Sunday, May 31, 2015


Contemplating a passage from something I wrote a day or two ago.

There is no deeper divide between Islam and Christianity than this, that the Divine Nature, God, is One, yet within Himself has existed from eternity in a Threefold relationship that cooperates in the Creation, in the Redemption, and eventually in the Deification of the Universe under the priestly Kingship of the Human race.

Though the occasion of this thought was the comparison of Islam and Christianity, what is more profound in its application is what is hinted at in the last few words, ‘the Deification of the Universe under the priestly Kingship of the Human race.’

Caught up as we are in the flow of events in this our current time and place, planet earth, twenty-first century, we see mostly the threats that come against us, against our religion, Christianity, or if we are secularists, against our world, global warming, or if we are social activists, against equal rights for sexual minorities, or if we are politicos, the lying dogs of our opposite party, and so on.

For these latter groups, engrossed as they are by their earthly fears and hates, there is no alternative to fear, because they know no Savior. For us, Christians, we have no excuse for pessimism. Time is far longer than our minds can imagine, but we have been, first visited by, then integrated with, the Divine Nature, in the person of Jesus Christ.

He is at this moment fashioning us and preparing us for a world that neither we nor anyone can imagine on our own, and that preparation includes everything that is currently happening in our world, our countries, our churches, our families, and ourselves.

We can be blinded to the Truth, sometimes, by the intensity of what we are going through. We can be tricked out of our grasp of the certainty of the Divine Victory that, being won in an invisible way, is soon to be visibly revealed in a complete transfiguration of all things.

Pursuing ‘théosis’ on our own, individually, or not at all, both can still render us insensitive to the Divine transformation that is percolating all around us, which cannot result in anything but the fulfillment of the plan of God—the Deification of the Universe under the priestly Kingship of the Human race.

Yet this is a certainty, this is ‘as it must be’ and in its path, all that we undergo is leading us to overcome. Yes, Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and on those entombed, bestowing life. If nothing else, brethren, let us imagine this.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Twenty-ninth day

Beautiful, sunny, cool morning. Grabbing a cup of coffee, I settled down comfortably on the small sofa in front of my front room window, and picked up the Bible, opening it at random. The Book fell open at the page where the ikon of Pentecost is shown, opposite the text of Paul’s letter to the church at Colossæ. The header ‘Against False Spirituality’ caught my eye, and I began reading there.

So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ. Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God.

Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations—“Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,” which all concern things which perish with the using—according to the commandments and doctrines of men? These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.

Spirituality in the Church

If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God.

Turning the page, I read…

Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.
Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them.

But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all.

Savoring these thoughts, I left coffee and the New Testament behind on the table, and retreated to my bed room, to pray the Psalms of the twenty-ninth day from my well-worn Jerusalem Bible. My book mark, the calling card I used when I was a street reader (someone who reads the Gospels aloud in public places) fell out as I opened the Book above me where I reclined on my bed. Christ, the Sower of Good Seed, and ‘Mark 4:3-9’ my theme. I took up the first psalm appointed for the day, my favorite. (Actually, every psalm is my favorite when I am reading it.)

In praise of God's omniscience

For the choirmaster, of David, psalm.

Yahweh, You examine me and know me,
You know if I am standing or sitting,
You read my thoughts from far away,
whether I walk or lie down, You are watching,
You know every detail of my conduct.

The word is not even on my tongue,
Yahweh, before You know all about it;
close behind and close in front You fence me around,
shielding me with Your hands.
Such knowledge is beyond my understanding,
a height to which my mind cannot attain.

Where could I go to escape Your Spirit?
Where could I flee from Your presence?
If I climb the heavens, You are there,
there too, if I lie in She’ol.

If I flew to the point of sunrise,
or westward across the sea,
Your hand would still be guiding me,
Your right hand holding me.

If I asked darkness to cover me,
and light to become night around me,
that darkness would not be dark to You,
night would be as light as day.

It was You who created my inmost self,
and put me together in my mother's womb;
for all these mysteries I thank You:
for the wonder of myself, for the wonder of Your works.

You know me through and through,
from having watched my bones take shape
when I was being formed in secret,
knitted together in the limbo of the womb.

You had scrutinized my every action,
all were recorded in Your book,
my days listed and determined,
even before the first of them occurred.

God, how hard it is to grasp Your thoughts!
How impossible to count them!
I could no more count them than I could the sand,
and suppose I could, You would still be with me.

God, if only You would kill the wicked!
Men of blood, away from me!
They talk blasphemously about You,
regard Your thoughts as nothing.

Yahweh, do I not hate those who hate You,
and loathe those who defy You?
I hate them with a total hatred,
I regard them as my own enemies.

God, examine me and know my heart,
probe me and know my thoughts;
make sure I do not follow pernicious ways,
and guide me in the way that is everlasting.

I offered this psalm, meditating on it quietly, as its healing and forgiving words cleansed me of my transgressions, cringing also when I came to the passage beginning ‘God, if only You would kill the wicked!’ and ending with ‘I hate them with a total hatred, I regard them as my own enemies.’ I cringe whenever I offer these words because, I know who the ‘wicked’ is—myself. I know that I, no less than others, blaspheme the Lord daily. I remember a prayer I once prayed, ‘Share with us who hate You by our deeds but love You by our sorrows,’ and that takes me back to the verse, ‘Yahweh, You examine me and know me.’ What a great God is our God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom we do these things!

After a pause, I continue, ‘I hate them with a total hatred, I regard them as my own enemies,’ and can only ask for mercy. Yes, Lord, though I hate You by my deeds, I love you by my sorrows, knowing that all that happens to me, even those ills I bring upon myself, are for the good of my soul, and heralds of my salvation. ‘O happy fault!’ the saints who know You have cried.

Yes, I regard them as my own enemies, and hate them, the only things that can lawfully be hated, one’s own faults, one’s weaknesses, one’s sin. Yet not I, nor anyone, can languish there, for the psalmist closes with the prayer that hovers over us, even when we are asleep physically or spiritually, ‘Examine me and know my heart, probe me and know my thoughts; make sure I do not follow pernicious ways, and guide me in the way that is everlasting.’

The Holy Spirit, who prays in us to the Father on our behalf in the most-high Name of Jesus, yes, He prays for us when we cannot, or will not, His faithfulness swallowing up our unfaithfulness by the Divine mercy.

I read and pray the remainder of the appointed psalms, then in thought reflect on the apostle’s words, ‘Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory,’ and the words of another well-beloved psalm, one sung on the eighth day, the day of my birth, nurse me through my mortality, as I remember the Day of Pentecost is coming in three days,

I remember,
and my soul melts within me:
I am on my way
to the wonderful Tent,
to the House of God,
among cries of joy and praise
and an exultant throng.

Yes, Lord,
join us with You in that Kingdom,
share with us who hate You by our deeds
but love You by our sorrows
the Power,
that the Glory
that was Yours before the world ever was,
O Christ,
fell the forests of our sinful flesh,
that we might finally cry out to You,
Amen, and again we cry, Amen.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us,

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The day after Judgment Day

Below is the Vatican-provided text of Pope Francis' video message for the Day of Christian Unity in Phoenix, Arizona in the United States on May 23:

Brothers and sisters, may the peace of Christ be with you.

Forgive me if I speak in Spanish, but my English isn’t good enough for me to express myself properly. I speak in Spanish but, above all, I speak in the language of the heart.

[in Spanish:]

I have the invitation you sent me for this celebration of Christian Unity, this day of reconciliation. And I wish to join you from here. “Father, may we be one so that the world may believe you sent me”. This is the slogan, the theme of the meeting: Christ’s prayer to the Father for the grace of unity.

Today, Saturday May 23rd, from 9 in the morning until 5 in the afternoon, I will be with you spiritually and with all my heart. We will search together, we will pray together, for the grace of unity. The unity that is budding among us is that unity which begins under the seal of the one Baptism we have all received. It is the unity we are seeking along a common path. It is the spiritual unity of prayer for one another. It is the unity of our common labor on behalf of our brothers and sisters, and all those who believe in the sovereignty of Christ.

Dear brothers and sisters, division is a wound in the body of the Church of Christ. And we do not want this wound to remain open. Division is the work of the Father of Lies, the Father of Discord, who does everything possible to keep us divided.

Together today, I here in Rome and you over there, we will ask our Father to send the Spirit of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and to give us the grace to be one, “so that the world may believe”. I feel like saying something that may sound controversial, or even heretical, perhaps. But there is someone who “knows” that, despite our differences, we are one. It is he who is persecuting us. It is he who is persecuting Christians today, he who is anointing us with (the blood of) martyrdom. He knows that Christians are disciples of Christ: that they are one, that they are brothers! He doesn’t care if they are Evangelicals, or Orthodox, Lutherans, Catholics or Apostolic…he doesn’t care! They are Christians. And that blood (of martyrdom) unites. Today, dear brothers and sisters, we are living an “ecumenism of blood”. This must encourage us to do what we are doing today: to pray, to dialogue together, to shorten the distance between us, to strengthen our bonds of brotherhood.

I am convinced it won’t be theologians who bring about unity among us. Theologians help us, the science of the theologians will assist us, but if we hope that theologians will agree with one another, we will reach unity the day after Judgement Day. The Holy Spirit brings about unity. Theologians are helpful, but most helpful is the goodwill of us all who are on this journey with our hearts open to the Holy Spirit!

In all humility, I join you as just another participant on this day of prayer, friendship, closeness and reflection. In the certainty that we have one Lord: Jesus is the Lord. In the certainty that this Lord is alive: Jesus is alive, the Lord lives in each one of us. In the certainty that He has sent the Spirit He promised us so that this “harmony” among all His disciples might be realized.

Dear brothers and sisters, I greet you warmly, with an embrace. I pray for you. I pray with you.

And I ask you, please, to pray for me. Because I need your prayers in order to be faithful to what the Lord wants from my Ministry.

God bless you. May God bless us all.

My comments

Roman popes have always (at least as long as I've been alive) called themselves 'the Father of all Christians,' but they have not lifted a finger (not much, anyway) to make those of us that are outside the Roman Church want to have such a 'father', let alone accept him as that.

Pope Francis, though he isn't a spitting image of his namesake, the man of God Francesco of Assisi, and though he is a Jesuit (which most non-Catholics identify as the pope's army), this pope has something of the spirit of St Francis. He is consistent in his own sort of poverty.

And that poverty is the poverty of Truth, which does not need embellishment to be what it is. Neither does it need any earthly authority to establish it. This is exactly what Christ was, and still is—the Truth—and why anyone who genuinely follows Him can be distinguished from impostors.

Francis, the bishop of Rome, its pope and patriarch, is no impostor. Nor does he allow the world to get near him to twist his words. Nor does he countenance divisions between people. Nor does he rely on himself 'to make miracles.' Like the fictional Pope Leo in the film 'Saving Grace' (1986), he says, in effect, 'I cannot make miracles. I can only pray for one.'

The miracle of today is the reunion of the Church, not by theologians in council, but by the Spirit of God, who appears unrestricted by human weakness and amidst suffering and defeat, in all those who work for peace and social justice, and in all those now being slaughtered for their faith.

I am an Orthodox Christian, but what I see in Pope Francis supports what I have always known—well, almost always: I had to grow up 'a little' before I was tall enough to see over the top of my own head—that the Church has never been divided, and cannot be, so—what do we do now?

Christianity lost in the mire of divisive doctrinal controversies helped the progress of Islam at its birth, so that it could take more than half the (Christian) Roman Empire. Modern Christianity is now divided without doctrinal controversy, just by politics, allowing Islam's next move.

What do we believe? That our salvation depends on the doctrines we believe, or in Jesus Christ? Undoubtedly, doctrines have their place, but since nowhere does Christ teach doctrines in the Holy Gospels, He teaches only Himself, why do we not resign ourselves to the Truth?

Truly, as the scriptures state, 'His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will clear his threshing floor, gathering His wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire' (Matthew 3:12). This is what Truth does, what it always does, both now, and on the Day of Judgment.

Listen to this pope, brethren, and watch him closely, and see if he doesn't continue on a path which will unashamedly put all prior popes and churchly authorities to shame, by just being who he is, a man of God in Christ, who has placed him in the breach for us, as a true image of Himself.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Under the form of an angel

Exalted is He who took His Servant by night from al-Masjid al-Haram to al-Masjid al-Aqsa, whose surroundings We have blessed, to show him of Our signs. Indeed, He is the Hearing, the Seeing.
Sura 17:1 Qur’an

And [remember, O Muhammad], when We told you, ‘Indeed, your Lord has encompassed the people.’ And We did not make the sight which We showed you except as a trial for the people, as was the accursed tree [mentioned] in the Qur’an. And We threaten them, but it increases them not except in great transgression.
Sura 17:60 Qur’an

And he certainly saw him in another descent, at the Lote-tree of the Utmost Boundary—near it is the Garden of Refuge—when there covered the Lote-Tree that which covered [it]. The sight [of the Prophet] did not swerve, nor did it transgress [its limit]. He certainly saw of the greatest signs of his Lord.
Sura 53:13-18 Qur’an

The tradition of the nocturnal ascension of Muhammad—an ecstasy to which the Qur’an twice alludes—was in his calling a central event that ruled the entire legislative activity of Medina. It was to this that fervent Muslims turned over the centuries and gave their concentrated thought, seeking to rediscover and revive the dispositions of Muhammad’s heart in his search for God.

When the angel to whom the Prophet was entrusted had transported him from Mecca, first onto the esplanade of the Temple of the destroyed Jerusalem and thence to the inaccessible Holy City—the heavenly Jerusalem, where the glory of God resides—Muhammad reached beyond the Supreme Horizon [Utmost Boundary] up to the Lotus of Delay [Lote-Tree], close to which was found the Garden of Eternal Sojourn [Garden of Refuge], while a host of angels covered the Tree. Behind that mystical Tree at an interval of two bow-shots, God was hidden.

Muhammad desired and attempted to reach God through the mystery, but his angelic guide was unable to introduce him into the embracing Union, for the completely naked angelic nature which his guide had assumed did not represent the type of intimate Union with God that is possible only through the crucified humanity of Christ. Ignorant of the true meaning and purpose of the Incarnation, Muhammad remained excluded from the Divine Union [Théosis] reserved to the adoration of sons.

In all sincerity he asked the Deity to manifest Himself to him, at least under the appearance of an angel. But under the features of the angel who guided him he could discover and proclaim only the inaccessibility of the Divine Essence. Thus he remained on the threshold and did not try to advance into the eternity of the Divine Fire, thus too renouncing the knowledge, from within, of the personal life of God through the only Mediator, Christ, who would have sanctified him.

There was in that outpouring of Muhammad’s faith the expression of a desperate desire that he kept during his entire life, ‘to contemplate God, at least under the form of an angel.’

—Giulio Basetti-Sani, OFM

I have performed some minor editing on the passage quoted above by Giulio Basetti-Sani, of the Order of Friars Minor (Franciscans), from his essay ‘Muhammad and Saint Francis’ in The Francis Book (©1980, OFM). The book was packed away for several years, and I had just found it again, and was reading some of my favorite chapters. The one quoted above has always intrigued me, speaking as it does of the so-called ‘night journey’ of Muhammad. This reflection, and another that I read years ago in a book by Idries Shah, describe the ‘event’ in nearly the same terms, differing in minor details.

The gist of it is, that Muhammad approached God in a vision, desired to see Him face to face, but was prevented from passing a boundary in order to do it. Passing that boundary, as I remember it in Idries Shah’s version, had to do with Muhammad giving up something, and being unwilling to. It was intimated that this ‘something’ was his numerical monotheism, for to pass the boundary and see God face to face would have brought him to a vision of the Holy Trinity, a single Divine Essence in three Persons. So he retreated, saying in effect, ‘If that is how it must be, then I must be satisfied with contemplating God under the form of an angel,’ that is, the Christ of the Christians just cannot be God, he must not be, or the Divine Oneness is ended.

The irony, of course, is that Jesus Christ, is the Angel of the Covenant, whose form (unlike the form of the angel that guided Muhammad) as a man exactly represents ‘the type of intimate Union with God that is possible’ precisely because it is, and must be, through this Angel’s crucified humanity.

There is no deeper divide between Islam and Christianity than this, that the Divine Nature, God, is One, yet within Himself has existed from eternity in a Threefold relationship that cooperates in the Creation, in the Redemption, and eventually in the Deification of the Universe under the priestly Kingship of the Human race.

God’s Oneness is beyond mathematical unity. He is so completely One, that it is right to speak of His ‘having no partners’ not only in the form of pagan goddess consorts, but even more so in admitting that there cannot be any other self-originating being. The Holy Trinity, even in His Divine Marriage with the Human race, does nothing to compromise that Oneness. Instead, the Oneness of God takes on an even greater Majesty.

This is the Message that must be grasped by the nation of Islam, that there is nothing they or anyone can do to break the Oneness of God, or to defend or promote it. And this has always been the truth, ever since Yahweh spoke, ‘Hear, O Israel, Yahweh is God, Yahweh is One.’

And there is none greater to contemplate than He, who under the form of an angel, is God and Man.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Just preach Christ

The Orthodox Christian does not proselytize; he evangelizes.
He does not preach Church,
he preaches Christ.
In this he follows His Master, who in the gospels does not seek converts, but seeks that which is lost.

Never do we find that Jesus in His earthly ministry went after people. Never do we see Him arguing a philosophical point to win over an opponent. Never does He proselytize, but He does have words for those who do.

Οὐαὶ ὑμῖν, γραμματεῖς καὶ Φαρισαῖοι ὑποκριταί, ὅτι περιάγετε τὴν θάλασσαν καὶ τὴν ξηρὰν ποιῆσαι ἕνα προσήλυτον, καὶ ὅταν γένηται, ποιεῖτε αὐτὸν υἱὸν γεέννης διπλότερον ὑμῶν.

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are. (Matthew 23:25 NIV)

What do we find instead? Two disciples of a Jewish prophet, John the Forerunner, are directed by him, pointing to Jesus walking by and saying, “That is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29)

What did the two disciples do? They followed after Jesus. Why? Because they believed the word of the prophet. How did they approach Jesus? They asked, “Rabbi, where do you live?” How does Jesus respond? He says, “Come, and see!”

The encounter with the Truth is gentle. There is no compulsion exerted from the outside. Everything is accomplished inwardly. All movement is internal first, in the heart. Then, it is manifested by the feet, running after the Lord.

This is why the Orthodox Christian does not argue semantically to win over an opponent. He does not preach Apollos. He doesn’t preach Paul. He doesn’t preach himself. No, he preaches Christ, and Him crucified, and risen from the dead.

People want to draw us into arguments, wrangling over words, but it is precisely this tactic that the evil one used when he wanted to entrap Christ. To every argument, Jesus responded not with human reason, but with the plain words of scripture.

The Word of God does not need to defend Himself.
He simply is what He is.

In the same way, brethren, all who follow Jesus, all who believe and stand on the Word, who preach, like the angel of the last days, the eternal gospel, just preach Christ, to yourself by submitting all your thoughts to the Word of God, to others by proving on the battlefield of your body that you follow Christ the Victor over sin, and to all those whom the Lord places in your path by your courtesy and generosity, and by always having a spirit of welcome, for men have welcomed angels without knowing it (Hebrews 13:2).

Getting decorated

Scenario. A young professional woman, an engineer, works overseas for two or three years to “get her feet wet,” really wet, after graduating from school. She is a Christian. She’s been brought up that way by church-going parents. She is a product of white, mainline Protestant America, did all the right things, and made a career for herself that she can fall back on when, after marriage and the kids past infancy, she can work again at a job that she likes and that pays well.

Her time at the foreign firm is up, and it’s time to head home to America, the bread basket of the world, where along with wheat, broad evangelical piety is also the export. While she was working, she must have made an impression on the people she worked with and got to know. Aware of it or not, they’ve been watching her round the clock, taking stock of her every word, every move.

They noticed when she went along with them to a pub and socialized. They saw her gathering herself up on the weekends to go to church services. They didn’t go, of course, but she went, to hang out with those religious folks that they liked to keep at arm’s length. But that was okay with them, as long as she didn’t ask them to go too, because she knew how to drink a hearty ale with the best of them.

Now it was time to bid farewell, and they presented her with a gold cross on a necklace as a going away gift. Very nice of them, that they appreciated her and wanted her to know just how much. It was no mere trinket, and besides, it let her know what they thought of her, and her religion. They were right to think she’d like it—probably something she wanted to get herself, but never did.
They noticed her neck was bare.

People have many ways of keeping, not sin but, God at arm’s length. The usual way is by ignoring Him, but if pushed they might push back. They even have figured out ways to bribe Him to stay out of their lives. They do “good deeds” and become “good deed doers.” They run marathons to raise money for breast cancer research. They buy Girl Scout cookies, so girls can go on outings together. They volunteer for “Meals on Wheels” and deliver canned goods to the Food Bank.

People even have ways to reward God for staying out of their lives. One of the ways is by patronizing His devotees. It always amazes me how lavish is the Portland community’s praise of the Greek Festival hosted every year by my church, Aghía Triás. They just love us, and they reward us by spending tens of thousands of dollars at the festival every year. As for them, they love us because we keep our mouths shut about Jesus. As for us, we think we deserve their support for, after all, we are Christ’s people, and our Church, the light of the world.

So her co-workers gave a gold cross on a chain to decorate her for keeping out of their lives, and staying in her own. Christians are welcome as long as they’re not blabbing about God, constantly disrupting the lives and comfort of the people around them.

It goes even deeper. If you let your following of Christ, not your religion, direct you in your day-to-day affairs at home, at school, or in the workplace, even without speaking the Word of God to anyone, people will notice, and they may even reward you like they rewarded the young lady in the story—or they may give you the hatchet, as they have to many friends of mine, and even to me. You just never know what the world’s denizens will do with you.
But either way, they’re still holding you, and ultimately Christ, at arm’s length, so as not to be infected by your disease, pleased to wish you farewell, before they lose any more madmen to sanity, or swine to drowning.

So those who fed the swine fled, and they told it in the city and in the country. And they went out to see what it was that had happened. Then they came to Jesus, and saw the one who had been demon-possessed and had the legion, sitting and clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. And those who saw it told them how it happened to him who had been demon-possessed, and about the swine. Then they began to plead with Him to depart from their region.
Mark 5:14-17

Open Door

We are still the early Christians, at least,
we can be if we want to.

This doesn’t mean trying to set up yet another church denomination to ‘purify’ the Church of all the accumulations of tradition and what not that seems to obscure the Good News. Actually, it isn’t the traditions per se that obscure the Good News. Administered rightly, the traditions do what they were designed to do: amplify the Good News and integrate it into our personal lives.

What obscures the Good News is something so close to us that we can’t often see it. It’s our tendency to want the appearance rather than the reality of anything. The mind awake knows better, knows this tendency and refutes it, saying as C. S. Lewis writes, ‘I want God, not my idea of God.’ This is what the Christian mind awake realizes about God and, this being its starting point, begins to untie the knot of its self-deception.

Acknowledging the holy scriptures formally does nothing to promote our life in Christ. We must with the fear of God, with faith and love draw near to them. We must humbly bow our stiff necks and tender our tough hearts into the faithful care of the Word of God. Studying them in this way, we are drawn to the same life that the holy apostles and early church brothers lived. Why? Because we realize we want it.

When I read the first letter of holy apostle Paul to his spiritual son Timothy the other day, I didn’t read a daily portion. I couldn’t read any less than the whole book, cover to cover, short as it is. It drew me into itself, not in the imagination, but in the spirit of the life it contains. Reading it this way, I was placed right then and there, living the same church life that they live, with them. Why? Because it’s still happening.

As I said at first, we are the early Christians, and that’s that, but only if we want to be. Once you discover that through living in the holy scriptures, once you have had a taste of that life, that real Church life, you realize there really isn’t any other kind, everything else seems fake, seems contrived. Fellowship with the saints becomes more than a review of history, and you realize what it means to have an indelible baptism.

Christ is not religion to me, nor are He and His holy apostles and saints too exalted to be my friends, nor is the Holy Spirit an excuse for me to rest in comfortable exile from my heavenly home.

Instead, the Book is the door that was left open in my path, and I walked through it to find that all it says is true, that there is a heavenly country, that paradise still exists, that the Church has never changed, never been divided, and that it’s my Home now, and to the ages of ages.

Behold, I have set before thee an open door,
and no man can shut it.
Revelation 3:8

Ιδου, δεδωκα ενωπιον σου θυραν ανεωγμενην,
και ουδεις δυναται κλεισαι αυτην.

Healing rain

I awoke in the dark night, the cool air drifting into my room through two wide opened windows, the soft sounds of a gently falling rain soothing to my mind and soul. Healing rain, the heavens liquefying to lay down on hard, unyielding pavements and dry, thirsty soil a moist blanket of peace in the night, peace after a day satisfied with its work, peace and stillness.

Always welcome to me, rain by night or by day invites me to pause, to return to my inner home. I would curl up in a cushioned chair in a corner between two windows, maybe a light blanket over me, and read a good book, or the Good Book, or even just the book of my memories. Taking pause, the selah of the psalms, after words or work, to stop and consider, it is enough.

This night the rain remembered another day when it healed the earth and those that live upon it and are buried in it. That bright day many years ago when, after a week of my wife’s family reunion at Buffalo Lake, Alberta, some of us turned aside to a graveyard in Camrose to commit to the soil the ashes of one of its own, my father-in-law James Raymond Mabbott.

He had come home from Australia to die. After a stormy marriage that produced five children in short order, he had disappeared, leaving his wife and oldest daughter to manage a fatherless family. Canadian farm boy of good stock, he was descended from Christian people from England’s smallest county, Rutlandshire, that came to settle in Wisconsin before the Civil War.

That family fanning out over the great plains, always west and north, to the Dakotah Territory, then spilling over to fill the prairie provinces, to Saskatchewan, to Alberta, leaving sturdy sons and swarthy but fair daughters to build homesteads, first from sod houses, at last produced the generation that was cast into the fiery furnace of the second world war, turning farm boys into killers.

After that war, wishing to forget, one took to alcohol and riotous living, but obligations to kith and kin must still be met. A young man took a wife, daughter of Ukrainian settlers who wished to become ‘white’ as quickly as possible. To be like other Canadians, my wife’s grandmother Domka, daughter of Father Theodosius Taschuk of the Russian Orthodox mission, became Doris.

She sent her children to the Protestant school and church, never spoke the ancestral tongue, the better to make Canadians out of them. When my mother-in-law was six, the old country reappeared in Father Theodosius coming to the settlement, rounding up all the children who hadn’t been baptised, and giving them the triple dunk in a large washbasin. Nancy became Anastasia in a hidden moment.

Then, back to Nancy as she grew up, a nice ‘white’ girl like all the other Smiths and Gordons and MacDearmids, when she became ripe for wedding, the young school mistress became the missus Mabbott, and started bearing children for her gallant young man. But the war had left large scars on his soul, and Christian though he was, what little faith he had was traded for drink.

Before long, the inevitable happened. Paper Christianity doesn’t have much holding power, and the young family was torn in two. As usual the children weighted down their mother’s boat, almost capsizing it. And the father, clinging to his piece of driftwood, was finally lost at sea. They never saw him again for a decade, hearing only rumors that he, like many others, had gone down under.

When he finally returned, it was to come home to die. The family was mostly grown. His oldest daughter had just become my wife. He went about trying to gather his sons and daughters together, and to make amends, tried to give them what he thought they needed, but money can’t atone for missing years. Before long he couldn’t hide his throat cancer any more. He had to pay the piper.

I knew him very little, but I could see what sort of man he must have been, and could have been. He was no stranger to virtue, but even loaded with virtues, a man can still be felled by one carefully aimed vice. Not wanting to ‘be buried in the cold earth’ he requested, and was granted, to have his remains cremated, so his bones would not feel the frozen clay, but his ashes had no resting place.

Not even an urn, just a cardboard box contained him, or what was left of him, as we opened the trunk of my car parked at the roadside. His oldest son was angry, was outraged that his father had nothing to show for him but a box of ashes. It was a bright day, its sharp outlines blunted by the steady drizzle that drenched the ground and muddied our boots as we walked into the cemetery.

There was a grave opened and ready to receive his ashes. I don’t remember how they were interred, but someone took charge of them. My part was to perform the memorial service. James, my father-in-law, was not a religious man, but he was a Christian, not a victorious one, but a crushed one. He was a man who had to go through a dark wood by night and was attacked, robbed and killed by a brigand.

No one else in the family knew what to do, and the church affiliations of those present at the interment were sketchy, so it fell to us, to my wife and me, to ‘do something’ for a memorial. What we did was the Greek Orthodox memorial service, singing parts of it in Greek for that little crowd of pious but undiscipled Christian relatives. ‘Meta pnevmaton dikaion teteleiomenon…’

I had printed out the memorial service and the few parts that were in Greek I translated, but no one holding a copy in their hands was looking at it. Something I learned early about the rain: you can cry in it and not be ashamed, because no one can tell the tears from the raindrops on your face, unless they look very closely. One of my wife’s sisters joined in as we sang ‘Aionia i mnimi…’

That simple melody, Aionia i mnimi, ‘Eternal be his memory,’ still hung in the air as we slowly parted from each other and returned to our cars. Some of the family had stayed in their cars because they were afraid of the rain. It made me wonder at the time, and even now, what people think is important, and why. Me, I am as much an Indian as I can be, bare-chested I love to go out in the rain.

As I sit here by my open window, that beautiful, constant sound of water plays music on the dark hardness outside, finding echoes within me, and I hope that when the sun rises in about an hour, the rain will continue. The world and I both need healing right now, and we cannot heal ourselves. Our memories cannot heal us, our doctrines and covenants cannot heal us, only the rain.

The rain, no, not the water falling that I love to run in or sit quietly under cover and listen to, not that rain, though it can be the harbinger. No, the real rain, that which God sends to water the earth, to water the heart, that is the rain I am talking about. We know the name of that red rain that washes away all stain of sin and the sting of pain. It is blood. It is grace. Healing rain.

Αιωνία η μνήμη

At their first meeting, Reginald Fleming Johnston, the British tutor of the last emperor of China, Aisingioro Pu Yi, the young prince asks him, ‘Where are your ancestors buried?’ Comes the reply, ‘In Scotland, Your Majesty.’ This was the emperor’s first personal question to his new tutor, after which the conversation quickly moved on to other things, but it demonstrates how important it was to know where one’s ancestors are buried.

When we think of East Asian culture, one of its features that comes to mind is the idea and practice of ‘ancestor worship.’

When I go to an Asian store, anything from a humble grocery to a full-fledged shopping mall, there I always see a shelf or an entire aisle or two devoted to merchandise necessary to the cult of ancestors: statues of Chinese gods, memorial tablets, incense pots and vases, joss sticks (incense) by the bundle, ‘hell money’ in bank notes and gold foil ingots, and joss (burnable) versions of everyday articles and clothing, consumables for the afterlife.

But it isn’t only the East Asians that have this concern for their ancestors. This is intrinsic to many cultures, in my own in fact as an Orthodox Christian, except in my case, and for many Americans and others living a mobile lifestyle, I don’t know where most of my ancestors are buried, and even when I do, there is little or no possibility that I will ever visit their graves in my entire lifetime. Yet, in my childhood I remember visiting graves with my parents, and leaving flowers.

Cemeteries. In theory I love them, and whenever I drive past one, something in me always pauses and I feel like my heart is on the edge waiting for something, waiting for a voice to speak, or for faces to appear: There are people buried there under those stones, hundreds of people, hidden under that vast blanket of comforting grass.

A child said
What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands;
How could I answer the child?
I do not know what it is any more than he.

I guess it must be the flag of my disposition,
out of hopeful green stuff woven.
Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,
A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropt,
Bearing the owner's name someway in the corners,
that we may see and remark, and say Whose?

Or I guess the grass is itself a child,
the produced babe of the vegetation.
Or I guess it is a uniform hieroglyphic,
And it means,
Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow zones,
Growing among black folks as among white,
Kanuck, Tuckahoe, Congressman, Cuff,
I give them the same,
I receive them the same.

And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.
Tenderly will I use you curling grass,
It may be you transpire from the breasts of young men,
It may be if I had known them I would have loved them,
It may be you are from old people,
or from offspring taken soon out of their mothers' laps,
And here you are the mothers' laps.

This grass is very dark to be from the white heads of old mothers,
Darker than the colorless beards of old men,
Dark to come from under the faint red roofs of mouths.
O I perceive after all so many uttering tongues,
And I perceive they do not come
from the roofs of mouths for nothing.

I wish I could translate the hints
about the dead young men and women,
And the hints about old men and mothers,
and the offspring taken soon out of their laps.

What do you think has become of the young and old men?
And what do you think has become of the women and children?

They are alive and well somewhere,
The smallest sprout shows there is really no death,
And if ever there was it led forward life,
and does not wait at the end to arrest it,
And ceas'd the moment life appear'd.

All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.

(Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass, Book 3, ‘Song of Myself,’ Canto 6)

The nature god lover and praiser Uncle Walt’s words come to mind because they announce so well what I feel inside me, though my rational mind rebels against this as mere sentiment, rebuking my heart’s hopes while envying it for them. Like the rest of the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve, I want to believe that my life and their lives are not, were not, all for nothing, that the universe is tamed and given meaning by love, that all that goodness doesn’t just run to waste.

If there is a God—and I do not doubt this—He must have made provision for us. He too must not want all this goodness to just run to waste and disappear. Those corpses in the graveyard once were men and women and children. That’s what they were once, and that they will be again, but now? What are they but objects waiting to be revivified? Is there any real connexion between those endless iterations of decay prevented by vaults and boxes from returning to feed the earth, and the living beings they once were?

‘I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the age to come.’ With every new translation of the original Greek προσδοκώ, proz-dho-KOH, ‘I expect, I anticipate,’ comes a new muddling of the real meaning. ‘I look for’ is about as weak a translation as I can imagine. It implies that something has been misplaced, or lost in the shuffle, but maybe in fact something has been lost: whatever it is that, beyond all appearances trimmed to visible size by time, really joins us to one another and to our ancestors.

C. S. Lewis writes in Mere Christianity,

Human beings look separate because you see them walking about separately. But then we are so made that we can see only the present moment. If we could see the past, then of course it would look different. For there was a time when every man was part of his mother, and (earlier still) part of his father as well, and when they were part of his grandparents. If you could see humanity spread out in time, as God sees it, it would look like one single growing thing—rather like a very complicated tree. Every individual would appear connected with every other.

Every year Memorial Day comes round, at least here in North America, a ready-made ‘holy day’ piled on top of other memorial days that have migrated with every culture that has ever come home to these shores. I live two thousand miles away from the graves of any of my recent ancestors and have never gone to visit their graves. It puzzles me and mystifies me, the feelings some of my ethnic neighbors have for the actual sites and contents of their ancestors’ resting places.

I envy even those of my own ethnic heritage whose little walled graves in church yards, some even surmounted with stone tables for memorial suppers, still understand what it means, still feel it, still feel them, the ancestors, alive and hidden in their own living flesh, and can therefore truly stand firm and confident in their προσδοκώ, in their expectation of the resurrection of not only the dead, but of their dead, their loved ones, who now live only by being carried in the memory of God.

Yes, Αιωνία η μνήμη, aionía i mními, ‘eternal [be] the memory,’ of all my pious and God-fearing ancestors, and yours, and all those who have cried out to Christ, ‘Remember me, Lord, in Your Kingdom.’

Look, we heard it was at Ephrata…

I've never kept a ‘prayer journal,’ but because the Psalms has been my daily ‘prayer book’ what has happened is that the memory of certain answered prayers has attached itself to various verses in different psalms. When I read (and pray) them year after year, the memories that come unlocked when I read these various verses keep the incidents alive in my active mind.

One example…

There's a psalm verse that refers to the capture of the ark by the Philistines and its recovery by the Israelites. ‘Look, we heard it was at Ephrata, we found it at Fields of the Forest [Kiriath Jearim]. Let us go where He is waiting and worship at His footstool. (Psalm 132, Day 28)

Many years ago, when I was attending a small Episcopal church, it so happened that a thief had broken into the church one night and carried off the priest’s pectoral cross, and the silver chalice and other ceremonial objects that are used in the communion service, leaving nothing behind. This happened perhaps on a Sunday or Monday night. The word of this calamity was passed along to the members of our small, inner city congregation, and we all started praying for the return of these items so that we could have the service the following Sunday.

Well, as I prayed using the Psalms on the thirty day cycle, which means, I pray the psalms assigned for the day of the month, to which I also add my petitions, I started praying for the return of the stolen sacramentals. On the day of the month that Psalm 132 falls, I prayed this psalm and added my petitions to it, aware of the fact that the theme of this psalm was similar to our unhappy circumstances. By that evening, I received a call telling us what happened that day.

A woman called the church and said she was walking in Kelley Point Park (a kind of forest preserve on the banks of the Willamette River), and she saw a cardboard box lying under a large tree against the base of the trunk. She went over to it in that lonely place, and found inside the box a number of silver objects, the paten, the chalice, and some other things. She was very surprised, but had a suspicion that there was some mischief involved, so she picked up the box and took it home, and was about to call the police when she noticed, upon closer examination, that one of the objects was engraved, ‘Dedicated to Saint Andrew's Parish, to the glory of God, in memory of…’. So she went to the Portland telephone directory and looked for a church named Saint Andrew's. The first one that she came across was our parish. She called the priest and asked if they were missing any sacred vessels. Of course, we were missing some, all of them in fact!

The woman told the priest her story, and where she was living, and he went right over there and retrieved them. Only one item was not in the box—his pectoral cross (that's the one a priest wears around his neck during the services).

The woman found these items at approximately the same time in the morning that I was praying Psalm 132. That memory has never been erased, but continues fresh till today. That's one example from my unwritten ‘prayer journal.’

Thursday, May 21, 2015

One love

Another Ascension Day has come and gone, again, and I, having exhausted myself of repeating any pithy and profound thoughts I have heard tell or meditated upon, confine myself to this one simple thought that, once it occurred to me, has colored my feelings about this Day ever since.

He said to them: ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.’
Acts 1:7-11

It’s the last line that grabs me. When Jesus returns, He will come back the same way He left, but what if, when He returns, He will return to find His people the same way they were when He ascended? This seems to be the flip-side of the angels’ words, and what is behind their, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky?’ The force of this idea, that the believers, that is, the Church, will again be united as those disciples were when they witnessed Christ’s ascension, is what moves me. The ending shall be as the beginning, on earth as it is in heaven.

Holy apostles, lovingly plant in us the seed that the Master planted in you, that you write to us who live at the end of time, that the Spirit, Lord and Giver of Life causes to sprout and grow in us, that we too may enter into the mystery of life in the Holy Triad with you, one mind, one will, one heart, one love. [*]

Wednesday, May 20, 2015


One of the ‘infinites’ that characterizes God is that He is infinitely economical. Not only does He waste absolutely nothing, but He makes absolutely the best use of everything that He has made, and this even includes time. When He does something, He does it in absolutely the shortest possible length of time.

From the mayfly whose life span is designed to last less than five minutes, to the red dwarf star whose development cycle can take ten trillion years, everything that God makes He makes in as little time as it can possibly take, and this He does by taking every possible shortcut. Evolution is what this looks like.

If this statement doesn’t seem quite correct, if it can be objected to by ‘stating the facts,’ it’s not God’s fault. We too are one of His creations, hand-crafted with magnificent economy. What the universe or any creature looks like to anyone within it, depends greatly on what they are designed to see.

The thirty thousand eyes of the dragonfly, each one containing a lens and a series of light sensitive cells, give it three hundred sixty degree vision and the ability to detect colors and polarized light. The two eyes of the human being—well, what can I say?—perhaps God compensates us by giving us a larger brain.

Using that brain—and the eyes are just the parts of it that stick out where we can see them—we can see exactly and only what we were designed to see—and that’s a lot more than a dragonfly sees. It’s designed to see, but only so it can find food to voraciously feed on for a few weeks, lay its eggs, and die.

We are designed to see, not only to eat, reproduce, and die, but to find meaning in a universe that, it sometimes seems, could continue on its own very well without us. We’re so small, so weak, so short-lived, so insignificant, really, so why should we expect to see and understand what’s really going on here?

God has told us in a language that our puny brains can understand, how He created the universe, and us. On our own we have gradually evolved the sciences, which tell us that all we can ever know is nearly nothing. That’s great, even though He gave us the Bible, which tells us almost the same thing.

It’s not so much that all we can ever know is nearly nothing, but that we are not designed to pursue that kind of knowledge as our ultimate aim. God never creates anything so that it can fail. He never makes ‘mistakes.’ Everything He does is designed to do what it actually does. Even free will, when it is truly free.

The Bible tells us that we are designed in the image of God. Doesn’t it make sense, then, that we should also feel good about ourselves when we are being economical, when we don’t waste, when we find short cuts, when we discover what it is that we were designed to do, and to be, by nature, and by nurture?

Back to the time line, and to the ‘waste not, want not’ of the Divine Nature, back to the evolution which is what ‘God creating’ looks like, back to what it is we are designed to see. That which we are designed to see is simply not everything. Things look as they do, because we’re not made to see the whole picture.

At least, not yet. The world and all that is in it, visible and invisible, was made in six days, and then ‘God rested,’ and here we are on the cosmic weekend with nothing to do—hardly! God rests not because He is tired, but because He’s making room for us. For us to do what? To be what He designed us to be.

You see, though God rests, He’s not sleeping, nor is He absent. Even His own work flow He designs in the most economical manner. We couldn’t tell, on our own, whether or not we were a finished design, so He helped us by designing Himself as One of us.

It turns out that there is a new creation, and that’s what we were designed for. That’s why at this stage in our design, we’re still on a bridge. There’s nothing wrong with that, only that we weren’t designed to stay there. We are designed to move. We are designed to change. We are designed to be designers.

The path of our evolution seems to be the longest, most wasteful, most winding path we ever could have dreamed of. We think, this is no evidence of design, just blind chance stretched out over uncountable eons of time and space, and all heading—nowhere. Finally, it will all just fizzle out.

But what we see is the shortest possible path between our creation and our—what can I call it? It’s almost unnameable—inauguration, our ‘coming into our own,’ our attaining to our maturity, our realization of what we were made for. It seems a long path, but truly, God has taken a short cut.

Now, if we are true to our nature, if we want to be happy because we’re doing what we are designed to do, then it’s time to pull ourselves together. It’s time for us to do what Christ told the paralyzed man to do, ‘Take up your mat, and walk,’ even if it’s the Sabbath. For He has designed, ‘the son of man is Master, even of the Sabbath.’

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

With liberty and justice for all

I am a Christian. I try to follow the Bible, especially Christ’s teachings, as though He expected me to. I am a citizen. I try to follow the Constitution, in spite of the many abuses that have intruded on it, as though the founding fathers expected me to.

As a Christian, I also confess adherence to the Orthodox faith, which is something I did not make up, so that others will know what to expect of me. As a citizen, I also admit to being a Republican, which is something I did not make up, so that my fellow citizens can know what I stand for.

As for my Orthodoxy, that is not too ambiguous. Anyone who wants to know in specific what I believe, they can ask me, or go to an encyclopedia and look it up. I do not deviate any more from what the books say than anyone else; Orthodoxy is a flexible faith, allowing for diversity—within limits.

As for my Republicanism, ah, well, that is not quite so easy. My precinct card says I am a Republican, and I can vote in the primaries of the ‘grand, old party,’ but no one, it seems, knows anymore what Republican means. Opponents have colored it one way, adherents in confusion color it another.

Just as I can tell you, simply and briefly, that being Orthodox means, following Jesus in the company and by the example of the saints who have gone before, period, so also I can tell you, that being Republican means, following the enlightenment tradition of ‘live and let live’ and keeping honest accounts, bingo!

I am also a Greek, not by physical descent—I am one hundred per cent Polish-American—but by ‘thinking like a Greek.’ No, that doesn’t mean I have gyros, ouzo, and partying on my mind—though I do cry easily—but that I believe in the basic goodness of humanity, in reason, and in the ‘polis.’

The polis—that is the ancient Greek democracy of the city-state—may be an ideal that can never be perfectly attained—that’s asking for paradise on earth, but nevertheless even without knowing it, anyone who has a political thought in their brain is trying to reach that ideal, each in their own way.

The French, always in our faces with their superior accomplishments, believe in ‘liberté, égalité, fraternité,’ and that is something, I believe, most people would agree with—less the French way of achieving it, by chopping off the heads of kings and queens and other suspicious folks, even milkmaids!

The great experiment launched by the American Revolution in whose shadow we are living now, which produced a sublime document set—the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights—released into the world, like Pandora’s Box, a plethora of polis-seeding and polis-slaying ideas.

But the polis, and democracy, that kingless city where everyone is truly wise and self-ruled, productive and generous, defenseless because there is no enemy, which is what all true revolutionaries—people whose motivation is first and foremost, love—have lived and died for, is still the goal, is still attainable.

Not by what we see today as politics, which is an abuse of the word. Politics should be all that pertains to the founding, maintenance, and defense of the polis. Instead, it now means, in actual practice, all that pertains to the personal glory and power of closet-monarchs, little emperors, some not so little.

We hear of countries that are under military dictatorships, and we pride ourselves that our country isn’t. We hear of coups-d’état and shudder, ‘Thank God, we have regular elections.’ Our dictatorships have been so subtly woven into the fabric of ‘constitutionality’ that we don’t see them. Our coups, the same.

What we have is actually worse than a military dictatorship. We have a dictatorship of politicians, of people who have almost no other agenda than to outdo each other in bold trampling of reason and human rights, who refashion language itself by their unanimous co-conspiracy to divy and conquer.

Carefully avoiding the externals of profoundly prophetic literary dystopias like 1984, Brave New World, and Animal Farm, the politicians have cleverly rerouted our democracy to a path of gradual devolution—feudalism trending toward slavery—by adjusting language, making it impossible to think, or speak, freely.

We all know the name for this co-conspiracy. It is called ‘political correctness.’ Everything about it was foreseen by the author of the novel 1984. In that society, language was gradually diminished, words jettisoned completely, or their meanings changed, ‘Newspeak’ replaced ‘oldspeak’ making thought impossible.

In America we are gearing up for our next ‘revolution,’ for that is what a general election is, especially one in which a new President will be chosen. Like what happens before a great battle, the opponents are drawing to their sides their supporters, whose battle this isn’t, though they’re the willing tools.

Republicans and Democrats, the two major parties, know in advance that the crown will go to one of them—which one of them, it almost doesn’t matter, not to them, not to the man in the street. They’ve neutralized any real opposition by making it impossible for an ordinary citizen to attain the office.

This is the end of the polis, of democracy, and it didn’t just happen this time round, nor two or three decades ago. When the ordinary citizen, whose philanthropy motivates him to come forward and volunteer to be a civil servant—one who serves the polis, the people—no more happens, it’s all over.

And it has been all over—I challenge anyone to deny it, though the proof one way or the other is not by argument—for a very long time. Political science, even taught as it was at university when I was there forty years ago, insisted that the polis was impossible when a state has grown as large as the United States.

I said to myself then, as I do now, ‘Really? The polis, real democracy, is finished? I don’t think so.’ Like the money-changers that Christ drove out of the Temple, the politicians who have changed our liberties into political correctness, taking the business of self-government out of our hands, must be driven out.

But you cannot fight fire with fire. A politician isn’t going to make one iota of difference, no matter how he cajoles the people, his promises will be nothing more than pious rhetoric. Only non-politicians—not lawyers, unless they forget they’re lawyers, but physicians, educators, machinists, farmers, pastors, fathers and, yes, mothers who, after fulfilling their calling in society and their responsibility to family, are qualified to serve the people, the polis, and revive the democracy, the Republic, ‘one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.’

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Christ is looking for us

Christ is looking for us. Are we going to hide from him, or let ourselves be found by Him before death hides us from Him, from the world and from life?
— Nikolaj Velimirović, Bishop of Ohrid and Žiča

A simple statement, just five words, and we are handed the key to life, ‘Christ is looking for us.’ Does anyone ever remember hearing these words before, spoken to them by parents, or teachers, or priests? It’s probably one of a great number of such simple, short, but pithy and powerful truths that have assailed our unhearing ears over the course of our lives. We weren’t listening because we were tired, or bored, or rebellious against what we thought was a power trip to control us. Or, if none of the three authority groups just mentioned, but maybe someone we liked and trusted, a close friend perhaps, said those five words to us, maybe we were just not interested.

Well, a little-known, deceased Serbian bishop wrote these words. Maybe we don’t want to hear him, because he was a Serb. Everyone knows that the Serbs are the world’s scapegoat—oops! I meant to say, you can’t trust them. Remember Milošević. As for me, though, I know the truth when I hear it, and I want to believe it, if I let myself.

Yes, Christ is looking for us. Doesn’t that thought make you wonder what churches have been doing all these years? They say they’re all about Him, about Jesus, getting to know Him, but sometimes it seems the preamble to the actual ‘getting to know Him’ takes years and years, and after we’ve been indoctrinated and sacramentally doused, oiled, and spoon-fed, we’re no closer to understanding this great truth than we were before. In fact, sometimes the superfluous foliage of ‘church life’ hides it, hides Him, from us so well, that we wonder what it was that brought us there—to church—in the first place.

Then, suddenly, out of nowhere, a voice speaks, ‘Christ is looking for us.’ And if we believe what we have just heard, we realize that everything depends on one thing—that He find us—and that all we can do, and do it with all our might, is remove anything and everything that keeps Him from His goal. Now, it seems, we look at ‘church’ in a new way.

Does what it does with us, for us, and to us, help Jesus find us? Whatever does, we must decide here and now, to keep it. Does anything that it does keep Him from finding us? If there is anything that does keep Him from finding us, in no matter how small a way, it must go, we must go—sometimes—if what is keeping Jesus from finding us is what we call ‘church.’

Because sometimes—and we are afraid to consider this possibility—the very authorities that we expect to trust are the ones that keep Jesus from finding us. Yes, the major obstacle to Him finding us is—you guessed it—ourselves! The bishop asks, ‘Are we going to hide from him?’ and so, if we are honest, we have to admit that we have been hiding from Jesus for as long as we knew He was there.
Of course, at first we hid ourselves, like Adam and Eve, because we just ‘knew’ we were naked. We knew that human nature, at least our own, cannot stand before the Divine Presence and not be annihilated. Annihilated? Yes, revert back to the ‘nothing’ out of which He made us, because we can’t thank Him enough for making us, blaming Him instead. ‘You made me this way! I hate You!’ is what we are saying by our hiding, no matter what our lips say or our minds think. What a mess we’re in!

All the religions of the world, including the Christian ones, make out God to be the bogey, the scary one, the haunter, the one who will find out everything about us and use it to condemn us. That’s why we have to sacrifice. We have to bribe and cajole the Divine Nature, just so He doesn’t torment us in this life, and torture us forever in the next. With a God like that, who wouldn’t want death to be the end? Just black, unseeing, unfeeling, unthinking nothingness. Pure idiocy without knowing it. Yes, a better definition of She’ol can’t be found. Just clear gone.

Jesus of Nazareth, a historical figure we have heard about, comes and teaches, performs a few miracles, gets in trouble with the authorities, and is condemned to a shameful and painful death even without a hung jury. His followers later claim he rose from the dead, hung about for a few weeks, then disappeared up there somewhere. Afterwards, the followers get a weird tingling sensation and start spreading incredible stories about the man. Finally, one of the cult’s worst enemies and persecutors has a religious experience and takes over the cult, giving a better interpretation of its leader than he gave himself. Ding-dong! Twenty centuries later, it’s still time for church. And you were made to go, come hell or high water, until you were able to slug abed on Sunday morning and have the guts to tell your dad or mom, ‘I’m not going!’

Yes, Christ is looking for us. He really is. At its best, the Church tries to help Him. At its worst, it would even turn Him away at the Communion Cup, if He showed up, with the announcement that the Holy Mysteries ‘are only for the Orthodox, those who have been baptized and chrismated, and prepared themselves by confession and fasting.’ Then, what do we make of His, ‘whatever you do to the least of My brothers, that you do unto me’? No, of course not, we’d never do that. Anyway, what He said doesn’t apply to such things as who can come to Communion. Only those who have crossed all their T’s and dotted all their I’s can be admitted to the Holy Mysteries. Never mind the good thief. He was an exception.

Someone says, ‘I believe! Help my unbelief!’ and that seems to be the lot of all of us. So much has been told to us, and demanded of us, in Christ’s blessed name, that we had just better go along with it. But wait! A bishop once said, ‘Christ is looking for us.’ What could be easier than me trying to help Him? I don’t want to hide anymore. I don’t want anyone to hide me from Him until, like the bishop says, ‘death hides us from Him, from the world and from life.’ Church is the place where the finding is supposed to happen. It has to be! It’s the great ‘lost and found’ room where much more than a lost hat or scarf is waiting to be found and taken home.

And what, then, when He finds us, when He finds me? Does everything continue as it always has? Well, at least I have no cause to say, ‘I am looking for God’ or ‘I am seeking the Truth’ because the truth is, I never was looking, never seeking. It was He, all the time, through all my disguises, hideouts, and subterfuges, He the persistent and only lover whose love alone makes lovely His beloved. Religions pale in His presence, disciplines for their own sake die at His feet. He comes, impervious to all that would harm us, and takes each one of us by the hand. He leads, we follow, until the wall of separation dissipates, and it is ‘no longer I who live, but Christ,’ who is all in all.

Amazing grace… I once was lost, but now I am found.

Yes, Christ is looking for us.

In the guise of a woman

Can you believe that Christ the Saviour portrayed Himself in the guise of a woman in two of His parables? One is that of the woman who took three measures of flour and made dough. But first let us speak of the other one where the Lord tells us about the woman who had ten drachmas and lost one. These are the most mysterious of all the Saviour's parables. As the parable of the lost drachma is short, we quote it in full.

Or what woman, having ten drachmas, if she lose one, does not light a candle and sweep the house and look diligently till she finds it? And after she has found it, she calls in her friends and neighbors and says, Rejoice with me, for I have found the drachma that I lost.
Luke 15:8-9

At first glance this parable seems so simple, or even naive, that it does not impress the reader of the Gospel. In fact, however, the mystery of the universe is revealed in this simple parable.

If we take it literally, it evokes bewilderment. The woman lost only one drachma. Even ten drachmas do not represent a great sum; in fact, a woman who has only ten drachmas must be very poor indeed. Let us assume, first of all, that the finding of the lost drachma meant a great gain for her. Yet it still presents a paradox, for how is it that if she is such a poor woman she lights lamps, sweeps the house and calls in all her friends and neighbors to share her joy. And all because of one drachma! Such a waste of time—lighting a candle and setting the house in order first of all! Furthermore, if she invites her neighbors she is obliged, according to Eastern custom, to offer them something to eat and drink, no small expense for a poor woman. To fail to do so would be to ignore an unalterable custom.

Another important point to note is that she did not invite only one woman to whom she might have offered sweets, which would not have involved great expense. But she invited many friends and neighbors, and even if she entertained them modestly the expense would far exceed the value of the drachma she had found. Why then should she seek the drachma so diligently and rejoice at finding it, only to lose it again in another way? If we try to understand this parable in its literal sense, it does not fit into the frame of everyday life, but leaves the impression of something exaggerated and incomprehensible. So let us try to discover its mystical or hidden meaning. Who is the woman? And why is it a woman and not a man, when a man is more likely to lose money in the ordinary routine of life? Whose house is it that she sweeps and fills with light? Who are her friends and neighbors? If we look for the spiritual instead of the literal meaning of the parable we shall find the answers to those questions. The Lord said, Seek and ye shall find.

The woman represents Jesus Christ Himself, the Son of God. The ten drachmas are His. It is He Who has lost one of them and sets out to look for it. The drachmas are not coins of gold or silver. According to Orthodox theologians, the number ten represents fullness. The nine unlost drachmas are the nine orders of angels. The number of angels is beyond the grasp of mortals, for it exceeds our power of calculation. The lost drachma represents mankind in its entirety. Therefore Christ the Saviour came down from heaven to earth, to His house, and lit a candle, the light of the knowledge of Himself. He cleaned out the house—that is, He purified the world of diabolic impurity—and found the lost drachma, erring and lost humanity. Then He called his friends and neighbors (after His glorious Resurrection and Ascension), that is to say, all the countless hosts of the cherubim and seraphim, angels and archangels, and revealed to them His great joy. Rejoice with Me. I have found the lost drachma! That means: I have found men to fill the void in the Kingdom of Heaven, caused by the fall of the proud angels who apostasized from God. At the end of time the number of these found and saved souls will have grown to billions, or, in the language of Scripture, will be as countless as the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore.

Our Lord described Himself as a woman because women are more careful than men in looking after property, in keeping the house in order and in receiving guests. If this short parable, which consists of only two sentences, is explained in this way, whose heart will not tremble? for it contains the whole tragedy of the world, visible and invisible. It explains why the Son of God came to earth. It sheds a bright ray of light on the history of mankind and the tragedy of each individual's existence. It confronts us with an urgent decision, because our life is swiftly passing—a decision as to whether we want to be the lost drachma found by Christ or not. Christ is looking for us. Are we going to hide from him, or let ourselves be found by Him before death hides us from Him, from the world and from life?

It is a vital question and it lies within our will to accept or reject Him. After death it will cease to be an open question, and then no one will expect an answer from us.

And again Jesus said, To what shall I compare the Kingdom of God? It is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour till the whole was leavened.
Luke 13:20-21

This is another of Christ's mysterious parables that many find hard to understand. The actual theme taken from everyday life is simple and clear. From the earliest times housewives have been bakers; they take flour, put it in bowls, prepare leaven, knead the dough and bake it. It has been the daily task of the housewife in East and West for thousands of years. But it occurred to no one to take this simple work as a figure or symbol of the Kingdom of God. Only the Lord Jesus Christ, to Whom nothing was too simple or unimportant, took this familiar chore and used it to explain something stupendous and extraordinary. He could picture to Himself His own mother at work.

I will put the following questions to the reader of the Gospel. Why did Christ take woman as His example, instead of man, when men have been bakers throughout the centuries? And why the leaven, when unleavened bread was also commonly used? And why did the woman take three measures, and not one or two or four? Finally, what connection or similarity is there between the reign of God and the kitchen work of a housewife?

If these questions cannot be answered, how can we understand the parable? Yet to answer them without a spiritual key would only lead to further difficulties. All the parables deal with the superficial, but their real meaning lies deep down. They appeal to the eye and seem obvious enough, but they concern the spirit and the spiritual.

This parable has a twofold spiritual interpretation. The first has to do with the three principal races of mankind, the second with the three main faculties or powers of the human soul. In brief, what is outstanding and unusual in this parable is the historical and personal process of man's salvation.

After the Great Flood, there stemmed from the sons of Noah—Shem, Ham and Japheth—three races of mankind, the Semites, Hamites and Japhethites. These are the three measures of flour into which Christ puts His heavenly leaven—the Holy Spirit. That means He came as Messiah and Saviour to all the races and nations of mankind without exception.

Just as with leaven a woman can transform natural flour into bread, so Christ, through the Holy Spirit, transforms natural men into the children of God, into immortal inhabitants of the Heavenly Kingdom. That is why, according to Orthodox teaching, holy men are called earthly angels or heavenly men, because, being ‘leavened’ by the Holy Spirit, they are no longer common flour or unleavened biscuits that lie on the earth, but they are leavened bread that has risen.

According to the Bible, unleavened bread was the bread of slaves while leavened bread was for free men, God's children. So for that reason the Orthodox Church uses leavened bread at Holy Communion. The process of leavening began on that first Trinity Sunday or Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended from heaven onto the apostles. From that day forth this process has continued down to the present day, and it will continue till the end of time when all will be leavened. This, then, is the historical interpretation of the enigmatic parable about the woman baker.

The second interpretation is psychological and personal, and concerns the three main faculties or powers of the human soul: intellect, heart and will, or, in other words, the power to think, the power to feel and the power to act. These are the three unseen measures of the soul of the inner man. These three powers either remain totally unleavened, like the bread of slaves, or they are leavened with the leaven of malice and hypocrisy. Therefore, Christ told His disciples to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees which is hypocrisy, because that is the worldly and human leaven, which weakens all the powers of the soul and leaves it crippled and sick.

But Christ the Saviour brought to earth a new leaven to raise the powers of the soul. Those who receive this new heavenly leaven through Baptism in the name of the Holy Trinity are called the sons and daughters of God, the heirs of the eternal Kingdom. They will not die, for even when they leave the body, they will be alive and will live for ever. This heavenly leaven fills them with the light of reason, the warmth of divine love and the glory of good works. All three powers of the soul grow together in harmony, and ascend to heaven, to perfection. As the Lord said, Be ye perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Woman has been taken as paragon and not man, and Christ has compared Himself to a woman baker, because woman as wife and mother prepares bread for the family in a loving manner, whereas the man baker bakes bread to sell for gain. Everything that Christ has done for mankind was done out of pure love, and therefore He compares Himself to a woman baker. This is the second interpretation, but both interpretations of this parable are correct. The historical and the psychological meaning derived from this simple parable is like a branching oak that grows out of an acorn, for it is truly majestic in its historical breadth and profound in its psychological depth.

Nikolaj Velimirović, Bishop of Ohrid and Žiča

“Remember who your teachers were…”
2 Timothy 3:14