Thursday, October 11, 2012


I heard the voice of Jesus say,
‘Come unto me and rest;
lay down, thou weary one, lay down
thy head upon my breast.’
I came to Jesus as I was,
weary, worn, and sad;
I found in him a resting-place,
and he has made me glad.

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
‘Behold, I freely give
the living water; thirsty one,
stoop down and drink, and live.’
I came to Jesus, and I drank
of that life-giving stream;
my thirst was quenched, my soul revived,
and now I live in him.

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
‘I am this dark world's light;
look unto me, thy morn shall rise,
and all thy day be bright.’
I looked to Jesus, and I found
in him my Star, my Sun;
and in that light of life I'll walk
till traveling days are done.

The image above is my favorite picture of Jesus. I know that it's not an ikon, and it should be, because I'm a Greek Orthodox Christian, but so what? This is Jesus as I know Him visually, if I may be so presumptuous to say it that way. The lyric above is my favorite hymn. Same comment about it not being a Greek kontakion or whatever, and again, so what?

A very dear friend of mine who was a jazz pianist used to play Thomas Tallis’ third mode melody, very tenderly, and I would sing this hymn in an empty church that he was custodian of, when we would get together to study the Word in winter time in his unheated room in the parish house, snow falling outside, precious memories to me. That was when he was single.

Later, he got married to a woman from Hungary, and together they were involved in some kind of ministry involving children. I lost track of him, until one day I providentially found an obituary in the paper. (I almost never buy and read a newspaper.) My friend was killed in a so-called ‘accident’ in Saudi Arabia, along with his wife, in September, 2000. They were operating a preschool there, and they were both Christians. May their memory be eternal. Aiónia i mními aftón! Their two orphaned sons are growing up in their grandparents’ home.

I sometimes spend an evening looking through my copy of the 1940 Hymnal of the Episcopal Church, singing my favorite hymns softly to myself. How many of the traditional Protestant hymns are dreadful poetry, and even worse theology! But they meant well, the writers, and for several generations people found meaning in them. As I peruse, I mark the ones I want to keep, the ones I can still sing because of their realism, good theology and biblical integrity.

Surprisingly, some of the old favorites find themselves in the ‘keep’ group, but others wind up in the ‘discard’ pile. Number 266 (Nicaea) ‘Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty! Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee…’ is a keeper. Maybe I'd better not say which ones were in my discard pile. This post is not to be an exercise in alienating others.

I do, however, want to put on record that I think we Orthodox owe a debt of gratitude to our Anglican brethren who, in the Americas, have always lent us a helping hand in getting established. Someday, when the Orthodox are finally ready to evangelize the American people, we'll prove it by giving the greatest English hymns a place in worship, along with our ancient Greek praises. As much as I love and appreciate the beauty of our Greek hymns, they're really only accessible to those who take the trouble to learn evangelical, koiné Greek. To the rest, the hymns are beautiful but meaningless.

Could this be why a mother and unmarried daughter in our community for many years used to sing in the choir of 1st Presbyterian Church, downtown?

I remember Aretí, the mother, telling me that they liked to go and sing English language hymns at the Presbyterian church, because ‘back then’ only Greek hymns were chanted in ours. This was before my time. So, my appreciation goes out also to the Presbyterians, who were gracious and honored to have some Greeks singing with them. I know this, because I used to work with a member of that church who told me about Aretí and her daughter Vasi’s singing.

Again, I want to eulogize the Anglicans one more time.

My wife's grandmother Domka (Domnica), the daughter of Russian Orthodox presbyter, Father Theodosius, was given a Book of Common Prayer (of the Anglican Church of Canada) back in 1909. Inside it's inscribed ‘Lent 1909, from Daisy with love to Dorice.’ The BCP also includes the hymnal, and so there's some juicy antiquated lyrics there that antedate the 1940 Hymnal. I love looking at this family heirloom, and finding beautiful prayers and hymns. It's a relic of a different age, for sure!

But what it demonstrates is that the love of Jesus Christ, that knows no denominational walls, was at work in early 20th century western Canada. For friendship's sake, a ‘white’ girl gave a Ukrainian girl, the daughter of an Orthodox priest, a present, which was probably the best gift she could think of, that which was most precious to both of them, a gilt-edged leather-bound book that brought them close to Jesus, and to each other. God be praised! Slava Bohu!

I pray that the God of peace, who brought our Lord Jesus back from the dead to become the great Shepherd of the sheep by the blood that sealed an eternal covenant, may make you ready to do his will in any kind of good action; and turn us all into whatever is acceptable to himself through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.
Hebrews 13:20-21 Jerusalem Bible

Our words are powerless! Notice how, after reading my blog post, when you got to the scripture passage quoted at the end, your heart just leapt for joy at the simplicity and power of God's own Word? Nothing can hold a candle to the Light of God's Word.

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