Wednesday, December 25, 2013

ο Θεανθρωπος

Jesus, our Saviour, the God-Man…
We confess one and the same individual
as perfect God and perfect Man.
He is God the Word Which was flesh.
For if He was not flesh, why was Mary chosen?
And if He is not God, whom does Gabriel call Lord?
If He was not flesh, who was laid in a manger?
And if He is not God, whom did the angels who came down from heaven glorify?
If He was not flesh, who was wrapped in swaddling clothes?
And if He is not God, in whose honor did the star appear?
If He was not flesh, whom did Simeon hold in his arms?
And if He is not God, to whom did Simeon say, “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace”?
If He was not flesh, whom did Joseph take when he fled into Egypt?
And if He is not God, who fulfilled the prophecy, “Out of Egypt have I called my Son”?
If He was not flesh, whom did John baptize?
And if He is not God, to whom the the Father say, “This is my beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased”?
If He was not flesh, who hungered in the desert?
And if He is not God, unto whom did the angels come and minister?
If He was not flesh, who was invited to the marriage in Cana of Galilee?
And if He is not God, who turned the water into wine?
If He was not flesh, who took the loaves in the desert?
And if He is not God, who fed the five thousand men and their women and children with five loaves and two fish?
If He was not flesh, who slept in the ship?
And if He is not God, who rebuked the waves and the sea?
If He was not flesh, with whom did Simon the Pharisee sit at dinner?
And if He is not God, who forgave the sins of the harlot?
If He was not flesh, who wore a man's garment?
And if He is not God, who healed the woman with an issue of blood when she touched His garment?
If He was not flesh, who spat on the ground and made clay?
And if He is not God, who gave sight to the eyes of the blind man with that clay?
If He was not flesh, who wept at Lazarus’ tomb?
And if He is not God, who commanded him to come forth out of the grave four days after his death?
If He was not flesh, whom did the Jews arrest in the garden?
And if He is not God, who cast them to the ground with the words, “I am He”?
If He was not flesh, who was judged before Pilate? And if He is not God, who frightened Pilate's wife in a dream?
If He was not flesh, whose garments were stripped from Him and parted by the soldiers? And if He is not God, why was the sun darkened upon His crucifixion?
If He was not flesh, who was crucified on the cross? And if He is not God, who shook the foundations of the earth?
If He was not flesh, whose hands and feet were nailed to the cross?
And if He is not God, how did it happen that the veil of the temple was rent in twain, the rocks were rent and the graves were opened?
If He was not flesh, who hung on the cross between two thieves?
And if He is not God, how could He say to the thief, “Today thou shalt be with me in paradise”?
If He was not flesh, who cried out and gave up the ghost?
And if He is not God, whose cry caused many bodies of the saints who slept to arise?
If He was not flesh, whom did the women see laid in the grave?
And if He is not God, about whom did the angel say to them, “He has arisen, He is not here”?
If He was not flesh, whom did Thomas touch when he put his hands into the prints of the nails?
And if He is not God, who entered through the doors that were shut?
If He was not flesh, who ate at the Sea of Tiberias?
And if He is not God, on whose orders were the nets filled with fish?
If He was not flesh, whom did the apostles see carried up into heaven?
And if He is not God, who ascended to the joyful cries of the angels, and to whom did the Father proclaim: “Sit at My right hand”?
If He is not God and man, then, indeed, our salvation is false, and false are the pronouncements of the prophets.

From A Spiritual Psalter or Reflections on God
(from the works of our Holy Father, Ephraim the Syrian)
Click on the images to see an enlarged version.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

η γενεσις του Ιησου Χριστου

This is how Jesus Christ came to be born. His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph; but before they came to live together she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 1:18)

Her husband Joseph, being a man of honor and wanting to spare her publicity, decided to divorce her informally. He had made up his mind to do this when the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because she has conceived what is in her by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you must name him Jesus, because he is the one who is to save his people from their sins." (Matthew 1:19-21)

Some wise men came to Jerusalem from the east. "Where is the infant king of the Jews?" they asked. "We saw his star as it rose and have come to do him homage."
(Matthew 2:1b-2)

And there in front of them was the star they had seen rising; it went forward and halted over the place where the child was. (Matthew 2:9b)

Joseph set out from the town of Nazareth in Galilee and traveled up to Judaea, to the town of David called Bethlehem, since he was of David's house and line, in order to be registered together with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. While they were there the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to a son, her first-born. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger. (Luke 2:4-7)

In the countryside close by there were shepherds who lived in the fields and took it in turns to watch their flocks during the night. (Luke 2:8)

The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shown around them. They were terrified, but the angel said, "Do not be afraid! Listen! I bring you news of great joy, a joy to be shared by the whole people. Today in the town of David a savior has been born to you: he is Christ the Lord. And here is a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger." And suddenly with the angel there was a great throng of the heavenly host, praising God and singing, "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace to men who enjoy his favor." (Luke 2:9-14)

Listen, you heavens; earth attend for Yahweh is speaking, "I reared sons, I brought them up, but they have rebelled against me. The ox knows its owner and the ass its master's crib, Israel knows nothing, my people understands nothing." (Isaiah 1:2-3)

A shoot springs from the stock of Jesse, a scion thrusts from his roots: on him the spirit of Yahweh rests, a spirit of wisdom and insight, a spirit of counsel and power, a spirit of knowledge and the fear of Yahweh. (Isaiah 11:1-2)

His state was divine, yet he did not cling
to his equality with God but emptied himself
to assume the condition of a slave,
and became as all men are.
(Philippians 2:6-7)

The Word was made flesh, he lived among us, and we saw his glory, the glory that is his as the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

No one has ever seen God; it is the only Son, who is nearest to the Father's heart, who has made him known. (John 1:18)

Monday, December 23, 2013


I discovered this essay at the blog Infidel Bloggers Alliance. I would provide a link to it, but for the fact that this blog contains images which some of my visitors would find objectionable. (A fellow blogger, Christian, and counter-terrorist whose blog Right Truth was the original publication of this essay by Godlewski, has kindly provided me with the link, here.) I am reproducing here the original image and text as it appears at IBA. I don't know who R. J. Godlewski is, but he writes the way I want to write, and it gratifies me to see that he is a fellow Polak. Wesołych Świąt Bożego Narodzenia, bracie!

Christmas: The Insurrection of God
By R.J. Godlewski
© December 23, 2010, all rights reserved.

“But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name, who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by a man’s decision but of God.”

Humans like to adorn themselves with the majesty and pageantry of greed. Politicians speak from podiums, academics line their offices with framed parchments, athletes and entertainments hawk merchandise they often fail to use. Museums proudly display oil paintings of Napoleon on horseback and nightmares envision the “latest” fuehrer to champion in front of ecstatic crowds of wide-eyed believers. Indian prince Siddhartha wandered his kingdom of wealth before he became “the Buddha” and Muhammad cast away his mere “five camels, a flock of goats, a house, and a slave” in order to take Arabia by sword. Only God came as a homeless infant, born in a manger unfit for animals.

No human could conceive of such a conception, but God chose to come into his earthly world unhindered by human expectations. Had he arrived with all the power and glory he is capable of rendering unto our minuscule existence, his human subjects would have run and cowered behind every rock and tree they could find. Instead, he chose, in his infinite wisdom, to arrive amongst his flock in the most unthreatening way imaginable – as an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes. Only absolute evil remains threatened by a baby.

Herod the Great valued his kingdom more than his God, so he had the Holy Innocents butchered by the dozens if not the hundreds. Their sole crime being that they were near enough to Christ’s age that Herod could not afford their existence. To survive, Christ had to trust that Mary and Joseph would spirit him away into Egypt to await the death of ‘the Great’ – a human so vile that he could not let a mere child live. And what of today? How many tens of millions of infants are destroyed through abortion simply because their parents’ “kingdom” cannot afford these children? How many people deny the very existence of Christ because “how can God have a mother?” As soon as we question the infinite power of God, we elevate ourselves onto the pantheon of human sacrifice. That is, our souls die because we cannot fathom that God can have whatever God desires, including a human body and mother.

Yet, God so loved the world that he did not question our ability to accept whether he could create his own mother if he so chose. He of infinite power did not want to terrify us into belief, as the “Allah” of Islam seems so destined to do. His first gift unto the human world was to grant us free will, an ability to close our hearts and minds to him who created us and everything that we can comprehend – and much that we cannot. God’s magnificent Kingdom remains so hospitable that he delivered the key to us personally, as an infant who even worried his parents for three whole days as he wandered away. All that we need to do to unlock the entrance to his mansion is simply to believe in him and heed his words and deeds.

Distancing ourselves from Christ is but a distraction. We can manufacture other deities, even involving ourselves if we so choose. We can glorify our actors and athletes, our politicians and our prophets, our ministers and our militants, and still not match the unblemished life of Jesus. In all of the Gospels, there remains not one instance of Christ endangering his detractors or punishing those who did not believe in him. In fact, his greatest ‘threat’ to the Establishment was to forgive everyone including those who nailed him to a cross and pierced his side with a lance all while mocking him and casting dice for his clothes.

For those of us who cannot wait in line at the register or endure being patted down at the airport, Christ’s example shines forth as the perfect example to emulate. He bore a crown of thorns, long needles of which undoubtedly pierced his skull so that we may not experience an infinitely greater inconvenience than waiting for a cashier to ring up an elderly customer who cannot find her money quickly enough for our tastes. He endured skin-shredding lashes so that our infinite punishment would not exceed that of enduring a mere earthly existence amongst people we did not choose to associate with. He endured forty days of fasting so that he would understand our comparatively little hunger. He even permitted his closest friend to deny him three times and another to betray him to death for profit so that our complaints of infidelity and debt would pale in comparison.

Today, thousands of atheists fear the mere sight of a Christmas tree and millions of Muslims and others fear the thought that God could be so powerful as to visit every one of us in person. Like the farmer who wished that he could change into a bird in order to lead a flock of sparrows into the warmth of his barn during a blizzard, God understood that he had to persuade – not force – us into following him into the protective warmth of His Kingdom. Neither a politician wearing tailored suits nor a “prophet” bearing armor and a sword could walk on water or change that water into wine. Nevertheless, Christ did. No entertainer or athlete could calm a storm or give sight to the blind. Nevertheless, Christ did. Buddha, Mao, and Muhammad inspired billions, but they could not raise the dead. Yet Christ did. And to think that he loved us so very much that his greatest gift was to come to us as a mere child, thrust into an inhumane human world, without home or friend, and ultimately suffer an unimaginably horrible death for our sins just so that we could have eternal life – if we so choose to believe in him. As they say, only a child could conceive of such a story…

— R.J. Godlewski

I did a little research on line and found this short biography of R. J. Godlewski.

Sunday, December 22, 2013


Brethren, as you know, I am just an ordinary Christian, a simple follower of Jesus, with no formal education in ‘theology’ or in ‘biblical criticism.’ I’ve said it often enough, and so I believe, that theology isn’t learned in schools, nor is it possible to criticize the Bible. Sometimes I write things, just like the foregoing, that make me sound very dogmatic, very doctrinaire—some of you even think that I am denominationally biased, favoring one church over another, as if there were such a thing as ‘churches.’

If you know me well, as some of you do, you know very well that I am not being dogmatic or even denominational, that my words may seem pontificating, but I laugh at them, knowing they are the ravings of a fool who knows only the words of Jesus and is merely trying to accept them, accept Him, fully, letting you see his folly meanwhile, to elicit your prayers. But I don’t laugh only at myself. I laugh at you too, and often I seem to laugh all of us to scorn, nonetheless writing what I believe is true.

I really do believe that the Bible cannot be understood outside the Church, nor dogma grasped outside of worship, yet I write on subjects as if I knew something. As I’ve said often enough, I don’t witness for the Church, I witness for Christ, and He witnesses for the Church. I assume that anyone who studies the Bible wants to have faith, wants to hear the call of Jesus Christ, wants to be inside the Church, just as I do. As for dogma, well, I have done nothing if not invited everyone I meet repeatedly to worship.

What happens, though, when confronted with people who think they know the Bible and can use it as a weapon against others, even as a weapon against the Church? Personally, I am used to being attacked, used to being used and pillaged, used to being doubted, used to being suspected and slandered, used to being mocked, scorned, and discarded, used to finding myself having to start over from scratch, used to being eliminated from society.

Do you think I am speaking of Romanós? I am not; I am speaking of the Church. But then again, what does it mean if one’s life follows closely on the heels of these complaints? Could it mean that one is perhaps a member of the Church after all? Yet, we go to church and see all the marvelous things, the worship, the social and religious activity, the wonderful camaraderie of, well, some of the people there. Not everyone, it seems, fits in, but the Church makes room for us all, even us misfits.

We see the world around us with a sort of double vision—what it looks like, and what it really is. This double vision applies to how we see other people, and it even applies to how we see the Church. This is where faith either kicks in, or fails us—or should I say, where our faith fails us? Who can be strong enough to live in a world where, though the Truth be known, those who say they know the Truth cannot even be relied on to love those they see, as proof that they love Him who is Unseen?

How brittle are our lives to be so easily shattered! As I come to the end of all things—yes, the end of all that is merely human, all that is breakable, all that fails, yes, especially me—before I can welcome the One who makes all things new, who rewrites the broken ikons, refashions the fallen Adam in the image of the Eternal Man, even in His birth defeating hell and death because He fills all things—before I can welcome Him and hear the Message, ‘and on earth peace, and to humanity the favor of God’

What must I do but confess that I am a failed human and deserve the rebuke of all, that I have not kept up my end of the bargain—yes, the bargain, for what better buy was there ever to be had than the one whereby the Son of Man purchased me for myself with His own Blood, to set me free? All my ravings and babble, worthless, all my thoughts, nothingness, and yet I stand as one who thinks himself sane in a world that has gone mad, but nothing and no one is sane in this mad world, only He.

in a Christmasless land, I approach this bright feast of the Church—yes, only the Church celebrates it, while the world indulges itself in it—as one who has not even begun making an effort to live the good life, the only life worth living, as one who knows he doesn’t deserve to draw near.

Today the Virgin gives birth to Him who is above all being, and the earth offers a cave to Him whom no one can approach. Angels with shepherds give glory, and magi migrate with a star. For to us there is born a little Child who is God before the ages.

Shameless I come before Him empty-handed. Lord, have mercy on your servants who do not know You, who do Your will in spite of themselves, and on my enemy, on my worst enemy of all, on myself. In Your mercy make me worthy to say with the saints, ‘Christ is born! Glorify Him!’

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Sol Invictus

Sol Invictus, ‘the unconquered Sun,’ was a Greco-Roman deity popular especially in the later Empire, beginning with the era of the military emperors, particularly among the soldiers.
A syncretistic deity, connected to the observable phenomena of nature, his cult was a conscious replication in the human world of the sun’s movement through the heavens. His feast day, the 25th of December, relating to the winter solstice, celebrated the turning point from the shortest day, longest night, towards the lengthening of days, the time of increasing light. He was a favorite god of the emperors themselves, including Constantine, who exchanged his worship for that of the true and living God.

It’s amazing, how similar the truth can be to our not quite correct guesses about it. Among the episodes of man’s search for God, we are not surprised to find how universal is the attraction of man for the sun and how frequently the solar disk has become the object of our veneration in place of the Divine Being. From ancient Egypt’s first stab at monotheism, the pharaoh Ikhnaton’s cult of Aton, the sun, with which he tried to overthrow the worship of Amon-Re and the pantheon, to the solar cults of ancient Peru, and China, Greece and India. Even among the pagans of today, the sun worshippers who bathe practically naked in its light on the beaches without giving theology a thought, he reigns.

The ancient Church immediately incorporated feast days of the Christ into its calendar, imitating the biblical festivals of Judaism which it early discarded, and emulating in some respects the pagan feasts it was replacing. In the law codes of the first Christian emperors are edicts allowing the observance of the old pagan holidays as to the festivities while banning the religious offerings to the false gods that were the reason for them. This they did, the laws explicitly state (Code of Justinian, Book 1, Title 11, Paragraph 4), ‘so as not to eliminate occasions of joy and revelry for the people.’ Even in those days, politicians, Christian though they might be, knew better than to suppress all at once what little fun the common folk enjoyed.

The commemoration of the birth of the Christ, of Jesus of Nazareth, was celebrated by the early Church on the same day as was His epiphany, the manifestation of Himself to the world at His baptism in the waters of the Jordan River by holy prophet and forerunner John, that is, on the 6th of January. Only later, after the Church had been incorporated into the Empire’s plans for world domination, was the commemoration of the actual birth, the incarnation, of the Christ separated from that of His epiphany.

The date chosen for this separate commemoration?
In step with their program of supplanting the native paganism throughout the Empire with Christianity as the national cult, the feast day of Sol Invictus, the unconquered Sun, was chosen. After all, wasn’t the coming of Jesus Christ the turning point in human history, just as the winter solstice was the turning point in nature, from the time of growing gloom to increasing light? It all made sense to the ancient mind; it still does, even to us today, when we think.

So much for the history of the feast day we are about to celebrate—yes, still celebrated in the Church for twelve days, not one—which we call ‘the Nativity of Christ,’ revealing in the name a somewhat better reason for it than does the common English expression ‘Christmas,’ which has taken on other meanings for the world. Yet there is more to this connexion between Christian beliefs and the pre-Christian speculations about the sun in relation to God, to the Divine Nature.

In the ethos of the ancient Church, there is this notion of God’s revelation of Himself being accomplished only through the Divine Logos, through His Word. We would never have been able to have any real contact with the Being—Yod-he-vav-he, Yahweh in Hebrew, Ho Ôn, ‘the Being,’ in Greek—had He not sent forth His Word into our midst. That Word was recognized as being Jesus Christ, as He is announced in the first chapter of the holy gospel according to John.

This notion was translated into an attitude that the Word of God, the self-revelation of God, was available in two books—the greater book, and the smaller book. What were these two ‘books’? The greater book was the book of nature. The smaller book was the written scriptures, the Holy Bible. The greater book was called ‘greater’ because it was greater, larger. It was God’s nature revealed, written very, very large, in His physical poem, the heavens and the earth.

The smaller book was called ‘smaller’ because we could ‘hold it in our hands’ as the apostle writes. It was God’s nature revealed in human language, a human literature taken up to become the vehicle of God’s most sure and complete revelation of Himself, everything that He wants us to know about ourselves and Him in one handy, little volume, and in a dialect—human speech—that we could understand. Hence, the two books, one Truth revealed in both, never in opposition to each other.

That being true, it follows that what is written small for us in the Bible is also written large for us—if we are wise—in the greater book of the heavens and the earth. This is where the wisdom of the Church in supplanting Sol Invictus with the truly ‘unconquered Son’ enters. In English and other Germanic languages we are favored to have a similarity in the sound of two words, ‘sun’ and ‘son’, that is not present in most other tongues. Sometimes this confusion works well, other times not.

Herein is found one of the most excellent examples of the wisdom of God imparted to the Church in the idea of the book of nature and the book of scripture revealing Him and confirming each other. The Holy Triad, the Trinity, a doctrine much misunderstood and maligned by those who want to believe in a single Divine Being, is revealed in the Bible but not all in one place and never by name. In the book of Nature, however, we have been given a sign that is both simple and unique. It is the sun.

The sun is one thing, it is one being. Yet there never was a sun without light, but light is not the sun. There never was light without heat, and heat is neither the sun nor is it light. Though the sun is the source of both light and heat, and there never was the sun without either, in the same way light and heat could not be without the sun. Moreover light, though it is one thing, has two ‘natures’. It exists both as waves of pure energy, and as photons, particles like matter.

Do you see where ancient man in knowing that the sun had some wisdom to offer about the Divine Nature was not entirely wrong? But the mystic key was missing until the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, so that we could hear from His lips, see with our eyes and touch with our hands, His holy, otherwise hidden, Divine Nature.

Just as there was never a time that the sun existed without light or heat, so never was there a time that there existed the Father without Son or Spirit. Just as light and heat are not the sun, in the same way the Son and the Spirit are not the Father. Just as the sun is their source, so is the Father Their Source. Just as light exists as waves and photons but is one thing, so does the Son exist as divine and human but is one Person. Just as the sun, light and heat are one, so are the Father, Son and Spirit only One. The sun in physical nature reveals the Triune God of Divine Nature. The greater book and the smaller book agree.

Sol Invictus
, the unconquered Sun, was yet another form of that ‘unknown God’ to whom the altar was raised in the agora of ancient Athens, and we are not surprised when we discover that the God of nature is the God who created nature, and the God of scripture is the ‘Poet of heaven and earth,’ and that they are not two different Gods, but One and the Same. C. S. Lewis writes,

God sent the human race what I call good dreams: I mean those queer stories scattered through the heathen religions about a god who dies and comes to life again, and by his death, has somehow given new life to men.
(Mere Christianity, Book 2, Chapter 3)

What Lewis has tapped is the deepest well that was ever drilled by God for man, proving that preparation was made for us to know Him long before any man had become fully conscious, had become fully human, had been changed from soil to soul by the inbreathed life of the living God.

The waters from that wondrous well
That made my eyes to see
And made my mind to ever show
My greatest friend to me.

— from Greatest Friend, by Mike Heron, Incredible String Band

Friday, December 20, 2013

Proclaiming the ‘Reign of God’

The flyer said, “Proclaiming the Reign of God” is a Bible study, or perhaps better, a “learning community,” a group of people gathering to read and study the Bible…

It was our new pastor's first stab at a Bible study in his new church. As usual, duty called. I felt obligated to attend at least the first one, to see what it would be like. Sixteen weeks! One chapter a week, that's the plan. “Well,” thought I, “why not go and pick up brother M., take him to Ya Hala for a quick snack, and then go to the Bible Study together. After all, he doesn’t have a car, it’s raining, and that’s a long way to ride a bike—ten miles—in the dusky evening.” So off I went.

Luckily he was home. I was afraid he might've decided to try riding his bike there, but no. He came to the door, ragged Bible in hand, looking like he just woke up from a nap. I invited myself in, asked him if he wanted to go to dinner with me and then the Bible study. It took some coaxing, but finally he agreed. He said he was feeling a little sick, his arm hurt, he said. I didn't think much of it at the time. He got dressed, combed his hair, and we hopped into the van to find some baba ganouj, felafel and other Lebanese snacks at a cozy restaurant on the east slope of Mount Tabor (the other side of the in-town mountain that I live on in Portland). We arrived at Ya Hala, were seated and placed an order for some mezzes, just a light snack—it's not advisable to study the Word of God on a full stomach. But trouble was on the way. Actually, trouble had started a few days back, on Friday the 13th…

…my friend was served an eviction notice for non-payment of rent. A sum of $188.50 had to be paid by Friday the 20th, or they would start eviction proceedings. The guy has lived there for about eight years, he is semi-disabled and works only sporadically. His rent is on a sliding scale. Supposedly, if he doesn't have any earnings, it's free for that time period. I don't know exactly how that works yet, but I'll be finding out, because it's plain that his situation can't continue this way forever. Back to the restaurant…

…M. was getting more and more uncomfortable. Finally, just as the waitress brought the first plates and some pita breads, he stood up, said it was too painful and he had to get some medicine, and went outside. I knew there was nothing open nearby, so I hailed the waitress, told her what was happening, so she didn't think we were just leaving, and stepped outside…

Severe pain and throbbing in the left upper chest and shooting pains up and down the left arm. It had been going on like this, on and off, since he got the eviction notice. He is a faithful member of my church, goes to many services, was even there earlier that very day, at a weekday morning liturgy, having ridden his bike there and back. I was scared, but calm. I went inside, had the waitress bring me several ‘doggie bags’ so I could turn our food into ‘take out,’ paid the bill, and grabbed M. and drove over the mountain to my house. The pain was still very bad. I gave him medication, had him rest on the couch, and laid out the food on plates in the dining room. Guess there wouldn't be a Bible study for us that night, at least not a spoken one…

We literally broke bread (pitas), ate a calm evening agapé together, and I gradually learned more of the details of both his infirmity and the eviction threat. He said that usually when he got in a jam, our church had helped him out by paying his rent or bills, but that he was told the last time they helped—That was it for the year—you're on your own! Interesting…

What to do? Well, it was obvious. The Lord was honoring His disciples with a personal visitation and a real “session” (an interactive, multi-dimensional, non-verbal Bible study), not “just another version.” I said to M., “Come with me,” after we'd finished eating, “down to my office in the basement. Watch your step on those stairs, and… umm, don’t bump your head on that low beam…” He hadn't been down there with me in a while. I showed him my prayer cot, next to my office, where I sleep. “I thought you had a bedroom upstairs…” I smiled and winked.

Flash back, and voice over…
There's Romanós, Sunday morning, very early, stretched out on his prayer cot, agonising about something. Why do I keep getting this thought that I should not turn in my tithe at today's service? I've always done it, but something is making me feel like I mustn't. “Just put $5 in the collection plate. I have something else in mind for the rest of it.”

Back in my office…
The back wall behind the desk is densely covered with paper icon prints tacked in neat rows, with family photos intermingled. A tall green copper candlestick rising as the tail of a small mouse reading a book sits on a ledge in the corner. M. and I chat, while I go online and check my bank account… Yes, I can cover it! Okay, that part is now a ‘done deal.’ That's where the rest of the tithe is going this fortnight, with some of my mission fund money tacked on to make the full amount. But the fund is getting low. Better start up another eBay auction soon! There's so much I still have to sell. I turn to M. and say, “Now, praise God, but keep it under wraps. We'll go tomorrow and pay the rent, and they should leave you alone for another month, right?” He says, “I think so.” But I'm still more worried about his health. He tells me, “Yeah, five years ago a doctor examined me and told me I have a heart murmur.”

The evening has been interesting. Not exactly your usual Bible study. I drive M. home while meditating on what could "The Reign of God” possibly mean. What did we miss by not going to the pastor's group? Once again, I marvel that we don't even have to walk out of our door, hardly. The Lord keeps sending them to us. And He never expects more from us than we can give. But what of tomorrow? What about next month?

So do not worry; do not say, ‘What are we to eat?
What are we to drink? How are we to be clothed?’
It is the pagans who set their hearts on all these things.
Your heavenly Father knows you need them all.
Set your hearts on His Kingdom first,
and on His righteousness,
and all these other things will be given you as well.
So do not worry about tomorrow:
tomorrow will take care of itself.
Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Matthew 6:31-34 Jerusalem Bible

Originally posted October 19, 2006

Thursday, December 19, 2013

O holy night

                  O Holy Night! The stars are brightly shining,
                  It is the night of the dear Saviour's birth.
                  Long lay the world in sin and error pining.
                  Till He appeared and the Spirit felt its worth.
                  A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
                  For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
                  Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices!
                  O night divine, the night when Christ was born;
                  O night, O Holy Night, O night divine!
                  O night, O Holy Night, O night divine!

Seven years old, my eighth birthday still a month and a half away, I stood there quietly in front of Grandpa Gorny’s casket where he appeared to be only sleeping—but I knew he was not—and listened to the female opera voice singing ‘Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices!’ The music was coming from a phonograph player on a folding chair behind a deep maroon velvet curtain that acted as a backdrop to Grandpa’s coffin. It would be years before I realized that O Holy Night! was not a funeral song. I think I was about eleven when I heard it playing as seasonal music in a department store and for the first time actually paid attention to the words.

Death at Christmas. Yes, my paternal grandfather died on Christmas Day. I hardly remember any commotion. We children were too wrapped up in our presents to notice the grownups around us, first grieving, and then breathing a sigh of relief. Grandma, who had taken care of Grandpa for all the years I can remember—he suffered from a debilitating illness that made it difficult for him to walk and move around, and Grandma was there to bathe him and help him from his bed to his favorite chair—yes, Grandma had passed away six months before. She had gone to the hospital for some routine minor surgery, and fell asleep unexpectedly ‘under the knife.’

Grandma had waved goodbye and left the apartment house smiling that morning, and we expected to see her home in two or three days. ‘Take care of Grandpa while I’m away! See you soon!’ A week went by. She didn’t return. I can’t remember how or when my mom and dad told us that Grandma had died. All I remember was that now someone else would have to take care of Grandpa. My parents and my aunts and uncles took it in turns to stay in Grandma’s bedroom—in those days, grandparents had separate bedrooms—and take care of him twenty-four seven. That’s why they breathed a sigh of relief when he too passed away. Now they could get back to their regular lives.

That turned out not to be exactly true. The death of my paternal grandparents changed my whole world, because up till then, my mom and dad, my elder sister and younger brother and I, lived in one of the four small flats in the fourplex they owned, on North Francisco Avenue, in inner city Chicago. It was my world till then, a sheltered garden trimmed with fragrant flowers that Grandma lovingly planted, her wonderful old country kitchen where I helped her make deep-fried rosette cookies by powdering them—and then eating as many as I could! And the mysterious basement where I discovered Grandpa’s hidden liquor cabinet and stole my first taste of crème de cacao.

As often happens when one’s parents pass away, my dad came into a monetary inheritance. That enabled him to buy his first house, a modest three-bedroom brick bungalow on Chicago’s newly developed southwest side under the shadow of Midway’s aircraft flying overhead. A brand new house! And a room of my own—well, sort of, I shared it with my little brother—and best of all, our own bicycles! Changing schools was a trauma, and I missed Grandma’s garden and her wonderful cookies, and oh! The wonderful cabinet on the back porch that was full of scary old sci-fi comics—why didn’t dad bring it along? But life goes on, and I was happy again.

How little we are satisfied with, whether as children or as adults. The whole world goes by, and our lives are eked out to us moment by moment. Loved ones come and go, and we make little of that too. Our lives revolved around small matters, small talk, hedged in by traditions and superstitions, and warmed by memories of times when we really were awake to life’s wonders, and to who our loved ones really were—if only we had had more time to really get to know them! Another Christmas fast approaches in a world I never knew I would live to see. I don’t really like that world, but hidden within it, the Lord who had ‘no place to lay his head’ has still provided me with a home, and I am thankful.

That holy night we sing about will soon be upon us, and all memories of all hearts will converge on the spot where the man-child who is pre-eternal God will rest His head under a star. Again I come giftless, like the shepherds, no wise man with gold, frankincense or myrrh. All I have is my life, and with thankfulness will I lay it down when comes my time. On that day I too, like Grandpa, will meet the Lord who became one of us so that we could become one of His, and finally hear the real song of that holy night, ‘Glory be to God on high, and on earth peace, good will toward men.’

Things human, and things Divine

There is a persistent problem in encounters between two kinds of religions. Those that are based on reliable historical testimony, and those which depend on fabrications based on, but not consistent with, historical testimony. In the first group are to be placed: Most varieties of Judaism and Christianity. In the second group: Islam and Mormonism, and a host of insignificant cults derived primarily from all four religions.

Scholars continue to study the historical sources of Judaic and Christian scriptures, because they have left a physical trail. Scholars study Islamic scriptures only within the closed context of these scriptures themselves, since historical and fictional elements are intermixed. No serious scholars study the Mormon scriptures, which are acknowledged by all impartial authorities to be entirely fabricated.

There can never be serious dialog between the members of the first group of religions and the second, because it always resolves itself into accusations of lying on both sides: The first group asserts that the scriptures of the second group are fabrications; the second group asserts that those of the first group have been corrupted and are therefore inadequate. In plain language, the other group is lying.

Between Judaism and Christianity, something similar happens in such encounters, because these two religions are essentially the same, yet different, based on a single fact asserted by Christians but denied by Jews: the resurrection of Jesus Christ. His historicity is rarely doubted by Jews, only the content of the historic record challenged. On the Christian side, nothing can be asserted against Judaism, except its denial of Christ.

This is why we think, 'They must be joking' at best, when we encounter the pronouncements of the ayatollahs and other Islamic teachers, or hear about Muslim beliefs about Jesus, for example. We are here meeting a fabrication of something we consider fundamentally true and incontestable. The boldness of the Muslim (and Mormon) assertions is designed to unnerve and destabilise us.

But God is God, and though we mock each other, He cannot be mocked. Aside from all religions true or false, He is; and all those who have had experience of Him, whether Christian or not, know more about Him than the belief systems of all religions combined. Only those who have had this experience are in a position to distinguish 'the stale from the fresh' in things human, and things Divine.

To see God's miracles

When someone leads a simple life, humbly looks upon himself and feels the need of God's providence, then he puts aside all his concerns and worries and has faith in Him. When God sees that his soul totally depends on Him and not on itself, He will mercifully protect it. Thus, this soul will intensively experience the sense of God's providence and feel contented.

God wants our souls to be simple, without many thoughts and too much knowledge, like an infant that expects everything from its parents. That is why the Lord said, "If you do not become like children you will not be able to enter in the Kingdom of God." We must humbly pray to God and admit our weakness, and this way we will be able to free ourselves from our concerns and worries. Just as our shadow closely follows our body, God's mercy will follow our humility and faith.

When we believe in God and have trust in His fatherly providence and concern, then we do not think of ourselves. Instead, we know that God is aware of all our needs and looks after our problems, from the simplest to the most serious one. The only thing we must want is to allow God's love and providence to function in our lives, when He wishes to and in the way He thinks is best for us. When we have this kind of faith and inner disposition, we are able to see God's miracles—God Himself—who is always close to us under all circumstances.
Elder Païsios of the Holy Mountain

Wednesday, December 18, 2013


       In the closest following of Jesus, the miraculous is not only possible, it is inevitable. It is into the life of this kind of faith that we are called, but very few Christians even consider it.

      ‘Ordinary’ Christian faith usually means just ‘trust Jesus’ and ‘God will take care of everything, no need to worry.’ But this is not the kind of faith that Jesus is leading us to when He says, ‘I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, “Go, throw yourself into the sea,” and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him.’ (Mark 11:22-23)

       Brothers, yes, we are on the edge. Yes, we are standing on the precipice of something miraculous. We all are. Some of us have stepped off into that ‘walk on the waters’ and have known that kind of faith, but it is too strong for our weak human nature, and we dash back to safety. But the call doesn't go away, and when we have been strengthened, we go out again, following the call, into the realm where ‘all things are possible, if you only believe.’

       Everything that Jesus says is true. He isn’t joking when He says, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.’ Neither is He joking when He says, ‘Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.’ (Matthew 18:19)