Thursday, October 30, 2014

Unafraid

Halloween, an American autumn holiday, mainly for children, and for grownups who want another occasion to party. It used to be an innocent pastime. I have many beautiful memories of my own childhood, and of part of the childhood of my sons, connected to this unholy holiday.

Well, yes, it is about evil, sort of. Not the real evil, real devils, Satan, and the like, but about the grotesque and sometimes funny depictions of evil in our mythologies, ancient and modern. It was, for me as a boy, just another time to dress up and make believe, and be out after dark.

I grew up in inner city Chicago in the 1950’s. Halloween was celebrated by just about everyone, religious affiliations notwithstanding. I remember Jewish, Catholic, and Orthodox kids all going trick-or-treating. I don’t remember knowing any Protestants, but if there were any, I’m sure they went too.

One of my fondest childhood memories of church was the Halloween that the parish celebrated with a big autumn festival and party. Before the party we were allowed to go trick-or-treating around the block with our parents, but not before Fr Molon made us sit in the first row pews of the chapel so he could bless us with holy water. I was a shepherd that year, but one of my buddies was a red devil, complete with pitchfork, horns, and barbed tail, a great costume. When the holy water hit him, it didn’t boil away.

Usually we just dressed up in our parents’ old clothes, often cross-dressing. I’m sure my brother and I went as (what today we would call) bag ladies, smeared with our Mom’s garish cosmetics, and our older sister leathered up in Dad’s old work clothes and hat to look like a hobo. It was all just for fun.

Things were similar when I was first raising my family of sons in Portland in the 1970’s and ‘80’s. I used to have a lot of fun taking the boys on their rounds to get goodies and meet the neighbors. We were Episcopalians then, and we even had a Halloween party at the church one year. But times change.

Along came Christian fundamentalism, broadcast in our faces, warning us from their posh TV studios that Halloween was satanic, that children were being sacrificed to demons, losing their lives, all over America on that hideous night. That affected my wife to the point where she spent the night praying that the innocent victims of this modern form of pagan witchery be rescued and saved. The boys and I had to content ourselves with going out to the movies that night. Halloween fell victim to holiness.

Well, not everything is really what it seems. The holiness that suppressed this unholy holiday ended up being even worse than the innocent observance it tried to snuff out. Halloween goes on, as always. I no longer go out to the movies on that night to avoid trick-or-treaters, nor do I display the large, rustic Orthodox cross on my front door to warn the wicked and deluded to stay away.

The world has changed, though, in very real ways. Some of the more gruesome depictions that used to appear to frighten us on Halloween are somewhat subdued, others banished, due to the grim reality of the macabre in our everyday life, people being decapitated, for example, by a resurgence of medieval barbarism.

It’s true that some Christians firmly believe that Halloween should be shunned because it is basically evil, and offensive to the Holy God. It’s true that many Orthodox Christians continue to hold a grudge against it for what they think are doctrinal reasons. But both rank evil and soul-destroying heresy use more deliberate, and more hidden, weaponry than Halloween traditions.

If and when a child comes to your door, lured by candle-lit jack-o-lanterns and scarecrows in the front yard, welcome him or her as you would welcome the Lord, who lives in our midst, who walks the world’s roads unafraid of getting His feet dirty, and who entered our world as a poor child. Your loving welcome and generosity will light a way for that child better than a bible tract or a Chick comic tucked into a bag of candy. Whatever you do to the least of these, that you do unto Him.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Belief, no, believing, prove

Belief in the literal truth and ‘infallibility’ of the holy scriptures is not enough. That only breeds fanaticism, placing devotion to an ideology over love of the man whom God has placed before you. The scriptures were made for man, not man for the scriptures.

No, we must believe in the bible, but only in order to love the man placed in our path, the one whom God has sent, because He comes to us in the form of man, not only historically in the God-man Jesus Christ, but theologically in our neighbor.

Believing only in the scripture, we place ourselves above the Church, justifying ourselves and all our righteousness and doctrinal correctness, our subtle disdain and even pious contempt of others who disagree with us, and we crucify Christ as He comes among us.

Prove that you love the Word of God by loving the sinful humanity that the Holy Spirit has gathered from the four winds and carries in the protecting sash of the Holy Church. For the Lord Jesus Christ has said and continues to say, ‘He who does not gather with Me, scatters’ (Matthew 12:30).

Treasure


The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
Matthew 13:44


Somehow it seems that whenever people comment on this verse, they’re always thinking money and property. I know that Christ is couching this parable in those terms, but remember, this is a parable, and parables exist so that their application can range over a wide continuum of experiences.

Sometimes people take other stories of Jesus that are not parables and try to understand them as if they were, because if they were true and literal, the outcome is too terrifying. Such is the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man. The gospel does not call this a parable, and the Church has understood this to be a literal description (as far as mortal minds can apprehend it) of the state after physical death.

But this story is a parable, “The kingdom of heaven is like…” and so the application of it is wide open. Though in the Middle Ages the Western Church in particular read into this the ‘call’ to monasticism, I don’t believe the Eastern Church then or now reads it predominantly this way. The kingdom of heaven cannot be identified with any earthly, even churchly, institution such as monasticism, or even mission.

Instead, the kingdom of heaven is itself nothing more or less than the life of salvation, the belief in the claims of Jesus—“I am the Resurrection and the Life… Do you believe this?” (John, chapter 11). To one who knows the possibility and offer of eternal life through faith in Christ, this is the ultimate concern, the chance that must not be missed. Whatever he owns, he will dispense with to obtain it.

But it does seem like a business transaction. He goes and sells all he has, so that he can buy the field in which the treasure is buried. He could go by night when everyone is sleeping or on the Sabbath when everyone is in synagogue, dig up the treasure, pack it away carefully on his person, maybe disguised as a sack of turnips, and walk off with it. But there’s probably too much there, so he has to do it right.

He sells his other property, because he can see it’s not much, so he can buy the field, since the treasure buried there is so far beyond his meager possessions, that maybe he can trick the owner of the field to sell it to him. Doesn’t the owner of the field know about the treasure? Guess not. But this is a parable. There’s no amount of money that can buy the treasure in the field—salvation—only blood can, and as we know, it’s the Blood of the Lamb without spot, slain before the foundation of the world.

So where does that leave us? I think one of the best applications of this parable is to realize that our most valuable possessions: our personal freedom, our private opinions, our religious or sexual preferences (yes, sometimes they’re related), our social status, are really quite useless in the end, either to satisfy us or to even compare to the chance of obtaining the only treasure worth having—eternal life—and that this life is none other than life with God, in other words, salvation.

Myself, I ‘sold’ what was most valuable to me, that short list I mentioned above, to buy the field called ‘faith’ in which the treasure, ‘salvation through Christ’ was hidden.

I still drive a car, live in a comfortable home, have friends and hobbies, and go to church. But what changed was, yes, I don’t take refuge in those things anymore if I ever did. And yes, if I am deprived of all of that and more, as Job was, I will stand my ground in the field I bought, because the treasure I found there is inexhaustible and incomparably great.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Faith times seven

What's the ratio between the time you spend on studying the Word of God (to increase understanding and put it into practice), personal prayer (talking to God, and listening to Him, one on one), real fellowship (not just visiting), on the one hand; and all your other activities on the other (including sleep)?

I'm usually not an advocate of measuring, because I feel that when you are serving the Lord, no need to count and measure, especially your progress, because if it's good it tempts you to pride, if it's poor, it tempts you to despair. But just this one time, sort of like sticking a thermometer under your tongue. What's your spiritual temperature?

I know you're a talented person and you give generously of your time to your church. You must get some satisfaction from this. Still, nothing, but nothing, can take precedence over the three activities I just mentioned, not even ministry to others.

We are living at the close of the Church Age. In fact, the Church Age really is over, but the churches haven't figured it out yet. They're too busy talking about the latest mission strategy, fashioning more and more customized nets for those fussy fish out there, thinking up new baits for the old ‘bait and switch’ game. Sorry, folks, you're like Peter and those disciples who gave up what the Lord had called them to do and went back to fishing for fish instead of for men (see John 21:1-11). They ‘worked’ all night, yet they caught nothing. But Jesus, the Resurrection and the Life, spoke to them from the shore, asking, ‘Have you caught anything, friends?’ When they admitted they hadn't, He gave them a command, ‘Throw the net out to starboard and you'll find something.’ When they did what Jesus commanded, the net became so full of fish, they couldn't haul it in.

Don't you see? When we have let ourselves, who are Spirit-born, anointed messengers of the Word of Life, ambassadors of infinite Glory to ‘a people that walk in darkness’ (Isaiah 9:1), when we have let ourselves become imbued with ‘life as usual’ and, without realizing it, let comfort and contentment with the world (no matter how guilty we make ourselves feel about it) take the front seat of our lives, we walk out of the will of the Most-High God, and ‘to walk out of His will is to walk into nowhere’ (C.S. Lewis, Perelandra). Have I lost you with this run-on sentence?

James, the brother of God, wrote, ‘Don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God?’ (James 4:4 NIV) When you study the Word of God, you have to believe what it says, even if it doesn't seem to make sense, even if it doesn't line up with what's going on in your church. Even this single verse from James puts many, if not most, churches to shame. If you rely on church protocol as a standard for faith, hope and love, you're lost!

For many, church is no longer there for us, to challenge us, to launch us into the place where faith is possible. Faith, not intellectual assent. Faith, not familiarity. Faith, not obedience to programs (the modern equivalent of "man-made traditions"). Faith, not carefully circumscribed acts of do-good-ness. Faith, not entertainment. Faith, not social or religious conformity. Faith, not labyrinths, seminars, pilgrimages, conferences, Bible cruises, liturgical dancing, acculturation.

Speaking about the saints, I heard someone say, ‘I hope one day to similarly be able to live a resurrection life.’

What? One day? Why not now? Is Jesus the Resurrection and the Life now, or in some indefinite future? Do you really think that patterning your life after the ones you wish to mimic is going to bestow on you ‘resurrection life’? What does mimicking have to do with anything?

We look to the saints for encouragement, but it is only Christ that we are to follow. To follow the call of Jesus Christ sets us free from all man-made ideas of perfection, of perfect life (or whatever you want to label it).

Look only to Jesus, ‘the author and finisher of our faith’ (Hebrews 12:2) and, keeping your eyes on Him alone, not on your friends, not on your church, not on your music, not on your mental or emotional state, not on the road ahead which seems too difficult, too lonely, too boring, or too long, enter into that joy, that rest, that peace, that glory, that resurrection, that faith which can move mountains, that wisdom and that God-given worthiness—‘well done, My good and faithful servant’— none of which we can ever enter into or give ourselves by any work we do.

Back to basics. Did you compare the proportion of God's works versus your works that I outlined at the beginning of this rant? The score, right now, doesn't really matter. What matters is only this:

‘…seek first His kingdom and His righteousness…’
Matthew 6:33 NIV

You can never get enough of God, of Christ, of the Word of God, of dialog with the Father in the Son's name, of fellowship in the Holy Spirit and in Truth, which is the kind of worship that the Father wants, not what is performed on ‘this mountain nor in Jerusalem’ (John 4:21). Do not limit what the Father wants to give you. Don't ask Jesus to ‘leave the neighborhood’ before He drives another herd of demon-jockeyed pigs into a lake, and makes you sit down in His presence, fully clothed and in your right mind (see Mark 5:1-20). There is nothing that you can want in Christ which the Father is not ready and willing to give you. You just have to ask.

Though you cannot make yourself into a disciple of Jesus by your own efforts, that is what you will become if you keep your eyes on Him, always set your heart on the things above, on His Kingdom and His righteousness (not on your own, mind you), determine never to settle for less than what is promised in the Word of God, nor to seek human approval, but only God's, to seek His commandments, and to love the brethren with a ready will. Study your Bible. Pray. Seek fellowship in Spirit and Truth.

Up to the time of John it was the Law and the Prophets; 
since then, the Kingdom of God has been preached, 
and by violence everyone is getting in.
Luke 16:16 Jerusalem Bible

Safe House

It was Sunday morning, early, still night by the lack of light in this northern mid-autumn. I awoke and migrated to my home office, to go online and see what the world was going through that day. Later I would be leaving for the Divine Liturgy, so breakfast or a snack or even a cup of morning coffee was not in my itinerary. I sleep very lightly most of the time and heard my son come in very, very late from socializing with friends. That thought was somewhere in the back of my mind.

My office windows look north right beside my front door, and the light above the door was on as it always is when I know someone may be coming home after dark. This means that if I am at my desk at the windows after dark, I can see anyone who comes to the front door. Usually no one comes, at least not after dark, and the light stays on all night, unless I am the last one come home, and then I turn it off.

I was sitting there at my desk, about seven in the morning, killing some time. Sunday mornings it’s always like this. Wake up, go to check on my internet life briefly, then back to my bed room to rest a little more and read the Bible, then up again to bathe and get dressed for church. Not this morning, however.

Someone suddenly appeared at my front door. The light let me see that it was a young man, wearing a jacket, who was looking at me and signaling something. I nodded ‘wait a minute’ and went around to the door and opened it. On my way to the door, I was thinking to myself that the young man looked like one of my son’s friends, someone he was probably out with that night. But why would he be stopping by at this hour?

I opened the door, and though the young man looked a lot like my son’s friend, I could tell immediately by what he was saying to me, that it was a stranger. ‘I wonder if I could use your phone. I was at a party in the neighborhood, and I was trying to walk to where I could catch a bus and get home, but it’s raining and I’m soaked. I want to try to call my aunt and see if she can give me a ride.’

I was a little annoyed, but I said, ‘Come inside, and I’ll grab my phone.’ When I came back with it, I handed it to him and he wanted to sit down, but not on the sofa, because he said he didn’t want to get it wet. He chose a chair at my dining table, not noticing that it had an upholstered seat and back.

I handed him the phone and watched helplessly as he exhausted his supply of numbers, getting no responses from anyone. I joked with him, ‘Why don’t you have a cell phone? You’re a young fellow and should have a cell phone. I thought all of you were born with them.’

‘Well, I have a cell phone, but I am a weekend warrior, and when I go partying I don’t bring either my cell phone or my wallet, in case I might lose them.’ The boy (for here I must admit I was realizing he was really just a kid) squeamishly and in a low voice ‘kind of’ asked if I could give him a ride to his aunt’s place, and he’d give me a couple of dollars for gas.

I didn’t reply but just went to my office, got my wallet and jacket, put my phone in my pocket, and went off to search for my crocks (a kind of plastic slip-on sandal that I like to wear). The boy saw what I was doing as he stood up and looked around the room. It was beginning to get light outside.

‘Are you a Catholic?’ he asked, noticing the ikons around the living room. ‘No, I’m Greek Orthodox,’ I responded. Then he started telling me in a low voice (I could hardly make out what he was saying, and he kept talking like this, non-stop, until I finally dropped him off at his aunt’s house) that he was a believer, and something about church, which I didn’t quite understand. I didn’t talk, I just listened.

I found my crocks right where they should be next to the front door, and the two of us hopped into my car. ‘Where are we going?’ I asked. ‘Over to 177th and Glisan,’ he replied. ‘Okay,’ I said, ‘I know the city pretty well. I know exactly where that is,’ as we turned onto the street and headed east.

The boy had told me his name and asked me mine when we were sitting together at the table, but I have forgotten his name. As we were driving, he pulled out a soft-cover New Testament, and started reading it in a low voice. I asked him his age. He was twenty-one years old. Here and there I joked with him in a dadly way, and told him, as I dropped him off, to be good. I don’t know why, but I always tell young people that, as I drop them off. (This scenario has happened more than once.)

I wondered, as I drove home, now being deprived of my ‘free time’ so that I’d have to boogie to get ready for church, if my place (which I call ‘Sky House’ because the mountains and the sky are all you see when you look out the north facing windows) were some kind of ‘safe house.’ It is nothing new for a young person to come to my door asking for legitimate help, and it wasn’t the first time I found myself carrying him to his destination.

‘I stand at the door and knock,’ came at once to my mind. And then I remembered, and just thanked the Lord, for visiting me again that morning.

It is for the Lord to call us

Though I never use the animal terms ‘dogs’ or ‘pigs’ with regard to humans to whom the gospel is addressed, I know from tradition that ‘dogs’ refers to male homosexuals and ‘pigs’ to people who have no understanding of, or use for, the gospel—pigs can’t wear pearl jewelry, nor would they want to. I encounter these kinds of people everywhere, and how to deal with them as with ‘those for whom Christ died’ is something that I struggle with every day.

Our society seems to have become post-Christian, people from complete atheists to church-going types can all fall into this category, which seems to me to be the ‘pigs’ scripture is talking about. What? Church-goers can be post-Christian? They can be the pigs before whom one must not throw pearls, lest they turn on us and trample us underfoot? Well, sorry, but yes.

To receive Christ and the good news is precisely as the Lord says in the letters to the churches in Revelation: ‘I stand at the door and knock...’ Everyone, from atheists, to agnostics, to the christianised masses who may be quite religious but are blind to Jesus Christ as He really is, can be so inclined that they either will not open the door, or can not, for they no longer hear Him knocking, if they ever did.

This poses the question, for me at least, of evangelism in the lands ofchristianosis,’
is it worth it?


Well, of course it is, because even one soul that is led to salvation through mine or anyone's witness—I am not here speaking about just talking, but about one's whole Christian life as a visible witness—is worth it. But it still is very discouraging to be placed in an environment where everyone around you has already chosen, and chosen wrong. It's like working in a pigsty, so to speak.

On good days, I still love the pigs and try to let that love alone be the witness, even though they see me coming and run. On bad days, when I am weak and am crying out for mercy for even my own life, being surrounded by pigs is almost more than I can bear. Almost more? Yes, because if I give in to the old man, I too become a pig, and that herd is headed for a lake, and it's not the sea of Galilee.
Christ have mercy!

Fortunately for us, babies are still being born who turn into youths and then into young adults. That cream of the crop of humanity is still there, white for harvest, and it is primarily for them that we hang on to a life that otherwise would be almost unbearable, living as we do among people who hate, lie and slander at every opportunity. But it is for the Lord to call us to follow Him into that harvest field, and I hope He calls us there every day.

Therein is life, and without end.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Only

And the LORD said unto Gideon, The people are yet too many; bring them down unto the water, and I will try them for thee there: and it shall be, that of whom I say unto thee, This shall go with thee, the same shall go with thee; and of whomsoever I say unto thee, This shall not go with thee, the same shall not go. So he brought down the people unto the water: and the LORD said unto Gideon, Every one that lappeth of the water with his tongue, as a dog lappeth, him shalt thou set by himself; likewise every one that boweth down upon his knees to drink. And the number of them that lapped, putting their hand to their mouth, were three hundred men: but all the rest of the people bowed down upon their knees to drink water. And the LORD said unto Gideon, By the three hundred men that lapped will I save you, and deliver the Midianites into thine hand: and let all the other people go every man unto his place.
Judges 7:4-7 KJV

God is not interested in numbers but in the quality of our faith, as has been demonstrated by the action He commanded of sending the army to drink, and then accepting only the minority who lapped up the water like dogs.

I often wondered what was the meaning of that decal I see on the rear windshield of cars, especially minivans, that says "Only God" in white letters.

Myself, I don't hold by decking my vehicle with stickers or decals proclaiming my faith. To my way of thinking, that's not a witness—it's impersonal—and witnessing can never be impersonal. It just seems like a numbers game. "If enough of us Christians slap Jesus is Lord stickers and Ichthys fish on our cars, the world will know we're out there, and that there's lots of us."

So that's what's behind the slogan “Only God,” the idea that “only God could do something like that.” The idea is talked about in a book called Axioms, by Bill Hybels (which I haven’t read, but heard about).

What I thought it might mean is, "For me there is only One priority, only One ultimate concern, and that is God."

It reminded me of the Bible study sessions we used to have with our former pastor, Father Jim. He called the sessions, "Only Christ," and the emphasis was this: That when we met together to study the Word, we each and every one decided ahead of time to put away our own thoughts and opinions, and be ready to hear what Christ Himself, the Divine Word, would speak to us as we read the bible together.

Having this attitude had a tremendous effect. There was very little time wasted by people opining and speculating, or worse yet, pontificating. It's like, when you know in Whose presence you are sitting, at Whose feet (that's the meaning of session) you are waiting open-eared to hear His voice, like Mary the sister of Martha and Lazarus. Those bible studies were the best I'd ever been too. We were really taught by God, not by men.

A reggae song has this lyric: "Gi' me a session, not another version" (Bob Marley, Mix Up Mix Up).
This is what divides the "Only Christ" from the "Only Man" attitude.

To whose voice are we willing to listen, to His, or to our own?

From the 'Golden-mouthed'

Your Master loved those that hated Him, and called them to Him; and the weaker they were, the greater the care He showed them. And He cried and said, “They that are whole need not a physician, but they that are sick” (Matthew 9:12). And He deemed publicans and sinners worthy of the same table with Him. And as great as was the dishonor wherewith the Jewish people treated Him, so great was the honor and concern He showed for them—yea, and much greater. Emulate Him.


Yes, just follow Jesus!

Kindred spirits

One asked, "Why, Father, do you find more joy in the psalms than in any other part of divine Scripture? And why, when quietly chanting them, do you say the words as though you were speaking to someone?"

Abba Philemon replied, "My son, God has impressed the power of the psalms on my poor soul as He did on the soul of the prophet David. I cannot be separated from the sweetness of the visions about which they speak. They embrace all scripture."

He confessed these things with great humility, after being much pressed, and then, only for the benefit of the questioner.

Philokalia, Book 2, "A Discourse on Abba Philemon," p.347.

Full freedom

There is a brand of Orthodoxy where following the rubrics seems to be the major focus, the teaching of doctrines and the pushing of morality the emphasis, where what we do to please God takes the place of what God does to release us. Words are mouthed, actions performed, ostensibly to glorify God and the saints, and everything holy stays in the holy place. Outside the doors, life goes on as always, sometimes even a little worse for wear, and perfectionism and scrupulous rigor replace walking in the spirit. This is not the Orthodoxy I received from the saints. Their lives were, for me, an unwritten rubric that infected my life with the goodness they had received from Christ. Their faith, instilled into me (I hope) the trust in the Spirit who is the one sent by Christ from the Father to be with us always, that we never become orphans. And that faith and trust in love has been the certainty that makes full freedom possible.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

His merciful face

We cannot do wrong, I think, when we judge with the scale weighted in favor of mercy, because God does not judge without mercy those who judge with it.

On the other hand, we can do wrong when we judge with severity, and that also puts us personally in very grave danger, for what can we appeal to in our defense, when we are judged by God?

Christ says, ‘How blessed are the merciful, for they shall have mercy shown them.’
He never says, ‘How blessed are those who judge justly…’ and well could He have quoted reams of laws out of the Torah, or even verses from the psalms, about judging justly if He had so desired. But no, He knew we didn’t need any help there.

As He Himself says, He came not to condemn the world, but in order that the world would be saved through Him. Since all that the world had seen of God up till then was His face of judgment—because that’s all they wanted to see—He had to come in person to show His merciful face.

From now on, no one can ever again put a man-made mask on the face of God, whether too severe or too lax: God Himself has shown up, and shown us ‘the light of His face’ and that is, above all, mercy.

What do you mean? ‘Show us the Father!’
I’ve been with you all this time!
Don’t you know that to see Me is to see the Father?

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Filioque


Και εις το Πνευμα, το Αγιον, το Κυριον, το Ζωοποιον,
το εκ του Πατρος εκπορευομενον

Et in Spíritum Sanctum, Dóminum et vivificántem:
Qui ex Patre Filióque procédit


And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Creator of Life,
who proceeds from the Father
and from the Son

Filioque, ‘and from the Son,’ is more than a word, represents more than such a short phrase should imply; it has affected the whole life of the Church, has driven a wedge between Christians for more than a thousand years, and continues to do so. It shouldn’t have this power, but such power we have given it. Those who accept it have accepted a whole history and an entire mindset that has relegated the place of holy and divine scripture to the tool of man, to something he can play with. Those who reject it have paid the price of fidelity to the Word of God, to the testimony of Jesus, but often that rejection has colored their thoughts and actions in such a way that they become blind to the plain meaning of other words of Jesus. Yet the fact remains, that the rejection of the filioque is important because it is a kind of ‘red flag’ that we are breaking with the plain words of Jesus in the Gospel of John if we accept it, and the ground zero of faithfulness to the Word of God begins here.

Holy apostle and evangelist John writes in his second letter: “Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.” (2 John 1:9)
Adding the filioque is “running ahead and not continuing.” This is by far the major problem that Orthodoxy has with Rome. They have run ahead, and they’re proud of it.

Orthodoxy, and I mean real Orthodoxy (not the kind that can be sold either ideologically or culturally), is a strange ‘something,’ that you seem to be able to see more clearly as you approach it from afar, but when you get closer, it almost seems to dissipate, as you realise that what it looked like from the outside and could be given a name,
‘Orthodoxy,’ yields to something that is too close to us to be able to extract, throw on the table and examine.

And Jesus Christ, who once seemed a Being great, mighty, loving, faithful, whatever it is we experienced of Him, and which we wanted somehow to ‘tabernacle’ as Peter wanted to tabernacle Him on the mount of the Transfiguration, is no longer something or Someone we can glibly think or speak about. He too has become too close.

A song I love, runs “We were so close, there was no room. We bled inside each other’s wounds. We all had caught the same disease, and we all sang the songs of peace.” Even that song had a different meaning before than it has now. Before, I could explain its meaning, now, I can less so, I almost can’t, because as soon as I try, I break into tears. This is how it is with real Orthodoxy and with Jesus Christ who lives among us.

Truly, Christ is in our midst; He is and ever shall be. But what do these words really mean, what can they mean, for us, for today?

Prepare to meet your Maker, and more than that, to be unmade, and remade in an image both strange and beautiful, but to which you will be forever blinded, as you will be standing in the Light Uncreated that shone, that shines, on Tabor.

Again and again, Christós anésti! Christ is risen!

To every creature

Και ειπεν αυτοις, Πορευθέντες εις τον κόσμον απαντα, κηρυξατε το ευαγγέλιον πάση τη κτίσει.

And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.
Mark 16:15 KJV

‘To every creature,’ a charming, even romantic idea, bequeathed to the English-speaking culture by the Bible version which has been its mainstay for four centuries and almost four years (1611 to 2014). The literal Greek says ‘to all creation,’ a somewhat less poetic concept, but one that ties in, scripturally, a lot better with the rest of the New Testament, the ‘old creation’ versus the ‘new creation,’ the defining movement in the plan of salvation. ‘Behold, I make all things new’ (Revelation 21:5). People sometimes forget that movement, narrowing the Message down to personal salvation, ‘Are you saved?’ when the work of Christ, salvation, yes, but the universal re-creation of all things, was perfected on the Cross, ‘It is finished!’ (John 19:30)

‘To every creature,’ makes me think of St Francis of Assisi preaching to the birds, or reprimanding and converting the wolf of Gubbio. His ‘simple-minded zeal’ landed him not at the fires of the Inquisition, as he was warned by an unconverted friend, but in the company of the Saints, and only two years after his repose. By some who think about such things, he is considered to have been the first ‘modern’ man. It’s not hard to see why. Though we’d rather have statues of him in our gardens, his radical approach to ‘all creatures’ is what we should have, not in our gardens but in our minds. Yet St Francis was only saying and doing what he saw his Lord, Jesus Christ, saying and doing in the gospels. That is what makes a truly ‘modern’ man.

Recently the Roman Catholic Church convened a synod to consider ‘the family,’ and how best the Church can support and save it in this modern world. (I am using the word ‘modern’ here and everywhere in its most basic meaning, not in a philosophical one.) Everyone was waiting to see if, how and when the current legalization of homosexual marriage in many places would be integrated into the Church. Since the Church is not the world, but the world is the mission field of the Church, what would it do with this new territory? When its documents were issued by the synod, the English, and only the English, translation of the topic ‘Welcoming homosexual persons’ was edited to ‘Providing for homosexual persons.’

This is an important first step for the largest Christian communion in the world to take, and I am not surprised that it has been taken during the pontificate of a pope named Francis. To me, both would have been unthinkable considering the projectile along which the Catholic Church had been traveling since the two Vatican Councils, but then, if God is real, and if the Church is in some way guided by Him, one should expect such things from a Christ who says, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’ In fact, it is only because of human resistance to Divine order that it has taken so long. Now, perhaps, we are finally on the threshold of that ‘next step in human evolution’ that was commanded two thousand years ago by the first truly ‘modern’ man in history.

That is, Jesus Christ, who says, ‘Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.’

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Back to beginnings

The beginning of the Good News about Jesus Christ,
the Son of God.

Mark 1:1 Jerusalem Bible

This is how the gospel according to Mark begins—the beginning of the Good News. But notice that this beginning is actually the fulfillment of the prophecies of the Good News, spoken long before by the Holy Spirit of God through the prophets, especially through Isaiah.

John the evangelist says, "A man came, sent by God. His name was John" (John 1:6).

Mark says that this man "appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins" (Mark 1:4).

The beginning of the Good News, though, could be said to have started with the prophesying of Isaiah, centuries before its fulfillment. John the honorable Forerunner and Baptist "appeared in the wilderness."

He had fed upon the prophetic Word of God and was full of it.

"He came as a witness," says John the evangelist, "as a witness to speak for the Light" (John 1:7). What Light? "The Word," says John, "was the true Light that enlightens all men, and He was coming into the world" (John 1:9). As for the man, "sent by God whose name was John," he knew the Light was coming, because he was a man full of the Word. He didn't have to read the scroll of Isaiah. He had eaten it. "The people that walked in darkness has seen a great light" (Isaiah 9:1) reverberated in his spirit and even in his flesh. That's what made him jump even in his mother's womb when the mother of the Light came near. "As soon as Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child leapt in her womb" (Luke 1:41).

John's word did not depart from the Word, but faithfully recounted all that he heard by the Spirit Holy that lived in him. Did he know or understand how he was the book of the consolation of Israel in human form? His every word and action was that Word set into movement to fulfillment. Isaiah prophesied. John enacted.

"Console My people, console them,
speak to the heart of Jerusalem
and call to her
that her time of service is ended,
that her sin is atoned for,
that she has received from the hand of Yahweh
double punishment for all her crimes."
(Isaiah 40:1-2)

"A voice cries, 'Prepare in the wilderness
a way for Yahweh.
Make a straight highway for our God
across the desert.
Let every valley be filled in,
every mountain and hill laid low,
let every cliff become a plain,
and the ridges a valley;
then the glory of Yahweh shall be revealed
and all mankind shall see it;
for the mouth of Yahweh has spoken.'"
(Isaiah 40:3-5)

"A Voice commands, 'Cry!'
and I answered, 'What shall I cry?'
—'All flesh is grass
and its beauty like the wild flower's.
The grass withers, the flower fades
when the breath of Yahweh blows on them,
but the Word of our God remains forever.'"
(Isaiah 40:6-8)

God spoke through Isaiah, enacted through John,
and fulfilled, in a mystery, through his Only Son.
"Shout without fear,
say to the towns of Judah,
'Here is your God.'"
(Isaiah 40:9b)

"Look, there is the Lamb of God
that takes away the sin of the world."
(John 1:29b)

"Here is the Lord Yahweh coming with power,
His arm subduing all things to Him.
The prize of His victory is with Him,
His trophies all go before Him.
He is like a Shepherd feeding His flock,
gathering lambs in His arms,
holding them against His breast
and leading to their rest the mother ewes."
(Isaiah 40:10-11)

John cried, echoing the prophet Isaiah who was alive in him,
"Did you not know?
Had you not heard?
Was it not told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood how the earth was founded?"
(Isaiah 40:21)

He announced with every particle of his being,
having fed on the sweetness of the Word,
"Here is My Servant whom I uphold,
My Chosen One in whom My soul delights.
I have endowed Him with My Spirit
that He may bring true justice to the nations.
He does not cry out or shout aloud,
or make His voice heard in the streets.
He does not break the crushed reed,
nor quench the wavering flame.
Faithfully He brings true justice;
He will neither waver, nor be crushed
until true justice is established on earth,
for the islands are waiting for His Law."
(Isaiah 42:1-4)

This is the Word which nourished the flesh and spirit of prophets
through endless ages leading forward not to the end
but to the true beginning of all things,
which is the Good News
of Jesus Christ,
"I, Yahweh, have called you to serve the cause of right;
I have taken you by the hand and formed you;
I have appointed you as covenant of the people
and light of the nations,
to open the eyes of the blind,
to free captives from prison,
and those who live in darkness from the dungeon.
My name is Yahweh,
I will not yield My glory to another,
nor my honor to idols.
See how former predictions have come true.
Fresh things I now foretell;
before they appear I tell you of them."
(Isaiah 42:6-9)

The beginning of the Good News—when is this beginning? When did it happen? Was it in the days of the prophets who, moved by the Holy Spirit, prophesied what was to come?

Was it in the days of the earthly life of our Lord Jesus Christ whose life-giving death and glorious resurrection and ascension, were a single act of victory, granting the world great mercy?

Yes, but there is more. The beginning of the Good News is that moment when a human soul entrusts itself utterly to the providence of God, believing the Word without reserve, receiving, accepting Christ the Word as He is, as He is revealed, for "to all who did accept Him He gave power to become the children of God, to all who believe in the Name of Him who was born not out of human stock, or urge of the flesh, or will of man, but of God Himself" (John 1:12-13).

To receive power to become a child of God is no small thing. Therefore, let us "throw off everything that hinders us, especially the sin that clings so easily," and "let us not lose sight of Jesus, who leads us in our faith and brings it to perfection" (Hebrews 12:1b-2a).

The beginning of the Good News is,
was, and is to come.
And the Good News is Jesus Christ.

Start from here…

Mercy


Chaneyni, Adonay, chaneyni!
Have mercy on me, Lord, have mercy!


The cry goes up from all of God’s people,
from the most high king, David,
to the lowliest of his subjects,
from the fearsome prophet Elijah
to the honorable forerunner of the Ever-King of Israel,
from our first forefathers Adam and Eve,
down to the mother of our last Forefather
the New Adam,

all of them—except the New Adam
sinners,
all of them hating the net in which they are caught,
all of them looking with unwearying eyes
for the redemption,
for the Redeemer,
not knowing, but only hoping,
in what they believe,
waiting and crying out,
endlessly falling like ripe wheat before the reaper, 

‘Chaneyni, Adonay, chaneyni! 
Have mercy on me, Lord, have mercy!’

And the Voice finds a body
and speaks the Answer to their cries: 
‘Blessed are the merciful, 
for mercy shall be shown to them!’

All generations waited for the mercy of the Being
and only the last,
and only a very few of them,
heard the Voice proclaim, ‘mercy is within your grasp, 
it has always been in your hands, 
what you asked for was always with you, 
not judgment and condemnation, but mercy. 
Blessed are the merciful…’

He has come to give back to us what we lost
by our betrayals,
by our unfaithfulness,
by our unmercy,
by our sins,
to give back to those who not only ask for it
but who also give it,
mercy.

All the islands have awaited His true Law,
and all generations,
and here we are,
we hear it from the ends of the earth,
His eternal gospel, angel-borne,
yet from His own lips,
endlessly.

We hear it, and we know it, 
but do we have hope, 
will He find faith on earth?

No question of right or righteousness,
for only One is without sin,
His righteousness is an everlasting righteousness,
and His Word is Truth.

But will He find faith on earth 
among those who hear the Word awaited for ages, 
who speaks for ever now?

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.
Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven,
for in the same way they persecuted the prophets
who were before you.

Matthew 5:3-12


Chaneyni, Adonay, chaneyni!

Have mercy on me, Lord, have mercy!

City of Light



The Word of God. What more ambiguous, what more dangerously ambiguous, expression in any language can there be? For, harmlessly we think, and habitually, and not without cause, we refer to the Holy Bible as ‘the Word of God.’

‘The Word of God declares,’ begins the assertion of many a preacher and writer (I myself have spoken and written thus), and then follows anything from a direct quote to a personal paraphrase, often deeply biased or out of context. Even the Church fathers, even the epistle and gospel writers, have sometimes written this way, quoting from memory, not always flawlessly. Yet, the Truth is not necessarily skewed.

The ancient fathers and saints, however, rarely open their instructions in quite this way, ‘the Word of God declares.’ They knew too much, most of them. They were still aware too readily and constantly that the Word of God was a person, the God-man Jesus Christ, and not some body of writings, no matter held how sacred. Yes, they all knew of the ‘the Law and the Prophets’ and the Writings.

What else did they have to go on, except their own personal experience of Jesus Christ, or the memoirs of the apostles and disciples who walked with Him? They respected the scriptures of the Jews, whether known to them in the Palestinian Hebrew heard in the synagogues of Galilee and Judaea, or in the Greek translation made for those whose contact with the original tongue had waned.

They respected and, yes, loved, these scriptures, because the only Lord they knew had respected and loved them, even identified Himself with them in His veiled sayings. With good reason, then, did this notion of ‘the Word of God’ expand to cover both the written scriptures and the Lord Himself who was the uncreated ‘scripture.’ They remembered, ‘The Word of God came to the prophet…’

All this, we must understand, takes place within a living community of people, the followers of Jesus, complete as a society with structures of authority handed down from the original apostles, from Christ Himself. Christians who believe in history (we who speak English read it as ‘His story,’ a useful pun) know this society as ‘the Church’ and make our best efforts at being members of it.

In a technical sense, it is only those who know the written scriptures as members of ‘the Church’ who can safely call them ‘the Word of God’ because they have agreed with one another since the beginning, that only Jesus Christ is ‘the Word of God’ and He alone the only Teacher of mankind. Having this knowledge, we are safeguarded from the legalism of the Pharisees and literalism of the Sadducees.

Or, at least we should be, yet we find throughout the long history of the Church various instances of human nature taking back what it had turned over to the Divine Nature for transformation, perpetuating ‘the old Adam’ again camouflaged in fig leaves, and delaying the coming of ‘the new Adam’ in the transformation of humanity, Jesus Christ being the ‘first-born’ of that new race.

First-born of the Father, first-born from the dead, first-born of the new race of mankind, Jesus Christ is literally, and not just figuratively, ‘the new Adam.’ That He is also declared to be ‘the Word of God’ in human form, we should then study His holy actions and divine teachings as our primary vision, since to see Him is ‘to see the Father,’ to have that ‘single eye,’ so the Body of Christ ‘will be full of light.’

The time is come ‘to cast off the works of darkness, and to put on the armor of light.’

Who do you trust?

Lord, help me always to tell it like it is.

We witness to the Lord Jesus Christ wherever we are, as second nature, without thinking about doing it, without personal intention or expectation, only the unspoken prayer, “Give the increase.”

A co-worker calls to me from over the cubicle wall. “You gotta see this!” I get up immediately, drawn by the hint of incredulity in the speaker’s voice. I round the corner and sit in an empty chair near the PC screen, as my friend reads aloud to me what he’s found on the internet, “Man is willing to pay $50,000 to Jews willing to relocate to Dothan, Alabama!” and then, “Hey man, this is for you!”

Even though he knows I’m a Christian, there’s just something about the label “Orthodox” that makes this friend, and many other people I’ve known over the years, think that I’m some kind of Jew. It doesn’t help that I’m bearded. A short conversation sprang up between us on the subject of the news story that concatenated a whole string of facts and ideas. Jews leaving small town America for the big cities, then, the depopulation of Polish Jewry, leaving hundreds of abandoned synagogues and cemetaries all over Poland, then the instant celebrity of any Polish Jewish boy who actually wants to be bar mitzvah’d. Then, as invariably happens, food comes up. “Yeah, aren’t rubens tasty with kosher corn beef and swiss cheese? Uh, wait a minute, even though the ingredients are kosher, that combination isn’t. Why?”

Then the conversation moves along as to how the rabbis added layers of “kosher” laws to the original single injunction “You must not boil a kid in its mother’s milk,” and how ridiculous this is, in view of what Abraham and Sarah offered to God the Holy Triad at their campsite at Mamre. Maybe God didn’t like the taste of meat and dairy at the same dinner (which is what He was served up), and so the next chance He got, He laid down the law about the “mother’s milk and kid’s meat don’t mix” thing.
Then the talk moved on to what happened to the two angels that visited Lot in Sodom, and then what happened to the city, and how Lot escaped with his two daughters, his wife having looked back and been morphed into a salt pillar. And then how what happened next gave rise to the Orthodox saying, “Do not defile yourself in the wilderness, where in the city you were pure.”

I can’t remember the rest of the conversation, but I have to remark on the faithfulness of God, who does not let His Word go forth and return to Him void. Whether my friend identifies himself as a Christian or not, he could find meaning in, and welcomed the exchange of ideas and stories recounted on a colloquial level, in fact he initiated it. This is how we witness. We just remain willing to defenselessly and joyfully deliver the Message that He wants to send. He appoints the rendezvous, and it’s always, as Sergei Fudel calls it, “a miracle of unexpected joy” (Light in the Darkness).

Did I bring Christ into the conversation? Did I announce the “four spiritual laws?” Did I ask my friend if he is saved? No, that isn’t how it works. I have no agenda. But I am ready to say whatever I hear the Lord saying, and whenever the Lord commands it. “Not my will, Lord, but Thine!”
Another co-worker showed up with a question, and as I was actually on my way out the door when this conversation occurred, I just let it go with a “Good night, guys, have a good evening! See you tomorrow!”

On the drive home, I got to thinking. All these folks I work with are very nice people, and at least a couple of them have told me they were or are Christians, and in the past (I’ve known them several years) we’ve sometimes shared a little about our Christian lives, or at least our upbringing. I know what some of them reject. In fact, almost no one in my office “goes to church” except me. Yet, they’re all nice people. This is the product of religious Christianity. When C. S. Lewis said that Christ came not to make nice people but new men (Mere Christianity), he was writing about this very thing.
So, as I was driving home, I was turning over in my mind, what is the source of my belief, what does my life in Christ grow out of (for this is the only thing Christian life can really mean)?
I thought back to one of my favorite concepts, that though we have five sense organs to give us knowledge of the natural world, we have one sense organ to give us knowledge of God (I should say spiritual world, but that would not be enough). That sense organ is the brain, in which resides the mind. The mind is the eye with which we can see God—everything else we use it for are like “extras” thrown in by the Maker. The problem is that most people use the mind for very opposite purposes, either because they don’t know any better, or because they do, and they don’t want to see God (Romans 1:20-21). When people have asked me why I believe in God, I sometimes say, “Honestly, it’s not really belief per se. I just know He’s there. In fact, He’s here with us right now in this very room, as we’re talking. It’s like I can see Him, not with my eyes, of course, but with my mind. I guess you could say, with the eye of faith.”
Then as I drove along, I started wondering how people must see me, and others whom they know are followers of Jesus, or at least call “religious” folks. They sometimes know that we pray, or say prayers, or talk to God, or whatever. But they, even when they claim “to believe in a God,” simply don’t pray. They don’t really think that there’s Anyone there listening. I can see their point. On the purely natural level, there’s no evidence of anyone or anything that “hears” all our thoughts and words, and “sees” all our actions.

So where do we, where did I, get that notion in the first place?
I can see how people can accept the concept that there is a God, but not know anything about Him, because there’s nowhere to find “more information” except—in the Bible! And that Book has had the most wild history of promotion and defamation of any book known to man, not to mention a whole slough of writers intent on making us believe that though it’s God’s Word, it’s not perfect (implication, not reliable), and that it must be studied in the context of its time and place.

Back to the notion that Someone is there that knows everything about us, hears all we say and think, sees all we do. For me, that has come primarily from the book of Psalms, which is rich with detail on the nature of God, Who He is, what He loves, what He hates, what He does and can do (there’s nothing He can’t do, but there are things He won’t do). I’m sure there are many places in the Bible where God’s nature is revealed simply enough for anyone to understand, but for me the Psalms are that place.
Now this is where “faith” actually does kick in, even for me. It is by faith that I accept and believe that what the Bible says about God is true in the first place.

Yes, faith—this is the stumblingblock for those who may claim to “believe in a God,” but cannot bring themselves any closer, let alone confess Him before men. They may justify their disinterest by their agnosticism, and their agnosticism by their biblical illiteracy, and their illiteracy by the corruption of the institutions representing Christianity. But without taking the personal initiative to seek the Lord where and when He can be found (Isaiah 55:6), that is, in the Word of God, they cannot hope to be justified or become children of the Promise, putting false hope in the “goodness” they attribute to the “God” in whose existence they say they believe, but of whom they have no objective knowledge.

So then, though the mind can “see” God, only faith can tell us of His attributes, and “can guarantee the blessings that we hope for, or prove the existence of realities that at present remain unseen” (Hebrews 11:1). And that faith cannot be arrived at by any amount of human thinking or speculation. That was the heresy of the false gnosis of ancient times. Instead, we have been given (as the Jews say) “the precious Implement by which the world was created,” that is, the Word of God. We have been given it (again, as the Jews say) “not to be made into a spade to dig with,” in other words, not something to serve us, to bolster our opinions and thoughts. Instead, we have been given the precious Implement “through Whom all things were made” (Symbol of Nicæa), and Who alone can remake us, as the Psalms declare.
What is faith then?

Of course, in an everyday sense, it really comes down to trust. Without realising it, everyone lives their life day by day based on trust that “things are as they think they are.” This is like not being afraid to enter the highway and jump into a lane of fast-moving cars, because you trust that the fear of instant chaos, damage or death will keep everyone on the road in their lane. This is like not being afraid to fly to Japan on a jet airliner because you trust what the scientists have discovered about the laws of physics, you trust the pilots to know how to fly the plane, and you trust the entire apparatus of the airport maintenance system to make sure there’s fuel in the plane and so on.

In various other areas of life, we have come to trust, or have faith in the reliability of various human institutions, and so we are able to live our earthly lives and function in relative peace and stability. We know we can trust scientists, as long as they stay scientific. We know we can trust doctors and other professionals, as long as they stay true to their various disciplines. Why then this lack of trust, this absolute disdain of theologians and clergy, and of “organized religion”? Sorry to say, a large proportion of these people have not stayed true to their discipline, wandering where they don’t belong, or bending the Bible to fit their agendas. However, there’s nothing more I need say about it here.
What I want to say is one more thing. Just as we trust a scientist when he stays scientific, we should trust a theologian when he stays theological. What is the discipline of the scientist? To study the natural world, do experiments, get results and publish them, so others can duplicate them. What is the discipline of the theologian? To study the Bible, do experiments (follow Jesus), get results (the life of salvation) and publish them (make disciples of all nations). If a theologian can’t be found where you live, find them among the Church fathers, or become one yourself!

True science requires honesty, study and hard work, but it’s worth it. True theology, the same.

The true scientist trusts the natural world to be true, takes it at face value, tests it, confirms its truth, and himself can be trusted. The true theologian trusts the Bible to be true, takes it at face value, tests it, confirms its truth, and himself can be trusted.

Who do you trust?

Even in hell

‘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’ (1 Timothy 4:10) has always intrigued me ever since I first read it. This verse, considered in combination with the more famous John 3:16, that ‘God so loved the world’ tends to remind me of the little known concept that when Christ descends into Hades, He empties it. Who wouldn’t go with the living God when He finds you where you are, even in hell, and bids you, ‘Come forth!’

For the fundamentalist Christian, you must accept Christ as personal Lord and Savior or you go to hell for your sins.

For the Orthodox, the personal Lord and savior ‘of the whole human race, but particularly of all believers’ even harrows hell to rescue the soul that nailed Him to the cross, ‘for God so loved the world, that He sent His only-begotten Son…’

God is mercy.

Free

Every believer is called to live theologically, and the whole body of the Church is creating theology in its life and its struggle.

Thus the ex cathedra of Orthodoxy, the way in which it expresses itself infallibly, is from the Cross.

The responsibility that is spread over the whole body of people is a cross. Apophatic theology is an ascent to Golgotha. The spiritual life of each believer which provides the overall balance is a cross. On the Cross, the Lord ‘stretched out His hands and united what had previously been sundered.’

From all this we see why every term has a different meaning in the mouth of a saint, a different weight and force; it is because he is born and lives in another world.

What commands his enthusiasm and concern is something altogether non-essential and unimportant to the present age, which comes and sees it, and passes by on the other side.

That which is the life, the joy and the certainty of the Orthodox, does not exist for the world: ‘The world will see Me no more, but you will see Me’ (John 14:19).

We are bound together by the common faith which, in accordance with tradition, each of us has found and finds personally through the exercise of his own responsibility—so each of us shall give account of himself to God’ (Romans 14:12)—and through the communion of the Holy Spirit.

The Church leaves the believer free to feel Christ dwelling within him;
free to live in fear on the sea of this present age;
free to be crushed by his responsibility;
free to cry out to the Lord, ‘Master, we perish,’ and to see Him in the night of the present age, walking on the waters for him personally and for the whole Church;
and free to hear the Lord say to him, ‘It is I.’

Archimandrite Vasileios, Hymn of Entry, pp. 50-52 passim

This is the Orthodoxy that we adhere to. This is the Orthodoxy that is the foundation of the world, as we proclaim on Orthodoxy Sunday.

This is the unchanging Orthodoxy of Jesus Christ, the holy apostles, the fathers, the martyrs and all the saints, of former ages, in this present time, and in the age to come.

This is not an Orthodoxy one can convert to. This is an Orthodoxy one finds enfolding him when he comes to Jesus.

Glory to You, our God, and our hope,
glory to You who have shown us the Light!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Let us be Yours

The ‘prosperity gospel’ and ‘Christianity as a self-improvement regimen’ make their home in the minds of many Christians of all denominations, even the Orthodox Church. And how can they not? The Church, like the world, is full of humans, those inside just as fallen as those outside, and both sides polishing themselves to shiny splendor, even when sincerely serving the Lord, or serving Mammon. Well did the Lord’s brother, James, write to admonish us not to make distinctions between classes and types of people. ‘Don’t say to the rich man, “Here’s a nice seat next to me up front,” and to the poor man, “You can sit down there at my feet,”’ but perhaps he writes us in vain, for we have learned to observe the letter and escape the meaning. We rather pursue our own interest, even when we condescend to sit near or speak to our obvious social inferiors.

But the Church is forgiveness incarnate. We start by forgiving ourselves even while we are unashamed to parade our wealth, race, learning or good looks before others to impress, entice, humiliate or shame those whom we feel obligated to be ‘nice’ to because Christ said so. Then we forgive them who haven’t made it in life like we have, you know, the failures. I know how it is because I myself am a failed human. I tried my best to follow Christ and become what these others are, righteous, rich, learned, successful, happily married, brimming over with grandchildren, with degrees in the family from Princeton or Yale. It didn’t work for me, but I haven’t given up. I still try my best to follow Christ, only now I know, it isn’t so that I can be crowned on earth. Thankful am I to God for His great mercy in letting me know His Son and the Holy Church He has established. ‘Seek first the Kingdom of God…’

The blessing of God can be the blessings listed in the Bible, in Psalms and elsewhere. It can also be a secret blessing. ‘What kind of blessing is that,’ you ask, ‘if others don’t see it?’ What is the point of being blessed, or for Pete’s sake, even saved, if you can’t boast about it in one way or another? But that is not the kind of boasting that God wants. ‘What! Does He want us to boast? Great! Then let Him bless me more, and I will boast for all I’m worth!’ I don’t know, but the things that I’ve heard the apostle Paul say he boasts about, are not the kinds of things I mentioned above, that the ‘successful’ Christian thinks are his trump card. I knew there was a reason that Second Corinthians is my favorite Pauline epistle. ‘If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness’ (2 Corinthians 11:30). For me, that’s an easy task. Maybe not so for some of the others. It must be hard being so strong.

‘The poor you will have with you always. You won’t always have Me,’ says the Lord Jesus Christ, justifying the wasting of human resources on His person, or is there more to His intention? For He also says, ‘Whatsoever you do to the least of these, that you do unto Me,’ and, ‘Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’ What a confusing Jesus! No wonder people get perplexed with His sayings, and move on to seek truth among gurus they can understand, teachers who don’t ask for much, but deliver plenty. So we have it, from the beginning of the Church’s life up till now. Humanity in the rough, unchangeable because we don’t really want to be changed, satisfied to continue as we are because ‘grace has been given, the price has been paid,’ so we can forget to repent, or better yet, repent of imaginary sin to satisfy custom, because we don’t really believe we sin at all.

I wonder if we ever think of what we look like to the world that actually sees us. Perhaps we think of that too much, as we try to keep up appearances with it, to fit in nicely while we still retain God’s favor by church attendance and other pious works. If we belong to a sect or fellowship, we make sure our witness to the world conforms to righteousness, because ‘a city set on a hill cannot be hid,’ and we don’t want to be the cause of the world’s damnation. We show just the right amount of disdain for the world and its filthy practices, so they can see the benefits of following Jesus from our ‘straight and narrow’ lifestyle. If we belong to ‘the Church’ it’s really quite enough to let others know this about us, and come a-running, in our direction, of course, since we have the true faith. We don’t even have to open our mouths, really. Our fasting, bowing, babushkas and beards tell it all.

Lord, help us! 
You descended into Hades to loose the bonds of those who were chained. 
You trampled down death by death. 
You emptied the tombs. 
Call us, Lord! 
Call us out, by name, as You called out Lazarus. 
Let us truly obey You, truly follow You. 
Save us, Lord! 
Let us be Yours.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

No waiting

As mankind comes to the threshold of the most amazing scientific accomplishments, his cruelty and self-destructive behavior escalates as well. We cannot be trusted, in our natural state, with our own 'perfections', which are not perfections at all but only more liabilities.

No matter where I look, there is no hope, no love, no wisdom, no accomplishment, no perfection outside of Christ, only death, death, death. They say we are escapists to have faith in the only-loving God, and that salvation is a mercenary incentive, that if God were loving and good, He would accept us all as we are, perfect and imperfect.
Do they really know what they are saying?

Only human perfection could be that incredibly stupid, not to know that heaven, or hell, is in our pockets, depending on which we have put there.

This is one of those moments for me where with Isaiah I want to cry out, 'Oh that You would tear the heavens open and come down…'
but I must confess that I cannot.

Isaiah could cry out because the Christ had yet to appear.
As for me, He is standing outside my door daily, knocking to be let in.

Always, and already, here. No waiting.
No one in the line ahead of me, only the old man.

Why can't he just get tired of waiting and leave the line.
Then, I would be next.
And the One at the wicket would not put up a sign,
'Next window please.'

Sorrow, and gladness

Fruitless, even dead, trees in the landscape,
like the fig tree withered by Christ’s curse.
There are almost no other instances in the gospels,
maybe even no others, where Christ actually curses.
He sorrows. He chides. He calls to sanity and truth.
He feeds. He forgives. He sympathizes. He sorrows.
Yes, He sorrows, almost more than anything.
For our ignorance, our hatred, our greed.
He sorrows for the dead. He sorrows for us.
He even sorrows for Himself.
But He curses only that fig tree to its very barren branches.
Even unbelief, He does not curse, but warns, and laments.
‘Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! 
For if the mighty works done in you 
had been done in Tyre and Sidon, 
they would have repented long ago…’
Such is the work of the pre-crucified Christ.

Now He who was dead and who lives forever cries,
‘Awake, and let the Light shine on you…’

Φωτίζου, φωτίζου, η νέα Ιερουσαλήμ, 
η γαρ δόξα Κυρίου επι σε ανέτειλε. 
Χόρευε νυν και αγάλλου Σιών… 
Shine, shine, O new Jerusalem, 
for the glory of the Lord has arisen on you. 
Dance now and be glad, O Zion…