Tuesday, September 30, 2014

To India

Just a few days ago, my copy of the biography of Mother Gavrilía, the book Ascetic of Love, which I lent over a year ago to a neighbor, was anonymously returned by being pushed through the mail slot in my front door. What a blessing! I so missed that book, and when I wanted to read it, I had no choice but to find bits of it here and there posted on the internet. If you follow the linked title to Amazon, you may find that what few used copies are available are too expensive to buy.

When I lend a book and it's not returned, I just assume the person needed it, and so I never ask for it back. I just buy another. In the case of Ascetic of Love, the book is out of print, and I could not find another. So I broke down and asked for the book to be returned. I was afraid the neighbor might have thrown it away, but I am so thankful she kept it, and returned it. I decided that, if I got it back, I would post some of my favorite passages here at Cost of Discipleship, and share the blessing that Mother Gavrilía has been to me, with others.

The following passages are from pages 232-236. Mother Gavrilía tells of her journey to India, where she was an Orthodox witness for Christ, a sort of 'faith missionary', one who is not sent or supported by a missionary society, but who simply goes because of the call of Jesus Christ, relying on Him, and Him alone, for everything. When you read what follows, you will understand what I mean.

I set out for India, where my first stop was at a small dispensary within the ashram of Guru Sivananda—a great guru of that time—up on the Himalaya Mountains. I made the journey by bus, because I wanted to avoid having all those vaccines and injections. So, I traveled from Beirut, to Syria, Jordan, Baghdad, Tehran, Meshed, Zahedan, the Persian Desert, Pakistan, and finally I reached my destination, after a journey that lasted eleven months… I shall never forget the sunset at Khorramshahr. The greatest solar disk to be seen is there!… At that time India too was like the world before the Fall… When I arrived at the Himalayas I was almost out of money. For God had sent me on my way without money, so that I could see His glory at every step. Before long, I faced the first difficulty.

My passport  expired and I had to revalidate it. They told me that the Greek Consulate was in Bombay, and I sent the passport there together with a letter: «Dear Mr Consul, you are certainly aware of the adventurous nature of the Greek race and also of the inherent dignity of the Greek people. As I am here offering my services without payment, I would appreciate the issuance of a new passport free of charge.»… In a few days I received my passport, stamped gratis, and a very nice letter written in English: «…it is with great pleasure, etc., etc.» When later, God guided my steps to Bombay, I went to the Greek Consulate and you can imagine my astonishment when I saw that the Consul was not a Greek but an Indian gentleman! In fact, there never was a Greek Consul in Bombay.

Well, such surprising things happened all the time, from the beginning to the end of my stay there… At that time, back in 1954, India made appeals for help all over the world—for persons afflicted with leprosy, for children suffering from infantile paralysis and so on… The inner Voice had told me: ‘You will not accept payment anymore. You will not have money anymore.’ Yet, everything is so simple in life. Even if you know no one, when you know Christ, He will take you everywhere. All the doors open before you, and you are considered an important person, because you take no money, although you are penniless. That's how it is. But then again, what would it cost to provide food and shelter for one person? Rice and yogurt, rice and yogurt—that had been my food for five years!

Did you know the purpose of your going to India?

No. The Lord was leading the way and I followed. But you know, as soon as I arrived in India, at the first place where I was offered hospitality [Guru Sivananda's ashram], I received something like a message—the quotation from the Gospel: «Go not into the way of the Gentiles… but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel» (Matthew 10:5-6). Indeed, many of the foreigners, Europeans, Americans, etc., who went there, were on their way to Hinduism, about to lose Christ… I watched them all, coming to seek the Truth. For you know, everybody in India is still seeking the Truth.

Many of their wise men asked me: ‘Are you a seeker of the Truth?’ And I would answer, ‘I am of a church called the Orthodox Church.’ They had not heard of it up there. They knew Catholics, they knew Protestants, but not this Church. ‘This Church exists in Greece and many other countries.’

‘We know Socrates and Pythagoras,’
they would say, ‘so we welcome you as one of their descendants.’ Whenever they invited me to speak, I would always say, ‘I am particularly happy to be near you in a «Before Christ» country, because I see your quest and hope that someday, like so many others in the whole world, you too will find the Light…’

On one occasion, a Member of Parliament stood up and said: ‘Well, we too need a Socrates’… Actually, anywhere I went, I almost always came across Europeans—and all these Christians were about to forsake Christ! I said to myself: ‘There is your destination. Love them and make them come back.’ And, with God's help, many did come back… I had such enthusiasm then, a feeling beyond words… India was my great adventure with Faith and the Love of God.

I had gone there knowing nothing at all, neither where nor how I should live in a foreign land with a foreign language, without money… Just God and I on earth… I never asked anything. I always awaited the Call—to any field of action. Because when Christ calls you, you have no will of your own. You go wherever He takes you. And He led me to very poor surroundings—like Fr Athanasios Anthidis, who is now experiencing exactly what I went through thirty years ago, and in the same places too: at Hooghly, outside Calcutta. I know what it is like when conditions are so hard!

Still, to this very day, I am so certain that there is nothing I have to think of. I am as I was the first day I set out for India: Awaiting God's will. To anyone proposing something I say «Yes» and I go on. That is how I traveled all over India. ‘Come and work with us,’ they would say. I went, worked, and left…

You have loved this people very much…

What I cared about was Love. I loved the people there. I loved them for many reasons. In the first place, because if you stop loving, it is as if you stop breathing. Love is the Breath of God. Where I was, there came so many sick, so many suffering, so many hungry ones. Entire families of pilgrims came up the Himalayas after walking for six or seven days. Some had even walked for fifteen days, some others as much as a month… Quite often their children died up there.

My first task at the dispensary of the ashram was to put a dead child in a sack, together with a stone that would sink it into the river Ganges. I had such a shock and felt so sad that unconsciously tears flowed from my eyes. Then, the head of the ashram [Guru Sivananda] said: ‘Look at that! From the end of the world, a person has come to weep over this poor child’

In a short time it became known that there was someone who could help cure some ailments. Indeed, I must tell you that the miracles of Christ were astonishing! I was amazed! You know, it is very easy for people that have not been acquainted with medicine to have no doubts. The moment I told them that with a little massage the painful arm, etc., would feel better, they believed it. This belief and the help of God made them well. So the news spread around that a Greek lady who could help had arrived, and so on. It was then that they started asking: ‘What church does she belong to?’

At about that time, when J. Nehru was in power, I happened to meet his daughter, Indira Gandhi. She suffered from a painful nape that required massaging. While treating her, she talked to me about her life. One day, a lady came and after introductions she asked: ‘Is this lady a Catholic?’  ‘Oh no! She belongs to a church you do not know at all, a church that is completely different’… Mrs Gandhi replied.

The difference was—and I beg forgiveness of all who think that I was wrong—that I did not talk. I never said anything. I just loved these people… and worked, and worked, and worked.

Once, a very wise man, along with some other persons, came and asked me: ‘Who is your God?’ I said, ‘There is only One God, and Christ is His Son. This is my God!’ ‘I guessed as much. But why don't you say it? It is the first time that we see a European who doesn't talk, who doesn't tell us that our gods are nothing. You see our life, you know our philosophy, but you make no comments. How is that? Missionaries always reprove and go away, criticize, then leave’… ‘I cannot say such things,’ I answered, ‘because our ancestors were like you!’

‘What do you mean by that?’
he asked. So, I started to talk about the ancient Greeks and to explain how, when Christianity reached our country, it did not make us renounce all our ancient philosophy, but gave us Christ as Life. Because Christ is not only a religion. Christ is Life… Then, they asked me for Gospel books. I also gave them, even before the Gospel, the Imitation of Christ, as it is a book full of reference…

I lived in the Himalayas for a whole year. After that, I was invited to visit various centers. I could say that in five years I traveled all over India—North, South, East and West. I went to Bombay, Calcutta, Madras, Langpur, Cashmere, the Himalayas, Dharasul, Uttar Kashi, and to so many other places… without a penny of my own!

I had no money. The fare was paid for me, and I was taken to my destination. And it was really strange: One day, I would sleep on the floor, with rats running about and scorpions crawling everywhere. The next day, the Maharajah of Patiala would send for me, to help organize a small group of physiotherapists at the local hospital; and then servants in liveries would come to ask what I would like for dinner! This is the way I journeyed all over India. But what impressed me most is that wherever I went, whether for a few months or for a year, I was learning the «Lessons».

And just one more short but very important testimony, from page 237…

In India, when I was asked: ‘Are you a missionary?’ I answered, ‘No.’
‘Well,’ they would say, ‘who sent you, then?’
‘What did He tell you?’
and ‘Follow Me.’

In a way, you are one of the pioneers of Christianity in contemporary India…

No. Because Christ was already there! He was leading the way and I was following Him…

Friday, September 26, 2014

You too can be Christ

Ferdinand Hodler, The Good Samaritan

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Matthew 28:19

Who is Christ talking to? Surely, not to me, I’m just an ordinary Christian layman. I can’t baptize anyone. He must be talking to the apostles and their successors, the bishops and priests of the Church.
I wouldn’t know how to make disciples. I hardly know how to be one myself. He can’t possibly be talking to me. This is the Church’s responsibility.

Well, then, who or what is the Church?

Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.
Matthew 7:24-27

Does it really matter, then, to ask who or what is the Church when we have words like these from the Son of God Himself? Can anyone put Christ’s words into practice for us? Can anyone be blamed if we ourselves do not put them into practice? We may not all be called to be apostles, that is, bishops, priests, deacons, evangelists and other professors of the Word. What is there left for us to do? Have all the important works been taken away and given to these men who are so much closer to Christ?

Jesus said: A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?

The expert in the law replied, ‘The one who had mercy on him.’

Jesus told him, ‘Go and do likewise.’
Luke 10:30-37

So, we are not bishops, priests and deacons. They’ve been given the all important work of going out and making disciples of all nations, and baptizing them. That’s not our call. We can’t be expected to go out of our way and do such extraordinary things. But what about the people that we don’t go out to, but who come to us, or who are placed in our path?

The Church fathers take the parable of the Good Samaritan, quoted above, and they tell us some of its meanings. They don’t tell us who the priest and the Levite are, but they do tell us the identities of the Samaritan, the traveler, the innkeeper, and the inn.

The Samaritan, they say, is Christ. The traveler beaten and robbed and left on the road to die is every man in need of salvation. The inn is the Church, and the innkeeper is the ministers of the Church.

Christ is he who does not pass by on the other side, avoiding the inconvenience of helping the wounded man placed in his path. We may not be innkeepers—clergy—that is true. But anyone of us can minister to the one God has placed in our path.

You may not be a priest or Levite either.

But you too can be Christ.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Just keep loving

Right now, some of us followers of Jesus are going through the worst persecutions and attacks on our persons and our families (parents, spouses, and offspring) that we have ever endured, or that we thought we ever would have to endure. We mustn’t forget that we are in spiritual warfare, and it can be very intense. When in the thick of the battle (even when it's only inside ourselves), we sometimes want to take sides against other brethren that seem to be in the wrong, even against someone who appears to be attacking us.

But it's really like this. It is satan (notice we do not capitalise the name, it's just a thing, not a real person, it lost that privilege when it reviled the Lord), yes, it is satan that is hiding behind a parent or brother or sister or son or daughter or friend, or even one's own flesh, hiding behind someone or behind oneself, shooting arrows at us. We think it's the person that seems to be fighting us, but no, it's satan, using them as a shield to hide behind, hoping we'll shoot back—at them, of course.

If we are satisfied to get on the crooked and wide path, satan will not bother us, and our families can appear model Christians. If some of us get on the straight and narrow and some of us don't, it starts making trouble for us, pitting us against each other. But when we're all trying to follow the call, satan uses everything in its infernal arsenal to divide us from each other. (In Greek "diabolos", devil, means "splitter.")

The fatal thing is to withdraw into oneself and say, "There, there, I will just cling to the Lord, since He will always be with me. I don't care if the others hate me for no reason…" Whatever happens, don't do this! Remember, "Love endures all things…"

Whatever happens, just keep loving, that is, don't give up caring (even if the others do), don't try to understand what's happening if it's too hard, just love the people you're with, help them in simple ways, smile, say "good morning," don't take offense at anything, and try not to give offense.

Stay clear of getting pulled into battles that can do nothing but destroy everyone involved. If a fight is going on, love the combatants, speak to and touch them if you can, but if that isn't an option, retreat to the presence of the Father, and just pray, even without words if you have to, even if crying is all you can do. God the Father understands tears.

I hope your situation isn't as bad as that, but in case it is, that's what I have to offer. I speak out of my own life with the Lord. We must stick together, and help one another in the Lord, as soldiers in the front line, even when the battle is shamefully inglorious from man's point of view.

From the angels' point of view, there's more at stake in our daily struggles than we know. And thank God for that! Meanwhile, as they say, let's pray hard, for the time is close.

Dreaming of heaven

No matter where we go, in place or in time, across all cultures, we find that all human beings have one thing in common, without exception. We all have this idea that somehow, things are not as they should be, that there is something flawed about all we do, all we experience, in this world. There is always present this feeling of wanting to be home, but just when we think we’ve found home, it too turns out to be just another way station on the caravan of souls going… somewhere.

This idea, or feeling (because it seems to transcend mere thought and seems to issue from another part of our being, the heart maybe) can almost be described as what defines mankind and sets us off from other creatures. Though there are animals that build and organize, it seems that they always follow the same logic, and their creations never deviate very much from an instinctual standard. Could this idea of ours also be something of the same sort, an instinctual standard that is inseparably part of us, the very thing we were created to do?

In any case, we have this idea, but we cannot fulfill it. We are living in a world that is already perfect, yet somehow we find ourselves unable to be happy here. Some part of us keeps dreaming of heaven.

The one true American fairy tale, The Wizard of Oz, in its film version far exceeded the scope and content of the original children’s books, becoming in the process another heavily endowed myth of our dreaming of heaven.

Every religion and philosophy the world over has arisen out of mankind’s dreaming of heaven. It comes even before the discovery of God, and is probably what has pushed us into that search for Him. If there is a heaven, there must be a God. Does that make sense? Well, maybe not to all. Buddhism doesn’t need a God, but in some of its forms, it still wants, looks for, and promises heaven. It’s interesting that a similar experience can provoke at least two different responses.

Once there was a rich and cloistered prince who left the palace and walked through the world. He saw there four things that impressed him: a sick man, a poor man, a beggar and a corpse. All of these are things that he knew were intrinsically wrong, and the books about him say that ‘he was filled with infinite sorrow.’ Ultimately, after much searching and thinking, this man came to the conclusion that none of this was real, and that escape was possible and necessary. This escape, though, was not dreaming of heaven. It was something more like not dreaming at all. Why was this? Because this man considered that what he experienced in the world was itself just a bad dream. He created a path of escape from dreaming. This man was Gautama, called the Buddha.

In another story, there was a poor man who left his workshop and walked through the world. He saw there the brokenness of people, experiencing the rigor and hardship of their lives, joined them in their alternating sorrows and joys, tasted with them the bitterness of their exile from home, their dreaming of heaven. He shared with them this strange, inescapable feeling that things were not right in the world. He was born into a religion that tried its best to give men a system of rules which, if they lived by them, promised to make their lives in this world right, so that they wouldn’t need to dream of heaven. This religion even had a God who gave the rules and tried His best to get the people to follow them. Though they had the rules, and the belief that following them would set the world right, they didn’t follow them just the same. They didn’t, but the poor man did, and by following and fulfilling the rules to the uttermost, he opened a path of escape from dreaming of heaven, by opening a path of entering into heaven. This man was Jesus, called the Christ.

We all have the same experience as these two men, as have all men in all ages and cultures. Every time we think we’ve found home, somewhere to be comfortable, where everything is ‘as it should be,’ something or someone spoils it. In the film The Matrix, Morpheus tells Neo, ‘It’s that feeling you have had all your life. That feeling that something is wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad, driving you to me.’ Morpheus in Greek mythology is the god of dreaming. Dreaming of heaven. The Wachowski brothers sure packed a lot of truth into that first film.

Here, if nowhere else, is the common experience that unites everyone, the knowledge that all is not well with us and with our world. Religions and philosophies offer answers and explanations, hoping to strengthen our dreaming of heaven to the point where maybe the dreaming will be enough for us, and sometimes just trying to get us to not dream at all. But where did the need to dream originate? Who told us that all is not well? And people dream only of things that they have seen and experienced somewhere, even though the dreaming sometimes distorts them beyond recognition.

The answer to all this, does it come from the prince turned enlightened one, or from the carpenter nailed to a tree?
To dream or not to dream, that is the question.
And if we must dream, who will wake us up?

The reward of virtue is to see Your face,
and on waking, to gaze my fill on Your likeness.

Psalm 17:15 Jerusalem Bible

Monday, September 22, 2014

Know and trust

A ramble…

The other day I found myself writing the words 'instant Christianity' to describe the kind of religion that takes no notice of anything in its path but mows down all opposition without a hearing—this, really in reference to a certain 'missionary' style, though it can be applied to churches as well.

Thinking about just the phrase, not what I'd originally intended by using it, I imagined 'Instant Christianity—Just add water, and mix' as if it were a label on a product. This made me think of another aspect of modern Christianity: its religious relativism, and its marketing and branding.

That brought a scripture to mind, 'And the misery of the children of men who corrupt their minds and are cheated of the truth, and they think that making money is the worship of God; but stay away from these things' (1 Timothy 6:5). This almost seems to prophesy a kind of 'prosperity gospel.'

Back to 'instant Christianity.' Thinking about it some more, two images came to mind. The first, the baptism of an infant. Yes, some might see this as a magical form of 'instant Christianity, just add water,' as if baptism as a rite can make someone a Christian with no effort or knowledge.

The other image was that of an adult man being baptised by immersion in a large tank in full view of a congregation. To many this would seem to be the only kind of baptism that is valid. I know people who have submitted to this kind of second baptism because they were made to doubt their infant baptism.

Yet, in actual practice, this 'believer's baptism' is quite often just as magical and as much 'instant Christianity' as the other. Again, a concept of 'just add water' and, there you are. Once when I was witnessing downtown by reading scriptures aloud, I was stopped and asked by a listener, 'Don't you think water baptism is necessary for salvation?'

The questioner quoted me relevant passages from the third chapter of John's gospel, which I had only just read. Christ seems to be telling Nicodemus that water is somehow necessary to salvation, 'No one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit' (John 3:5).

'Well, then,' I responded, 'who or what is it that saves? Is it the water, or is it Christ?' My informant unhesitatingly affirmed, 'It is both. Baptism is absolutely necessary for salvation, because Christ said so.' All that came into my mind in that moment, and I said it, was, 'Well, who baptised the thief on the cross?'

Back to 'instant Christianity,' if we use it as another thought weapon to attack each other, then let's bury the hatchet right now. For me, it simply signifies the state of mind that forgets that our neighbor too is Christ, even if he is an unbeliever. Our witness to him can never ignore this fact, else it becomes transgression.
'Lord, when did we see You like that?' (See Matthew 25:31-46.)

One last thought that came to me as I was considering what makes Christianity real and not instant or imaginary. There are two entrances into Christianity in my experience. One entrance is through knowing. The other is through trusting.

Some people become Christians through study. Not just books, but life itself, especially their own. They know, and are forced by their knowing to become disciples of Jesus. In this category probably belong C. S. Lewis among the modern, and St Augustine of Hippo among the ancient Church fathers.

Some people become Christians through trust. They find themselves somehow in the presence of someone or even something that they feel they can trust, and they give themselves over as easily as a bride to her husband. In this category are many people raised as Christians, and I am one of those.

Those who know, and therefore become Christians, will arrive sooner or later at the state of unshakable trust. Those who trust, and therefore become Christians, will arrive sooner or later at the state of certain knowledge. Both of these are predicated on the fact that it is the living God they know or they trust at the beginning.

Now, place the template of baptism over these ideas. The baptism of infants is an example of Christianity by trust. Believer's baptism is an example of Christianity by knowledge.

'Do you know the Lord and accept Him as your personal Savior?' is the qualifying question to the adult baptised, but there is nothing you can ask an infant, yet its answer can be found in the book of Psalms, 'Enough for me to keep my soul tranquil and quiet like a child in its mother's arms, as content as a child that has been weaned'
(Psalm 131).

That is trust.


When meeting a guest at the airport whom you have never seen before and who has never seen you, you stand outside the arrival gate and hold up a sign with their name written on it. If all goes well, they will see you holding up their name and come right to you.
There will be no mistaking.

I wish it were this easy
to meet the greatest of all unforeseen guests,

Could we stand, waiting patiently for Him, holding up a writing of His name for Him to recognize us? And if we could, how long could we stand? For most of us it would seem He is the Guest who never arrives. Like one who must stay up very late at night to view a lunar eclipse, we get tired and cranky, and then, disgusted with ourselves, we just go back to bed. I speak from experience.

Waiting is something few have patience for.
Waiting for God, even fewer.

The writer of the Wisdom of Solomon describes the natural man’s search for God, in which there is mistaking creatures for the Creator.

Yes, naturally stupid are all men who have not known God
and who, from the good things that are seen,
have not been able to discover Him-Who-Is,
or, by studying the works,
have failed to recognize the Artificer.
Fire, however, or wind, or the swift air,
the sphere of the stars,
impetuous water, heaven's lamps,
are what they have held to be the gods
who govern the world.

If, charmed by their beauty,
they have taken things for gods,
let them know how much the Lord of these excels them,
since the very Author of beauty has created them.
And if they have been impressed
by their power and energy,
let them deduce from these
how much mightier is He that has formed them,
since through the grandeur and beauty of the creatures
we may, by analogy, contemplate their Author.
Small blame, however, attaches to these men,
for perhaps they only go astray
in their search for God and their eagerness to find Him;
living among His works,
they strive to comprehend them
and fall victim to appearances, seeing so much beauty.
Wisdom 12:1-7 Jerusalem Bible

‘…fall victim to appearances, seeing so much beauty.’

Lord our God,
prevent us, we beg You, of falling victim to appearances,
of mistaking for You those things which our hands have made,
our hearts have loved, or our minds have thought.
Give us the eye of faith by which to see You,
and blind us to all other things
that resemble You.
Grant us, merciful and loving Lord,
Your forgiveness for our idolatry,
our idealism, ideology, ideas
that we forge to hold You
Who are uncontainable
except by suffering.
Save us, O Lord,
from ourselves
without You.
Be with us,
we cry.

Sunday, September 21, 2014


‘I was born a Christian, and I will die a Christian.’ That has been the defiant confession of many a new martyr under the Turkish yoke over the centuries—men and women who were Christians, usually Orthodox, who somehow were coerced into accepting the Islamic religion, and who later openly renounced it, and with these words went to their deaths.

I can say the same words, and mean what I say, but not with the same effect. I was ‘born a Christian,’ that is, I was born into a Christian family, a family that had been Christian for possibly a thousand years, maybe longer. As a baby, my mother took me to the little church in the basement of a Catholic convent in Chicago, and had me ‘christened.’

That christening didn’t guarantee my salvation, didn’t make me a Christian in reality but in potential, placing me in an environment in which I would be raised in the knowledge and, hopefully, the love of God. Mine wasn’t a perfect upbringing—far from it—but it provided an indelible basis to my life, my thoughts, my feelings, that made faith possible.

Yes, I know about believer’s baptism, and I don’t have a problem with it, but I am with those who believe in the baptism not only of individuals, but of families, yes, even tribes, even whole nations. ‘Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don't remember if I baptized anyone else,’ writes the holy apostle Paul, whose call was preaching, not baptising.

The Christian family. One father, one mother, many children, living together according to the Word of God, following the commandments, teaching the faith to one another by love, protecting, nourishing, injuring but forgiving, remaining one, staying together, even if the walls are blown down by the tempest, the foundations shattered by the tremors, of life.

‘Even if we lose everything, we’ll still have each other, wandering as gypsies if we have too,’ we used to say. The family is more than the house it lives in. So also, I read last night in an old copy of the Anglican Digest that I saved from my first years as a Christian, ‘The Church is what’s left after the building burns down.’ How true! because the Church is the greater family.

What else is the Christian faith for, if not for this? ‘The only purpose of this instruction is that there should be love, coming out of a pure heart, and clear conscience, and a sincere faith’ (1 Timothy 1:5). To make a home in this exile world for the nomads of the Most-High God, a home that is not tied to time or place, but moves with the family as it follows the marching orders, ‘When the cloud moves, we move.’


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 18, 2014


Jesus said to the servants, ‘Fill the jars with water… Now draw some out…’
Who or what does Jesus Christ represent for us? I mean, I know who He is, we all know who He is, or at least we all have an idea of who He is. Some of us think He is all God, others that He is all man, but sometimes it's hard for us to see and realize what the word Theánthropos, God-man, means, not doctrinally, but theologically, that is, what it means for us. Until we grasp that, I think we either remain religionists or humanists.

Christ came to create a new man in us that is divine. When we try to imagine what Christianity is, we all too often fall into thinking it is either just a religion or just a self-improvement regimen. Both attitudes fall short of—no, actually, they never even come close to—what Christianity is, and who Christ is. We hear the saying, 'God became man, so that man could become God,' but its significance eludes us.

The primal instinct of man, what was planted in us when God created us, is the desire for goodness. Why is this? As the bible tells us in the opening chapters of Genesis, as God created everything, He pronounced it good, each and every day. As creatures of God, we too are created good, and hence our deepest desire is for goodness. That's where we fit, that's our natural environment. Yes, we were made for paradise.

Yet, that is not where we find ourselves. Instead, as soon as we become aware, we find ourselves 'outside the gates' of that goodness that we desire and to which we aspire. It doesn't matter what our nation or our religion is, or even whether we are born into a traditional society or not. Unless we give up almost immediately—and that sometimes happens—most of us try our best to find the good and enter into it.

For the Christian, the revelation is that somehow God has entered into the human arena as one of us, and apart from everything else He may have done, He has become the source of an otherwise unattainable goodness, one that we can, and must, resort to if we hope to ever become good. The very idea that someone or something outside ourselves could be the only source of goodness for us is repugnant at first hearing.

We want to believe that 'we can do it' all on our own, even though all the evidence we can ever find proves the contrary. All our climbing up to goodness is a temporary ascent. The slope is steep and slippery to goodness or, looked at from the opposite direction, the slope of descent into sin and death (for here we must resort to 'traditional' wording) is steep and slippery, broad when sliding down,
narrow when ascending.

But we find we cannot ascend on our own, no matter how hard we try. Again, for the Christian (if he knows his bible), we have Jesus. He is not just the historical figure the world knows about but cannot see. He is the One standing in our midst wherever we find ourselves, or alongside us when we are alone, and we can and do see Him, always, if our eyes are wide open. What eyes? Yes, you're right.
Not those two.

The eye of the heart, which is single, through which we become full of light: those are the eyes by which we see Him. We know this because Jesus says so. But there are others for whom Jesus is not the Christ, that is, not the Messiah. There are Jews who do not accept Him, even though He is a Jew like them. Are they any different? No, they're just like us. They want goodness. They find they cannot buy it even by their devotion.

So we find ourselves all in the same predicament, no matter who we are, what we believe or don't believe about God and the universe. We all want goodness, but can't achieve it, but still try, those of us who haven't given up in despair. To return to my original question, now put a different way, who or what will do for us what we cannot do for ourselves? When we begin to understand the nature of the struggle, what will we do?

Not everyone who says to Jesus, 'Lord, Lord,' even knows what they are saying or who He is. Yet there He stands, there He walks, accessible as ever, to all who call upon Him by name or only in untaught trust, knowing somehow that the desire for goodness in us is no accident, no illusion, is not a psychological by-product of evolution, or an inherited herd mentality. And who or what Jesus Christ represents for us, He is that for all.

Lord, all that I long for is known to You,
my sighing is no secret from You…
(Psalm 38)

Unknown to them for who He is, the world has invited Him to their wedding banquet, and the wine they have been drinking, 'fruit of the vine and the work of human hands,' has run out, yet the feast must go on. He is the only one who changes water into wine, no work of human hands, which He does when we ask, though where the wine comes from, few know. But we know, because we follow His instructions, 'fill the jars with water, and then draw some out…'

You are the Light of the world

If we call ourselves Christians, that is, if we say we are followers of Jesus, one would expect that of all the scriptures in the Holy Bible, we would at least take the actual words of Jesus literally. By ‘literally’ I mean, as to their plain meaning. This is an argument put forth by many of the classical Protestant reformers, but it has lost most of its power because it is rather falsely applied by many who think the Bible is their personal property, and that they can tell us ‘what it really means,’ even when their explanations are as far-fetched as those they are trying to controvert.

There is no doubt in my mind at all that the Holy Bible represents the Word of God in written form. Originally, of course, most of it first appeared as spoken, and only later was it committed to writing. That's how scriptures are collected. I also have no doubt that there are many passages in the Holy Bible that are mysterious, that can only be understood by personal experience, maybe even personal revelation, yet not in a dogmatic, but only a personal, manner. The Church has of course, starting with the holy apostles, taught the meaning of many obscure passages, and these we cannot but accept.

Many passages, too, that are difficult to understand and even more difficult to apply, may never be completely understood until God wants them to be, and that will be in His time and place. Those who call themselves ‘fundamentalists’ often take liberties with the obscure while ignoring or misapplying that which is clear in the scriptures, excusing themselves from obeying an explicit commandment of Jesus by specious arguments. This is not the preserve of the sects either. Sometimes those who claim membership in the Holy Church do exactly the same things, cloaking their agendas in false authority.

But for the simple believer in Jesus Christ, who is both Word and Son of God, the message of the Holy Gospels is clear. We can read for ourselves what our Lord says. He never wrote anything, but His faithful disciples recorded for us every word of His that God willed to be made known. We can also see His actions portrayed in the Holy Gospels, which are themselves the enactment in His own person of His very teachings to us. How can we say we are following Him, when we act in exactly the opposite way? Yet there are many who call themselves Christians, who do this, and justify themselves.

To read the words of Jesus, to understand them in their plain meaning, to apply them as is indicated by the Holy Spirit, not as ideals to be striven after at all costs, but as living, divine commandments uttered to us moment by moment, to be followed as we make our way through the wilderness of this world, this is all that the Lord asks of us. Let us unburden ourselves of every false commandment that comes from the world, the devil, and our own flesh, though they clad us in the garments of piety and religion. These are nothing more than fig leaves we use to cover our nakedness and justify ourselves.

The Lord Jesus says of Himself, that He is humble and meek, that in Him we find rest for our souls. He is Himself our universal sabbath, our rest from the toil of sin that we unknowingly lay upon ourselves. What if we follow, what if we do what we see Him doing in the Holy Gospels? He tells us, ‘You will do even greater things than I, because I am going to the Father.’ Is He perhaps stretching it a bit, maybe to encourage us? I don't think so. He is not really the cruel taskmaster we sometimes take Him to be. When He entrusts us with a talent, or two, or five, He expects us to return these ‘with interest.’

How do we return to Him what He gives us ‘with interest’? Isn't it to love with the love He lavishes on us, that increases as we give it away? We will never know the Lord Jesus Christ as He knows us, until we take Him as seriously as He takes us. He gives us His divine and holy teachings. If we seek Him He reveals His commandments to us. If we follow Him, we walk in His will, and know it. We become the place on earth where the Divine lightning bolt earths itself. He has made human flesh a good conductor of His Divine energies.

Brethren, let us be what Christ says we are, 
‘You are the Light of the world.’


Is  self-determination finally coming of age after all these cruel centuries? Rearing its ugly head—ugly from the viewpoint of every tyrant that ever lived—during the age of revolutions, America’s, France’s, and finally Europe’s after Napoleon tore off the lid, is it finally going to be taken seriously?

Soviet, and later communisms, used ‘self-determination’ as an irresistible tackle in its bait box to lure and catch the fish, ‘freeing’ lesser nations from their capitalist oppressors, only to gobble them back up in reactionary imperialism, just as we still see happening today. Russia grabs Crimea, then Ukraine.

No one seems to be watching. Our eyes are diverted by more entertaining or more frightful menaces. Meanwhile Zionism slowly spreads as dangerously as the Ebola plague, taking lands as well as lives, and a maniacal ‘caliphate’ slips in and out of view, seeding the Fertile Crescent with severed heads.

Now self-determination comes to a nation that centuries ago married another in indissoluble union, as voters age sixteen and up flock to aye or nay a compact they had no part in making. Qualification used to be property, then education, then maturity, now mere calendar age. Yes, self-determination.

It is very selective, nor has it really come of age. Now as always, the worldly powers use it as it suits them, now to unite, now to divide, seeking how best to profit from the masses, engineering them to call evil good and good evil, educating them in the ways of ignorance, and unwriting their history.

It must be extended all the way to its logical conclusion, and that is, finally, something that will exceed any tyrant’s or oligarchy’s ability to control. It will not look anything like what it has ever promised, this idea of self-determination. It will be shown to be what it always was, a foundationless fortress.

Neither the empires, nor the kingdoms, neither the uncrowned republics, nor the cooperative states can ever deliver what they promise, neither self-determination nor any other good. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, the inalienable rights we call them, little learning from history what they are.

Yet there is a real good and, when that is absent, a real evil. There is also at the core of every human what is inalienable, a thirst for joy which circumscribes all life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. We know what we want, but we pretend not to know where to get it. Hence, the ballot box.

But there is only one place we need go to make everything right, everything perfect, but to get there we also know there is a cost, and we tell ourselves the price is too high to pay. In this we are quite correct. There is only one path to self-determination, and never was there another. Will we ever take it?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

How beautiful

Religions and churches can be bought and sold,
but our faith is not for sale.

Ideologies and dogma can be written up and down,
but the substance of faith is things unseen.

Conversion is not the exchange of one currency for another,
as Christ proves by overturning the tables
of the money changers in the Temple.

Sacrifice is not the purchase of a victim
by the work of our hands,
but the purchase of our lives by the death of the Victor.

No one can attain the truth by the acquisition of knowledge,
but the truth walking in a man is unmistakable.

When you have staked all you own in a game of dice and lost,
and then stake yourself and lose again,
what is there left to lose?

Nothing more stands between you and the Kingdom
except the battle against your self.
Will you listen to the Lord,
and slay what was never real
to obtain what can never be lost?

These truths are lodged in the heart of every man
as the hook is caught in the fish’s mouth,
yet both try to pull away,
to break free.

Though the line is strong, it can still be snapped.
Will you be caught by hook, or trapped with many in a net?

Compared with the good news of Christ,
all other stories are like the braying of an ass,
but even an ass can speak the truth.

Yet how beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of him who brings good news,
who publishes peace,
who brings good news of happiness,
who publishes salvation,
who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’

— Romanós

Monday, September 15, 2014

He prunes His branches

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
John 15:1-11

The Word of God is so pure: His truth is so clear. No one can add to it, no one take away from it. He tells us astonishing things. He tells us what is almost too strong for us to hear. We're satisfied to hear Him speak of Himself as the vine, and when He calls His Father the vinedresser we're not surprised. We love to hear Him talk about Himself and His Father. They're both divine somehow, both one, and we're pleased that the Father sent His Word to us as His Son, and that He loves us. We know and believe. We want this to be enough for us.

But the Word doesn't stop there, doesn't keep the topic on heaven, but begins to draw the circle wider, including more and more, getting closer to us. What are these branches that are in Him? What is the fruit He's talking about? What happens to the unfruitful branches after the Father takes them off the vine? Why do the fruitful vines have to be pruned, why must they be injured to bear more fruit?

It just doesn't make sense. A fruitful vine should be encouraged, treated well, so it can bear more fruit, not punished by being cut back. That's how we think.

So far, so good. We think maybe this is all just some kind of metaphor or parable for divine things, having nothing to do with us. After all, Christ is the vine, and He has branches, some of which are fruitful and some not. This must be an allegory. But wait! What is He saying? He's changed the subject. Now He's telling us that we're clean, that we're clean because of the word He has spoken to us. What word is that? What does He mean, 'Abide in me, and I in you'? This saying is starting to make us sweat. Does He really mean to get us that close? He's roping us in.

He can't be serious! The divine Being who humbled Himself to become one of us, a man, wasn't that daring enough? Does He really mean to make us one with Himself somehow? We know we can't bear fruit by ourselves. We never intended to. We were quite happy to let Him bear all the fruit and sprout branches. Isn't that what angels are for? Isn't it them that the Word is talking about when He addresses somebody as 'sons of God'? He can't possibly mean us. We're only humans!

We're in for it now! We're in over our heads! His words are like hooks that have pierced our ears and dragged us like fish into His net. Or is it pruning hooks? It sounds as if we are the branches after all, and we haven't a choice in the matter. Well, no choice except to not bear fruit, and in that case, to be cut off. He was very clear about that, wasn't He? And if we do bear fruit, we're going to be pruned. It looks like we're damned if we do, and damned if we don't. Well, maybe not really damned if we do, but for sure, we're in for it. It's no holiday to be pruned!

But what's the alternative? To not bear fruit? We can look like we're attached to the vine, but if we really aren't, there just won't be any fruit. The choice, it seems, goes a bit further back. It's not whether or not to bear fruit. It's whether or not to be attached, really attached, to the vine. It doesn't look like we'll be able to pretend on this one. Either we are, or we aren't.

So what does He mean by bearing much fruit, anyway? Shouldn't we find out what kind of fruit He wants us to bear, and then try our hardest to bear it? Maybe that will make Him happy, and perhaps He won't prune us after all. But He's not telling us what kind of fruit, only serving the ball back into our court, telling us to ask for whatever we wish, and it will be done for us. Is that what He means by bearing fruit? It sounds too easy. It sounds like nothing depends on us at all. So He wants us to bear fruit, but then not to exert any effort, just ask and let it be done for us?

The life of grace is truly a mystery. 'How shall I say where I end, and where you begin. How shall I say, what shall I play, shall it be you or the wild wind? As Pan with the unsane eyes, or with the wild horns, or when I am crowned with a paper crown, or with the crown of thorns.' The Divine Nature, shared among the Persons of the Holy Triad, beginningless, endless, unborn in eternity, unbegotten on earth, One without a partner, yet Bridegroom of every soul as of a single Bride! He speaks, He summons the earth…

By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

Yes, it's really true. He prunes His branches.

Always free choice

For all that people will do to manipulate and twist the biblical texts to fit their own ideas, the comfort is that the Bible is, was, and always will be, exactly what it is, mean what it says, and keep being a home for the homeless, a comfort for the comfortless, and food for the hungry. Why? Because it is the door behind which Jesus Christ Himself stands waiting for us to either open and welcome Him or open and crucify Him. Which will it be? He will not force us to open the door. He will not force us to welcome Him. And He does not defend Himself to us any more than He defended Himself to those who crucified Him the first time. It is always free choice. The Bible tells us more about ourselves than it tells us about God, but at least it tells us as much as we need to know about Him, so we can decide what we will do. It’s always a matter of choice. Our choice.

The flock that He guides

Of all Christian peoples the Orthodox must be most elastic, unfactious, malleable, and ready for the Lord we serve, who walks among us, who also leads, directs, instructs, commands, and calls. By our once and for all dying to our sinful natures, reflecting His once and for all sacrifice to purchase us for life, we have given Him the highest place, so that we may be found not only sitting, like Mary of Bethany, at His feet, but also, like her sister Martha, acknowledging the Lord of all by running to serve Him and all those He comes to seek and save.

All this we do not just because we believe the good news as an ancient tale, but because the man-coming of the Son of God, and His rising from the dead, lives and loves in us. His life He gives for us and to us, and so we give our lives for Him and to Him. Since He has exchanged His glory for our shame, neither do we fear to endure our shame for His glory, receiving blame and punishment from men without hitting back.

All this we are willing and able to do because He has given us His only, holy, and life-creating Spirit, who is not expunged by the swabs that wipe off the holy chrism that anoints our flesh, but who remains with us, imprinted and imbedded indelibly and inalienably in our bodies and souls, and eternally in our newly-created spirits.

Not just believing, but also knowing these things as certainties, brethren, let us live now the life of heaven on earth, welcoming all whom He sends to us from beyond the gates as brothers in whom our Lord lies sleeping, waiting to be awakened, and be satisfied to let only those who hate Him flee before Him. For He is our God, and we are the people He pastures, the flock that He guides (Psalm 95).

No place

Your words, all of them, how true. This experience that you and I and a handful of others I have known and millions I have not known have shared or are sharing, this is the sign and seal of ‘the little flock.’

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32)

Yes, as scripture says, “The point of all our toiling and battling is that we have put our trust in the living God, and He is the Savior of the whole human race, but particularly of all believers.”
(St Paul, in 1 Timothy 4:10)

Yes, ‘the whole human race.’
That includes the majority who never knew the Lord personally or even by name, yet who love What and Who He is, and follow Him as best they can.

That includes the minority who yet dwell within the vast enclosure of the visible Church, having been baptised and anointed, instructed and even practice what they understand of the gospel, even if only knowing religion and not Christ.

And finally that includes the very tiny fraction of that immense Loaf, the Body of Christ, that allowed itself to know the Lord, be known by Him, allowed itself to be cut out (though from the very center) of that Loaf, jabbed with the lance, then fractured into tinier and tinier fragments, each bearing the name of a suffering soul being prayed for, and then finally to be dropped into that Cup, the Blood of Christ, to be eaten by the faithful, yet unconsumed, eaten by the unaware, yet they still bear the same wounds for their transgressions as we do, all of us scarred by our sins, but finally, made whole, restored unblemished, blessed and resurrected in the new field of God’s Kingdom, where everyone, known and unknown, homed or homeless in this world, welcomed or unwelcome, has arrived at last where the sea is no more, where every tear has been wiped away by the hand of Him who always loved us.

Yes, do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.

Joy, joy

Joy, joy, amidst suffering, 
blending what cannot be with what is,
and all held in fragile friendship in the hands of God,

who for the love of His suffering siblings
joined them to prove on the battlefield of His body
that victory is at the bottom of defeat,
and that redemption can be purchased
only at a price beyond our paying,

and that of all worlds this one is the best and only,
because our Beloved has pierced our defenses
and shown us the way out,
to perfect freedom,
fearless, radiant, unfleshly
and immortal.

He is glorified by the piping of a solitary bird
that now sings, again and again, the threefold call,
‘Holy, Holy, Holy,’
out of the wooded depths.

Your day, O Lord,
Your day that You have bestowed on us,
grant us to behold Your face in every moment,
and feel Your touch.

Savior, come, and do not delay.

— Romanós

Real trouble

The view ‘that humans are intrinsically good and that under the right social conditions, their good nature will emerge’ is of course not the invention of the Age of Enlightenment, but a reconnexion to the classical world, to the ancient Greeks and, incidentally though not directly, to the East Asians. Thinking of this utopian attitude, I recall a scene from the film The Last Emperor. The governor of the prison in which former emperor Aisingioro Pu Yi was incarcerated, says, ‘We believe that men are born good, we believe…’ and ends with ‘How could this have happened? What made you do these things…?’ and ‘Your salvation lies entirely with you…’ indicating that by self-criticism and going through re-education, even these war criminals could become good men again, as they were created. Yes, with an attitude like that, the Red Chinese had ‘a justification for trying to make them perfect… no matter what it takes.’

Unlike Christianity in the West, the Orthodox East does not accept original sin and total depravity either, nor do the Jews, whose scripture the West refers to in evolving its moral stance. My basic day to day attitude wavers between hope based on the attitude that ‘men are born good’ and the sometimes very distressing experience that if they were ever good, it must’ve been a very long time ago. I lean to the former despite the latter. Most of what we practically believe comes from very unreliable sources: movies, books, songs, or from untypically brutal invasions of our personal lives, rather than from the Bible, which should in every instance be our starting point. But how can we understand its message if we don’t compare it to living in the human world? I am captivated by an old Russian film that I have watched and re-watched in parts many times: Andrei Rublev.

That film, made in 1966 under the repressive Soviet regime, is remarkable for its honest content and historically reliable depiction of life in Russia at the beginning of the 15th century. One of the most beautiful and mysterious scenes is when the monk Andrei Rublev encounters a pagan Russian ‘sabbath’ in the forest, naked men and women running with torches, indiscriminate mating and feasting, playing in the river and launching a ‘sacred image’ in a dugout canoe. The musical accompaniment is what makes it more real than life. I feel like I am there in the Slavic pagan past when I watch it. I mention this only because it is an example of what our own racial past was, at least for those of us who are European, whether Western or Eastern. The savagery of the human condition, very different from the concept of the ‘noble savage’ erroneously attributed to Rousseau, is quite plain throughout this film, both in the pagans, and in the primitive Orthodox believers.

All were more savage and brutal, let alone un-Christian, than we want to admit. This, of course, adds weight to the original sin and total depravity concept. Even in the face of this, I still waver between the East and West, leaning East. Man is basically good, basically wants what is right. What I see ‘original sin’ as, is this: a built-in ‘law of failure’ that afflicts us, and I am reminded of Paul’s words in his epistle (Romans 7:14-25), ending with ‘Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.’ It seems to me, with all the evidence submitted, we are all still very far from certainty about what is going on here, as to the theories. What we do know, no matter how we cut this cake, is… ‘we’re in real trouble!’

Sunday, September 14, 2014


Everything that exists in our world is fashioned in some way after the image of the Divine Logos, ‘through Whom all things were made,’
δι ου τά πάντα εγένετο is how it is expressed in the ancient Christian statement of faith we call the Symbol of Nicæa. Who or what is this Divine Logos? In college I first read about this Logos in the writings of Philo of Alexandria, a Hellenistic Jewish philosopher, and my vague notions of ‘the Word’ that I had read in the first verse of John’s gospel began to flesh out.

Slowly, as I exposed myself to the Bible, usually called ‘the Word of God’, I began to see and understand what is meant in the Symbol when it says in its own words what John wrote, ‘all that came to be had its being through Him, and without Him nothing came to be.’ Studying Church history, the controversies leading up to the first worldwide council of Nicæa, I became aware of the subtle difference between what the Arian faction believed about Christ and what the Orthodox believed.

To both groups, Christ is the Divine Logos. That answers the question posed earlier, ‘Who or what is this Divine Logos?’ Leaving gender but not personhood aside for the moment, it is the One who incarnated as a human being in the Jewish Mashiach, that is, Christ. To both groups, the Divine Logos is the agent of creation. To both, it is uniquely related to God the Father, but for both, in a different manner. The Arians in proclaiming the unity of God, divided; the Orthodox in affirming the trinity of God, united.

To the Arians, only God the Father is God, the Unbegotten, and the Logos, the Only-Begotten, read ‘first and only created’, is the only Creation of the Father, His single utterance, His sole expression of Himself. There are many verses in the scriptures, taken together in a certain way, that can support this notion. Hence, the intellectual foundation of all forms of Unitarianism from Arius till today. The rest of the Arian belief conforms to Orthodoxy: The Divine Logos, not God the Father, created everything else.

To the Orthodox, this definition introduced a fissure into the Godhead that could not be allowed, and they would not yield on the point made in John’s gospel, that ‘God was the Word,’ θεός ην ο λόγος, not just merely ‘divine,’ θείος, a word found nowhere in the gospel passage, nor anywhere else in the New Testament except in the second letter of Peter. Agreeing with the Arians, or actually the other way round, Orthodoxy attributes the origin of the created universe to the Divine Logos alone.

The Divine Logos imparts His inner structure to what would otherwise be chaotic and unformed in the material universe, everything passing through His hands, now speaking of Him as the Divine Man. When the Bible speaks of man being created ‘in Our image’ what is inferred is that humanity is an ‘image,’ εικον, of the Divine Logos, who Himself is One of the Holy Triad. As His special creation, humanity is His pre-eminent and most complete image or ikon. What Arius believed of the Logos is true of humanity.

The Word of God creates mankind, and mankind creates the human world. Of course, the Divine Word (for now we can simply use the English equivalent of ‘Logos’) created all that exists, and therefore everything partakes of His nature as a more or less complete ikon, but in humanity we have and are the most complete and perfect ikon. Hence, the envy of other rational (or once rational) beings, those life forms known as the bodiless powers, of whom a faction opposed God to His face.

How can beings that are immortal, sexless, and capable of keeping the cosmos moving in its myriad orbits not be more complete, more perfect, than mankind, that small and weak creation of the Divine Word? Yet the One ‘begotten of the Father before all ages,’ τόν εκ του Πατρός γεννηθέντα πρό πάντων τών αιώνων, created a rational race that in some respects was less glorious than the angels, but who in the purpose of His eternal Mind are more than mere messengers, more than mechanical servants.

The scriptures teach, ‘Yet God did make man imperishable, He made Him in the image of His own nature; it was the devil’s envy that brought death into the world, as those who are his partners will discover’ (Wisdom of Solomon 2:23-24 Jerusalem Bible). This ‘imperishability’ is eternity scaled down to the proportions of our human nature: Immortality for the human race is part of our nature as created by the Divine Logos, who became one of us to restore, to recreate His image, His ikon, in us.

‘It is all ikon,’ as the saying goes. We are all ikon. Everything and everyone points to a reality beyond what can be perceived by the senses, yet that does not negate those perceptions. ‘And the unseen is proved by the seen, till that becomes unseen and receives proof in its turn’ (Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass). Not only we, but all of creation, are books partaking of the nature of the Book, of that Divine Word ‘through Whom all things were made.’

Glory to You, O God! Glory to You!

God loves us so much

‘God loves us so much, that He’s done everything He can do to save us, and He doesn’t want it all to be wasted.’

I was trapped in a very strange dream sequence, which I call the ‘church dream.’ This is a recurring dream which I’ve had for more than twenty years, which has as its location—church. Usually, it’s the church I once attended and ministered out of, St. Mark’s, what I consider my original family church, a miniature masterpiece, architecturally a basilica with Italianate bell tower, interior based on the famous church in Venice, replete with frescoes and icons. The first few scenes in this dream sequence were based on St. Mark’s and had the same themes, me trying to explain to visitors why the great church was no longer what it once was. The last thing I remember out of those scenes was taking an embroidered icon cloth out of the church, rescuing it from oblivion because the ‘remodel’ had no place for it, and unrolling the cloth on my bed, so I could look at it more closely…

Other scenes followed, now not directly connected to a specific church building. The one that I remember as I awoke this morning was something like this.

This time I was in an Orthodox environment, but in no particular church. I was just bidding farewell to an Eastern European new immigrant, a young man, a musician, who had just received some kind of blessing from the church. It seemed like he had been in need of a new musical instrument so he could support himself, and maybe the church had just helped him out in some way. He was beaming.

Then, he told me of his old dad, who was a farmer with one cow, who was not making it in life, but who thought that if he had two cows, things might go better for him. This problem was keeping him away from church, locked in a mental battle, because of a rule that they had in their church, that a man had the church’s blessing only to have one cow. The priest in his church would not give him a blessing to have two cows. So he was staying away from church. I decided to go and visit him.

I found the old farmer, sitting cross-legged on the wooden floor of a small, unfurnished room, literally a cubbyhole the size of a walk-in closet, drinking a bowl of soup. He was the image of poverty itself, clad in faded old work clothes. He didn’t speak to me at all. I stood in the doorway silently for a moment, as tears started welling up inside me, I’m not sure why. I leaned my head on the doorpost and said to him, ‘God loves us so much, that He’s done everything He can do to save us, and He doesn’t want it all to be wasted.

‘Don’t let this matter of having two cows get in the way of your salvation. If you want another cow and can buy it, go and buy it. Then, go to your priest and ask him for his blessing. If he refuses to give it, thank him, say “That’s alright, father, that’s alright,” pay your respects, and leave. Then, come to the Greek priest. He will give you the blessing, because we don’t have a ‘one cow’ rule.’

At that point, I woke up.

Though dreams can often be quite meaningless and usually are, this one has some meaning. Though in my dreams I often hear or speak verses from the Bible, in this dream it wasn’t an exact Bible verse I cited, but something like a conflation of maybe John 3:16 and Romans 8:32. And that was that. No wordy sermon, just an assurance of God’s love for us, and a practical work-around to get through the ‘toll-gates’ of the Church.

Yes, though the Kingdom of God is but one country, ‘on earth as it is in heaven,’ it seems that somebody thought this wasn’t good enough. The ‘inheritance of the saints’ has been divided and sub-divided, the ‘first and greatest commandment, and the second like unto it’ multiplied into hundreds of rules and regulations, and the ‘one Mediator between God and man’ replaced by a multitude of gate-keepers.

Dreams, I think, come from a combination of factors—what happened to you the day before, your mental or emotional state, what you’ve been reading or watching on television or PC, even the state of your digestion. This dream is no exception. But God can even use our dreams, sometimes, to speak something in our ears.

If He were speaking in this dream, what might He be saying?

The Unchurchables

With the Saints give rest, O Christ, to the souls of Your servants where there is no pain, nor sorrow, nor suffering, but life everlasting.

O God of spirits and of all flesh, You have trampled down death and have abolished the power of the devil, giving life to Your world. Give rest to the souls of Your departed servants, in a place of light, in a place of repose, in a place of refreshment, where there is no pain, sorrow, and suffering. As a good and loving God, forgive every sin they have committed in thought, word or deed, for there is no one who lives and is sinless. You alone are without sin. Your righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, and Your word is truth. For You are the resurrection, the life and the repose of Your departed servants, Christ our God, and to You we give glory, with Your eternal Father and Your all-holy, good and life-giving Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages.
— Greek Orthodox Memorial Service

Looking for a suitable photograph of Mother Maria Skobtsova to use in a post, I ran across a webpage that I have discovered once or twice before, Hagiography Circle, an online resource for Roman Catholics to connect to their saints. The photo of Mother Maria was on a page titled Non-Catholic Models. The page had an apologetic for why the site would dare to post the stories of non-Catholics who, if they had been Catholics, might be considered saints:

"As it is true in the Catholic faith, several members of the Orthodox and Protestant churches have responded generously to this divine grace by allowing the Spirit to work fully in and through their lives - even to the point of martyrdom - for the sake of the Reign."
I was simply impressed how anyone could make such a statement. It demonstrates to me a very fatal flaw in what passes for the Church in this world. There are just too many good examples of people living in Christ outside what a particular institution calls 'the Church.' I call these examples, "the Unchurchables," not because they did not belong to the Church, but because somehow they "slipped through the pews and escaped," to do the work that Christ had called them to.

I have not examined the lives of most of the people depicted in the photos, but I do know the stories of some of them, and I know of many others that could be added. I wonder how things look to them from their angles of the Throne. As C. S. Lewis (who in my estimation should have his picture there, so I added it!) has said, when all is said and done, "there will be some surprises."

After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”
Revelation 7:9-10 NIV