Monday, September 30, 2013

Gerasenes

Once I prayed, ‘Religion is our protection against You,’ betraying my own self-deception along with the hidden thoughts of countless other hearts. We think we have settled the score and ‘made our peace with God’ when we ‘accepted’ Jesus, so now we have the right to keep our treasures buried, lest they be discovered and plundered, or spent.

The world classifies belief in God as just another private fetish which we are free to indulge in as long as it doesn’t harm anyone else. We go along with this charade and wear our ‘public’ religion as a mask, but what is our real religion? Defend our Catholicism or our Orthodoxy or our ‘walk with Jesus’ as we must, but in the dark night of faith, whom do we trust?

True religion, like true worship, is always more than we bargained for. The living God will no more stay ensconced in His distant heaven than the living Christ is willing to remain in His tomb. We may believe our names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. We may trust in Him for our salvation. But we live as though our safety consists precisely in making sure He stays away.

Inwardly we plead with Christ more anxiously than the Gerasenes that He leave our town, so we don’t lose any more of our precious pigs.

The psalmist declares, ‘You scour the wicked off the earth like rust,’ but what about the rest of us? Not the ‘wicked’ yet not exactly the ‘righteous’? No, not the righteous at all. We want the wicked to be no more because they too, like our own sins and negligence, are witnesses against us. How happy we should be, if only we, the meek, could inherit the earth, right now!

Save us, O Son of God! Deliver us from our religious fantasy! You fed our ancestors with manna and quails in the wilderness, and still they refused to enter a land of delight. Today, You feed us with Your very self, tendered to us in the mystery of Your Body and Blood, and still we refuse to ascend Your holy mountain, where the Light of transfiguration casts no shadows.

    Yahweh, who has the right to enter Your tent,
    or to live on Your holy mountain?

    The man whose way of life is blameless,
    who always does what is right,
    who speaks the truth from his heart,
    whose tongue is not used for slander,

    who does no wrong to his fellow,
    casts no discredit on his neighbor,
    looks with contempt on the reprobate,
    but honors those who fear Yahweh;

    who stands by his pledge at any cost,
    does not ask interest on loans,
    and cannot be bribed to victimise the innocent.
    If a man does all this, nothing can ever shake him.

Psalm 15, Jerusalem Bible

Just to make sure


Defined by what I don’t more than by what I do.
That’s how many people look at themselves and the world.
It’s a ‘me against them,’ or if they’re some kind of Christian,
it’s an ‘us against them’ mentality.

I am, or we are, right and everyone else is wrong,
and they’re gonna know it.
I speak up and stand up for what I believe.
Who cares who’s listening.
Who cares if someone’s feelings get hurt.
Somebody has to tell the truth.
I like what you say, but as for those other guy’s,
they’re just plain wrong, and I don’t mind telling you.
Yeah, you can be my friend, but watch out!
You’re under my gun the same as those other fellows.
If you don’t think like I do, you’ll hear from me.
Though as a Christian man I can’t say this out loud,
‘it’s my way or the highway.’
But God approves, because I’m rightly dividing His word.
If you know what’s good for you, stick with me.

Yes, brothers, this world is an arena, not a battlefield.

In a battlefield, we are heavily armed and we know who our enemy is, and we fight, we fight for our lives, and it all depends on us.
It’s a winner takes all scenario. If we lose, well, we lose our lives.
No one is watching, no one cares.

In an arena, we are competing. Some enter the arena thinking like they are entering a battle against an enemy, and they fight tooth and nail, not caring if they fight fair. All they want to do is win and make sure everyone watching knows it.

But that’s not how we enter the arena, brothers.
That’s not how we are sent into the ring.
For us, if there is a battle, it is only against ourselves, not an opponent. For us, the arena is where we are tested, where we are trained, to be what our Teacher is, to show Him that we have learned how to present ourselves, blameless, in a fair fight.

He knows we have no choice but to be placed in the arena, so He has taken us under His wing and teaches us, day by day, letting us enter the ring now and again to see how we are learning our lessons, to see if we’ve absorbed His martial arts technique. Violence, but not for its own sake, passionless and without hate, respectful and generous in courtesy. We spar with our partners, knowing them to be under the same Teacher. As for the spectators, some of whom will soon join us, what will happen if they see us make a false move?

In the end, perhaps, but not now, not at present, the arena will be our last encounter. We may be thrown into the ring with a real gladiator, or worse, thrown weaponless into the lair of wild beasts, and there will be no exit for us except through the gate of death, death to the world, which is life’s Gate for us.

But until then, let us be merciful, brothers, to ourselves and to each other, and mince our words and deeds so that they will not choke our neighbor, but gently feed him. For the love that is shown us now by our Teacher, for the sake of the prize that awaits us, let us also be at peace, and love one another.

Let’s live by what we do, not by what we don’t, just to make sure.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Come, let us drink of that new river…

The commandments of Jesus, if obeyed, absolutely turn the world ‘as it is’ upside down. We don't have to understand why He gives us these commandments. We just have to fulfill them. They aren't many, either. In fact He Himself reduced them down to just two basics. ‘Love the Lord your God, and your neighbor as yourself.’ These commandments are both the easiest and the hardest, just as the yoke of Jesus is both the easiest (as He tells us) and the hardest. Easiest, when we decide to follow them, and do. Hardest, when we inwardly reject them, but try to do them for whatever other reason; in other words, when we resist.

A specific commandment of Jesus? Pray for those who persecute you and willfully abuse you. In other words, pray for your enemies. Your enemies, mind you, not His. At least, there is no one that He makes His enemy, though people make Him their Enemy. We do too, when we resist Him by holding back from following His commandments. But pray for your enemies. A radical thought, from the perspective of the world. But if followed, that world is brought to its knees. Interesting. We bring ourselves to our knees for the world our enemy that persecutes and abuses us, and that brings the world to its knees.
How so?
Because it is vexed. 

Epikránthi! It was vexed! The word we shout at the end of the liturgy of the Resurrection, the night of Pascha, many times, as the sermon of John the Golden-Mouthed is read to us. We shout it at the service after the midnight hour, yet in the daylight, we often cannot see how we are to achieve this vexation of the world that afflicted Hades when Christ descended. Yet, it is only by following Him there in our world day by day, praying for our enemies just as He emptied Hell of His, even after they put Him to death. What we shout in the night, by following the commandments of Jesus, we can live in the day.
‘Come, let us drink of that new river…’

Bless my enemies

Bless my enemies, O Lord.
Even I bless them and do not curse them.
Enemies have driven me into your embrace more than friends have.
Friends have bound me to earth, enemies have loosed me from earth and have demolished all my aspirations in the world.
Enemies have made me a stranger in worldly realms and an extraneous inhabitant of the world.
Just as a hunted animal finds safer shelter than an un-hunted animal does, so have I, persecuted by enemies, found the safest sanctuary, having ensconced myself beneath Your tabernacle, where neither friends nor enemies can slay my soul.

Bless my enemies, O Lord.
Even I bless them and do not curse them.
They, rather than I, have confessed my sins before the world.
They have punished me, whenever I have hesitated to punish myself.
They have tormented me, whenever I have tried to flee torments.
They have scolded me, whenever I have flattered myself.
They have spat upon me, whenever I have filled myself with arrogance.

Bless my enemies, O Lord.
Even I bless them and do not curse them.
Whenever I have made myself wise, they have called me foolish.
Whenever I have made myself mighty, they have mocked me as though I were a dwarf. Whenever I have wanted to lead people, they have shoved me into the background.
WheneverI have rushed to enrich myself, they have prevented me with an iron hand.
Whenever I thought that I would sleep peacefully, they have wakened me from sleep.
Whenever I have tried to build a home for a long and tranquil life, they have demolished it and driven me out.
Truly, enemies have cut me loose from the world and have stretched out my hands to the hem of your garment.

Bless my enemies, O Lord.
Even I bless them and do not curse them.
Bless them and multiply them;
multiply them and make them even more bitterly against me:
so that my fleeing to You may have no return;
so that all hope in men may be scattered like cobwebs;
so that absolute serenity may begin to reign in my soul;
so that my heart may become the grave of my two evil twins: arrogance and anger;
so that I might amass all my treasure in heaven; ah, so that I may for once be freed from self-deception, which has entangled me in the dreadful web of illusory life.

Enemies have taught me to know what hardly anyone knows,
that a person has no enemies in the world except himself.
One hates his enemies only when he fails to realize that they are not enemies, but cruel friends.
It is truly difficult for me to say who has done me more good
and who has done me more evil in the world:
friends or enemies.

Therefore bless, O Lord, both my friends and my enemies.
A slave curses enemies, for he does not understand.
But a son blesses them, for he understands.
For a son knows that his enemies cannot touch his life.
Therefore he freely steps among them and prays to God for them.

Bless my enemies, O Lord.
Even I bless them and do not curse them.

To please God

I beseech you, put this to the test. When a man affronts you or brings dishonor on your head, or takes what is yours, or persecutes the Church, pray to the Lord, saying: “O Lord, we are all Thy creatures. Have pity on Thy servants and turn their hearts to repentance,” and you will be aware of grace in your soul. To begin with, constrain your heart to love enemies, and the Lord, seeing your good will, will help you in all things, and experience itself will show you the way. But the man who thinks with malice of his enemies has not God’s love within him, and does not know God.

If you will pray for your enemies, peace will come to you; but when you can love your enemies – know that a great measure of the grace of God dwells in you, though I do not say perfect grace as yet, but sufficient for salvation. Whereas if you revile your enemies, it means there is an evil spirit living in you and bringing evil thoughts into your heart, for, in the words of the Lord, out of the heart proceed evil thoughts – or good thoughts.

The good man thinks to himself in this wise: Every one who has strayed from the truth brings destruction on himself and is therefore to be pitied. But of course the man who has not learned the love of the Holy Spirit will not pray for his enemies. The man who has learned love from the Holy Spirit sorrows all his life over those who are not saved, and sheds abundant tears for the people, and the grace of God gives him strength to love his enemies.

Understand me. It is so simple. People who do not know God, or who go against Him, are to be pitied; the heart sorrows for them and the eye weeps. Both paradise and torment are clearly visible to us: We know this through the Holy Spirit. And did not the Lord Himself say, “The kingdom of God is within you”? Thus eternal life has its beginning here in this life; and it is here that we sow the seeds of eternal torment. Where there is pride there cannot be grace, and if we lose grace we also lose both love of God and assurance in prayer. The soul is then tormented by evil thoughts and does not understand that she must humble herself and love her enemies, for there is no other way to please God.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The wrath of God

I don't know why more Unitarian Universalists and freethinkers don't become Orthodox Christians (in fact I have never known any of them to), unless it's because deep down they can't stand the thought of a God who is One yet not a monad, because in that mysterious Church of the East the wrath of God is so abundantly appeased by poetical words of divine Love going in both directions—God to man, man back to God—that the average Christian there feels too at home with the God of heaven to even consider that ‘the wrath of God’ could be anything but a metaphor for our own peevishness, which God's grace will most assuredly evaporate! ‘Well,’ says Yiayia, ‘if snow’s white, it’s white; if it’s black, it’s black, and even God can’t change that!’ which is her way of saying that the strangest things are sometimes true (d’après Joice NanKivell, Again Christophilos, p.5).

Stranger still than that we should overlook God’s wrath as revealed in the letters of the holy apostles, we (perhaps maybe better said, I) daily read and pray the divine Psalms where nearly every one of them repeats and reinforces the notion that God loves virtue and the virtuous, in the Tehillim, the ‘tzaddiqim,’ but detests, even hates, sin and the wicked, the ‘resha‘im’: as Psalm 1 has it, ‘Yahweh takes care of the way the virtuous go, but the way of the wicked is doomed.’ In the Hebrew the last few words have such a sound of finality, ‘v’dérekh resha‘ím tovéd.’ Yes, ‘tovéd’, doomed, the word is loaded with every bit as much threat in Hebrew as in English, even the sound of it as it is pronounced is an audible ikon of ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels’ (Matthew 25:41).

It’s a good thing to keep in mind the wrath of God, even if we don’t understand exactly what it means, because what it does mean in the rough and tumble, aside from all intellectual or poetic skirting of the issue, is that there can be no play acting, no fooling God, even if we can fool others and ourselves: Love can heal all men of all dis-eases, even of death, but only if our hatred we are willing to lay down.

Lay down, lay down, lay it all down
Let your white birds smile up
At the ones who stand and frown

We were so close, there was no room
We bled inside each other’s wounds
We all had caught the same disease
And we all sang the songs of peace

So raise the candles high, ’cause if you don't
We could stay black against the night
Oh, raise them higher again, and if you do
We could stay dry against the rain

Some came to sing, some came to pray
Some came to keep the dark away…


—Melanie Safka, Candles in the Rain, sung at Woodstock

I love this song, have loved it since I first heard it, but now forty-four years later I wonder how we could have been so naïve, how we could have missed its real meaning, how Melanie Safka its author could have not known what it really meant while she composed it, sang it, how we could have been so blind to our own self-centered and childish rebelliousness. How self-righteous we were! How confident, but of all the wrong things! All the wrong things except one. Our need for love, to receive it, yes, but also to give it. And how ignorant we were, and how ungrateful, unaware that the very muddy soil on which we camped ourselves in huddled tents was the very stuff of which we were made, and that rain, that which made us pliable enough to be fashioned into images to be brought to Life only by the inbreathing of the God who wanted us into being.

The wrath of God, the flip side of His love? Or does holy and divine Scripture speak to us as does a mother to her little child, using baby talk? Through the words of our mother is the will of our heavenly Father intimated to us in a way that will warn but not crush us, warm but not burn us? The holy, unearthly, divine Triad, who alone is the One God, yet who chose not to be alone eternally, but unsplit and undivided from before all ages is, was, and will be Three, opening narrow a cleft in the Rock into which He places us so that we can see, Him passing by and showing us only His back, so that we can follow, hearing His name called out to us, our new names receive.

Yes, the wrath of God, what is left to us when we do not look upon Him whom we have pierced by our sins, our sin, our willful disobedience, when we do not mourn over Him as over an Only son, what is left to us when we have pushed away the Other, so that we can be alone with ourselves. If the wrath of God is a metaphor for anything, it is a metaphor for ourselves, it is we, it is I, when I choose to be everything that I was not created to be, when I want and work for at all costs that which never could have existed in this or any world. Yes, the wrath of God: ‘Is it I, Lord, is it I?’

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

That one is you

The Orthodox fathers use the sun as an analogy to the Holy and Divine Triad. The sun itself is the Heavenly Father. The light of the sun is the Divine Word and Son of God. The heat of the sun is the Holy Spirit.

No one can see the sun, except by the light, which enters our eyes and shows it to us. We have no other way to be in contact with the sun or even know for sure that it is there, but for the light (and the heat). If you approached the sun to touch it, you would be incinerated long before you reached it. The Father, thus, is ever intangible and unreachable to us, in His essence.

The light of the sun, though, both shows us what the sun looks like and tells us that it is there. ‘Who sees Me sees the Father,’ says Jesus, the Son and Word of God. In Jesus the Father is both visible and reachable. We make our prayers known to the Father through the Son. Moreover, light itself has two natures. It is both particles (photons) and waves (pure energy), and in the same way, Jesus the Son of God is both human and Divine. Yes, and He is the Phos ek Photós, ‘Light from Light.’

The heat of the sun would be evidence, even to a blind man, that the sun, or at least some source of heat, is out there, because he can feel its effect on him. In a similar way, even if a man is spiritually blind, he can still feel the warmth of the Holy Spirit falling on him, telling him that there is a Father in heaven, yet he can still move out of that sunlight and into the shadows. It is his choice.

There was never a sun without light and heat, yet the light is not the sun, nor is the heat the sun; each is distinct, yet inseparable from the source. In the same way, the Orthodox fathers teach that the Father is the source and principle of the Godhead, of the Divine Nature. The Son (only one of Him) is begotten eternally from the Father as light emanates eternally from the sun. As heat proceeds from the sun by means of the light that emanates from it, the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father alone, but by means of the Son of God, who said, ‘I will ask the Father and He will send you another Advocate.’

Co-eternal, consubstantial—these are words that seem overpowering and mystery-laden, making the Holy Triad seem to be unthinkable and unexperienceable by man. But the Orthodox fathers show us that the mystery is not that God should be three yet one, but that we could have ever imagined a God who is only one.

The unity of the Divine Nature, ‘Hear, O Israel, Yahweh is our God, Yahweh is One’, is not diminished by His being a Triad. His Oneness is so One without second, so beyond numerical oneness, that even His triadic nature does not take away from it.

God is changeless, and yet He is One. God is changeless, and yet He is love. There can be no love except ‘between’ and no pure love, impartial and selfless love, except between ‘three.’ Hence, the Divine Nature says, ‘Let us make man in Our image.’

No one has ever seen God, only the Son of God, Jesus Christ, has made Him known and shown Him to us, being Himself God and yet not the Father. And the Holy Spirit, that third member of the One God in Triad, is our own membership in that Society of Persons which we call the Holy Trinity. Through Him, through the Spirit, we take our places at the banquet of the Divine Nature, becoming by genuine adoption what Christ is by nature, sons and daughters of the Most-High.

Théosis (divinization) is what we were made for, sotiría (salvation) is the process of our transfiguration.

Christ ‘was, is, and is to come.’
We were saved, are being saved, and are to be saved, that is, to be one with the Divine and Holy Triad, as Christ prays, ‘that they may be One, even as You, Father, and I are One.’

See the Orthodox ikon of the Holy Trinity, the original written by Andrei Rublev, posted above. There you will see the three ‘angels’ seated around a table, with one place left open for another.

That one is you.

Monday, September 23, 2013

I am a Christian

Many months ago I noticed a popup on the internet from a group inviting people to 'sign the pledge' and 'boldly proclaim' that 'I am a Christian'. The group is in the name of an evangelist for whom I have always had a lot of respect, namely, Billy Graham. Why do I have a great deal of respect for this evangelist? At one 'crusade' of his that I personally attended in my home town, I noticed that after the 'altar call' those who came forward to be prayed for and counseled were then directed to a local congregation of the church or denomination to which they belonged or formerly belonged. This included Orthodox and Catholic as well as non-Baptist denominations. I assume that, if a person's religious background or affiliation was non-Christian, they were directed to ministries affiliated with or approved by Billy Graham's organization. Somehow, I found this reassuring, that Mr Graham was not promoting his version or anyone's version of Christianity. He was simply doing what he sees Jesus doing, preaching the good news. Another way of putting it, as I often do,
'I witness for Christ, and He witnesses for the Church.'

What irks me—no, it doesn't irk me, it repels me—is that anyone who professes Jesus Christ and believes in the plain meaning of the Word of God can even say such a thing as 'boldly proclaim' that one is a Christian. When I first saw the ad—and I saw it again today, captured it 'on film' and present it here—it immediately made me think of this scene from the 2009 historical film Agora, which portrays the Christianization of the Roman province of Egypt during the reign of emperor Theodosios II and Alexandrian pope Kyrillos. I know that many will say that this is an anti-Christian propaganda movie coming on the heels of the evidence of contemporary Islamic militancy, as a way to discredit both religious faiths, but I don't see it that way. As a student of history, I know that when one digs more deeply into Christian history, what one finds is fewer and fewer followers of Jesus, and more of those who use Christ and the Christian faith as means to other ends. We see this today. We have seen it happen in recent history. Why should it have been different in the first few centuries of Christianity?



Without making judgments or taking sides, I merely want to present this film clip of the scene where a Christian servant, finding himself in the midst of a sectarian riot and commanded to take part as an assumed pagan against the Christians, kills the pagan who tries to force him to kill, and then, seeing his master watching him, throws out his hands and proclaims, apologetically at first, then with increasing fervor, 'I am a Christian,' as he falls upon his master with a weapon and nearly beats him to death. The servant's life is ended quickly by the rescuing hand of a pagan student of the philosopher Hypatia, who later becomes the Christian prefect of Egypt. All these details are, of course, the work of the screenplay writer, informed by history and his own imagination, but things such as this no doubt have happened, as they continue to do. Though we look upon certain religious faiths as violent and others as pacifistic, most have had a violent aspect at some time or another, and many still do, including Christianity.

No wonder John Lennon wrote in his song Imagine, 'and no religion too,' and in a very ironic way, he was telling the truth.

Come, labor on

Perhaps I am losing it, but as I have gotten older and walked further that road to Calvary, I see that everyone, absolutely everyone, has a call on my love. The question is, will I give it? I no longer see the world in black and white, bad guys versus good guys, and I no longer espouse any causes, political, religious, even moral. This is not because I don't believe there is a real right and wrong, or real good and evil, or because I am just tired of the struggle. No, I have laid down my arms, so that I can lift up my arms to embrace, following Christ who stretched out His arms on the cross to embrace, and save, everyone, everyone who does not resist Him.

The love of God is not only inexhaustible, not only free, but imposes no conditions except that we accept it from Him, and that is what salvation really is, as I know you know, just the willingness to turn around and face the Lord, knowing or at least trusting that as far as He is concerned (not what we or anyone else thinks) we have been made worthy in spite of our shame, righteous in spite of our sin. God is so good. He is pure mercy. He even prays from the cross that the Father forgive those who killed Him, on that cross and on every cross till the end of time. He didn't qualify in that prayer which of his killers to forgive. He just asked that all be forgiven. And like every prayer of Christ, how can we even think that His heavenly Father would not have granted His request? How could we hope for the granting of our own requests if even the very Son of God was denied His prayer request? God forbid we should be so faithless.

The whole world is white for harvest. That means, every soul has been saved by Christ. Pray that the Lord sends laborers to that harvest, to tell every man that God loves them, that God is in fact love, that there is no darkness or hatred in Him at all. Yes, God is holy and cannot abide sin, but does He banish it? No, He descends into the midst of it, to break its bonds and release its prisoners.

Yes, Christ is risen from the dead, trampling death by death, and to those in the tombs bestowing life. Yes, He empties the tombs.

Come, labor on!
Who dares stand idle, on the harvest plain
While all around him waves the golden grain?
And to each servant does the Master say,
“Go work today.”

Come, labor on!
Claim the high calling angels cannot share—
To young and old the Gospel gladness bear;
Redeem the time; its hours too swiftly fly.
The night draws nigh.

Come, labor on!
The enemy is watching night and day,
To sow the tares, to snatch the seed away;
While we in sleep our duty have forgot, He slumbered not.

Come, labor on!
Away with gloomy doubts and faithless fear!
No arm so weak but may do service here:
By feeblest agents may our God fulfill
His righteous will.

Come, labor on!
No time for rest, till glows the western sky,
Till the long shadows o’er our pathway lie,
And a glad sound comes with the setting sun,
“Well done, well done!”

Come, labor on!
The toil is pleasant, the reward is sure;
Blessèd are those who to the end endure;
How full their joy, how deep their rest shall be,
O Lord, with Thee!

Apocalypse now

Our God is very economical in His dealings with us. He never arrives too early or too late. He never provides too little or too much. He harmonizes all that He creates to function symphonically, synergically. Everything, as He creates it, He declares good. He makes nothing without the Son and the Holy Spirit, thus revealing Himself to rational beings through Them, as the Father, and together with Them, as Holy One and Unearthly Triad.

He has taken from us words that He spoke by His holy prophets, proved by the history of His holy nation, sent out by the writings of His holy apostles, and sealed by the testimony of His holy martyrs, transforming them by the human and divine nature of His Son the Word, and given them back to us as the only divine scriptures on earth, the Bible. There it is, a Book transfigured into a Door.

Open it and you meet not just human words, but the Word. Entering with bowed head and bended knees, we are made to stand upright again with heads held high and straightened backs, renewed in the Father’s image, the God-man Jesus Christ, as we find Paradise as Him, and find ourselves in Paradise.

Yet our God is very economical. He knows what we are made of, because He makes us. He knows our nature from within, having become One of us. From the first-created Adam to the last-born Adam, He knows us all in our billions. The Book that He has given to us is written in words drawn from us. It speaks of things He wants to tell us in our own human language, precisely so that we can understand them.

The book of Revelation, the Apocalypse, is a book that the Church has almost avoided since the beginning, because it contains so much of a mysterious nature that it can easily be misunderstood. At one extreme, the Orthodox Church never reads it in the context of services, and at the other extreme are the many personality cults that are practically erected on the foundation of some man or woman’s interpretations of it.

Let’s listen to what the book of Revelation itself says and, without presuming to interpret the mysterious elements, pay attention to the things it plainly reveals, for they are not few. Approaching the Apocalypse, the phrase that immediately greets me at the door is the word of Jesus Himself, Μη φοβου! ‘Don’t be afraid’ (Revelation 1:17). We can trust Jesus here just as we trust His words in every other book of the Bible.

Many people even forget that it is Christ who is speaking to John and revealing these things, but if you have a red letter edition of the Bible you’ll see that there’s a lot of red printed in the book of Revelation. Like the rock that followed Israel in its migrations and gave them water to drink wherever they went, the Apocalypse has been following the Church in its earthly pilgrimage and follows us still.
Are we drinking from its living water?

For us and for every generation it is the Apocalypse now, and time itself has been carrying within it the seed of its own destruction, as the Day of the Lord draws closer to us. There never was a time not to do as the book of Revelation prescribes, ‘Read the prophecy aloud, listen to it, and keep what it says.’ Why? Because John, the servant and beloved disciple himself testifies, ‘it is the word of God guaranteed by Jesus Christ,’ and ‘because the time is close’ (Revelation 1:2-3).

The book of Revelation contains things both hidden and plain. It is our privilege to have this prophecy and our blessing to do what it says. Even in the first three verses comprising the Prologue, we find the truth both hidden and plain.

Hidden? When John writes ‘about the things which are now to take place very soon.’

Plain? When he writes, ‘John has written down everything he saw and swears it is the word of God guaranteed by Jesus Christ. Happy the man who reads this prophecy aloud, and happy those who listen to him, if they keep all that it says, because the Time is close.’

The hidden? The meaning and significance of the apocalyptic visions, when they are to take place, or whether they already have, and how, and where; the meaning of ‘now’ and of ‘very soon.’ Notice that these are exactly the things which have caused divisions, provoked and supported pride, and given occasion to scandals and crimes among the believers, allowing the planting of bad seed among the good. Christ says plainly to us in the gospels, ‘No man knows the day or the hour.’ Believing and obeying His word, we are saved from the despoliation of the hidden, wherever in the Bible we find it.

The plain? What is written as having factually occurred, ‘John has written down everything he saw.’ What we can trust on the word of an eyewitness and disciple of Jesus, ‘he saw and swears it is the word of God guaranteed by Jesus Christ.’ What will be the result for us if we follow the instructions in faith and obediently, ‘Happy the man who reads this prophecy aloud, and happy those who listen to him, if they keep all that it says.’ Why we should have faith and obey, ‘for the Time is close.’ Notice that the Lord never tells us too little or too much.

Brethren, I encourage you always and ever, to read the Apocalypse now because it is like a fifth gospel, the final seal of the good news, which began in the preaching of John the Baptist, was accomplished in the sacrificial and life-giving death of our Lord on the tree, and which is ‘now’ about to be perfected in us and in our world. Be like the humble and wise, who receive with joy and obedience the clear words of their Master and await with patience for the revelation of all that He will accomplish at His glorious coming, the parousía.

Remember what the Book plainly states, ‘The One who guarantees these revelations repeats His promise: I shall indeed be with you soon,’ and by our faith and obedience to His word, let us say with the saints, ‘Amen; come Lord Jesus!’ (Revelation 22:20)

New

A few years ago I published a post on this blog called, ‘Finally, an honest pope!’ about the previous Roman pope, Benedict XVI, in which I was critical of the holy father’s pronouncements about other Christian churches, and the Orthodox Church in particular being described as lacking something because we don’t recognize the primacy of the pope. In the same post I rhetorically asked my patriarch, Bartholomaios of Constantinople, what he thought of the pope’s pronouncements, and why he was exchanging kisses and presents with the man, while simultaneously persecuting the elderly hyper-Orthodox (fanatical) monks of Esphigmenou on Mount Athos for refusing to accept him as their spiritual head. I took that post down, after I realized that I had let myself take sides in controversies, which is something I intend not to do on Cost of Discipleship. I put the post back up, just so you can read it, if you want to, in contrast to what I am about to say about the current pope, Francis I.

Popes and patriarchs (don’t you love titles?), metropolitans, archbishops, bishops, proto-presbyters, priests and deacons are all anointed ministries in the Holy Church, which transform those who are duly elected and anointed into superior beings who figuratively float above the rest of us at best, and at worst ride our backs and mercilessly drive us to milking, fleecing, or even the abattoir. Did I really write that? Oh my God! What I meant to say was, ‘anointed ministries in the Holy Church, which transform their bearers into servants of God’s people, servants, protectors, teachers and guides, healers of souls and bodies, peacemakers, ambassadors of the Kingdom of Heaven, spiritual fathers, even human sacrifices who join our savior Christ in shedding their blood for the life of the world.’ Having gotten it wrong the first time (I am an idiot) but hopefully right the second time (following the teachings of the saints), I now move on to the praise of the man of God, Francis, the pope of Rome.

Yes, and this time when I write, ‘Finally, an honest pope!’ I really know what I’m talking about, saying what I mean, and meaning what I say. I don’t have to be a Roman Catholic to feel encouraged by the recent words of the current bishop of Rome, and by his life style. I am not saying his predecessor wasn’t honest. Indeed, he was, but he was honest only in that he continued to uphold divisive and even oppressive opinions which have been the cause of the separation not only between Catholics and Protestants, but Catholics and Orthodox Christians. The honesty of the current pope is of a different kind. He is honest, I think, because he faces the contemporary world with all its ills and aberrations, admits they exist, and then opens the door, not to more doctrinal or political responses, but to affirming eternal life in Christ as the basis of true life in this world. How does he do this?

Like his blessed namesake, probably the most Christ-like man who ever lived, Francis of Assisi, he points us away from human solutions and points us to the holy gospel, to Jesus Christ, and wants to encourage us to follow ‘that Man.’ To some, this may seem like wholesale betrayal of ‘the faith once delivered to the saints,’ but on the contrary I believe it is, at last, a church hierarch whom men have raised so high that he can finally be seen and heard as the voice of Christ (whose vicar he’s supposed to be) telling us, ‘follow Jesus. Do what you see Him doing in the gospels. Say what you hear Him saying. Don’t bury yourself in mere religion.’ To me, this is honesty. To confess Christ before men, and if you are pope, it puts you in a very good position to have your confession heard. Now, having said all that, I am back to affirming that, after all, pope Francis is no different from you or me or any other follower of Christ, and I’m sure he would admit that. He is probably annoyed on the personal side that he gets dissected and reported so much in the media, but he knows, on the official side, he can get the Message through.

That’s what the holy mystery of priesthood in the Body of Christ is really all about anyway. Yes, we who follow the Lord without the distinction of formal ministry are still called to be ‘a holy nation of priests and kings’ and also Christ’s ambassadors. Indeed, we are even better positioned to minister to others one-to-one as laymen than the ordained ministry is. At least, that’s how it is, though it shouldn’t be that way. This is where the current pope can turn some heads, literally and figuratively, and quite possibly initiate, by God’s grace, a reformation that could not only purify the Church head and members, but realize and enter into the unity for which Christ prays in His high priestly prayer. Nothing we humans have done, do, or will ever do on our own, following our own schemes and plans, will ever achieve either reformation or unity. Only Christ can do this, and we only when we look to Him alone.

Again, this is why I think and say, ‘Finally, an honest pope!’ Does the truth now finally come out, that we have been harboring a heritage of historical animosity, all of us, on all sides, clinging to positions both ideal and real, replacing the Message of Jesus Christ with our theological speculations and protecting ourselves (from God, though we think, from each other) behind walls of tradition, instead of bringing salvation and new birth to humanity? We are quickly running out of time ‘to do our thing.’ Christ Himself is very close ready ‘to do His thing,’ and in fact, He has already started doing it. Without knowing the details, we can read about it, yes, in that forbidden, or idolized, or mysterious, or forgotten book, the Apocalypse, the Revelation to Saint John. As the final story of our race unfolds, it will give the word ‘apocalypse’ a new meaning, one that none of us could have guessed.

And the last of the Roman popes of the old order of things, what of him? Will he like John the honorable prophet and forerunner be crushed beneath the combat waged between heaven and earth, or will he, like holy prophet Simeon sing, after finally seeing and holding the incarnate God, ‘Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace…’ and then disappear among the ‘great multitude, which no man can number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, standing before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palms in their hands’?

Again and again, pray

O God, how can we whose minds are so unstable keep our eyes focused on You, so that we can do what we see You doing every day and all around us? For You fill our world at every moment with creatures just like us, falling into need and sin, or arising out of it following the call of life that You’ve planted in us, though we might not know it. Your Word has been strewn among us, seeking that fertile humus in which it can sprout, grow and eventually bear fruit, so that it does not return to You void.

Open our eyes, Lord, to see the world as You see it, at every moment, in every place hearts crying out for mercy, to receive it, but also to bestow it. Show us, Father, that we are not alone, and that to show mercy can be as humble as yielding to another’s infirmity, to overlook our brother’s ignorance, to forgive one who injures or insults us before, or even without, being asked.

Help us to see that mercy has no size limit, large or small, visible or hidden. It is an arrow that never fails to hit its mark. That to stand confidently before Your seat of mercy is to be merciful wherever we are, just as You are merciful. And to always pray what we hear Jesus praying every day, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

Not by us, Yahweh

Psalms for the 23rd Day
110 111 112 113 114 115

Psalm 115
The one true God


Not by us, Yahweh, not by us,
by You alone is glory deserved,
by Your love and Your faithfulness!
Do the pagans ask, ‘Where is their God?’

Ours is the God whose will is sovereign
in the heavens and on earth,
whereas their idols, in silver and gold,
products of human skill,

have mouths, but never speak,
eyes, but never see,
ears, but never hear,
noses, but never smell,

hands, but never touch,
feet, but never walk,
and not a sound from their throats.
Their makers will end up like them,
and so will anyone who relies on them.

House of Israel, rely on Yahweh,
on Him, our help and shield!
House of Aaron, rely on Yahweh,
on Him, our help and shield!
You who fear Yahweh, rely on Yahweh,
on Him, our help and shield!

Yahweh remembers us, He will bless,
He will bless the House of Israel,
He will bless the House of Aaron,
He will bless those who fear Yahweh,
without distinction of rank.

May Yahweh add to your numbers,
yours and your children's too!
May you be blessed by Yahweh,
Maker of heaven and earth!
Heaven belongs to Yahweh,
earth He bestows on man.

The dead cannot praise Yahweh,
they have gone down to silence;
but we the living, bless Yahweh
henceforth and forevermore.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Deliverance

When you hear the word ‘deliverance’ in the context of Christianity, what comes to mind is, deliverance from a destructive lifestyle or obsessions or habits that threaten to permanently (in this life and in the hereafter) disable, even annihilate, people—in brief, to send them ‘to hell.’ The irony is that often the form of Christianity that espouses this kind of ‘ministry’ is actually substituting one form of addiction or affliction for another, not really delivering anyone, just changing the symptoms. The following essay by Aunt Melanie is excerpted from her blog Desert Dimension, where it is posted as notes to ‘How Ignorance Obscures the Sense of Christ’, Discourse XV.2, by St Symeon the New Theologian. (Aunt Melanie has, since the original publishing of this post, closed her blogs.)

Allow me to consider what might be a subcategory of ignorance. There are churches, often groups which separate from mainstream churches for motives of correctness or outspoken individuals within a mainstream church, which advocate for a narrow interpretation of Bible and Church. In other words, they claim to have the right answers and that everyone else is wrong and condemned. The result seems to be an idiosyncratic and even bizarre religiosity—having just enough truth elements to maintain the appearance of a church but with emphases which also distort Bible, Church, and history.

Ignorance and Correctness

How do people become like this? How can people read the Bible and yet remain ignorant? It seems to me that there are some people who are driven by a need for security and authority. Correctness and isolationism fulfill these deep psychological deficits. I can imagine these people as children—living in fear of abandonment and disapproval from parents and teachers. All children have these fears to some extent (because young children want to please adults and receive affirmation), but most children mature while others become permanently scarred. My speculation is that, in some cases, the experiences of emotional abandonment and behavioral disapproval transmute into an extreme need to be correct. Ironically, these people then disapprove of and disown all others who might pose the uncertainties of relationship, interaction, and human weaknesses.

There was a time when I myself felt the emotional impact of hyper-correct individuals. While I never joined any such group, I had acquaintances among such people. It caused me to feel frightened for my salvation and confused about Jesus Christ. These people can tap into our innermost psychological fears and spiritual doubts. You see, there are indeed correct ways to do things. There is a correct way to sew a dress, to cook a casserole, to play a game of baseball, to drive down the road. Part of growing up is to be trained in these correct ways. Moreover, there are consequences for incorrectness—everything from a burnt dinner to a speeding ticket.

However, correctness does not extend neatly into religion because of the dynamics of love and mercy, and because of the sovereignty of God the Father. Please do not think that I am undermining the Ten Commandments, for example, or even liturgical rites and prayer books. I am stressing the cultural and nationalistic elements, the picking and choosing of Bible passages for a foundation, the elitist strictness of rites and rubrics which never existed in the earliest centuries of the Church, the obsessive devotional practices, the use of charismatic expressions as proof of holiness, the racist and ethnic preferences, the fear-mongering toward those who are not correct, and the use of doctrine to separate rather than to gather. This all adds up to ignorance or illiteracy of Bible and Church.

Ignorance and Deliverance

Are ignorant people malicious? Or are they just misguided? I do not have the answer, and I will try not to judge. It is possible that, in this subcategory, there are variations of conditions. Some are probably prideful and fraudulent, some are mistaken and unfortunate, and some are victims of overpowering personalities and harsh upbringing. The use of fear, especially panic, can be contagious. It can spread like a virus, afflicting many people. However, we do not really have to figure out other people’s intentions. Perhaps the key is this: if you feel frightened rather than repentant, if you feel dehumanized rather than forgiven, then you might consider evaluating your religion or church leaders. You might visit some other churches, try to read the Bible with a fresh mind, and pray for deliverance from anything nonsensical and unmerciful.

When Christians silence other Christians

Another gem, the hardest and brightest, from Aunt Melanie's Walk in Wisdom blog…

Aside from physical persecution, there are two main ways to silence Christians. Unfortunately, these two ways of silencing are used by fellow Christians. Why would Christians want to silence other Christians? It has to do with insecurity and the need to control. Questions, analysis, and evaluation are felt as threatening to the belief system and to the related social norms.

First, Christians can silence other Christians by inducing feelings of guilt and shame. They can especially train up children in this manner, as well as indoctrinate fresh converts. Anyone who asks questions or who is capable of analysis and evaluation is labeled as prideful, judgmental, disobedient, and even demonic. Most children and sincere seekers or converts cannot bear to be put in these categories because the condemnation is terrifying, and because it also fills them with guilt and shame over their own thinking processes.

Second, Christians can silence other Christians by shunning them. This is a powerful form of control because most people cannot bear social isolation. A mother or father can give their child the silent treatment which the child feels as unbearable abandonment. Church members can turn their backs to another member whose honesty might be felt as threatening to the belief system or to the cultural status quo.

What can you do if you find yourself in this kind of situation?
(A) You can conform in order to be included in socialization.
(B) You can change churches if the particular doctrine is not essential to your spirituality or conscience.
(C) If your acceptance of a particular doctrinal system is firm (despite your questions and concerns), then you will probably have to bear the mental and emotional persecution as your personal cross.

If you find yourself under (C), you can still be a believer in Jesus Christ. You can try to be an example of holiness to your persecutors—if you continue to attend services. Even if you choose to stay home on Sundays, that does not sever you from a spiritual life. You can still read the Bible, hold on to your rosary or icons or any other religious objects which you find acceptable, maintain your prayer life, study religious books and listen to religious music.

Do not go insane. Do not lose faith. Be humble. Do good. Praise God.

— Aunt Melanie

I love the painting used to illustrate this post, and I want to remember the source.

Their own reflection

Casting their nets into the waves of speculation, 
they bring up no fish, 
only their own reflection, 
and nodding in approval to one another, 
they head back to shore, 
where they will count the fish that they have not caught, 
only imagined. 

Fantasy upon fantasy, 
when the Lord Himself is not just near us, 
but among us, 
notwithstanding His second and glorious coming, 
the judgment, 
and the last day. 

Even as reality is not just planned but all plan, 
so is the world not just bits of ikon here and there 
but all ikon. 

Everything points to and glorifies the One 
in whom we were hidden 
before the foundation of the world, 
and in whose embrace we now live through love, 
now and unto the ages of ages. 

Glory to Thee, O God! Glory to Thee!

— Romanós

Friendship


A kindly turn of speech multiplies a man's friends,
and a courteous way of speaking invites many a friendly reply.

Let your acquaintances be many,
but your advisors one in a thousand.

If you want to make a friend, take him on trial,
and be in no hurry to trust him;
for one kind of friend is only so when it suits him
but will not stand by you in your day of trouble.
Another kind of friend will fall out with you
and to your dismay will make your quarrel public,
and a third kind of friend will share your table,
but not stand by you in your day of trouble:
when you are doing well he will be your second self,
ordering your servants about;
but if ever you are brought low he will turn against you
and will hide himself from you.

Keep well clear of your enemies,
and be wary of your friends.

A faithful friend is a sure shelter,
whoever finds one has found a rare treasure.
A faithful friend is something beyond price,
there is no measuring his worth.
A faithful friend is the elixir of life,
and those who fear the Lord will find one.
Whoever fears the Lord makes true friends,
for as a man is, so is his friend.

Ecclesiasticus 6:5-17 Jerusalem Bible

Prick an eye and you will draw a tear,
prick a heart and you will bring its feelings to light.
Throw stones at birds and you scare them away,
revile a friend and you break up friendship.

If you have drawn your sword on a friend,
do not despair; there is a way back.
If you have opened your mouth against your friend,
do not worry; there is hope for reconciliation;
but insult, arrogance, betrayal of secrets, and the stab in the back—
in these cases, any friend will run away.

Ecclesiasticus 22:19-22 Jerusalem Bible

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Harmless

I am a Christian, and there is no reason why I should make anyone, Christian or non-Christian, feel uncomfortable by my presence. This is not to say that it never happens. On the contrary, it happens quite often. But if someone feels uncomfortable by my presence, it should not be because I will to make them feel uncomfortable. It’s because seeing me makes them think of something or Someone else, and that makes them feel uncomfortable.

It hasn’t always been this way. We’re all on the way to Calvary, not just so we can lay down our burdens at the foot of the Cross, but so that we can be hoisted up, humiliated, rejected and finally crucified with Christ. But at the beginning we feel that tremendous, even overwhelming, gladness that our sins have been forgiven, that we want to share that experience with others, even if we have to cram it down their throats by any means, especially by making them feel uncomfortable.

‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,’ says Jesus (John 14:6), and ‘I am the Light of the world’ (John 8:12). He does not say the first three of us, but of the fourth He does, ‘You are the light of the world’ (Matthew 5:14). His beloved disciple John, in his old age, finally beginning to understand what He means, tells us, ‘he who loves his brother lives in the light’ (1 John 2:10), and ‘he who hates his brother lives in darkness’ (v. 11).

There is something innocuous about followers of Jesus, whether they call themselves Christians or not.
They are harmless.

I am a Christian, and there is no reason why I should make anyone, Christian or non-Christian, feel uncomfortable by my presence. And why should I want to? The words of Jesus found written in the holy gospels can indeed make people, myself included, feel uncomfortable sometimes. Yet we never find His words bullying or aggressive. He never speaks a word to harm anyone. Yes, He warns, He instructs, He calls to repentance, He invites us to turn, away from the outer darkness, to face the inner light.

This is why I can walk anywhere without fear, knowing that no one can harm me, when I harm no one, nor wish anyone ill. Not only those of Christian faiths different from mine, but even those whose faiths are pre-Christian, or post-Christian, I can call ‘brother,’ because Christ, ‘the way and the truth and the life’ and, yes, ‘the Light of the world,’ waits in the souls of all, guiding, guarding, growing stronger, brighter, when I regard them as Christ regards me, worthy, deserving of respect, and love.

No mere sentiment, not an ideal or focus to follow, no. None is to be followed, and faithfully, but Jesus Christ, the God-man who transforms our ‘natural’ man into ‘supernatural’ without forcing us, who calls us into divine sonship and shares Himself with us so intimately, that we no longer can say who or what we are, any more than we can know who or what He is, only that He is all, and we are one. ‘How shall I say where I end, or where you begin?’ Having this comfort, why make others feel uncomfortable?

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Because I am

There are two absolute uniques in my life, and many more that are not quite absolute, but almost.

Unique is the person of Jesus Christ, as the Son of God in the Holy Triad, as living Truth, Teacher, and Savior.

Unique is the Bible as the only (written) expression of the Word of God on earth.

These are my two absolute uniques, from which I cannot budge.

Of course, in a mystery, they are really One unique.

From the time of my adolescence, I was driven to find or make something that was unique, that was true, that could save me. Though I am Greek by faith and even by culture, my family is Polish on both sides, and at least nominally Roman Catholic. I am the only Orthodox member of it.

I grew up in a dysfunctional family with an obsessively religious mother (who nevertheless did not believe in the Catholic church and never attended until she did in her casket at death), and a philosophically leaning non-religious father. His mother tried to make a Catholic out of him, but his skepticism about churchly things was the result of being snagged by the ear and pulled out of a private pew at Saint Hedwig’s parish in Chicago by a priest. He made his mother join a different parish. He’d never set foot in that church again.

We had a bible in the house, a King James version in a dusty, beige cloth cover. The pages were yellow and brittle, the font in two columns too small to read, and the language too archaic to understand. I knew there was something special about this book, but I never saw anyone reading it, or even try to, until I picked it up and tried. Discouraged as a child, I picked it up later and started studying it when I entered high school. It was still mostly unintelligible, but by then I knew I had to have something unique and powerful that I could believe in. I worked my way through Genesis to Proverbs, then skipped over to the Gospels.

In the ninth grade, I began copying sayings from that bible that made sense to me into a notebook, numbered them, and began writing, or at least gathering, my first “scriptures.” At that point, I didn’t think of the bible as unique, but as one of many sources from which I could draw saving knowledge. This mistake came from the fact that my family stopped going to church when I was 8 years old, and from that point on, I was on my own, with whatever tidbits of Polish catholic piety I had absorbed. Truth seemed to be wherever I could find it. Church was a mysterious, dark, fragrant place in my memory.

Little by little the notebook grew, but after doing this for awhile, I gave it up. It was obvious to me that my “scripture” was just a notebook of ideals that I wasn’t able to live up to. I started delving into non-Christian religions and the occult, reading my way through the explosion of New Age literature that was emerging in the 1960’s. There wasn’t an area I didn’t explore. I even bought and read a paperback of the Satanic Bible by LaVey. “What trash!” I thought at the time. I never fell for it, but I was curious. Still, my older sister and my mother believed in the supernatural and E.S.P., and both claimed to have such gifts. I cautiously followed along, sometimes witnessing unexplainable things.

In college, I came into contact with Christian students and for the first time met people of my own age who believed in Jesus in a way I hadn’t encountered before. They seemed to think of Him as a unique person, one like no other. They also not only read the bible but had copies of it in modern English. I didn’t know such people or things existed. To me, Christ was a statue in my grandmother’s living room, His presence or protection over me was a plastic image of the Sacred Heart that had glow-in-the-dark rays coming out of it and hung on the wall above the light switch in my bedroom since I was a little boy. Of course, there was Blessed Mother, who was also a statue. The statues of Jesus and His Mother always had their hearts showing.

I still needed a guide, something that would save me, because now I knew that couldn’t be a person. In college and from reading New Age books, I had found out that Jesus was a good moral teacher, and that everybody was potentially, if not already, God. We were all just little gods trying to find our way back to being the big God. I couldn’t quite figure out what was to happen to us, though, when we got there. Would we really be merged into Him like a drop of water falls into the sea and disappears? Somehow, this thought seemed a bit too simple.

When you don’t recognize anything or anyone as unique,
my goodness, have you got a problem!


In college, and I won’t go into detail, I started writing again, and fadged up a book of “scriptures” far more original and sensational than my little notebook ever was. At the same time, though, I bought my first modern English bible, the New English Bible, and began reading it, starting with the Psalms. After a short time, I bought my first copy of the Jerusalem Bible, and that was the beginning of my conversion to Christ. Starting with the Old Testament, with Genesis, I met in literary form, a new Being, Yahweh, who began following me everywhere and making me see things in a new way. I was sure that He was a unique being, as well as a unique person. It wasn’t long before I was sure that the bible was also something unique.

I’ve given my testimony as to how I came to Christ in other places, so I won’t repeat it here, but my meditations this morning showed me all that I have just written in a flash, and how important, how crucial, it is to know that there are two uniques, Christ as the Only Begotten Son of God, and the Bible as the expression in human language of Who He is. Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not leaving out God the Father, or God the Holy Spirit. When we speak of Jesus Christ being unique, we are also speaking of the Father and the Holy Spirit as well, since in essence, in being, the three are One, the Holy Triad. As Christ said, “If you have seen Me you have seen the Father,” and “I will send you another Comforter, who will tell you of Me.”

There, the two uniques, but what of a third? Well, to tell you the truth, there’s more than a third. There’s billions. Those uniques are you and me, and all our fellow creatures who have been created to know, to love and to praise God, as scripture says, “Let all that have breath, praise the Lord.” Made in the image and likeness of the One God, who is unique, more One than even a mathematical unity can express, how can we also, each of us, not be like our Maker? We also are unique. It is understanding this, that you and I are as unique as God is, and that Jesus Christ died for each of us as though we were the only man or woman on earth, that provides the answer for the question of our personal existence. Why are we here?

“You are here,” He responds, “because I am.”

We're not just history

I am unashamed to steal these good words from Fr Stephen and make them mine, so that I can hope others will steal from me, for if we are with the Good Thief, we are in good company. To steal paradise and salvation is not to steal a dime candy bar—well, nowadays, a dollar candy bar!—and so I invite my guests to steal from me as liberally as I have stolen from Fr Stephen, and as we all have stolen the only wealth worth having from the Father in heaven, eternal life through faith in Christ the Living One.

Fr Stephen writes…


The Secular Man has been the great threat to the Christian faith over the past two or more centuries. Disguised as the person who is only doing the “normal thing,” he lives in a godless world, where others can be tempted to live as though there were no God. Earlier I quoted Berdyaev, “If God does not exist, then man does not exist.” I would add to that, that the God Who Exists must be everywhere present and filling all things, or He is no God and a false god. Let us renounce the “soft atheism” of the secular man and live always and everywhere for God.

Many Orthodox writers have spoken about the nature of the secular world, the defining form of modernity. I take here an opportunity to make a small comparison between the secular man and the Christian.

The secular man may believe that there is a God, but he also believes that the situation and outcome of the world are dependent upon the actions of human beings.

The Christian man believes that there is a God, and that all things are in His hands.

The secular man believes in Progress. Life changes, and with good human direction, it changes for the better. Every new discovery stands on the shoulders of every previous discovery. In this way, life improves and always improves for the better.

The Christian man believes that whatever man does may change his circumstances, but does not change man. A modern man is in no way superior to those who came before him. Goodness is not a result of progress.

The secular man believes in the power of human beings. Reason, applied reasonably to any situation, will yield a better outcome.

The Christian man believes in God, but he doubts the goodness of man. Human solutions are always questionable and capable of failure.


The secular man believes, ultimately, in the smooth path of progress. Even though there may be set-backs along the way, he believes that pursuing the path of progress will ultimately yield a better world – even a near perfect world.

Because the Christian man believes in God, he trusts that the outcome of history belongs to God and not to man. Thus, even the good things done by man are judged by a good God whose goal for us is always beyond anything we could ask or think.

The secular man, despite various failures, always believes that the next good is only another plan away. Compromise, negotiation, and a willingness to change will finally solve all problems.

The Christian understands the sinfulness of humanity. He knows that without God things will always fail and dissipate. Only through trust and obedience to God can the human situation improve – and such improvement always comes as a miracle from God.

The secular man does not believe in his own fallibility. He does not learn from history, but yearns repeatedly for a success where none has come before. What success he has known (in medical treatment of disease, etc.) is quickly translated into political terms. What is wrong politically can be eradicated as easily as malaria.

The Christian man knows that problems do not lie so much in the world as within himself. Unless man is changed by a good God, there will be a very limited goodness in the world. The secular man knows how to cure malaria, but he cannot manage to actually share that goodness with the world. The world (the third world) dies as it has always died. The secular man is powerless because he lacks true goodness.

The Christian man is largely marginalized in our modern world. He is considered an artifact of the past. However, he is not a religious artifact – the truth he knows is eternal and is as applicable to the ills of the world as any part of the truth of God.

It is for this generation to understand what it means to be a Christian man and not to compromise with the secular man. God is good and wills good for all people. He is not a utilitarian, wishing the greatest good for the greatest number, but willing good for each and every soul.

May Christians be visible everywhere, and everywhere loyal to the Kingdom of God.


Bravo! kai axios! Fr Stephen, you have spoken the truth!

And I hope to be a Christian man as you have described, and not a secular man, regardless of what I or others call me.

I have worked for the same employer for over 30 years and have come to be regarded as something of the Archivist, although I have done everything here from cleaning up the shop to being general manager, and now I am back on the shop floor (at age 62 years) machining aluminum parts on a CNC milling machine. When I have been marginalized by newer employees, usually a new manager who dismisses my advice or help because of my humble status, I sometimes remind him, ‘Hey, I'm not just history.’ This is a saying that I also keep in my head when the world encounters me in a spirit of ignorance or contempt. I never hit back, but I remind them, ‘we're not just history,’ and then I keep living my life in Christ to prove it.


Romanós the Machinist

Feast of Tabernacles

Tell the people of Yisra’el, On the fifteenth day of this seventh month is the feast of Sukkot for seven days to Adonai. On the first day there is to be a holy convocation; do not do any kind of ordinary work. For seven days you are to bring an offering made by fire to Adonai; on the eighth day you are to have a holy convocation and bring an offering made by fire to Adonai ; it is a day of public assembly; do not do any kind of ordinary work. These are the designated times of Adonai that you are to proclaim as holy convocations and bring an offering made by fire to Adonai — a burnt offering, a grain offering, a sacrifice and drink offerings, each on its own day — besides the Shabbats of Adonai, your gifts, all your vows and all your voluntary offerings that you give to Adonai. But on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered the produce of the land, you are to observe the festival of Adonai seven days; the first day is to be a complete rest and the eighth day is to be a complete rest. On the first day you are to take choice fruit, palm fronds, thick branches and river-willows, and celebrate in the presence of Adonai your God for seven days. You are to observe it as a feast to Adonai seven days in the year; it is a permanent regulation, generation after generation; keep it in the seventh month. You are to live in sukkot for seven days; every citizen of Yisra’el is to live in a sukkah, so that generation after generation of you will know that I made the people of Yisra’el live in sukkot when I brought them out of the land of Egypt; I am Adonai your God. Thus Moshe announced to the people of Yisra’el the designated times of Adonai.
Vayikra / Leviticus 23:34-44

…and on the first day you shall take the fruit of the hadar tree, palm fronds and branches of myrtle and willow trees.
Vayikra / Leviticus 24:40

The biblical feast of Tabernacles—Sukkot—began at sundown on September 18 this year, and lasts for seven days. As with all the feasts and special days ordained in the Bible, they are commemorations, designed to keep the people of God awake to the Presence of the Living God, and alive in Him. Such also are the feast days of the Church. But all of these are, “a shadow of the things to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.” (Colossians 2:17)

The Hebrews welcome the Seven Ushpizin, the Seven Shepherds of Yisra’el, from Abraham to David, one on each night of the feast. May they and we welcome the Eighth Shepherd, the One whom the honorable Prophet and Forerunner John called “the One who stands in your midst, whom you do not know,” into our sukkah, not only during the feast, but always.

To whom is He speaking?

The disciple has to be always ready to move on a moment's notice, even to change direction, not taking anything for granted, not following a principle at all costs, but willing to submit all principles, plans and priorities to the will of Jesus.

This is different from the following of a religion, though like Jesus, the disciple can belong to a religion, keeping its commandments, fulfilling whatever role has fallen to him. Also like Jesus, he can challenge his religion without being unfaithful to it.

To whom is Jesus speaking in the gospels? Is he speaking to every man? It seems so. Yet when He calls and commands, He speaks directly only to those to whom His words are directed. When He enjoins the ‘great commission’ to whom is He speaking?

We tend to identify with certain characters in the gospels in preference to others. We hear Jesus’ word to an apostle, for example, and taking that word as spoken personally to us, we go forth to fulfill it without asking ourselves, ‘to whom is He speaking?’

When He tells the rich young man, ‘One thing you lack. Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me,’ can we just decide to claim that word without asking ourselves, ‘to whom is He speaking?’

We want to prove our personal faith, and to that end we will fasten onto a bible verse that implies a promise, and hold God responsible for delivering on the promise. This is the so-called ‘name it and claim it’ philosophy which has been the undoing of many.

With the word of Jesus, we cannot as easily fall into this error because His sayings demand action on our part, not just faith. True, He sometimes asks us if we believe what He says or who He is, and that can be affirmed only by our word of faith. Yet that word must still be followed up by an act of obedience.

‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?’

‘Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.’

After Martha had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. ‘The Teacher is here, and is asking for you.’

Do we think that Jesus is speaking only to Martha when He asks her, ‘Do you believe this?’ Some would say yes, but most would understand that this question He asks He asks of all. This is in fact why John has recorded the conversation, so that every man can respond to Jesus’ word of truth with his own word of faith.

Herein lies the difference. The Lord asks Martha if she believes, and she affirms her faith. He gives her a command to call her sister to Him. The first saying of Jesus is asked of all. His second saying is a command spoken only to Martha, not to us. If we respond with our word of faith, Jesus speaks His command also to us, one by one, recorded or unrecorded, to everyone of His disciples till the end of time. We need not ask, ‘to whom is He speaking?’ because we know.

This is personal relationship with Jesus Christ, not a word of faith only, which is of no effect, but a word of faith followed by acts of obedience, because as Jesus says, ‘My sheep know My voice,’ and as beloved John foresaw, ‘they follow the Lamb wherever He goes.’ Only those who personally follow Jesus are in a relationship, of love. ‘Draw me in Your footsteps, let us run…’