Wednesday, July 31, 2013

In His arms

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, the sinner.

The fast of Christ’s holy Mother’s repose draws near, reminding us that we must prepare, we must repent of the sin which clings so closely, that we may, like her, be received in His arms and carried as a newborn infant to Paradise. For all that Christ did for her He has promised to do for His disciples and lovers, whom He declares to be His very own relations, saying, “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice” (Luke 8:21). Let’s not only hear His words, but do what He commands and so stay near Him, following behind Him closely. Christ goes on before, clearing the path ahead endlessly, preparing a place for His disciples. Have mercy on me, Lord, and let me be counted among them, even as the least.

Some words, brethren, to start us on the path of illumination which has only one destination, the holy death which is life immortal. First, a word on prayer…

Bishop Theophan the Recluse used to say that praying only with words written by another is like trying to talk in a foreign language using only textbook dialogues. Like many other Church fathers, he said that we must look for our own words in order to pray. I suppose that this is truly possible for us (if we dismiss artificially “invented” prayers of our own) only in moments of desperate need, real anguish, either for ourselves or for others. In such moments we do not “recite” prayers, we simply cry out to God, “Lord, please come to him and comfort him!” The audacity of prayer is born only in the audacity of love. Saint Makarios said, “Love gives birth to prayer.” Therein lies the mystery and the meaning of prayer.

We can recite endless litanies, we can endlessly finger our prayer ropes, but unless we have love, unless we have learned to grieve for others, we have not even begun to pray. We can thus go through all our life without having begun to pray. That’s why Abba Antony said, “Let’s learn to love sorrow in order to find God!” He did not say, “Let’s look for sorrow,” but “Let’s love it,” because sorrow is a cup offered us by Christ, and drinking it, we begin to partake of prayer.

Unless we are truly sympathetic to human suffering, we are merely carrying out a “prayer rule,” not really praying. To carry out a prayer rule is good and necessary, but only when we realise it is a means, not an end in itself. We must realise that it is only a spur to encourage our efforts.

Imagine a man peacefully fishing from the shore. Everything is fine, everything is according to fishing rules, the brightly colored float bobs on the surface. The man does not realise that there is no baited hook attached to the line. The float is just a pretence, and actually there is no fishing taking place. To many people their prayer rule is such a baitless float. Only the hook of suffering can catch real love.

And now, just a few more words, this time on fasting…

Fasting means trying to overcome that which is “too human” in us. It means trying to overcome the limitations of our nature and to introduce it to limitlessness, to make it breathe eternity.

Fasting must be understood, in the first place, as abstention from non-love, not from butter. Then it will become a time of light, a “joyous time of Lent.”

Non-love, animosity, is the most terrible form of indulgence, a gluttony and intoxication with the self. It is the very first, the original offense against the Holy Spirit of God. “I appeal to you by the love of the Holy Spirit,” writes Saint Paul (Romans 15:30).

Love is the opposite of pride and hatred. In our evening prayers, we ask forgiveness for those sins which are a breach of love.
…if I have reproached anyone, or become angered by something; or slandered anyone in my anger; or have lied or slept unnecessarily; or a beggar has come to me and I have despised him; or have saddened my brother and quarreled with him; or have judged someone or have allowed myself to be haughty, proud or angry …or have laughed at my brother’s sin…
It seems to me that I have been found out. It’s all written down in the prayer book, all the things I’ve done! And before I was halfway through the prayer, my internal advocate was already reasoning my defense, making excuses for me. Why is that advocate so silent in me when it comes to defending others and overlooking their sins, not just my own?

Lest this post devolve into an academic exercise, I want to bring it to a close by returning to the theme of the time we are about to enter.

Someone is coming for us. Someone who loves us more than our parents, our spouses, our kids, our friends. Someone is coming for us and in His arms we will be gently carried into the land of all joy, into Paradise. Actually, in His arms we find Paradise, because it is all in Him. The New Adam is Paradise, and just as His earthly Mother was made all-holy by being His chosen dwelling-place, so each of us is transfigured to the degree we let Him live in us while we live in this world. And as her repose prefigures the rapture of all who “will be taken up in the clouds,” we can look forward with confidence to our own repose, because like her “we shall stay with the Lord forever”
(1 Thessalonians 4:17).


With such thoughts as these you should comfort one another.
1 Thessalonians 4:18 Jerusalem Bible

Ωστε παρακαλειτε αλλήλους εν τοις λόγοις τούτοις.

On wealth and poverty

I also always entreat you, and do not cease entreating you, not only to pay attention here to what I say, but also when you are at home, to persevere continually in reading the divine Scriptures. When I have been with each of you in private, I have not stopped giving you the same advice. Do not let anyone say to me those vain words, worthy of heavy condemnation, ‘I cannot leave the courthouse, I administer the business of the city, I practice a craft, I have a wife, I am raising children, I am in charge of a household, I am a man of the world; reading the Scriptures is not for me, but for those who have been set apart, who have settled on the mountaintops, who keep this way of life continuously.’

What are you saying, man? That attending to the Scriptures is not for you, since you are surrounded by a multitude of cares? Rather it is for you more than for them. They do not need the help of the divine Scriptures as much as those do who are involved in many occupations. The monks, who are released from the clamor of the marketplace and have fixed their huts in the wilderness, who own nothing in common with anyone, but practice wisdom without fear in the calm of the quiet life, as if resting in a harbor, enjoy great security; but we, as if tossing in the midst of the sea, driven by a multitude of sins, always need continuous and ceaseless aid of the Scriptures. They rest far from the battle, and so they do not receive many wounds; but you stand continuously in the front rank, and you receive continual blows. So you need more remedies.

Your wife provokes you, for example, your son grieves you, your servant angers you, your enemy plots against you, your friend envies you, your neighbor curses you, your fellow soldier trips you up, often a law suit threatens you, poverty troubles you, loss of you property gives you grief, prosperity puffs you up, misfortune depresses you, and many causes and compulsions to discouragement and grief, to conceit and desperation surround us on all sides, and a multitude of missiles falls from everywhere. Therefore, we have a continuous need for the full armor of the Scriptures.

For recognize, it is written, that you go through the midst of snares and walk on the ramparts of the city. For example, the designs of the flesh attack more fiercely those who live in the midst of the world. A handsome face, a splendid body strikes us in the eyes; a shameful phrase piercing our ears troubles our mind; and often an effeminate song weakens the tension of our soul. But why am I saying this? That which often seems the slightest of all these attacks, the scent of perfume falling from courtesans as they pass somewhere nearby has captured and taken us away as prisoners by a mere accident. And there are many things like these which besiege our souls: we need the divine medicines to heal the wounds which we have received and to protect us from those which we have not yet received but will receive.

We must thoroughly quench the darts of the devil and beat them off by continual reading of the divine Scriptures. For it is not possible, not possible for anyone to be saved without continually taking advantage of spiritual reading. Actually, we must be content, if even with continual use of this therapy, we are barely able to be saved. But when we are struck every day, if we do not use any medical care, what hope do we have of salvation?

Reading the Scriptures is a great means of security against sinning. The ignorance of Scripture is a great cliff and a deep abyss; to know nothing of the divine laws is a great betrayal of salvation. This has given birth to heresies, this has introduced a corrupt way of life, this has put down the things above. For it is impossible, impossible for anyone to depart without benefit if he reads continually with attention.

John Chrysostom, On Wealth and Poverty

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The recovery of the Gospel

If Orthodox Christians should understand anything, it is this: Salvation is a concrete, existential encounter with the living God.

Moreover, this Lord gives gifts, including wisdom, knowledge, insight, and courage—all the elements needed to confront the maelstrom of confusion in which our culture finds itself, and all meant to be applied
in the work of daily life, whether as mother, researcher, mechanic, priest—whatever our vocation
may be.


Salvation is
not understanding the correct theological concepts;
it is not nostalgia for civilizations past;
it is not formal membership in a long-standing parish;
it is not social activism;
it is not morally appropriate behavior;
it is not mastery of the moral vocabulary.

Further, it is not enough to recall the certainty of the past.
Nostalgic impulses, as comforting as they may be (including the Orthodox variants, such as the longings for Hellenistic Greece or Holy Russia), simply won’t meet the challenge.

Orthodox leadership today requires great courage.
Courage, said Winston Churchill, is the one quality that lets all other virtues flourish.


When Solzhenitsyn delivered his address three decades ago, he spoke not as a philosopher, but as a voice crying in the wilderness. He cried out against the dehumanization of men he experienced in the East and saw advancing in the West. Only people with moral clarity and courage could successfully challenge it, he exhorted. What the world needs is not more philosophers, but moralists.


The exhortation drew from a supreme confidence in the power of truth. Solzhenitsyn believed that truth is self-verifying. When the truth is spoken, its veracity is self-evident to the hearer. This is a profoundly Christian notion rooted in the teaching of the apostle Paul: When the Gospel is preached, Christ (who is Truth) is revealed.


Any Orthodox response to the cultural challenge must first presume a recovery of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The wisdom of the Fathers, the artistry of the poets, the healings of the miracle workers, the courage of the martyrs, the knowledge of the scholars, the patience of the teachers, the foresight of the bishops, the faithfulness of the priests—all the elements that shaped and forged the moral tradition that founded Western civilization and must renew it today—
start with the recovery of the Gospel.

As Jesus said,I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing’ (John 15:5).

Friday, July 26, 2013

Miracles and faith

Here's some more straight thinking on miracles and faith from the blog Again and Again

Serbian Orthodox Bishop Porfirije of Jegar said… Oftentimes we expect miracles to occur to support our faith, that is, to almost give proof of our faith in God, when in reality it’s our faith which produces miracles and not the other way around.

He mentioned how he had recently met a woman who visited his monastery in Kovilj who told the monastics there how she had traveled from one monastery to another, far from her parish church, with her problems and troubles looking for wonderworkers and healers. This was his response…

Healing is in the church and there is no need for Christians to search for wonderworkers and healers outside of their parish. There, in the local church, in one’s own parish is the fullness of salvation and all gifts of the Holy Spirit are present there. And every form of healing is present there. Of course, when a parishioner comes to their parish priest the priest can send that person to go to another priest for counseling. And this all with the blessing of the bishop. Together with the parish priest the person can be sent to someone the parish priest considers to be more spiritually developed. But, again, not to expect that other spiritual father to solve their problems in a hocus-pocus, magical method.

Everything that happens in our lives happens by God’s will, and this applies to our temptations and problems, and when we pray that we might defeat our temptations, for our spiritual well being, we always end our prayer with the words ‘may it be as the Lord wills for He knows better than we do what is good for us.’ And so… let us pray that God grant unto us a pure faith which, above all, means that we might place our trust in Him and His Church and those who have been appointed by the Church to concern themselves with our spiritual well being.

The treasure of abandonment


The treasure is everywhere.
It is offered to us at every moment and wherever we find ourselves.
All creatures, friends or enemies, pour it out abundantly, and it courses through every fiber of our body and soul until it reaches the very core of our being.
If we open our mouths they will be filled.
God’s activity runs through the entire universe.
It wells up around and penetrates every created being.
Wherever they are, it is there also.
It runs ahead of them, it stays with them, and it follows after them.
All they have to do is to allow its waves to sweep them forward, fulfill the simple duties of their religion and status in life, accept cheerfully all the difficulties they meet, and surrender to the will of God in all they have to do…

This is authentic spirituality,
and it is valid for all times and for everyone.
We could not choose to become good in a better, more miraculous, and yet easier way than by the simple use of the means offered us by God; the whole-hearted acceptance of everything that comes to us at every moment of our lives.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

All power and authority

All power and authority given to man on earth by God is given to him when he prays.

‘How can this be? I pray all the time and I don’t have any power, I have no authority. What are you talking about? But I do see power and authority given to people who have status, who have money, who are educated, who know how to pull the strings. As for the rest of us, right, we pray, but we pray because there’s nothing else we can do.’


With a sigh of resignation the words of barely hidden contempt are mouthed. Men for whom Christ died and who say they believe in Him, men on whom
‘all authority in heaven and on earth,’ given to Christ by His Father has been bestowed, men who can read the words for themselves, ‘anything you ask for in My name,’ are reduced to practicing magic they don’t even believe in.

‘Glory to You, O Lord, glory to You!’
I hear muttered constantly under his breath, and ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner!’ cried out in lonely and forsaken places, moaned even, mingled with sobs of sorrow for his sins. Of little account, the world passes the saint and thinks him mad, yet his prayer is genuine and not for show or for sale.

The religious are even baffled.
‘We do more than he does, keep the fasts, drink tea without sugar, never touch flesh or oil or cheese during the prohibited times, never miss a service, and we greet each other nicely. Why does everybody go running to him? He scares us. He doesn’t follow the rules. He’s proud and wants his own way. Why does God answer his prayers and not ours?’

He can battle the devil, he can even drive him out, because he knows him personally. He has locked himself in battle with him in an invisible ring many times.
His weapons? The words of holy and divine scripture, outbursts of mighty psalms, supplications to God Himself and his shameless asking for what he doesn’t deserve, his confession of his own sins, his laying all at the feet of Jesus.

The irreligious, bent as they are on what profits them, can come closer to the Truth than those who were suckled by it, who feel so sure that they know what works and what doesn’t, that they do neither. Seeking himself, the worldly man can stumble upon his own corpse and, asking, rise from the dead. The religious polish their coffins, but the saints lie down in theirs in peace, expecting life.

‘In peace I lie down, and fall asleep at once, since You alone, Yahweh, make me rest secure. (Psalm 4)

For me the reward of virtue is to see Your face, and, on waking, to gaze my fill on Your likeness.’
(Psalm 17)

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Names

What we call something, or someone, is very important. This has been known since the dawn of mankind, everywhere, by every people. Hence, the sacredness of one’s personal name. Hence, the prohibition of the taking the Name in vain. Yes, this applies to the Name of G’d as expressed in the third of the Ten Words (Exodus 20:7), but as we have been created in the Image of Him who is, everyone knows this has something to do with our own personal names. We are patterned on Him. We are His being uttered in a different key, as we might say ‘on a lesser scale’ bringing our perceptions into it.

This is not about personal names, but about the names we give things and ideas. We little suspect how much the language we speak and the names we give things affects what we believe or think we know about them. Terminology is not a trivial science, but a pivotal one in defining and setting up our world. This is why it was an unheard of privilege for Adam the First-created to be given the task of naming—first, naming the animals and, by extension, all things that weren’t himself, and finally, even naming his helpmate, “This is to be called Woman (ishsháh), for this was taken from Man (ish)” (Genesis 2:23).

Every word that is the name of something is a loaded entity. As soon as we hear it, we usually find that our minds have already been made up. Why is this? Well, firstly because we have learned the dictionary meaning of the term. Secondly, from seeing how the word is applied in our culture and day to day lives, we also have a fluent understanding of many of its undocumented meanings. Finally, often the word has very personal meaning to ourselves: we have defined it in relation to our own being.

A good example of what I mean can be drawn from Christian terminology. Many of the words that are used in the Western world to describe things and ideas pertaining to life in the Church (for that is what being a Christian seems to mean) are drawn from Latin, and they have an immediate mental impact on those who use them. “Sacrament” is one of these. This word has a strict dictionary definition, and if it stayed there it might be a fitting word to use. Instead, it has accrued to itself meanings and connotations which have contributed to the religious sickness of Western society, both feeding into it and drawing from it, divorcing itself from its scriptural meaning. For that reason, it is best to return to the Greek term mystírion or mystery.

True, “mystery” has its own set of suppositions and meanings, but it has existed in its original, scriptural meaning for two thousand years, hidden from the eyes of most Christians in the West, and as such, it can now resurface into the culture with its ancient meaning intact. It removes the idea of what it represents from the devolution that the word “sacrament” has experienced for fifteen hundred years. It returns us to the gospel, not to a religious category. And the gospel, evangélion, is not “religion,” it is “the good news.”

In a different frame of reference, one more secular but which may illustrate my point better, are the words we use to define sexuality. These are very loaded words. “Gay” versus “straight” is the common parlance of the day, with the first term infiltrating languages other than English. As soon as we hear these words, we know what they mean, and we have decided already what we think about them. They provoke no questions in us to search for truth. They simply tell us what’s what, and then proceed to categorize us to ourselves.

If we hear the words, “homosexual” and “heterosexual” some of us feel like we’re on more solid ground, we feel somewhat scientific. We think we know what these words mean, what they tell us about other people and what they do, but do they really allow us a little freedom and incentive to ask questions, to try to arrive at truth? I don’t think so, for they still assume things about people that may not in fact be true. They insist that given a set of facts, another well-defined set of acts will result. Again, a false assumption.

Finally, a phrase like “same sex attraction,” which seems on the surface to mean “homosexual” but actually doesn’t. This phrase doesn’t have an opposite partner in everyday speech, apparently because none is needed. This phrase is not loaded like the previous terms that seem to be its equivalents. You can use this phrase and give it the meaning of the other two, but you don’t have to. Instead, you can let it provoke questions in you, to launch your mind on a quest, for the truth. What does it mean? What does it imply? What are its conditions? What are its results? Instead of being told, as you are with the other terms, that if you “suffer” from this, you will do this, and be that, it lets you discover for yourself, apart from the dominant “culture,” what it really means. And that might be quite different. And in fact, it is.

We must be very careful in naming ourselves and others, as well as naming our conditions, objectives, principles and so on. You can call yourself a Catholic, a Protestant, or an Orthodox, but what does this mean? Is there anything you can depend on in a person who is identified as one of these? Very little, I think. Very little that really matters, anyway. We can look up the words in a dictionary, and go from there, but until we actually meet one of these self-named creatures, we won’t have a real understanding of what these words mean. Even when we do meet them, we will be utterly confused. Why? Because these are mere labels thrown over what cannot be defined that way. Isn’t this nothing more than saying the obvious, that you can’t categorize and judge people? Bingo!

Still, names are important, otherwise Adam would not have been told to start the process of naming that continues down to the present day. It’s too bad that very few names can hold on to their original meanings as well as “pick” and “shovel.” Wait a minute! pick! What did you mean by that?

Do the words we use to name people, things and ideas cause our minds to fall into a groove of thoughtless conformity and our day to day lives into equally mindless actions? Or do we use words that provoke thought, questioning, and questing for what really is true about people, things and ideas? The world that results from the first is the broken world we see around us. The world that arises from the second, well, what can I say better about it than what Aslan said to Mr. Beaver in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,

“All names will soon be restored to their proper owners. In the meantime we will not dispute about noises.”

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Unanswered prayer

O my Gosh! (That’s what He gets for not ‘answering prayer’—we change His name when we want to take it in vain, so we can have an alibi in case He’s been eavesdropping!)

I’m trying to think back to my childhood, to see if I can find an instance of unanswered prayer, so that I can fit in with the rest of God-jilted humanity—but I can’t really find any. Is it maybe because I never really asked Him for anything? Well, no.

There was the time, years and years ago—I was a young teenager, maybe high school freshman—when I was misled by a ‘faith healer’ on Christian television to believe ‘for a miracle’ for my sick mom. I stuffed an envelope with some hard-earned cash—I was a paperboy and made about twelve dollars a month—and wrote my prayer request on a piece of paper and mailed everything to this ‘minister.’

Nothing happened, of course, except mom didn’t die, not yet anyway. She was the most resilient invalid I have ever met, and a woman of very great faith, almost a victim of codependency on God, whom she never stopped talking to, day and night, but especially the latter. I’m afraid that I may have inherited her disposition with regards to this. I also never seem to stop talking to God, and like her, I’m also under the delusion that He talks back, and even that He sometimes initiates the conversation. Some people have told me I’m living in denial. My question for them has always been, ‘so who isn’t?’ 

But unanswered prayer? That time I wrote my request on a sheet of paper and mailed it in an envelope full of one dollar bills (maybe it just wasn’t enough, since I didn’t give all) to the faith healer, well, that doesn’t really count as an instance of unanswered prayer. Why not? I guess it’s because I didn’t go directly to Him, and ask. I mean, I was brought up in an environment where people who wanted God to do things didn’t ask Him directly. That would be too forward. You can’t be forward with God. He’s ahead of everyone.

Instead, you brought your requests to His mother. ‘Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee…’ Actually, I did say this prayer, yes, over and over again while fingering those black beads till some of them lost their finish, but even then, I didn’t have anything special I wanted from God, even through her. I was just happy to be alive, and not be on the wrong side of things.

Aha! That’s it, I guess. When I look back, though I went through some pretty nasty things and had some hair-raising experiences—actually, humiliating would be the better word—it just never occurred to me to ask God to ‘get me outta this mess!’ Even before I became obsessed with the bible and started actually talking to the Lord—when I was twenty-four years old, I finally noticed He’d been talking back to me since I was a child—it somehow seemed irreverent to ask Him for anything. It was as if to ask Him to change something in my life was tantamount to telling Him He didn’t know what He was doing to make things so difficult for me.

Even when I only believed in signs and didn’t know Him personally, it still seemed cheeky to put God on the spot, as if He were Someone you could corner.

But wait a minute! I just realized something! I go to church! I pray along with the ‘prayers of the people’ during worship services. ‘In peace, let us pray to the Lord…’ Yeah, that’s right. And I make the sign of the cross over myself when we come to petitions I especially want to add my ‘amen’ to, like ‘for an angel of peace, a guardian of our souls and bodies, let us ask the Lord…’

And guess what! That’s an easy prayer to make, and even easier to get answered. I mean, like, when have I not been sent an angel of peace and a guardian of my soul and body? I wouldn’t be here writing this, if that were an unanswered prayer.

When has God not sent people to me and me to people—yes, I know, angels have wings, or are supposed to, but that is, to me, an unimportant detail—just when I needed it? He is, if I may say so, very careful too. He’s never too early or too late. That does keep you on your toes, I mean, me and mine. Could that be why we call Him in our better moments, not ‘Gosh!’ but the man-loving God?

Continuing along the same lines, I admit there are some things I’ve asked Him for—now that I think of it—that haven’t been answered, at least not yet.

‘For the completion of our lives in peace and repentance… for a Christian end to our lives, peaceful, without shame and suffering, and for a good account before the awesome judgment seat of Christ…’

Well, what can I say? If anything were too much to ask, this is it, and yet I pray along with the others at church these very things. So, it’s true, maybe, that some prayer goes unanswered, but only if you take the short view. There are some things we ask for that require a certain amount of cooperation, and even action, on our part. At least, we might have to follow His instructions—which we might find if we ever opened a bible, read it, and took what He says there, seriously.

At most, well, what can I say? There are some things we ask Him that He can’t answer until we’re (gulp!) already dead. And what would be good about that? Well, hmm, I think I have an idea.

‘A good account before the awesome judgment seat of Christ…’

Isn’t this going a bit too far? I mean, anyone can pray that, and who can tell if the prayer will be answered or not? I think, maybe only the one who really prays that prayer as if he or she really means it. That brings the subject to a close, for me anyway.

Unanswered prayer? Did we really pray, did we really ask the Lord for something in the first place? Or were we only mouthing the words? You see, as soon as we’ve opened up the discussion, though we might think we’ve put God in the hot seat, He’s already turned tables on us. As He spoke to the long-suffering patriarch Job, ‘Now it is my turn to ask questions and yours to inform me’ (Job 38:3 JB).

I think something happened to me when I accepted ‘the Lord as He is,’ casting aside all the (even well-intentioned but misguided) teachings about Him that circulated around me in my growing-up years, that made Him out to be a stingy, bossy, meddlesome, heavenly Tyrant who was always nosing around, looking for people who were having a moment of innocent (but filthy) pleasure so He could snuff it out for them and make them cringe.

That was the kind of God who loved to not answer prayer but hold you hostage to what He could do for you if He wanted, but probably wouldn’t. At least, not without a very great deal of effort on your part. And even then, if He granted your request, you’d better be darn thankful, or else He could take it back, like some television faith healer who warns, ‘don’t stop believing, or you’ll lose your healing!’

Yes, I tossed out a lot of misinformation and majestically incorrect notions when I accepted ‘the Lord as He is.’ I had never been taught to really pray, and so I had never known really what to pray for. This is where reading at first, and then praying eventually, the biblical Psalms helped me to become a pray-er, not just to say one.

There has to be a real person before a real conversation can take place, especially when talking to ‘Him who is’ and no better way to walk into His presence and become one, than reading first, and then praying, the Psalms. We learn to ask what they ask, and we find ourselves being answered.

By whom?
By the Lord, of course! And in a way that silences all our musings and speculations and questions.

Unanswered prayer?
Please, how could any real prayer go unanswered?
When we know Him, when we know that He knows everything about us, all our needs, not our imagined ones, but our real needs, how can we even consider that our prayers ever go unanswered?

Yes, saints and others have written volumes of apologetics regarding ‘unanswered prayer’ and despite their best intentions and our curiosity, the question (not the prayer) will remain forever unanswered.

Why?
Because you and I are the prayers,
and He alone is the answer.

The temptations of Church

I want to copy and post this entire essay by Fr Stephen because I never want to lose it. What it says is what I need to hear. There is so much tosh spoken and written about the Church—maybe even by me—that I need to read such clear thoughts to keep me on track. I dread to think of anyone living their life in Christ, especially imagining themselves as a missionary, for example 'preaching Christ to the Japanese,' without knowing and understanding these foundational truths about 'the Church'. At his blog Glory to God for All Things, Fr Stephen writes,

I have sometimes said (in a light-hearted manner) that God gave us the Church to keep us honest. The truth is, that God gave us the Church that we might be saved. The failure to see why and how the Church is the ark of salvation is a failure to understand some of the most fundamental parts of our Christian faith – and often a failure which transforms Christianity into an ersatz religion that knows nothing of the Church.

The Scriptures describe the Church as the
“Body of Christ,” the “Pillar and Ground of Truth.” It is nowhere described as a mere bene esse (something given to us only for our “well-being”) much less as a mere locus of “fellowship.” As much as it is possible to say that Christ died for our sins, it is also necessary to say that Christ died that the Church might be born. It is an inherent part of His resurrection. For human beings, the Church is what salvation looks like (if that disturbs you then it should serve as a barometer for how deeply the inroads of heresy have made their way into the Divine teaching on the Church).

The Church exists by the grace of God and is dependent for its very existence on the love of each for each and the love of each for all. Forgiveness is not a moral act – it is an existential act. Goodness, meekness, kindness, generosity and the like are matters of our true existence and not the mere moral obedience to some outward norm.
The Scriptures teach us that “God is love.” We ourselves only exist to the extent that “we are love,” and so Christ gives us His Church – the locus and the very nexus of His love.

It is possible for us to avoid this inevitable stumbling block by declaring the Church to be “perfect” in some other sense (essentially a “two-storey” arrangement) or simply to redefine the Church and make her of less importance than is declared in the Scripture. The Church, and the marvelous claims made for her within the Scriptures are simply a scandal within the historical context. We seek to rid ourselves of the scandal rather than accept the reality that Christ is indeed saving us through just such an apparently weak vessel.


Fr. Alexander Schmemann wrote a small history of Orthodoxy entitled The Historical Road of Eastern Orthodoxy. My first reading of it some years ago was a revelation in itself. I had never read such a frank and accurate account of Church history, particularly by someone who was such a devout son of the Church. Any reading of his journals offers the same loving, accurate and insightful account of contemporary Church life.


Orthodoxy is very easily seen through the lens of naivete – with an assumption that only the imagined perfect can be the true. The result can be disappointment, even anger, when reality fails to match expectation. However this is not a failure which renders the claims of the Church to be false – they are failures that reveal the nature of what God has given us (rather than our own expectations).


St. Paul tells us in his writings that
“God made [Christ] to be sin, that we might become the righteousness of Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

That same “exchange” is continually happening in our lives. The Church is the locus of this change (or certainly the arena in which it takes place). Thus every gathering of the Church, whether for Eucharist or for Council, inevitable means an assembly of sinners, those who, at best, have become righteous with the righteousness of Christ (though not their own). Our sins do not constitute the Church, but the Church offers sacraments that precisely confront us at the point of sinfulness and brokenness (confession, healing, the Eucharist, Baptism, etc.).


My experience of life in the Church is that I am not only in the company of sinners such as myself, but that those very encounters are not occasions of lamentation, but occasions in which love, forgiveness, kindness and generosity, etc., are the only way forward. It is not for nothing that we find constant exhortation to such virtues within the epistles of the New Testament. A local Church either embraces Christ’s way of the Cross, or it becomes just one more outpost of hell.


I do not mean to disparage the Church as the Body of Christ, nor as the Pillar and Ground of Truth – rather – I want to detach such language from the “institutional” aspects of the Church. The Church is certainly the Body of Christ, but Christ remains hidden within her as the mystery of His life, death and resurrection. Christ nowhere promised us that He would become an institution. History makes such a mistaken notion obviously erroneous.


And so it is in the life of the Church that “one can only be saved.” In the life of the institution one can do any number of things (even in the name of Christ) that have nothing to do with Christ nor the Kingdom of God. The key is for none of us to lose his way. The easiest of all the “lost ways” is to idealize the Church or its history (and its institutions) and mistake those for the Kingdom of God itself. If what I am encountering and living is truly the Kingdom of God, then it will and can only ask of me obedience to the gospel of Christ.

Those images and ideas that tell me that the less than good thing I am doing will, in the end, work an even greater good, are lies of the enemy and have nothing to do with the Kingdom of God.


The Kingdom of God, and thus the true life of the Church, is coming forth and being manifested utterly apart from human permission.
That “permission” has already been found in the humility of the Virgin Mother of God. Christ has come, entered into the depth of our suffering and hell and come forth resurrected, making all things new in Himself. We cannot aid that work, nor hinder it. We can be part of it or not – but it never depends upon us.


The mystery of Christ in the Church eludes us, I suspect, because we are always looking for the triumphant, resurrected Christ. St. Paul rather says:


For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified
(1 Corinthians 2:2).

This is more than a declaration of the historical crucifixion of Christ. St. Paul sees the crucifixion of Christ in cosmic terms as well, stretching not only into the present but into the very end of things. And thus it is that the Christ whom we know in the Church, is primarily manifest to us as the crucified Lord (indeed in the Resurrection appearances themselves, Christ still bears the marks of His crucifixion).


It is the manifestation of the crucified Christ, I suspect, that makes many people judge the Church incorrectly, or fail to see it for the fullness that it truly is. The mystery of the fullness of the Church (“the fullness of Him that filleth all in all”) is that this fullnes of Christ, this Pillar and Ground of Truth, is manifest to us as the Crucified Christ.


Like the disciples who questioned Christ after the resurrection, we too expect Christ to manifest Himself in some form of glory, of triumphalism. But such is not the case – nor, I suspect, will it ever be so. The revelation of God on the Cross is the same as the revelation of Christ in the Resurrection, if we have eyes to see – and both are the fullness of the revelation of God. The crucifixion of Christ is no mere “sideshow” in the economy of salvation, but it the very fullness of the manifestation of God.


And so it is that when we encounter things within our experience of the Church that disappoint and hurt (such as the sins of others and ourselves) – we are able to encounter the crucified Christ by the extension of His love and forgiveness of all. We encounter Christ not because we have purged the Church of every sinner (then it would be empty) or have corrected everything we perceive as lacking. We encounter the Crucified by embracing the weakness of love (which is stronger than death).


The fullness of the Church is always made manifest, when, in the lives of various saints, Christ Crucified meets anything which exalts itself against His weakness. Martyrs reveal the fullness of the Church. Those who speak dangerous truth, with love, manifest the fullness of the Church. Peace that radiates from the knowledge and love of the risen Lord, manifest the complete confidence found in the crucified Christ.
“If Christ be for us, who can be against us?”

It is this search for union with the Crucified Christ that marks the heart of the Christian vocation. We will find Him in the heart of the Church – not by any virtue of argument or force of arms – but by the weakness of His crucified flesh.
All who live by the weakness of His crucifixion, will know the power of His resurrection (and know, as well, that these are largely one and the same).


O Lamb of God, slain for the sins of the world, have mercy on us sinners, and grant us knowledge of your weakness in the midst of our sinful lives, that we might find the power of your weakness, and love everyone and everything.
For great art Thou, O Lord, and there is no word to hymn Thy wonders!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Evangelism

There seems to be no standard method of evangelism in the Orthodox Church, especially now in these modern times. Unfortunately, Orthodoxy in America is very lazy, waiting for converts to come to the church on their own. Some of the clergy that I know seem to be strangely proud of this fact, as if a fisherman should be proud that fish somehow find their way into his net without the net being cast. This is not an apostolic attitude.

Until recently most converts came through marriage to an Orthodox man or woman, as in the film
My Big Fat Greek Wedding. This film was embarassingly accurate in many details, uncovering some of the less laudable realities of Greek Orthodoxy in America.

The last twenty years or so has seen Orthodoxy capitalizing on the frustrations of Roman Catholics (against contemporary worship) and Protestants (against modern worship and deconstruction of scriptural faith). In Northern Ireland, Orthodoxy capitalizes on the frustrations of both groups with the endless cycle of animosity between them. Protestant clergy visit the Antiochian priest secretly for help that they cannot find elsewhere.


In general, the Orthodox Church doesn't evangelize as an institution. It simply maintains order in doctrine and practice, and disseminates information about itself as a faith community, focusing in on what makes it distinctive. This makes it appear to buy into the ecumenical world view that ‘all paths lead to God,’ which is of course the fundamental heresy of our times.

Real evangelism takes place almost exclusively through the unsupported efforts of ordinary Christians. The style varies, but I would say that what I used to do, read the Bible aloud in public without commenting or preaching, is compatible with the Orthodox tradition.

Orthodoxy is the faith of the martyroi, the witnesses, and that's what we do, wherever we are. No frills, no strings attached, leaving God to do the work of converting men's hearts. All we do is follow along behind Jesus. He does it all. What we can do is catch the fish with the Word of God. He cleans ‘em and sorts ‘em out."


‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus says,and I will make you fishers of men.’ (Matthew 4:19 NIV)

"Come, follow Me", not so much by following Me exteriorly but by loving Me, imitating Me, and I will make you fishers of men, that is, teachers of mankind. In fact, it is with the net of the Word of God that men must be drawn.

— St. John Chrysostom

Mary of Magdala

It’s the 22nd day of July (New Calendar), time to post something about Mary Magdalene, whose feast-day is today. I think it's worth remembering. Mary of Magdala is ‘isapóstolos,’ that is, ‘equal-to-the-apostles’, and well should she be called, since she is the first witness of the Resurrection. This post was originally written and published with the title The origins of the Church at Rome.

Shortly after the ascension of our Lord and after the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, Mary Magdalene received the strong desire to go to Rome to expose the unjust actions of the Governor Pilate and the High Priests Annas and Caiaphas. She obtained permission from the Theotokos [the Mother of Jesus] and booked a sailing vessel for Rome. Once in Rome she went immediately to the palace of Caesar. There she was initially refused but as she was about to depart up came a high ranking official Puplius who was very familiar with the situation. He showed her a letter that he wrote to Caesar.
In part it read,

‘The truth be told, there are some astonishing things concerning this Christ. Miracles abound. He raises the dead and heals the sick with but a word. He is a man of average height, handsome of countenance with an air of majesty. Those that encounter him are enjoined either to love him or fear him. His hair is the color of walnut, which extends to his shoulders and glistens. He belongs to the group known as Nazarenes. His forehead is smooth and calm. His face is without wrinkles or blemishes. His nose and lips are regular. His beard is dense and the same color as his hair. It is not long, but it separates in two at the middle. He has a serious look that can excite fear. He possesses a power like a ray of the sun...

‘His manner of addressing is pleasing...

‘He often walks barefooted and without a head covering. Some laugh at him, while others tremble in his presence from their astonishment. He never preaches anything to promote himself in the world...

‘This Christ has never urged anyone to do anything displeasing, but rather he exhorts the people to perform good deeds…’


His knowledge of the situation led Mary to tears. He told her that Caesar had received his letter and that even Caesar respected Jesus.

After hearing Mary’s plea for justice in this matter Puplius committed to have Caesar to issue an order to call Pilate, Annas and Caiaphas to Rome for a trial. He asked her to give him two months to recall them. Mary thanked him and took up residence in Rome establishing the first house church there where they gathered almost every night praying and discoursing.

Three months after her first arrival the trial was set to begin. It was known that Caesar was incensed with the three who had been recalled because they killed a wonderful man who worked many miracles to benefit the people. As the trial began Mary appeared marvelous as she walked in the midst of the court toward the autocrat. She was clad in a brown tunic, with a leather belt. She wore a long orange-colored veil the inner kerchief was a deep orange. Her whole appearance created a marvelous impression.

Orthodox tradition and iconography also maintains that when Saint Mary appeared before Tiberius Caesar Augustus, she presented him with an egg dyed red, greeting him with the words: Christ is risen! This is a custom that has since spread among Orthodox Christians throughout the world. The prayer read at the blessing of the eggs says near the end, ‘Thus have we received from the holy fathers, who preserved this custom from the very time of the holy apostles; therefore the holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Mary Magdalene first showed believers the example of this joyful offering.’

The trial proceeded and Mary clearly explained how Pilate had conducted the trial in Jerusalem against Jesus Christ. On hearing the case Caesar said, ‘Those who are guilty will be punished.’ Caesar asked for advice from his counsel Claudius who confirmed that he [Pilate ] ‘acted not only in an irregular manner but even unlawfully by condemning to death this man whom he found no reason in our penal code that deserved death.’

Mary then gave further testimony about the tortures that took place. She said, ‘When they arrested my Teacher in the garden on the mount of Olives, they brought him bound to Annas, and then to Caiaphas... They thrashed Jesus pitilessly and inhumanely throughout His holy body. They brought him to the Praetorium, to the Roman Governor Pilate…’

She continued,
The instruments of torture, O Caesar, they used to scourge my Teacher was a bull-whip, rods with knots, and ropes with iron stars and hooks positioned at a short distance from each other. These lacerated His flesh to the bones. Sixty soldiers struck again and again. The virginal and noble flesh of the God-Man was shred to pieces… when they saw His bones and blood running like a river from His veins, they were rejoicing and laughing among themselves with inexplicable satisfaction... The executioners were as dogs, bulls, tigers, and wild animals.’

And she went describing the horrible treatment He had received. As she finished, the crowd at the trial began to chant, ‘Death! Death to the god-slayers! Death!’

Caiaphas never made it to the trial as he died on the trip to Rome. Tiberius Caesar sentenced Annas to a tortuous death and imprisoned Pilate who was eventually killed. Mary Magdalene remained in Rome for several years until the death of Pilate. She then returned to Jerusalem after having established an energetic church in Rome.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Αγαπήσωμεν αλλήλους…

… ίνα εν ομονοία ομολογήσωμεν — Agapísomen allílous, ína en omonía omologhísomen — ‘Let us love one another, that with one mind we may confess.’

In the Divine Liturgy of Orthodox Christian worship, the presbyter comes to the Royal Doors of the ikonostasis, and bids us to ‘love one another’ so that we shall be able to confess the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints in unison recitation of the Symbol of Nicæa. After he bids us to love one another, he returns into the altar and visibly exchanges the ceremonial ‘kiss of peace’ with the other clergy who are serving with him that day, bishops, presbyters and deacons. We only see as much as can be seen through those open doors. The ikonostasis, a wall covered with ikons, prevents us from looking inside the altar, that is, the Holy of Holies. Perhaps the altar boys are also exchanging the ‘kiss of peace,’ or maybe not. At their age, they may think it a bit much. After all, boys will be boys. Then again, maybe not. Often, the father of one of the altar boys will be serving as an acolyte (a fancy name for adult altar boy), and with him there, well, boys will behave.

This morning an elderly friend who is not Orthodox and hardly thinks of himself as a Christian (though he is one, both by childhood faith and adult compassion) accompanied us to the Divine Liturgy. He is a young octogenarian who has just been diagnosed with a possibly non-threatening cancer, but he is still worried. Life doesn’t seem long enough, even at eighty, when you still love the people around you, and life itself, and someone tells you that this might be your last year on earth. As I said, I don’t believe his diagnosis, once it is complete, will be ‘bad news,’ but he is still disturbed. And why shouldn’t he be? The very thought of cancer can feel like a death sentence, if it happens to be planted in your mind. Nonetheless, coming to church did him good, even though he couldn’t hear or understand some of what was going on around him. He felt he was sinking, so he asked us if he could come with. It was only his second time. The first time he came with us to Palm Sunday services.

After the service, we ended up returning to this friend’s house and visited for several hours with him in his sunny patio. Naturally, conversation frequently turned on spiritual, even religious, topics. He is always learning, and his gradual acquaintance with Holy Orthodoxy has begun to dissolve some of his inhibitions and preconceptions about Christianity, and hopefully about Christ, as well. We all know that it is his fear of the unknown, of possible sickness (he has been a remarkably healthy man all his life), and death, that has propelled him in the direction of God and the Church. We just happen to have come into his life, perhaps, at the right moment. Though we humans can be (no, are) fickle and unfaithful, our good and man-loving God never abandons the child that once came to Him, but continues to visit that child all his life long, even into old age, like the loving but silent Father that He is, watching over us even when we are oblivious of Him. Never abandons, because He is love.

As our afternoon visit came to its end and I was leaving, my friend stood up out of his chair and gave me a hug, and I instinctively gave him the ‘little peck on the cheek’ that is the somewhat formal kiss we exchange in the liturgical ‘kiss of peace.’ Before I knew myself, I had blurted out ‘αγαπήσωμεν αλλήλους!’ and then found I had to explain, to translate, what I had just said. ‘It means, let us love one another,’ I told him, bringing the ceremonial of the Divine Liturgy instantly into our midst. He had experienced that love both in the people gathered at church this morning, in the services and later in the fellowship hall. He remembered the ceremonial ‘kiss of peace’ and our greeting ‘Christ is in our midst! He is and ever shall be!’ He participated in that ceremony without knowing the ‘password’ and just said ‘good morning’ to those with whom he shook hands. He understood that it was the love, not the form of the greeting, that matters, and makes possible everything else.

Yes, ‘let us love one another.’ Why? So ‘that with one mind we may confess.’ So that we can understand once and for all that without love, nothing but nothing we say we believe can have any meaning or power, to renew ourselves and to transform the world. Without love, we can never be ‘of one mind,’ that is, we can never have ‘the mind of Christ,’ but instead we wander forever in the wilderness of our wills, wanting but never being satisfied, serving not the God who is Maker, Preserver, Provider, and Lord, but serving all that is not, all that has no being—the devil, the flesh, the world—all that has no being yet draws us into its web until, along with our wills, we are extinguished, forever. No, with love this does not happen to us, because our God who was dead and is alive forever, Jesus Christ, has ‘emptied the tombs,’ has ‘harrowed Hades’ itself. It is He who always goes before us, beside us, above us, below us, and finally, after us. Yes, Love Himself is in our midst. He is and ever shall be!

Friday, July 19, 2013

A servant's heart

One virtue that nearly all ethnic and religious groups pride themselves on is their hospitality, or at least what they perceive as their spirit of hospitality. For those whose spiritual roots are in the Hebrew and Greek scriptures of the Holy Bible, their hospitality is the obvious response to such verses as,

For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe. He administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing. Therefore love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
Deuteronomy 10:17-19 NKJV

Let brotherly love continue. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels.
Hebrews 12:1-2 NKJV


The Greeks among whom I live call this virtue philoxenía, literally, love of strangers, and the remembrance of Abraham’s hospitality to the three strangers when he was camped at the oak of Mamre is always at the back of our minds, visually in the form of the ikon, emotionally in the feeling of gratitude we have for God’s kindness to us.

Hospitality, though, has its limits for most people, even for Christians, even for me. The different kinds of hospitality we offer others, from shallow and formal to deep and unconditional, almost makes it hard to imagine them all being one and the same virtue.

I want to say that at some point, hospitality crosses a line. It ceases being just making people comfortable and happy and then seeing them on their way. The author of the letter to the Hebrews writes, “Let brotherly love continue,” and though that is a good thing, must it stop there?

Or perhaps he meant more when he wrote, “Let brotherly love continue.” Could he have been thinking along the lines of holy apostle John? who writes, “This has taught us love—that He gave up His life for us; and we too ought to give up our lives for our brothers.” (1 John 3:16 JB)

One genuine virtue that seems to go unnoticed by Christians (I can only remark on them, since they are my social and religious group)—even while they are busying themselves with “works of hospitality”—is having a servant’s heart.

No, I don’t mean talking about having it and praising others who we say have it, but actually having it—a servant’s heart.

Those who have a servant’s heart are like women, as women used to be by and large before the changes wrought in them by feminism. Having a servant’s heart is not thinking of the virtue of hospitality, not limiting it by what we are willing to do for others, but being watchful, being careful of the ones we want to serve, and then
doing all we can.

Like the eyes of a servant watching his master,
like the eyes of a maid on her mistress’s hands,
so we keep our eyes on the Lord our God,
as we wait for His kindness.
Psalm 123:2

But having a servant’s heart is not only for women:
Putting the other before yourself in everything is what makes a man a man in the truest sense. The Man of men Himself demonstrated it, and His manhood was not diminished but attained the image.

How can it be so hard for us to see that it is by emptying ourselves of the glory of our individual being, in living for others with a servant’s heart, that we have been proven to have already passed over from death to life?

Regarding Christianity at least, what holy apostle Paul has written to his younger colleague Timothy is true, “The only purpose of this instruction is that there should be love, coming out of a pure heart, a clear conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5 JB), and in this he was only handing over what he had heard from the Lord,

For the Son of Man Himself did not come to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.
Mark 10:45 Jerusalem Bible

Κρισις και ελεος

People seldom judge you for your real faults. Instead, they judge you for their own faults which they apply to their image of you, or they judge you for not living up to their expectations, or because they think you are not following the rules—not their rules, of course, but the Rules.

Your real faults—and here you may or may not know them—usually go unnoticed, uncriticised. It takes too much time and trouble to look at people as they really are. It’s easier to imagine them. It’s easier to worship—or to demonise—them, but to take them ‘as is’, we haven’t time.

Ever afraid to come home? If the answer is ‘yes’ then it is a question of having a home at all, because home is all about welcome, acceptance, affirmation, interest in one another, love. ‘Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere…’

He wasn’t talking only about a comfortable spot to rest. In all the world, no such place was found for Him, or offered, until a rich man offered His newly excavated tomb, and there, He was finally able ‘to lay His head’. Is this the only home we have to offer those we say we love?

Brethren, let us love one another, as the holy apostle says, quoting His Divine Master who also says it to us. He never said, ‘Judge one another as I have judged you,’ but rather, ‘Love one another as I have loved you. Then you will be My disciples. Greater love has no man than this…’

Judgment is the law of this present age.
Mercy is the law of the age to come.
‘How blessed are the merciful,
for they shall have mercy shown them.’



* Κρισις και ελεος, krísis ke éleos, ‘judgment and mercy’

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Everyone knows

Cost of Discipleship, this blog, was never intended to be more than a site where I could record and publish my experiences and thoughts in the following of Christ. At the beginning, it served in large part to describe the experience of witnessing publicly by reading the Holy Scriptures aloud in Portland.

After that initiation into personal evangelism I continued on, still blogging my experiences and thoughts, and promoting those of others, especially poetry, that I felt should get as wide a readership as possible. For myself, I never know if the post I am currently writing will be my last one. Several times I thought so, but then I’d write again. Cost of Discipleship really has been simply a work of saying ‘Yes’ to the Lord when He asks me to do something. It’s not a case of me ‘hanging out my shingle’ and hoping to be ‘discovered.’ I like to think that what I write about will help people, hundreds of people, unknown to me, and who will never acknowledge to me that they have been helped. At least, this is what is happening, I hope.

To this end, I have tried to stay clear of controversy, though not always have I been successful. There are things that I have written because I had to, there could be no holding back, come what may, even at the risk of causing controversy. As a matter of fact, very little controversy has occurred. I never argue, at least that’s my principle—I just deliver the message, and then stand aside. Most of my readers have been of like mind, knowing that what’s important is not whether we agree or disagree. What’s important is that whatever we think or say or do, we are following Jesus. He has a way of shutting us up, as regards our opinions and thoughts, though not with arrogance as a mere man would, but with meekness. In fact, it is remembering the meekness of our Lord that helps us to be meek.

But there can be issues sometimes that require not discussion but action, and thoughts that, whether they are agreed with or not, still provoke a response in us. The literal cost of discipleship is not something easily calculated or written about in books and blogs. It is something we simply pay by being willing to testify of Jesus Christ, who alone is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Our testimony may or may not be received. Most of the time we will evade those who hate us because of it, but sometimes, like our holy apostle John, we will be banished and incarcerated ‘on the isle called Patmos.’ And like him, while we are in that place of exile and affliction, we too are often caught up ‘on the Lord’s Day’ to hear words and see things that He wants to reveal to us, many of which we couldn’t reveal to others, even if we wanted to.

There are dangers in this world, both to the body and the soul, that the life of discipleship, of following Jesus, do not take away. ‘Though a thousand fall at your side, though ten thousand are dying around you, these evils will not touch you,’ is a promise that has many facets. Though these evils did not touch Jesus, still He hung on the Cross and gave up His life there. Though these evils did not touch the martyrs, still they suffered the ill treatment and even death at the hands of those that hated them for Christ’s sake. Though these evils do not touch us, circumstances happen in which we find ourselves becoming passion-bearers, events beyond our control, in which we, like Christ, allow ourselves ‘to be led like sheep to the slaughter,’ opening not our mouths. It is there that we are granted ‘the peace that the world cannot give.’

When troubles happen and we nevertheless carry on, hopeful and determined to remain faithful, the world says of us, ‘He is in denial.’ They say this too, when they accuse us falsely of what we have never done. It is a kind of mantra with them, and they think it bolsters their own confidence or authority. But there are times when we can say the same of the world, ‘They are in denial.’ History is full of such times. In fact, almost all of human history is built on our civilization being ‘in denial.’ Denial of what? Not of what, but of Whom. Right from the beginning, ‘It’s not my fault. The woman tempted me, and I ate.’ Then, almost without time to recover, ‘Who am I? My brother’s keeper?’ Yet the truth has to be known before it can be denied.

We are now approaching, no, now approaching us are, the events that will close this present age. We won’t have to declare ‘For the time is close’ very much longer. When the most evil fiend has finally revealed himself in great terror ‘against Yahweh and His Anointed, and the kings on earth are rising in revolt,’ the world in unity with them says, ‘There is no threat. It is a religion of peace!’ Anything and anyone is preferable to them, even this ‘religion of peace,’ even surrender to it while it devours them, anything and anyone is preferable to acknowledging Him ‘Who Is, Was and Is to Come, the Faithful and True Witness.’ Theirs is truly living ‘in denial’ and a greater denial cannot be imagined. It’s not even necessary for me to spell out what the world is surrendering to. Everyone knows.

Glory to You, O God! Glory to You!

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever. The angel said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true. The Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent his angel to show his servants the things that must soon take place.”
Revelation 22:1-6 NIV

Come to Me

There is a lot of pain and suffering going on in the world, and even in my tiny corner of it—none of it to me personally—but I suffer just the same. One example, a friend and former co-worker recently lost his mother, who died unexpectedly, and just as unexpectedly, he inherited a very large sum of money. Just as unexpectedly, his wife disappeared one day with nearly all the money, abandoning her husband, her kids, her grandkids (my friend was her second husband, and had no kids with her). Simply, disappeared, and later he found out that she ran away to join a man whom she met on the internet, and is now at the opposite end of the country, her exact whereabouts still unknown. I grieve for my friend on many levels. He is not a Christian. Pain is pain, and the unexpected, even the impossible, happens to us just the same.

I happened to read an article in an online version of the local newspaper, celebrating that lesbian couples can live anywhere openly in the town I work in, which is supposedly the sixth most gay friendly city in America. So much for the statistics. But what is really going on here? What is happening in the lives of the two women featured in the article that has placed them in the ‘category’ they are in? And who placed them there? These are all important questions, but everyone would rather ask and answer the questions that please them, not those that would dig deeply into their reality. They themselves, do they ask the real questions? Or do they ask, and answer, the questions that society around them has taught them to parrot? I left the following words as a comment to the news story, something I rarely do.

It's pretty pointless to talk to anyone on the topic of 'rights' for homosexuals, whether they are for them or against them, because nearly everyone who has given it any attention (I am not saying 'thought', which isn't the same thing) has already made up their mind.

This is simply a difficult situation we find ourselves in, because even to homosexuals (or to those who prefer others of the same sex, for whatever reason) it's obvious that biologically we are made to fit man-woman not any other way, regardless of religious teachings.

But even to Christians (I am one, Greek Orthodox) it is obvious that there can be man-man, woman-woman love relationships, and that many of them are far stronger and even more selfless than the man-woman relationships.

The answer is neither to deny and even blaspheme God, nor to denigrate and demonise human beings. Those who do the former, as well as those who do the latter, will both have to answer for it before the judgment seat.

Social change will always give preference to one or another class, viewpoint, religion or race. In my office I am dismissed as an idiot because I am a Christian and politically conservative, because people tend to categorise rather than really investigate.

Why is this? Because investigate means to invest oneself in something, and that takes commitment. It's easier to categorise (from the Greek word meaning 'to accuse') because you can do that, and then go your way, oblivious of the other person's reality.

Whether a person is Christian or not, straight or not, white or not—or reverse all the terms—to me there is no alternative but to investigate, to listen, to observe, to encourage the good, the right, the just, the true, in dealing with others.

Nothing can be done wholesale, in bulk. People appear one at a time, and disappear the same. We have usually only one chance to know a person, and to leave our mark on them, either way, if we are Christians, we must ask, 'Lord, when did we see You...?'

Agreement or disagreement, approval or disapproval, love or hate, all these things are still external, and we still stand, at every moment, at the threshold of our own death and ultimate judgment. 'Seek peace, pursue it,' say the scriptures. Do what you see Jesus doing.

That is the easy yoke, and the burden light, but we still have to do what He says,
'Come to Me.'

Just preach Christ

Tissot, Abraham and the Three Angels
The follower of Jesus does not proselytize; he evangelizes.
He does not preach Church,
he preaches Christ.
In this he follows His Master, who in the gospels does not seek converts, but seeks that which is lost.

Never do we find that Jesus in His earthly ministry went after people. Never do we see Him arguing a philosophical point to win over an opponent. Never does He proselytize, but He does have words for those who do.

Ουαι υμιν γραμματεις και φαρισαιοι υποκριται οτι περιαγετε την θαλασσαν και την ξηραν ποιησαι ενα προσηλυτον και οταν γενηται ποιειτε αυτον υιον γεεννης διπλοτερον υμων.

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert,
and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.

Matthew 23:15 NIV

What do we find instead? Two disciples of a Jewish prophet, John the Forerunner, are directed by him, pointing to Jesus walking by and saying, “That is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29)

What did the two disciples do? They followed after Jesus. Why? Because they believed the word of the prophet. How did they approach Jesus? They asked, “Rabbi, where do you live?” How does Jesus respond? He says, “Come, and see!”

The encounter with the Truth is gentle. There is no compulsion exerted from the outside. Everything is accomplished inwardly. All movement is internal first, in the heart. Then, it is manifested by the feet, running after the Lord.

This is why the follower of Jesus does not argue semantically to win over an opponent. He does not preach Apollos. He doesn’t preach Paul. He doesn’t preach himself. No, he preaches Christ, and Him crucified, and risen from the dead.

People want to draw us into arguments, wrangling over words, but it is precisely this tactic that the evil one used when he wanted to entrap Christ. To every argument, Jesus responded not with human reason, but with the plain words of scripture.

The Word of God does not need to defend Himself.
He simply is what He is.

In the same way, brethren, all who follow Jesus, all who believe and stand on the Word, who preach, like the angel of the last days, the eternal gospel, just preach Christ, to yourself by submitting all your thoughts to the Word of God, to others by proving on the battlefield of your body that you follow Christ the Victor over sin, and to all those whom the Lord places in your path by your courtesy and generosity, and by always having a spirit of welcome, for men have welcomed angels without knowing it (Hebrews 13:2).

Home, again

Home...
What’s that supposed to mean?
Isn’t it supposed to be a place where you go after a long, hard day in the world, to relax, to restore yourself, to feel welcome in the company of family and friends?

That’s what I’ve always thought it was supposed to be, but that’s not what it has always been, for me.

What we find is that, unless we live alone, home is often none of these things.

Instead, for some, home is a place to throw down your things, dump yourself into a comfortable chair, and try to blot out the memories of the day by immersion in television or a computer game. For some, it’s a place where there may be food laid out on a table, or left sitting on the stove, where you might hear somebody call out, “Supper’s on the table if anybody wants it!”

It may be a place where you’re afraid to come home, because the criticism you encounter there is a 24/7 experience, where you feel disapproved of, pushed around, and in general made to feel less worthy than you’re made to feel even in the world. “Don’t do that! Don’t touch this! Hey, that’s mine, hands off! You’re messing up my kitchen (or bathroom, or livingroom)!”

Sometimes it’s even a place where the people you live with are always on the edge of hinting, by gestures if not by words, “Are you still here? Why aren’t you out on your own already?” It seems like they just can’t wait to get you out. And why? Can being alone really be that much fun? Always an unwanted guest, sometimes even in your own house. That’s what it can be like for some people, even for Christians.

What do we want? What do we expect? Does the golden rule not apply here? “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” or even its silver equivalent “Do not unto others what you would not want done to you.” As C. S. Lewis says, there’s been no shortage of good advice around since the beginning of human history, yet we never seem to take it. And the golden rule is no mere advice, it’s the words of Jesus Himself.

The holy Apostles teach us to give way to one another, just as we give way to Christ” (cf. Ephesians 5:21). What do we think this means? It’s not another legalism, though we might want to make it one. It’s a word of encouragement to us, to be humble, welcoming and supportive of others, in whom Christ lives, and for whom Christ died, to love others as we love ourselves—something we can only do if we really do love ourselves, because a friend is another self.

A perfect example of making “home” a reality is shown in the ikon called “the hospitality of Abraham.” He and Sarah were camped out at the oak of Mamre. He was sitting in front of the tent.
Out on the horizon of that desolate landscape he saw three figures approaching.
Did he wait for them to come closer?
Did he pick up his blanket, go back into his tent and pull the flap over the opening, pretending to not be at home?

No, he didn’t.

He went running towards the three figures and when close, he bowed before them, much as the Japanese do today, and offered to make them comfortable, to let them rest, refresh themselves, and be fed in his humble home. He called them, “my Lord,” and then made good his offer, with Sarah’s help, to welcome them “home,” be it ever so humble. He never thought of himself, only of his guests.

Even before Christ came in the flesh, here was a man on the lookout for God coming to visit him, and He did, and in a manner that suggested something more than we could have guessed. Even though God is One, He is also Love and therefore must be more than One. Abraham made his guests feel at home, made them feel as though they belonged there, as we sometimes say without really meaning it, “Mi casa es su casa.”

I want where I live to be home, not just for me, but for anyone who knocks at my door.

Home, because the door is never locked.
Home, because anyone can take off
his shoes and coat
and sit down anywhere.
Home, because whatever is in the kitchen is to be eaten.
Home, because there’s always a spare pillow, blanket and bed.
Home, because your thoughts
and feelings are as much respected
as my own.
Home, because you are safe here, just as I am,
from the world’s guile.
Home, because Jesus lives here with us.
Home, because you know that I want to be with you.

How can we make home a reality for ourselves and for others?
How can we make Christ welcome, since He is in our midst?

Christ is ascended but has not left us orphans!
Let us love one another, and glorify Him!