Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Do you believe this?

Martha said to Jesus, ‘If you had been here, my brother would not have died, but I know that, even now, whatever you ask of God, he will grant you.’
John 11:21-22 Jerusalem Bible

Like Martha, we bring to the Lord’s attention some calamity that has occurred, reminding Him that it could’ve been avoided, if He had been here. Also like her, we are willing to give Him a second chance to make things right. We pull out our trump card, faith, which the Lord has given us, and we hope we can use it to press home our request, ‘From my lips, to God’s ear.’

‘Your brother,’ said Jesus to her, ‘will rise again.’ Martha said, ‘I know he will rise again at the resurrection on the last day.’
John 11:23-24 JB

Having made our request, like Martha we hear the word of Jesus, that everything will be made right, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ His word does not satisfy us. It has no setting in time or place. From our point of view, as from hers, it’s not enough. We have to let Him know that somehow. We take what He tells us, and protest, ‘Eventually it will be alright, but what about right now?’

Like the rich man in Hades, we want someone to rise from the dead ‘to give them a warning so that they do not come to this place of torment too’ (Luke 16:28), and we too meet with the word, ‘They have Moses and the prophets, let them listen to them’ (Luke 16:29).

We take His living word, ‘he will rise again,’ and turn it into a doctrinal statement, ‘I know he will rise again on the last day.’ That’s our response. The Lord speaks to us what we know to be an incredible word, ‘he will rise again’ and, as if to shame Him or console ourselves for having a powerless god, we respond, almost impersonally, ‘Yes, yes, we know all that! Like everyone else, he will rise on the last day, but, but we don’t want to wait till then!’ To us, the last day is infinitely remote. We want God’s judgment now, and in our favor.

Jesus said, ‘I am the resurrection. If anyone believes in me, even though he dies he will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’
John 11:25-26 JB

We asked for it, without really knowing what we were asking for, just as Martha did. The Lord never comes to us to discuss doctrine or to play faith games. He cannot be shamed, tricked or tempted into doing our will. No, He comes for one thing, and one thing only, to do the will of His Father who is in heaven. That’s how and why He came in His incarnation. That is how and why He comes to us now, abiding with us as He promised, ‘I am with you always; yes, to the end of time’ (Matthew 28:20).

He was, is, and always will be here for us with His all-powerful word. Do we receive that word? Do we receive Him as He speaks it to us? Do we hear Him ask us the question on which all things depend, ‘Do you believe this?

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

True joy

Elder Porphyrios brings the blessing of Holy Epiphany to a group of prostitutes. This account was borrowed from Salt of the Earth blog.

In the old days, during the feast of the Theophany, we used to sanctify homes. One year I also went to sanctify. I would knock on the doors of the apartments, they would open for me, and I walked in singing “In Jordan, You were baptized O Lord….”
As I went along the road called Maizonos, I saw an iron door. I opened it, walked into the courtyard which was full of tangerine, orange and lemon trees, and proceeded to the stairs. It was an outdoor staircase that went up, and below it was the basement. I climbed the stairs, knocked on the door, and a lady appeared. Since she opened I began my common practice singing, “In Jordan, You were baptized O Lord….” She stopped me abruptly. Meanwhile, girls began to emerge from their rooms after hearing me from the left and right of the hallway. “I see that I fell into a brothel,” I said to myself. The woman walked in front of me to stop.

“Leave”, she told me. “It is not right for them to kiss the Cross. I will kiss the Cross and then you should leave, please.”

I took seriously her disapproving attitude and said: “I cannot leave! I am a priest, I cannot go! I came here to sanctify.”

“Yes, but it is not right for them to kiss the Cross.”

“But we don’t know if it is right for them or you to kiss the Cross. Because if God asks me for whom it is more right to kiss the Cross, the girls or you, I probably would say: ‘It is right for the girls to kiss and not you. Their souls are much better than yours.’”

With that she became a bit red in the face, so I said: “Leave the girls to come kiss the Cross.” I signalled for them to come forward. I began to chant more melodically than before: “In Jordan, You were baptized O Lord…” because I had such joy within me, that God had ordained things so that I may also come to these souls.

They all kissed the Cross. They were all made-up, with colourful skirts, etc. I told them: “My children, many years! God loves us all. He is very good and allows the rain to fall on the righteous and the unrighteous’ (Matt. 5:45). He is the Father of everyone and God cares for everyone. Let us make sure to come to know Him and for us to also love Him and to become good. May you love Him, and then you will see how happy you will be.”
They looked at me, wondering. Something took a hold of their tired souls.

Lastly I told them: “I rejoice that God has made me worthy to come here today to sanctify you. Many years!”
“Many years!” they also said, and I left.

Food is for the hungry

Whenever I go to read and pray the psalms for the day and take up my old Jerusalem Bible with its now frayed leather cover and weakened binding, the Book naturally falls open at page 788, the psalm appointed for Day 26, beginning at Psalm 119, verse 105, the verses beginning with the Hebrew letter Nun. My eyes fall immediately on that beloved verse, “Now your word is a lamp to my feet, a light on my path,” and wherever else I go in my reading or in the world, that faithful Word goes ahead of me, showing the way.

That is how I relate to the Word of God, the Holy Bible. I take to heart what Augustine of Hippo wrote, which I read for the first time in the year that I came to the Lord, “The way in to the Holy Scriptures is low and humble, but inside the vault is high, and veiled in mysteries” (Confessions, III, 5). This is how I approach the Bible, this is the way I regard it, this is how I have made it my home, and this is how I have let it shape me. This November, it has been thirty-nine years that I have served the Lord with this light on my path.

Others have risen up, during that time, and come to know the Lord and His holy scriptures better than me, and I do not envy them. They have gone to college and finished, to seminary and finished, have traveled the world, seen sights, studied under the great names of the theological schools, experts in biblical research and hermeneutics, and I—well, I don’t even know for sure what hermeneutics really means. I am a mere ‘am ha-aretz.’ Yes, I confess it, in my innermost mind I am just ‘a man of the earth,’ as that Hebrew term implies.

I study the scriptures in Hebrew and Greek, but I have no papers and no letters after my names, and as if to prove my ignorance, I can’t scale the heights of theological discussion with the robed scholars, can’t understand when they tell me, the psalms are written by a king, in the person of a king, and for kings, and they can only be truly understood within that context. For me, the psalms are my entrance into the presence of Him I love, and entering therein, I find my peace.

Alas for you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You who shut up the Kingdom of Heaven in men’s faces, neither going in yourselves nor allowing others to go in who want to. 
Matthew 23:13 JB

It’s something like this.

There is a very good restaurant, an excellent restaurant, its dishes are beyond the delights of ordinary men. Outside, posted on the door, are the menus. Gathered in front of the door are the scribes, those who pride themselves on their learning. (No, not the Pharisees anymore, for there are none left who pride themselves on their following of the commandments, only scribes remain, who pride themselves on their education.)

These scribes are crowded around the door, assiduously studying the menu, line by line, dreaming of the dishes, and arguing among themselves which dishes are better than others, which are the best, which are not to be bothered with.

Along comes an ordinary man. He can read, of course, same as anyone, and he tries to take a look at the menu posted on the door, his hunger and his patience vying with one another because he can’t get quite close enough—the scribes are in front of the door as thick as a swarm of bees.

His hunger wins, and he grabs hold of the door handle and yanks the door open despite the spectators hanging on the menu, and he goes in. The door slams behind him.

Inside the restaurant, he is given the menu, which he studies in silence, far away from the roar of debate, makes his choices, and soon he is served the meal that satisfies his hunger.

After he is refreshed, he pushes his way out through the crowd of scribes at the door, and goes his way. Meanwhile the scribes continue fantasizing, speculating, arguing and boasting in their intellectual combats, and life goes on.

Now, back to the psalms, for Day 8.

“Yahweh, do not punish me in Your rage, or reprove me in the heat of anger…”
Psalm 39:1 JB


If you hadn't noticed, I have a confession to make. I am a polyglot, having various degrees of competence in about a dozen languages. As an infant, I spent my first year in the household of my maternal grandparents along with my mother, because our little family (I am first-born) had no home of our own. Dad was in Korea when I was born and didn't see me till he got back about a year later.

In that extended family household, a variety of languages could be heard daily: English, Polish, German, Russian, and occasionally others. I attribute my facility with languages, especially my ability to corral unusual sounds, from hearing this buzzing around me in that first year. And later, when we did get our own apartment (this is inner city Chicago in the 1950s) I was still exposed to even more languages. Certainly Italian, Greek and Yiddish get added to the pile. It's no wonder I was speaking Polish as a pre-teen, though my English never had a foreign accent.

When I got old enough to bike it out of my ethnic ghetto neighborhood to the outside world where I could find a well-stocked public library, along with juvenile science fiction I was bringing home books on Hebrew and Russian, the first two languages I taught myself at age eleven or twelve. I didn't stick to either very long, just long enough to learn the alphabets and their sounds, but they were there waiting for me when, as an adult, I went back and gave them another try. (I only read Russian, not speak it, and when I read it aloud, it's with a Polish accent. Sheesh!)

To me, language is a mysterious subset of a greater human capacity for detecting patterns and meaning in our environment. (When I took an IQ test a decade or so ago, I was classified as a 'visual mathematician' because of my adeptness at recognizing all sorts of rhythms and patterns in numbers, words and objects.) I think the border between spoken language and various categories of symbolism is fuzzy and very permeable if it exists at all.

And it is exactly in the subtle regions between all these linguistic and symbolic kingdoms that we sometimes find meeting places between us humans and other animal and even plant species. It is stories like saints preaching to fish, or reprimanding wolves, or talking to birds, or to forest trees (or their imagined or imaginary spirits) that tantalise us with the possibility that communication is a corridor of meaning between beings both rational and irrational (if there is such a category).

I am not quite insane yet (tho 'still crazy after all these years') but one evening as I lay on my sofa in front of a large glass window facing the sparsely wooded green way across the street, a solitary, tall pine and I seemed to communicate, its slowly moving branches, its head bowing from time to time, its swaying against the dusk of a sun already below the horizon, all spoke to me, even answering my pondering mind as I extended it my greetings, admiration, and thanks.

Afterwards, had someone asked me what I was doing, I'd not have hesitated to say I was talking to the tree, and it to me, and if pressed, I think I could have even summarised our conversation.

Perhaps there really is a Narnia somewhere, after all!

Monday, December 29, 2014

God is love

‘Love covers all offenses.’ A church that doesn’t really practice this wouldn’t last very long. No matter how unjust or hypocritical it looks to outsiders, if this isn’t the rule to be followed in the Church, then there would be no Church. There might be organizations calling themselves ‘church,’ and some of them might even seem to last a very, very long time. But what we are seeing, in that case, is not the Church but an institution that perpetuates itself by some other means.

Yesterday I witnessed the churching of a new presbyter by a bishop. I am now speaking of this happening in an Orthodox church, to be quite clear. What I mean by churching (in case this isn’t the proper ecclesiastical term for it) is that a new priest having been sent to a congregation was formally installed as pastor of the place. This was accomplished by a ceremonial which included promises by the presbyter to be what he was ordained to be, and a promise by the people to support him.

I can’t remember having seen this ceremony in the Orthodox Church before, but I have seen something like it in the Episcopal Church. I was quite impressed by the ceremony and the promises, and I expect the young presbyter who was thus installed (a very humble, lovable guy) will make good his promises. The bishop revealed that he told him he was ‘home’ and expected to serve this parish for the rest of his life. May it be so, and God grant him many, many years. But why bring up ‘love covers all offenses’?

The church in which this happened was once a very model of Christian community, generous and welcoming, a house of prayer and of mercy. It had been served by good pastors for more than a generation. Then, the unexpected and horrible happened. For almost a decade a succession of priests who through their human weaknesses did great damage to persons and people brought this church to the brink of disaster. Each time one of them was reassigned they were sent off with lavish praise.

You’d think after it happening once, the mistake wouldn’t have been repeated so quickly. Human weakness afflicts us all, unfortunately, from head (hierarchs) to foot (me), and we are unable to see through the mists of our mistakes and those of others. Love, however, kept the remnant going. Was it love for the priests who did the damage? Maybe, for saints are capable of anything. Was it love for the people, the members for one another, for the Church? Yes, of course. And trusting love for Christ.

For it all boils down to trust. This word so variously and sometimes treacherously used, is still the root of both belief and faith. We have heard that if the building were to burn down, what would be left is the Church. That is what happened, metaphorically speaking, to this congregation. But mercy is stronger than justice. No one brought the past to mind, or resented the people who made it so hard. I think the sense of relief overwhelmed most of the people, including me. Hope shone in the eyes of many.

Never give up, brethren. No matter what things look like, at church, at home, in the country, in your neighborhood, at your school, in your marriage. God is with us. Christ wasn’t born for nothing. Love has taken on human form in Him, and in us who are in Him. It was not we who chose Christ, but He chose us. It is we, however, who must choose love, or else not. The whole world, not just the Church, continues to exist for the sake of love, forgiving, merciful, covering love. Yes, ‘love covers all offenses,’ for ‘God is love.’

Thursday, December 25, 2014

It's a boy!

The morning of Christmas Day, not too early. I climb into my car and head east, down my street, Klickitat. For the first two blocks, there’s a houseless greenway with scattered trees on my left, beyond which the hills and mountains of the state of Washington are visible across the mighty Columbia River. I drive on, still eastward, now passing houses on both sides of the street, all very quiet, no signs of life inside or out. People must be at peace, at home, together. It’s a holiday, the holiday. Christ’s birthday. Christmas.

After a half mile or so, the street turns a sharp, house-lined corner, and heads south, parallel to a major roadway, twenty feet below on the other side of a safety barrier. After serving a block of homes on the western edge of the bluff, the street pours into the side of the major roadway, and in my car I follow it. Like a Sunday morning when I drive the same route on the way to church, the roadway is nearly empty, the avenue is silent, little activity visible anywhere, just traffic lights changing for paltry traffic.

But today isn’t Sunday morning. This year Christmas falls on Thursday. The strange quiet that follows this holiday wherever it goes has transformed the world to a place of silence and repose. The cloud cover with nascent rain paints a picture of soft, winter gray, a comforting sight, for the world, my world, and anyone’s, needs to be comforted. The heat of anxious thought and thoughtless action that disturbs the tranquility of our lives in the workaday world must needs be dampened, sometimes.

This is what the ‘day of rest,’ the Sabbath, used to be like in years gone by. Once there was a day, usually Sunday, but in some places Saturday, when the world just stopped. No, not like ‘the day the earth stood still’ or anything like that, but a day when all unnecessary human activity halted, so that people could, along with the Creator, rest from their labors. Everything public was closed, except in an emergency, and only for known people. Only the church or Christian meeting hall was open, but not for business.

Only to glorify God, who alone gives increase, though we strive our hardest to succeed, often failing. After divine worship, or worshipful silence for those of the inner light, we had the rest of the day to ourselves, but even then, in some places, we still couldn’t engage in sports, or travel beyond the family circle. Today, the Thursday of the first day of Christmas, is probably the last reminder of a world that man once shared with God, giving back to Him what He has forever been giving to us. Rest.

After motoring south I turn left at the second traffic signal to continue my journey east. I am ‘heading home for the holidays.’ Home, to be with my family, even though I don’t know most of them very well, yet. The road is still nearly untraveled, reminding me of the line from the poet, ‘and I—I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.’ Yes, it has made all the difference. The church, nestled among homes on the forested hills at the eastern edge of town, is my destination.

There, to glorify the birth of the Son of God, with the brethren. At last my drive comes to an end in a U-turn in front of the temple, as I park by the roadside. Inside the doors, I buy two candles to light as an offering for me and a friend, kiss the ikon of Saint George, and turn aside to make way for a young couple carrying a newborn infant, as they step forward to the entrance of the nave. I realize what I have walked into unexpectedly. It is a forty-day blessing. I cannot see if the infant is a baby boy or girl.

Moving to the back to let others in closer as they gather around, some wielding flashless camera phones, I am too distracted to listen carefully to what Father Alban is saying. I still don’t know if the baby is a boy or a girl. The prayers and blessing finish. The priest takes the babe in his hands and lifting it heavenward chants, ‘The child of God is churched in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,’ as he advances to the altar. There, without going in, he raises the newborn in dedication before the ikons.

‘Ah, so it must be a girl,’ I think to myself, ‘otherwise he would have taken it inside the altar and circumambulate the holy table.’ Few priests are willing to break with tradition, like Father John does, who takes all infants into the altar, regardless of gender. I look about for a place to stand for the service and slide into an empty pew on the right of the main aisle, opposite where I usually stand. ‘My guardian angel,’ I wonder, ‘will he know where I am?’ remembering a saying of Mother Gavrilía.

The quiet of the outside world gives way to the music of divine service, and I ponder the twin gifts of silence and of praise. The holy Child, being rushed to birth in an unlikely place, a shepherd’s cave, through the hustle and bustle and noise of a market town, was anything but quiet. It was even noisy, at first. Then, as the holy family went down, off the beaten track to find the caves, the coolness and silence of the coming night ushered them to the place of birth-giving, its poverty hiding it from the world.

Truth never changes, but we do. Things look different to us at their beginning and at their ending. The passage of time adds weight to what at first seemed light, or reveals to be nearly nothing what once we thought glorious and grand. Initial happiness can sour, but heart-breaking losses can prepare us for more than we ever thought possible. Swept as dust before a whirlwind, we lose our balance and fall, and blinded by our passions lose our way. Belief, faith, and trust are keys that open a door to life.

Though she knew beforehand, and the man selected to be her husband also, what must be His name, and others who came seeking a king, His gender and office, the shepherds instructed by angels in unforgettable tones the nature of God’s purposes still cried out when they found Him, ‘It’s a boy!’ as they gathered around, glad eyes reflecting a light that illuminated people who had walked, forever it seemed, in darkness. And a new silence, that of the Kingdom without end, befell the world.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christ is born! Glorify Him!

The beginning, of everything

Christmas, at least in the West, is primarily and preeminently the children’s holiday. This is not a bad thing, and it developed naturally from the Nativity story itself—a Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger for there was no room at the inn, and three kings bringing gifts, and the star, and the angels. If there must be myths, let them all be like this. But what if this is not just a myth, but history?

The children’s holiday, overlaid by generations of customs and lauded in story and song, told and retold, sung season after season, acted and reenacted, turning children into grownups, and changing grown men and women back into babes. Yes, we cannot enter the Kingdom unless we become like ‘one of these,’ says Christ pointing to the toddler in His lap who would later grow up to be the bishop-martyr Ignatios of Antioch. And then, there’s the magic of gifts.

Yes, the magic. Was it ordained so, because it was the magi, initiates into the sacred mysteries and wisemen, kings in metaphor if not in power, that migrated with the star to lay their treasures before the Throne of straw whereon lay the King of Ages? Blessed are the children for whom this holiday still shines bright in the night of this world, inciting them to faith, hope, and love, not enticing them with lust for toys which pass away.

Yet, toys are not themselves an evil, but a great good, if they raise children step by step in their gradual ascent to maturity, learning to be then what they play now. A great secret is, that the child within us who have made that journey is still, and always will be, alive—that is, if we continue to believe. Believe in what? Believe in Santa? Or Christ? Well, yes… and yes. To believe in the first is the beginning of belief in the Second.

Father Christmas, Santa Claus, Saint Nicholas: all these personages in the various cultures represent the magic of believing for children. They were not ready-made by marketing managers of the toy industry. They evolved over time, each gathering Christmas traditions which, again, need not divert us from ‘the true meaning of Christmas’ any more than we let them. It’s thinly disguised humbug to disenchant children with historical lectures about ‘the real Saint Nicholas.’

For what is it we’re after? What do we yearn for? Is it a man-pleasing orthodoxy that squelches the seeds of childlike faith, not trusting the heavenly Father to lead His children? (Not ours, mind you—we are only guardians, and then, their brothers and sisters, co-heirs of salvation.) If we are loving and gentle, He can work wonders through us. Isn’t it, shouldn’t it be, not what but Whom we yearn for? And if this is true, then…

We find ourselves engulfed in the light of the Nativity of the Son of God, in the company of the myriads of angels and the saints gathered for the Festival, all of us as joyful and as merry as we could ever wish, and as carefree and happy as the children we find ourselves to be, our arms laden with gifts we thought we were bringing to the Christ Child, but which we now know were His gifts to us, and best of all, we realise at last that we are now Home, and that we never need leave again.

And this is not the end, but the beginning, of everything we have always wanted and hoped for.

Christ is born! Glorify Him!

Monday, December 22, 2014

All who love the Day

Not that I would ever become a Roman Catholic. I would gladly die a thousand deaths after unlimited, excruciating torture, being stretched on the rack, or branded all over with red hot irons, or having my flesh torn with hooks, or my hair and finger nails pulled out, or even, worst of all, being made to watch Christian TV—yes, I would endure all of these and more before I would submit to popish slavery.

But there is something uncannily Christian about the current Roman pope. I almost feel that he is a special Godsend to his church, and maybe to the Church at large, a final pope who may very well end not only the corruption rampant in his church, but in every church. How can you sit still knowing there are skeletons in your closet, when you see your blood-sucking enemy cleaning the ones out of his?

After all, if you’re an ‘evangelical’ who claims to put the Word of God first, and believes in salvation ‘by faith alone in Christ alone’ and righteously separates yourself from the ‘whore of Babylon’ as Halley’s Bible Handbook calls the papacy, how much longer can you hide behind your scripturally-based excuses for hating sin but not sinner officially, while in private doing quite the opposite?

As for us Orthodox, especially us Greeks, especially us fanatically deranged luminaries of the holy fathers with our guilt-tripping lisps elevating elders above God Himself and making monasteries gateways to Paradise while scorning the local parish as too worldly—that’s a mouthful!—well, we had better pray that Pope Francis keeps his hands off us! Look how he’s treating his own church’s leadership, the curia!

He issued a blistering critique of the Vatican bureaucracy that serves him, denouncing how some people lust for power at all costs, live hypocritical double lives and suffer from spiritual Alzheimer’s that has made them forget they’re supposed to be joyful men of God. He dished them a sobering catalog of fifteen sins that he hoped would be atoned for and cured in the New Year.

What kinds of sins? The terrorism of gossip that can kill the reputation of brothers in cold blood. Cliques that can enslave their members and become a cancer that threatens the harmony of the body and eventually kill it by friendly fire. Living hypocritical double lives that are typical of mediocre and progressive spiritual emptiness that no academic degree can fill. Oh my gosh! Holy Father, lay off!

Now, none of this kind of thing happens in our Holy Church—I am speaking now as an Orthodox Christian—I mean, it can’t, can it? Surely our holy hierarchs would never put up with it. That’s why they, and we, are not Roman Catholics, right? Who wants to be part of an ingrown toenail kind of church? One that would rather look like the True Church than be it. I mean, let’s be honest, if we can.

The cardinals, who heard the Pope’s scathing remarks during what in the past has been a lovey-dovey pat-on-the-back at Christmastime for them, were not amused. The speech was met with tepid applause, and few were smiling as Francis listed one by one the fifteen ‘Ailments of the Curia’ that he had drawn up, complete with footnotes and Bible verses. Wow, bible-believers! Maybe he’s a closet protestant!

I had to approach this topic in a joking, tongue-in-cheek way because the truth is, something wonderful and unexpected is happening in the Church of Jesus Christ. We never really believed, did we? when we say our prayers and ask, ‘Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’ What would we do with ourselves if what we prayed for actually began coming true? And if it didn’t look like what we were expecting?

It’s time now, once again, to settle into the final cycle of the Advent/Christmas preparations and activities. Meanwhile, above us the angels along with the planets, suns and stars are migrating toward the Day of the Lord, when He who was made man in time and reigns outside will enter this universe once and for all, undisguised and unopposed. ‘Lo, He comes with clouds descending’ will be sung for the last time, because the Reality will be here. And the good Pope along with all those whose lives, sanctified through ascetic labors mixed with love, will arise in the splendor of the Kingdom of our Father.

And so may it be with us, with you, and me, and all the brethren, all who love the Day of His Coming.

Christ is born! Glorify Him!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Unto the ages of ages

My beloved friends, let us continue to love each other since love comes from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and experiences a relationship with God. The person who refuses to love doesn’t know the first thing about God, because God is love—so you can’t know him if you don’t love. This is how God showed his love for us: God sent his only Son into the world so we might live through him. This is the kind of love we are talking about—not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God.
1 John 4:7-10 The Message

All week I have been thinking this one thought, ‘If God is love, what does that make us?’ We have heard the phrase ‘God is love’ and its inverse ‘Love is God’—both in some senses true—that we have gotten used to it, so it doesn’t have the same effect on us that it may have had when we first heard it. ‘Yes,’ we say to ourselves, ‘God is love, but I still have to deal with living in this world, where very little of that love is found. Today, I will just try to do my best.’

My mind wanders into the treasury of my heart, and there I find the jewel box of Fr Evely, where this gem is shining and sparkling its bright, powerful meekness at me, ‘Not seeing enough love anywhere they look, they just love with all their might.’ Never letting us wonder for long who ‘they’ might be, he tells us on the very lid of the jewel box, ‘That man is You,’ and I quietly back away from the glory (of who love is) as carefully as the High Priest of Israel backed away from the Sacred Ark.

‘If God is love, what does that make you?’ again I hear myself pondering. No, don’t press me too hard. Like an overripe fruit I might burst. Without a mirror we cannot see ourselves, but our reflections return to us from other people. I know a saintly woman who seems not to ever stop working, caring for others (even for me) with boundless might. Her husband and only son, both invalids seriously and painfully ill, she is their mainstay and manages everything, thinking herself untalented and unremarkable.

Little does she know that she is a true ikon of the God she serves. Yes, she’s a Christian, a Roman Catholic, but you won’t see her at mass very much. Her love is out working in the world where, as Fr Evely observes, ‘there’s not enough love anywhere,’ and without thinking twice, she just does whatever needs to be done. Her life, she thinks, untheological and barely Christian, because it doesn’t follow the ‘rubrics’ of her catechism. She admires and praises the gifts of others, while unknowing her own.

‘Let us make man in our own image,’ says the Divine Triad, both at the beginning, and in every moment since then until now, ‘and let them have dominion.’ Yes, the Divine Nature, ever One, has even blurred His Oneness without sacrificing His unity by being Three, and from eternity, so that He could be what He has always been—love. Not satisfied to remain ‘God on High’ His love for His creation drew Him down to its depths, where He recapitulated every step in His evolution of the universe in His mother’s womb.

Knowing that we are made ‘in the Image’ we still did not understand what that means—we still don’t, or won’t, but He keeps reminding us, reminding me—so He, the pre-eternal God, became one of us, appearing as a little child. We are familiar with that too from our Christmas hymns. The gospels, which we hear regularly all year long in church services, reiterate that He is love, proven by everything He did for us from the beginning till now. We let ourselves forget that ‘now’ means, ‘right here, right now.’

If God is love, what does that make us? No question can have greater impact than this, when we know the answer. And the answer is not hidden, never was hidden, it’s been before us, individually and corporately, since we came into being. Our being itself is the answer. ‘Let us make man in our own image.’ To know the answer is the revelation of who we are, in Christ. Following that revelation, all human knowledge, all eloquence, pales before ‘the revelation of the sons and daughters of God.’

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.
1 Corinthians 13:1-8

No, love never ends. How could it? for God is love. Now, made in His image, brethren, let’s be adamant to be what He made us ‘always, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Friday, December 19, 2014

He is Paradise

Thinking about Christmas, the nativity scene, an almost universally recognized symbol of the holiday, one that in recent times has provoked so much controversy, begging the question, where does private religion end and public indifference begin: I wondered to myself, how many people, Christian or not, even know where and when this Christmas tradition began? Once you’ve seen it—the straw-filled manger with baby, surrounded by adoring mother, standing-guard father, curious shepherds, and three visitors richly-robed and crowned—even without reading the bible, you know what’s going on, and unless you have a spoil-sport streak in you, you’re not likely to be offended by seeing a public display.

I was thinking about Francesco di Bernardone, the 12th-13th century Italian saint, who so greatly astonished his contemporaries, and me as well when I first read their accounts of him, that they believed he was, after Christ, the most perfect man who ever lived, a veritable second Jesus. His closest female disciple, Chiara Offreduccio, was likewise compared to the blessed virgin Mary. In one account, a devil who was being driven out of a possessed person, angrily revealed that St Francis and St Clare were purposely sent by God in His mercy to renew and refresh the Church, which had become so carnal and corrupt that if it didn’t repent and revive, He would’ve had to destroy it. I accepted all this uncritically.

From these same medieval records, we know that on a Christmas Eve of a certain year, Francesco had the idea to celebrate the midnight mass with a live representation of the Nativity of Christ. Out of this initial inspiration a tradition grew up, year after year, which eventually spread through the whole Church, changing to fit various cultures. Surprisingly, many groups of Christians that reject the traditions of Catholicism are avid promoters of the nativity scene, some of them using it to dislodge other traditions which they see as pagan superstition: they set out crèches instead of jack-o-lanterns at Halloween! But enough of this nonsense. For the disciple, Jesus is ‘a light that darkness cannot overpower.’

Thinking back to the stories about Francis and Clare, and of all the saints, as a new Christian my feeling for them was one of awe, and I held them in great reverence, as did my relatives and most other people around me. My faith was a religious faith, a kind of children’s version of Christianity, and imagination supplied what was lacking in personal experience. People can go through their entire lives never moving beyond this simple faith, and who’s to say it’s wrong? But for me, that was not enough, though at the time I little knew how insufficient it really was. Growing up in Christ opens your eyes to see the saints in a new way. It doesn’t diminish their stature. It magnifies it, because they cease being images; they come alive.

And coming alive, they invite you into their company, where no one is even thinking of being religious or of becoming saints. Why not? Because where they are is Paradise. There is no need of religion there, because men see God and speak with Him face to face. Why is where they are Paradise? Because they are in Christ, and they know it, and He is Paradise, and that is all that they know. When you follow them as they follow Him, very soon that is all that you know too. Nothing that you ever did before as a religious Christian goes away or is abandoned. You just grow up. Grow up into the stature of Christ. Francesco’s stigmata don’t cease being wonderful; they are just no longer a source of wonder: only Christ is.

Christ says, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’ This is not mere rhetoric or a pious promissory redeemable in heavenly assets. Life in Christ never can be because it never was or will be ‘pie in the sky,’ but it is always here, always today, always yes, because of His word, ‘Behold, I am with you till the end of the age.’ If we cannot wrap our minds around concepts like the Holy Trinity, we can at least experience the effects it has on us. I must say ‘it’ because no human language contains the fourth person pronoun comprised of the other three, which is singular and plural, masculine and feminine in the same iteration. ‘All who have been baptised into Christ have put on Christ.’ Incomparable to each other or to anyone, they are ‘saints.’

We are entering into the time beyond times, the great kairós of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Why let ourselves look on uncomprehending? Why not enter into the Nativity of the Son and Word of God, as Francesco of Assisi shows us? The pre-eternal Divine Nature reveals Himself as a new born child, and we can migrate with the magi following the star that stops and shines above where the Child lies. We have not and never come too late. The star still shines. The Child still is born, and He lives, and His birth of a virgin womb renews, recreates all human nature, and soon, even the whole material universe. ‘The ox and the ass know their Master’s crib.’ What about us? What about you?

Christ is born! Glorify Him!

ο Θεανθρωπος

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

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

Sol Invictus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The social goal of Christianity

Every human being fulfilled and free. Every man, woman and child, happy, unafraid. Everyone moving together towards one goal, one destination, helping and supplementing one another, encouraging each other to keep moving, forward. And following together. Following who? Can there be any doubt? Following the Master, the Original after whose image we have all been fashioned.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014


Sometimes it happens that we are drawn into friendly conversation in the month or so before Christmas, and it comes out that we are Orthodox Christians, or at least that we do something different from what most people expect. Then, someone asks, ‘You mean you fast in the weeks before Christmas?’ and we have to admit, ‘Yes, many of us do.’ Someone else, a Roman Catholic, may chime in, ‘Oh, I see. You mean that’s what you do for Advent!’ and then may be taken aback by our response, ‘Well, no, it’s not Advent, not exactly, but it is a season of preparation for the feast of the Nativity.’ We are often met with silence, occasionally by a muttered response as I once was, ‘They always have to be right,’ even though my answer was not spoken in a voice or attitude of condescension. It can feel as though, when one is recognized as being ‘Orthodox,’ a wall of separation suddenly goes up. People have to protect themselves from us. We have a bad reputation, I guess. I’m not sure what for, though I have been accused of trying to force someone to become Orthodox merely by being welcoming and supportive. Another example of, ‘people love those they want to love, and hate those they want to hate.’

Too serious. That’s what I am often accused of being. People want to always see a smile. Well, I must be a wild and rebellious primitive, because I smile when I want to smile, and when I am focused on something important, I can look very serious. And what isn’t important? Well, for me most things in life are important, but there are a few I don’t care a fig about—doing things just for show, and keeping up appearances are two of them. I almost wanted to add, ‘what people think of me’ to the list, but it would only be half the truth. I don’t care what people think of me when it comes to social status, money, fashion, what shoes I wear and what car I drive, whether or not I’m educated ‘with letters after my names’ or not. But I do care about what people think of me as a follower of Christ. I don’t go out of my way to be brusque or idiotic to prove that I am ‘just one of the guys, even though I’m religious’ because, of course, that isn’t true. One, I’m not ‘religious’ from my point of view, and two, I’m not ‘just one of the guys.’ I have a name, and that’s the new name given me by Christ, the one that He writes on a white stone that only I can read (cf Revelation 2:17), and I want to follow after Him in a way that makes people look twice.

The season is upon us. Yes, ‘the season to be jolly’ is the world’s immediate response, and though I don’t agree with them, I do sympathize. Life is hard, very hard, working in Egypt, building granaries and monuments for pharaoh, who cares absolutely nothing for you while mouthing powerless platitudes and pretending to be progressive in your favor. You are living his dream, not your own. He is paying you for your labors, and then taking back more than he gives. Your debt to him grows moment by moment, let alone year by year. He is dumbing you down, and you know it, but there are perks—small or large, it doesn’t matter—that keep you in bondage until you no longer have the strength or the resolve to run away. You don’t even know how to run away, or where you would run to. You have forgotten, in your deep, dark slavery, the sunlit lands of the Most-High. If you even remember His Name, you tell yourself, ‘It was all a dream. Pharaoh’s world is the world, the only world.’ Your work there is valuable. You believe yourself prosperous, and ignore the warning that you are ‘one with the cattle doomed to slaughter’ (Psalm 49). Yes, life is hard, very hard, working in Egypt, but no matter, ‘Tis the season to be jolly,’ though you don’t know why,
‘fa la la la la la la la la…’.

The ancient songs. No, I’m not talking about the centuries’ old hymns of the Orthodox Church, composed in Syriac and Greek, that remain hidden from the world just as the birth of Christ God is hidden. But the songs that were long ago laid as foundations of true joy in the Western lands, composed to celebrate the Savior’s birth, His first and, yes, His second coming. The first in obscurity, the second for all to see, the Master of mankind making Himself their servant, came, comes, and will come into this world called ‘earth.’ Unbury these ancient songs. Sing them again to regain your freedom. This I say to the world, to the Church, and to myself. The world blinded in its bondage hasn’t heard them in many a year and is now nearly deaf to anything except the noise it surrounds itself with, gives itself to, and calls ‘peace.’ But the songs that were sung by our pious and divine ancestors, ‘Joy to the world, the Lord is come, let earth receive her King,’ are still there for us. They have not lost any of their power. That is precisely why they are forbidden in the world of the present Dark Age. They make us remember. Remember a time before pharaoh enslaved us. Remember a time when exodus was possible.

It is wintery, cold and dark in these northern climes. We are heading for the shortest day. Even the earth bears witness to its own fall and rise in the seasonal cycles, and so the Holy Church, who is the one and only Bride of Christ, has let herself be drawn in His footsteps (cf Song of Songs 1:4), as the Lord of All, of the heavens and of the earth, dances His way through time. We approach the ‘holy night’ where not a myth was born, but the Sun of Righteousness in human form (cf Malachi 4:2), who let Himself be called ‘my son’ by man, who is called ‘my Son’ by God, who says, ‘Today I have become your Father. Ask, and I will give you the nations for your heritage, the ends of the earth for your domain’ (Psalm 2). And then, to add insult to injury to the prince of this world, the Divine irony of the Word, ‘With iron scepter you will break them, shatter them like potter’s ware. So now, you kings, learn wisdom, earthly rulers, be warned: Serve Yahweh, fear Him, tremble and kiss His feet, or He will be angry and you will perish, for His anger is very quick to blaze’ (Psalm 2). No idle threat these words, but promise waiting for fulfillment, for when ‘He comes, He comes to judge the earth, to judge the world with justice and the nations with His truth’ (Psalm 96).

‘Happy all who take shelter in Him’ (Psalm 2).