Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Most of all, trust

So it's easy, you say, to not believe in God, to tell people you don't believe, and to say you don't care what others think. Do you really think it's as easy as that? Without knowing for sure whether something or someone does or doesn't exist, to just say, 'I don't believe'? Do you think that by not believing in God, He (or she, or it) will just go away? Well, if God doesn't exist, yes, that works just fine. But, what if He does?

You can no more throw away the floor that you're standing on than throw away God. Whether or not you can see Him, or hear Him, it is He that is holding you up, He that is the ground under your feet that lets you stand at all. Ever try to stand on thin air? It simply doesn't work. If you've nothing to stand on, you don't stand at all. But aha! you are standing, I see! So, there has to be something under you.

True, if you're blind you can't see the floor, but you're still standing on it, and if you just bend down, you can touch it. You can feel its texture. You can't know its color, maybe, but you can tell if its hard or soft, hot or cold, wet or dry. Yes, even a blind person can tell a lot about something just by feeling it.

But there's sound too. The floor doesn't make much sound when you walk on it, just a squeak here and there, now and then. But if you fall flat on your face against it—now, there's something more than just sound! Ouch! Yes, you can feel the floor very well when it meets you face to face, even if you can't see it, and there's the sound—actually two sounds: the thud of you hitting the floor, and your own voice cursing the darkness.

So much for floors. God, if He does exist, is certainly more than a floor. The bible says He is the ground of our being. If you'd ever read the book and take what it says seriously, you might be in for a surprise. Almost everything about God that makes you not like Him, not be interested in Him, not want to believe in Him, is simply not there.

Oh yes, you can read your own ideas into those ancient words, and pat yourself on the back, and be smug and tell Him 'I told you so' and 'I knew it all along—you hate me.' But you've muzzled the ox while it's treading out the corn, and you're the ox! Everything that God has placed in the manger is for us, His animals, to eat. If it were just ordinary corn, we should've been satisfied. But no, He has filled the manger with—Himself!

So that old, dust-covered book that someone (maybe a parent who loves you) gave you and which you've been using as a book-end or a coaster for your drink is actually a manger full of food, full of the most delicious food, but all along you've believed it was just full of damp straw and maybe a moldy turnip or two, and you're still not about to eat from it, because that's all you believe is in there.

Ah yes, back to not believing in God. Anyone can say that, but if you actually try to walk that road you'll find, not that it leads nowhere, but that it declines into oblivion, not like a smudged impressionist painting of God-knows-what, but a mental tunnel that gets narrower and darker as you are pulled into it. Yes, I did say pulled. Black holes are not only found in the depths of outer space, but inside our depths as well.

That's because—I know you didn't ask and could care less, but—everything that we can see, hear, taste, feel and touch outside ourselves has a counterpart, a mirror image, inside us. Even that dusty old book I mentioned is inside you, even though you're not interested in reading it, outside or inside. But that's okay, because like the God you say you don't believe in, that book isn't going to go away either. It can't. If it did, you'd have nothing to stand on. And here you are, still standing.

So the time is Easter, and the tra-la-la of spring and chocolate bunnies and colored eggs rolling down grassy slopes has infiltrated and camouflaged the event that remakes all of time and space, all of nature, everything visible and invisible, yes, even you. Everyone fails in their flying leap to adulthood the first time they try—everyone. And most people continue failing on and off for a long while, but that's part of the training. Yes, the God you say you don't believe in is, has been, and will be training you for a very long time.

You're in something more than a foreign language class that you can pretend to take and then forget as soon as you graduate. No, you're going to be learning His language for a very, very long time. You'll never be able to speak it fluently by just reading the dialogs to yourself. You actually have to try speaking what you want to say, and to Him. Not too soon nor too late, one of these days, the God you don't believe in will start talking to you because you've learned enough of His language to start to understand.

I hope when that happens you won't do what I tried to do—tell Him I knew He was there but didn't want to believe because I had too much invested in things I liked that I didn't want to give up. If you hear such things going through your mind or passing your lips when you finally stand before Him and not only hear but feel His voice, you'll know what to do. I did, and I'm no different from you. I couldn't believe in Him until I knew for sure that He believed in me. After that, it wasn't a question of belief anymore at all. Knowing, yes maybe, but most of all, trust.

Dread, a story for Pesach

Like everything else he said and did, it didn’t make sense at the time, and we began to understand the significance of his words and deeds only much later, only when it was too late.

Yochanan, the youngest of his disciples, the one who gave me the name by which I was to be forever known after that day, Ari, had given me the instruction to do the impossible. On the Master’s orders, to find and buy a large leavened loaf and bring it before sunset to our upper room, where he would eat the Passover with his disciples. His exact words were, ‘The Master says, my time is near. It is at your house that I am keeping Passover with my disciples.’ I was standing right there when Yochanan delivered the message to my widowed mother. The Master to share the seder with his talmidim at my house? I was stunned, but not for long. Yochanan took me aside and gave me his astonishing instructions.

‘Where am I to find unleavened bread on a day like this?’ I protested. ‘We just burned every last bit of chametz we had in the house, and no baker will have anything but unleavened matzah on the first day of Unleavened Bread!’

‘Ari Shim’on! Come on, I’ll go with you. If the Master has instructed us to do the impossible, we can do the impossible. He never sets anything before us we can’t handle.’ I always marveled at Yochanan. No matter what Jesus asked of him, he always rose to the task with a confidence I wish were mine. The other disciples, well, they might sometimes doubt, some of them, but never Yochanan, and never me, either. He’d never let me. As the youngest disciple of Jesus, the others wouldn’t listen to him, but I was even younger than he, and scrawny and timid at that. Yochanan had noticed me following them all at a distance whenever they were in my street, and one day he took me by surprise and cornered me. I thought I was in for a beating. That was the story of my life.

My father—may he rest in the peace of Hashem—died before I was old enough for him to teach me how to defend myself, and in my boyhood, brotherless, there were many who mocked and even beat me. One day—may the name of Hashem be forever blessed—I was following after the talmidim of the man from Nazareth, and one of his disciples broke ranks and approached me. ‘Who are you? And why do you keep tagging along behind us? If you want to be with us, just join in!’ Instead of running away, which is what I wanted to do, I stammered, ‘Sh-shim’on, I am called Shim’on.’ Yochanan suddenly laughed. ‘Here it comes,’ I thought to myself, ‘he’s going to mock me for not even being able to say my name.’

‘Ari! Ari’el! God’s little lion, that’s the name for you! Look at that head of hair, like a lion’s mane! I bet you can really roar, and take down a whole gang of elilim that came against you!’ And he grabbed me by the shoulders, looked me squarely in the eye, and said, ‘Brother, I like you! Come on, join us!’ I couldn’t believe my eyes and ears, but here was a boy just a few years older than me, like all the others, energetic, handsome, confident, only he wasn’t shaking me and then knocking me to the ground with a cruel guffaw. It was at that moment, that my constant feeling of dread vanished, and the world suddenly looked new and different to me. I liked him. No, I loved him, even then, and now, years later, even more.

These memories always assail me when the year comes round to the days before Pesach, the Passover. From that first encounter with my new brother, the one I never had, my life began to change. It wasn’t just having Yochanan as my friend, my special friend, but watching how the Master’s love for him, he passed on to me in exactly the same way. My father and mother loved me as best as they could, but the love that Jesus and his disciples had for each other, and for me, was different. It wasn’t a sour kind of love, always judging, always bossy, hateful of the stranger, bullying. No, it wasn’t that kind of love at all. In fact, I never knew what love really was, until I saw how the talmidim of Jesus from Nazareth loved each other, and how he loved them.

But it is getting close to the Passover, and my heart is full of dread. Remembering that day when I was sent on the errand to find the impossible, at the time full of wonder, ‘What’s he going to do with that? It’s the Day of Unleavened Bread!’ I didn’t understand, but I did it, we did it, anyway, we did what Jesus commanded. I can’t even remember where we found that loaf, but Yochanan made me promise to bring it safely home and place it on the seder table that my mother was getting ready. He had to run, no doubt, to fulfill a mitzvah that the Master gave him. Jesus was always full of love for us, but mitzvot, commandments, too.

My heart is full of dread, not remembering that night—what happened after the seder is too awful for the eyes of my mind to look upon. My heart is full of dread, remembering the Master’s eyes and voice, after he raised his friend Lazarus from the tomb. At the supper that Martha prepared to celebrate her brother’s resurrection, Jesus should have been full of joy, but the same look he had when, seeing the tomb of his dear friend, he wept, never quite left him from that moment. I could sense, though I did not understand, that there was some dark cloud advancing towards him, and toward us. Once again, as it was with me before I met Yochanan and Jesus, there was dread.

Yochanan is the only one remaining of the Twelve now, though he left to follow the Lord Jesus to Ephesos in the north, to follow him in a land far from our home in Jerusalem. The world is changed forever after what happened the third day after that strange seder. At least, it changed forever for me. Yochanan did not abandon me. His love for me is as secure and true as Jesus’ love for him. He joked with me that day I saw him off at Joppa, when he took ship with Miryam of Nazareth, to follow her son beyond Galilee of the Gentiles, to the Greeklands.

‘You know, Ari, how the Lord’—yes, now we call him not only Master, but Lord, for that He was proven to be by his rising from the dead—‘you know how the Lord told big Shim’on’—that’s Kephas. With so many named Shim’on among his followers, we all had nicknames—‘you know how he told Shim’on “Feed my lambs”? Well, brother, I will tell you a little secret. He may have told Kephas to feed the little lambs, but he told Yochanan to feed his little lion—and that is you! Remember, brother, that wherever I go, I will always love you and feed you by my prayers, because Jesus said so, and because he loves us, always, and for ever.’ And after sealing me with the love of God, and with his own love, he thus departed.

And remembering that love, the dread that dismayed me
too has departed.

Chag Pesach Sameach
to all the brethren of the house of Yisra’el
who are celebrating the Passover.

Πιστευω εις ενα Θεον…

Pistévo ís éna Theón… I trust in one God…

Orthodoxy is knowing that love has entered the world in the man Jesus Christ, and living in that love no matter where it takes us.

He who loves father or mother more than Me 
is not worthy of Me. 
And he who loves son or daughter more than Me 
is not worthy of Me. 
And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me 
is not worthy of Me. 
He who finds his life will lose it,
and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.
Matthew 10:37-39 NKJV

Orthodoxy is knowing that faith is not belief, but trust so certain that we know there is no loss with Jesus, and are fearless to do whatever He asks. It is knowing that obedience is love and draws us into the very life of God, where Father, Son and Holy Spirit all live together with us in one house. It is seeing with unveiled faces Him whom the world cannot see even through a veil. Yes, Orthodoxy is knowing that Love has entered the world and remains here among us, as long as we obey His teaching, no matter where it takes us.

I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him." Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, "But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?" Jesus replied, "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him…"
John 14:12-23 NIV

More than a lifetime

Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth, to every nation, tribe, language and people. 
Revelation 14:6

If you look carefully at the language actually used in scripture, you will find that it is very flexible in application, so much so, that every age adapts it to its mentality and culture. It is conservatism inherent in the religious mindset that perpetuates the images of one age in another, making scriptural truth appear unpalatable, and hence unbelievable, in successive, more sophisticated ages. Yet that truth is meant to be universal and eternal.

Imagery associated with the judgment, for example, is drawn almost exclusively from Christ's description of the separation of the sheep and goats, adding to it elements of other biblical passages. We think this blending of texts is the way the Bible should be interpreted, sometimes even at the cost of reversing the literal meaning, yet this can divert us from eternal truths meant to be applicable, and credible, to every age and culture.

Yes, there is a day of judgment. It is a singular event, yet it is not one day, does not consist of twenty-four hours, cannot be located on a map or chart in space or time.

Yes, there is a judge, and a throne of judgment as well as mercy, yet neither He who sits on it, nor the seat itself, are what our human minds conceive or our mortal eyes envision.

Scripture is admittedly a testimony for mankind in our language. Christ alludes to this when He tells the Jews that it is not He who will judge them for their unbelief, but rather the words He has spoken; they will be their judge. How can this be? What has become of our creedal profession that ‘He shall come again with glory to judge the quick and the dead’? Again, He says, ‘these words are spirit and life,’ unhinging thus our dependence on what language and imagery alone can convey.

The moment of judgment for us is, as Christ says, both inaugurated and accomplished by our hearing the words that He speaks. How can it be otherwise? How can we be guilty of the sin of ‘law-breaking’ if we are not even aware of the content or existence of the law? True, the apostle Paul says we are judged guilty of sin even without knowing the content of the law, and as the Psalm declares, ‘in sins my mother conceived me.’

For everyone, not just the Pharisees of Christ's time, His word holds true, ‘Blind? If you were you would not be guilty, but since you say ‘we see,’ your guilt remains.’

Sin and righteousness, hell and heaven, the significance of all our thoughts, words and deeds in the light of holy and divine scripture—none of these are wholly encompassed within the meagre scope of our understanding. We are on a learning curve whose length we are loathe to admit. It is just too long.

Yes, ‘the best truths take a lifetime to set in’ [*], and even more than a lifetime, at least in earthly terms. What we have here is only the foundation, but what a foundation!

He is the living stone, rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to Him; set yourselves close to Him, so that you too, the holy priesthood that offers the spiritual sacrifices which Jesus Christ has made acceptable to God, may be living stones making a spiritual house. As scripture says, ‘See how I lay in Zion a precious cornerstone that I have chosen’ and ‘the man who rests his trust on It will not be disappointed.’
1 Peter 2:4-6

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Sharers of the Divine Nature

I am not a religious syncretist.
I don’t believe in combining religions, or that all religions lead to God, and so on. But I am not afraid of experiencing religions other than my own, learning about them, even seeing the world through their eyes, either. And why should I?
I know for sure that not only do all religions not lead to God, but that none does, not even my own. I am a Christian, yes, and that is the religion I adhere to, but that is only a technicality.

Technically, I am a Christian. I confess the Orthodox faith. I am very happy with that faith, and sometimes very unhappy about the community that espouses it. But I know for sure that religion does not lead to God. Only God leads to God. He comes down from heaven to seek us, find us, forgive, heal and remake us, yes, remake us into the beings He intended us to be, capable of living in eternity as He does, and wanting that kind of life.

And what or who is this God that I say I know is the only thing or being that leads to God? Well, as a Christian I have only one answer: Jesus Christ. Yes, an historically verifiable man who lived about two thousand years ago in a small country where Asia and Africa meet, the land of Israel.
He was an Orthodox Jew with a very unorthodox lifestyle, and a teaching that went with it. He irritated the religious establishment, and was executed.

His life didn’t end there, however, and you all know what I am going to say next. He didn’t stay dead, but came alive again, remained on earth for forty days teaching His disciples the last few things He couldn’t tell them before, and then He was taken up into heaven, where ‘He sits at the right hand of the Father’ until He comes back to earth someday. If you’re a Christian, you know this story. If you’re not a Christian, you may still have heard about it. Makes sense?
No, not really.

Not until you go past the story and enter into the Reality that spawned it. And what is that Reality, or rather, Who is it? Are we back to ‘Jesus Christ’ again? Well, yes, and—for the non-Christian, for those of other ‘religions’—no. Sorry, Christian brothers, but though I claim to not be a religious syncretist, I am also not a liar. Yes, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the single historical blending of the Divine Nature with the human nature, He is the ‘God that leads to God.’ But there’s only One God, right?

Yes, and no.
The Jews and the Muslims are right. ‘Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is One,’ and ‘There is no God but Allah, and He has no partner.’

But human experience, whether it can be theoretically acknowledged or not, confesses that the Divine Nature, though One, can only be made known to us, and can only validate, redeem, save and transform us, by somehow being a Triad.
The Divine Nature, God, is so utterly One, that His Oneness is not compromised by being Three.

This cannot be admitted by those who consider themselves monotheists, believers in One God, except for the Christians, who without claiming to understand it, say He is One and Three at the same moment. But Hindus also confess something very much like it. So did the ancient Egyptians. Even my ancient, pre-Christian ancestors, the Slavs of Baltic Europe, knew of Triglav, a three-headed god. Yes, a monstrosity if you saw his statue. The real God couldn’t possibly resemble that idol, could He?

Back to my topic. I am not a religious syncretist. I don’t believe that all religions lead to God. In fact, I don’t believe that any religions lead to God. Only God leads to God. What are the practical implications of this? Well, I can tell you first what are not the practical implications. Actually, let me ask a question. If only God leads to God, then by what right or feeling of superiority do the adherents of formally monotheistic religions subjugate and triumph over the others, calling them ‘infidels’?

Pagans they may be, in that they are ‘the nations’ as opposed to the worshippers of the biblical God. Even idol-worshippers they may be if they believe that a god resides in a stone, but is this as idolatrous as believing that God resides in personal power? Infidels they are not, because to whom are they unfaithful as they carry their offerings to strange shrines and altars? How can they worship a God they don’t know? Like humans everywhere, they worship the best they know. And ours is better?

But there is no ‘good, better and best’ when it comes to the Divine Nature, to the living God, the God ‘who saves us and bears our burdens’ (Psalm 69:19). We can speak of religions in these terms of comparison, but not of Him. And though a people or religion or race may not know the facts of the living God, they recognize His acts, what He does for them, and even to them. They have recorded this in scriptures without number, though their books may be myths, yet Truth is One.

And what or who is this Truth? Again, I am a Christian. I confess the living God in the God-man Jesus Christ, yet I know that the Divine Logos, the Word and Son of God, even wearing His humanity in eternity, because of that Divine Fact is present among us, from the Day of His disappearance right up to the very last Day, and that He hasn’t ceased walking among us, living among us, not just in us Christians, but among us human beings, ‘from every nation, race, tribe and language’ (Revelation 6:9).

That’s why I think, when I go to Bali, an island of the sea in which a form of Hinduism is practiced, that we who know the ‘God who leads to God’ have only to show these people Him who has been walking among them, who has been present in their shrines, at their altars and in their offerings, for two thousand years. We have only to show these people, and all who worship What they do not know, His face, His wounded head, His pierced hands and feet, His gashed side, from which we come.

Not crushing, not demanding, not punishing, lying or stealing, not ruling and not forcing ourselves on the nations, not doing what Caesar does, but doing what Jesus does: loving the people and sacrificing Himself for them, in us, in our witness, in our meekness, our willingness to meet all men as brothers, as sharers of the Divine Nature, ‘Who was, Who is, Who is to come,’ coming to them as beloved John came to them, ‘I am your brother and share your sufferings, your kingdom, and all you endure’ (Revelation 1:9).

Not being offended by the religions and gods of the nations, nor offending them, but showing to them Who it is that is asleep in the boat with them, Who it is that impresses on their hearts all devotion to goodness, to beauty, to light, touching that One in the willingness to share with them in their sufferings, bringing them to the knowledge of the Kingdom by what we endure for them, being ourselves men just as they are, in need of mercy, in need of affirmation, in need of Truth.

This is what I mean when I sometimes say, we are not post-Christian but post-Church, yet even this saying doesn’t meet the Truth where He stands, but falls short, as does everything I say and do. We are still dealing in truths, second-hand, still not meeting Him where He walks today and every day and everywhere, still using our religion to cover us and to hide us from Him, instead of letting Him cover us and reveal Himself in us, to us, and to the world. Still not understanding our own words, ‘God is with us.’

Again I plead, for myself the lowest of sinners, that I see Christ in my neighbor, coming to meet me where I stand, or even where I fall, coming to raise me up; that I not give offense to Him hidden or asleep in my neighbor who, like myself, seeks the good, the bright, the beautiful, the true; that I hide myself that Christ be revealed in me, that I let sleep my pride that Christ awake in him, even that I die to myself that my neighbor live. Yes, brothers, for ‘the only purpose of this instruction is that there should be love…’ (1 Timothy 1:5).

The triumph of Orthodoxy

...is not what we so boldly play it up to be on the Sunday dedicated to this name. Yes, they fought hard battles and long, the victors now becoming the victims later, then exchanging places as readily as dancers, as imperial and sacerdotal whims gave way to one another, and crowds of old men, some saints and others mere savants, dissecting each other's brains to an atomic level, and straining each other's syllables spoken, sung or scribed through sieves of partiality so clogged with flesh and blood, that it's a wonder anything came through.

It's not really about whether we make ikons or break them, whether we fellowship with saints above or only with those below. Nor is it about whether we can name a faithful virgin of Israel the mother of the ineffable God or only of the God-Man she bore, or whether Himself He had at all times an unobstructed and single will, nature, and being, or only appeared so.

It's not really about whether the Spirit can come on whomsoever He wishes with the anointing that teaches everything infallibly, or on all who call upon Him, or only on those upon whom human hands have been laid, over whom human tongues have prayed, generation after generation, unbroken, from the beginning.

The triumph of Orthodoxy is to be put on trial, tested by every antagonist, human and inhuman, visible and invisible, rational and irrational, using every temptation, to glory, to humiliation, to wealth, to poverty, to power, to weakness, to joy, to sorrow, to health, to sickness, to life, and to death, and thus tried, to come forth as a Bride made beautiful for her Bridegroom, without any flaw, dressed in spotless white, with a heart purged of all malice, forgetful of all injury, seeking only to love, to love all without measure, without exception, unaware of her exaltation, her eyes fixed forever on her Beloved.

Unless we are put on trial in this way, we will never triumph.
Today we are one day closer to it than we were yesterday.
Are we ready?


Originally posted on Cost of Discipleship on July 30, 2009.
This weekend we observe the Sunday of [the Triumph] of Orthodoxy.
We are always learning what it means
to be Orthodox Christians.
Lord, have mercy!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Rubrics of love

Salvation is not about doctrine, but about love.
There is, in fact, no salvation outside of love, because God is love,
proven by His becoming one of us,
and everything that follows from it.

We approach God always through love and never through doctrine.
Does this mean that doctrine is pointless or of no importance?
Not at all.
But it is always love that gives doctrine its true meaning and value.

Loving God will always bring you to Him,
but thinking about God at best brings you to the threshold of love,
at worst locks you into a mental prison.

The invisible God becomes visible through love,
but the visible God, our brother and sister,
can become invisible through doctrine.

What is ‘the first and great commandment’?
And what is ‘the second, that is like unto it’?
And on what ‘hang all the Law and the Prophets’?

‘With the fear of God, with faith and love, draw near!’
intones the priest or deacon,
announcing the readiness of God to receive us unto Himself
in the Holy Mystery of His divine and life-giving Passion,
fed to us spiritual infants on golden spoons.

‘You have only to open your mouth, for Me to fill it,’
says the Lord Almighty through His holy prophet, the psalmist.
And, ‘precious in the eyes of God is the death of His saints.’

Yes, with fear, that is, utmost respect, even awe,
approach God in your brother and sister.

Yes, with faith and love,
trusting in the One who upholds all faithfully
and who loves both you and them
with an unconditional mercy.

We can do no more, and no less,
than what we see our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ doing
every moment of every day,
not just in His ‘little Book’ the written scripture,
but also in His ‘great Book’ the world.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Aκάθιστος - Akáthistos

Theotokos ‘of the Sign’
The word ‘akathistos’ literally means ‘not sitting,’ and participants stand while it is chanted. The hymn is comprised of 24 stanzas, alternating long and short.

While the Emperor of Byzantium was fighting he Persians, barbaric hordes attacked Constantinople. As months passed during the siege  the situation was getting desperate. Patriarch Sergios led an endless march along the great walls of Constantinople with an ikon of the Theotokos in hand, bolstering the faith of the defenders of freedom. Unexpectedly, a great storm with huge tidal waves destroyed most of the fleet of the enemy, forcing them to retreat.

The faithful of Constantinople spontaneously filled the Church of the Theotokos, and with the Patriarch Sergios officiating, they prayed all night singing praises to the Virgin Mary without sitting. Hence the title of the Hymn ‘Akathistos,’ in Greek meaning ‘not seated’

The Akathist Hymn to the Theotokos

Having secretly received the command, the Archangel hastened into Joseph's abode and spoke to the Holy Virgin. He Who bowed the Heavens with His descending, is wholly contained, yet unchanged in You. And seeing Him taking the likeness of a servant in your womb, I stand in amazement and cry unto you:

Rejoice, O Bride unwedded [3 times].

Kontakion
Unto you, O Theotokos, invincible Champion, your City, in thanksgiving ascribes the victory for the deliverance from sufferings. And having your might unassailable, free us from all dangers, so that we may cry unto you:
Rejoice, O Bride unwedded.

1
The Archangel was sent from Heaven to cry 'Rejoice!' to the Theotokos. And beholding You, O Lord, taking bodily form, he stood in awe, and with his bodiless voice he cried aloud to her such things as these:

Rejoice, you through whom joy shall shine forth.
Rejoice, you by whom the curse will vanish.
Rejoice, the Restoration of fallen Adam.
Rejoice, the Redemption of the tears of Eve.
Rejoice, O Height beyond human logic.
Rejoice, O Depth invisible even to the eyes of Angels.
Rejoice, for you are the King's throne.
Rejoice, you bear Him, Who bears the universe.
Rejoice, O Star revealing the Sun.
Rejoice, O Womb of divine Incarnation.
Rejoice, you through whom creation is renewed.
Rejoice, you through whom the Creator is born a Babe.
Rejoice, O Bride unwedded.

2
Beholding herself in purity, the holy one courageously said to Gabriel: Your strange voice seems almost unbelievable to my soul; for how do you speak of birth-giving without seed? crying aloud:
Alleluia.

3
Seeking to know the incomprehensible knowledge, the Virgin cried to him who ministered to her: How may a Son be born from a virginal womb? Tell me! To her he answered in fear, yet crying thus:

Rejoice, O seer of the ineffable Will.
Rejoice, O surety of those praying in silence.
Rejoice, you the Preface of Christ's miracles.
Rejoice, you the Pinnacle of His commandments.
Rejoice, O heavenly Ladder, by which God descended.
Rejoice, O Bridge leading those from earth to Heaven.
Rejoice, O Miracle, much marveled of Angels.
Rejoice, O trauma, much dirged of demons.
Rejoice, you who ineffably gave birth to the Light.
Rejoice, you who revealed the mystery to none.
Rejoice, O knowledge superceding the wise.
Rejoice, You who enlightens the minds of the faithful.
Rejoice, O Bride unwedded

4
The power of the Most High then overshadowed the Virgin, that she might conceive; and her fruitful womb He made a fertile meadow for all those desiring to reap salvation, as they chant:
Alleluia.

5
Carrying God in her womb, the Virgin hastened to Elizabeth, whose unborn babe forthwith recognizing Mary's salutation rejoiced, and with leaps as it were with songs, he cried out to the Theotokos:

Rejoice, O branch of the unwithering Vine.
Rejoice, O Land yielding the untainted Fruit.
Rejoice, O Husbandry of the merciful Husbandman.
Rejoice, O birthgiver to the Planter of our life.
Rejoice, O Field bearing abundant compassion.
Rejoice, O Table laden with an abundance of mercies.
Rejoice, for you make the meadow produce contentment.
Rejoice, for you prepare a haven for souls.
Rejoice, acceptable Incense of intercession.
Rejoice, Oblation for all the world.
Rejoice, Favour of God to mortals.
Rejoice, Access of mortals to God.
Rejoice, O Bride unwedded.

6
Having doubtful thoughts, the righteous Joseph was troubled; for he suspected a secret union as he beheld you unwed, O blameless one; but when he learned of your conception through the Holy Spirit, he cried:
Alleluia.

7
On hearing the Angels praising the incarnate presence of Christ, the shepherds hastened as to a Shepherd, and beholding Him as a spotless Lamb, pastured in Mary's womb, her they hymned, and said:

Rejoice, Mother of the Lamb and Shepherd.
Rejoice, Fold of the rational sheep.
Rejoice, O Defense against invisible foes.
Rejoice, Opener of the gates of Paradise.
Rejoice, for the things of Heaven rejoice with the earth.
Rejoice, the things of earth join chorus with the Heavens.
Rejoice, never-silent Voice of the Apostles.
Rejoice, never-conquered Courage of the Martyrs.
Rejoice, firm Support of the Faith.
Rejoice, shining Token of grace.
Rejoice, you through whom Hades was laid bare.
Rejoice, you through whom we are clothed with glory.
Rejoice, O Bride unwedded.

8
Beholding the Godward-pointing Star, the Magi followed it radiance; and holding it as a lantern, they sought through it the mighty King. And having approached the Unreachable, they rejoiced and cried to Him:
Alleluia.

9
The sons of the Chaldees saw in the hands of the Virgin Him Who by His hand fashioned man; and sensing Him as Lord, even though He had taken the form of a servant, they hastened with gifts to do homage, and they cried out to her who is blessed:

Rejoice, Mother of the never-setting Star.
Rejoice, Dawn of the mystic Day.
Rejoice, you who have quenched the fiery furnace of error.
Rejoice, you who enlighten the initiates of the Trinity.
Rejoice, you who have removed the inhuman tyrant from power.
Rejoice, you who have shown Christ, the man-befriending Lord.
Rejoice, you who have redeemed us from the pagan religion.
Rejoice, you who have rescued us from the works of mire.
Rejoice, you who ceased the worship of fire.
Rejoice, you who save us from the flames of passions.
Rejoice, Guide of the faithful to chastity.
Rejoice, O Delight of all generations.
Rejoice, O Bride unwedded.

10
Having become God-bearing heralds, the Magi returned to Babylon. Fulfilling Your prophecy, and having preached You as the Christ to all, they left Herod as a trifler, who knew not how to chant:
Alleluia.

11
Having shed the light of truth in Egypt, You expelled the darkness of falsehood; and unable to bear Your strength, O Saviour, her idols fell; and they that were set free from them cried to the Theotokos:

Rejoice, Uplifting of men.
Rejoice, Downfall of demons.
Rejoice, you who trampled upon the delusion of error.
Rejoice, you who censured the deceit of the idols.
Rejoice, Sea which drowned the symbolic Pharoah.
Rejoice, Rock which refreshed those thirsting for life.
Rejoice, Pillar of fire, guiding those in darkness.
Rejoice, Protection of the world, more spacious than a cloud.
Rejoice, Nourishment, successor to manna.
Rejoice, Minister of holy joy.
Rejoice, Land of promise.
Rejoice, you from whom flows milk and honey.
Rejoice, O Bride unwedded.

12
When Symeon was prepared to leave from this age of deception, You were presented to him as a newborn Babe, but he recognized You as perfect God. Wherefore, he marvelled at Your ineffable wisdom, chanting:
Alleluia.

13
New was the Creation which the Creator showed to us His creatures, when He sprang forth from the seedless womb; and He preserved it incorrupt, even as it was, that we, seeing this Miracle, may praise her saying:

Rejoice, Flower of incorruption.
Rejoice, Crown of self-restraint.
Rejoice, O shining Token of Resurrection.
Rejoice, you who reflect the life of the Angels.
Rejoice, Tree of delectable Fruit that nourishes the faithful.
Rejoice, well-shaded Tree under which many find shelter.
Rejoice you who bear the Guide of those astray.
Rejoice, you who give birth to the Redeemer of captives.
Rejoice, Intercession before the righteous Judge.
Rejoice, Forgiveness for many transgressors.
Rejoice, Robe of confidence for those bare of courage.
Rejoice, Tenderness conquering all desire.
Rejoice, O Bride unwedded.

14
Seeing a strange childbirth, let us estrange ourselves from the world by transporting our minds to Heaven; to this end the Most High God appeared on earth a lowly man, that He might draw to the heights those who cry out to Him:
Alleluia.

15
The Infinite Word was wholly present with those on earth, yet never absent from those in Heaven; for this was a divine condescension and not a mere change of place; and His birth was from a Virgin chosen of God, who heard such words as these:

Rejoice, Land of the Uncontained God.
Rejoice, Gate of the sacred mystery.
Rejoice, doubtful Rumour of the faithless.
Rejoice, undoubtful Pride of the faithful.
Rejoice, all-holy Chariot of Him Who is above the Cherubim.
Rejoice, most excellent Dwelling-place of Him Who is above the Seraphim.
Rejoice, you who conduct the opposites of unity.
Rejoice, you who have woven maidenhood into motherhood.
Rejoice, you through whom transgression is annulled.
Rejoice, you through whom Paradise is open.
Rejoice, Key of the Kingdom of Christ.
Rejoice, Hope of eternal blessings.
Rejoice, O Bride unwedded.

16
All angel-kind was amazed by the great deed of Your Incarnation; for they saw the inaccessible God as Man accessible to all, dwelling among is and hearing from all:
Alleluia.

17
Orators most eloquent do we behold mute as fish before you, O Theotokos; for they are at loss to explain how you could remain a virgin and yet give birth. But as for us, marvelling at this mystery, we cry with faith:

Rejoice, Vessel of the Wisdom of God.
Rejoice, Treasury of His providence.
Rejoice, you who prove the philosophers fools.
Rejoice, you who prove the logicians illogical.
Rejoice, for the subtle debaters are confounded.
Rejoice, for the inventors of myths are faded away.
Rejoice, you who break the webs of the Athenians.
Rejoice, you who fill the nets of the Fishermen.
Rejoice, who draw us from the depths of ignorance.
Rejoice, you who enlighten many with knowledge.
Rejoice, Raft for those who desire to be saved.
Rejoice, Haven for those who fare on the sea of life.
Rejoice, O Bride unwedded.

18
Wishing to save the world, to this end did the Ruler of all come of His own will; and, though as God He is the Shepherd, for us He appeared as a Man like us; for by this likeness He called those of like kind, yet as God He hears:
Alleluia

19
You are a fortress protecting all virgins, O Theotokos and Virgin; for the Master of heaven and earth prepared you, O Immaculate One, and dwelt in your womb, and taught all to cry out to you:

Rejoice, Pillar of virginity.
Rejoice, Gate of salvation.
Rejoice, Leader of spiritual restoration.
Rejoice, Bestower of divine goodness.
Rejoice, for you regenerated those conceived in shame.
Rejoice, for you gave guidance to the thoughtless.
Rejoice, you who abolished the corrupter of hearts.
Rejoice, you who gave birth to the Sower of chastity.
Rejoice, bridal Chamber of a seedless marriage.
Rejoice, you who joined the faithful to the Lord.
Rejoice, fair Nursing-mother of virgins.
Rejoice, bridal Escort of holy souls.
Rejoice, O Bride unwedded.

20
Defeated is every hymn that strives to pay homage to the multitude of Your many compassions; for even should we offer You, O holy King, odes of praise numberless as the sands, we should still have done nothing worthy of what You have given to us who cry to You:
Alleluia.

21
As a brilliant beacon-light shining to those in darkness do we behold the holy Virgin; for she kindles the celestial Light and leads all to divine knowledge; she illuminates our minds with radiance and is honoured by these our cries:

Rejoice, Ray of the spiritual Sun.
Rejoice, Beam of the innermost Splendour.
Rejoice, Lightning, enlightening our souls.
Rejoice, Thunder, striking down the enemy.
Rejoice, for you caused the many-starred Light to dawn.
Rejoice, for you caused the ever-flowing River to gush forth.
Rejoice, you who depict the image of the Font of Siloam.
Rejoice, you who wash away the stain of sin.
Rejoice, Laver purifying conscience.
Rejoice, Wine-bowl over-filled with joy.
Rejoice, sweet-scented Fragrance of Christ.
Rejoice, Life of mystic festival.
Rejoice, O Bride unwedded.

22
Wishing to bestow His grace, He that forgives the ancient debts of all mankind came of His own will to dwell among those who departed from His favour; and tearing up writ of indebtedness, He hears from all:
Alleluia.

23
Whilst praising your Offspring, we all praise you, O Theotokos, as a living temple; for the Lord, Who holds all things in His hand, dwelt in your womb, and He sanctified and glorified you, and taught all to cry to you:

Rejoice, Tabernacle of God the Word.
Rejoice, Holy one, holier than the Holies.
Rejoice, Ark made golden by the Spirit.
Rejoice, inexhaustible Treasury of Life.
Rejoice, precious Diadem of godly kings.
Rejoice, venerable Boast of faithful priests.
Rejoice, unshakable Tower of the Church.
Rejoice, impregnable fortress of the Kingdom.
Rejoice, you through whom trophies are raised up.
Rejoice, you by whom enemies are cast down.
Rejoice, Healing of my flesh.
Rejoice, Salvation of my soul.
Rejoice, O Bride unwedded.

24
O all-hymned Mother, worthy of all praise, who brought forth the Word, the Holiest of all Saints [3 times], as you receive this our offering, rescue us all from every calamity, and deliver from future torment those who cry with one voice: Who is more
Alleluia.

1st Stanza
The Archangel was sent from Heaven to cry: Rejoice! to the Theotokos. And beholding You, O Lord, taking bodily form, he stood in awe, and with his bodiless voice he cried aloud to her such things as:

Rejoice, you through whom joy shall shine.
Rejoice, you the Redemption of the tears of Eve.
Rejoice, Height hard to climb for human thought.
Rejoice, Depth hard to explore even for the eyes of Angels.
Rejoice, for you are the Throne of the King.
Rejoice, for you sustained the Sustainer of all.
Rejoice, Star that causes the Sun to appear.
Rejoice, Womb of the divine Incarnation.
Rejoice, you through whom creation is renewed.
Rejoice, you through whom the Creator is born a Babe.
Rejoice, O Bride unwedded.

Kontakion
Unto you, O Theotokos, invincible Champion, your City, in thanksgiving ascribes the victory for the deliverance from sufferings. And having your might unassailable, free us from all dangers, so that we may cry unto you:
Rejoice, O Bride unwedded.

But what do you believe?

Some years ago, for my birthday, I received a beautiful, leather-bound NIV study bible. After reading it here and there, checking the commentaries and notes, and finding them reasonably reliable, I settled down with a serious study of the book of Exodus/Shemót. This book has always represented for me the beginning of my life in Christ. After youthful years of wandering, I was brought back to the Living God by reading this passage in the Jerusalem Bible:

Then Moses said to God, “I am to go, then, to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you.’ But if they ask me what his name is, what am I to tell them?” And God said to Moses, “I Am who I Am. This,” he added, “is what you must say to the sons of Israel: ‘I Am has sent me to you.’” And God also said to Moses, “You are to say to the sons of Israel: Yahweh, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name for all time; by this name I shall be invoked for all generations to come.
Exodus 3:13-15 JB

Spiritually, I had to become first a Jew, before I could fully return to Jesus the Jewish Messiah. Meeting Him first in YHWH, Yod-hey-vav-hey, Yahweh, Him who Is, the Living God of my fathers, it wasn’t lost on me that ‘the God of’ was repeated three times, nor that earlier, in Genesis/Bereshít, God as Elohim (the plural of El, ‘God’) spoke to someone, ‘Let us make man in our own image’ (Genesis 1:26). I was ‘born a Christian, and I was going to die a Christian,’ I guessed. This was already decided, because ‘God is faithful’ (2 Timothy 2:13).

I was studying Exodus, and when I came to the Ten Plagues which YHWH inflicted on Egypt to induce Pharaoh to ‘let His people go,’ and read the study notes, I was surprised to find this kind of commentary:

7:17 ‘the water of the Nile… will be changed into blood.’ There is some reason to believe that the first nine plagues may have been a series of unprecedented intensifications of events that were part of the Egyptian experience, events that in their more usual form did not have anything like the catastrophic effects of the disasters God brought on Egypt… If that was the case, the first plague may have resulted from an unparalleled quantity of red sediment being washed down from Ethiopia during the annual flooding of the Nile in late summer…

Following this train of thought, similar explanations of ‘what may have been the case’ were presented in the notes as each of the Ten Plagues was recounted. I expected that a good commentary on scripture, especially when it’s published in the Bible, would leave alone this kind of speculation. If I were a new Christian, reading this kind of thing might prepare me to regard the Word of God as something to pick apart in the same way, instead of letting the Word pick me apart.

In my case, by means of studying the Word and letting it interpret itself to me and mold my thinking for over 30 years of living within the Church enclosure, I am able to ‘pass over’ these glosses and accept them for what they’re worth. Still, they demonstrate ‘what’s out there,’ a culture of speculation and human thinking that is suffocating the Church—miracles just don’t really happen.

On the 25th of this month is Evangelismós, the annual commemoration of the Good News, the announcement to a virgin in Israel that YHWH the Holy One, blessed be He, had selected her to be the mother of the Messiah.
For Orthodox Christians, understanding this historical event helps put Mary the Theotókos in right perspective—she is the first Christian, the first to hear the Good News and to receive it, ‘Let what you have said be done to me’ (Luke 1:38). Her cooperation ‘got the ball rolling.’

In the same way, according to Archimandrite Vasileios, by our cooperation with the Good News we also become theotókoi (God-bearers), incarnators of the Word. Anything beyond this becomes speculation. But one thing is for sure—it really happened! It was miracle, pure and simple. Thankfully, the comments in my new study bible were ‘orthodox,’ they did not introduce any speculation. It still left me wondering, why is an Old Testament miracle open to naturalistic explanation, and not this?

Why talk about the Ten Plagues and the Annunciation in the same breath? Are they related somehow?
Well, yes, they are. They are both instances of God’s direct intervention in human history, where He bypasses the zigzag of interlocking events and renews His creation through a rent in the curtain of existence ‘with the lightning flash of His divinity,’ tí astrapí tís theótitos (Resurrectional Apolytikion, 2nd Tone). They are both ‘miracle,’ and they are both liberating. The world system, the kósmos, has a hard time dealing with these. It neither wants nor needs them. It will do anything to explain them away. But what do you believe?

At this time of the year we have a curious concurrence of the main holy days of two ancient faiths, Judaism and Christianity. For Jews, Pesach, Passover, the feast of freedom, the commemoration of their liberation from slavery and Egypt, the historical event that defines them as God’s people. For Christians, Pascha, Passover, the feast of freedom, the commemoration of their liberation from sin and death, the historical event that defines them as God’s people.

Wait a minute! What’s wrong with these statements? Why do they seem so similar? Is there some mistake, or are we really talking about the same thing? Didn’t you mean to say ‘Easter’ when you said ‘Pascha, Passover?’

No, not really. There’s only one Living God, the Holy One of Israel, blessed be He, and ‘He is the One who will justify the circumcised because of their faith and justify the uncircumcised through their faith’ (Romans 3:30). The Church was never intended to deviate from Judaism. At this point, I should probably just direct you back to the Word of God, to holy apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans, particularly chapters 9, 10 and 11. Why have I written down these thoughts of mine at all?

Because, Israel the old and Israel the new, ‘the time is very close’ (Revelation 1:3). The time is very close for your coming back together again, where ‘there will be one flock and one shepherd’ (John 10:16). Messiah is coming. ‘The One who guarantees these revelations repeats His promise: I shall indeed be with you soon’ (Revelation 22:20).

But what do you believe?

As one

It's really maddening, especially in this time leading up to the feast of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, how some who affirm 'bible-believing, born-again' Christianity are peppering the media with the most absurd speculations and sinister suspicions regarding the new Roman pope, Francis. Not to single out this particular community, something similar is also happening among the hyper-Orthodox in my own faith community. Though the opinions of the former are based on a historically invincible ignorance maintained by a kind of spiritual totalitarianism, the opinions of the latter, though more learned, are just as invincibly ignorant and totalitarian. Whenever anyone exalts anything but God Himself, the path is littered with the debris of divisiveness and dissent and ends up leading to a sort of black hole, something like the coven of sullen dwarves in C. S. Lewis' book The Last Battle, who keep up their dismal morale by chanting 'the dwarfs are for the dwarfs!'

Why is it that hatred and fear so unite people in strongholds, while those who love have so much freedom of movement, both physical and spiritual? The former despise the latter, and rally to slogans and put up black flags that say 'Orthodoxy or Death,' whether they are heterodox or orthodox in the Christian sense. The bible-worshippers in the first group resemble the church-worshippers in the second group far more than either group would care to admit. In fact, they absolutely abjure the comparison, yet they are so very much alike. Both despise moderation and—God help us!—any concept of compromise, seeing both as the work of the devil, yet it is only in moderation and, yes, even compromise, that we can yield our proud wills to the will of God, that He seeks not to impose on us by brute force, but wants us to walk into by love. Though both the heterodox and the hyper-orthodox condemn papal infallibility, they both arrogate a species of infallibility to their own beliefs, the first ignorantly, the second dogmatically.

To those who sincerely believe the bible and have personal faith in Jesus Christ, who work for good and refrain from judging their fellow men, may the Lord grant His great mercy, pardon and remission of their sins and transgressions, long and fruitful lives of repentance and discipleship, and abundant joy, and may they see the Kingdom of heaven according to the words of Christ. To those who sincerely believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, and the communion of saints, among whom the Holy Trinity of Father, Son and Spirit comes to live, who work for good and refrain from judging their fellow men, may the Lord grant His great mercy, pardon and remission of their sins and transgressions, long and fruitful lives of repentance and discipleship, and abundant joy, and may they see the Kingdom of heaven according to the words of Christ. Whatever I hope for and desire for myself and my loved ones in Christ, the same I hope for and desire for you, beloved brethren, against whom I have no complaint or accusation.

May we all approach the empty tomb of the risen Christ as one, and receive from Him eternal life, and great mercy.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Yom

Some savants sat around what looked like a stone table covered with all kinds of objects of dull or gleaming metal. Some of these looked like tools, or scientific instruments, others like measuring devices. A few of them looked like mechanical pencils, or weapons—it was hard to tell which, for it was very dark. The savants spoke in low but haughty tones.

‘There is nothing left to know. The pan-human spirit has filled every corner of the material universe, just as the ancients fabled the human soul to fill the body fully from head to toe.

‘In vain we sought shallowly or deeply, searched the infinite vastnesses and smallness for their fabled god or gods and found no one, nothing we could identify as that of which they wrote and spoke.

‘The ancient records just dreamed at best and lied at worst, while the human race was raised from infancy to maturity, from despicable, miserable lowness to exalted, triumphant heights.

‘Without the help of god or gods, unaided by the invisible, invincible power our benighted ancestors worshipped and supplicated, we have on our own steam, as always, advanced ourselves.

‘Our seminal planet, even original solar system, once home, now long since vanished, we think of no more, for the countable, unendless stars and galaxies have come to nest in our crown, and we reign.

‘There never is, never was, and never will be any other god or divine splendor but we ourselves, knowing all, filling all, controlling all, consuming and transforming all, for we are lords of all.

‘We finally comprehend who and what we are. Even our once opaque beginnings have become clear as glass, through which we see all, and seeing all, be all, we, the first and last, we, light itself!’

‘Where do you think you are now, heroes of limitless knowledge and night?’ asked a young child who wandered into their midst, almost like any other, but for the fact that none of them had ever seen a child before.

‘Where did he come from? There have been no children here for thousands of years! Is someone playing a trick on us?’ asked the savants of one another in quasi-consternation, ignoring the child and his question.

‘There is nothing left to know. The pan-human spirit has…’ they rehearsed again. With hardly a pause, the boy revealed from somewhere an ancient lantern that cast a soft, warm glow against the hard, cold walls of this subterranean world.

To the eyes of these savants that had never known light, the gentle glow of the boy's lamp was an unendurable and ferocious brightness, and they shrank from it, almost melted like wax before a fire.

The child said not another word but, holding the lamp before him, turned toward a door in the rocky wall, and opened it. The light of a cloudless day flooded the dark room for a moment. The boy extinguished the lamp and, closing the door forever behind him, stepped quietly outside.

Monday, March 18, 2013

A word on forgiveness

‘I will not judge who is worthy of forgiveness (since I also need forgiveness), but will leave that final judgment to God…
…it is as close as I can come to forgiveness of predators and sociopaths at this point in my Christian development.’


It is not an essential condition of your salvation, I don't think, to have to forgive predators and sociopaths, except, of course, for any that have committed aggression against you personally.

If you do have predators and sociopaths in your life that you have not forgiven, then I would ask, who is there, who is being unforgiving? Is it you, really, or is it the image of your injury that you call yourself?

In my life, a great injury has been done,
life-changing if not life-threatening.
The person who injured me is alive and well
and thinks that no wrong was committed,
thinks that God is pleased.

How can I forgive that? How can I live with that? How can I see that person standing a few feet away from me in church? How can I speak to that person, if I am addressed? How can I live day to day without resentment?

The Lord is good.
He purifies us of ourselves
when He sees we cannot cleanse ourselves,
which is most of the time.
He renews us.
He makes us into different people.
Though we may live in the same house,
wear the same clothes, go to the same church, or work,
He has changed the inner man.
It is a different heart inside, a renewed mind.

If it weren't for that, to live next to such injustice,
such triumphant denial of one's being by another person
who thinks they are doing you a favor by destroying you,
would be impossible.
It would certainly lead one to suicide.
It would have led me to that door.

But no.
God is good.
He is always there, patient and receptive of our tears.
He dries those tears and puts us to sleep,
so He can allay our loneliness, and when we awake,
if not a helpmate in the flesh taken from our side,
then what is better.

‘For me the reward of virtue is to see Your face,
and, on waking, to gaze my fill on Your likeness.’

Clean Monday

                    The sound of the tide
                    woke me.

                    Any day
                    can be clean Monday.

                    Any day
                    not too early
                    nor too late,
                    I follow You, Lord,
                    as You walk along the sea.

                    Your foot steps leave no trace,
                    but mine,
                    heavy with the weight of sins,
                    mar the smoothness
                    of the sand of time.

                    Cannot erase them,
                    cannot hide them,
                    the path they trace,
                    where I walked without You,

                    but Your mercy, Lord,
                    Your mercy,
                    blows them away.
                    They vanish
                    in Your wind.
                    Following You,
                    like You
                    I leave no trace.

                    The sea washes away,
                    the wind clears the sand,
                    the wind carries them away,
                    the sun shines softly,
                    lights the beach
                    invisibly through the mists,
                    the roar of the waves
                    carries them away,
                    far as east is
                    from the west.

                    Alone with You,
                    I walk with You
                    along the sea, Lord,
                    and in silence
                    You unburden me.

                    You release me, Lord,
                    and so
                    I follow You.

— Romanós

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Christ

This is the way we should see Christ—

He is our friend, our brother.
He is whatever is good and beautiful.
He is everything.
Yet, He is still a friend and He shouts it out, “You’re my friends, don’t you understand that? We’re brothers. I’m not threatening you. I don’t hold hell in my hands. I love you. I want you to enjoy life together with me.”

Christ is everything.
He is joy, He is life, He is light.
He is the true light who makes man joyful,
makes him soar with happiness;
makes him see everything, everybody;
makes him feel for everyone,
to want everyone with him, everyone with Christ.

Love Christ and put nothing before His Love.
Christ is everything.
He is the source of life, the ultimate desire,
He is everything.
Everything beautiful is in Christ.

Somebody who is Christ’s must love Christ, and when he loves Christ he is delivered from the devil, from hell and from death.

— Elder Porphyrios

So, who was Elder Porphyrios?
Elder Porphyrios was a Greek spiritual father, born February 7, 1906 and named Evangelos Bairaktaris. At the age of 15 he emigrated to Mount Athos and was accepted as the ‘nephew’ of Elder Panteleimon, his mentor. He was ordained a presbyter on July 27, 1927 by Archbishop Porphyrios III of Mount Sinai, and received his name.

Elder Porphyrios lived and worked in Greece from that time until he returned in 1984 to Mount Athos. The elder’s life and teachings reflect his great love for Christ.

He reposed on December 2, 1991.

Elder Porphyrios would not want our attention to be focused on him, but rather on Jesus Christ, who was the Love of his life, as anyone can see from this brief portion of the Elder’s sayings.

“And eternal life is this: To know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” John 17:3

Wedding feast of heaven and earth

Holy Mount Athos
by painter Alfons Mucha
This morning I came across this wonderful painting by Czech artist Alfons Mucha, which I want to share. For me it makes visible what is invisible to the naked eye during the Divine Liturgy, what the eye of faith can sometimes catch a glimpse of. Notice that the saints joining the humble people of God in worship are both majestic and passionless. I especially love the expression on the face of the Theotokos (Mother of God) in the platytera. Ikons do not have to be stiff and unhuman, but should display a deep and abiding mercy and tenderness. Greetings to all the brethren on this Forgiveness Sunday. May the Lord forgive us all, as we forgive all of each other. Then, as we enter the joy of the Lord on the road to Pascha these next forty days, may all meet together at the wedding feast of heaven and earth. Καλή Σαρακοστή! Kalí Sarakostí!

The strong name

‘I arise today in vast might,
in vocation of the Trinity,
belief in a Threeness,
confession of Oneness,
towards the Creator…’

Thus begins ‘the Breastplate,’ or Lorica, of Saint Patrick, a mighty prayer invoking Divine Might and clearing the road ahead of all possible obstacles and dangers, making mighty ‘against every fierce, merciless force’ him who recites it. It is also called ‘the Deer Cry’ because the occasion of its composition was the journey of Patrick and his monks to convert one of the Irish kings to Christianity. The king did not want to convert and sent armed men to ambush the missionaries. Somehow, Patrick and his monks got through the ambush chanting his prayer. When the king later asked what happened, his men replied, ‘We did not see them. We saw only a few head of deer go past.’

As a new Christian, a ‘born again’—though what I call my ‘born again experience’ looks in retrospect like nothing other than the moment I became aware of the fact that I was born again ‘of water and the Spirit’ without my knowledge or consent when I was baptised as an infant—as a new disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ, confronted by ‘the world, the flesh, and the devil,’ I recited this prayer of the apostle of Ireland frequently, complementing it with many signs of the cross, bows and prostrations. Yes, I had a whole ritual worked out, almost a dance movement, to pray with my body those mighty petitions my lips uttered. I fully intended my performance to be efficacious.

Yes, performance maybe more than prayer. Such are the faults of beginners, and that is what I was, a very, very green Christian. I hadn’t spilt my blood yet, not really, and I was going to make sure I never did. I hadn’t yet noticed that a follower of Jesus does what he sees his Master doing. Green, not red, was the color I wanted my life in Christ to be. This was the deal: I follow Christ, and He protects me. He keeps me safe. I can trust in His promises. That’s why He says, ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.’ Christ spilt His blood to save me, so I don’t have to spill mine. I even went so far with this color thing, that I had a picture of Jesus in a green robe!

Becoming ‘born again,’ joining the Church, I felt good. I felt I had really accomplished something. Looking back I now call it, ‘pretending you’re a sinner, so you can pretend you’re saved.’ I didn’t really know what it meant to be a disciple. I thought to myself, I had finally outgrown the ‘children’s version’ of Christianity, and I was now a Christian man. I now knew ‘the rules’ and henceforth I would follow them. Then, God would bless me, just like it says in the Psalms. What a happy life! But, back to the Lorica, that most powerful prayer that I offered to ward off the evil that surrounded me and my little family on all sides. As my life became less and less precarious, I offered it less. What a mistake!

It even seemed to me, finally, a quaint relic, almost a magical incantation. I now realize that, of course, it can become that, and it probably was that for me in my youthful folly. For I did not have real faith then, only folly disguised as faith. Real faith is not mercenary, but I wasn’t listening closely enough to the Word of God preached to me in church, or when I read it at home. Misguided teachers of a materialistic gospel—which is no gospel at all, but just another way to make money—hid the truth from me, just as they still do for many new believers, whether they are young or old. Captured like a bird in the fowler’s net, the Lord had mercy on His unworthy servant. He tore the net, and I escaped…

The strong name of the Trinity. Yes, it is strong. It is very strong, for the Lord is in His name, and His name is in Him. But this name, and this Trinity, though they are mighty, though they protect—yes, like Abram, we know the Triad as three yet call them ‘my Lord’—this might is not what we call might, nor is this protection always what we expect. It cannot be, because He treats each of us in a unique way—as there is only One God, so there is only one of each human being, all different, all unrepeatable, and so are His ways with us. The prayer always ‘works,’ and we always need what it asks for, but we almost never know what it is we need.

Like the Irish kings of old, deep within the walls of our self-protection we hide, unwanting light, pretending to good but rejecting the only One who is good. We send our sentries to ambush them whom God sends to convert our hearts, yet because He loves us more than we hate Him, they pass through our ambush and pierce our defenses. To chant this Lorica, we switch sides against our selves, against the ‘old man’ in us, and join the ‘new man’ whom Christ has formed in His Divine Image. This prayer has now, for me, truly become ‘the Deer Cry’ because it is no longer something I can perform, but the bleating of my heart for a protection not only promised but delivered.

‘Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ under me,
Christ over me,
Christ to right of me,
Christ to left of me,
Christ in lying down,
Christ in sitting,
Christ in rising up.
Christ in the heart of every person who may think of me,
Christ in the mouth of every person who may speak to me,
Christ in every eye which may look on me,
Christ in every ear which may hear me.’

Now I know, it is one thing to simply recite this prayer, and another to walk in it. Just as the holy gospels are all contained in the name of Jesus, and that name is the same as the name of the Trinity, so is this Lorica of Saint Patrick, not a spell of white magic, seeking that our will be done instead of the will of our heavenly Father, but an expression of the Divine name for us to walk in. That walking will, and of necessity, must be following Jesus wherever He leads. Yes, for if we are disciples, we shall walk like Patrick and his monks: ‘They have kept themselves as pure as virgins, following the Lamb wherever he goes.’ That is might. That is protection against all harm. That is life.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Let me tell you a story

Pope Francis described on Saturday how he was inspired to take the name of Saint Francis of Assisi by the importance of helping the poor.

At his first press conference in the Vatican, Pope Francis broke from his prepared comments to describe the final hours of the conclave that elected him pope. He said, ‘Let me tell you a story.’

Francis said he was comforted by his friend, Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, as it appeared the voting was favoring him and it seemed ‘a bit dangerous’ that he would reach the two-thirds necessary to be elected.

‘He hugged me. He kissed me. He said don't forget about the poor,’ Francis recalled. ‘And that's how in my heart came the name Francis of Assisi.’

He said some people have asked why he took the name, Francis, since it also could suggest references to other figures including the co-founder of the pope's Jesuit order, Francis Xavier. But he said his intention came to his heart as an inspiration immediately after the election. St. Francis of Assisi, the pope said, was ‘the man of the poor. The man of peace. The man who loved and cared for creation and in this moment we don't have such a great relationship with the creator. The man who gives us this spirit of peace, the poor man who wanted a poor church.’

Yes, finally a Franciscan pope… well, a Jesuit pope (the first ever, from an order that was once banned by the pope) who loves the Franciscan idea. What more could we have asked for, as the world today is at least in as much trouble as was that late mediaeval time in which appeared the original Francesco di Bernardone?

The original Francis heard the voice of Christ telling him, ‘Go and rebuild my Church which, as you can see, is lying about you in ruins.’ So, do we have a God who really does care about us after all? after all we've done, or did not do, for Him and to Him? Or do we have a man of hope, God's hope and ours?

Yes, we could not have asked for more, nor do we deserve better. The God of heaven, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, does care about us, and always has. How do we know? Because in spite of all that happens to us or by us, Jesus said so. We have nothing to rely on except His spoken words.

Which we can hear, if we want to, and so believe, if we dare. Just like this Argentine Italian priest whom the Church has elevated to a position of visibility and authority. He is no different from you or me, except that now he has to sit in the hot seat of human expectation, holding up a sign like the beggar at the stop light.

The Poverello, yes, Saint Francis of Assisi, has been invoked. This man of God who like his Divine Master was dead but is now alive, and for ever, has been summoned to our minds. He has no power to save, but we pray to him nonetheless, asking him to help us, as a brother groaning under a burden prays his neighbor for help.

Though I am not a Roman Catholic, I am satisfied that the Church is one even though she appears divided, and I know that all who work for Him, the Sovereign Lord, serve the same Master, and I know that ‘a man cannot serve two masters… You cannot serve both God and money.’ Who does this man serve?

As with you or me, so with Pope Francis.
We will soon find out.
I like it when a pope starts out with, ‘Let me tell you a story.’