will follow the sun in its course,
as He draws them up to Himself.

Saviour of fugitives,
Christ our God,
have mercy on us!
— Romanós

Want to be one

What is more important in the Body of Christ than unity? The world does not believe because it sees that the Church is not the abode of peace, unity and love, but only another society much like itself, full of jealousies, usurpations, war and discord. It knows that we have a good Lord and God but that He must not be worth very much, that we do not really believe in Him very strongly and truly, because our belief hasn’t changed us very much. It looks in at our door and sees a house no better than its own. It looks at our family and sees the same dysfunction that afflicts its own family. Why would the world want to enter into the Kingdom of God, if that Kingdom is only the same as its own under another name?

The human world, the human race, is stopped in its tracks, cannot take the next step in its evolution, because the only part of it that has the possibility of taking the first steps has chosen not to. The only new man in the history of the world has appeared. Though we fought against Him with all our might and were able to bodily kill Him, He was not defeated but instead defeated everything in us that keeps us down. What is worse for us is that the Man did not go away but is always present in our midst, and still we, the Church that claims to be His Body, the Body of Christ on earth, His Presence, that people who can of all peoples take the step into the new humanity, the new world, do not take it.

Unity, yes, unity. It does not have to mean what we try to bend it to mean. It is not an ideal that we can say we strive for but are unfortunately unable to achieve. No. Unity in God does not mean administrative unity. We all do not have to be united under one pope or system of Church government. That has been our big mistake, but it stems from another deeper one, the desire to overcome, not ourselves, but others, in the name of God. How senseless, how brutal is our handling of the Message that it no longer has any power in it to transform the world. We are indeed on our last legs, we have indeed reached our next to last day. We have failed to bring new birth to the world.

The Book is there and open to all who can read. The Christians read it and do not follow what it says but only argue about it and talk it to death. The world reads it and picks and chooses what it wants to take in its vain attempt to do without the Spirit what only the Spirit can do. The world and the Church are two disobedient sons, one saying it will do what the Father wills but does not, the other saying it will not do what He says—because there is no Father—and yet does, though without effect. Belief cannot be followed by disobedience. Obedience has no power to transform without faith. Though Christ prefers the obedient faithless to the disobedient believing, neither brings mankind to its destiny.

This talk of mine is no more than idle talk. I am both in the world and in the Church and I share the fate and fault of both. All I know is, I too want to be transformed. I too want to see the uncreated Light of Tabor and seeing it become it. There is no blame or shame that I do not share with all of you, my brothers, all of you, both believers and unbelievers. Nothing about us that divides us matters at all. Nothing. It is only what unites us that matters, and there is only one thing, one Man, that can unite us, and that is Christ. He does not unite us by brute force, by threats, intimidation, or by decree. He unites us by His prayer to the Father, by His life for the world, by His death on the Cross, by His resurrection.

This is what humanity is waiting for, what mankind really desires, what every man and woman, rich and poor, free and slave, really wants. Having this, having the unity that is in Christ, having it not just talking about it, is what dissolves the struggle between man and woman, tears down the wall between rich and poor, and makes of the human race a single family of priests and kings, where none rule but who serve, and where all make progress with not a single one left behind into the new world that Christ has established. He is the new Man, the only One, and what then does that make us? There is no middle ground, though we have made of human history a midden of disappointed hope by our refusal to follow Him.

Can we start today? Is there anything I can do as a single man, you as a single man or woman? If you are a pope, a bishop, a priest, a minister of the gospel, a missionary, a witness, a worker for Christ, whatever you call yourself, if you say you are following Christ, is there anything you can do? Is there anything you can do to make a difference? There is no program to follow, no principle to espouse, no compact to subscribe to. Have you been baptized and believed? Now just go and say and do what you hear Jesus saying and see Him doing in the holy gospels. Step into the shoes of the fishermen, but don’t do what you want, do what He wants. He is alive. He will tell you. I cannot do that. I can only listen for myself.

Humanity is waiting to take the next step in its evolution because those who know that the step has already been taken by Christ have refused to follow, but only squirm in their seats as they watch the Jesus movie and read the lives of the saints. The world will not believe until it sees God among us. Is He really there? Is He really here, with us? Do we believe that? If we do, then what are we doing sitting here like this? No, it isn’t just what we can do. In fact it is nothing at all that we can do that will transform humanity. Only He can do that, but we must first want it, we must first give Him our permission. We must let Him transform us.
All we need to do is want it.
Want to be one.

…that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
John 17:21

Nothing would be impossible

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

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

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

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

In 1983 the Sunday in January that falls closest to the day on which the Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton decisions were handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court, January 22, 1973—was declared national ‘Sanctity of Human Life Sunday.’ Over the past 38 years, 51 million lives have been taken through abortion. For some, this data is hard to take in, and they ask, ‘How long will God forbear with our generation?’

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

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

Reigns, not rules. Discerns, not judges.

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

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

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

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

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

Market policemen

This is a very long but—if you have patience and can keep your mind focused—a very carefully expressed evaluation of a type of disorder which has existed in other churches for a very long time, and is now making its presence felt within Holy Orthodoxy. Fr Georges Massouh calls this disorder ‘market policemen’. Originally posted here.

We Orthodox are in great need of a distinction in our religious discourse between what is essential and what is accidental. For some of us, confusing these two things leads to confusion and to value judgments that take others out of the range of sound teaching, sometimes to the point of accusing them of heresy or of undesirable innovation. Within churchly circles, this confusion has reached a point that raises anxiety and alarm since it has ballooned and occupied areas that had remained remote from it until today.

Our Orthodox theology is based on a respect for diversity in non-dogmatic matters. The source of this is faith in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God in three hypostases. The theological belief affirming that faith in the Most Holy Trinity is faith in unity in diversity and diversity in unity remains in our hearts and minds. The gifts of the faithful must be according to the image of the Most Holy Trinity: one of them does not cancel out the special characteristic of another or its individuality. Love and its pinnacle, the life-giving Cross, remains the bond that ties us together for the sake of building up the group and its salvation.

On the basis of this theological principle, the Church has known the distinction between set dogmas, apart from which one exits the Church, and theological opinions, which if the faithful differ about them no one can judge those who disagree about such an opinion as having left the Church. This is because theology is concerned with upright belief and faith, which is established in the dogmatic teachings that the Church agreed upon in the ecumenical councils. As for what the Church has not dogmatically determined, there is no problem with a multiplicity of opinion about such matters. In this diversity lies the power of the Church and the freedom that was granted to her by Christ, her Lord and Redeemer. In this diversity also lies a distinguishing characteristic of Christianity compared to other religions.

If, for example, we take the question of universal salvation, we find a diversity of opinions among the fathers both ancient and modern. All agree that the essential matter in this question is that Christ alone is the savior and no one else and that salvation can only be achieved through Him exclusively. As for how salvation is achieved through Him and which people receive it, one cannot determine this with certainty. This matter is for Him alone and it is not for us to have anything to do with it except to hope. Those who argue for universal salvation have their sound biblical and theological proofs and those who claim that salvation is only for those who deserve it also have their own proofs that are no less sound. On this matter we could cite a number of fathers in favor of both sides.

In our present time, there are many matters that are less important than the question of salvation, but despite this we see an intensification of discussion about them. If we take as another example the “outpouring of light” at the Holy Sepulcher on Holy Saturday, its importance varies among both the faithful and theologians. Some of them consider it to be proof of the true faith and find fault with those who do not believe in it and some pay no attention whatsoever to the phenomenon, considering it to be a popular belief with no connection to the teachings of the Orthodox Church.

Distinguishing between what is essential and what is accidental is necessary for the preservation of the unity of the visible Church and in order to prevent chaos that would shake the faith of the simple, who naturally are not stupid. What is essential is that Christ rose from the dead and granted life to those in the tombs. As for the question of the “outpouring of light”, it should not exceed the bounds of something that is accidental and incidental. If it did not occur, it would not add or take away a mustard seed’s weight of faith in the Resurrection. There is an anxiety that results here from giving the accidental priority over the essential, relegating the essential to the level of something secondary or marginal.

A lack of distinguishing between what is essential and what is accidental has led to the appearance of a class of “market policemen” who pursue those who hold differing opinions in order to judge them according to how they interpret to be correct with them and incorrect with others. “Market policing” or “compliance” as it is called in some Islamic countries, is not a behavior that our Church has known in the past but rather something new that is making inroads today. There are those who judge people for opinions that they have written or spoken or for their doing away with certain phenomena that have no connection to Orthodox tradition, such as in questions of dress and beards, or in the question of menstruating women participating in the sacraments or their placing a scarf over their head when they receive communion…

Respect for diversity is what makes the Orthodox Church unique. All individualism or unilateralism in teaching goes against the essence of this Church. Diversity begins with the absolute distinction between what is essential and what is accidental. “Market policing” is a new and alien innovation for our Orthodox tradition and it contradicts the basic Orthodox dogma, the dogma of the Most Holy Trinity. It is an innovation that contradicts the words of the divine Apostle, “You know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” In closing, we believe that the appearance of this class of “policemen” is an expression of a profound crisis that takes them captive and puts them in a state of constant fear of the world that Christ called us to face without fear, even if it persecutes and oppresses us.

— Fr Georges Massouh

Deliverance

When you hear the word ‘deliverance’ in the context of Christianity, what comes to mind is, deliverance from a destructive lifestyle or obsessions or habits that threaten to permanently (in this life and in the hereafter) disable, even annihilate, people—in brief, to send them ‘to hell.’ The irony is that often the form of Christianity that espouses this kind of ‘ministry’ is actually substituting one form of addiction or affliction for another, not really delivering anyone, just changing the symptoms. The following essay by Aunt Melanie is excerpted from her blog Desert Dimension, where it is posted as notes to ‘How Ignorance Obscures the Sense of Christ’, Discourse XV.2, by St Symeon the New Theologian.

Allow me to consider what might be a subcategory of ignorance. There are churches, often groups which separate from mainstream churches for motives of correctness or outspoken individuals within a mainstream church, which advocate for a narrow interpretation of Bible and Church. In other words, they claim to have the right answers and that everyone else is wrong and condemned. The result seems to be an idiosyncratic and even bizarre religiosity—having just enough truth elements to maintain the appearance of a church but with emphases which also distort Bible, Church, and history.

Ignorance and Correctness

How do people become like this? How can people read the Bible and yet remain ignorant? It seems to me that there are some people who are driven by a need for security and authority. Correctness and isolationism fulfill these deep psychological deficits. I can imagine these people as children—living in fear of abandonment and disapproval from parents and teachers. All children have these fears to some extent (because young children want to please adults and receive affirmation), but most children mature while others become permanently scarred. My speculation is that, in some cases, the experiences of emotional abandonment and behavioral disapproval transmute into an extreme need to be correct. Ironically, these people then disapprove of and disown all others who might pose the uncertainties of relationship, interaction, and human weaknesses.

There was a time when I myself felt the emotional impact of hyper-correct individuals. While I never joined any such group, I had acquaintances among such people. It caused me to feel frightened for my salvation and confused about Jesus Christ. These people can tap into our innermost psychological fears and spiritual doubts. You see, there are indeed correct ways to do things. There is a correct way to sew a dress, to cook a casserole, to play a game of baseball, to drive down the road. Part of growing up is to be trained in these correct ways. Moreover, there are consequences for incorrectness—everything from a burnt dinner to a speeding ticket.

However, correctness does not extend neatly into religion because of the dynamics of love and mercy, and because of the sovereignty of God the Father. Please do not think that I am undermining the Ten Commandments, for example, or even liturgical rites and prayer books. I am stressing the cultural and nationalistic elements, the picking and choosing of Bible passages for a foundation, the elitist strictness of rites and rubrics which never existed in the earliest centuries of the Church, the obsessive devotional practices, the use of charismatic expressions as proof of holiness, the racist and ethnic preferences, the fear-mongering toward those who are not correct, and the use of doctrine to separate rather than to gather. This all adds up to ignorance or illiteracy of Bible and Church.

Ignorance and Deliverance

Are ignorant people malicious? Or are they just misguided? I do not have the answer, and I will try not to judge. It is possible that, in this subcategory, there are variations of conditions. Some are probably prideful and fraudulent, some are mistaken and unfortunate, and some are victims of overpowering personalities and harsh upbringing. The use of fear, especially panic, can be contagious. It can spread like a virus, afflicting many people. However, we do not really have to figure out other people’s intentions. Perhaps the key is this: if you feel frightened rather than repentant, if you feel dehumanized rather than forgiven, then you might consider evaluating your religion or church leaders. You might visit some other churches, try to read the Bible with a fresh mind, and pray for deliverance from anything nonsensical and unmerciful.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Seeking the level

The Church’s one foundation
Is Jesus Christ her Lord,
She is His new creation
By water and the Word.
From heaven He came and sought her
To be His holy bride;
With His own blood He bought her
And for her life He died.

She is from every nation,
Yet one o’er all the earth;
Her charter of salvation,
One Lord, one faith, one birth;
One holy Name she blesses,
Partakes one holy food,
And to one hope she presses,
With every grace endued.

Though with a scornful wonder
Men see her sore oppressed,
By schisms rent asunder,
By heresies distressed:
Yet saints their watch are keeping,
Their cry goes up, “How long?”
And soon the night of weeping
Shall be the morn of song!

There are more stanzas to this glorious hymn by Samuel Wesley, and I’ve left off one other that is my favorite, because we’re not there yet, eschatologically. We’re still at stanza three. My cry goes up with everyone’s, ‘How long, Lord, how long!’

I think back to that very brief time of my life in Christ almost as if I had just reposed and were reviewing it with the Lord, a brief thirty-seven years, to God ‘a thousand years are a single day, a yesterday now over, an hour of the night’ (Psalm 90).

My first church, a little Episcopal parish in a working class neighborhood, the pews populated by lots of white heads, smily and bespectacled and welcoming, a gregarious contingent of settled householders with their sprinking of youth, and a tiny gaggle of young twenty-somethings with toddlers in tow. My little family of three was in that gaggle.

Fr Rankin was an old, really past retirement age, vicar, a classic small town America clergyman, and his wife, blondly twenty years younger in look, at his side, to sugar his way through a sometimes cantakerous crowd of coffee hour critics.

Critics, yes, but still lively, jocular, generous and unharmful. Father was a poor man in many respects. He had been brought up in the Salvation Army, became enamored with the theatre in his youth, a forbidden entrée, and escaped into Episcopalianism.

Already past his enthusiastic days, the gospel had for him settled down to the humdrum of keeping an aging congregation happy with small blessings. In his poverty, he bought a set of sermons for the Church year, and he read them, the same ones, year after year, on the appropriate Sundays. It got to where we had them memorised just as we had internalised the responses of the Book of Common Prayer.

Coffee fellowship in the undercroft
A pleasant little church, humbly hospitable with its undercroft coffee hours, its parish house next door full of windows that used to be an old public library, still full of books and comfy chairs to while away the fall afternoons with others getting ready to join the great cloud of witnesses in the sky. A youngster like me could only feel cared for by these gentle folk.

We knew we weren’t perfect, but we tried to follow Jesus, from childhood to young adulthood to middle age and then to venerable elderhood, and we lived together, knowing we were doing what had always been done, in the same place, the same way. This was the simple life of faith that had been handed over in our corner of the wild earth.

Son Jacob (center) and two friends at St Andrew's
Now it seems that my first years as an adult Christian were the last years of the Church as people, the Church as the spirit of the land, the Church as home ‘where everybody knows your name.’ A vanished Christianity, last locale of the Church universal of Constantine, yes, the state Church maybe, but something that went deeper. It was always there, and we probably expected it always would be.

This is America, of course, where there is no state Church and where there has never been one, but from olden times we too, here in the New World, had imitated without knowing it, the patchwork religious quilt of our European forbears. We felt our parish to be our village in the larger world, a vast Christendom surrounding us, of which we were a part.

Son Jacob and Dad Romanós
Denominations were there, yes, but there was something underlying it all, this experience of living in a Christian commonwealth, that unified us in spite of our differences. You might not fraternize or marry into certain groups, but you knew where they stood, and you lived and let live. America knows no establishment of religion, but there was no doubt back then, that ‘in God we trust’ was more than a mere monetary motto.

Whatever you call what it is that we have moved to, morphed into, the Church of today is quite different, in America, in the world. It has left behind its innocence and simplicity for sure, having no place of rest anymore, but anxious to appear approved, to be successful.

Excellence as a human endeavor leads to spiritual paralysis. Only what rains from above on thirsty soil brings forth harvestable wheat. Christianity, the real thing, is most like water that seeks its level, filling in cracks and taking the lowest place. It is not what we do or what we look like doing it that matters.

The Church’s one foundation, yes. We all know Who it is that we have believed in, but do we know why, and what it means, and what has been done to us, and by Whom, and where we must go from here? Are we seeking to make waves, or are we seeking the level?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Around us like bees

Let us scatter our love selflessly to all, without regard to the way they act towards us. When the grace of God enters us, we will not be concerned about whether they love us or not or whether they speak to us politely or not. We will feel the need to love all people. It’s egotism on our part to wish for others to speak to us politely. If they don’t, we shouldn’t be upset. Let them speak to us as they wish. We needn’t become beggars for love. Our aim should be to love them and pray for them with all our soul. Then we will become aware that all people love us without our seeking it and without our begging for their love. They will love us freely and sincerely from the depths of their heart without our blackmailing them. When we love without seeking to be loved, people will gather around us like bees. This is true for everyone.

Elder PorphyriosWounded by Love, pages 181-182
“Remember who your teachers were…”
2 Timothy 3:14

Walking

I am not going to read the rabbi's book, but there is a meaning to ‘You don't have to be wrong for me to be right.’ That meaning, though, comes from a location where right and wrong in the usual human sense simply don't exist. That location is the presence of God, before whom all our ideas, even all our beliefs, simply pale into insignificance. Did we love the ones God sent to us? or did we pester them to death with our probings?
I don't believe that all spiritual paths lead to God in an institutional sense. For example, Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, even Judaism do not lead you to the living God, the only God there is, but then, neither does Christianity. All these ‘paths’ are only containers for our souls to keep us from spilling ourselves to death, but also from which we can offer ourselves as drink to others.

If that's not what we use our religion for, as Christians anyway, then we've got nothing to look forward to except staleness, and maybe evaporation. I believe what C. S. Lewis writes (quoting from memory), ‘All who persistently seek joy will find it,’ and that is what Christians mean by salvation, if they tear away all the fantasies they have about it. I also believe what he writes about knowing Jesus, that ‘no one can be saved without Him, but does one have to know Him to be saved by Him?’ (again, quoting from memory).

How many Christians really know Jesus? True, they may confess Him with their lips, even before men (I do the same), but do they, do I, really know Him? He’s not impressed even by the miracles we do in His name or by our calling to Him, ‘Lord, Lord,’ but He rewards those with ‘the joy of the Lord’, with salvation, if we have noticed Him walking among us, and done for Him what He does for us. Knowing about Jesus is not knowing Jesus.

Study and even confession is not doing what He does. To answer His call requires hands and feet, even if they must be pierced. The path of joy, of salvation, can only be walked. Heaven cannot be reached any other way. Yes, we must walk with Him, but like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, we may not recognize who He is, yet we walk with Him just the same. The issue of who is right and wrong is meaningless in His presence.

The Lord is truly among us, alive, enlivening, walking with us, within us, among us, and we do not know Him, nor are we worthy to undo the straps of His sandals, but if He asks us, ‘Whom do you seek?’ let’s be bold enough to ask Him, ‘Rabbi, where do you live?’ and when He says, ‘Come and see,’ let’s not hesitate, but laying aside all earthly care, follow Him, so that He can teach us all things, how to do what He does, how to live the life of heaven on earth.

If we haven’t found the way here and now, we won’t find it anywhere or anywhen, because we will have let the Christ slip through our midst and disappear, because in truth we have sought to stone Him for His blasphemies. Sought to stone Him or throw Him off a cliff, the One who has come not to judge the world, but to offer the only life that is eternal to us, who can only receive it when we are willing to offer it to others, with whatever it takes.