Friday, November 30, 2012

Apostle Andrew

Iconography by the hand of Matthew D. Garrett
November 30 is the feast day of holy apostle Andrew the First-Called.
Happy name day to all Andrews and Andreas.
God grant you many, many years!
Download a printable 8½x11 PDF file of this poster.

Midnight of the saints

May 21st, 2012, about 6 p.m. [*]

The day has come and gone. Uneventful as to massive earthquakes, the graves opening to release billions of bodies into the sky, dragging along with them allegedly a mere two hundred million souls of those who had not yet been unbodied till that moment, to ‘meet the Lord in the air’ according to words of pure vanity never written or thought by the apostles but stuffed into their mouths by teachers of unwisdom.

Fractious, factious, unfriendly, fiery purveyors of fantasy, egged on as always by the evil one, peddling dispensations that never were in the mind or word of God, nevertheless so sure of themselves that they are willing to wreck the work of God, to despoil the vineyard of the Lord, to hold up to the world’s ridicule the precious promise of the Christ to come again, all to succor their own vain hopes, to exalt their names above the Name.

It is the midnight of the saints, their time of tribulation, the hour of their testing, the furnace of their purification, the deepest darkness against the bright dawn of the true resurrection of the dead, but also the time when the angelic hosts offer their praises, unseen by the eyes of worldly wisdom, unheard by the ears of those deafened by the roar of the lies spawned by their divisive delusions. Yes, we are all still here, and Christ Jesus is still among us.

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.

They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these teachers oppose the truth. They are men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected. But they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone.
2 Timothy 3:1-9


Keep reminding God’s people of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. Their teaching will spread like gangrene.

Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have departed from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some. Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: ‘The Lord knows those who are His,’ and, ‘Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.’

In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for special purposes and some for common use. Those who cleanse themselves from the latter will be instruments for special purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work. Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.

Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.

2 Timothy 2:14-26

Holy unreason

I picked up my Jerusalem Bible and began to read again the 1st book of Maccabees, just because I like to read history sometimes. I’ve read this book a dozen times or more cover to cover. It’s the book that underlies the Jewish feast of Chanukah.

What struck me today, and what always strikes me when reading the history of God’s people, whether Jews or Christians, when they are under attack by their enemies, is how reasonable, sometimes, their enemies try to be in attempting to convince them to submit to their overlordship.

True, when it’s an invading enemy like the Seleucids, the successors to Alexander the Great, who subjected the ancient Near East to Greek rule, they start out with quite violent and merciless attacks. That’s stage one, and its method is to break resistance and dishearten the victim people by an extreme show of force and cruelty. After the political conquest, though, they have to somehow keep it, and to do that they have to win over the vanquished.

Antiochus Epiphanes, like the modern statesmen of today, wanted to establish peace and order under his iron-clad rule, and his method, stage two, was to make all the nations he conquered give up their ancient culture and religion, and adopt his—Hellenism. For all the nations, this wasn’t a problem: just add a new layer of pagan gods and ceremonies to what they already had. For the Jews, it was another matter. They were the worshippers of a single God, the only God, Yahweh, and they had a Law from Him they must obey. Though some Jews complied with the king’s command, many did not.

As the king’s representatives visited each village, they came to Modein where the family of Mattathias Maccabaeus had taken refuge after the conquest and desecration of Jerusalem. They were addressed by the king’s officer in friendly terms and promised special status and an increase of wealth, if they only would come forward and make the official sacrifice, to show that they obeyed the king’s new “one empire, one people, one religion” edict. Mattathias refused, and while he was refusing, a Jew stepped forward to take his place at the pagan altar to offer the sacrifice. Filled with zeal for the Law and in righteous indignation, Mattathias threw himself on the Jew and killed him on the spot, then turned and killed the king’s representative. That was the beginning of what is now called the Maccabaean Revolt.

But really, how unreasonable of Mattathias and his five sons and their followers not to comply with the king’s decree! The king wasn’t asking for much, just a token performance of a pagan ceremony to show that they accepted their new rulers and agreed to shed their out-dated, fussy religion. The rewards offered were great, amounting to prestige and success as members of a new elite, the “friends of the king.” How unreasonable of them!

This is not my feeling, of course, but the sentiment of those who saw no harm in going along with what was apparently the “wave of the future.” It would bring Israel a lot of benefits to become part of a world government that stretched from Egypt all the way to the frontier of India. Think of all that they would forfeit by resisting! Why couldn’t they just be “nice” Jews and cooperate like the others?

I notice this same pattern when I read the stories of the Christian martyrs. They are so much closer to us in time and culture. There are reports that have come down to us that read like today’s newspapers. The Romans weren’t all that bad. Except for mob violence against Christians, the authorities always tried to do all in their power to make it easy and attractive for a Christian to show allegiance (or worship) to Caesar, who represented the Roman one world government—in fact, when reading the dialogs, one is impressed by the fact that in most cases, the Romans were being as reasonable as they could be; it is the Christians who seem stubborn and unreasonable.

Drawing even closer to our own times, we have seen the same thing happening in the Ottoman occupation of the Balkans, with Turkish judges trying their best to get a Christian off the hook and live, rather than die because of his stupid insistence, “I was born a Christian, and I will die a Christian.” How unreasonable! The Turks really had to exert a lot of patience with these “new martyrs of the Turkish yoke.” Some caved in to the friendly persuasion, but many didn’t. That’s why there are still countries like Greece, Bulgaria and Serbia even today. If it weren’t for their holy unreason, they would all have become part of the mass of Islamic states that now fills the Near and Middle East.

Knowing a little bit of history like this helps as we face the next surge of that “Prince of Persia” (it really all started with Nimrod, and continued through tyrants like Xerxes) who wants to make us all one under his authority. All we have to do is give in, just a little.

We are not alone, brethren. From the time of the three hundred Spartans, to the Maccabees, to the Christian martyrs through the last two thousand years, we are in good company as we face the age old enemy, the shape- and name-shifter, as he again amasses his millions with their sky-darkening cloud of arrows aimed at us.
Let us stand firm, as we approach the Day. Our redemption is always close at hand. Our God is faithful, and true. Let us continue in our holy unreason till He returns.

Sorrowless


Abba Dorotheos of Gaza writes,

People usually get annoyed either because they are in a bad mood, or they are nurturing unpleasant thoughts about another. However, the main reason for our annoyance is that we don’t reproach ourselves: this incurs spiritual disturbance and loss of inner peace. The true and genuine path toward a calm disposition is continual self-reproach. Even if a person had accomplished many good deeds yet doesn’t hold fast to the path of self-reproach, he will never cease being annoyed and insulting others, thereby losing the fruits of his good labor. In contrast, what joy and tranquility that person acquires who reproaches himself! Wherever he goes and whatever unpleasantness happens, or whatever insults he hears; he has convinced himself beforehand that he deserves all types of sorrows. That’s why when something unpleasant does happen, he doesn’t get annoyed. What more sorrowless condition can there be?

This kind of saying, ‘we should always reproach ourselves,’ always seemed nonsensical to me, somehow masochistic, and I didn't understand it or want to believe it was true, but I kept running across it, not so much in the scriptures, but in the Church fathers. I just figured it must be some kind of personal excess of theirs, and it just wasn't a word meant for me. It sounded to me like an instruction to always be putting oneself down, always blaming yourself for everything. That just didn't seem right.

But I was stupid and shallow in my understanding. Still, I have much compassion for people who thought like I did, because they really do misunderstand what is meant by self-reproach, and no one can naturally be ready to receive this word with understanding and reap the sorrowless condition that results from it, no one can be glad as long as they think of it as sorrow.

Self-reproach is the constant remembrance that all is lost, that all we hoped and worked for is vain and lost, that nothing we wanted to accomplish saw success, that everything we sought and slaved for came to nothing. Self-reproach is the willing acceptance and realization that of ourselves we are total failures, that we have missed the mark, that we gambled and lost, that we deserve nothing good, that our lives were empty and joyless, and that, like Job, we inwardly ‘shout for joy to see the tomb.’

“How is this possible? This is sheer madness!
It's much worse than I thought!”

Such is the response of the natural man,
who trusts in his own strength, his wisdom,
his virtue or his valor.

He forgets that his birth was nothing that he wrought,
that his health and life were nothing that he earned,
that the excellence of which he is so proud is nothing that he bought,
that the grave awaits him, as it awaits all,
and from it no one has returned.

Yes, it is much worse than almost anyone has thought. I know that now, and I know that only when you know for sure that nothing you can do, could do, or ever could have done would have achieved what only the Son of God has achieved for you, then you are able to truly reproach yourself, only then know for sure how to reproach yourself, only then finally know why to reproach yourself, and only then arrive where you can say for certain, as did Abba Dorotheos,

“What more sorrowless condition can there be?”

Marginalized in the Promised Land

‘Do you ever get the feeling that you, Christian, are a minority? Not a protected one, of course, like an endangered species, a primitive people, or a language group threatened with extinction. As a matter of fact, no one would mind it terribly, if you and your kind went extinct. After all, you’ve been troublemakers right from day one.

‘True, you claim that all the benefits of the modern world—individual and corporate liberty, modern science and medicine, not to mention more than a thousand years’ worth of architectural marvels, art, music, literature, even jurisprudence—are the result of the teachings of your nefarious savior and his followers.

‘But actually, while you sometimes take two steps forward, you then take three steps back, canceling all your stupid self-praise. Yes, one of you keeps saying, ‘we are living amidst the ruins of a great Judaeo-Christian civilisation,’ implying that what we’ve built on top of it is somehow inferior, but experience cannot be fooled.

‘No, modern man is better, has more, and it all owes nothing to your vaunted accomplishments. You fight Islam like a shadow boxer boxes himself. It’s just the flip-side of your centuries-old sociopathy, not a heresy but a transparency revealing your hidden agendas. Just like a mirror has its dark side, front or back you’re all one and the same.

‘So we’re quite justified in ignoring you. You have nothing to offer and you never had. You say your works and your faith have built this country and made it a promised land? In a way, you’re right—it is a promised land, but not the way you think. With your typical, ignominious hypocrisy, you cleared the land of its original inhabitants, by genocide. That’s all.

‘Now, as we see it, it’s your karma to be cleared off in exactly the same way. But we won’t give you the satisfaction of bloody martyrdom. In fact, we don’t have to. You’ve given yourself the very rope by which to hang yourself, all the while smiling and spouting shallow platitudes, seemingly unaware that you’ve readied your own gallows.

‘Marginalized in the promised land! Yes, Christian, we’re talking about you. You’re too deaf and blind even to turn around and see where you’re standing. You’re too wrapped up in yourself to even notice each other, let alone us. Like a blind peddler hawking his wares with a loud voice to a crowd he doesn’t know isn’t even there, you never saw us, never knew us.

‘All you wanted was our souls, for your paradise, our names for your ‘Lamb’s book of life.’ But it wasn’t that easy, was it? We could care less for your cheap dime-store thrills. Miracles. This is your day. Hah! We’ve had a good laugh watching you choke on your own vomit, and we can’t wait till the last of you enters the irreversible jaws of extinction. Finally, your own words will come true:

‘Free at last, free at last, we’re free at last… of you.’

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Nothing less

This morning I was reflecting on the fact that Yahweh the Holy One of Yisra’el, the Living God, chose His people out of all the nations and gave them Torah, much more than just what we call “the Law,” a complete revelation of everything that God wanted mankind to know. To Moses was given Torah, and then to the prophets, the Nevi’im, were given the oracles of Yahweh, the only true oracles ever given to mankind. Finally, to top it off and complete their understanding, the Lord revealed Himself to His people through the Ketuvim, the histories and wisdom writings.
Judaism, then, based on the Word of God, is the only divinely instituted religion ever given to mankind. Every other religion has arisen from mankind’s searching for a way to appease the gods or God (if they thought there was only one of Him). I have experienced many religions, not just Christian ones, and in comparing those experiences, I have to honestly say, though other religions may be more awesome and glorious in ceremonial worship, nowhere else did I find anything even remotely resembling the prayer to Yahweh the God of Yisra’el that I found among the Jews, nor anywhere so profound a respect for the Word of God as among them.

In an earlier post, I struggled again with trust, as in “whom do you trust?” What spiritual authority is really trustworthy, which one has the words of eternal life that really can be trusted?

Taking the point of view that all religious teachers and philosophers, being human beings like myself, can have no “inside information” that I don’t have, I have come to the conclusion that only one Teacher can be trusted, the only One who shattered history and the physical laws by rising from the dead. Not just because He was someone who died and came back to life again, no, there have been dozens, if not hundreds, who have done that, especially in today’s world where people routinely die on the operating table and come back to life, many of them bearing tales of “the other side.”
No, I have decided that I can trust Jesus because He actually rose from the dead, to die no more. I notice that He didn’t tell any of His disciples the details of “the other side” that they wrote down, but what He must have told them, His descent to She’ol and the smashing of its gates, how He singlehandedly defeated satan and delivered more than just Adam with a mighty “Come forth!” taking him and all humankind with Him (and the good thief) into Paradise—all this passed on to them orally while He sojourned with them for the forty days before He was taken up to the right hand of the Father.

And I think back to the Jews, those who are still behind the veil, in a mystery remaining witnesses by their unbelief in Y’shua ha-Mashiach. These are truly faithful ones, the believing Jews I mean, for their trust in Moses seems to me to be at least as great as my trust in Jesus, who was dead and is alive.

Without having seen the risen Christ physically, I trust in Him, and through Him the whole of divine scripture, the Old Testament and the New. But these Jews, without having seen Moses or the Exodus from Egypt and all its attendant miracles, still trust in Moses and in the
Tanakh, the Torah, Nevi’im and Ketuvim. And when I am with them, in prayer, praise and the study of God’s Word, I feel myself completely among brethren.
Then I remember the teaching of Christ, not a parable as it is often called, about Lazarus and the Rich Man. If it were only a parable, perhaps we could read into it other details. But no, it’s not a parable. What it is, perhaps, is God’s only intrusion into our lives of “the other side,” spoken with perfect certainty by the only One who would be able to tell.

The rich man, in agony in She’ol, sees across the unbridgeable abyss, the “citizens of Paradise,” particularly Lazarus, like him recently deceased, who is in the company of “our first father Abraham.” The rich man is nameless, for all his wealth while he lived on earth, yet a poor man, once a nameless beggar on earth, has a name, Lazarus. He asks, not Lazarus, but Abraham, to send the poor man over the abyss to put a dash of water on his tongue. Abraham says, “Impossible! Even if we wanted to, we can’t.”

Then the rich man implores, “At least send Lazarus back from the dead to warn my brothers about this place!” (Notice how even in She’ol the rich man thinks he can command others.) It’s tempting to make the connexion between the poor man Lazarus and the rich friend of Jesus, Lazarus, whom Christ brought back to life after four days in the tomb. Could even His telling of this “after death experience” contain a germ of prophecy that would come to pass before His own death and resurrection?

Abraham’s response is, “Your brothers have Moses and the prophets, so let them believe them!” Still, the rich man argues, “No they won’t, but if someone comes to them from the dead, they’ll repent!” But Abraham has the last word, “If they won’t listen to either Moses or the prophets, they won’t be convinced, even if someone were to rise from the dead.” (Luke 16:19-31)

I think back to the faithful Jews. They’re not the ones that Abraham is talking about when he says, “If they won’t listen to either Moses or the Prophets, they won’t be convinced…” They are still trusting in Moses, but they are trusting like Martha trusted when she responded to Jesus’ words, “Your brother will rise again with “I know he will rise again at the resurrection on the last day.”

It still remains for their trust to be perfected, but only He can speak these words into their hearts, “I am the resurrection. If anyone believes in Me, even though he dies he will live, and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:24-26 JB)

And I, who love the people of God, Am Yisra’el, confess my trust with holy apostle Paul, who writes, “Since their rejection meant the reconciliation of the world, do you know what their admission will mean? Nothing less than a resurrection from the dead!”
(Romans 11:15 JB)

Who can we trust?

“All those things which can be thought with the heart, or spoken with the tongue, or seen with the eyes, or felt with the hands, are as nothing in comparison with those which we can neither think, nor see, nor touch. All the saints and wise men who have passed away, and all those who are now in this present life, and all those who shall come after us—all those who have spoken or written, or shall speak or write of God—shall never be able to show forth so much of Him as a grain of millet in comparison with the whole extent of heaven and earth; nay, a thousand thousand times less.”
—The Sayings of Brother Giles of Assisi, Ch. 2

“I went up to space, but I didn’t encounter God.”
—Attributed to Yuri Gagarin, 
the first man to go into space,  but now known to have been fabricated and used as propaganda by Nikita Khrushchev. Gagarin was a faithful, baptised Orthodox Christian.

“The visualization of the cosmos presented from the center outward is:

The Isle of Paradise — the most gigantic organized body of cosmic reality in all the master universe.

The Sacred Spheres of Paradise — twenty-one enormous worlds, three circuits of seven worlds each — the Worlds of the Father, the Worlds of the Son, and the Worlds of the Spirit orbiting in three processions on the inner margin of space.

Havona — one billion (1,000,000,000) perfect worlds across seven circuits, with upwards of thirty-five million worlds in the first or inner circuit, over two hundred and forty-five million worlds in the seventh or outermost circuit, and proportional numbers of worlds in the intervening circuits.”

The three quotes above are about "what we can know" about reality, about God (if there is one), about our place in the universe. Most of the indifference of modern man to God and specifically to the claims of Jesus Christ hinges on the idea that it is impossible to know for certain anything at all about these things, and therefore they can have no application or relevance to modern life. What we cannot know for sure can't help us or, in existential terms, can't save us.

Philosophers and theologians, what do they say? Is there anything that can guarantee for us that the teachings, the theories, the speculations of such historical figures as Moses, Plato, Gautama, Jesus, Augustine, Muhammad, Francis of Assisi, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, Blaise Pascal, Dietrich Bonhoeffer or C. S. Lewis are true in any real sense? Aren't they, after all, just words that you can read, think about, try to practice, or even just decorate your mind with? Sure, some of these people lived exemplary lives. Some are said to have performed miracles, well… hmph, who can know if they really did? Aren't we still just reduced to sorting out opinions about reality? Where are the irrefutable proofs?

Like the cosmonaut who was supposed to have said, “I went up to space, but I didn’t encounter God,” we want to be able to see and experience, empirically, the reality, the ultimate reality, God or whatever, that is supposed to be there. Or like the mysterious author of The Urantia Book, do we want to simply skip over the existential encounter, since it is probably not possible anyway, and just dream up something so intricate, so detailed, that entering into it we need never come out again to answer the question?

The easy answers, atheism—“I didn’t encounter God”—and fantasy—“The Isle of Paradise — the most gigantic organized body of cosmic reality…” turn out, of course, not to be answers at all. Only the realist, the honest philosopher who like Brother Giles says, “All those things which can be thought with the heart… are as nothing in comparison with those which we can neither think, nor see, nor touch,” only that man stands at the threshhold of knowing the Truth. Why? Because he has honestly realised the only thing anyone can, that we are in fact unable to know the ultimate Reality in a human way, from our end of the range of being.

Who, then, can help us? Who can we trust, since it seems we can't trust ourselves?
So now it comes to this, that we want to know the truth, and we're told to trust?

Knowing that I can know so little, knowing that in an everyday manner I do actually trust more than I know, even that doesn't help me. The teachings and even the example of Jesus Christ, transmitted to me after two thousand years, in themselves these cannot assure me that His claims are true. If I am honest and not trying to protect my "religious" heritage, I have to say, though the Christian faith in content is the best I can find, it still contains no guarantees. I have to trust more than I can know.

And that trust devolves to a single thing being literally true, without which nothing else can be certain—Jesus Christ, risen from the dead.

This is something that has to have happened about two thousand years ago, if it happened at all. The event is very poorly attested in writing, just whatever has survived in a few passages in the New Testament. It is on something of such scant witness and reliability that I am reduced to wagering my life.
Yes, I wager my life.
I didn't see it happen, and I'm just taking it on trust.

The only proof I have now is, not scientific, not philosophical, not speculative, but historical.
I didn't see the resurrection with my own eyes, but not many have.
The honest ones have said over and over again, "We can know so little…"
But almost from the very moment of that supposed event, the rising of Jesus from the dead, we find men and women willing to wager their lives, their physical, earthly lives, their livelihoods, their reputations, their families, all that they were, all that they possessed, to attest the truth of it. And though they may have known so little, they received so much.


"But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him."
1 Corinthians 2:9 KJV

The cost of indifference

Agnosticism, even atheism, may be a popular ‘testimony’ in today’s liberal society, but all the glories of humanism aside, what it boils down to is really just indifference. Here is the thought process of a man indifferent to God, and what Pascal had to say about him. This is Pascal at his densest—what I mean is, it’s hard to read him because he is saying more than his words say on the surface, and it’s all so true. This French philosopher doesn’t quote scripture in this passage, which is unusual, as his book Pensées is a treasure trove of biblical texts and rambling thoughts about them. But a true disciple of Jesus he was, and was found at his death to have been carrying his handwritten testimony of his saving encounter with Christ, sewn into the lining of the jacket he always wore. I can relate to that.

Here is the passage, which I would call, the cost of indifference. People haven't changed much in three hundred years. Do you know anyone who could be saying this today? I do.

‘I do not know who put me in the world, nor what the world is, nor what I am myself. I am terribly ignorant about everything. I do not know what my body is, or my senses, or my soul, or even that part of me which thinks what I am saying, which reflects about everything, and about itself, and does not know itself any better than it knows anything else.

‘I see the terrifying spaces of the universe hemming me in, and I find myself attached to one corner of this vast expanse without knowing why I have been put in this place rather than that, or why the brief span of life allotted to me should be assigned to one moment rather than another of all the eternity which went before me and all that which will come after me. I see only infinity on every side, hemming me in like an atom or like the shadow of a fleeting instant. All I know is that I must soon die, but what I know least about is this very death which I cannot evade.

‘Just as I do not know whence I come, so I do not know whither I am going. All I know is that when I leave this world I shall fall for ever into nothingness or into the hands of a wrathful God, but I do not know which of these two states is to be my eternal lot. Such is my state, full of weakness and uncertainty. And my conclusion from all this is that I must pass my days without a thought of seeking what is to happen to me. Perhaps I might find some enlightenment in my doubts, but I do not want to take the trouble, nor take a step to look for it: and afterwards, as I sneer at those who are striving to this end—whatever certainty they have should arouse despair rather than vanity—I will go without fear or foresight to face so momentous an event, and allow myself to be carried off limply to my death, uncertain of my future state for all eternity.’

Who would wish to have as a friend a man who argued like that? Who would choose him from among others as a confidant in his affairs? Who would resort to him in adversity? To what use in life could he possibly be turned?

It is truly glorious for religion to have such unreasonable men as enemies: their opposition represents so small a danger that it serves on the contrary to establish the truths of religion. For the Christian faith consists almost wholly in establishing these two things: The corruption of nature and the redemption of Christ. Now, I maintain that, if they do not serve to prove the truth of the redemption by the sanctity of their conduct, they do at least admirably serve to prove the corruption of nature by such unnatural sentiments.

Nothing is so important to man as his state: nothing more fearful than eternity. Thus the fact that there exist men who are indifferent to the loss of their being and the peril of an eternity of wretchedness is against nature. With everything else they are quite different; they fear the most trifling things, foresee and feel them; and the same man who spends so many days and nights in fury and despair at losing some office or at some imaginary affront to his honor is the very one who knows that he is going to lose everything through death but feels no anxiety nor emotion. It is a monstrous thing to see one and the same heart at once so sensitive to minor things and so strangely insensitive to the greatest.

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

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

You keep me alive

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

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




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

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

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

What we were born wanting

Profound, inexpressible grief sometimes comes over you. Something you see or hear suddenly takes hold of you down deep, drags you like an undertow and pulls you away from the safety of the shore. It may dash you against the rocks and knock you out, dragging what’s left of you out to sea, to a greater deep than you ever dared imagine. And the shore, for you, it is no more.

Where does this grief come from? What was it in what you saw or heard that first drew you? Sometimes you know, but more often you just feel, and you understand little or nothing. All that is certain is that you are drawn, whether you want to be or not, and that you cannot break free. Each time it happens, you think it is for the last time, but you know it is not, even if you pray.

It is what you were born wanting. It is that, which draws you, and you don’t want to be born wanting. You just want to be free. You cannot stop resisting, but most of the time, you give in, secretly glad, and allow yourself to be dragged out to those unimaginable depths, only to be returned by the waves and left lying, lifeless, on that shore, to resume your safe and daily life.

Everything we pretend to say and do, everything we think and feel, float like foam on the surface of the deep. What is below, dark, unsunlit lands travelled only by pilgrims of the dream. There it is again, the dream. Are we dreaming of being born wanting what? Is what we were born wanting only a dream? No, we wish it were, but this is a trap from which there is no escape.


Lord our God, You know what You meant when You uttered our names and brought us into the field of life, sharing with us Your gift of being. You whisper Your meaning to us in our dreams, and even awake we sense but do not know, only that something draws us into an abyss we neither asked for nor chose, like unknowing swimmers we are pulled by the undertow, unwilling yet glad.

Bring us back, O Lord, as You brought Jonah back from the belly of the whale. Fish us out, O Christ, as You fished Lazarus out of the deep, the dark unknown, the despairing sea of death. Gather us, O Spirit, as You gathered Your people Israel from the four winds to fill the land again. ‘Where could I go to escape Your Spirit? Where could I flee from Your Presence? If I climb the heavens…’

Amen and amen, Lord. You created us from nothing. You made us, what we were born wanting, what we live is before Your face, You feel this same grief that we feel, You became even as we are. How long, O Lord, how long? Come, rescue us, retrieve our remains, offer our bodies to the sea and our souls to the depths, that we may forget our dreams, and in darkness receive from You

what we were born wanting.

The deeper call


Youth, or for that matter, Christians of any age group, are not ‘attracted’ to church activity by making it seem more like what they’re used to. Every church that has tried this has found itself getting caught up not in the gospel or real spiritual life, but in an endless recycling of half-baked ideas that moves them further away from what they thought they were seeking, or did they have it right in the first place?

Church attendance is not increased by devices or by attractions, or by replacing the ‘same ole, same ole’ with something new. The church thinks it’s doing us a big favor when they throw out the liturgy books we’ve finally gotten used to, replacing them with slim, abundantly illustrated, footnoted, and explanationed versions, that have even the Greek transliterated into phonetic English.

Few people will pay any attention to the transliterations. The Greeks, myself included, know most of the services by heart and don’t need the books—know them by heart in Greek. I used to pray and sing the English versions of the texts, but except for the Lord’s Prayer, I have given up, tired of the frequent re-translations of once familiar texts. Hasn’t the experience of the other churches taught us anything?

No, church attendance is not increased by anything short of taking the time to really make disciples, not just telling the people in your congregation to ‘disciple themselves.’ The language issue is really a non-issue, because it doesn’t matter what language the liturgy is in, because if you’re there for the right reasons, you already understand what’s going on.

The Church, like everyone else, wants to take shortcuts, wants to do as little with as little as possible to achieve as much as possible. Much of what? Whatever looks good, feels good, sounds good, is fun, gives us a chance to show off our religion or our charity, but what of the gospel, what of the life of sanctification? Yes, we preach it and teach it, but there is almost no follow-up.

‘Invite your neighbor or an unchurched family member to come to church.’ Does this exhortation sound familiar? It doesn’t matter what church you go to, this message is preached. ‘Hey, fish, go and do your job! Invite others to become fish caught in a net like you are. It will be fun. We have so many programs for you to do, the more the merrier.’

Now, there’s nothing at all wrong with this exhortation, but itself, it is not the Message. ‘Come to church’ is simply not the Message. It is not the good news. If it were, then people would be attracted to it like a poor man is attracted to a rich man who had limitless wealth to give away. People are not that stupid, and some are even too smart for their own good. ‘Nobody could be that rich!’

Why isn’t the church filled on the Lord’s Day? Where are the youth? Is salvation and the life of discipleship so unknown to them, that all, young and old, would exchange it at the drop of a hat for a trip to the beach, the mall, or the golf course? And if it is so unknown to them, why? Here we are in the Nativity Fast. Why not try to read a chapter each day of the gospels?

A chapter each day? Not a chapter each ten minutes, and the whole book in three or four hours? Can people who spend hours of their time pursuing lifeless drama not turn aside and be quiet with the Word of God longer than one chapter’s worth a day? The suggestion even sounds apologetic, even sounds as if you know that no one is listening, no one is going to listen. No one obeys.

No, the Word of God is eternal life between two covers and an inch and a quarter thick. It needs eyes to read it mentally, and lips as well if read aloud, which has the added benefit of possibly drawing others in to listen. Hours of church attendance are nothing compared to the hour and a half it takes to read Paul’s epistle to the Romans, in effect, that is. And what is the effect? To truly be present when we are worshiping in church.

Myself, I am an unworthy, living an unworthy life. Like the Church, I don’t go seeking the lost sheep, I don’t go out on the sea at night casting my nets to bring fish into the Kingdom. I wait for the sheep to come to me. Like the Church, I should put up a sign that reads, ‘Fish wanted. Please apply within.’ I receive the call of Christ, and I respond. I don’t think about who is doing the work, but about Who is calling.

Once I was told by a fellow church member, that I should not wait for the church to ask me to volunteer; I should call the church and say, ‘I have free time. What can I do?’ I told her, ‘sorry, that isn’t the way I do it.’ That puts me in control. That puts discipleship to death. The call of Christ is not volunteerism. Christ accepted those who responded to His call, not those who put themselves forward and asked Him, ‘what can I do for you?’

The Church that acts on the call of Christ goes forth to make disciples, and making disciples, opens doors to their hearts to the deeper call of Christ day by day. It doesn’t wait for the lost sheep to find its way back to the fold. It doesn’t hang out a tiny net and wait for fish to jump in, or for a whole school of fish. It doesn’t turn people into sheep and then scold or shame them for being just that.

I was told once by a man who claimed to be a priest (and his claim was good, canonically speaking, he had been duly ordained) that he was afraid of the people he came to serve. I was astonished! But watching him ‘work’ in the community, I could see that for him, at least, his statement was true. He was afraid of us. He said that all priests are afraid of their people. I disagree.

But a priest should do one thing that many are afraid of doing today—actually, there are many things, but let’s concentrate on just one—that is, of identifying the real spiritual resources among their people, and call those who have them. In this, the priest of God is truly an ikon of the Lord Jesus Christ, who was not afraid to call any man to any task, especially to the impossible.

Day by day, never perfect, never worthy, never righteous, never wise, but trying to walk by faith, not by sight, trying to follow the Master whose blessed feet tread not the tame path of religion, but get dusty from the world’s roads, following Him even when it hurts, even when tired, even when unhappy, even when tempted, even having sinned, even when accused, judged and imprisoned falsely, day by day.

It is only Christ

Priests are humans like anyone else, and depending on what church they minister in, and what pressures they are under, and their own spiritual development, they can act in any number of ways.

Unfortunately the institutional church of modern times, and maybe of all times, tends to recruit men who soon forget their first love and go at it with a pick and shovel, as if it were just another job. Instead of removing the artificial wall between their personal daily life and God, so God can spill over into their lives, they remove it so that their personalities with all their weaknesses can spill over and bury the talent (the call) God has given them.

When a priest or clergyman truly forgets himself and lives and walks in wisdom and love, we think he is a saint. But that's how all ordained clergy should be; that's what the call is all about, not about becoming an institutional functionary or, in the Greek church, an ethnarch (leader of his ethnos, or tribe), either a businessman or a mafioso, depending on the degree of his ambition and his social environment.

It is disturbing to me how many people have bad experiences with clergy. I've never had any, at least not of the kind most people describe. In my childhood priests were sacred persons, and all the ones I ever met were kind and supportive. In my youth and young adulthood, I didn't regard them with any special awe and I have never since: to me they're no different from myself, except that they have accepted the call to be total sacrifices for God.

Knowing them to be in large part deceived as most people are about their real motives but trying to do their best, I regard all of them with deference and indulgence. But their office doesn't impress me; only holiness impresses me, and I find holiness more commonly in lay people than in the clergy. That doesn't bother me at all.

Christians need more confidence to stand on the Word of God, to be comfortable with the call to personal discipleship and the authority it gives them. I don’t mean the vain and showy authority of those who cast out devils and ‘in the name of Jesus’ knock people down with their ‘Holy Ghost anointing’. Just the authority to be who they are in Christ. To be a first-born son (or daughter) and citizen of heaven is no small dignity, and salvation is not a heavy chain to hang around our necks in make-believe or a heavy crown to bow down our heads in mock sorrow.

A priest, no matter what he feels like, has to remember, he is Christ to many of his congregation. What he says and does, to a minute level, matters.

We start out as created beings, with a beginning and an end. But God loves us so much, that He remembers us so we have no end, and then, to join us to Himself in even closer affiliation, He sends Himself to us as His Son, to finish His act of surrendering His eternity to us, making us now beings who, though created with a beginning and end, have become creatures beginningless and endless. He takes us beyond our personal and racial pasts to that place before time and world was, where He finds us hidden in the side of Jesus, the Lamb slain before the foundation of the universe.

God is good, and He loves and forgives all,
and His mercy endures forever.

Yes, whatever happens to us, it is only Christ.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Anger

Anger is, I think, misunderstood by most people. I try my hardest not to display anger, as there is very little cause for me to show it—it seems it usually does more harm than good, driving one's adversary deeper into entrenchment (if it is a dispute), or simply proving to him that you are out of control and that proves you're wrong. As for displaying anger when correcting one's children, here I think a firm and serious tone of voice does more than anger to convince them that what they did was wrong, except in the rarest of cases, when anger probably does what it's intended to do—underscore a statement.

The place where I most frequently display anger is where injustice is involved, and it's also the hardest place to control it. I just have to vent to someone, and I usually do. In actual practice I call this confession, and after I vent to someone, usually a close friend, I thank him for hearing my confession, and I ask him to pray for me. I'm not using confession here in the sacramental sense, exactly, but it does work in much the same way, psychologically. I have confessed incidents of anger on occasion to a priest, but not for many years. Instead, my most frequent confession is that I have willfully spoiled someone else's joy, for example, by unnecessary criticism.

‘Be angry, but do not sin,’ and do not let the sun set on your anger’ are verses that come to mind when thinking about anger. The first says to me, it's alright to express a strong emotional response to something that one thinks merits it, as long as no harm is intended to others. The second says to me, anger—in the sense of the state of unresolved conflict—should never be allowed to extend beyond the length of one day. If we are faithful in prayer, then all cases of personal anger must be taken down from their crosses before the onset of the holy day, that is, passover so as not to defile it, because for us, every new day is the passover of God. Simeron sotiria to kosmo gegonen… ‘Today salvation has come to the world...’

Evening confession

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No turning back

Και ηκουσα φωνην μεγαλην λεγουσαν εν τω ουρανω Αρτι εγενετο η σωτηρια και η δυναμις και η βασιλεια του θεου ημων και η εξουσια του χριστου αυτου οτι κατεβληθη ο κατηγορος των αδελφων ημων ο κατηγορων αυτων ενωπιον του θεου ημων ημερας και νυκτος.

And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven Now is come salvation and strength and the kingdom of our God and the power of his Christ for the accuser of our brethren is cast down which accused them before our God day and night.
Revelation 12:10


The word "categorize" comes from the Greek word meaning "accuser" as in, satan being the accuser of the brethren.

There are so many better things to do with our time than tear people down, criticize them, categorize them, objectify them, divide them and condemn them. Even if we start only by loving them, Christ would reveal to us all the other good things we could do for them and for Him, none of which belong to the order of this fallen world.

When He says “love one another as I have loved you” and when He says “love your enemies” someone can always find an excuse why not to follow these simple instructions. But alas! There is no excuse. When Christ prayed from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” He wasn’t kidding, and He isn’t kidding about loving our enemies and even each other. Or are we rebels and enemies start to finish, blind, deaf and dumb to His precious and all-knowing Word?

When the accuser strikes a chord in our hearts, let’s stop our ears so as not to hear him and agree with what he says about our brothers. To believe him, and find a reason not to love, is to lie to Christ, to trample His love, to trample not death as He did by His love, but on love itself, to trample Him.

What do you think He will say to us on the Day of His return, if we have denied Him by our judgment, our slander, our suspicion, our hatred of each other?

There is no turning back, if you have responded to the call of Jesus, there is only one thing to do, follow Him. That means to do what we see Him doing in the scriptures, and to follow His commandment, and it is only one—to love.

And pray for me, Romanós the sinner.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Religion

Father, everything is in Your hands. We do not see those hands, nor do we see You, and so we falter day by day, grumbling amidst Your blessings which we do not desire, because our treasures are stored in another kingdom, not in Yours. Saying we believe, we form ourselves in our own image, because we do not trust You to form us in Yours. Religion is our protection, against You.

— from the prayer By Your love,’ at Hidden in the Clefts

Yes, ‘religion is our protection against You.’ How often I have had this thought passing through my mind, especially lately, as the Day of Judgment approaches me and us microcosmic’ly. The Church is certainly at a very strange place at the moment, once again making it difficult for some to find their way, in, out, and round about. We listen for the voice of the Good Shepherd where we can hear Him, but it’s not always where we are told we should. No matter. God knows His own, and in our best moments we dare to hope we’re one of them, just as in our worst moments, we know we are for sure.

Fr Stephen has written a good word titled, ‘Godless Morality,’ a topic to which I have also given much thought. His piece is worth reading. here is a sample…

The disease of religion (and morality) is found in the absence of God. Religious systems, arranged for controlling human behavior and managing our neurotic desire to manipulate the universe, find the concept of God to be extremely useful. Nothing grants ultimacy to any scheme as well as the divine Ultimate. But such religion does not require a real God – indeed a real God brings about the destruction of such neurotic systems.

This is the great struggle of true Christianity. It is not a struggle against ignorance or unbelief. The greatest struggle of the faith is with the perversion of faith – the neurotic grasp for godlike power with its inherent enmity toward the true God.

When I wrote ‘The Church is certainly at a very strange place at the moment,’ this is what I was hinting at—‘the neurotic grasp for godlike power with its inherent enmity toward the true God.’ I suppose that is why this particular passage grabbed me. You can read Fr Stephen's entire post at his blog Glory to God for All Things, by clicking HERE.

Black Friday

‘We've learned over the years,
you have to stand in line early and pray,’ Sam said.
Black Friday. I shudder to think of it, but then, here I am, calm and peaceful and undisturbed by the noise and heat of human desire, blind want, rushing to satisfy itself in the annual monetary coronary and ‘vanity fair’ of the day after Thanksgiving. Seated beside an open window, listening to the gentle movement of tree branches in the wind under an overcast sky, I think, and I write, with only my empty coffee cup now as a witness.

For me it has been a quiet, pleasant morning. No intensely red sunrise today, or golden capped Mount Hood reflecting the first rays. The morning started out gray and has stayed that way, but no rain. We will have more of that as we approach the winter months, and then snow too, but today nothing more than soft twilight, perhaps all day, under the ‘waters above the firmament.’ I relax and muse while others work, selling and buying.

Everything in creation mirrors the saving passion of the ‘Lamb slain before the foundation of the world,’ in greater or lesser similitude, if we only have eyes to see. In Orthodoxy, we memorialize, we re-enact and remember, Christ’s last week on earth as an unresurrected man, in the week leading up to Easter, calling it Holy Week and, of course, the day of His resurrection, Pascha, that is, Passover, for He has made the true Passover journey.

Then—even though for most it is an impossible ideal—we superimpose on every week of the year a remembrance and make attempts at memorializing that same final week of our Lord: Wednesday, the day of His betrayal by Judas, and Friday, the day of His death by crucifixion, we set aside as meatless days, in symbol reliving the grief of these events from their occurrence until this moment, as they still affect the flow of time and space.

The Thursday of His last week, when He celebrated His mystical supper with His disciples, has been set aside in most cultures until the present one of ‘thank God it’s Friday’ indulgence, as the proper day for feasting and getting together—hence, the placing of the American holiday of Thanksgiving on a Thursday. Unable to sustain such a break in the new culture of three-day weekend Mondays, Canada moves the holiday there for convenience.

But the pattern unrecognized by the world which yet underlies its creation and preservation and will someday close its doors finally and utterly, that holy week of the rending of our old nature by the God-man, and the mending of it again by sutures not sewn by human hands, yes, that even gives form and function to this week, the feast of Thanksgiving, followed by the fast of Black Friday, when we forego food and even sleep to be ‘first in line.’

How strange that two weeks can be so closely linked without being recognized! The first is God’s answer to our question, and is the second, perhaps, our answer to His, ‘Do you love Me?’ In the depths of human nature is the same longing in everyone—life, love, joy. These can be ours by returning to the Source, our heavenly Father, in the way He provides, the royal road of the Cross of our heavenly Brother, Jesus Christ, following the heavenly, life-creating Spirit.

This week, and the thirty days that follow from it, reveal to ourselves and to others ‘where our treasure is’ and where too our hearts. ‘Let us give thanks to the Lord our God!’ intones the priest. ‘It is meet and right!’ we respond, tracing the cross on our breasts, participating knowingly or unknowingly in the sacrifice made for the sins of the whole world, even ours. Do we understand, that all we can ever purchase or possess will never be a better buy?

Mentors

It seems to me that I was still living in Edmonton, Alberta, just newly married, still following the ways of the world, and of worldly wisdom, evading the Lord's voice, which was daily becoming more and more recognizable to me, while still hoping for some ‘alternate Beauty’ that gave birth to all being—anything and anybody but the God of Israel—groping for any truth that would still let me be Me.

My latest fascination was with popular Zen, with its entertaining stories of the Zen masters and their riddles to enlightenment, called 公案 kōans, questions they posed which defied rational answer and sought to find resolution in human intuition. I thought things like this really profound, ‘Two hands clap and there is a sound; what is the sound of one hand?’ I can’t believe I was enthralled by such things, even at the age of 22. At least they didn't keep me captive for long.

A young man needs a mentor, and I still hadn't found one. My old college philosophy and religion prof, Doc Dana, was the closest I'd had so far in my young adult life. I'd loved the man, at least thirty years my senior, and hung on his words though not always understanding them. He wasn't an eloquent speaker, or a forceful speaker. He got his points across with a strange kind of gentleness and with such a twinkle in his eyes that I never even noticed, till my third year at his lectures, that he had a withered hand, right or left I can't remember. Since leaving college, emigrating to Canada to join a commune, and then having been ejected from it after hardly six months, I got married and tried to live ‘on the outside,’ as we used to call it, or ‘in the world.’ New Age communes were and are especially dualistic, matter vs. spirit, like the ancient Gnostics.

Anyway, I remember myself walking down a broad street and coming to an old used book shop at the corner. I had some time to kill, and in those days I was a fervent book-aholic, so I meandered inside. I always went straight for the ‘Philosophy / Religion’ section, and that day, for some reason my eyes and hand went straight to a little paperback with The Desert Fathers on the spine. I pulled it out, and my eyes fell on the passage I am going to quote. Something told me, ‘This is the beginning and the end,’ and I quickly checked my pocket to see if I had the sixty cents it would cost me. I did, I bought the book, and then walked the rest of the way home, reading like there was no tomorrow.

The Desert Fathers became my teachers, easing me out of my New Age arrogance and getting me ready to meet their Lord, who would soon be mine. What I read in this passage and in the rest of the book never left me. Without me consciously choosing, I began to emulate what I read there, attitudes and practices. The authentic profound had discovered itself to me, and my conversion to Christ had begun. These my teachers succeeded Doc Dana, building on the foundation that he so gently and lovingly laid, that old Presbyterian minister.
May his memory be eternal.

Now, from The Desert Fathers, pp. 67-68…

So we came to Nitria; the place most famous among all the monasteries of Egypt, about thirty-seven miles distant from Alexandria, and named after the neighbouring town in which nitre is collected, as though in the providence of God it was foreseen that in these parts the sins of men would be washed and utterly effaced, even as stains by nitre are cleansed. In this place there are about fifty (or not many less) habitations, set near together and under one father, in some of which many brethren live together, in some a few, in some a brother lives alone: but though they be divided in their dwelling, yet do they abide bound and inseparable in spirit and faith and loving-kindness.

So then, as we were drawing near the place, as soon as they knew that strange brethren were coming, straightway they poured out like a swarm of bees, each from his cell, and ran to meet us, joyous and eager, the most part carrying pitchers of water and bread, because the Prophet rebuking certain folk had said,‘Ye came not forth to meet the children of Israel with bread and water.’ And after they had welcomed us, they brought us first with psalms to the church and washed our feet, and one by one dried them with the linen that girded them, as if to disperse the weariness of the road, and in very act to purge the stains of mortal life in the traditional mystery.

But of their humanity, their courtesy, their loving-kindness, what am I to say, when each man of them would have brought us into his own cell, not only to fulfill the due of hospitality, but still more out of humbleness, wherein they are indeed masters, and from gentleness and its kindred qualities which are learned among them with diverse grace but one and the same doctrine, as if they had come apart from the world for this same end. Nowhere have I seen love so in flower, nowhere so quick compassion, or hospitality so eager. And nowhere have I seen such meditation upon Holy Writ or understanding of it, or such discipline of sacred learning: wellnigh might you judge each one of them a doctor in the wisdom of God.

These my teachers were, and are, in Christ. Their way of life is not far from us, if we would take hold of the same Word of God that they held on to, and simply understand it, and live it, as it is. My home and your home, our home, a monastery to God, where He alone is Lord, and where is welcome anyone who knocks.

Brethren, let us love one another.

God-manhood

“God is born on earth, and moreover He is born as a man: perfect God and perfect man – the unique God-man.”

“…another name for Orthodoxy is God-manhood.”

“Why is the God-man the fundamental truth of Orthodoxy? Because He answered all the questions that torture the human spirit: the question of life and death, the question of good and evil, the question of earth and heaven, the question of truth and falsehood, the question of love and hate, the question of justice and injustice. In brief: the question of man and God.”

“Only in Him, in the all-merciful Lord Jesus, does man, tormented by earthly tragedies find the God who can truly give comfort in every misfortune and sorrow, the Defender who can truly defend from every evil, the Savior who can truly save from death and sin, the Teacher Who can truly teach eternal Truth and Justice.”

“In order to acquire spiritual knowledge, a man must first be freed from natural knowledge.”

“The more a man devotes himself to natural knowledge, the more he is seized on by fear and the less he can free himself from it. But if he follows faith, he is immediately freed and “as a Son of God, has the power to make free use of all things….Faith can often ‘bring forth all things out of nothing,’ while knowledge can do nothing, ‘without the help of matter.’ Knowledge has no power over nature, but faith has such power. Armed with faith, men have entered into the fire and quenched the flames being untouched by them. Others have walked on the waters as on dry land. All these things are ‘beyond nature’….He who has faith will ‘lack nothing’….”

Quotations from Man and the God-Man, by Fr Justin Popovich, 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Blessèd Thanks

He has given me all, everything I have, all I am. There is nothing I have that He has not given, nothing of my being that He has not created. All is from Him, nothing real from myself. Nothing.

And what do I give Him in return? What can I give Him who has given me all and who Himself has all and is all? We are not separated from each other as a rich man is from a poor man. No, the contrast is much greater. We are separated from each other as being is separated from non-being. I only am because He wills it. I cannot even say ‘I am’ as He can say ‘I am.’ When I say it, it is only a confession that He is. When He says it, it is His very Name.

I try at least to thank Him, as dust thanks the light for revealing it to itself. But even in the open mouth of my thanksgiving “He fills the hungry with good things” (Luke 1:53), or as the psalmist declares of the Lord Yahweh, “you have only to open your mouth for Me to fill it” (Psalm 81:10). As Francesco di Bernardone says, “We are all poor in the eyes of our Lord,” and it is our poverty, our very nothingness, that attracts His grace and draws down His unbounded mercy. As General Löwenhielm asserted in his testimony at Babette’s feast, “we come to realize that mercy is infinite. We need only await it with confidence and receive it with gratitude.” God is good. What else can we say of Him? Nothing is enough, yet He accepts all.

Monday, November 19, 2012

And your neighbor as yourself

In debates, if you say a few words about religion you will prevail. Let the person who has a different opinion give free rein to his thoughts and speak as much as he likes. Let him sense that he is addressing himself to a calm and uncontentious person. Influence him through your graciousness and prayer and then speak briefly. You achieve nothing if you speak heatedly and tell him, for example, ‘What you’re saying is untrue, a downright lie!’ What will you achieve? Be as sheep among wolves. What should you do? Show indifference outwardly, but be praying inwardly. Be prepared, know what you are talking about and speak boldly and to the point, but with saintliness, meekness and prayer. But in order to be able to do this, you must become saints.

Elder Porphyrios, Wounded by Love, p. 188

These words of our beloved elder certainly strike us as true, but let's not make the mistake of thinking they only apply to religious discussions with others of different viewpoints or beliefs. No, brethren. His advice is universally applicable to every exchange we have with others. We have personally known people who follow the way that the elder describes. We consider them to be saints and excuse ourselves for not being able to do likewise. We are too weak, too human, to be able to be so self-effacing. But when we see others acting this way, we know we have seen and experienced a glimpse of true Orthodoxy, that way of life which is gentle though firm, loving though unindulgent, forgiving though not abandoning the truth. We call this 'the Orthodox way,' and are proud that we have such people among us.

Yet, it isn't 'the Orthodox way' though it is in fact what makes Orthodoxy so attractive. Where else can you find an environment where judgment is minimal, mercy abundant, knowledge humble, wisdom silent and profound? Yes, this is 'Orthodoxy at its best' but we cannot claim it as exclusive to ourselves. And this behavior is not universally applicable or always applied. Where would the Christian faith be if the Fathers of the ecumenical councils had exercised such meekness with heretics? Read the transcripts of some of the councils and you will be shocked by the violence of their arguments and personal attacks, as they winnowed for truth upon the threshing-floor of doctrine. They had to do what was indicated by the moment, and God made use of their weaknesses as well as their strengths to safeguard us.

Back to the virtue of which the elder speaks, to be silent out of strength, powerful through prayer, untroubled by opposition because of irreversible certainty, and trusting of the Lord who giving us free choice yet protects, preserves and saves all who turn to Him. Yes, as Christ teaches, 'be as sheep among wolves,' or in another place, 'be as cunning as serpents and as innocent as doves.' What all this is leading us to, ever so gently by the meek Lord Himself, is to make us understand that there really is no 'us and them,' that 'what the Lord has joined together, let no man tear asunder.' We think this phrase applies only to marriage, but then, what is marriage if not a special instance of the unity that underlies all our being? Marriage, and the life of the Church, are both examples of the life of the Holy Trinity, 'one in essence and undivided.'

Christ prays the Father—not just in the gospel according to John, but throughout all time and in every place, unceasingly—'that they all may be one, even as You and I are One.' What He is doing is not asking the Father to bestow upon us something that is alien to our nature—our true and original nature, that is—but to open our eyes to see the Divine Image which we in fact are, the unbroken, undivided, Image of God, that which He became a human being to reveal to us. He says, 'If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father,' but also to see Christ is to see Adam before the Fall. Everything that Jesus teaches us about ourselves leads us to only one conclusion: our neighbor is our brother, is our other self, and no one hates himself, no one considers himself his enemy, but he loves him and seeks his good. This is where the elder's words also take us.

The human race is a single organism, united in essence and undivided, as God sees us. How else can He love each of us as though we were His only creature? The universe's Divine Spouse loves His Bride and in the tunnel of time is perfecting her, preparing her for Himself, making her also Divine. Though the tunnel can pass through deep darkness, at its end is Light, and that Light can be reached by no other way than that which He has revealed to us—the Cross. Let's take up that Cross, brethren, because it's not heavy like His earthly cross was, nor are we mocked and despised on our way as He was, nor do we bear it, nor will we die on it, as He did, and does, for the sins of the world. No, my brethren. He has done the hard part, ours is the easy. 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.

And your neighbor as yourself.'