Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The sign of the Cross

To confess the Orthodox faith means to be crucified, to become all things to all men so that all may be able to partake in the one life. For if you have truly tasted this life even once, you are never going to forget it. You do not simply remember it; you are flooded with it, and it becomes a spring of water welling up. You become ‘mad,’ in the words of Abba Isaac, so that the rest of your brothers may become partakers in the quality of Christ; so that the children of our forefather Adam may become partakers in the New Adam, in the Paradise of delight and the food which is broken but not divided.

Being sacrificed here means being lost to life and flooded with eternity. The other person is myself. In the words of Evergetinos, ‘The other person is my God.’

The Orthodox, the saint, loves all people and things even before he knows them. He knows them through love. When you draw near to the saint, you see that he cares for you; he knows you and embraces you before he sees you. You see that he loved you before you realized it; that he is your innermost self, your own depths, at once familiar and unknown, and not something alien. In him you come to know love. He puts love before himself. His own self emerges from love and is nourished by being offered to It; ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:8).
At this stage of sacrificial love, the saint becomes by grace the icon of the Son of God who first loved us, and who sheds His blood mysteriously, from before the ages, like the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world in Revelation 13:8.

Anyone who does not love is not free. Love casts out fear. It burns everything up. A merciful heart is…

‘a heart which burns for all creation, for men and birds and animals and demons, and for every creature. As he calls them to mind and contemplates them, his eyes fill with tears. From the great and powerful feeling of compassion that grips the heart and from long endurance his heart diminishes, and cannot bear to hear or see any injury or any tiny sorrow in creation. This is why he constantly offers prayer with tears for dumb beasts, and for the enemies of truth, and for those who hurt him, that they may be protected and shown mercy; likewise he prays for the race of creeping things, through the great compassion which fills his heart immeasurably, in the likeness of God’ (Abba Isaac, Logos 81).

Stretched upon the wood of the Cross man is at peace, when he is crucified as an offering of love to others. There is no state or place in which human nature is at peace more deeply, more truly and theanthropically, than in crucifixion and on the Cross of love. There is no greater comfort than this pain. Then he is not upholding just one part. He is not interested in anything partial, and cannot live in the hell of halves and hatred. He cannot watch another suffer. He embraces everything. All things are his. He is crucified for them all. He is someone universal and serene.


An Orthodox icon of the Lord’s Crucifixion does not show us the pain of someone suffering from his nail wounds, but manifests the tranquility of the One, the ‘King of Glory’ who is at peace in the calm of love. He is nailed to the Cross, offered voluntarily for the life and salvation of the world. And this act cannot be called death, but is life and increase without end.

When the Orthodox creates theology, works, or is crucified, he is lost in order to leave room free for the entry of Him who saves everyone. This occupation by the Lord, this coming and the expectation of universal salvation, the price of which is the death of man’s own soul, constitutes man’s personal salvation; it bestows upon him his true dimensions and the calm of Paradise which he earnestly awaits, and takes him up into a state of trinitarian self-awareness.

‘One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor’ (Luke 18:22). This is the ‘one thing’ that all of us always lack. This is what all of us always need to do in order to live: to sell what we have and give it away, to lose it. What comes from this ceaseless sale is an offering for us to give to the ‘poor.’ This is how treasure is laid up in heaven; and that treasure is something we must not and cannot sell or give to anyone, because it belongs in its entirety to everyone. It is the symbol and the fact of the unity, the unification of all, and at the same time the extension of each to the dimensions of all.

The Orthodox is someone universal: what is Orthodox concerns, summarizes, and saves the whole. It leaves nothing outside. Its extent is the infinity of death and its structure the freedom of the Spirit. What is not Orthodox is partial, inadequate and unsteady, provocative and misleading for everyone.

The Church bears the sign of the Cross and of tranquility on its brow (Revelation 7:3); it bears the mark of the Trinity as the mainstay of its life and existence.

Archimandrite Vasileios, Hymn of Entry, pp. 94-96

“Remember who your teachers were…”

2 Timothy 3:14

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Between the lines

Fully Alive, by Danny Setiawan
The problem many people have with Orthodoxy, even when they are in favor of it, is not the anomalies, inconsistencies or downright absurdities they find in it, but rather the way they are trying to approach it, understand it, and classify it. In other words, our cultural mind set did not arise from it—we are far more different from it than we suppose and do not have a starting point within it, but only within ourselves—and we are examining it, by study, observation, and even experimentation, and trying to fit it into the only world view we know. That world view may be mainstream in the culture we live in, or it might be incredibly personal, but either way, we are approaching it much as we approach anything else in the world. But Orthodoxy, as a presence in the world, really is outside of the world, at least, outside of this world.

Whether we think of Orthodox Christianity as a religion, a philosophy, a way of life, or all three, we have no choice but to analyze it from the outside. We are told, you can only know what our faith is by accepting it as it is, in toto, and let it be what it claims to be, the true faith, something that will necessarily take a lifetime to sink in. We are told, ‘We are all becoming Orthodox,’ and other such things. The strange thing is, once you are inside, though you may find people who still jabber about Orthodoxy as if it were the cat’s pajamas, if you are sincere in your faith and following of Christ—without whom there can be no such thing as the Church, let alone ‘Orthodoxy’—you find that you are still primarily a disciple of Jesus, but that you have acquired a very large family, and now know ‘for sure’ where the road leads.

You see, Orthodoxy is not ‘the Church’ that any of us who came to it from outside ever thought it was. At first, we take it for granted that the Church is an institution, that it has rules, that it requires intellectual agreement with certain ideas, and that we are expected to participate regularly in at least some of its activities. We think that joining it necessarily separates us, even isolates us, from the non-Orthodox. We have heard as much from ‘authorities’ who seem to know what they’re talking about. There are books to read, even handbooks of correct ceremonial protocol—women wear skirts in church, no one crosses their legs, gum chewing is not allowed, and other such things which we see disregarded with impunity—and then there all all those dietary rules, what to eat or not eat during the fasts, and who knows what else.

Our intellect may be pushed out of shape, scandalized or even offended by things we think or we know are ‘wrong,’ at least by our upbringing. We want the Church to be perfect in every way, doctrinally especially, but even socially. We want to escape to it from whatever we have found disagreeable in the world we inhabit, and our approach to it often remains, unknown to ourselves, that of a consumer intent on getting the best deal. The truth about Orthodoxy, though, as a Church, is that it is the menagerie of the Most-High God, who collects every kind of human being as Noah collected animals for the ark. This menagerie was there before we arrived, and will still be there, if we leave it. We cannot buy it, it is not for sale. It is the pan-human reality, the visible part of the great Tree that God has planted in paradise.

All of the incidentals, even such things as beliefs and practices, which we want to take much too seriously, are really only that—incidentals. The Orthodox Church is what salvation looks like, wearing these incidentals, while the human race undergoes the most radical step in evolution we can possibly imagine. Far more people are included in this radical step than even the Church itself is aware of. Hence, the ubiquitous saying, ‘We know where the Church is; we do not know where it is not.’ When we offer to join this spiritual monstrosity, we think we are doing someone a favor, and like a swimmer contemplating a dive into a strange body of water, we want some assurance that we won’t be injured, that there are no dangerous creatures in the lake, and that we can get out of the water if and when we want to.

Back to our mind set, most of us are—at least at the beginning—unable to think ‘outside the box.’ We think we are doing precisely that already, just by considering Orthodoxy at all, but we are still trapped by a whole series of dualities upon which we feel we must opine, judge, and agree or disagree with. At the very least, we think that we must confess an exact belief and that we must, in detail, agree with everything the Orthodox Church teaches. We feel that to do anything less would be both dishonest and dangerous. All this is why the safest and easiest way to become an Orthodox Christian is to be born into it, forty-day blessed, triple-dunk baptized and slickly holy oiled, regularly spoon-fed with bread and wine pablum, and prayed over often, at length, and repeatedly, until we are so used to being loved, that we like it.

Back to assurance, most of us want to be certain that once we plight our troth to a strange religion, that we shall not later become liable to believe things that were hidden from us before our mystical marriage. We do not like surprises, as if we could say to Jesus, ‘Enough now! Let’s not go there!’ but fortunately for us if we really want to follow Him, we are willing to go with Him, anywhere. Still, we feel it is unfair that we must transfer this kind of loyalty to the Lord to a mere institution. At least, that is how our minds make us look at it. But our hearts shall thrill to hear such things as this: ‘Everything begins to speak with strange dogmas, strange words and the strange teachings of the Holy Trinity’ (Verses at Orthros and Sunday Vespers of Pentecost). With the mind in the heart, we welcome this strangeness.

There is a lot of evidence—why do we not accept it?—personal evidence, testimony that we are familiar with through our reading or by encountering real persons who have before us taken the flying leap into the ‘cloud of unknowing’ and embraced Holy Orthodoxy. Yes, now I am calling Orthodoxy ‘Holy’ even though every Lord’s Day I sing with the choir at the Divine Liturgy, ‘One is Holy, One is Lord, Jesus Christ…’ We sometimes have known people whose Christian life and witness have impressed us as being genuine and at least as real as our own, who like us were not born to the faith, and yet despite mental or even moral dilemmas, seem to have effortlessly entered. If they could do it, what about us? Is it really more like boarding a ship bound for safety, than reading a legal contract and making sure you agree with everything?

So there is this faith that seems to be walking on marbles. They call Jesus, ‘Christ God’ and ‘Saviour’ and then turn around and say ‘Most Holy Theotokos, save us!’ (Theotokos, the ‘God-bearer,’ is Mary the mother of Jesus.) They claim that they have seen the true Light, received the heavenly Spirit, and found the true Faith. Why then are they not consigning everyone else to damnation? If their ikons are supposed to be historical, why is there a dragon in some of them? And they believe some of the most wild things about people they call ‘the Saints’ with a capital ‘S’ (though some of them seem to be more evangelical than the most fervent bible thumpers, and call everyone ‘saints’). How can anyone feel safe on solid ground when all this is going on all around them, all the time? Bottom line is, just who do they trust?

Safe, yes, as one who has dived into that unknown lake, not even knowing how to swim, I was not injured. I did not break my neck on a hidden rock at the bottom, but I did find the Rock hidden from the world in that lucid pool. I can stand on that Rock, my head above the waters, because He who loves me is always with me. He does not ask me what I believe or doubt, does not require anything from me, except that I do what I see Him doing, say what I hear Him saying, and go where He goes. He gives me permission to go in and out through a Door that, when I open it none can close, and when I close it none can open. Agree and disagree belong to the world of those who measure, count, weigh, buy and sell. There is no loss with Jesus, even though everything we think we own is taken away. That is what Orthodoxy is.

It is not a religion, unless you want it to be. The ikon wall does not separate us from the Divine Nature tabernacled behind it, but hides what must not be seen for the sake of Him who is, was, and shall be seen. The ceremony celebrates the Divine Presence with us, who has pitched His tent among us, so that we can learn how we shall be dwellers with Him in the presence of His Father and the angels. The ancient tales, neither true nor false as men judge, are not to divide us, but to join us to the ‘great cloud of witnesses’ whose acts have filled the earth unnoticed by the arrogant and worldly wise, but we have noticed. We do not ask ‘Who said that?’ but we pay attention to everything that is said. Now, we see this treasure hidden by others who came before us. Orthodoxy we name it, the faith of saints we claim it, but till we own it, it is nothing.

The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field. A man found it, hid it again, then in great joy went and sold everything he owned, and bought that field.
Matthew 13:44

Monday, April 28, 2014

Till we two become one

Του λίθου σφραγισθέντος υπό των Ιουδαίων,
και στρατιωτών φυλασσόντων το άχραντον σου σώμα,
ανέστης τριήμερος Σωτήρ, δωρούμενος τω κοσμώ την ζωήν.
Δια τούτο
αι δυνάμεις των ουρανών εβόων σοι ζωοδότα.
Δόξα τη αναστάσει σου Χριστέ,
δόξα τη βασιλεία σου,
δόξα τη οικονομία σου,
μόνε φιλάνθρωπε.

Tou líthou sfragisthéndos ypó ton Ioudhaíon… ‘Though sealed by a stone by the Jews…’ begins the resurrectional apolytikion tone 1, the first of eight short hymns of the Resurrection of Christ sung throughout the Orthodox Church year in ordered rotation. It was the first Greek hymn I learned to chant by heart and remains one of my favorites. The official English translation provided in the hymnal made no mention of any Jews, only of the stone sealing the tomb and, in the second line, of ‘the soldiers guarding [Christ’s] pure body.’ Understanding Greek, I thought that was a little strange, but I assumed the translation was paraphrased to avoid giving offense to anyone of Jewish origin who might stumble upon it.

Today is the memorial day of what the world calls ‘the Holocaust’ and the people of Israel call the ‘Shoah,’ an event so cataclysmic that people alive today who have only heard of it cannot imagine what a horror it was. As we continue down the years of the 21st century, there are fewer and fewer people still alive who lived through those times, and soon there will be none. We will have only the written and the photographic record of that unimaginable time of terror. Lord, have mercy!

As a Greek Orthodox Christian of Polish ethnic origin, I have always felt a strange kinship to the Jews. In my family’s ancestral country, they formed ten per cent of the population, and had lived among Christian Poles for centuries. Poland was, in fact, the only Christian country that welcomed them when every other land expelled them. The anti-Semitism that seems endemic to European Christian society was not as deeply or as widely held in the Polish nation until its resurgence in post-World War I Europe.

Our family name, Górny, literally ‘high’ or perhaps ‘from the mountain’ (góra, in Polish) is used equally by Christian and Jewish Poles. That may perhaps explain how my father’s second eldest sister, Mae, was courted by and eventually married to a Polish-American Jew, my uncle Jules Lewin. He belonged (when he affiliated at all) to a Reform Judaism congregation that was history’s first experiment at trying to make Judaism acceptable to Christians by imitating churchly worship, complete with hymns and organs.

As a Polish-American with a Jewish surname, I was interested in Judaism and began teaching myself Hebrew at the age of twelve from library books. Other than my uncle, I knew of no other Jews except one fellow student in middle school, and no one I knew in our mid-20th century Chicago neighborhood showed any serious prejudice against them. There just weren’t enough to be bothered about, and when we thought of them at all, they were just like the Orthodox, a slightly mysterious religious identity.

There was only a vague allusion to anti-Semitism in the expression ‘to jew someone,’ which meant to swindle or cheat them. Even as children we knew that the expression was nonsense. Only as I entered middle school did I become aware of what happened to the Jews during the World War II era in Europe. Television was beginning to air documentaries with gruesome film footage, and what we were entirely innocent of before, anti-Semitism, now became a possibility—not for me, but for others around me.

Later, as I evolved from the children’s version of Christianity to the grown-ups’ version, I found that I had a very deep Jewish sympathy in me that seems to have always been there, making me wonder if I might in some small way be of Jewish extraction myself. When I married and was raising my family of sons, there were several years when we observed a Passover Seder together during Holy Week, even inviting our friends. I wanted us all to have an experiential understanding of where our Christian faith came from.

There are so many connexions between the Church and Judaism, and by and large each faith community has minimized them. If I were a Jew, I would have a very difficult time trusting Christians, because there has been almost nothing but persecution from them, culminating in the worst excesses of violence and forced conversion. As a Christian, I am very sensitive to this, and I approach the individual Jew as well as the institutions of Judaism with as much harmlessness and affirmation as I can muster.

I cannot forget that Jesus Christ, His holy mother, all His relatives according to the flesh, and almost all of His original disciples, are Jews. Well, yes and no, of course. Jesus Christ is certainly a Jew, in fact, the Jew, the Jewish messiah, even though the majority of Israel rejects Him. His mother, whom we call the Theotokos, ‘God-bearer,’ is the first Christian, followed by everyone else, even down to us, but we must not forget that the first generation of Christians thought of themselves as Jews, people of Israel.

And in a mystery, we too, Christians though we are called, are still people of Israel, worshipers of Israel’s God who, as it has turned out, is the only God there is. What His relationship to (what we call) the ‘Old Israel’ is not known with absolute certainty by us, nor can it be, just as the Jews cannot know how their God is now our God, how we have become His people, the ‘New Israel.’ All we can know, all we should know, is, as Paul teaches, ‘God never takes back His gifts or revokes His choice’ (Romans 11:29 JB).

These are the thoughts that are running through me this night as I remember the Day of Disaster, the ‘Shoah’ that befell our brethren of the House of Israel, in whom Christ our God (Blessed, blessed, blessed be He!) is hidden, as it is written, ‘Truly, God is hidden with you, the God of Israel, the Saviour’ (Isaiah 45:15). Yes, what tender and pitiful love the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, must have for His people, to have suffered through the centuries hidden within them, waiting patiently, till we two become one.

What cannot be shaken

The church that ceases to speak the word of Jesus ceases to be the Church. No amount of pious rationalization can cover up that fact. Of course, I am speaking here of the official spokesmen, the governing authorities, the teachers, the pastors, even the missionaries. Since the Church claims that there is no such thing as an ‘invisible’ Church, only a ‘visible’ one, and that the institutional Church is none other than that, it brings upon itself the judgment of God for ‘holding to a
form of godliness, although they have denied its power’ 
(2 Tim 3:5).

Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.”
John 9:41 NIV

But the Church is not its leaders, its spokesmen, its policy makers, its dogmatists or its ministers. To think that would be to make the Body all head, though only in the human sense, for the Church has no other Head but the Messiah, Jesus. ‘Christ is the Head of the Church, His Body, of which He is the Savior’ (Ephesians 5:23). Instead the Church is in reality the people of God, ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord’ (Romans 10:13), ‘a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God’ (1 Peter 2:9).

No, this Church is not ‘invisible’ at all, because it is ‘a city set on a hill that cannot be hidden’ (Matthew 5:14), yet to the world rulers, both outside and inside the border of the ‘visible’ Church, it remains invisible, because neither can bear the sight of it. The apostates of Christ say of this Church, ‘Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!’ and the world rulers coyly and obligingly respond, ‘Shall I crucify your king?’ ‘We have no king but Caesar,’ the leading priests shout back (John 19:15). This is because the Church of Christ, hidden in the side of Christ as His unwedded Bride, receives the same mockings, the same blows, inflicted on Her divine Master.

No, brethren, ‘Do not be afraid, it is I,’ says the Lord Jesus (John 6:20), of whom it is declared, ‘the One who calls you is faithful’ (1 Thessalonians 5:24), and will not fail you. You are indeed those to whom He declares, ‘Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom’
(Luke 12:32). This is not only a promise, but an accomplished fact. The Father ‘has been pleased,’ and why? Because of His Only-Begotten Son to Whom He says eternally, ‘You are my Son, today have I begotten You’ (Psalm 2:7), because of that Son in Whom we are hidden, His ‘dove in the clefts of the rock, in the hiding places on the mountainside,’ to whom He sings, ‘let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely’ (Song of Songs 2:14).

The Church embraces all those, and only those, whom the Father draws to His Son. Jesus says, ‘No one can come to me unless the Father who sent Me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day’ (John 6:44). This knowledge comes before all human reason, especially that which tries to build on a different foundation, to replace the Wisdom of God, which says, ‘No one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ’
(1 Corinthians 3:11). The people of God, built on the word of Jesus, and doing what He commands, has found an unsinkable ark, that is, faith. ‘It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God’ (Ephesians 2:8). This is the Church that speaks the word of Jesus, and does it.
There is no other.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons:

“My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline,
and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
because the Lord disciplines those he loves,
and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.”


Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.

Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. He could bring about no change of mind, though he sought the blessing with tears.

You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned.” The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.”

But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” The words ‘once more’ indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.”

Hebrews 12 NIV

Whom the Master seeks

For to despise the present age,
not to love transitory things,
unreservedly to stretch out the mind in humility
to God and our neighbor,
to preserve patience against offered insults
and, with patience guarded,
to repel the pain of malice from the heart,
to give one's property to the poor,
not to covet that of others,
to esteem the friend in God,
on God's account
to love even those who are hostile,
to mourn at the affliction of a neighbor,
not to exult in the death of one who is an enemy,

This is the new creature
whom the Master of the nations seeks
with watchful eye amid the other disciples, saying,
‘If, then, any be in Christ a new creature, 
the old things are passed away. 
Behold all things are made new.’

Gregory the Great, Bishop of Rome

What can it mean to ‘despise the present age’
if only not to worship it and be hardened by its accomplishments?
What can it mean to ‘not love transitory things’
if only not to rely on any beauty other than the Divine Nature?
What can it mean to ‘unreservedly stretch out the mind in humility’
if only not to crush ourselves with the heavy weight of self-protecting walls built against saying ‘yes’ to God and our neighbor?
What can it mean to ‘preserve patience’
and to ‘repel the pain of malice’
if only not to abandon being hung on the Cross with Christ
who promises paradise even to thieves?
What can it mean to ‘give one’s property to the poor’
and ‘not to covet that of others’
if only not to hoard as our own
that which has been provided in abundance to us and to all?
What can it mean to ‘esteem the friend in God’
if only not to hate one's enemies, not to laugh at the pains of others, and not to rejoice at the death of anyone?

Yes, He knows who are His among those who profess to be His disciples, even those who are His without professing, and that is why He does not give Himself to all men, because He knows them, but secretly bestows Himself on those and only those who earnestly seek Him by obedience to His word.

If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.

John 14:23

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Immediacy

The offense of Jesus and of the entire New Testament record consists of one thing—immediacy. The words and deeds of Christ and the holy Apostles are too immediate, too direct, too alarming, too disarming, for the natural man, the man that wants to bury himself in the finery of illusion.

We spend our lives laying on more and more layers of finery to hide ourselves from the One who created us Naked so that in time He could cover us with His very own self, and beyond time that we might appear before Him as His very own sons.

In which direction do we find ourselves moving? Whether we call ourselves Christians or not, are we burying ourselves, like those who cry out to the stones at the Lord’s coming, ‘Bury us! Hide us!’ Are we wrapping ourselves in the winding bands of our shrouds?

Or have we found out the truth, that we need to make peace with our Opponent on the way to the court, so that there need be no trial? That to divest ourselves of our finery, divulge voluntarily the secrets we have collected, is the only safe work we can undertake?

Expose yourself to the Word of God. Enter the world of the Kingdom immediately. Let the words He has spoken convict all that is false in you, that you may approach Him in spirit and truth. Turn around and hear the Voice, as did John the Revelator, loud as trumpet blasts.

The offense of Jesus and of the entire New Testament record consists of one thing—immediacy. Modern man (and woman) wants to be free, but on their own terms, wants no one to tell them what to do, how to do it, or especially when. They don’t like to be rushed.

But Jesus has a way of just showing up, saying the most unlikely things. Unlikely because we don’t want to hear them, because we know as soon as we hear them, that His words are true. Truth, if we must hear it at all, we want to hear as spectators, not as doers.

That’s why so many of us don’t mind ‘going to church’, because there we may be a captive audience, but more importantly, He’s a captive Lord, and whether our ears are itching for the latest news or gossip, we might hear the good news, only to let it ‘in one ear and…’

It seems to me that once all the labor-saving devices and self-improvement programs had done their work, freeing us from wasting our precious few years ‘sweating to make a living’, we might have remembered why we invented these things in the first place.

We were created to be gods, but sin has slain us root and branch and thrown us on the fire and, had it not been for the Firebrand snatched from the flames by the Only Spirit, who now burns in the shrub of humanity without consuming it, we could never have done a thing.

Closer than our jugular vein, more immediate and necessary than our next breath, more faithful than our beating hearts to keep life pumping in us, the words of Life lodged in our ears, meshed into our minds, yet we deny them and Him who speaks, whose immediacy offends us.

Tear us away from our deaf deadness, O Lord. Liberate us like newly molted serpents from our tight, scaly skins. Unstop our ears that we may hear Thy unsettling sayings and receive Thee, the living flame of Love, transforming our cold blood to internal, eternal Fire.

‘I am the Resurrection and the Life. Do you believe this?’ What more can be said than that which forever is spoken on every page of holy and divine scripture in innumerable ways? ‘Blessed is He who is not offended by Me.’ Let that person be the one reading this.

There alone, Christ is in our midst

How many Christians would say they’d do anything to have Jesus Christ come to their church, bodily, in person? I know this sounds far-fetched, and no one in their right mind would even think of such a thing, since it is an impossibility. Or is it?

I wonder how many times a stranger, maybe not even a total stranger but an ‘outsider,’ comes to your church. You see him or her in the congregation during the worship service. You may even feel obligated to exchange the peace, ‘Christ is in our midst,’ if they’re standing near you in the service.

If you’re the priest, you may beam them a clerical smile when they venerate your hand cross and your hand as they pass by at the end of liturgy with a ‘How are you?’ and receive their equally formal, ‘Fine, thanks!’ in polite response. Neither you nor your congregation recognize Christ in your midst.

Inviting everyone, especially any visitors, to join you in the parish hall for the coffee hour, is protocol: You have fulfilled the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself. Now you can, whether priest or member, go into the fellowship hall and socialize with a clear conscience. You made the first move. Or did you?

When I attended my family church, where I was known to everyone by name because I used to do some high profile volunteer work like publishing the parish monthly newsletter and running the book store, along with a handful of others, I kept watch for the stranger who might cross our threshold.

One of our older members, old enough to be my dad, always sat in the last pew on the right side of the aisle and kept an eagle’s eye out for the visitor and newcomer. He then would make sure they didn’t just leave without personally inviting them and accompanying them to the coffee hour if they accepted.

I tried my best to follow his example, though as a dad with boys in tow I sometimes couldn’t maneuver myself to catch the ‘outsider’ before they fled to their car or the bus stop. Each of us ‘watchers’ were quite different in age, background, and of course, of both sexes, and it usually came about that there were enough of us to match every kind of visitor.

Sometimes Christ would just show up in the coffee hour whom none of us noticed in the service. In that case, we didn’t let him sit alone at a table that everyone else avoided. When we did sit down, we asked, ‘May I join you?’ and then made our introductions, learning the stranger’s name and telling ours.

A friendly smile always broke the ice of no matter how shy a visitor or greeter, for yes, I for one am a shy person who has forced myself to ‘come out’ to others. We always felt—at least I did and still do—that the burden of opening the door of fellowship with a newcomer is on the home parishioner, not the other way round.

It rarely, almost never, happened that Christ caught in the coffee hour wanted to be left alone. He always showed up, hoping someone would notice him. If he had wanted to just slip into a pew for liturgy and then escape the same way he came in, he would have. So what are we going to do with him, now that he’s ‘in our midst’ for real, and not just a line we recite in church?

What do you do with them, brothers and sisters? What do you do with them, reverend father? These strangers and outsiders whom you verbally welcome in the church service and invite to join you for coffee hour? Yes, you welcome them, you invite them, and then—what?

Don’t comfort yourself with bible stories about the disciples not recognizing the resurrected Christ until after He spoke to them. Yes, that is how it worked during the forty days till His ascension to the right hand of Divine Majesty, but that isn’t how it works now. So, after the forty days, that is, today, why don’t you recognize him?

‘Whatever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me,’ is a gospel verse burned into my memory till it hurts, and I’m glad it does, because that is almost the only thing worth feeling guilty about it if you fail to do it, if I fail to do it. If we can’t see Christ in our neighbor and do for him what we say we want to do for Christ, we are lost. Yes, sorry, we are lost.

Brethren, in love I cry to you, really welcome the stranger as Christ Himself, especially when he comes to your church, or accepts your invitation to join you in the fellowship hall. He expects you to keep your word to him, just as you expect Him to keep His word to you.

And, brother or sister, stranger to the flock though you may be, if you come to a gathering of the brethren, and after they welcome you and invite you to join them in fellowship and friendship, and you go, and find yourself alone in a crowd, then I bid you, flee from that place!

For if you seek Christ, who is the life of all, then pursue Him until you find Him, for truly, Christ is in our midst, but just in whose midst, that is the question. ‘For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son,’ and that love cannot be hidden, cannot be faked. Where you find that love, go, and stay, for there alone, Christ is in our midst.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Our God

Our God, the living God of Israel, whose Divine Word became a man for us and for the whole human race, out of pure love, to save and to deify all souls that do not resist Him, can never be circumscribed by our thoughts or our beliefs, nor can the words even of Jesus be used by us to deny salvation to anyone, but only to extend it, graciously.

Our hope for the salvation of unbelievers is nothing compared to the mercy and love of God which our imaginary lines cannot restrain, for His Son came not to condemn the world, but to save it, and to bestow eternal life. Not everyone who believes is aware of their own faith, nor does everyone believe who says or thinks they do.

God is incapable of making a mistake. No one whose soul seeks Him, whether they know Him or not, is condemned, and no one is saved by no matter how much religious devotion, if all along they were seeking only themselves. God, not man, knows the difference, and infallibly.

All who have faith, wait. As for the others, let them judge, saved or condemned, to no avail. Only God is God, and only God is love.

Only what is

It’s strange how often reality presents itself to us not in an either-or dualism, but in some kind of unforeseen manner that defies all our attempts to categorize and define—unless we are willing to, consciously or subconsciously, settle for mental compromises that allow us to work within an environment we have created, no matter how imaginary, or worse, foist them on others, excusing ourselves because we are ‘experts.’

We see this readily in the realm of natural science if we view it in historical perspective. Though the logical guesses of the ancients—the atomism of Democritus, for example—were initially proven nearly correct, with modern researches into subatomic nature a new structure of the universe is being uncovered. No serious atomic scientist would dream of clinging to earlier models, even though for ‘household’ applications they still work.

In politics, because we’re now moving into a social sphere, it’s more difficult to give up old models of political organization that simply don’t work and maybe never did, and it’s also easier to pretend to expertise—now called ‘legitimate authority’—to perpetuate social and political pathologies, often at immense cost, especially in human lives. The either-or predisposition of the human mind draws imaginary lines that cannot, or must not, be crossed.

In religion, or that which is, as Paul Tillich calls it, the ‘ultimate concern,’ we move to an even deeper, more personal level of reality-evaluation, in which our critical faculties, if we try to use them to bend reality to fit our rational or irrational prejudices, can cause the greatest historical, cultural, and social dysfunctions. This is also where the greatest compromises with truth—that which is—are easiest to make, and hardest to abandon.

History, though, is as merciless as Darwinian evolution is, in weeding out the unsurvivables of our world views in every category of experience. It works, however, just as slowly, and so mistakes stubbornly believed in, implemented, or imposed, can take generations to finally fail and be discarded. In the political sphere, not imperialism, not fascism, not communism, are really dead yet, but neither has true monarchy been eradicated forever.

In the religious sphere—and we must confine ourselves for brevity of example, to Christianity—eighteen centuries of spent experiments with theology and ecclesiology, and five or six with scriptural exegesis, have resulted at present in a faith community strategically crippled by attachment to and promotion of ideologies that are as far removed from reality as we can make them, and history’s winnowing fork is already at work as we, helpless, look on.

A case in point is the famous assertion of ‘sola scriptura’ that arose at the time of the Protestant reformation. The reality is that this cannot be an either-or proposition, no matter how much we argue for or against it. It simply doesn’t yield to our manipulations or our attempts to turn theology into a one-dimensional process. Real theology, as multi-dimensional as the ‘real world’ is, is open only to those who experience first and humbly articulate later.

Without institutions or ‘experts’ to certify it, truth, reality, only what is, is notoriously vital and, though susceptible to dichotomy and dissimulation, lives on, survives and propagates itself in freedom as wild and undetected as nature’s. As Archimandrite Vasileios writes, ‘Heresy, by contrast, has in it that which is self-destructive. Its self-assurance—its attachment to human reasoning and sanctity which are its idols—leads it to a state of internal crisis’ (Hymn of Entry, p. 100).

Heresy—yes, it need not mean ‘religious’ heresy, but any compromise we make with reality—as all other elements of the physical universe and all living creatures appearing at intervals and being perfected by evolution—God’s instantaneous creation being experienced as ‘time’ and all events that fill it by creatures such as us—yes, heresy, wanting to believe that which can never be, leads always, by the mercy of God, to crisis—κρίσις, judgment.

For Christian and non-Christian alike, to be faithful and not infidel, is to ‘seek first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness’ (Matthew 6:33), and Reality, now not just what or even whom we rationalise, but the Uncreated in whom ‘we live and move and have our being’ (Acts 17:28), is available to everyone without exception, the ‘true Light that enlightens everyone who comes into the world’ (John 1:9), who has trampled death by death, and bestows life to those in the tombs.

Χριστός Ανέστη! Αληθώς Ανέστη!

I was in that room

A lot of things have gone through my head, both before and after I met Jesus son of Joseph. Sitting in the synagogue and hearing the Torah read, commented upon, for years, and then comparing what was said with what they did, those betters of mine, made me sense a cleavage in my mind, a breach impossible to mend, a wound that could not be stitched together and healed.

With the others, those of us who now understand what no rabbi or teacher of the Torah could ever know, I was attracted to this man whose words seemed to have an authority, a power and grasp of reality, that we had never encountered before. Not only that, but as we came to walk with him more often, we noticed it wasn’t just his words. What he did—sometimes incredible things—shook the very foundations we thought our faith was built on.

We were an odd bunch, those we began to call ‘the brothers’ as if we had the same mother. Before we met Jesus, our hearts hungered for something but we didn’t know what. Other tradesmen thought about their work all day, but we, even before we knew him and one another, were always preoccupied with thinking through questions that seemed to have no answers.

Some of us found ourselves thinking so much, we were bound to become insane, so we thought. All of us felt so close to the solution, yet infinitely unable to grasp it. When he appeared, as he was first pointed out by the baptizer John, a few of that righteous man’s followers began to follow him around, and then very soon they were telling us, ‘We have found the one Moses wrote about.’

‘A likely story,’ I thought to myself and laughed out loud. I always laugh when I don’t understand, and why not? It’s better than weeping. It seemed to me then, after all my thinking, I had never gotten any closer to the answer to my question. In fact, I hardly even knew what my question was, but my mind never ceased its revolutions, sifting, straining, funneling, and soaking up what I could.

But I started following him, Jesus son of Joseph, from Nazareth, with the others. He told us things we’d never heard before, opened our minds to fill them with what we never knew existed. In my bright moments, I believed him wholeheartedly, and with the others followed this peculiar rabbi, and went along with whatever he told us. His ideas at least made sense. I felt I was finally making progress.

In my dark moments, ah, well, what can I say? His teachings, even his doings, incredible and miraculous as they were, seemed somehow just talking and tricks. Maybe he was just a charlatan after all, a magician and smooth talker, all in one. As dark as I sometimes felt in those moments of doubt, though, even my doubt turned upon itself, and taunted me like the demon who says, ‘I never tell the truth.’

Towards the end, we all felt we were being dragged along behind him on a journey we’d hoped we’d never have to make, one which we couldn’t believe was happening. After all we had experienced with him, our hopes were held captive in the thought that everything would turn out victorious in the end. Instead, after ignoring his many warnings, we found ourselves driven with him at our head towards, not the kingdom of our people restored, but to the enactment of a hideous crime.

Impossible when it happened, and so quickly that we barely understood what was going on, he was arrested after our mystical passover together as we rested afterwards in an olive grove.

I was already descending from bright to dark in my mind and heart, one part of me believing, ‘He won’t let this happen,’ and the other part despairing, ‘It’s all over. It was never real. What a fool I’ve been.’ Neither my belief nor my doubt was right, as it turned out.

What happened that night launched all of us into isolation, fear and self-pity, even though it was Jesus that was captured, beaten, mocked, stripped, and nailed to a stake. We didn’t really give him a thought at all, though we wouldn’t admit it to ourselves. All we thought about was how our hopes and dreams had been dashed to pieces. We didn’t want to even be around each other at first and, except for the young one John, and his mother and a couple of the women, we didn’t want to watch him die either.

After his body was taken down from that scaffold, I didn’t want to live. I felt so ashamed, of myself, of him, of my dashed hopes, of my foolishness in loving him like I did. Yes, loving him, though when he was alive I didn’t let anyone know. I kept up my reputation of doubting and questioning, right up to my last moments with him and the others.

Later, when I heard that Judas had hanged himself, I couldn’t believe that either. Was that really Judas who led the guards to Jesus with a kiss? Or was it someone that just looked like him? It was so dark. In the even greater darkness that was my mind I thought, ‘It might as well have been me that led the guards to him. Did I ever really believe what he said or did?’

Still oppressed in a dark moment that I thought would never end, I hid myself from the brothers for days. Finally—I don’t know what possessed me—I got up the courage to look for them, going back to that room where we had all had our last supper with him. I almost couldn’t say his name. They told me some fool story about him being alive. I was overcome with doubt. I said words I now wish I’d never spoken.

I opposed Cephas and the others to their faces, my doubt flashing like sharp shards of broken glass to cut their hopes to slivers, as mine had been shredded. ‘You say he’s alive? How’s that? Can I see him too and poke my finger through the holes in his hands and feet and jab my hand into that spear cut slash?’ Little did I know that my scathing words, meant to hurt, would in the end heal.

They let me go, saying nothing, nor defending themselves. I hated them for that. I’d wanted them to oppose me, to counter my barbed accusations so I could feel justified in making them. ‘Hah! So they have faith, and I don’t!’ roared inside my head where no one but I could hear. Why did things always have to end this way? Why can’t anything good ever last? What is the point of it all?

Days passed. I hated the brothers because they seemed to have something that I would not permit myself to have. I hated myself more, I hated how I was, I hated my doubt, I hated my hateful words and the dark thoughts that produced them. That’s what drove me back to where they were hiding out. Hiding, yes, but at least, together. I was envious too of their company, where their first fears seemed to have yielded to a gentle, abiding love.

‘Why are they like that?’ I asked myself. ‘How can they still love one another and seem so peaceful and happy, when everything we lived and hoped for is finished, when it was crucified between thieves? Are they pretending? He can’t really be alive. We all saw his body, limp and dead, being moved somewhere by that rich man, what’s his name.’ Such were my thoughts as I approached the door and knocked.

Cephas let me in. He could tell, he said, that it was me by my knock. ‘What’s so special about it?’ I thought but didn’t ask. I barely had time to walk into the room as I heard the door slam behind me and the thud of the bolt falling. Then I heard my name pronounced from somewhere behind my back. I turned around quickly, almost running into Cephas who was right behind me.

We all turned to face the one who spoke my name. It was Jesus.

‘No! This can’t be happening!’ the words died on my lips as I felt every muscle in my body liquefy. I fell to my knees as though the weight of the world were crushing me down to the floor. Jesus looked at me and was softly asking me something, but my eyes and ears were both overwhelmed by what is beyond sight and hearing. I was blind and deaf for a moment.

‘My Lord and my God! My Lord and my God! My Lord and my God!’

I couldn’t stop babbling these words that didn’t even come close to what my spirit groaned inwardly. He came close to me, laying one arm across my shoulders and lifting me gently with the other. At His touch I felt weightless. I rose effortlessly and my mind was suddenly clear. I could see with my eyes, hear with my ears as He said to me, ‘You believe because you can see Me. Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe.’

Now, no matter what thoughts assail me inside or out, no matter what wars of words between men sunder the world’s peace for vainglory, I am no longer safe in what I know or merely believe or doubt, for beyond all this is the peace that only He can give, because I was in that room.

In our midst

Orthodox Christianity is not so much a religion as it is healing for the soul, the Church not so much a temple as it is a hospital for sinners. This is what has been handed over to us by the Fathers, to whom it was handed over by the Apostles, to whom Christ Himself handed it over. Religion, or rather what men have embraced as religion, is a sickness, and Christ is both the healer and the cure.

At the end of every orthros service we sing from Psalm 41:4, Ιασαι τήν ψυχήν μου ότι ήμαρτόν σοι, ‘Heal my soul, for I have sinned against You.’ Our approach to God is always to the Divine Nature as יְהוָה רָפָא Yahweh Repha (Exodus 15:26), ‘the LORD [our] Healer.’ Christ Himself is the physician of souls (Matthew 9:12). Even to this day, the pious among the Jews sing incessantly, ‘I want Mashíach,
I want Mashíach now!’
 They too are sick; they too know that not religion, but only Christ, Mashíach, is the cure.

Yes, but Orthodoxy is still a religion. That is how it is experienced by most of its adherents. Indeed, Christianity in general is experienced as a religion. How and why is this possible?

To begin with, every people has a religion, and all religions begin as myths, that is, stories and traditions that convey truths without themselves being the Truth, providing some relief to the human condition, but never able to cure us. Even the people to whom the Divine Nature revealed Himself, taking up their myths and fulfilling them by signs and wonders, instituting the only divinely revealed religion, even the Law given to them as an incapable covenant, even that could not heal them. ‘If a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law’ (Galatians 3:21). Of course, this people is Israel, which now fills the world as Jews and as Christians.

Christianity is a religion because it is the co-heir with Judaism of that ‘only divinely revealed’ worship of ‘the Being’, in Greek ο Ων, ho Ón, in Hebrew יְהוָה, Yahweh. Into this religious heritage Jesus of Nazareth was born and raised, of this people He has been acclaimed Lord and Christ, proven by His resurrection from the dead and all that follows from it, and nothing that He did while He walked the earth as a Son of Israel ever refuted or denied this religion. Instead, everything He did fulfilled and perfected it.

Worship of the Father is no longer ceremonies alone, and it never was. The Only-Begotten Son of the Father had to come, in person, to settle once and for all every dispute among the children of Israel on this and all other points. Those who worship the Father must worship in spirit and in truth. And He is the Truth.

There is only One Israel, and yet there is the Church and the Synagogue. In the first, Christ is revealed, in the second, He is hidden. ‘Truly, God is hidden with you, the God of Israel, the Saviour’ (Isaiah 45:15). What tender and pitiful love the Messiah, the Christ of God, Jesus of Nazareth, must have for His people, to have suffered through the centuries hidden within them, as they have maintained their faithful watch over the holy things of God! How faithfully He has stood by them through their every persecution and suffering, even to the gates of She’ol, to near annihilation. He who prays, ‘Father, forgive them,’ has made good His prayer, becoming the Father’s answer, having emptied She’ol for all humanity, for all time, till the last human creature passes into the brightness of His mercy.

And what of the Church, the Bride of Christ, even His Body on earth, visible sign of His presence, home to fugitives and exiles of earth? This is the Israel of God, religion her mainstay, hemmed in by walls the world builds to protect itself from her, though she is its place of healing, and her food and drink its best medicine, no less than the Bread of heaven, and the Blood by which the whole universe was restored before it ever began. He has come and lives in her midst, who says, ‘It is not the healthy who need a physician, but the sick.
I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners’
(Mark 2:17).

Knowing Him as He is, for who He is, and why He has come, the Church has more than mere opportunity, more than promises only, but possibility. Faith is fulfilled in obedience, sickness cured in love, slavery dissolved in faithfulness, and death, finally, overcome in mercy. ‘And there will be princes dancing there. All find their home in you’ (Psalm 87:7).

Friday, April 25, 2014

The only fire worth having

Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to Him to call his attention to its buildings. ‘Do you see all these things?’ He asked. ‘I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down…
Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold…’

Matthew 24:1-2, 12 NIV

The love of most will grow cold.
This verse comes from Christ’s discourse on the end times, and there are many seemingly more startling predictions than this one in the passage—impersonators of Christ, wars and revolutions, famines and earthquakes, persecution, apostasy, and false prophets—and then this, the love of most will grow cold. It seems almost anti-climactic. Yet Christ included it. It must be an important sign, and a sign it is.

This is my experience practically every day.
This is our experience, though because its presence is so pervasive, we’ve all become used to it and don’t notice it. If we did, it might drive us to despair. What am I talking about? ‘The world’s not all that bad!’ Sorry, brothers, sorry, but it is. Even close to home.

At first I wanted to say of this love growing cold, that unwillingness to affirm the other person is its hidden root, but no, even that root doesn’t go deep enough. Jesus plainly calls its cause—wickedness—in Greek anomía, lawlessness. Ironic, that lawlessness causes lovelessness? I should have stopped here, but forgive me, brethren, for this worthless ramble.

We love because we feel we are loved. Loved by whom? Well, for starters, think of a child, one who knows that his parents love him, especially that his mother does. That makes it possible for him to love, and love he does. But what if his mother doesn’t love him, and he knows it? Right from the beginning, the inner emptiness caused by that lack of love can turn his love inwards, to self-love. ‘Well, if mommy doesn’t love me, I’m looking out for number one,’ or, as we read in C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle, ‘The dwarfs are for the dwarfs!’ A lot of loveless people start out this way, crushed children grow up into crushing adults.

In a general sort of way, the love of most grows cold because they don’t really believe that God loves them, personally. Why don’t they? Well, it’s probably because they don’t believe that God exists at all. Imagine this—living in a universe without God. If you don’t open your eyes in the morning and look at the universe, it may not even exist! When you die, for sure the universe is gone. But if there is a God, could that be why the universe continues, whether any one of us is alive to experience it, or whether we are dead? This God, like the character of Christ in the film Jesus of Nazareth, doesn’t even blink. If He did, what would become of us?

This is my experience practically every day.

People protect themselves from the imposition of others. They see that something they know and could say or do would lighten someone’s burden, help them in some way, but they withhold it. ‘Why should I lend a hand? I’m busy,’ or worse yet, ‘Serves him right, he’s old enough to know how to do that. Too bad, you dope!’

Parents turning away their children, eager to push them out of the nest. Children abandoning their parents, ignoring them until they want something. Employees making a co-worker’s job difficult because they can’t be bothered to share what they know. Drivers cutting people off, making other unsafe manoeuvres, honking their horns at anyone who gets in their way. Customer service people who respond only to your exact question, unwilling to help you ask the right question to solve your dilemma. Why? What would it cost them?

How can anyone have such hatred towards another creature? They see someone crushed, they crush him lower. They see someone in distress, they say, ‘It’s none of my business.’

And when do these people attend? When do they extend themselves for others? When there is profit to be had, plain and simple. Calling ourselves Christians, we try our best to live in love according to our ability, because we know that he who lives in love lives in God’ (1 John 4:16) and ‘whoever loves his brother lives in the light… but whoever hates his brother is in the darkness’ (1 John 2:10-11), and yet we somehow are able to provide ourselves with reasons why we should withhold our love from this or that person. ‘Why should I help him after all he’s done to me?’ or ‘Let her learn for herself what I had to go through!’

Christ help us!

Why doesn’t our own past suffering soften our hearts towards those suffering now? Do we think by handing over a five-dollar-bill we can satisfy the justice of God? Does making a party for our friends and being generous to those from whom we expect benefits or praise make up for our callous hearts?

At any moment we can draw near to Christ’s resurrection, or rather it draws us near, the Father draws us near to His Son, if we will let Him. We confess, ‘All is forgiven in the resurrection,’ echoing the teachings of the fathers. We shout at the end of the midnight service of Pascha, ‘Epikranthi! It was vexed!’ speaking of Hades’ state when it discovered it had tried to hold the uncontainable God, and ‘Anesti Christos! Christ is risen!’ speaking of the single event in the universe that has annihilated annihilation.

Are we willing, at last, to rekindle in us the only fire worth having, the only flame that never goes out? Come, receive the light from the unwaning Light!’ Though in this world of darkness that Light still shines, without being put out, yet also without being grasped, can we walk in that Light? Can we live in love? Or is our love going to grow colder? Upon those who walked in darkness, a Light has shone’ (Isaiah 9:2).

Φωτιζου, φωτιζου, η νεα Ιερουσαλημ, η γαρ δοξα Κυριου επι σε ανετειλε. Χορευε νυν και αγαλλου Σιων…

Thursday, April 24, 2014

A Christian asks himself

How can I be living my life as though the resurrection didn’t really happen?
I say, “Christos anesti” with my lips, but what do I say with my heart?
What do I say with my life?

What is belief?
Is it just the mental agreement that a statement is true without experiencing the truth it expresses?

Can I live my life in the resurrection of Jesus while living it as though He did not die on the cross, and die on the cross for me?
I can humbly bow and cross myself with my body and kiss His image, but what worship does my spirit offer?

But the hour will come—in fact it is here already—when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; that is the kind of worshipper the Father wants.
John 4:23 JB

Can I believe in the resurrection without believing in the Lord’s death?
How can I believe in the Lord’s death without experiencing it?
Can I believe in it by attending the services, or reading the bible, or is there more to believing than being a “good Christian”?
And what is a good Christian?

Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me. For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it.
Matthew 16:24-25 JB

“He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
—Jim Elliot, Martyr of Ecuador

Can’t I be a follower of Jesus without dying?
Isn’t all the talk about being buried with Christ in my baptism just a metaphor?
But if it is, what is there to do?

Back to my original question, why am I living as though the resurrection didn’t really happen?
Is it really because I don’t believe in the death of Christ and in the power of His life-giving cross?
What is this “power” of the cross?

All I want is to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and to share his sufferings by reproducing the pattern of his death.
Philippians 3:10 JB

Living as though the death of the Lord did happen will give you the power to live your life as though the resurrection did happen.
There is not one without the other.

You cannot live as though Jesus Christ died on the cross,
and still lie, steal and kill.
You cannot live as though He died for you,
and still treat others with disrespect.
You cannot live as though He endured temptation,
and still fornicate, alone or with another.
You cannot live as though He said from the cross,
‘Father, forgive them,’
and still hold grudges, envy the good fortune of others,
and judge your neighbor.

You cannot live as though He endured being stripped naked
and beaten,
and still look the other way and wink at wickedness,
and let the innocent be slaughtered.

You must give up your old way of life; you must put aside your old self, which gets corrupted by following illusory desires. Your mind must be renewed by a spiritual revolution, so that you can put on the new self that has been created in God’s way, in the goodness and holiness of the truth.
Ephesians 4:22-24 JB

“Christ says ‘Give me All. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half measures are any good. I don't want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down. I don’t want to drill the tooth, or crown it, or stop it, but to have it out. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked—the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: My own will shall become yours.’…”
—C. S. Lewis

So, this is the way to live a resurrected life, to live as though the resurrection of Christ really happened, to know that it happened, not just to say I believe in it:
To live a dying life, to let Christ nail not only my sins, but also my very self, what I think is me, what I think I want, to the cross.

…the thing that is sown is perishable but what is raised is imperishable; the thing that is sown is contemptible but what is raised is glorious; the thing that is sown is weak but what is raised is powerful; when it is sown it embodies the soul, when it is raised, it embodies the spirit.
1 Corinthians 15:42-44 JB

If we have died with him, then we shall live with him.
2 Timothy 2:11 JB

Lord, let me live as though You really rose from the dead, by living as though You really died for me.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

By faith and not by sight


What this strange, ‘tremblesome’ quality of my life means—I am beginning to understand. I am living forward, one day at a time, like a blind man who cannot see what's ahead, but can only feel his way, taking short, deliberate steps, groping into the next moment, listening to a barely audible voice that's calling me. By faith, not sight. And faith comes by hearing. And hearing by the Word of God.

This quality has been growing, and I, sensing it growing, am surprised that the initial fear has lessened somehow. But the meaning of ‘living one day at a time,’ that I once glibly repeated along with others, has truly become the nature of my life.

There's no wonder, then, nor merit, in the fact that every morning I am surprised, yet usually happy, to wake up, and find myself still alive. No wonder, then, that when I see the sun rising as I drive to work, I am happy and thankful beyond measure. One more day. I remembered my first elder, Philip the cabinetmaker, who taught me when I was in my young twenties, how to saw up boards and make furniture. I remembered how he would confess to me, on a bright sunny morning, how he wept as he drove to work. I couldn't understand it then, but I'm beginning to understand it now. I too have wept on the way to work. Sometimes for sadness, sometimes out of gratitude inexpressible any other way. God is good.

I think to myself, Has it always been like this, only I didn't notice?

When you're ‘young’ the thought of death (as the end) never crosses your mind. Life extends limitlessly before you. You can plan things far in advance and expect to do them when you get there. When you're ‘older’ the thought of death starts intruding on this scene of self-confidence, and you begin to understand what ‘pride of life’ means. Is this when some people have their mid-life crisis?

You'd probably expect that life will always go on in the same seamlessly perfect way, though, like it did when the world was new. 
Perfect in that it's in your control. But thank God, for at any chronological age, He is always there and willing to let us give our lives to Him, a little at first maybe, and then more later, and at some point, maybe all of it. As we approach that point of no return, the giving up of all, time begins to ‘stretch out.’ Limited time, chrónos, becomes limitless time, kairós, which also means acceptable time.

Every day means more, every hour, minute, second. Every particle of being, of life, takes on the quality of being in the center, of being important beyond measure. The beetle that crossed my path as I fumbled for the key to unlock my door, God's handiwork, down to the least barbed leggy. The coolness of the empty warehouse I walked through on the way to my office, God's gift, at the beginning of a day that promises to be very hot.

When it comes to lunch, there's no question of ‘saying grace’ wherever I am or with whom, He feeds me and I thank Him. Every mouthful of ten-cent-a-bag ramen tastes as luscious as my favorite food. It's all manna. And if I'm with a friend, it doesn't matter if I eat at all, because the warmth of a friendly smile feeds more than any food. All from God's hands.

To know with every fibre of my being, He is here, He provides, in His hands are life and (what we call) death, as in the old spiritual ‘He's got the whole world in His hands,’ did this knowledge come first? Or was it the willingness to follow Him blindly, and to accept each next moment as His free gift, that ushers in the leading edge of His parousía?

"Let us go where He is waiting and worship at His footstool."
Psalm 132:7 Jerusalem Bible

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Faith

Faith is faith. Nobody can have faith for us, not even God. If we want Christ to do something for us, we must have faith.

What a powerful thing faith is, real faith, not hypothetical faith.

He replied, "Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you."
Matthew 17:20

Jesus replied, "I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and it will be done."
Matthew 21:21


"I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours."
Mark 11:23-24

A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, "If you are willing, you can make me clean." Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out His hand and touched the man. "I am willing," He said. "Be clean!" Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.
Mark 1:40-42

Every English translation of these verses about the healing of the leper that I have consulted uses the word ‘willing,’ both in the leper's request and in the response of Jesus, linking the idea of what is going on here with ‘the will of God.’ But this is how I memorized this passage:

A leper came to Him and pleaded on his knees, ‘If you want to’ he said ‘you can cure me’. Feeling sorry for him, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him. ‘Of course I want to!’ He said. ‘Be cured!’ And the leprosy left him at once and he was cured.

This translation is from the Jerusalem Bible (1966 version, as the Book has been ‘corrected’ since then by the ‘authorities’), and this may be why I have kept this bible with me constantly from the first day I found it. “Of course I want to” may not be literally what is meant by the Greek θέλω, but is there any sense in translating the Word of God if not to evoke faith in us, the kind of faith that “moves mountains”?

Faith is faith. Nobody can have faith for us, not even God. If we want Christ to do something for us, we must have faith.

The leper came to Jesus, with faith. His faith moved a mountain.
What was that mountain? Was it his leprosy?
Or was it ‘the will of God’?


God knows us. He knows everything about us.

But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.
Matthew 6:6-8

Though He knows everything about us, and His will is a mystery, His will is not fixed, it is not static. The might of the Almighty proves His power in that He is willing to undo His will for the sake of His creature who asks. He is the Living God, in Whose Image we are made and into Whose loving Heart we have been drawn, sitting at table with Him, given leave to speak to Him face to face, and yet live. His will for us is His will with us. The Holy Triad welcomes us into His company, invites us to approach boldly in the company of Jesus, through Whom we have become partakers of the Divine Nature.

“Of course I want to”
is the will of God to those who ask, coming with faith. But faith is faith. Nobody can have faith for us, not even God. If we want Christ to do something for us, we must have faith.

During his conversation with Abba Serapion, Abba Mark the Anchorite inquired how things stood in the world. He asked about the Church of Christ, and whether persecutions against Christians still continued. Hearing that idol worship had ceased long ago, the saint rejoiced and asked, "Are there now in the world saints working miracles, as the Lord spoke of in His Gospel, 'If ye have faith even as a grain of mustard seed, ye will say to this mountain, move from that place, and it will move, and nothing shall be impossible for you'?" As the saint spoke these words, the mountain moved from its place 5,000 cubits (about 2 miles) and went toward the sea. When he saw that the mountain had moved, Abba Mark said, "I did not order you to move from your place, but was just conversing with a brother. Go back to your place!" After this, the mountain actually returned to its place. Abba Serapion fell down in fright. Abba Mark took him by the hand and asked, "Have you never seen such miracles in your lifetime?" "No, Father," Abba Serapion replied. Then Abba Mark wept bitterly and said, "Alas, today there are Christians in name only, but not in deeds."

Faith is faith. Nobody can have faith for us, not even God. If we want Christ to do something for us, we must have faith.