Thursday, July 30, 2015

Homily on true happiness

I am happy with the ancient Church of which I find myself a member. I delight in her endless cycle of lavish worship, poetically crafted and lusciously ceremonious. I even love the unscheduled pauses in worship when the cantors have to fill the time with nonsense syllables till the next stage of the liturgical dance is reached. All these things were carefully designed centuries ago to administer teaching and healing to barbarous nations who knew nothing of reading or writing, and were fallen into sometimes hideous diseases of body, mind and morals. This the ancient Christian architects knew prophetically would have application and relevance from their time till the end of the age. Human nature never changes, except when it is joined by transfiguration to the Divine Nature, in the God-Man, Jesus Christ.

Yet, there is an horrific proviso to my happiness with and delight in the elaborate, soul-fulfilling and mystical tangibles (but not the faith) of this Church. All that is seen, heard, smelled, tasted and touched in the conveyance of the mystírion to the logical flock of the great Shepherd King Jesus must be rooted in, must rest upon, must grow out of, must lead to, and must nourish in us, the evangélion, the eternal gospel, the living good news of the living God, which alone makes us disciples, alone heals our iniquities, alone frees us from bondage, alone empowers us to be passion-bearers, alone realizes in us our divine sonship, our royal priesthood, and finally brings us to the threshold of incorruption and life eternal. For all that is grasped by our senses is worthless unless we are made worthy by Christ to enter Paradise.

The world enthralls us and purchases our loyalty by its false promises and tantalizes us with the fear that we will be ‘left behind’ if we do not conform to its every demand. This is true of the world outside the walls of the ancient Church, and of the world within. But no matter, for all have been given equally the privilege of the yoke of Christ, from hierarch to humble believer. If you are a bishop, you are shepherd of souls in place of Christ, and your worldly life is forfeit for the sake of the burden laid upon you by your own choice. If you are a presbyter, your life is now and forever hidden with Christ in God and no longer your property, and you too must be willing to be broken but not divided, eaten but not consumed, as your Divine Prototype. If you are a deacon, your call begins with ‘waiting tables,’ but where does it end?

As for the rest of us, there is next to nothing to do, who live in the ancient Church, but to worship the Lord, to glorify Him by our every move, to consecrate our every thought and all our words to the work of mercy enjoined on us by Him who says, ‘blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.’ To this nothing superfluous can be added, nor anything essential cut away. Our lives in Christ are all or nothing, and we know where our treasure is. No, not our treasures, for there is only One, and everything else is His gift to us, who says ‘and all these other things shall be added to you as well.’ How can any of us forbear to be in Christ and not just say we are, when God has revealed Himself to us, face to face, in Jesus, who unashamedly tells us by way of invitation, ‘If you have seen me, you have seen the Father’?

Yes, the ancient Church, the one built on the Rock, no, not on St Peter though his name means the same, but on that Rock of which the psalmists chanted and to whom they cried incessantly for salvation. That Rock followed them in all their wilderness wanderings watering their bodies and souls, and then, when they least expected it, reappeared among them, as He does among us, as a Rock against whom all our iniquities crash and break. They rejected Him and refused the water He gives that wells up forever and gives drink to all who thirst, and still He offers without stint that life-giving spring to us who ring the miraculous font of new birth. Will we allow ourselves to be triply immersed, yield all our members to that death-defying plunge, and come out truly alive to join the cherubim, and not just represent them?

The only measure of all things

The evangelical spirit of religious consciousness "blows where it will," but woe betide those ages and those peoples upon which it does not rest. And at the same time, blessed are they that walk in its paths—even those who know it not.

What is most characteristic of this path?
It is a desire to "Christify" all of life.
To a certain degree this notion can be contrasted to that which is understood not only by the term "enchurchment," but also the term "Christianization."

is often taken to mean the placing of life within the framework of a certain rhythm of church piety, the subordination of one's personal life experience to the schedule of the cycle of divine services, the incorporation of certain specific elements of "churchliness" into one's way of life, even elements of the Church's ustav.

"Christianization," however, is generally understood as nothing more than the correction of the bestial cruelty of man's history through inoculation with a certain dose of Christian morality. And in addition to this it also includes the preaching of the Gospel to the whole world.

"Christification," however, is based on the words, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me" (Galatians 2:20). The image of God, the icon of Christ, which truly is my real and actual essence or being, is the only measure of all things, the only path or way which is given to me. Each movement of my soul, each approach to God, to other people, to the world, is determined by the suitability of that act for reflecting the image of God which is within me.

If I am faced with two paths and I am in doubt, then even if all human wisdom, experience, and tradition point to one of these, but I feel that Christ would have followed the other—then all my doubts should immediately disappear, and I should choose to follow Christ in spite of all the experience, tradition and wisdom that are opposed to it.

— Mother Maria Skobtsova, Types of Religious Lives

“Remember who your teachers were…”

2 Timothy 3:14

Confident and certain

The Christian life is not to let oneself be crushed and overwhelmed by sin, in others or in oneself, but even while confessing one’s sinfulness, to profess the mercy of God, to be confident and certain about it. So confident and certain, in fact, that one is unhindered in following Jesus, in copying His thoughts, words and deeds in such a manner, that another window to His mercy has been opened for others. We may be just holes in a wall, but what Light we let into this world of darkness! We do not make that Light, we are not that Light, but by voiding ourselves, that Light shines. Not by works, lest anyone should boast (Ephesians 2:9).

Confident and certain of the undeserved mercy of God to our sinfulness, rather than being successful in winning worldly blessings—even in winning souls—this is the Christian life, this is what the call of Christ is all about. Again, it is not what we do, but what He does, about sin in the world and in us. Yes, we will do the same works that Jesus did, and even greater works because He has gone to the Father, yet it is not we who live, but Christ who is alive in us, and it is He who living in us does these works. Not by us, Yahweh, not by us, by You alone is glory deserved, by Your love and Your faithfulness (Psalm 115:1).

They said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”
John 6:28-29

Keep me awake

In the dawn...
keep me awake, O Lord
keep me awake
I want to see You
and sing to You a hymn of praise and honor

Lord, our Good Shepherd,
may You find me
because I am lost and weak
but I really long for You and Your Love
Cleanse me O Lord and grant me Your mercy
to come near, closer to You

My sin is ever before me
and I am ashamed
Lord, heal me and restore me
so that I might gaze upon Your Beauty in awe
and Your faithfulness and deliverance
shall be in my heart and mouth

Lord, how great and trembling it is
to follow behind You
in the steps of Your Holy Feet
Joy! Joy! Joy!
even the way is narrow
and the thorn bushes along the side
but gazing upon Your Humility and Love,
strengthens us and comforts us

in the day light...
May Your blessing be upon us
teach us and guide us with Your commandments
to walk patiently in the rocky, stony roads

Lead me in the Beautiful path among the loving brothers and sisters,
Your rational flock
those through whom You also manifest Your Love
may we be united in one voice, mind and spirit
to glorify You, our Master!
and to love our neighbors

In the night...
let us rest and take shelter in You
because You are our Only Joy!

Keep me awake,
keep me awake O Lord,
that I may sing to You
in fervent Joy that comes from You!

— Yudi Kristanto

You love me beyond me

The crown of meaning and beauty is You, O my Joy!
my Lord and Savior
how beautiful it is to pause and remember
How You love me beyond me

That Your heart rejoices upon everything good that You set on me
You gave that trust, that love, that joy
so pure as the glimmering stream of fountain
'Cling on me! Feed on me. I am Good Shepherd'
You call gently
Your embrace warms my soul, the sweetest of all
Everything is on Your mighty hands O Lord
Everything good is from You

Lord, it is trembling for me to draw so close to You
because Your beauty is so splendorous
You are the source of all
of all beauty and joy
Holy are You O God!

Lord, have mercy on Your little servant
which You have created from dust
and that You have given life and gift of being
I am sinful, full of disgrace
but Your mercy I plea and Your love I trust...
that You love me beyond me

May my life be totally for You and for Your Joy O Lord, nothing else
because I find nothing outside You
I can do nothing if not from Your mercy
There's no meaning but in Your bountiful blossom

Lead me, O Lord...
Save me, I am Yours
may I live for You and You alone, O Lord
in loving whom You love, the mankind and my neighbors
in rejoicing in Your joy
in weeping and caring for those who are in need
in taking care and being mindful of Your creation

in each step
in each breath
I am Yours

Bless, O Lord! Ameyn!

— Yudi Kristanto

In the night

We have seen the true Light,
we have received the heavenly Spirit,
we have found the true Faith,
worshiping the undivided Trinity,
for He has saved us.

O Lord,
the sung testimony of my heart awakened me in the night,
to heal the ligaments torn by the over-exercise of the will,
the zeal of unwisdom,
the factiousness of unfriendly friendship.

I now know for sure
where the True Church lives,
how it lives,
why it is True,
what Faith makes it true,
what Light shines on it,
in it, from it, and to it,
Who it is I have believed in,
what has been done to me and by Whom,
and where my only Home is.

It is as the desert father has said,
‘Love is God.’

It is as the holy beloved evangelos
of the Divine Word has proclaimed,
‘God is love.’

It is where, and only where, true peace
and good will among men is,
and can ever be, found.
The True Church.

Of the Redeemed,
of the Free,
of those who do not eat the flesh of their brothers,
whose fast is pure without fasting,
whose wills are One,
whose mind is One,
in One, for One, to One,
in perfect harmony,
who do not rely on words written on paper,
or unwritten.

The voice of strife does not disturb their rest,
who have entered already into the peace of the Saints,
who have paid the Cost of discipleship
with acts and words of healing,
whose Bread is to do the will of their Father
who is in heaven,
hidden from the world.

I thank you, Father,
for hiding the True Church from the worldly wise,
who rely on their own strength,
their own wisdom, their pride of life,
their standing on what they think is the Word of God
but which is not the Foundation that no one can lay,
because You have laid it.

I thank you, Christ,
for You have saved us,
beyond the works of men,
for You have gone to prepare a place for us,
You have returned with mansions,
how deep, how broad, how high, in which we can dwell,
whom the Father has drawn to You,
the True Church,
beyond war.

I thank You, Spirit,
for where You are there is heaven,
there is the paradise of the Saints, even now,
where among us is the tabernacle of the Most High,
where none can enter who have taken strong drink,
but whose Drink You are,
the True Light,
the True Faith.

Now I know for sure,
Holy, Unearthly, Divine Triad,
where true Life alone is,
true Fellowship,
true Friendship,
true Home,
true Welcome and true Love,
without name and number,
beyond counting, weighing,
beyond all human judgment.

Yes, Lord,
and again I say ‘Yes,’
and I thank You, again and again,
for Life Eternal,
for the Light the True Light,
for the Spirit the Heavenly Spirit,
for the Faith the True Faith,
for the Church the True Church,
for that You, Undivided Triad, have saved us.

We are Yours.

I bless Yahweh, who is my counselor,
and in the night my inmost self instructs me…

Yes, in the night.
— Romanós

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The immensity of love

In the Spirit, Christianity is neither moralism nor ritualism, but calling, power, and light. Christianity is no longer ideological constraint, that heresy of the ‘Christian era.’ Nor is it simply one aspect of culture, alongside so many others, the heresy of modern times. Rather, Christianity is exorcism, it is substance, the profundity of all existence, available to everyone who desires it in love and freedom. It exists for the sake of love and freedom.

Today, many historical forms of Christianity are dead or dying. Trying to preserve them through blind conservatism can lead only to the creation of malicious and distrustful ghettos which idolize formalism, or to ‘fascist’ adventures that lead nowhere. On the contrary, we must trust in the ‘newness of the Spirit,’ who will transform this death into resurrection. New approaches are already developing, approaches which rediscover and develop the deepest intuitions of thinkers such as Gregory of Nyssa, Maximus the Confessor, or Isaac of Syria. The sadism of expiatory conceptions of salvation is being replaced with paschal joy. The notion of hell as an eternal concentration camp is being replaced by prayer for universal salvation. The obsession with individual salvation (for which only a few, in any case, are destined) is being replaced by a sense of limitless communion. Fear of the flesh is being replaced by the call to transfigure it, whether through monastic ascesis, the love between a man and a woman, or the struggle of the creative act. Escapism into the heavenly realm is being replaced by a union between heaven and earth, by ‘fidelity to the earth’ and all its creatures, so as to transfigure them. The list could go on and on.

The sacred is dying, as the Gospel has predicted. The Sabbath is for man, and not man for the Sabbath. It is not that which enters into the mouth that defiles man, but that which comes from his heart. Regulations concerning purity and impurity are being rejected. And particularly regulations concerning woman, who is no longer seen as the necessarily inferior ‘complement’ of man, but as a person of infinite importance, called to be human in a feminine mode, destined for the free and reciprocal encounter with the male.

The Gospel, therefore, reveals the ultimate value of the person and of the communion of persons. The Decalogue—which is revelation and not ‘natural law’—forbids murder and idolatry. And in the light of the resurrection, the Gospel introduces an ethic of creative love. In the Holy Spirit, man discovers his vocation as ‘created creator.’ To the frozen opposition between sacred and profane, between pure and impure, the Spirit substitutes the power of sanctification. Israel has transformed the cosmos into history. The Spirit assumes both the cosmos and history into the Body of Christ: Gaia becomes the prefiguration of the Virgin-Mother, and the ancient myths are transformed into a poetry of communion. Holiness can therefore reinvent the sacred, which is the poetry of creation and of faces, a trembling before the immensity of love.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Their self-fulfilling prophecy

‘Will God or the Messiah Build the Third Holy Temple?’ blares the headline of a pseudo-Jewish/pseudo-Christian ezine, asking a question which is actually meaningless for most Jews and Christians. After recapping what progress is being made in Israel to build just such a temple, the article moves on to discuss the question it headlined. It’s hard for me to decide which is more insane and fantastic, the deluded reasoning that produced the very idea, or the horde of believers, each one trumpeting their own version of the scenario. All they seem to agree on is that a Jewish ‘temple’ must be built in Israel, so that the ‘End Times’ can officially start. What happens after that is anyone’s guess, literally.

Not to infringe any copyright, I refrain from quoting from the article. To demonstrate the divisive delusion that has these people in its grip, I quote what some of the readers have commented on the article. (I have corrected spelling errors but left capitalization and any other emphatics, grammar errors, and quotation marks ‘as is’.)
— The true messiah is G--. Be aware that according to prophecy the idle shepherd will come (the false messiah) and he will be accepted as Messiah by some, but he will set up the abomination that maketh desolate... therefore watch carefully. 
— Yes, you are right. However, the third Temple WILL BE BUILT according to God’s Holy Word in order the chips will fall in place for the ‘End Time’ prophecies to take place. Just HOW it will be done is God's Mystery. I cannot wait ! 
— As stated in Daniel, correct. After that happening, but who is behind it all? And God will allow because of prophecy. The Vatican. As they have to set up a temple, on the mount. To allow its construction, approved by that UN body. Marble the Pope owns the plot. As stated in Ezekiel, Satan was bold and said, I will ascend as God? On the North side. So he the Devil is manifested into a Pope, after desolation. Because the Prophet, said, and seen in a vision, Russia dropping a device down the Vatican chimney. So the Pope will be in the Israel, not Rome. For the sake of their false God, Satan? 
— Neither of the proposed builders, Messiah or descending from heaven is correct. The temple must be rebuilt by human hands at the beginning of the Tribulation period because it has to exist for the anti-messiah to cause the sacrifices to stop and to desecrate the temple at the midpoint of the tribulation, where he will declare that he is God. This is right at the start of the great tribulation, or Jacob's Troubles, which will be WORSE than the Holocaust (Shoah). There will be a temple, as described in Ezekiel, after the end of the tribulation when the true messiah comes to rule and reign the whole earth from Israel. 
— This is correct. The antichrist shall desecrate the ‘Temple of God’, not build it. There are no types in the scriptures where the anti-christ build the temple, he desecrate the Temple like Antiochus Epiphanes, Nebuchadnezzar and Titus. The Temple in Jerusalem is holy, because it’s God's temple.

— My first thoughts were, ‘Oh of course it will be in the New Jerusalem in the Heavens.’ But then I was reading what was written and I’m not so sure. I don’t know the verses but I believe Revelation describes a temple that will allow the last people on earth to repent. Most will not though. There will be a false prophet who will make people believe he’s rebuilding the temple, but his heart is evil and is looking for a way to destroy. It will be a false prophet for Jews. And some will be taken advantage of. It’s so important all of us read the scriptures so we can be discerning. As the days go by. Jesus will come in the clouds, there will lights and trumpets. I expect lots of joy and happiness. 
— Zion is, the city of God, the New Jerusalem, its Temple, the heavenly City, the Heavenly Country. Zion are all believers in Christ Jesus, the Kingdom of the Lord, whose destiny depends upon the Lord God Almighty alone, all which, together by ‘faith’ in Jesus Christ our Lord (faith in Christ being a gift to us), Savior and Redeemer, in Him we are God’s Holy Mountain, God’s possession, Zion. All that Jerusalem and Israel and the chosen from mankind are to be, in heaven, in relationship to God, is ours in spiritual reality as well, in Jesus Christ our Lord in our God.

— There just may be a man-made temple built in Jerusalem, but as Solomon said, ‘Will God really dwell in this temple made with human hands...’ 
— ‘Heaven is My throne and the earth is My footstool, where then is a house you could build for Me? And where is a place that I may rest? For My hand made all these things, thus all these things came into being,’ declares the Lord. ‘But to this One I will look... (He is speaking of Yeh’Shua, who came to save men from their sins, and will return to receive them to Himself)... ‘To Him who is humble... ...and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word...’ 
— There have actually been four already. Ezra's temple was built following the return from exile. Herod, with his design to raise the plaza approximately 10 meters, was forced to take the older temple down and replace it with a much grander design. That’s three. The fourth was built by Bar Kochba. Textual references in several historical accounts of the rebellion mention that Hadrian entered into and destroyed the temple of the Jews. So logic dictates that the next, or fifth temple, would also be built by human hands, as were all others. 
— After the great victory of Israel over all nations, which coming against Israel, a false leader will raise and demand the building of the temple, saying, ‘I am the one who protect Israel.’ The world will be in bad chaos. This will be an atomic war. Confusion, destruction and great tribulation around the whole world.
Enough already! My head is spinning! Who let these people out of the nut house? The comments continued on and on. Finally, near the end, I was astonished to see someone quote from Thomas Aquinas. I am not sure that it’s a genuine quotation, but I want to end with this one last comment. Maybe there’s some hope above or below all this cantankery and braggadocio.
— Some scripture is meant to be literal and some figurative. I have no doubt that the Creator Can Do Everything, but that doesn’t mean He will always do it the way any particular denomination says. I believe the point of the article was that there are two opinions. I don’t believe the Last Temple will drop from Heaven any more than I think a giant finger etched The Ten Commandments on the tablets. God only needs to will something to be, and It Will Be. And sometimes He wills His Children to Do It - and They Do. There were two sets of tablets, one was willed into existence and the other was man-made. ‘How can we live in harmony? First we need to know we are all madly in love with the same God.’ (Thomas Aquinas)
Agree and disagree, that is the rule of the jungle that reigns among the Kingless. They call Jesus by various fanciful names, false Hebraisms, and put Him to work fulfilling their dreams. How much energy is wasted by those who have no faith! Imagine, try being your own God, and then covering up your tracks (because you must) by dousing them with bible prophecies and starting them on fire. Luckless, ignorant, lost, utterly deluded wretches! God have mercy on them, but if their madness prevents them from showing mercy to others, what then? Yes, maybe it really is a madness. Maybe they’re not really responsible for their ravings. Yet they fill the world with their destructive doctrines and, trying very hard to force God’s hand to end the world, come close to ending it themselves.

Third temple? fourth or fifth, or even last temple? Who’s counting? Who needs to count? Yes, we have it all written down, simply and directly. We’ve always had it written down. The Bible, if it does nothing else, shows us how wrong we’ve been about every religious guess we’ve ever made, how deluded our false hopes and how blinding our fantasies. ‘My thoughts are not your thoughts.’ And here we are, as if the world, the flesh, and the devil that assault us every moment of every day weren’t enough, there are these ghastly bellows that blow clouds of hot smoke from the pit of hell at each other and at us, scalding, even searing, us with their flaming fantasies. Who needs Islamic jihad, when we have our own breed of world-destroyers intent on killing most of us at their earliest opportunity. All in Jesus’ name, of course!

The end is near, yes, though not the end these falsely prophesy. ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega… who is, who was, who is to come.’ The temple must be built, though that is the work of every disciple of Jesus. ‘Let yourselves be built as living stones into a spiritual temple.’ The words of the prophets are spoken to refine us as fire purifies gold, not to incite a universal tribulation. Jesus still looks on at all this with pity, ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how I would have gathered you…’ while they rumble forward into the jaws of their self-fulfilling prophecy.

The Red Balloon

Children seldom misquote you. In fact, they usually repeat word for word what you shouldn’t have said.
— Dr. Laura (Laura Catherine Schlessinger)

Reading this quote brought back the memory of a foolishness I committed as a young dad. Yes, it is confession time. Teller of tall tales, I was at it again. I will tell it as I remember it, not another story embellished to entertain or to persuade, just what really happened. The other person in the story may remember it differently. I found this to be true when I publicly confessed another, more costly misdemeanor, where the other person involved was my dad. After reading what I wrote, he said matter-of-factly, ‘That’s not how I remember it,’ but said no more.

My first-born son, Jacob, was a precocious but impressionable lad, trusting to a T. Whatever mom or dad told him, he believed on the spot as if God Himself had said it. He was an obedient and thoughtful child. That has never changed, only now he knows who is really worthy of obedience and trust. He even warns his Sunday school students, ‘Don’t believe and trust absolutely what anyone tells you, unless He has risen from the dead.’ An enigmatic saying? Not really. Just a confession of the relativity of merely human knowledge, even religious. Back to my confession.

We were blessed from the beginning of our family life with poverty of riches, but not of spirit. As our ‘only son’ we treasured Jacob, and lavished all our attention on him as gardeners over a precious plant. His godparents, by a strange twist of fate, were very wealthy, and supplied him several times a year with gifts that we would never have been able to afford, sometimes toys, sometimes practical things. He always had the latest educational ‘toys’ and by the time he entered kindergarten could already read fluently, even words whose meaning he didn’t yet know.

When Jacob’s grandfather passed away, we inherited his color television, an old Hudson Bay Company model (he was a Canadian) and started watching Children’s Television Workshop programs together. My favorite was Sesame Street. He learned to read and sing, and we often mimicked the skits we saw. I am still very thankful for that time. Jacob was learning to grow up, and I was learning to stay young. We also borrowed movies from the public library and watched them on our television, using a VCR player. One of these films was the French film, The Red Balloon (1956).

Here comes the tall tale part, and the confession. Jacob was not yet in kindergarten when we used to watch that movie. A lot of our play time involved bringing into our life what we saw on television or in movies. Trying to connect more with The Red Balloon, I pretended that I had been the little boy in the film. It was almost believable. I almost believed it myself. I would have been a five-year-old boy the year the movie was made. I told Jacob, ‘That little boy being followed by the red balloon was me, when I lived in France as a child.’ Yes, and he, believing, repeated me word for word.

Where? Well, where else? At school. When one day he turned five and was enrolled in the kindergarten, it so happened that his teacher showed the film to his class. Yes, The Red Balloon. I wasn’t there, so I don’t know quite how it happened, but somehow he told the teacher that his dad was the little boy in the movie, when he lived in France as a child. Did the teacher really believe him? I don’t know. If she read the credits at the end of the film, she would know that the child’s name in real life was Pascal Lamorisse, and she would know Jacob’s surname was not Lamorisse.

What I do remember was that I had to confess to a very crestfallen young son, that I had been only pretending. He may have had to defend his trust in his dad to his teacher in the classroom, who may have told him it was impossible. He came home that day still believing I was the little French boy. Perhaps this was his first glimpse of the truth that even dads are not infallible. He wouldn’t have had the verbal or philosophical vocabulary to think that yet, but it was undeniable that another impression had been made on him that afternoon. And that, his initiation into the ‘real world.’

And mine as well. Never again, though I’ve since told many a tall tale, even regretting some of them, did I ever pull so great a blooper as that one. Something as small as this, a ‘little white lie’ in disguise of playful make-believe, I wonder, how much of this has shaped, or misshaped, the world.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Always yes, or no

Humanity can get smarter,
but humanity will never be smarter than God.

Is there ‘progressive revelation’? Yes, and no.
Jesus says,

‘I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.’
John 16:12-15

τα ερχόμενα, tá erchómena, the [things that] are to come.

What things? Events, or ideas?

His first words seem to imply ideas,
‘he will guide you into all the truth.’
His later words seem to imply events,
‘he will tell you what is yet to come.’

But everything that can ever be known by us as humans about God is already written in His great book, the Universe, and His little book, the Bible, and they always agree.

What is ‘progressive’ is not His revelation, but our awareness of it.

Christ has appeared to personally start the fire of understanding,

‘I have come to bring fire to the earth. How I wish it were blazing already!’
Luke 12:49

He has come to walk with the disciples and explain everything,

‘This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.’
Luke 24:44

This He has done, but though He has ‘disappeared’ as the man Jesus of Nazareth, He appears continually and forever as the God Jesus Christ,

‘Lo! I am with you till the end of the age.’
Matthew 28:20

Do we see Him? hear Him? follow Him? do what we see Him doing?

If we do, that is progressive revelation. Otherwise, nothing.
If we do, that is being smart, otherwise, very, very dumb.

God is training us, educating us, in a school that He prepared for us before we ever appeared.
Always free, always up to us, always yes, 
or no.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Belief and unbelief

There’s a lot of Christians out there, dogma’d to their teeth, who live and even think atheologically, and a lot of professed Atheists who are awesome theologians without realizing it. You have to ask an Atheist exactly which god he doesn't believe in, just as you have to ask (if you dare) a Christian exactly which god he does. Belief and unbelief are both tunnels that you may choose to live in permanently, or simply journey through in order to ‘get out alive.’ And while we’re in the tunnel, everyone knows it’s very dark, and no one can see too clearly. But if you really do want to ‘get out alive,’ no matter what you believe or disbelieve, you will.

Does this make personal faith or doctrinal religion pointless? No, not really, but it puts both in perspective, and deglorifies both, for nothing that pertains to this transitory life, even the means we make use of to go beyond it, is worthy of praise.

Only One is worthy, and His sovereignty without qualification unthrones all our self-salvation mechanisms. Whether you believe in Jesus Christ or not, His life and salvific work has an effect on you. In fact, He does not wait for you to recognize Him before He will save you. This may sound like doctrinal monergism, but it is not. The synergy that intertwines the human and Divine natures is so pervasive, so total, that from some vantage points, it may look like predestination, or some other human construct we can name. Yet He does nothing without us.

So, an Atheist can be saved? Isn’t that what some claim the Roman pope has recently opined?—that is, if popes can be said to ‘opine’. Normally they dogmatize, and keep the tracks of their holy predecessors covered. If Atheists can be saved, then what’s the point of believing, being a Christian, and putting up with all those religious obligations? Well, that’s a very good question believers need to ask themselves, because their answer may lead them to a more deliberate, more honest, posture. If he meant nothing else, perhaps the pope meant to draw to our attention not the fate of Atheists, but of ourselves. What is it we want? What is it we are working for?

‘For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.’
(Matthew 6:21)

Friday, July 24, 2015

Just to make sure

Defined by what I don’t more than by what I do.
That’s how many people look at themselves and the world.
It’s a ‘me against them,’ or if they’re some kind of Christian,
it’s an ‘us against them’ mentality.

I am, or we are, right and everyone else is wrong,
and they’re gonna know it.
I speak up and stand up for what I believe.
Who cares who’s listening.
Who cares if someone’s feelings get hurt.
Somebody has to tell the truth.
I like what you say, but as for those other guys,
they’re just plain wrong, and I don’t mind telling you.
Yeah, you can be my friend, but watch out!
You’re under my gun the same as those other fellows.
If you don’t think like I do, you’ll hear from me.
Though as a Christian man I can’t say this out loud,
‘it’s my way or the highway.’
But God approves, because I’m rightly dividing His word.
If you know what’s good for you, stick with me.

Yes, brothers, this world is an arena, not a battlefield.

In a battlefield, we are heavily armed and we know who our enemy is, and we fight, we fight for our lives, and it all depends on us.
It’s a ‘winner takes all’ scenario. If we lose, well, we lose our lives.
No one is watching, no one cares.

In an arena, we are competing. Some enter the arena thinking like they are entering a battle against an enemy, and they fight tooth and nail, not caring if they fight fair. All they want to do is win and make sure everyone watching knows it.

But that’s not how we enter the arena, brothers.
That’s not how we are sent into the ring.
For us, if there is a battle, it is only against ourselves, not an opponent. For us, the arena is where we are tested, where we are trained, to be what our Teacher is, to show Him that we have learned how to present ourselves, blameless, in a fair fight.

He knows we have no choice but to be placed in the arena, so He has taken us under His wing and teaches us, day by day, letting us enter the ring now and again to see how we are learning our lessons, to see if we’ve absorbed His martial arts technique. Violence, but not for its own sake, passionless and without hate, respectful and generous in courtesy. We spar with our partners, knowing them to be under the same Teacher. As for the spectators, some of whom will soon join us, what will happen if they see us make a false move?

In the end, perhaps, but not now, not at present, the arena will be our last encounter. We may be thrown into the ring with a real gladiator, or worse, thrown weaponless into the lair of wild beasts, and there will be no exit for us except through the gate of death, death to the world, which is life’s Gate for us.

But until then, let us be merciful, brothers, to ourselves and to each other, and mince our words and deeds so that they will not choke our neighbor, but gently feed him. For the love that is shown us now by our Teacher, for the sake of the prize that awaits us, let us also be at peace, and love one another.

Let’s live by what we do, not by what we don’t, just to make sure.

Run for your life

Psalms for the 24th Day
116 117 118 119:1-32

Reading the psalms,
reciting them and breathing them into me, 
fragrant as my bible is right now 
with the smell of basil 
from the feast day of the finding 
of the holy Cross, 
there I found some ρηματα 
(rhímata, living words) 
that nourished my soul, 
reminders of my path.

(You alone, Lord, know my path.)

I have faith, even when I say,
‘I am completely crushed’.
Psalm 116:10

(Lord, You know what I mean when I recite this verse in prayer.
And at times, I do feel completely crushed,
yet there is no place I can be,
or feel myself to be,
where I do not have faith.)

Yahweh, I am Your servant,
Your servant, son of a pious mother,
You undo my fetters.
Psalm 116:15-16

(I can’t undo my fetters.
I can’t do anything to free myself from bondage, Father.
It is You alone who can free me,
because You alone have freed me.
You undo my fetters.)

I run the way of Your commandments,
since You have set me free.
Psalm 119:32

(In my distress I cried out to You,
‘Lord, why have You given me yet another day?’
Your answer was instant,
Your will to me was clear.
You said, ‘I have raised you again to life,
so that you can carry out My commandments.’
Nothing more, nothing more had to be said.
I heard Your voice, Lord, and I am satisfied.
I run the way of Your commandments, 
since You have set me free. 
Glory to You, O God, glory to You!)

Draw me in Your footsteps, let us run.
Song of Solomon 1:4

Thursday, July 23, 2015

But not the risen Christ

I must be a dullard, or a country bumpkin, or a simpleton. I’ve suspected it, but I wasn’t sure till this morning. I used to take it for granted that Christians, whatever their doctrinal slant, believed that Christ died on the Cross to save us and literally rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and so on. I knew some who believe in Jesus go so far as to deny His deity (Jehovah’s Witnesses), but even they know that the rest of the story is true—or maybe not, don’t they celebrate the death of Jesus instead of His resurrection, and say the ‘rising from the dead’ was spiritual, or something like that? I guess even the ‘learned’ can have mistaken ideas. It all depends on who you hang around with.

This morning, my confidence in other Christians (at least that’s what they call themselves) slipped down another notch. In commenting on a harmless article about Mary Magdalene (now, popularly called ‘Mary of Magdala’—I guess that sounds better) an educated ‘Christian’ man wrote,

I have no idea what the “Paschal Mystery” is and what the “Risen Christ” is. But I am very certain that whether Jesus` bones remained in his grave or not does not make a difference to my faith. I am also pretty sure that Mary of Magdala was married to Jesus. At the time, a man who was not married did not have credibility. You simply had to be married. Why have the Christian churches been so intent on propagating the myth that Jesus was single? I have no idea. It probably has something to do with the sexism that is so all pervasive in all the institutional churches.

Gulp! I thought this kind of thinking was hiding out in covens of believers in things like The Gospel of Judas, who don’t know any better. Thank God, I am now an elderly man and know for sure that I know next to nothing about anything, and so it’s not worth the bother to try to correct or teach anyone! But this guy (also looks elderly from his profile picture) seems never to have grown up. In my college days over forty years ago I entertained such thoughts, but it didn’t take me very long to see through them all. One thing I noticed was that he has an ax or two to grind, and everyone’s the enemy.

A woman just as simple as me responded to his comment briefly.

If Jesus hadn't died for us, we'd still be living in sin. It is precisely because He died for us that we can believe in a life after death.

Apparently what he wrote went over her head, as her response didn’t address any of his concerns, just restated a (what to her and me is) simple truth. He didn’t miss another opportunity to give her and the rest of us boobs more of his enlightened bombasm. (I had to edit out her name.)

[Your view] is old and medieval thinking. It does more harm than good. It opens up religions to ridicule and sets it against all reason. Young folks cannot relate to this kind of view. To stick to the old thinking creates divides and separates us. We need to move on, find a new language, find new ways. Let's put the old pictures of holy looking people with halos around their head into the museum. Forget about what you've been taught.

Yes, brother, ours ‘is old and medieval thinking,’ maybe. Old, yes, medieval, well, now I can see that you don’t know what you’re talking about, because though I may be an infant when it comes to knowing about God, I do know my (human) history lessons. You might say, that’s my specialty. The rest of his comment doesn’t elicit any response from me. You see, I’m not about arguing points. I don’t even want to argue his main criticisms or assertions about Christ and the Magdalene. As for the resurrection…

I also ‘have no idea what the “Paschal Mystery” is and what the “Risen Christ” is,’ on two counts. First, I can’t have an idea what the Paschal mystery is because even if I did, it wouldn’t help me much. Second, the same goes for ‘what’ the risen Christ is, again, no idea is really helpful. And besides, it’s not ‘what’ but ‘Who.’ Ideas can’t really help us here, only experience can. That’s something not I or anyone can give to another human being. It’s true. Salvation can’t be bought, isn’t transferable, but once received is like the ‘forever’ postage stamp, always enough, always good, yes, forever and ever.

Again I ponder. The ‘hole’ in this man’s or anyone’s arguments about this or that in the Church or even about Christ, His nature and how ‘He does it’ comes down to ‘what the Paschal mystery is’ and Who is the risen Christ. It doesn’t help that the first can often be shrouded in terms and ceremonies delightfully obscure and the second flaunted from flapping lips attached to flabby souls. How glibly people speak of ‘the risen Christ’ who, if they only knew, I mean, had they the experience of that ‘risen Christ’ as some do, might find it difficult to find the words. The latter live as though the resurrection were a fact, because it is a fact, and an act, of God. It didn’t take place long ago and far away. That was only where it started, and where I am standing at this very moment is the leading edge of the wave it has created that will soon engulf everything in creation. Talk about tsunamis! No, talk about d‎‎ýnamis!

Yes, for touching this, experiencing this, the Paschal mystery is no mystery, ‘it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile’ (Romans 1:16). Yes, the power—δύναμις (DHEE-nah-meess)—is what’s missing when all you have is abstract thinking. You can think yourself into hell, but not into heaven. We draw closer to it as we follow ‘the risen Christ,’ we get used to it as we get used to Him. The arguments that deafen the world and bore it to disgust whether they are won or lost are swallowed up in the stillness of the Divine Nature, Who await us with Their welcoming eyes and outstretched arms, God as Man, and Man as God.

Yes, religion as some conceive it can be ‘old and medieval thinking,’ but not the risen Christ.

And that’s no miracle

Can anyone deny that the canonization of saints is a function of the political apparatus of the Church? I am not here declaring anything to oppose or ridicule her, simply stating a fact. The saints who get noticed, who are glorified, whose little ‘s’ is elevated to big ‘S’, are in fact those whom the Church wants to hold up to our view, whom she wants us to emulate, who promote her product, whom she can use as bait, as inexhaustible supply, and as reward.

I find the method of choosing who will be canonized to be trivializing. Myself, I am bored by the search for documentable miracles and am not impressed when they are found. The Roman Church needs two indisputable miracles. I’m not sure how many the Orthodox Church requires, but I’ve noticed that once a reposed elder has been publicly slated for the fast track to sainthood, dozens if not hundreds of miracle stories surface to support them.

From my experience and from my reading, I have found that behind the Church of Christ there shadows what Sergey Fudel calls ‘the dark double of the Church.’ This is persons within the Church who do the works of darkness, rarely openly, usually disguised as light. These are not often laypeople, who may be (and certainly are told that they are) sinners, open or concealed, for we are not important enough to be noticed, or numerous enough to do the Church any damage.

While the Church hums along in its daily life, baptizing, marrying and burying people, and, if it has time and resources, helps some of them through the crises of existence and faith, guardians are quietly at work—and I’m not speaking of angels—making sure that the Church will continue to propagate itself, and to manage the herd it is responsible for, though not always in a responsible way. I mean, it follows the Gospel when it can, but when push comes to shove, well, you know the rest.

Back to sainthood, and to the miracles that prove someone is a Saint, I have already said enough for you to know that I am not going to be impressed by myrrh-gushing relics, or cures caught by drinking holy water. The avid and persistent search for such miracles only deadens the Church—her members, not the institution—to the actual miracles that really do happen all around us, every day. Mention this to anyone and their eyes glaze over while they silently smile.

But if my ten-year struggle with depression, drunkenness, drug abuse, or all three is suddenly ended by praying to a reposed elder or by touching something that once belonged to him and is now on public display—it’s a miracle! Would to God I had tried a little harder to find strength for self-control the ordinary way—I couldn’t! life was so hard!—but that’s alright and, praise God, the elder’s prayers have saved me. Life may be ‘all miracle’ as some say, but I need something more real, right now, and I found it!

In the book Saint Arsenios of Cappadocia (Convent of the Evangelist John, Thessaloniki, Greece) the author describes the political mechanisms at work in the canonization of saints. The author, and others, spent a lot of time and effort collecting stories of miracles performed by the Farasiote priest known as Hatzefendis. I do not for a moment doubt these miracles. What he says, though, is that others were promoting another candidate for sainthood, as if God has a quota system for admission into glory.

I, too, had met Father Theodoros personally in Aigaleo, as I had some others from our part of the world in Moschato in 1962. It is a fact that I had noticed great indifference toward Father Arsenios on the part of their Association, and I was unable to account for this at the time. In particular, I asked the Association Chairman for whatever information he could give me about Father Arsenios, and he replied: “Father Paisios, we oughtn’t to refer to Father Arsenios at all, so that we can better promote Paisios II, who was a fellow-countryman of ours, and Metropolitan of Kaisareia besides, and then the standing of the Association will be enhanced.” When I heard this I was appalled at the very worldly way those people think!
(Saint Arsenios of Cappadocia, p. 30)

No, the association and its members that the author refers to was not ‘the Church’ per se, only part of it, and that is exactly what I have noticed. It is not the Church—that is, the lovers and imitators of Jesus—that do these kinds of things, but ‘special interest groups’ within her. The Church is no different than secular society in this regard, though we might wish it otherwise. I am no conspiracy theorist, but I do have eyes and ears. Christ tells us of hirelings. I know what to watch out for.

We see in the Roman Church how saints are canonized, at least what the media shows us. If one reads and understands history, it is obvious what the Church is doing. The Church, both East and West, shares the same roster of political Saints starting with Sts Constantine and Helen. Far be it from me to traduce the Saints. The Church has exercised the prerogatives bestowed upon the holy apostles (who at the time were the whole Church) in canonizing them, but the criteria are still open to all, and we are free to decide for ourselves who are and who are not Saints.

When I find myself having to use double-think, I feel threatened, and I ask myself, why must I? The life of faith, the life in the Lord Jesus Christ, is one. There is never a need to dissimulate, only to cover the offenses of others, to cover them and to excuse them, out of love, which is the prime directive. This is not the same thing as believing one thing inwardly, and outwardly confessing another. I may, and must, overlook, forgive, and pray for the healing of the sins of others. That is my belief, inner and outer.

How pitiful, how wretched, to be in the Church and, acting the part to the letter, to have nothing of the spirit at all, to believe that to support and promote the Church we must deny Christ Himself. That must, indeed, take great faith, or no faith at all. May it be the former for those who find themselves in such a place, but either way, those who do not serve one Master, but who love the one and despise the other, run the risk of hearing, ‘How did you get in here? Take him, and cast him into the outer darkness…’

My Saints? Yes, there are many, though they don’t always wear the halos of ecclesiastical glorification, nor are all of them ‘dead’ yet. In fact, none of them are dead, though some, like Jesus, can already say, ‘I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore’ (Revelation 1:18). All of them have performed, do perform, and keep performing miracles throughout the triple manifold of time, because that is what Jesus does, ‘who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty’ (Revelation 1:8).

Yes, He gives life to everyone who calls upon His name, and makes them saints, a kingdom of priests and kings. And that’s no miracle.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Nothing is enough

He has given me all, everything I have, all I am. There is nothing I have that He has not given, nothing of my being that He has not created. All is from Him, nothing real from myself. Nothing.

And what do I give Him in return? What can I give Him who has given me all and who Himself has all and is all? We are not separated from each other as a rich man is from a poor man. No, the contrast is much greater. We are separated from each other as being is separated from non-being. I only am because He wills it. I cannot even say ‘I am’ as He can say ‘I am.’ When I say it, it is only a confession that He is. When He says it, it is His very Name.

I try at least to thank Him, as dust thanks the light for revealing it to itself. But even in the open mouth of my thanksgiving He fills the hungry with good things’ (Luke 1:53), or as the psalmist declares of the Lord Yahweh, you have only to open your mouth for Me to fill it’ (Psalm 81:10). As Francesco di Bernardone says, ‘We are all poor in the eyes of our Lord,’ and it is our poverty, our very nothingness, that attracts His grace and draws down His unbounded mercy. As General Löwenhielm asserted in his testimony at Babette’s feast, ‘we come to realize that mercy is infinite. We need only await it with confidence and receive it with gratitude.’

God is good. What else can we say of Him?
Nothing is enough, yet He accepts all.

Time to reign

I tell you most solemnly, whoever believes in Me will do the same works as I do Myself, he will perform even greater works, because I am going to the Father.
John 14:12 Jerusalem Bible

It seems very, very strange to me, to say the least, that Christianity in this contemporary world should be perceived by nearly everyone, even by the Christians themselves, as anti-progressive. I wonder if we can pinpoint in historical time approximately when the great divide happened, you know, the one where Christianity once was the motive force behind progressive attitudes and accomplishments, and then, somehow turned around to face the other way, throwing up obstacles and barriers to progress.

How can I ask such a silly question? Of course, the Church has always been against progress, has always been ‘anti-,’ that is, ‘anything but,’ progressive! Look how it bullied the renaissance scientists into hushing up some of their greatest discoveries. Look how it kept women in abject submission to men, even supporting violent means to keep them in subjection. Look how even today it discourages such progressive practices as contraception and euthanasia, demanding unreasonable self-control and unnatural masochism instead.

No, but it isn’t a silly question. It was Christianity, at least in the English-speaking world, which unleashed the rampant inventiveness of the industrial revolution, and then aggressively championed the rights, welfare and literacy of laborers in the workplace. It was Christianity which sought with all its might to end the trade in human flesh called slavery. It was Christianity that curbed the addictive, self-defeating intemperance that was destroying society, and taught people how to live sanitarily and sanely. It was Christianity that founded the American republic.

And Britain’s moral leadership. Victoria as a young woman, uncrowned but destined for the throne, before her marriage a frivolous and undisciplined school girl, could never have named an entire century. But she wed a prince, Albert, whose Christian piety in concert with its fruits—ingenuity, sobriety, philanthropy—transformed his Queen and her people into a woman brave and a nation dauntless, to carry the torch he had lit for her, for England, and for the world—the Victorian age.

My mind is overwhelmed as the hoarded memories of thousands of Christian progressives bombard me, and my sensibilities are pushed beyond their limits as I ponder the irony of history: That they who transformed the world for good, beginning with those who ‘knew Christ in the flesh’ and not excluding those who ‘believed without seeing Him’ up to the present time should be so travestied by opinion as to appear grotesque caricatures of who they really were, their accomplishments twisted out of recognition.

For as we have been squeezed out of social action by those forces that now name themselves ‘liberal’ and ‘progressive,’ the very fabric of society that our faithful forbears established has been visibly retracted, forcibly curtailed, its structures weakened, its glory faded. We have schools in abundance that do not teach, hospitals that do not heal, governments that do not serve, yes, even ‘churches’ that do not save. We eat and drink, but are never filled. We lie through our teeth, so never come at truth.

Yet Christianity—the visible evidence of a faith unseen—is liberal. It is progressive. Why? Because of all the sons of men, no one has ever been found who can free like this Man, whose words are so powerful they can sever the strongest chains. Of all who have ever lived, He is endowed with not only the will but also the power to transform, and to perfect, everyone who comes to Him, everyone who believes, all who follow Him. He makes them, like Himself, ‘sons and daughters of God,’ and gives them ‘all power and authority’ that goes with it.

So, who says Christianity is not progressive? The world? The Christians themselves? Who?

Perhaps they labor under the illusion that Christianity is that ‘thing’ they have captured, tamed and imprisoned in their ‘liberal’ minds, making of it a trinket to be played with, a pet to be patronized, something they can idiotically ice their cakes with. It doesn’t help, or do us any favors, when we let ourselves be handcuffed and jailed on suspicion of being what we are, or perhaps should be—people who ‘turn the world upside-down’ any chance we get. Brothers, it’s time to take it all back.

Take what all back? Why, take back your names, for starters. Let them know who are the progressives, who the liberals, but don’t stop there, except to hear someone shout, ‘Wait, there is more!’ Do the works that define what the names mean. Be progressive. Be liberal. Do those ‘greater works’ for man and for God that Christ tells us we are to do. Lead the world, don’t follow. Imitate Christ. Imitate the holy apostles. Imitate the fathers. Show the world those ‘greater works’ that it cannot conceive or accomplish in and for itself.

Not only the people, but something greater, nature itself is ‘waiting for the sons of God to appear.’ This may sound like religious jargon, but believe me, it’s not. Not everything in the Bible is written to turn us into compliant, complaisant, cooperative cogs, no matter who or what claims to be running the machine. In fact, nothing in the Bible is written to robotize us—quite the contrary!

It is all about freedom, and it’s time to reign.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

At His great mercy

I have said that doctrines don't matter at all when it comes right down to the salvation of the human race, giving some the impression that I have given up all notion of correct belief. This is not the case, otherwise I would not be an Orthodox Christian.

Of course, it is better to be correct than incorrect, and yes, the correct answers are to be found in scripture, but that is exactly where sectarians and makers of religions go to bolster their mistaken ideologies. If we are of the ancient faith, for us the orthodoxy of the historic Christian Church will keep us from wandering into lands from which there may be no return. I am not suggesting that doctrine doesn't matter, in spite of my use of rather strong language and what appear to be categorical imperatives. No, I am not speaking out of both corners of my mouth either. It's just that doctrinal belief or misbelief can in fact affect our relationship to God and our ultimate destiny with Him or without Him, and yet, His mercy can cover all offenses and in fact does, even taking to Himself those whose ideas about Him are either non-existent or very mistaken.

Our God is greater than anything we can say about Him, even greater than anything the Bible says about Him, and how can He not be? He is the author of all, and having written the only story that there is, He can direct its course, and ours, beyond anything we can do. Yes, we can be damned and separated from Him for ever, but only from our side. From His side, we are never out of His sight.

This is a very strange story He has written, our God, and we see neither the beginning or the end as we now are, mere characters on a page. But when the Lamb's book of life is finally open, we will find out whose names were written there from before the foundation of the world, and we will have cause to wonder at His great mercy, both to the saved, and to the lost.

Freedom is a question

Some people define ‘freedom’ as the ability to do whatever one wants. People who excel others in becoming enslaved to sins, passions, and defilements appear as zealots in the cause of external freedom, and work to broaden the laws as much as possible. Such people use external freedom only to more severely burden themselves with internal slavery. True freedom is the ability of a man not enslaved to sin, not pricked by a condemning conscience, to choose what is best in the light of God’s truth, to act, and to actualize everything with the help of the gracious power of God. This is freedom which neither heaven nor earth restrict.
Philaret of Moscow

What kind of freedom do you struggle for, or do you struggle at all? It seems to me, in the light of the saint’s words, that struggling for ‘a free society’ involves exactly what is opposite to true freedom. I think I already knew that, but I still think that struggling for ‘external freedom,’ as he calls it, is a good thing, and worthwhile.

Why? Because social, economic, informational and political freedom, all of which are ‘external,’ still prepare the ground for authentic, for real ‘internal’ freedom, which is ultimately the goal, which is the freedom that Christ Himself proclaims in the Gospel. What I find, though, is that when religious people quote the saints in sayings like the above, they are somehow and subtly trying to discredit and derail the struggle for personal liberty, by making it seem that external and internal freedom are opposites.

The freedom of the Christian, as defined by Christ, is a perfect freedom, internal and external, and a Christian society is not one in which an external authority or power, whether Church or State, restricts people to ‘make’ them law-abiding and religiously conforming, but one in which laws are at a minimum, restricting only what is irrefutably unlawful, and where freedom is at a maximum, allowing people (singular and plural) to make their own choices.

I don’t think we have seen that kind of society yet. We’ve been dumbed down for so long by oligarchies governmental, ecclesiastical, ‘educational’, and economic, kept at the level of ‘women and children,’ both classically categorized as ‘idiots,’ that a truly free society is not yet possible, anywhere on earth. This is why it is not a question of democracy versus autocracy (monarchy) at all, as we have been led to believe. Both can, and do, operate in exactly the same way.

Instead, it is a question of knowledge versus ignorance, not accidental, but planned.

Information and, hence, education were once completely under the thumb of intellectual elites who controlled and selectively limited access through systems of education and book publishing. The ‘information age’ only just begun and as of today still ‘free,’ has finally opened the door to the freedom that Christ, yes, that Christ is talking about, even ‘behind the backs’ of those who ‘represent’ Him.

Yes, freedom is ‘a question of knowledge versus ignorance’ before all else, and self-control and social harmony are both functions of it in a truly free person and society. Let us, brethren, see our way past ‘spiritual materialism’ as well as hedonistic individualism, to where ‘the salvation of mankind’ issues from the life-giving spring of the Holy Triad, whose life is our life, whose freedom is our freedom, else we have no life at all, nor freedom, that with the saints we may cry, ‘Blessed are You, O Lord, teach me Your statutes!’

Between the lines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I think continually of those who were truly great

I think continually of those who were truly great.
Who, from the womb, remembered the soul's history
Through corridors of light where the hours are suns
Endless and singing. Whose lovely ambition
Was that their lips, still touched with fire,
Should tell of the Spirit clothed from head to foot in song.
And who hoarded from the Spring branches
The desires falling across their bodies like blossoms.

What is precious is never to forget
The essential delight of the blood drawn from ageless springs
Breaking through rocks in worlds before our earth.
Never to deny its pleasure in the morning simple light
Nor its grave evening demand for love.
Never to allow gradually the traffic to smother
With noise and fog the flowering of the spirit.

Near the snow, near the sun, in the highest fields
See how these names are fêted by the waving grass
And by the streamers of white cloud
And whispers of wind in the listening sky.
The names of those who in their lives fought for life
Who wore at their hearts the fire's centre.
Born of the sun they travelled a short while towards the sun,
And left the vivid air signed with their honour.

— Stephen Spender (1909-1995)

All was great light

It surprises me how reportedly ultra-intelligent scientists (and scientific theorists) can make statements such as these—‘It’s time to commit to finding the answer, to search for life beyond Earth. Mankind has a deep need to explore, to learn, to know. We also happen to be sociable creatures. It is important for us to know if we are alone in the dark.’ In an odd sort of way, this is very like the attitude that motivates the speculative spiritual seeker. ‘There’s no help for us, but we’re going to look for evidences of a God, or of spirits, or of angels, any way we can. It is important for us to know if we are alone in the dark.’

The boyishness of one other attitude that I saw today coming from a ‘top scientist’ also astounded me—‘A civilisation reading one of our messages could be billions of years ahead of us. If so they will be vastly more powerful and may not see us as any more valuable than we see bacteria.’ He was cautioning that we should only ‘listen for messages’ coming from advanced, alien civilizations, and not send them. In an entirely Godless, even purposeless, cosmos there is no morality—at least, we can’t expect anyone else ‘out there’ to behave any better than we do—and so, we’d better be careful. Don’t open a can of worms.

So it’s true! Scientists (and scientific theorists) are just as susceptible to picture-thinking and falling for self-generated entertainments as the rest of us! I mean, we’ve all read the same science fiction novels from childhood to adulthood, watched the same flicks, been mesmerized, wowed, and captured by the same imaginary ‘forces’ that have created, sustain, and eventually will destroy us, our world-view, and yes, even our world. Since there is obviously no God to ‘get us’ (as any child of ten can tell you), the aliens probably will—or would, if we didn’t keep ourselves from being noticed. We’re sitting ducks.

As I sit here ruminating after a quiet bowl of muesli and a Turkish coffee on a cool, cloudy morning, in my little house on the edge of a cliff in the Cascadia subduction zone state of Oregon, waiting for ‘the Big One’ to liquefy my volcano-laced city of Portlandia, deep down I somehow ‘know’ that the Universe is good. It is moral. Or rather, that even human beings, as bacterial and vulnerable as we may seem to ‘scientific’ minds, can expect more from ‘whatever or Whoever is out there’ than our fears threaten. Left to itself, nature, though sometimes inconvenient to us, is not ‘out to get us’, nor is God. But we are.

Yes, left to ourselves, we are ‘out to get us,’ even in a harmless universe. We are the very people whom our parents warned us about when we were little, ‘Be careful! Watch out for them!’ Again, the inescapable truth in camouflage attire stands as always before us. We are so much a part of that good, moral universe that we can’t see it, can’t seem to stay in step with it, mesh with it, integrate with it, that we fall out, or fall off, and in our mindless scramble to ‘manage things’ make the universe a bogey, or a wildness we must tame, an enemy to be subdued, or a menagerie of material resources to be plundered.

The whole world was shining with brilliant light and, unhindered, went on with its work; over them alone there spread a heavy darkness, image of the dark that would receive them. But heavier than the darkness, the burden they were to themselves. But for Your holy ones all was great light…
Wisdom of Solomon 17:19-20, 18:1 Jerusalem Bible