Sunday, August 31, 2014

Psalm for the last day of Year 7522

Edward Poynter, Miriam, Dalziel's Bible Gallery, Tate Collections, 1864
EXODUS 15
Song of victory

It was then that Moses and the sons of Israel sang this song in honor of Yahweh.

Yahweh I sing: He has covered Himself in glory,
horse and rider He has thrown into the sea.

Yah is my strength, my song,
He is my salvation.
This is my God, I praise Him;
the God of my father, I extol Him.

Yahweh is a warrior;
Yahweh is His name.

The chariots and the army of Pharaoh
He has hurled into the sea;
the pick of his horsemen lie drowned in the Sea of Reeds.
The depths have closed over them;
they have sunk to the bottom like a stone.

Your right hand, Yahweh, shows majestic in power,
Your right hand, Yahweh, shatters the enemy.
So great Your splendor, You crush Your foes;
You unleash Your fury, and it devours them like stubble.
A blast from Your nostrils and the waters piled high;
the waves stood upright like a dike;
in the heart of the sea the deeps came together.

‘I will give chase and overtake,’ the enemy said.
‘I shall share out the spoil, my soul will feast on it;
I shall draw my sword, my hand will destroy them.’
One breath of Yours You blew, and the sea closed over them;
they sank like lead in the terrible waters.

Who among the gods is Your like, Yahweh?
Who is Your like, majestic in holiness,
terrible in deeds of prowess, worker of wonders?
You stretched Your right hand out, the earth swallowed them!
By Your grace You led the people You redeemed,
by Your strength You guided them to Your holy house.

Hearing of this, the peoples tremble;
pangs seize on the inhabitants of Philistia.
Edom's chieftains are now dismayed,
the princes of Mo’ab fall to trembling,
Canaan's inhabitants are all unmanned,
on them fall terror and dread;
through the power of Your arm they are still as stone
as Your people pass, Yahweh,
as the people pass whom You purchased.

You will bring them and plant them
on the mountain that is Your own,
the place You have made Your dwelling, Yahweh,
the sanctuary, Yahweh, prepared by Your own hands.

Yahweh will be King for ever and ever.

Sing of Yahweh: He has covered Himself in glory,
horse and rider He has thrown into the sea.

Exodus 15:1-18, 21 Jerusalem Bible (1966)

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Book I Didn't Write

A BOOK REVIEW

A few years ago, on Friday evenings, after attending Shabbat services at Ahavath Achim with a friend, we used to stop at the Borders book store for a coffee, and sometimes have a bit of mindless fun looking at the ‘Christian’ and ‘inspirational’ books that were sold there. The sheer numbers of these books and their awe-inspiring titles simply blew us away. Sometimes we’d spend nearly twenty minutes just showing each other the new ones we hadn’t noticed before, and we gaped at them with dropped jaw and mesmerized eye like the two am ha-aretz that we were.

On one of our visits to the book store, overwhelmed as usual by these books that ‘have the gospel for sale,’ I remarked to my friend, ‘You know, I’m really bored to disgust by all these other books written by people who just have to get it out and show the world how they’re right about this, or how they’ve discovered that long lost truth that will change your life or help you enter a new world. I get the feeling I’m plummeting down an Alice’s rabbit hole lined with unending shelves of other books. Wouldn’t it be great to walk into a book store and find this title? The Book I Didn’t Write.’

Well, I have, in fact, a copy of that Book. In fact I have several copies in different editions. The one I’m showing here is my first and favorite, but there are others just as good. Even in all their different editions, they’re still the same one Book: The Book I Didn’t Write.

Now, as for the review. Here’s what some well-known commentators have said about this Book:

‘Turn it this way, turn it that way, everything is in it, keep your eye on it, grow old and aged over it, and from it do not stir, for you have no better portion than it.’
—Rabbi ben-Bag Bag (Pirke Avot, 5:29)

‘Read God’s Book continually: Nay, never let the sacred volume be out of your hand. Learn so that you may teach. Hold fast to the words of faith according to sound doctrine, so that you may be able thereby to exhort and refute the gainsayers.’
—Jerome (On the Duties of the Clergy)

‘Study first of all the Divine Scriptures. Study them, I say, for we require to study the divine writings deeply, lest we should speak of them faster than we think. And while you study these divine works with a believing and God-fearing intention, knock at that which is closed in them, and it shall be opened to you by the Porter, of Whom Jesus says, To him the Porter opens.’
—Origen (Letter to Gregory Thaumaturgos)

‘The way in to the Holy Scriptures is low and humble, but inside the vault is high and veiled in mysteries.’
—Augustine of Hippo (Confessions, III, 5)

‘In the Holy Scriptures, Truth is to be looked for rather than fair phrases. All sacred scriptures should be read in the spirit in which they were written. In them, therefore, we should seek food for our souls rather than subtleties of speech, and we should as readily read simple and devout books as those that are lofty and profound. Do not be influenced by the importance of the writer, and whether his learning be great or small, but let the love of pure Truth draw you to read. Do not inquire, Who said this? but pay attention to what is said. Men pass away, but the Word of the Lord endures forever.’
—Thomas à Kempis (On the Imitation of Christ, I, 5)

‘Everyone not ceaselessly busy with the Word of God must become corrupt.’
—Martin Luther
(Open Letter to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation)

‘The Bible is God’s Word addressed quite personally to us, and the only way to know the truth of that is to start reading and using the Bible as though it were true. To approach it humbly and expectantly, to read it on your knees, to come to it as to a Word from God addressed with absolute appropriateness to yourself.’
—Richard Holloway (A New Heaven, p. 91)

Well, being the dyed-in-the-wool sheep in wolves' clothing that I am, I have a one track mind, a mind on its prey. I’m always on the prowl for, not what’s new, but for what makes new. What a blessing it would be if we could walk into a book store someday and find this Book alone on its shelves: The Book I Didn’t Write.

I humbly encourage all of you, my brothers, to throw away all your ‘other books’ (they will only make you miserable), and grab hold of The Book. Just say No, when the door-to-door peddlers come to the gates of your minds and wills, saying, ‘Come to us, for stolen waters are sweet.’ Just hit the little ‘delete’ button when you get an email advertisement from the purveyors of ‘Torah spades’ (do not make of the Torah a spade to dig with). And lastly, consign your Amazon Wishlists to that little waste basket in the lower corner of your Windows desktop.

‘All of it, my brothers! Throw it all away! It will only make you miserable.’
—Francesco di Bernardone, of Assisi

On wealth and poverty

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Chrysostom, On Wealth and Poverty

Here and now

Historical perspective gives depth to our picture of the Church and to ourselves as individual Christians, enabling us to see over the horizon of merely today. Yet history can also become a kind of false ‘ark of the covenant’ that subverts our worship ‘in spirit and truth’ by preventing us from seeing Him walking ‘in our midst’ whose death rent the veil of the temple, and blinding us from the reality of living the heavenly life on earth.

Christ is not only born, not only did He pitch His tent among us in history, but He is risen, He is truly risen, and He who was dead is alive, and alive for ever, pitching our tent for us among the Holy Trinity. As the Church believes, God in Christ becomes man, so that man, yes, we who live in love and walk by faith, become God. In Christ, Heaven did not pay earth a courtesy call, but moved in with us, not in the remote past alone, but in every moment. ‘I am with you till the end of time,’ says Jesus.

Yes, He was, He is, He is to come. The real ark of the covenant is revealed to be in Heaven, which is shown to our unveiled eyes to begin here and now, for God is with us. With us, within us, among us, and in us. History is the prophecy of the marriage of Heaven and earth, but we live its fulfillment and partake of the wedding feast of the Lamb here and now.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Read the psalms

There’s trouble everywhere we look. The world is going to hell in a hand basket. We’re teetering at the brink of economic catastrophe, not to mention war. Racial tension, police brutality, school shootings, car bombs, and then, if all that weren’t enough, global warming and the weird weather that’s happening everywhere. Now there’s the earthquakes, twice or three times as many as there used to be, and volcanoes flaring up as well. Closer to home, drought and forest fires. Even closer to home, burglaries that empty a house of all valuables, emotional illnesses, work-related problems, and—worst of all, intolerable loneliness and a sense of being abandoned, unloved. Is it the world, or are we going mad?

I counsel myself and my co-suffering neighbor, ‘Read the psalms.’ What I mean to say is, Pray the psalms,’ but not everyone is comfortable with that. Reading them is enough, doesn’t put you in the hotspot of having to actually believe God will do something. So I say again, ‘Read the psalms, there’s something in them that will calm you, reassure you, maybe even strengthen you to survive all these disasters as they come down.’

I know that’s what they do for me. If I feel myself getting anxious about what is going on around me, but even when things seem to be going ‘just too good to be true,’ I try to pull myself away, out of the flow, or rather the push, of life, and stand on that pebbly bottom of the stream, the psalms. That’s what they are for me. A solid surface that is broken up into pebbles just as I, who seem solid, am really broken. Their brokenness mends mine, and the waters that flow around me (and when I’ve fallen, over me) feel cool and refreshing again, because of that solidity beneath me. And I realize, everything is as it must be, and I am no longer afraid.

As bad as things can get, as deep and unrelievable our sorrows, or the sorrows of the world, though we hope for the end to come, that’s not the way it happens. ‘When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be frightened; those things must take place; but that is not yet the end. For nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will also be famines. These things are merely the beginning of birth pangs’ (Mark 13:7-8). The birth pangs? O my God! Here we are wishing we could die and get it over with, and we’re told, ‘Get ready! You’re just about ready to be born!’

As for the end of all things, the end of the world, the end of war, the end of my oppressive marriage, bad relationship, or frustrating job, though we wish we could have it over and done with, that’s just not how it happens, not for the world, not for us as people. Things don’t get worse and worse until the end comes, no, they get worse and worse, you think you can’t take it anymore, and then—you’re out! If this is the end, if this is the death we sometimes long for to kill our sorrows, we’re in for a surprise. As Uncle Walt says, ‘To die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.’

Yes, the end is near, but not the end we think, or the one we sometimes hope for. The year ahead is going to be one of the most challenging the world has seen in many a year, and our personal lives are not going to slip through unscathed. But this is why I say, again, ‘Read the psalms,’ and if you can stomach it, ‘pray them.’ Why do I say, ‘if you can stomach it’? Well, because the abdomen is the ‘seat of the soul,’ which we will notice if we recite the ‘first and great commandment’ when we make the sign of the Cross.

‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your mind (head), with all your soul (abdomen), with all your strength (right shoulder), and with all your heart (left shoulder).’

In the midst of every trouble opens a door to get out of it. That is faith. That is trust. Yes, try trusting the God you say you believe in but don’t, or the One you say you don’t believe in, but maybe secretly do. You may be surprised, at yourself, for your foolishness, and then at Him, for existing. For He doesn’t hold grudges, no matter what. He tells us, as He told the Jews, ‘If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father’ (John 10:37-38). What are ‘the works’ that Jesus speaks of?

Well, no matter how dark it gets, ‘read the psalms,’ and you’ll always have Light.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

You are blessed

You are blessed, Lord,
You are blessed,
because no matter what I am going through right now,
You are here with me,
You are covering me.
In You life goes on, Lord,
in You the dead have life,
in You the cries of the unheard are heard,
in You the unloved are loved,
in You the brokenhearted are restored to joy,
in You the feeble are made strong,
in You the poor are become rich,
in You the blind receive their sight,
in You the captive are made free.

You are blessed, Lord,
You are blessed,
for raising me from my bed of sins,
for standing me on my feet and directing my steps,
for opening to me the gates of repentance,
for leading me in the path of righteousness,
for taking me by the hand,
for taking my first steps for me,
for loving me as if I were Your only son.

You are blessed, Lord,
You are blessed,
because You have not forgotten me,
because You have not abandoned my soul to She’ol
or left me lying in the land of death,
because You have surrounded me with songs of deliverance,
because You have fed me on the wild rock honey,
because of Your love, Lord,
because of Your love,
just because.

No place like home

To the Jews who believed in Him Jesus said, “If you make My word your home you will indeed be my disciples, you will learn the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
John 8:31-32 Jerusalem Bible

Immediately upon hearing these words, argument and self-justification break out. Instead of attending to the first statement, the ‘if’ of Jesus’ word, His hearers latch on to the second statement, that in being His disciples ‘indeed’ they will be made free by the truth.

They take charge of the word He just spoke to them and immediately jump on it, assuming the worst, accepting it as an accusation or challenge to what they think they are. “We are descended from Abraham and we have never been the slaves of anyone! What do you mean…?”

Nothing has changed, not with the Jews who believed in Him (for those are the very people that He was addressing and who came back with an argument), nor with the modern Christians (who also say they believe in Him, as long as…). They too pass over the ‘if’ of Jesus' word. Instead, they focus on themselves, not on Him, not on what He is really saying.

What He is really saying they don't even hear. What He is really telling them is the straightforward path to discipleship and fellowship with Him, and they meet it with silence.

So, the silence of the Word is met with silence, with non-recognition, by those ‘who believed in Him.’

Who can receive the word of Jesus in silence, just as He speaks it, without the interference of the ‘believing’ but questioning mind?
For this defines a great divide, a great gulf which cannot otherwise be bridged, between what we are and what we think we are, what the Word declares and what we think it declares, between discipleship and our need to justify ourselves.

The call to discipleship is answered by a simple ‘Yes’ and, as Ignatios of Antioch writes in his letter to the church at Ephesos,

“a man who has truly mastered the utterances of Jesus will also be able to apprehend His silence, and thus reach full spiritual maturity, so that his own words have the force of actions and his silences the significance of speech. Nothing is hidden from the Lord; even our most secret thoughts are present to Him. Whatever we do, then, let it be done as though He Himself were dwelling within us, we being as it were His temples and He within us as their God. For in fact, that is literally the case; and in proportion as we rightly love Him, so it will become clear to our eyes.”
(Ignatios of Antioch, Ephesians, ch. 15)

For what does the Word Himself declare to us?

Jesus replied, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and We shall come to him and make Our home with him.”
John 13:23 JB

All, or nothing

Again in history we see what comes when law-abiding nations descend into denial of the One who gave the law, what happens when they surrender to the sleep of self-indulgence and hide behind delusive dreams of safety.

A sovereign nation is dismembered slowly by a cautious predator with two opposite-facing heads, one tearing fragments of living flesh from its victim without first killing it, the other eyeing the sleepers nearby.

After a century of blatant and barbaric aggression, lands and peoples devoured and regurgitated again in chains, borders flickering all over the map with unreasoned abandon, would that the earth had seen the end of this.

Are the nations not satisfied with the lands marked out for them by the treaties? Or were they lying treaties to begin with? Is it so impossible to comprehend that every people should desire, and deserves, a sovereign homeland?

Are we so afraid of war that we are willing to purchase peace at any price? Shall our house not too be burgled when we watch our neighbor’s robbed right before our eyes? For the price of peace, are we willing to pay all, if that’s what it costs?

All, or nothing. We sit and watch the pillage as any other entertainment, not recognizing our risk in doing nothing, yet all will be required of us, for we are not at games, but real life. Either we give all, or all shall be taken from us.

And the twin-beaked eagle shall never be sated.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Building on the rock

‘God who becomes one of us precisely to put religion to death...’ [Waiting is]

You know, I feel the idea, but can’t grasp it logically, put it into words. For myself, and more, for sharing/witnessing for others when the time comes. Can you describe the difference between the religion of Christianity and what Christ actually created and wanted us to be? Again, I feel it, but can't formulate my thoughts, put it into words.

It is perhaps too simple to be put into words.

Religion is an attitude of fear of God (not awe, but real fear) coupled with an anxiety to propitiate Him, to buy Him off, so that we can have time to ourselves, so that we can think our thoughts when we’re on our time. We hope He will be satisfied with the moments we give Him, but we’re never sure, and so we stress over it in various ways.

Another kind of religion begins as I have described, but eventually devolves into a pious fraud, when we find out (or think that we’ve found out) that God, if He really is there, couldn’t care less about us and what we do, but we continue going through the motions for a variety of reasons, some of them still related to a kind of anxiety, only this time, fear lest we be thought irreverent by others.

Both of these kinds of religion, as I have written elsewhere, ‘end at the feet of Christ.’

How Christ intends us to be, or rather, what He calls us into, is above all else a close, personal relationship with Himself, mediated through the events and thoughts with which He fills our lives.

Of course we don’t see Him physically, but we can read His acts and His words both in His little book, the Bible, and His big book, the world around us. When we understand this, and then begin to do and say the same things we see Him doing and hear Him saying, we are ‘building on the rock’ not on sand, lives that are infused with paradise even now, both in ourselves and in those around us.

Like the apostles, we no longer think we can earn heaven or salvation as did the righteous among the Jews. That was the basis of their religion.

Instead, learning to live in close friendship and discipleship with Jesus our Lord, Master, Savior and God, and following Him, we begin to get used to heaven, we start forming the kind of spiritual lungs to breathe the air of paradise, and the musculature to climb the mountains of God. Yes, we begin to get used to heaven by imitating it here, by living the life of heaven on earth.

This is so radically different from mere religion and so much better, that we forget all about religion even while we continue to practice it. What we do in church or about it may not look any different from what the religious do and look like, at least within the context of ‘church,’ but not only there, but everywhere we find ourselves, we radiate the gospel, the good news—

Christ risen from the dead,
Christ within us and in our midst,
among us and for us, over, under, around and through us,
Christ the tie that binds us to the Father
and in that binding soothing all our sores
and healing our every sickness.

Ours and, through our witness, everyone else’s, without exception, not limited to or divided from any human being, regardless of what they think or believe or even do. To do as Christ commands, to ‘be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect,’ this is no more religion than is Christ’s raising of Lazarus, or His giving sight to the man born blind, or His forgiveness of adulterers and thieves, or His dying tortured, rejected and alone on the Cross.

He tells us, ‘You will do even greater things than I have done, because I am going to the Father.’

These ‘greater things’ He gives us to do—for it is indeed He who gives us them, not we ourselves—cannot possibly be what we see in Christian ‘religion,’ and yet we find that precisely those who have, like Peter and the holy apostles, been given ‘the keys of the Kingdom,’ unlike them do not unlock lives, their own or those of others, but jewel themselves, or bait or threaten others. It’s obvious that they no longer even know what they hold in their hands. The good news is for them ‘a lesson memorised’ and no news at all.

Yes, religion dies at the feet of Christ.
But if you must be religious,
just follow Jesus and do what you see Him doing.
Then you will know for sure
that the veil of the Temple is ripped open,
because you will find yourself following Him
in and out of the Holy of Holies
as He mediates between
God and man.

Never divided

About half-way through my life as an Orthodox Christian, I remember going to a retreat at my local church where I heard an Orthodox priest say something like, "The Church divided? The Church has never been divided. If you think that the Church has been, or could ever be, divided, you have a problem." Sorry to say, I can't remember who I heard say this. It could have been a visiting presbyter, or it could have been one of our local priests, maybe even my catechist, Fr Michael Courey, who said this. All I remember is the saying, and my reaction when I heard him say it, one of immense relief. In the book, Against False Union, by Dr Alexander Kalomiros, we read the following,

The commotion about union of the churches makes evident the ignorance existing as much among the circles of the simple faithful as among the theologians as to what the Church is.
They understand the catholicity of the Church as a legal cohesion, as an interdependence regulated by some code. For them the Church is an organization with laws and regulations like the organizations of nations. Bishops, like civil servants, are distinguished as superiors and subordinates: patriarchs, archbishops, metropolitans, bishops. For them, one diocese is not something complete, but a piece of a larger whole…


Such a concept of the Church leads directly to the Papacy. If the catholicity of the Church has this kind of meaning, then Orthodoxy is worthy of tears, because up to now she has not been able to discipline herself under a Pope. But this is not the truth of the matter.

The catholic Church which we confess in the Symbol (Creed) of our Faith is not called catholic because it includes all the Christians of the earth, but because within her everyone of the faithful finds all the grace and gift of God. The meaning of catholicity has nothing to do with a universal organization the way the Papists and those who are influenced by the Papist mentality understand it.

Of course, the Church is intended for and extended to the whole world independent of lands, nations, races, and tongues; and it is not an error for one to name her catholic because of this also. But just as humanity becomes an abstract idea, there is a danger of the same thing happening to the Church when we see her as an abstract, universal idea. In order for one to understand humanity well, it is enough for him to know only one man, since the nature of that man is common to all men of the world.

Similarly, in order to understand what the catholic Church of Christ is, it suffices to know well only one local church. And as among men, it is not submission to a hierarchy which unites them but their common nature, so the local churches are not united by the Pope and the Papal hierarchy but by their common nature.

A local Orthodox church regardless of her size or the number of the faithful is by herself alone, independently of all the others, catholic. And this is so because she lacks nothing of the grace and gift of God. All the local churches of the whole world together do not contain anything more in divine grace than that small church with few members.

She has her presbyters and bishop; she has the Holy Mysteries; she has the Body and Blood of Christ in the Holy Eucharist. Within her any worthy soul can taste of the Holy Spirit’s presence. She has all the grace and truth. What is she lacking therefore in order to be catholic? She is the one flock, and the bishop is her shepherd, the image of Christ, the one Shepherd. She is the prefiguring on earth of the one flock with the one Shepherd, of the new Jerusalem. Within her, even in this life, pure hearts taste of the Kingdom of God, the betrothal of the Holy Spirit. Within her they find peace which “passeth all understanding,” the peace which has no relation with the peace of men: “My peace I give unto you.”

One local church is united with all the other local Orthodox churches of the world by the bond of identity. Just as one is the Church of God, the other is the Church of God also, as well as all the others. They are not divided by boundaries of nations nor the political goals of the countries in which they live. They are not even divided by the fact that one might be ignorant of the other’s existence. It is the same Body of Christ which is partaken of by the Greeks, the Negroes of Uganda, the Eskimos of Alaska, and the Russians of Siberia. The same Blood of Christ circulates in their veins. The Holy Spirit enlightens their minds and leads them to the knowledge of the same truth.

There exist, of course, relations of interdependence between the local churches, and there are canons which govern them. This interdependence, though, is not a relation of legal necessity, but a bond of respect and love in complete freedom, the freedom of grace. And the canons are not laws of a code, but wise guides of centuries of experience.

The Church has no need of external bonds in order to be one. It is not a pope, or a patriarch, or an archbishop which unites the Church. The local church is something complete; it is not a piece of a larger whole…

Just for the record, this is the Orthodoxy that I confess as a free follower of Jesus Christ, who is born today. This is the Church that I belong to, the Body of Christ, the Bride of the Bridegroom, who is born today.

Christ is born! Glorify Him!

Wounded by love

Follow the Lord to Golgotha.

A man wounded, knowing how to bear weakness

Isaiah 53:3 Septuagint

Be wounded
and know how to bear pain.
The Cross must be familiar and acceptable to you as a place to be and a mode of existence.

Then the Lord will come at some time, without fail, as He knows best. He will come and find you. He will touch your aching head, as "…He touched the leper" (Matthew 8:3).
He will speak to you. He will enter into you like light, repose, paradise. You will be aware of Him. You will feel Him. You will actually live His passion and resurrection. You will find yourself inside the icon of the Resurrection, of the Descent into Hades.

This icon will be an expression of your life. Christ will be constantly leading you by the hand, bringing you to light, to freedom, to an unending journey which is Himself.


You understand then the words of the Lord, "Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into His glory?" (Luke 24:26) Christ had to suffer and to come forth as a Bridegroom from the tomb.
A great mystery!


You feel that you had to suffer, to endure pain, to die in the earth like a seed, so that there might shoot up from within you something that does not pass away.

I am created for some specific purpose, for something intangible, invisible to the naked eye, and yet incarnate.
I know it. I believe it. I experience it.


When I move away from it, everything goes awry, in my soul and in my body. When I am within it, I am firmly grounded and recover everything, the health of my soul and body. When I am alone, I am in communion with the saints. When I am in a crowd, I am nourished by the pure spring welling up in the desert within.

Reverence for this least and greatest thing takes the form of constantly going outdoors without protection, of asking at every moment only that His will should be done. Asking it not with my mouth and voice, but with my whole manner of living, all the time.

And when you ask that His will should be done, when your whole being is one bleeding petition, it happens. But this happening is not something you can determine in advance. It may happen by happening or by not happening. It may be that before your petition is even finished, the answer comes. Or you may wait years and wear yourself out, and be disappointed, and reach utter exhaustion, and be destroyed. And then, when you are no longer expecting anything—neither you nor anyone else—He Himself will come to raise you up, to take you with Him on a new journey.
Then you will understand why He was slow in coming for you. He was with you "in another form" (Mark 16:12), even when He had not come and you were waiting for Him.

How everything functions as a whole! How nothing is irrelevant, nothing is wasted! How the blessings go deeper than we hoped! How the afflictions, the pains and the perplexities till the field of our souls like a deep-cutting ploughshare! How totally and utterly the strange and heaven-sent rest differs in nature from the rest and satisfaction afforded by any earthly and temporary success! How it teaches us humility, how it schools us in love, how it reconciles us with others! It strengthens us, it invigorates us, and at the same time it makes us weaker, without any prickles or sharp corners which could wound others!
—Archimandrite Vasileios

My citadel is God Himself.
the God who loves me is coming…
Psalm 59:10 Jerusalem Bible (1966)

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Head of the Body

Headless in a decapitated world. Such is the current state of affairs. We cringe in horror at the beheadings of innocent victims by the mujahideen of the self-installed caliphate, but we do not identify the real source of the terror. The beheadings are signs to us that we have already been decapitated, even that we are already dead. How can this be?

No enemy can come near us, none can approach our camp, when we recognize our Head (cf. Psalm 91). And this Head is not the caliph of the Islamic state. It is not the president of any nation, not even the vaunted almightiest, nor is it the pope of any eternal city, but we’re getting hotter. Our Head is He who walks amidst the seven golden lampstands, though we recognize Him not.

Humanity in the main is headless, decapitated because they do not recognize their Head. We Christians have no excuse. The Church, not the institutions but the reality, is poised at the edge of life, ancient and venerable, the true ikon of a free humanity that lives in peace, in harmony, and in mutual love, only when it knows what it is, the Body, and recognizes Christ, the Head.

There is, and can only be, one Head for the one Body that is the whole human race, and that is the Christ. In Him we are restored, not to an Islamic state, but to the state of Adam before the Fall. All of creation, looking upon Adam, could not distinguish Him from God the unearthly Triad. Apostle Paul prophesies, ‘The creation waits eagerly for the sons of God to be revealed’ (Romans 8:19).

Does that put things in perspective? Why are we living headless in a decapitated world? Who can cut our heads off, unless we let them? And how could we have let them? Isn’t it clear that only by acknowledging our Head, our own heads are safeguarded? Didn’t the apostle write, ‘I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God’ (1 Corinthians 11:3)?

Brethren, we have no leaders, because we have not acknowledged our Head. Only a people that knows they are a nation of kings deserves to have a King reigning over them. And that is the only sort of King that can ever be victorious, can ever be our safeguard. Acknowledge the Head, not just for yourselves as Christians, but for all people. Then, your heads will be yours, as He leads you to victory.

The cruelty of the assassins of mankind, wherever and however they appear, cannot be opposed or defeated by headless hosts, no matter how well-armed. They behead us in effigy as they harvest the skulls of their victims. Let the nations return to the Holy One of Israel, the only-lover of mankind, the Head of the Body that outnumbers the stars, and to the lake of fire the foe will flee before us.

Postscript

An interesting science fiction novel by C. S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength, introduces the theme of ‘the Head’ from the antichristian point of view: The enemy of mankind uses a severed human head as the vehicle of its satanic communication. Though we hope such a manifestation shall never occur in human history, Lewis was quite correct in describing its purpose and operation. It is the opposite of acknowledging Christ as the Head of the Body of the human race. At present the human world is as it is because the vast majority do not accept that there is, and must be, a Head. To recognize Christ the Head opens the gates of Paradise. To accept an antichrist as the Head, well, we know what that ushers in.

All power and authority

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until we follow Him

‘Cover the earth’ evangelism. I imagine that many Christians still believe that it is their duty to convert others, their near neighbors, and those far away, to Christianity. I used to feel this way too, once. But long ago I noticed that ‘conversion’ to Christianity often meant exactly that—joining a religious society, church, mission, or whatever. Somehow, despite the prayers and pious rhetoric, conversion to Christ was glossed over, almost as if those who gained the converts did not even have an idea of what conversion really means. This happens in every form of Christianity. It bothers me the most when it happens in my own community, the Orthodox Church. Why? Because we've been around the longest. We should know better. The fearful part is when I come upon Christ's indictment of the Pharisees in His own culture, ‘You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are’ (Matthew 23:15).

‘Wholesale evangelists’ may reach the masses, but what really is happening? Yes, Jesus spoke to crowds, and what did those crowds do? Where were they when He was crucified? And even later, where were these crowds when at most, a hundred twenty people were gathered in the upper room on the day of Pentecost? The three thousand who accepted Christ on that day came from the preaching of the apostles filled with the Holy Spirit, and it was not at a revival—revivals are tent meetings to re-evangelize and revive Christian life in people who already know that there is a Jesus. No one in scripture, no one in the history of the Church, ever went ‘door to door’ evangelizing. That's man's plan based on man's expectations. The plan that God has for the evangelization and salvation of the world is much simpler than that. It is just ‘go, and make disciples,’ a naked commandment followed by only a brief instruction. It's all found in Matthew 28:19-20. So, where does that leave us?

All Christians are, simply put, witnesses. We can testify only to that which we know. This is not about which church does it better, or which is more valid than another. These are not the kind of questions that interest Jesus, and they shouldn't interest us either. What this is about, is realising that the human constructs are unworthy of us: only Christ is worthy. The nets we fashion to catch the fish must not become ends in themselves, for the fish were not made for the nets, but the nets for the fish. And when caught, fish will only spoil and rot if they stay in the nets. This is about not settling for anything less than Jesus. The Orthodox have a saying, ‘We know where the Church is, but we don't necessarily know where she is not.’ I have a saying of my own, that mirrors it, sort of its flip-side, ‘We know where Jesus is, but we don't necessarily know where He is not.’

Why can both these sayings be true?
And if they are true, who or what is being excluded, and by whom?
We will never know where Jesus is walking, until we follow Him.

That one is you

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That one is you.

Born blind

We are born blind, we never had eyes, we have never seen light, nor known it, nor experienced it, we have no idea even of what it is, just what others have told us. But did they have eyes? Were they born with sight? Or do they speak of what they imagine but never see?

This is how it is, for us, for every human being who has ever walked the earth, but One. We are born blind. We hear the world around us, but cannot see it. We know it’s there, we bump into it, sometimes hurting ourselves, until we learn how to navigate through the darkness.

Darkness? Our world doesn’t look dark to us. It’s light, it’s beautiful, there’s so much in it to see and experience. Yes, but all that you say we are seeing, all of it, my brothers, is dark and featureless, as shallow yet as deep as a starless night, and yet you say you see.

Let me, one blind man who does not see but feels, tell you that as wonderful as it would be for a man born blind to be granted the faculty of sight, that is how wonderful, and even more, it will be when we who have been born blind and see only this world are granted to really see.

To really see, when we have received our sight, we cannot remember anymore that seamless darkness that was what we thought the world to be. We will be able to close our eyes for a moment—only the demons are eyelidless—and see the world we left behind.

And just as we close our eyes to better pray, so there will we close our eyes for our brothers who live yet in that world born blind, which never since it sold them had eyes nor sighted birth, as we intercede without ceasing for those who await with longing to receive their sight.

And open them again, to receive Him who was always everywhere present, filling all things, the Lord and Creator of Life, to receive Him into our hungry eyes, to become what we behold, finally, finally, after waiting for what seemed for ever, waiting only to be fulfilled, to see only Him.

Martyrdom

Martyrdom—this is a word we’ve heard a lot lately, especially on the news. Muslim fundamentalists commit martyrdom. Christians suffer martyrdom. But what is martyrdom, really?

It comes from the Greek word μαρτυρια, meaning “witness”. It’s one of the four characteristics of Orthodox Christianity: liturgía “worship” literally “the people’s work”, dhiakonía “servanthood”, martyría “witness”, and kinonía “fellowship”.
A modern addition to this foursquare scheme is paidheía “instruction”.
It used to be considered sufficient that the idhiótes, that is, the laity, were educated and edified by the original four. But the modernist Orthodox wants to make sure the world understands that we are “educated” too. “Nobody who speaks only Greeks is anybody!” as Spiro exclaimed in the film My Family and Other Animals.


Back to martyrdom.
Muslims commit it,
Christians suffer it.

A Muslim terrorist firmly believes in the reward of paradise and seventy-two black-eyed virgins if he commits martyrdom by, for example, strapping a bomb to himself, walking into a crowd of “enemies of Allah”,
and blowing himself and them up.

A Christian who suffers martyrdom
at the hands of unbelievers
because of his testimony,
his witness to Jesus as Lord and Savior, firmly believes that Christ will stand up for him, based on His word of promise, “Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32 NASB)

The Christian doesn’t know the particulars or details of the reward, if you can call it such (though Jesus does, cf. Matthew 10:42), but he believes in it just as firmly, and with good reason.
“The Word of God says so.”

So, martyrdom means “witness”.
It seems strange that witness can be committed as an act of violence towards oneself and others by the followers of Muhammad, and at the same time suffered as violence committed against oneself by others. But that’s how it is. Has it always been this way?

Have there been Muslim martyrs who suffered rather than committed martyrdom?
Well, yes, of course there have. Think of the Crusades, when Roman Catholic armies attacked the Muslim states of the Near East. Of course, they were only trying to win back what the Muslims had conquered in the first place. Maybe that’s not a good example.

How about the case of Mansur al-Hallaj (AD 858-922), who was martyred for his faith? Well, yes, it was by his fellow Muslims. He wanted to testify of his relationship with God to others, even at the price of his own life. He also referred to the martyrdom of Christ, saying he also wanted to die ‘in the supreme confession of the cross’. Many Muslims of his time criticized him as a crypto-Christian for distorting the monotheistic revelation in a Christian way. Well, maybe that’s not a good example either.

Have there ever been Christians who committed martyrdom?

Well, again I think you could cite the Crusaders, though reliable contemporary sources, Francesco of Assisi for example, expressed the opinion that the Crusaders needed Christ more than the Saracens did, so that’s probably not a good example.

I think the closest I can come to finding a Christian equivalent to ‘committing martyrdom is the acts of the Greek neo-martyrs during the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire. These were (usually) men who had gotten into trouble with the Turks, but who escaped punishment, fled and lived in hiding. Later, after repenting for their apostasy (most of them had been forced to become Muslims, and then had backslid), they would return to the places where they had denied Christ and ‘commit martyrdom’ by boldly confessing Christ and denouncing Muhammad in front of Turkish authorities, who then had them executed (not without trying to induce them to recant, rejoin the Muslim fold, and be pardoned). They could have stayed in hiding (and most former apostates did), but something inside these men couldn’t be silenced. Perhaps they read the passage in Matthew, “Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men…”


Are we any closer to defining martyrdom?
I think not. What martyrdom really is can be learned only by following Jesus, going where He goes, doing what He does. Here’s what martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote about some aspects of martyrdom:

Neither failure nor hostility can weaken the messenger’s conviction that he has been sent by Jesus. That his word may be their strength, their stay and their comfort, Jesus repeats it. ‘Behold, I send you.’ For this is no way they have chosen themselves, no undertaking of their own. It is, in the strict sense of the word, a mission. With this the Lord promises them his abiding presence, even when they find themselves as sheep among wolves, defenceless, powerless, sore pressed and beset with great danger. Nothing can happen to them without Jesus knowing of it. ‘Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.’

… Jesus never called his disciples into a state of uncertainty, but to one of supreme certainty. That is why his warning can only summon them to abide by the Word. Where the Word is, there shall the disciple be. Therein lies his true wisdom and his true simplicity. If it is obvious that the Word is being rejected, if it is forced to yield its ground, the disciple must yield with it. But if the Word carries on the battle, the disciple must also stand his ground. In each case he will be combining wisdom with simplicity. But wisdom, however spiritual it may be, must never lead the disciple along a path which cannot stand the test of the word of Jesus.

… It is not our judgment of the situation which can show us what is wise, but only the truth of the Word of God. Here alone lies the promise of God’s faithfulness and help. It will always be true that the wisest course for the disciple is always to abide solely by the Word of God in all simplicity.

… The return of Jesus will take place suddenly. That fact is more certain than that we shall be able to finish our work in his service, more certain than our own death. This assurance that in their suffering they will be as their Master is the greatest consolation the messengers of Jesus have. As is the Master, so shall the disciple be, and as the Lord, so the servant. If they called Jesus a devil, how much more shall they call the servants of his household devils. Thus Jesus will be with them, and they will be in all things like unto him.

—Dietrich Bonhoeffer (martyr, 1945)
The Cost of Discipleship,
Ch. 24 The Suffering of the Messengers

Only faith is unstoppable

Making faith in Christ the price which must be paid to save Western civilization from the Muslim hordes is to make Christ the means to an end, our end. It may be true that the apostasy of the Christian West is largely responsible for its decline, but so did the virtuous among the pagan Romans blame “atheism,” abandoning the old gods for this new deity Christ, for the decline of Rome. I’ve always found this charge of atheism against the early Christians not an absurd lie, as many Christians of later ages have considered it, but rather a hint of what being a disciple of Jesus really means. The atheism they were accused of was their abandonment of traditional gods and their religious cults. But then, what did they do instead?

Yes, they did worship Christ as a deity, so tell the ancient records but, whatever they were doing, it was still viewed as something irreligious and irreverent by their contemporaries. The great labyrinthine structures of medieval Christendom had not yet arisen, and the liturgy of the Church of the late Roman Empire was still comparatively simple and held very close to the Hebrew and Greek Christian scriptures. It was almost a religionless Christianity, something that only in recent times has surfaced again among followers of Jesus. In fact, as we find our civilization sliding into cowardly weakness and self-indulgence, it appears that this religionless Christianity may be the only one that will survive.

I read this in an online publication, the Brussels Journal,

Recently I visited Orléans cathedral. It is one of the largest cathedrals in a country of huge ones, a magnificent late Gothic construction whose interior soars more dramatically than the heavier interiors of Chartres or Notre Dame de Paris. Orléans is also one of the most dramatic towns in French history, the site of the greatest battle of the Hundred Years War when Joan of Arc, “the Maid of Orléans,” defeated the English and thereby ensured the liberation of her country from the foreign invader.

I have had few sadder disappointments than when I entered the cathedral. Not the architecture, to be sure, which is magnificent, but the ambience. It was like entering a morgue. There was not a soul to be seen. No clerics bustled about; no women arranged flowers; no one came and went to choir practice. There was certainly no Mass in progress or even, it seemed, in prospect. The side-altars had evidently not been used for decades. The magnificent Gothic revival confessionals gathered dust silently in the cold. The only sounds came from the rainwater which leaked copiously through the roof to form an enormous puddle by one of the columns, and the ridiculous sound of a CD playing, round and round, Verdi’s requiem. It was like a scene from a cheap movie in which frightened travelers stumble across a recently abandoned house, but it was frighteningly easy to imagine the cathedral, a few decades hence, completely ruined as so many cathedrals and former abbeys are elsewhere in Europe.

The choice of the requiem was, of course, sinisterly apt. The cathedral in its present state is nothing but a magnificent mausoleum to a dead Christian culture – with the only difference that, in modern mausoleums like that of Lenin and Atatürk, the dead man inside is venerated for his political action to this day. By contrast, the Christian culture of Europe has died not with a bang but a whimper.


On the Northern Alliance: A Response to Srdja Trifkovic,
by John Laughland

The Muslim hordes I referred to above are immigrants from Islamic countries that Western nations, including Canada and the United States, have been allowing to set up house among us without becoming part of us. And can we expect them to?

On a very basic day to day level, many of these immigrants are as law-abiding and abstemious as Christians once by and large were, but are no longer. They are the “flocks and herds” of Islam, harmless as brute beasts. Behind them and among them, however, are their “herdsmen,” and it is these that are causing havoc and fear, as they wage jihad (warfare against the infidels—that’s us) and incite others to jihad.

It’s not the purpose of this blog to analyze and take positions on political issues, as I keep reiterating, yet I keep finding myself getting drawn into the arena—but a much deeper arena.

I read the writings of anti-jihad, anti-Islamic contras who defend verbally the Christian West and decry the weakness and self-seeking duplicity of Western politicians. I admit it and agree with them; it is positively frightening how they are not faithful to their charges—the original inhabitants of the West—to govern and protect our democratic way of life, but we are, after all, democracies. We put these people in the driver’s seat. If we were really concerned that they are betraying our patrimony to internal enemies piece by piece, we would do something, now, and if not now, when?

Back to my original statement.
Some of the opponents of the encroachment of Islam are in fact Christians, or claim to be, and their war cry is to save Christian civilization, but it seems that they want to take a short cut. They seem to want to arouse the instincts of the masses of Christianised but not Christian citizens to somehow take a stand against Islam on a political and social level.

The
British National Party in the U.K., if I understand them correctly, want to deport every Muslim who tries to propagate his religion. I recently heard that there is a movement to make it illegal to sell the Qur’an in the Netherlands, just as it is illegal to sell copies of Mein Kampf. I sympathize with the sentiment but oppose the erosion of the right of free speech in banning books. On the other hand, I do agree with the BNP in wanting to deport unassimilating aliens that want to subvert the institutions of a country—for it’s not about religion; if it were, there could be no reasonable argument.
It’s about human rights.


We can’t use conversion to Christianity as a means of preserving Christian culture and civilization; it’s proven unreliable. On the other hand, conversion to Christ does cause real changes, but to individuals. These changed people, becoming followers of Jesus, do have a marked effect on society, usually out of proportion to their numbers, but they are unlikely to be mobilized into armies and mobs to combat theoretical or even real evils. This is not because they are cowards, but because they are truly fearless. They fear the coming of the Muslim hordes no more than they fear being surrounded by pious talking cultural Christians who, as a matter of fact, are even more numerous.

Authentic Christianity is the faith of the martyrs, witnesses for Jesus, and it cannot be stopped or defeated, ever. Even as stinging as Islam is, it only engulfs and conquers the unprotected. What is this protection? It is faith in the living God, and in His Christ.

Living witnesses

We are living witnesses of Jesus' divinity:
Jesus, who was hanged on the cross.

We are the loud and piercing heralds of this sign that was given.
We confess the power of the Cross that was raised on Golgotha after so many centuries have passed.

From where did this transformation originate?
How did a certain man who was hanged and crucified on a cross in Judaea as a criminal among two thieves conquer the entire world after his death?
How was mankind persuaded to acknowledge as God a man who died on the Cross?

How did mankind follow Him with self-denial, lifting as He did the Cross on its shoulders, ready to ascend eagerly to Golgotha with Him, ready to shed its last drop of blood on His behalf?

How did kings accept Him as the King of kings and the Lord of lords?
How did the nations and peoples decline to worship their own gods in order to offer worship to the crucified Jesus?
Why did they abandon their personal idols in order to honor that which was foreign, and the known to honor the unknown?
How did the cross of dishonor become a most Venerable Cross adorning the crowns of kings and emperors?
What power accomplished all these things?

The power of the Crucified One.
The power of the Son of God, Who descended from heaven.
His divine, almighty power made all these things happen.
His power is the power that conquered the world.

The disciples of the crucified Jesus did not have an army to lead.
They had no weapons.
They possessed neither a bag nor a staff.
Rather, as sheep among wolves, they preached the crucified Jesus, who was a scandal for the Jews and foolishness for the Greeks.
They did not preach with wise rhetoric, but rather with simple, powerful words.

Where, though, did this power come from?

Truly, this was an ineffable power, because with simple commands the fisherman, the tax-collector, and the tent-maker resurrected the dead, cast out demons, repelled death, muzzled philosophers' mouths, sealed orators' lips, defeated kings and rulers, and ruled over Greeks, barbarians, and all peoples.
This was because they preached the Gospel with authority all over the world.

How did the fishermen become Apostles and heralds of the revealed truths?
How did they catch the nations and peoples as fish in a net?


Peter had grown old casting nets on the shores of Tiberias.
How did he become a most-wise and most-eloquent speaker in one day, thus persuading thousands of Jews who had aged in the worship of the Old Law that the external grandeur of their ancient and revered worship was no longer pleasing to God, and that it would be abolished forever?

That all of its mystical services were nothing other than a shadow of the things to come, which were now being revealed?
That the traditions to which they were adhering were commandments of men that opposed God's law?
That He Whom they had condemned, the disregarded man Who breathed His last upon the Cross, is the Great Redeemer Himself, the awaited Messiah Who was pre-announced to them by the prophets?
That they are not the only object of divine providence's wonderful graces, but that all the nations of the earth are invited to share in the delight with them?

How did the fisherman successfully persuade the polytheistic Gentiles to purify themselves, render their thoughts spiritual, detach them from the dead matter they were accustomed to, and return them to the living God?
How did they separate them from the deceptive pleasures of the senses, cleanse them from the passions, and render them wiser than the wise?
How, especially, did they persuade them to worship a man who died on the Cross and transform before their eyes the foolishness of the Cross into heavenly wisdom?
How did the heralds of the Crucified One convince their new followers to denounce their secular interests and live subject to the disdain, humiliation, and derision, to disregard all types of pain and punishment, to resist all temptations, and to endure unto death in a teaching whose rewards are guarded for the next life?

Truly, it is a great mystery.

The foolish things of the world, the weak, the things that are despised, and the things that are not, put to shame the wise, they weaken the powerful, and they abolish the things that are!
He who was crucified on the Cross gave such power to His disciples!
God was hidden in the person of Jesus!
The Son and Word of God, Who contains everything, is contained in a body!
Man becomes a mystic of God's desires!
God's Spirit descends upon men!
Man foresees the future!
The infinite God communicates with finite man, the immaterial with matter, the Creator with creation, the Potter with clay!
God reveals Himself to people, God's Spirit refashions and renews man who has been corrupted by sin.
Man becomes a god; he becomes a communicant of the grace of the Holy Spirit!

In essence, these are truly unfathomable mysteries; their outcome, however, is clear.
We are incapable of understanding how God became man, but we realize that only the God-man was able to accomplish that which is a unique property of God.
We are incapable of understanding how man becomes god, but we realize that without God man could accomplish nothing, especially that which the men of God, that is, the Prophets, the Apostles, and all the Saints, accomplished.
The miracles are truly an enigma, but their power and outcome are obvious.

The Christian Faith is a mystery, but its truth is apparent from its power and effects; because the Christian Faith provides abundant evidence externally and bestows assurance internally.

All the above attest to the divine character of our Savior Jesus Christ, Who provided the great sign sought by the Jews. This sign proclaims most loudly the heavenly descent of the Son of God, Who came to save man in accordance with the will of His eternal Father.


— Nektarios of Pentapolis, Christology,
Part II, Chapter 8, Christ's Divine Nature attested to by the moral rebirth that took place in the world