Saturday, November 30, 2013

Apostle Andrew

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

Who pleads for you?

My hope is the Father,
my refuge is the Son,
my protection is the Holy Spirit:
O Holy Trinity, glory to Thee.
from the service of Compline

One is Holy,
One is Lord,
Jesus Christ
to the glory of God the Father.
Amen.
from the Divine Liturgy

Lord, God Almighty, You alone are holy. You accept a sacrifice of praise from those who call upon You with their whole heart. Receive also the prayer of us sinners and let it reach Your holy altar. Enable us to bring before You gifts and spiritual sacrifices for our sins and for the transgressions of the people. Make us worthy to find grace in Your presence so that our sacrifice may be pleasing to You and that Your good and gracious Spirit may abide with us, with the gifts here presented, and with all Your people. Through the mercies of Your only begotten Son with whom You are blessed, together with Your all holy, good, and life giving Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages.
from the Divine Liturgy, prayer of the Proskomidí

With God on our side, who can be against us? Since God did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up to benefit us all, we may be certain, after such a gift, that He will not refuse anything He can give. Could anyone accuse those that God has chosen? When God acquits, could anyone condemn? Could Christ Jesus? No! He not only died for us—He rose from the dead, and there at God’s right hand He stands and pleads for us.
Romans 8:31-34 Jerusalem Bible

He… has offered one single sacrifice for sins, and then taken His place for ever, at the right hand of God, where He is now waiting until His enemies are made into a footstool for Him. By virtue of that one single offering, He has achieved the eternal perfection of all whom He is sanctifying.
Hebrews 10:12-14 JB

Before the world was made

There is a tension in scripture, and it’s there to produce a tension in us. All that the unbeliever sees when perusing the Bible is contradictions to be pointed out. All that the scholar sees when studying the Bible is textual inconsistencies to be resolved. Whether unbeliever or believer, approaching the scripture simply as a book cuts us off from its purpose and its transforming power. Coming to it with the aim of learning about God reduces it to an abstraction and makes God a thing, an idea.

The scripture tells us more about ourselves than it tells us about God, much, much more. That’s precisely why we drag our heels and avoid it. Yet, only by knowing ourselves can we begin to know God as He really is—the living God, of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—because we find irrefutable evidence of His presence, and His work, in us. It’s like finding fire burning within glowing coals, making them bright and hot: yes, coals, that is what we are, yes, fire, that is what He is. He burns, we are transformed.

We sense—even more than sense, we experience—His being and His activity in the tension that scripture both produces and reveals in us by the divine words we read and ingest.

We begin to know for sure that Christ is with us and in us when we find ourselves, like Him, even with Him, suspended between heaven and earth. In the depths of our own small being we reflect and resolve all the tensions that are inherent within the Divine Nature, and we enter into the life of the Holy Triad.

He has been waiting for us, awaiting our arrival within Him, since before the world was made.

Falling away

Falling Away
by Mary Hardy, found at Mary Hardy Art, Selected Works
The following is a quotation adapted from The Prologue of Ohrid which I found posted at Aunt Melanie's blog, Walk in Wisdom
Why do some people, well-educated and baptized as Christians, fall away from Christianity and give themselves over to philosophy and to learned theories, pretending these to be something more truthful than Christianity? They do so for two principal reasons: either out of a totally superficial understanding of Christianity or because of sin.
This short quote brings to mind so many things. One of them is a quatrain I have memorized from my high school days' reading of the English poet, Alexander Pope:

A little learning is a dangerous thing.
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring.
There, shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
but drinking largely sobers us again.


But what is said in the quote from the Prologue is more direct, applicable and specific, dealing as it does with a subject of greater importance than just 'learning' in general.

As an Orthodox Christian I believe in infant baptism, and for the reasons that the Church defends it, but I also understand and sympathize with the idea of believer's baptism, and I see how it would be an antidote to the abuse of the ancient Church's established practice.

In Orthodoxy, baptism into Christ is not seen as a kind of magic operation which, once done, somehow guarantees the recipient of the grace of God and of salvation. Before one is aware of the grace of baptism, it does operate in a way as if by magic, but this is pure grace. Once a baptised person comes to the age of reason, where they can be held accountable for following the commandments and understanding what sin and grace are, and who Christ is, then grace can be resisted, and a person can fall away.

The ancient Church evolved over the course of a few centuries the whole structure of customs and what are now seen as traditions to provide an environment in which a person could live and mature in Christ from infancy to old age, yes, from cradle to grave, but in a real sense, not in the blasphemous and sarcastic sense and practice that many people have come to hold it. Even today, a woman bringing a baby into the church off the street and asking for it to be baptised is not (supposed to be) allowed in Orthodoxy, because the Church only baptises infants on the assurance of the faith of the parents (or godparents).

Although this protocol is followed in most places, its application can still fail, because whole families can be ‘in the Church’ publicly, while at home they are anything but ‘in the Church’—they go through the motions of Christianity, without discipleship, without real faith. This is why in Orthodoxy, the insistence on the family being the basic unit of the Church: this is what the ancient Church based all of its public structures on, those same ones we follow to the letter today, but without that primary foundation, the Christian family, the tradition doesn’t work.

The family must be ‘the Church’ and not just ‘in the Church.’ This is what antiquity expected, this is what Orthodoxy relies on, but if the reality of the day-to-day existence of the Church in the world is simply the maintenance of the externals of public worship with a nominal veneer of shepherding and instruction, that cannot be enough. Hence, the dissatisfaction with, and the apostasy from, the Church as social institution. This is not something that has only recently become a problem, but in every age the Church vacillates between the extremes of daily faithfulness and nearly total apostasy.

On the personal level, why individual Christians fall away from Christianity, is simply and amply put by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovic in the Prologue from Ohrid, ‘either out of a totally superficial understanding of Christianity or because of sin.’ The superficial understanding of Christianity is, I think, due to a lack of fellowship with and following of Jesus Christ, seeing Him only as a religious figure to be ceremonially worshiped, but not as one’s personal Master, Lord and Savior. It’s not enough to see Him only as one’s Savior and Lord: one must see Him and follow Him as one’s Master. That is what it means to be a disciple.

And what do we make of those who fall away from Christianity because they are giving in to even as little as one sin from which they cannot tear themselves? In everything else they can be the most moral and just people, and yet they live in sin, knowing it is sin but accepting it as inevitable and even normal or because ‘everyone is doing it.’ These too stay away from the Church, though they may have been baptised into it as infants or even as adults. What we usually find when we talk to them about the Church is that, when they look at it, all they can see are its faults, and these they use to justify themselves, following the laws of human nature.

The Church is that family from which no Christian can exclude himself, and from which no Christian can be excluded. On the one hand, once you accept Christ you have nowhere else to go but the Church, unless you believe you are the last and only Christian on earth: in which case, yes, stay away. On the other hand, no one who truly confesses Christ and follows Him can be or ever will be excluded from that great company of the saints which is the Church, no matter what say the rules and regulations of men. For all, this should be both a comforting and sobering thought.

We are all living waking and sleeping lives, but as followers of Jesus, we want to stay awake as much and as long as we can.

Father, keep waking us up, even when we are tired, until after our longest sleep, we finally awake to gaze our fill on Your likeness.

The faith of the Apostles

There's a lot going on in ‘church’ in America these days, and even in the rest of the ‘first world’ (is there such a place, the ‘developed’ countries?). From inside the doors of Orthodoxy, the outer courts are looking pretty chaotic, buying and selling, of religion, of blessing, of comfort, of self-realization, of culture, of anything that the world sells, only dressed up in a ‘Christian’ cover.

Sadly, even holy Orthodoxy is being slowly but subtly lifted onto the bandwagon of ‘successful’ programs and outreach ‘strategies,’ hoping to become as ‘relevant’ as everybody else. Convert priests are foisted on kindly, welcoming and naïve congregations, convert priests who have no Orthodox root, no understanding of what a priest is. Do the hierarchs do this to test us, or do they hope we'll train these enthusiasts?

Orthodoxy fights back without striking a blow, the sheer intransigence of the flock, and the unchangeable liturgical forms, adding drag to the hasty, impatient boys. But they still have their way with us, for the time being.


What's happening, from another perspective, is the transformation of the Bride of Christ into a mystical business, of priests into businessmen in black, of pastors into administrators, of preachers into entertainers and, worse yet, of confessors into gurus, ‘I will be your spiritual father only if you do everything I tell you to do.’ This has been rampant outside of Orthodoxy; now it's seeping in. The words of holy Apostle John ring true now as always, ‘Children, be on your guard against false gods.’ (1 John 5:21 JB)

If the church where you live is experiencing any of these things, here's some good words written not long ago (1983) by Fr. George Papademetriou, a Greek Orthodox theologian, that I hope will encourage you to remember that the truth of Orthodoxy is the Truth of the Word of God, which Christ has told us ‘will never pass away’ (Matthew 24:35). Even when the local church, for a time, is ravaged by wolves in sheep's clothing, we have to remember, THAT is not the Church; THIS is…


Today, especially when great confusion exists about the ministry of the Church in the world, Orthodoxy must reinforce age-long values and the faith of the Apostles. ‘And His gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the Body of Christ.’ (Ephesians 4:11)

This verse gives the true objective of the clergy; that is, the ordained priests have the unique function to equip all members for the apostolate or ministry.

The apostolate is not the monopoly of the clergy, it is the responsibility of all, and the role of the clergy is to help all to fulfill it.

There is always a danger of clericalism, and this we ought to avoid. Since the time of Saint Paul, the Church avoided clericalism with its emphasis on defining the Church as ‘the Body of Christ.’

In the Church the promised unity of all things in Christ is foreshadowed (Ephesians 2:1-22), and for this reason the Church must be the place where God's plan is made known to the whole kósmos (Ephesians 3:7-10). In the Church the people of God must grow up into full maturity as the embodiment of the love of God for His whole creation (Ephesians 3:14-21). Within this context we can understand the task of training the whole membership of the Church to share in God's purpose for the whole creation. Only then will we be doing Christ's work as the people of God—both clergy and laity.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Black Friday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 28, 2013

King of Glory

“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father. And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.”
John 14:12-14

James and John, the two sons of Zebedee, came up to Jesus, saying, “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask of You.” And He said to them, “What do you want Me to do for you?” They said to Him, “Grant that we may sit, one on Your right and one on Your left, in Your glory.” But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” They said to Him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you shall drink; and you shall be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized. But to sit on My right or on My left, this is not Mine to give; but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
Mark 10:35-40

There were also two others, criminals, led with Him to be put to death. And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left.
Luke 23:32-33

“Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.”
Matthew 10:32-33

One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don't you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Luke 23:39-43

Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD? or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive the blessing from the LORD, and righteousness from the God of his salvation. This is the generation of them that seek him, that seek thy face, O God of Jacob. Selah. Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory? The LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle. Lift up your heads, O ye gates; even lift them up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory? The LORD of hosts, he is the King of glory. Selah.
Psalm 24:3-10

Who is this King of glory?
The LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle.

Letting Him in

Christian faith, and the Christian faith—not exactly the same thing, almost not the same thing at all, sometimes even mutually exclusive. Languages with definite articles—Germanic, Romance, Greek, for example—that have words like ‘the’, can use them to draw subtle distinctions between otherwise almost identical terms. I’m not sure how other languages make these distinctions, but I’m sure they do. But Christian faith, and the Christian faith—these each have their own meaning, and to have one is not always to have the other. A contradiction in terms? Maybe, or maybe as matters become profound, human language just fails us.

The Christian faith. Most people know what this means. It’s the Christian religion, of course. It’s a body of doctrinal belief, and patterns of moral, social and ceremonial behavior that arise from it. It can be further broken down into denominations. It can be studied from the inside or the outside. It can be experienced as a moral, social and ceremonial environment. It can be examined, and accepted or rejected philosophically. It can give those who ‘believe’ in it a sense of stability and security in life, and assurance of a ‘happy ending’ in death. Most of all, it provides a framework for daily living that, if followed, works. That’s the Christian faith.

Christian faith. This sounds nearly the same, but when we say or think the words most of us, if we think about them, know that they mean something at least a little different. If we are Christians, we will just assume that we ‘have’ Christian faith, often without asking ourselves what this means. Some of us may ask ourselves, and answer in the same breath, that it’s ‘just going to church, following the golden rule, and reading the Bible and Christian books.’ If we are not Christians, ‘Christian faith’ will be meaningless at worst, or a mere abstraction at best. We just don’t care. For both believers and unbelievers, Christian faith can just be a ‘given’—you either have it or you don’t.

Both terms pivot on the word ‘faith’ which has a different value in each. In ‘the Christian faith,’ it is more of a thing. In ‘Christian faith,’ it is more of a person. In the first, it is another name for intellectual agreement with a system. In the second, it is another name for a proactive relationship with a person. Of course we understand that the system is ‘religion’ and the person is ‘God,’ but the first condition is not necessarily paired with the second: You can belong to the Christian faith without necessarily having Christian faith. The same is true institutionally: A church claiming to be Christian may in fact know nothing of Christ, even though it’s covered with His name.

Faith in the one is assent to a proposition. In the other it is ascent to a disposition. What do I mean by this? Somebody proposes an idea, and you assent to it, or reject it. You are doing the work. You are making the choice. Somebody is disposed to love you, to vouchsafe you goodness itself, and is drawing you upwards, gradually and graciously, in an ascent to Himself. He does the work. He makes the choice. The Christian faith is a kind of deus ex machina that can make the drama of our day to day life endurable. Christian faith is having a dialog with the Writer of our day to day life, in which we join with Him in writing the script, knowing that He wants us.

The feast of the Nativity of Christ lies ahead. The Christian faith will express itself directly in celebrating it religiously, and indirectly by participating in the economic and social phenomena of the Christmas season. Christian faith will express itself in welcoming once again, and in a special way, the ‘Lord before all ages coming to us as a new-born babe.’ What special way? It is the offering, the giving back to Him all that has been given to us in trust, for that is the real meaning of faith—trust. It is the finding Him again born as a man, or a woman, or a child, in our daily life, as the ones who are placed in our path. It is opening to Him, in them, our doors. It is letting Him in.

Η Παρθένος σήμερον, τον προαιώνιον Λόγον, 
εν Σπηλαίω ερχεται, αποτεκειν απορρήτως. 
Χόρευε η οικουμένη ακουτισθεισα, 
δόξασον μετα Αγγέλων και των Ποιμένων, 
βουληθέντα εποφθηναι, 
παιδίον νέον, τον προ αιώνων Θεόν.

The Virgin today, to the Word before all worlds,
comes into the Cave, to give birth, to the unapproachable Being.
Dance, all the universe, in hearing of this,
glorify with angels and shepherds
Him who was willing to manifest Himself
as a new-born babe, the God before the ages.

Romanos the Melodist
Kontakia of the Nativity

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

If that isn't mercy

Another ‘last day’ of another year, this time, a year that has no name. I mean, it’s not the Civil year that runs from January 1st to December 31st. It isn’t the Jewish or the Orthodox Christian year that begin with the autumn crescent or on September 1st either. Nor is it the Islamic year whose beginning and end migrate through the seasons of time on the heels of the moon. And it’s not the ‘natural’ year that runs between the vernal equinoxes. No, it’s an untitled year, an unnamed year, and today is its last day.

After today comes what used to be, in America, a day of complete and utter withdrawal from worldly pursuits. Without knowing what we were doing, we followed the advice repeated for centuries among ‘Christians of true worship’… ‘Lay aside all earthly cares, that we may receive the King of all.’ Well, we used to do something like that—‘lay aside all earthly cares’—and, if we left the house at all, it wasn’t to shopping or to work, but to travel to be with our families for the holiday.

And yes, this day—I’m now talking about ‘Thanksgiving Day’—was dedicated to being with our families and loved ones, and to feeling thankful, and to expressing that gratitude in many ways, even if we weren’t ‘religious.’ This being with our families and in a manner different from most other gatherings was really, though mystically, equivalent to ‘receiving the King of all.’ We don’t have to be theologians of a very high order to know when we are being welcomed and loved, or ‘in the presence of the King.’

Yes, we have arrived at last at the final day of—I just thought of its name—the normal year, that part of the three hundred sixty-five days when we do normal things and live normal lives. We go to work, to school, to the club, to church or synagogue, to the movies. We watch sports, sit coms, game shows and cartoons on TV. We eat normal foods, wear normal clothes, we normally keep regular hours and follow normal routines. All that is about to change for four blessèd weeks. Did I say ‘blessèd’? Well, we’ll see.

Starting day after tomorrow, after ‘Turkey Day,’ we enter a mercantile tunnel to Christmas. In many places this starts the evening before, unintentionally in sync with the holy and divine scriptures (which almost no one reads) wherein is written ‘and there was evening, and there was morning, one day.’ That day is called ‘Black Friday’ because many merchants whose ledgers have stayed in the red most of the year will see black at last, a profit or at least a break even. What incredible faith! or good credit.

The next thirty days are a time all of its own, as a different set of priorities takes over our lives. For a nation that usually hates tradition—except that of making money—there is a remarkable, though temporary, indulgence in it. For the world the time about to be entered partakes of kairós,’ the eternal and acceptable, in contrast to chronological, time. It is signaled by an almost universal dispensation of ‘cháris,’ grace, that is, divine, free love. Even without knowing the Giver, we still receive the Gift.

If that isn’t mercy, I don’t know what is.

Sing

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee.
Holy, holy, holy! Merciful and mighty,
God in three persons, blessed Trinity!

Holy, holy, holy! All the saints adore thee,
casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;
cherubim and seraphim falling down before thee,
which wert, and art, and evermore shalt be.

Holy, holy, holy! Though the darkness hide thee,
though the eye of sinful man thy glory may not see,
only thou art holy; there is none beside thee,
perfect in power, in love and purity.

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
All thy works shall praise thy name, in earth and sky and sea.
Holy, holy, holy! Merciful and mighty,
God in three persons, blessed Trinity.

How majestic in its melodic simplicity, this song resounding from myriads of hearts through the generations of saints! I sing or whistle it as I work. Happily no longer a ‘manager’ trapped in an office cubicle, though the work is humble and at time physically challenging, I can ‘whistle while you work’ and can ‘sing, sing while you know you’re still living.’ I began my working career this way when I was a traditional furniture maker, and now, forty years later, finishing it as an aluminum machinist, still singing, still free to ‘make melody.’ The workshop is for me the home of song, another temple and place of worship to hymn my God, the unearthly, divine Triad who has earthed Himself in my world, and even, when I sing, in me.

Captain Antonio Corelli, an unwilling Italian officer stationed on Kephaloniá in occupied Greece, could also not restrain himself from singing, and his spontaneous songs infected his whole company of fellow soldiers. When reproached for this by Pelagía, the serious young daughter of the physician in whose home he was sequestered, ‘What's there to sing about? We are in the middle of a war, not an opera house…’ he responded, ‘There is singing when babies are baptized. When you celebrate a marriage. Men sing as they work. Soldiers sing as they march into battle. And there is singing when people die. I've always found something in life worth singing about. And for that, I cannot apologize.’

I have found that music, like love, is medicine to the soul. It lightens or at least comforts grief. It supplies strength and courage when one is feeling weak or downcast. It really does heal us from the inside out, as anyone who stands for hours and sings along with the Divine Liturgy can probably testify. I both listen to, and sing, the songs that restore me, and I have always chosen these carefully. No, actually, I think they have chosen me. Music seems to partake of the Divine Nature Himself, and I have found Him in many songs that I love and sing. In fact, I think it is because I want to feel His touch on my tongue and lips, and welcome Him by my ears, that I sing. And I also sing for the sake of others, as Corelli did.

Whistling too, yes, and because I could whistle where I could not sing, or where it would be inappropriate, such as while shopping in the supermarket, I have learned to whistle, and I find that rather than annoy others, it seems to soften them. Of course, I whistle hymns, mostly, old and well-known hymns like the one at the head of this testimony. I whistle hymns because inside my heart is singing the words, and praying too. Walking forward into the sea I find it parts, and into battle I find my allies walking beside me. As I mentioned earlier, Music itself seems to partake of the Divine Nature and also to assist us in partaking of the Same. One of my favorite ‘secular’ songs, called Music, expresses this.

Yesterday I was on the edge
hoping everything was going to work itself out
A good honest man doing the work of God
Trying to make things better for Him
A lover of life in a school for fools
Trying to find another way to survive

New Music, new Music, new Music
Sweet Music can lighten us
Can brighten the world,
Can save us

My friend said, ‘Well, I think I found a way
To help make myself richer’
I said, ‘Don't you know, well, it won't be too long before
The bad ol’ debil will get you back’
‘Back,’ I said, ‘put back your heart and sing, sing while
you know you’re still living,
Sing, sing, sing, while you know there’s still…’

New Music, new Music, new Music
Sweet Music can lighten us
Can brighten the world,
Can save us

Take a look at the world
Think about how it will end
There’d be no wars in the world
If everybody joined the band
Think about the light in your eyes
Think about what you should know
There’d be no wars in the world
If everybody joined in the show, oh, oh

Think about the light in your eyes
Think about what you should know
There’d be no wars in the world
If everybody joined in the show
In the show

I sing this song a lot. Can you tell? It’s just one of many songs that I sing every day, as I walk into the wave that God sends towards me, walking on the wave, by His grace.

Yes, ‘sing, sing while you know you’re still living…’

Holy, Holy, Holy…

Righteous, justified by faith

God does not want those whom He will save, who seek His mercy, to be ignoramuses, unmanly, cowardly, or spiritually untested. It is a matter of divine inheritance stored up for experienced Christians. So He places temptations before us so that our obedience to His commandments may be demonstrated. His illumination is within us; knowledge of His will is taught by the Scriptures; furthermore, our conscience guides us like a compass. All of the above enlighten us in the face of temptations. But when evil prevails over our will, we do not obey His commandments.

We were created with free will, and free will cannot be controlled by others. As such, if we feared God, we would not fall into temptation. If we did not love ourselves more than God, we would not tend towards sin. But His goodness did not leave our falls without a rectifying remedy, whereby we return once again and a victory occurs in spite of our fall.

All who compel themselves to be saved, the Scriptures call righteous, justified by faith. God will not let them fall, for they are struggling properly. He will not let them be tempted beyond their strength when they are making every effort to be patient. But when we are cowardly and lukewarm, when we have a slothful will, this constitutes an occasion for a temptation beyond our strength.

Your grumbling is sinful; it is a result of self-love and unmanliness. Have patience in everything; thank God; blame your lukewarmness, and not God, Who was crucified for you and, consequently, must love you. Since He loves you, how can He let you fall into temptation? Seek forgiveness from Him, and secure yourself with patience.

Elder Ephraim of the Holy Mountain (Athos)  
“Remember who your teachers were…”
2 Timothy 3:14

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

When He returns


Anyone who has been the victim of a miscarriage of justice knows what I’m talking about. In spite of all the evidence, or the lack of it, one has been judged guilty of the crime. Tragedy is sown in the mindless inattention to facts, as scarecrows in a melon patch hang uselessly defending nothing from no one. We are satisfied to have reached a verdict that confirms our every suspicion, glad that what we believed all along was proven right. Self-vindication conquers even the mightiest facts. We have won our case.

This is what happens all around us and every day. Sometimes we are the perpetrators, sometimes the victims. It doesn’t matter because it’s usually over trifles. No one is actually sent to the block, nobody is incarcerated. Injustice is unimportant because it is so small, accusation merely a ruse to satisfy our need for self-validation at the expense of another. We think it doesn’t matter. We’ve just trampled someone else’s self image, so that our own can be hoisted higher. We are wise in our own eyes, as we live a lie.

This is what comes of the dictatorship of self. We put kings and queens to death for their alleged vainglory, ourselves presumed innocent, no questions asked. Others are not what they are but what we make them. Light has become darkness, or darkness light, not according to what our eyes tell us, but our hearts. Not the world as it is, but our inner world, is where we choose to live. This can be anything but the truth, but we call the cards. Proud of our personal divine right, we call it the kingdom of heaven.

Every human struggle from day one has been the ceaseless recycling of the same theme. Not what things really are, nothing and no one for its own, their own, sake. All that is outside us is only there for us. ‘All I have is yours, all you see is mine,’ we prefer to remember our personal divine mandate, given by the only god we really believe in, ourselves. This is the state of nature. We are the noble savage. We put kings and priests to death. We always have, and we always will. This is our divine right.

But one day He came from That Other Place, bringing the Message we did not want to hear from One we cannot overcome. We could not paint Him with the colors of our minds, so we ignored Him when, after putting Him to death, He would not go away. We don’t believe in ghosts, nor in mortal men, nor immortal gods, only in ourselves, not yourselves, not themselves, but myself. There is only one piece of evidence that we cannot admit, else our kingdom crashes. He places it before us, yet we will not see.

Sin is not what it is, but what we make it. We snatch the truth out of His hands almost before He lays it down. We hide it quickly somewhere inside the folds of our regal robes or, better yet, we mount it as a jewel in our crown, confirming our authority. Peace at last, the whole world at peace, one world, under us, just as we always dreamed, just as it always seemed. We were right after all. We breathe a sigh of relief. It was a close call. He came, He saw, we conquered. Not who He is, but what we made Him.

Everything goes on as it always has since the beginning of the world. We are still in charge. Nothing and no one can come into our courtroom without our permission. We have won our case, judged aright, vindicated ourselves. He was, He is, and He will be—that man—we are safe from Him. We made even Him do our bidding, be what we said He is. Yes, we even celebrate His birth and capitalize all that pertains to Him. We brand ourselves with His name. But what will we do, if and when He returns?

Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace

太平天国 Taiping Tianguo, ‘Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace’ is shown in Chinese to the right. This was the name of a religious political movement, really a revolution, in mid-19th century China, whose aim was the native Christianisation of China under the 天王 Tian Wang, ‘the heavenly Emperor.’ Though this revolution ultimately failed, defeated by the Imperial forces aided by the Western ‘Christian’ powers, it opened China to integration with the modern world.

‘I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world’ (John 16:33), says Jesus Christ, and so, His disciples, those who are called by His holy apostle Paul the Body of Christ, are called by Him into His heavenly kingdom of great peace. In the Body of Christ, there are many parts, they are not all the same, yet they work together for the good of the whole.

‘Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink’ is how the same holy apostle puts it (1 Corinthians 12:12-13), and he elaborates even further, saying, ‘From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work’ (Ephesians 4:16).

How beautiful is the Body of Christ!

How beautiful the hands that served the wine and the bread and the sons of the earth! How beautiful the feet that walked the long dusty roads and the hills to the cross! How beautiful the heart that bled that took all our sin and bore it instead! How beautiful the tender eyes that chose to forgive and never despise! And as He laid down His life, we offer this sacrifice: That we will live just as He died, willing to pay the price.

How beautiful the radiant Bride who waits for her Groom with His light in her eyes! How beautiful when humble hearts give the fruit of pure lives so that others may live! How beautiful the feet that bring the sound of good news and the love of the King! How beautiful the hands that serve the wine and the bread and the sons of the earth! How beautiful is the Body of Christ!
(Twila Paris)

What unites the saints is the freedom of the Spirit. They are free from their wills, from themselves. This is the proof and assurance of the genuineness of their truth. It is not the man speaking, but the Spirit of God. Thus a trinitarian balance reigns within them and flows round about them because in them is no ‘individual’ initiative, no arbitrary dealings, no partial view, but a universal manifestation. The Lord's judgment is just because He seeks not His own will, but the will of the Father who sent Him (cf. John 5:30).

The Comforter consoles the people of God and leads it ‘into all truth’ because He does not speak of Himself. What is important is not that we should achieve the project we have set ourselves to achieve, but that the Holy Spirit should do with us and within us what He wishes, when He wishes, regardless of whether this seems, or is, disastrous for our projects and our good resolutions.

This release from his own will and total captivity to the freedom of the Comforter means that man's theological testimony can be heard, like a message of resurrection, from the whole of his behavior and his being. It makes the course of his life into a script which can be clearly read, theologically mature and universally saving. Theology is a creation, a superabundance of life, a gift, an overflowing, an involuntary movement. It emanates from the whole body of the life of those who are spiritually liberated, like the sound that comes from all the vibrating metal of a bell.

Fortunate is the man who is broken in pieces and offered to others, who is poured out and given to others to drink. When his time of trial comes he will not be afraid. He will have nothing to fear. He will already have understood that, in the celebration of love, by grace man is broken but not divided, eaten and never consumed. By grace he has become Christ, and so his life gives food and drink to his brother. That is to say, he nourishes the other’s very existence and makes it grow.
(Archimandrite Vasileios)

The life we share in Christ puts all of us ‘into the arena’ no less than it put the early Christians. Why is this? Are we any different from them? No, we are the same. We are the early Christians. The world puts us into the arena, but actually they do not know what they are doing. They are only following the orders of the One they do not know, who loves us so much that He is willing to let us share with Him His passion, so that we can share His resurrection. There is no other way to life. He says, ‘Do not be afraid. It is I’ (John 6:20).

Like our Lord Jesus Christ who after His baptism by the honorable forerunner and prophet John the Baptist went into the desert where He was put to the test by satan, we are driven by the Spirit into the wilderness for exactly the same purpose: to provoke the evil one to reveal himself, so that he can be overcome. How overcome?
By ourselves?
Not at all, but by the Word of God who lives in us and has already transfigured us into images of Himself, full of His own authority and power.

Yes, we are put into the arena. We are driven into the wilderness. That is what this world is, what life in this world is, a battle, yet we are called to live in the heavenly kingdom of great peace. What is this kingdom? Where is this kingdom? ‘The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst,’ says the Lord Jesus Christ (Luke 17:20-21), who is both king and kingdom, and who alone is our peace.

‘Christ is in our midst! He is and ever shall be!’ the liturgical greeting that must be lived and not just said, is the road and the destination at one and the same time. How can we not be at peace with one another when we are in Him who ‘makes His home in the praises of Israel’ (Psalm 22:3)? We recite and we preach, ‘One Lord, one faith, one baptism’ (Ephesians 4:5), yet we tear the Body of Christ apart with our own hands and words, putting to death in our bodies not sin as Christ put to death in His, but rather the peace that He came to give, the peace that He alone is. ‘For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility,’ as the holy apostle writes (Ephesians 2:14).

Have we forgotten what is written? ‘Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms’ (Ephesians 6:10-12). Let’s remember these words, ‘Live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace’ (Ephesians 4:1-3).

‘I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world’ (John 16:33).

Yes, brothers, the heavenly kingdom of great peace!

Nothing would be impossible

It’s no wonder that the world does not follow the teachings of the Church. Except for when the world is masquerading as the Church for its own reasons, it is happy to ignore what the Church has to say at best, and at worst, it likes to entertain itself by mocking it.

The Church, however, has no teachings, even when it says it does because it’s full of its own authority, and it’s that false authority that the world loves to mock. The world incites the Church to claim an authority it does not have, so that the world can mock it,
‘See, you’re no better than us!’

The Church has no teachings and no authority of its own: it has only what Christ has given it, what Christ has handed over to it, as a steward receives from his Lord what is not his, but what is entrusted to him. What has been entrusted to the Church is teachings and authority, from Christ the Only Teacher of mankind, the Only Authority, of whom God the Father says,
‘You are My Son’ 
(Psalm 2:7).

There is a difference between the perceived truth and the actual truth which even members and leaders of the Church sometimes fail to discern. Discernment, διακρισις, dhiákrisis, is here the key word. So often what the Church has is not discernment, but judgment, κρισις, krísis. When the Church exercises the former, the world fears and respects her, when the latter, she is made a laughingstock.

In 1983 the Sunday in January that falls closest to the day on which the Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton decisions were handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court, January 22, 1973—was declared national ‘Sanctity of Human Life Sunday.’ Over the past 38 years, 51 million lives have been taken through abortion. For some, this data is hard to take in, and they ask, ‘How long will God forbear with our generation?’

Declarations are human things, the works of those who take on their shoulders the mantle of the King of kings of kings, relying on His promises to be with them, but as rulers not as servants. The world knows when we are playing the game that it plays, even when we are dressed up in that robe.

Only Christ can wear that robe, and when He reigns from the tree, He has already taken it off, and reigns naked, not only mocked but also rejected by the world which does not know what it is doing, does not know what He has accomplished from that throne of suffering, on which as King of Glory, He reigns.

Reigns, not rules. Discerns, not judges.

There is a Kingdom that, as Christ says, is not of this world. That Kingdom in time claims no rights, no power, not even the power to save from death. Christ says, ‘Do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father who would promptly send more than twelve legions of angels to My defense?’ (Matthew 26:53).

The scourge and crime of abortion is to be opposed, to be sure, but how? With what weapon that the world cannot turn against us, or that we will not snap in two on a rock? The world brings its epileptic son to the disciples for healing, and they cannot heal him. Yet Jesus shrives the boy with a word.

‘Faithless and perverse generation! How much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him here to Me!’ (Matthew 17:17) Christ is speaking not only to the wounded and demon-infested world, but to the disciples as well, who come to Him privately and ask,

‘Why were we unable to cast it out?’ He answered, ‘Because you have little faith. I tell you solemnly, if your faith were the size of a mustard seed you could say to this mountain, “Move from here to there,” and it would move; nothing would be impossible to you’ (Matthew 17:20).

And some manuscripts add, ‘As for this kind [of devil], it is cast out only by prayer and fasting.’

Monday, November 25, 2013

Monarchy

Monarchy is initiated everywhere when a strong center of decisive action is required. No committee by whatever name really rules a nation; it may appear, or be decreed as such, but behind it must be an unbridled but untitled monarch.

Monarchy becomes hereditary if and when it can maintain itself as that strong center.

There has been no true monarchy since the advent of constitutionalism.

A true monarchy must unite in itself, in the person of the monarch,
all the attributes of the nation, including its religious heritage.
A king is also a priest, if not a god.

The office of Christian Emperor within the Church was threefold:
pre-eminent preacher of the Divine Dispensation (Law and Gospel), dispenser of Divine Healing (the royal touch),
and living icon of God the Father.

The person of Christian Emperor within the State was likewise living icon of God the Father, who thence begat his people, to whom he was not just symbolic, but literal, father, and from him, through his people, proceeded the spirit of the nation, its ethos, the lord and giver of its life.

In this way, monarch, people, and ethos not only reflected, but actually incarnated, the Holy Triad of the Divine Nature: One substance in three persons. Thus, Orthodox Christianity, as a complete revelation of the One God as a society of persons, equal in substance but differing in function, was, is, and shall be the perfect foundation of earthly society, both spiritual and temporal.

Pure monotheism as Judaism is an incomplete revelation; Islamic monotheism, a compromise with humanistic reason. Neither ever did, can, or could produce a true monarchy, only an anticipation (pre-Christian kings of Israel and Judah), or an imitation (the Caliphate).

Whether or not a country has ever been governed by monarchy, it may still become a monarchical civilization. Indeed, when a nation finally realizes that its very survival depends on it, it will abandon the unsuitable and wasteful aberrations it once called government, even though its origins were formerly lauded as noble, and return to monarchy.

We can only hope that when it is ready, it will fall to Orthodoxy, not to Islam or to some other new pseudo-religious philosophy, to bring the nation to ethical rebirth and true monarchy.

Ο εχων ους ακουσάτω τί το Πνευμα λέγει ταις εκκλησίαις.
‘Having ears, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’
Revelation 3:13

More like Jesus

I too sometimes catch myself condemning sinners with the words of my lips, or with the words I have written (which are, of course, much harder to take back). It usually happens, though, when my soul is mobilized by something outside me, like thinking about people who are being oppressed, or whatever.

When I stop and just get quiet, with the Lord being right there with me as He always is, it doesn't even enter my mind to judge or criticise even someone who has purposely wronged me. That's why I always retreat to that private chamber as often as possible, certainly every day, usually several times a day.

The world has a way of soiling our feet as we go about in it. Only Jesus can wash those feet clean again. And He is so faithful to forgive us and turn the other cheek to our sin.

It is so obvious to me after living a very tempestuous life, that the function of the Law is, as holy apostle Paul says, to simply tell us what is wrong. It's the prognosis, but not the cure. Only the living One, the only Lover of mankind, the only Physician, Jesus, can cure, but the medicine He applies is Death. For many Christians that is too severe a treatment, so they prefer to hobble along with the burden of their unforgiven sin weighing them down. In that condition, being too sick to live but afraid of Death, they yield to the kind of grouchiness that exhibits itself as judgmentalism.

Who has been forgiven much, loves much.

How sick our world is! How deceived we all are! Only by turning to Jesus, who is always near, can we be delivered ‘from this body of death,’ by conquering death by death, as He did, and finally be freed from bondage so that we, like Him, can bring life to those in the tombs…

Lord Jesus! I wish You would let me wash Your feet, for it was by walking about in me that You soiled them!

Death by stoning

I have read the five books of Moses cover to cover many times. It was by reading them in the Jerusalem Bible that it was impressed on me that God is very definitely a person, that He has a will, and that He has a very distinct idea of what is right and what is wrong. He expects us to agree with Him. How He deals with us when we don’t agree, and when we do things our way, seems to change over time. This, however, I think is an illusion. I don’t think God changes, but our perceptions of Him, and how we interpret what happens to us, changes. This can’t be helped. He humbled Himself from the beginning in His dealings with us, taking up our limited understanding and still speaking to us through it. Eventually and inevitably, He ‘bent the heavens and came down’ not by setting the mountains and sky on fire, but in utter humility flowing His divine nature into our human one by becoming one of us. Meanwhile, there are still people who don’t quite get it when they hear Him say, ‘If you have seen me, you have seen the father.’

One thing I’ve noticed in my reading is how severe the punishments were for offenses committed while the people of Israel were wandering in the desert. No less than ten offenses earned the punishment of death by stoning: Touching Mount Sinai while God was giving Moses the Ten Commandments (Exodus 19:13); an ox that gores someone to death should be stoned (Exodus 21:28); breaking the Sabbath (Numbers 15:32-36); giving one’s seed (presumably one’s offspring) to Molech (Leviticus 20:2-5); having a familiar spirit (or being a necromancer) or being a wizard (Lev. 20:27); cursing God (Leviticus 24:10-16); engaging in idolatry (Deuteronomy 17:2-7), or seducing others to do so (Deuteronomy 13:7-12); rebellion against parents (Deuteronomy 21,21); getting married as though a virgin, when not a virgin (Deuteronomy 22:13-21); sexual intercourse between a man and a woman engaged to another man (both should be stoned, Deuteronomy 22:23-24).

The foregoing are just those offenses whose punishment was explicitly defined as death by stoning. There were a great many others for which the punishment was just ‘death,’ without specifying how the condemned were to die. Later, the rabbis finished the work of defining exactly what was to take place in the cases of capital punishment. The strange thing is, however, that there are very few mentions of such punishments being actually inflicted. There are three cases in the Bible in which a person was legally stoned to death as a punishment, and there are also five or six cases where someone was stoned by a mob, not in a legal fashion. A detailed case of stoning occurs in Joshua 7:24-26 when a man named Achan (עכן) was found to have kept loot from Jericho, a conquered Canaanite city, in his tent.

The time of Israel’s migration to the Promised Land was when Torah was given. At this time, there was no such thing as Judaism or Jews, only the Hebrew people, whom the living God, Yahweh, had chosen as His special possession. Not just Torah, but particularly these laws of punishment, were given and followed during that stage in the process when God was fashioning Israel into His unique people, using a sort of shock treatment to winnow and purify them, because He knew that over time they would eventually stray and devolve back into living like the other nations. So there had to be a very severe beginning to ensure that at least a faithful remnant would still exist on earth at the appointed time, through whom would be born the Ransom for the sins of the nations—Jesus the Messiah, the Word of God in human form.

Even though the laws of punishment, such as death by stoning, were still ‘on the books,’ by the time Judaism emerged as the religion of the Jews (as the people of Israel came to be known after the Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom), the legal infliction of these punishments was rare. Doubts in Jewish society about the morality of capital punishment in general and stoning in particular were growing. For example, according to Rabbi Shimon ben Gamaliel in the time when the religious courts had authority over capital punishment, a court that executed more than 1 person in 70 years was considered a ‘bloody court.’ The incident recorded in the Gospel (John 7:53-8:11) of the woman caught in adultery has to have been an instance of illegal infliction of the penalty of death by stoning, which was still probably rather common in the time of Jesus, at a grass roots level. So also would have been the stoning of the first Christian martyr, the deacon Stephen. Remember, even the Jewish authorities could not legally execute Jesus for committing what to them was blasphemy. ‘We have no law to put a man to death’ (John 18:31).

Modern-day Judaism is almost unanimous in rejecting the severe punishments found in the Torah, though with various explanations and justifications. Perhaps there are some Jews who today would revive these ancient punishments, but they are in the minority. Again, these punishments were ordered by the living God for a specific purpose, to fashion Israel His people. They were never intended for the nations, as can be seen if one studies the Talmud, where it states that they apply only to the people of Israel. Seeing that even for themselves their purpose has been achieved, Jews of today do not apply the severe penalties found in Torah.


From a Christian viewpoint, the death of Jesus Christ put an end not only to the laws of sacrifice in the Jewish Temple, but also to the whole body of Jewish laws. Again, the account of the woman caught in adultery cited above is an example of where Jesus was heading, along with His famous sayings, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath’ (Mark 2:27) and, ‘The Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath’ (Luke 6:5). Some would see this as religious evolution, others as the plan of salvation of the living God, whose purposes are not revealed to man all at once, but only as He wills, who Himself is changeless, though we learn more of Him as we encounter Him again and again.

What of death by stoning in today’s world? Perhaps there will always be instances of such punishments inflicted illegally by irrational mobs anywhere in the world where memory of such cruelty survives, but surely no civilized nation on earth would sanction it or enshrine it in its legal system. Think again. That which is called ‘the third great monotheistic religion’ has such punishments enshrined not only in the legal systems where it holds sway, but in its very scriptures. This religion, claiming to be the last and greatest revelation of God to man, supplanting not only Christianity but Judaism as well, holds up and holds to a penal code more severe than even that of the ancient Hebrews.

The living God, the Only God there is, crafted them He chose as His own hereditary people and shaped and formed them by means of these severe statutes, in order to chasten, purify, strengthen and preserve them, who were also going to be the mother and brothers of His Son, the Saviour Jesus Christ. There is only one Israel the heir to the promises, and only one Christ, who come of the seed of Abraham through Isaac. Yet another came claiming to be a prophet, who reversed the story, seized the promise given to Isaac and laid it on Ishmael, taking for his own tribe the rôle of God’s hereditary people, and imitating the rigor and severity of the ancient laws.


If inflicting the penalty of death by stoning is the sign of the true faith, then we all know which true faith that is, and we should hurry to embrace it. Doubtless, such severe punishments will craft us into a perfectly pure, sinless and moral society as it has crafted many another people before us. It doesn’t matter that we will not be free, because look what freedom, what free will, has bought for us—societies impure, riddled with vice and sin, idolatrous beyond imagining. It would be for our own good, it would be worth it, to submit to the loss of freedom, if it meant an earthly paradise, where everyone would be happy, healthy, safe, at peace. Everyone, of course, except those who disobey the law—the divine law that comes from the prophet and his followers—everyone who deserves to die.

Yes, for them, death by stoning is really no less than their just reward from ‘God, the compassionate, the merciful, owner of the Day of Judgment.’

Ah, but what if the real God shows up?

Look for the good

These are sayings of a Serbian bishop which resonate in my heart, as they reflect the truths by which I have tried to live my life in Christ. They define for me what true Orthodoxy essentially is, not a doctrinal formulation or a rudder full of rubrics, but living in such a way that reveals Christ in you to others, and Christ in others to you.

Stop looking for that which is bad in your neighbors but rather find and love that which is good in them and you will save both them and yourselves.

You will save them since every man already believes in his own goodness, everyone likes and wants to be good, everyone feels that eternal and divine calling to perfection. One should, therefore, support others in this: believe in them and help them develop that which is good, which abides in them and which they ultimately respect in themselves, that they develop that inner goodness, that it be strengthened and that it bring them victory over evil… For, it is only that which is good in man that can be loved and it is only in love that one can live.

It is with this teaching that the Apostles set out into the world on this day [Pentecost].

—Bishop Hrizostom (Vojinović)

To read the whole from which these excerpts are taken, visit Fr Milovan's blog Again and Again, and read the post entitled Good in Every Man.

For those unfamiliar with Orthodox language, when we say ‘you will save them’ this does not mean that we personally save them—as a matter of fact we know that only Christ can save anyone—but that we only do what we see Him doing: We try to love others as He does, and so doing, we help them to lay down their defenses, so He can save them.

Love is like the feet

Love is the hallmark of the true Church—nothing else!—and where love is, God is, Christ is, the Holy Spirit is. Christ does not tell us in the gospels, "Make sure each other is believing in exactly the right doctrine," but rather ‘Love one another as I have loved you.’

I am not saying that doctrine is unimportant, but that it is secondary.

Love is like the feet, very humble, but they're the parts of the body that enable you to follow Jesus, they lead you to Him.

Doctrine is like the head, full of itself, often lost in the clouds of speculation, often misguiding the feet, often putting up "mental roadblocks" where the feet know better, where the feet would go if not restrained.

No one has ever walked by using his head as the organ of locomotion. If you don't have feet, then you must use a wheelchair, but you still don't hop along on your head.

The church I belong to is the one where we are all of one mind because we are all of one loving heart.

The mind of Christ is the only mind that is not flawed, the only mind that does not fantasize, lie or lead astray, or prevent the blessed feet from walking after Him.

The church I belong to is really that one, you and me, and our Lord, Master and Savior is here with us, among us, and within us,
He pitched His tent among us and became man,’ so that we might pitch our tent in the heavenlies, and there abide forever in the wedding feast of the Lamb.

What does Christ see when He looks upon the Church?

Nothing and no one that He hasn't placed there.
Whatever and whoever is of the world is as invisible to us, as we are to it and to them.

The great inversion

You know that among the pagans the rulers lord it over them, and their great men make their authority felt. This is not to happen among you. No; anyone who wants to be great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be your slave, just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.
Matthew 20:25-28

It's curious how we have found so many ways to get around this saying of Jesus. One hierarch who otherwise declares himself the bridge-builder and the vicar of Christ on earth, humbly adds the epithet servant of the servants of God to the other titles by which he is known, and though protocol demands he be referred to as ‘his Holiness,’ we are advised that this form of address pertains not to him personally, but to what Christ has made him. That may be so; I don't know. But I ask myself, how does this differ from referring to the Queen as ‘her Majesty’?

Like all other human societies, the Church organizes itself in tiers according to rules of order. Is this not to be avoided? After all, even Christ had His inner ring of disciples, Peter, James and John, and even there we find an ambition for preeminence among its members which gave Him occasion to speak the words cited above, ‘anyone who wants to be great…’

Though Holy Church has institutions like the offices of bishop, presbyter and deacon, and has even added more classifications to these simple New Testament ones, the fact remains that within her we find strange inversions happening, even from the earliest times, that prove the saying of Jesus fulfilled and write a spiritual history of mankind that remains almost impossible of documentation.

In the ancient Church, we have figures like elders Barsanouphios and John in Gaza, simple men who from their desert cells guided countless lives both during their time and up to the present day. Bishops even feared them for their God-bestowed authority, and heeded their instructions, yet they considered themselves the worst of sinners.

In the film Ostrov, the simple, half-mad Fr Anatoly, after burning his abbot's best boots, nearly suffocating him in a smoke-filled boiler room, and then casting his precious down-filled comforter into the sea, sits side by side with him, both of them covered with soot and smoke, and talks to himself or them both, complaining that God has made him the leader of the monastery, and he simply can't understand why, since of all men he is the most sinful. You can tell that he's not just saying this out of humility; he really believes it. This is Fr Anatoly speaking, now, not the abbot. The abbot just sits there beside him silently and with a look of abject relief, thanking God for delivering him, at the hands of this madman, from his earthly crutches.

It is strange, too, how our perceptions of others can be so different, one person viewing another as a great saint, another criticizing him harshly. As C. S. Lewis writes, ‘What you see and what you hear depends a great deal on where you are standing. It also depends on what sort of person you are.’ I have known bishops who, I think, were great saints and men of God, yet I still hear them being traduced even after they have reposed, and being called bad men. Conversely, I am sure there are others whom I blame and others praise. So much for our private judgments. Why judge at all? But as Jesus says, ‘Wisdom is vindicated by all her children’ (Luke 7:35).

Holy Church is both the most merciful refuge for the afflicted and at the same time the most dangerous place for souls who still seek the world. Her structures and order can both relieve the afflicted and afflict the pious. The lowlier you are in spirit, the less you are jolted by the cataracts in the flow of churchly life, whether you are positioned at the top, as a chief shepherd, or just one of the lesser sheep. The stronger is your hold on the control of life, your own or that of others, the greater is your danger, to yourself and to others. A ride over the cataracts might throw you out of the boat, your stiff stance working ironically against you.

Spiritual freedom—ultimately, this is what it all boils down to. As the apostle writes, ‘When Christ freed us, He meant us to remain free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery’ (Galatians 5:1). All worldly systems of social organization lead to slavery and preserve it among men. Only Christ Jesus, in His divine teaching and holy example, has set us free from this when He turned the world upside down, as His disciples continue to do, for which the world blames them.

These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also. They are all defying Caesar's decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.
Acts 17:6-7

One only is worthy




One only is worthy,
and we know it,
and we know Him.

So as we go suffering as He suffers,
rejoicing as He rejoices,
let's keep following Him,
and decide to do now and always
exactly what He asks,

no matter what it looks like,
no matter whom it may offend,
no matter what it feels like,
but without malice,
without superiority,
without resentment.

This way is the hardest
because it is the Cross,
and it is the lightest
because it is Jesus.

And to be at His side,
no matter what happens to us by day or night,
is why we live.

— Romanós