Wednesday, September 30, 2015

One of us must go

The characters and the scenery may change, but the plot and the story line is always the same: this world is too small for man and God to both be here.

Adam and Eve are still just as alive as they ever were, and so is the serpent.

The Bible is, if it were nothing else, the greatest and longest dramatic masterpiece of all time: man writing his own judgment and sentence on himself, or is it God?

It seems too complete and too honest to have been written just by man. No man or men could bring such a body of evidence, or write such an invincible judgment, or be so generous and merciful in the sentence, to have written this Book.
Is that why some of us think it is inspired?


Though we can’t stand the sight of Him, and wish He would go away, He is written all over our flesh and spirit, and we know that He is the Truth about us.

This is the mystery of our very existence, and we know it. We are drawn to the light as the moth is to the flame, attracted to Him, unable to go back to the darkness, yet we know somehow that what we now are will suddenly end, with no turning back, once He draws us to Himself. Yes, for is it not Him drawing us that we experience as this attraction?

Yes, this world is too small for man and God to both be here.
One of us must go, and we know who that one is.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Apocalypse now

Our God is very economical in His dealings with us. He never arrives too early or too late. He never provides too little or too much. He harmonizes all that He creates to function symphonically, synergically. Everything, as He creates it, He declares good. He makes nothing without the Son and the Holy Spirit, thus revealing Himself to rational beings through Them, as the Father, and together with Them, as Holy One and Unearthly Triad.

He has taken from us words that He spoke by His holy prophets, proved by the history of His holy nation, sent out by the writings of His holy apostles, and sealed by the testimony of His holy martyrs, transforming them by the human and divine nature of His Son the Word, and given them back to us as the only divine scriptures on earth, the Bible. There it is, a Book transfigured into a Door.

Open it and you meet not just human words, but the Word. Entering with bowed head and bended knees, we are made to stand upright again with heads held high and straightened backs, renewed in the Father’s image, the God-man Jesus Christ, as we find Paradise as Him, and find ourselves in Paradise.

Yet our God is very economical. He knows what we are made of, because He makes us. He knows our nature from within, having become One of us. From the first-created Adam to the last-born Adam, He knows us all in our billions. The Book that He has given to us is written in words drawn from us. It speaks of things He wants to tell us in our own human language, precisely so that we can understand them.

The book of Revelation, the Apocalypse, is a book that the Church has almost avoided since the beginning, because it contains so much of a mysterious nature that it can easily be misunderstood. At one extreme, the Orthodox Church never reads it in the context of services, and at the other extreme are the many personality cults that are practically erected on the foundation of some man or woman’s interpretations of it.

Let’s listen to what the book of Revelation itself says and, without presuming to interpret the mysterious elements, pay attention to the things it plainly reveals, for they are not few. Approaching the Apocalypse, the phrase that immediately greets me at the door is the word of Jesus Himself, Μη φοβου! ‘Don’t be afraid’ (Revelation 1:17). We can trust Jesus here just as we trust His words in every other book of the Bible.

Many people even forget that it is Christ who is speaking to John and revealing these things, but if you have a red letter edition of the Bible you’ll see that there’s a lot of red printed in the book of Revelation. Like the rock that followed Israel in its migrations and gave them water to drink wherever they went, the Apocalypse has been following the Church in its earthly pilgrimage and follows us still.
Are we drinking from its living water?

For us and for every generation it is the Apocalypse now, and time itself has been carrying within it the seed of its own destruction, as the Day of the Lord draws closer to us. There never was a time not to do as the book of Revelation prescribes, ‘Read the prophecy aloud, listen to it, and keep what it says.’ Why? Because John, the servant and beloved disciple himself testifies, ‘it is the word of God guaranteed by Jesus Christ,’ and ‘because the time is close’ (Revelation 1:2-3).

The book of Revelation contains things both hidden and plain. It is our privilege to have this prophecy and our blessing to do what it says. Even in the first three verses comprising the Prologue, we find the truth both hidden and plain.

Hidden? When John writes ‘about the things which are now to take place very soon.’

Plain? When he writes, ‘John has written down everything he saw and swears it is the word of God guaranteed by Jesus Christ. Happy the man who reads this prophecy aloud, and happy those who listen to him, if they keep all that it says, because the Time is close.’

The hidden? The meaning and significance of the apocalyptic visions, when they are to take place, or whether they already have, and how, and where; the meaning of ‘now’ and of ‘very soon.’ Notice that these are exactly the things which have caused divisions, provoked and supported pride, and given occasion to scandals and crimes among the believers, allowing the planting of bad seed among the good. Christ says plainly to us in the gospels, ‘No man knows the day or the hour.’ Believing and obeying His word, we are saved from the despoliation of the hidden, wherever in the Bible we find it.

The plain? What is written as having factually occurred, ‘John has written down everything he saw.’ What we can trust on the word of an eyewitness and disciple of Jesus, ‘he saw and swears it is the word of God guaranteed by Jesus Christ.’ What will be the result for us if we follow the instructions in faith and obediently, ‘Happy the man who reads this prophecy aloud, and happy those who listen to him, if they keep all that it says.’ Why we should have faith and obey, ‘for the Time is close.’ Notice that the Lord never tells us too little or too much.

Brethren, I encourage you always and ever, to read the Apocalypse now because it is like a fifth gospel, the final seal of the good news, which began in the preaching of John the Baptist, was accomplished in the sacrificial and life-giving death of our Lord on the tree, and which is ‘now’ about to be perfected in us and in our world. Be like the humble and wise, who receive with joy and obedience the clear words of their Master and await with patience for the revelation of all that He will accomplish at His glorious coming, the parousía.

Remember what the Book plainly states, ‘The One who guarantees these revelations repeats His promise: I shall indeed be with you soon,’ and by our faith and obedience to His word, let us say with the saints, ‘Amen; come Lord Jesus!’ (Revelation 22:20)

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Kingdom belongs to us all

Cover of an anthology of hymnody for the participation of the people
in the Greek Orthodox Liturgy
Let’s face it. Christianity is a singing religion. What else is worship to us, if not to go to church and sing a rousing chorus of Alleluias, in whatever language or cultural context we find ourselves, from traditional hymns sung to the strains of a pipe organ, to the latest pop Christian lyric accompanied by a rock band?

We have a lot to sing about, because we have a wonderful God—I mean, He has us, and we’re glad. Praise has always been part of faith, returning to God thanks for all that He does for us. Once a week hardly seems enough, so most churches have more than just Sunday services. For us, singing is believing.

Now, I’m talking as a Greek Orthodox Christian, an adherent of the ancient Church, you know, the one that is keeping alive the biblical Greek language and ethos. Coming to my first Divine Liturgy twenty-seven years ago, even as a ‘high church’ Episcopalian, I was awed by the singing I heard in this church.

The impression was that not only was it astonishingly beautiful, it was—to my great relief—unashamedly human. It wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t performed. It was exactly in proportion to what was happening—human worship of the Divine, praising, praying, appealing for help, crying out for strength.

It was the sound most pleasing on earth, people singing together in all simplicity, as best they could, harmonizing the ‘good’ singers with even the tone deaf, female falsettos singing between syllables intoned by male voices that chanted with the gusto of fishermen, thrilled by their miraculous catch.

This was an opus Dei that I wanted to be part of. I couldn’t wait to learn the sounds—strange at first, but then quickly assimilated until I was as Greek ‘inside’ as the next guy—so that I could add my sound to the heavenly choir that descended to chant with the people whom I could hear singing around me.

The biggest surprise was not that much of the singing was in biblical (or Byzantine) Greek, but that the hymns were short, many of them one-liners, and totally memorizable. Gone from my worship world were the thick, heavy hymn books, and the placards with hymn numbers listed. We sang what we heard.

And we sang as much as we knew, as much as we remembered, or as much as we could reach high or low with our voices, not caring if we pronounced all the words audibly or not. Singing was as natural and spontaneous as that of birds, and as unself-conscious. We weren’t singing for anyone to hear, but God.

And He was listening. But of course, we listened too, and took courage to sing as we heard others around us, even when they sang just under their breath for modesty. I learned later that what we were singing, though ancient, had been adapted with musical settings designed for the people to sing easily.

Modern composers like Frank Desby and Tikey Zes had taken the traditional, ancient, sometimes monastic melodies, and smoothed them over a bit tonally, so that anyone could, and hopefully would, sing them. Our church had an organ in the choir loft that was used as a harmonium to keep us on tune.

That organ is still there, but a great reversion took place a few years back, and its overall effect has not only been to silence the instrument, but to silence the people as well. A spirit of Byzantine perfectionism, arrogant and oblivious to the worshiping people’s need to sing, has turned the temple into a concert hall.

This doesn’t displease some people. There are many reasons why people ‘go to church,’ but only one of them has to do with giving God thanks and praise. Sunday gatherings are the social expression of our faith, and that is valid. Some people come, too, out of their pleasure in hearing the sounds of worship.

Some of them, no doubt, are worshiping as well, but perhaps for others, worship means listening and enjoying good music. There is at least one member of the congregation that always turns around and gives me a look of disapproval when he hears my voice singing the hymns. I didn’t think I sang that badly.

But I never let it bother me. I just forgive him and keep singing, because as I just wrote, for me and for so many others who have now been silenced, singing, not seeing, is believing. And how have we been silenced? Well, anyone who goes to church in my family parish can tell you. Only the ‘elect’ can sing.

Christianity is a singing religion. What is left, then, when singing becomes the private reserve of virtuoso performers? Their singing, they would say, is their contribution to divine worship, their personal offering to God. Maybe it is, but what then becomes of the contribution and offering of other hearts to the Lord?

It is a great mistake, I think, when the Church sets people up with false expectations. When the Church exalts personal excellence not for the praise of God, but for the praise of men, and for pay, then disorder prevails. In the Greek Church, when chanters are on payroll, they feel they must perform, or else.

When the choir master is on payroll, the same thing happens. It’s one thing to provide a regular stipend to a church ‘musician’ (I don’t know what else to call them) as an appreciation for their time and effort in assisting us in our worship, and that’s what they should be doing, assisting, not replacing, our worship.

It is simply not worship anymore when we cannot sing the Divine Liturgy—I remind you, this is a problem in some Orthodox churches that have ‘music programs’—but are expected to just stand, watch, and listen. And the Church takes no corrective action, because ‘politically correct’ rules even there.

Sometimes I wish there were a red ‘reset button’ on life. Life in the world, in politics, in relationships, in the Church. We’re humans, a race with a built-in law of failure that we continually try to hide by piling on more of it and hoping no one will notice. We’re proudest of what we ought to be most ashamed of.

I stopped going to concerts of sacred music years ago because I couldn’t help myself—I begin worshiping as soon as I hear the strains of Greek hymns, even of ordinary English ones that I learned as an Episcopalian. On the other hand, when I am alone and at work, the hymns start up by themselves inside me.

I start singing along, sometimes aloud, when the Divine Liturgy begins in my heart. It feels like it’s always going on there, and when my silence reaches a certain depth, through concentration on a project or a complete cessation of self-consciousness, I hear it, and I join in, singing as naturally as breathing.

This is what comes of years of singing in church services, not as a choir member or a virtuoso. I hope that those who do assist our worship that way experience the same inner song. But this should not be denied to the people standing in the temple. Singing heals us. It feeds us. It joins us to the cherubim.

‘We who mystically represent the Cherubim, and who sing to the Life-Giving Trinity the thrice-holy hymn, let us now lay aside all earthly cares that we may receive the King of all, escorted invisibly by the angelic hosts. Alleluia.’ This is not a metaphor for being an audience, but an invitation to participate in heaven.

I appeal to those who have been given the authority to move mountains by their faith, and to cast them into the sea, to remove this mountain that oppresses the people of God, and reestablish the ‘work of the people’ which is the Divine Liturgy, restoring balance and order, because as St John Chrysostom tells us in his Paschal Homily, ‘Let all partake of the feast of faith… for the Kingdom belongs to us all.’

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Only one conversion

People get ‘converted’ to many things over the course of their lives. ‘Converted’ means, of course, ‘changed,’ but ironically many conversions do not actually change the people who make them. In many cases, a convert is actually a revert. They were involved in projecting an identity that was never really theirs, maybe foisted on them in childhood or because of their social class, and they finally have the courage or the realization to abandon it, and be who they always knew they were, but couldn’t tell.

Many types of conversions don’t get the name, but they’re conversions of a sort anyway. They are deliberate choices to change from one state to another. No, I don’t mean ‘state’ as in changing states, moving from Oregon to Washington, for example—though it can be argued that moving across the river from Portland to Vancouver USA amounts to a case of real conversion. No, I mean changing from the state of being, say, a Republican to being a Democrat—possibly, but not always, just a label change.

In America, political affiliations can be very absolute, part of one’s family history, and so a political party conversion can be devastating to some of those who experience it. Much more devastating can be religious conversions, changing from, say, a Baptist to an Episcopalian, something that probably almost never happens, except through marriage, and it has to be a very lukewarm Baptist to sink so low—or was it the Episcopalian who was lukewarm or lack-a-daisical enough to be willing to lose their dignity?

Meaning no offense to either religious affiliation, I simply observe that most Baptists abhor the broadness of the Episcopalian, and the Episcopalian shrinks from contamination by associating with ‘bible-believing’ (which means, fundamentalist) Baptists. For one of each to fall in love and marry, and then sort out the religious affiliations successfully and without injury, must be regarded as a true miracle. It is truly a case of ‘Love wins,’ the slogan of the successful spreading of marriage to gays and lesbians.

But the religious conversions, that is what always bothers me. When it’s for marriage, for love, I don’t have a problem. We all know what’s going on. As an Orthodox Christian, I expect anyone who marries into my family to become (at least nominally) Orthodox. This is a function of maintaining a family in smooth running order. We don’t care what you really believe. Just come to church with us on occasion. Do your best. What you can’t, or won’t, do, don’t worry. God is merciful. He’ll do the rest.

But when people convert to Orthodoxy, I am always suspicious. What was so wrong with where they came from that made them choose ‘the better part’? Are they simply following Mary of Bethany’s example, sitting at the feet of Christ to listen to, and absorb, the Savior’s every word? Hardly. They think they have found the better way, and being ambitious to have the best, to be able to piously pity those not so enlightened as oneself to choose the secure haven of Orthodoxy, that is what is important.

No, not to all who convert, but perhaps, at least to the unthinking few. May Christ reduce their numbers! Because it is not Orthodoxy to which one converts, though people may talk that way. Conversion to Orthodoxy, if that’s all it is, is worthless, no better than converting from one political party to another, or even converting from being a carnivore to being a vegetarian. It’s only an ‘upgrade’ to one’s lifestyle. It’s part of the self-help and personal improvement movement. Have the best to be the best.

I’m actually not excused from this very same malady. I too want to have the best, and to be the best. What I admit to myself and to God every time I encounter Him is that ‘all my righteousness is filthy rags.’ That puts a sudden, if impertinent, end to all my fantasies of being better than you. I console myself by telling people, as I told a visitor to my parish today at coffee hour, that I did not ‘convert’ to Orthodoxy twenty-seven years ago because it was better than Episcopalianism, just because I was ‘sent’ here.

That is the truth, as far as I can see it. I was a High Church Episcopalian holding to a stricter orthodoxy than many canonical Orthodox, and so when the door opened for me and my family to ‘immigrate’ to the Greek Church, that’s what we did. Only in the course of the years that followed did we learn and accept the subtle differences between Western (that is, Episcopal, Catholic, and Lutheran) beliefs and practices, and those of the East. By then, I knew for sure what I know now: You don’t convert to Orthodoxy.

No, there is only one move in the human experience that can rightly be called ‘conversion.’ It is the migration from death to life. The Puritan author John Bunyan had it right when he wrote The Pilgrim’s Progress. We move from the City of Destruction (the old, lost humanity) to the Celestial City (the new humanity, formed in the image of Jesus Christ). What it looks like or feels like to us when we undergo this change we may think is conversion from one religion (or religionlessness) to another, but it’s more.

There is only one true conversion offered to the human race in bulk or in fine, as a society or as an individual. That is conversion to Christ, the king-maker and savior of humankind. He has very little to do with ‘religion,’ and conversion to Him, though it may occur within religious structures, is not confined to them. Some pagans are reported in the book of the Acts of the Apostles to have received the Holy Spirit even without being baptized (that is, incorporated into the Church). Yes, they were then baptized.

But their conversion was to Christ, not to any church or religion, even though the Church already existed and was forced by the turn of events to hurriedly unite them to itself by the formal mysteries. There is something absolutely wild, that is, uncultivated and unexpected, in this. It is the wildness of God Himself who, though He tells us repeatedly that He is not a respecter of persons, we override by our traditions, making Him the accomplice to everything we do, good or bad, all in the name of serving Him.

I think I’ve made the point I wanted to make and which I’ve written about before in many different ways. There is only one real conversion, and that is to Christ. All of our other changes either lead up to this, or away from it. He made His apostles ‘fishers of men’ for no other purpose than to bring men to Him. Yes, they together constitute the Church, but no one can be brought to the Church without first being brought to Christ, regardless of what it looks like, or what sacramental acts have been performed.

I repeated myself to a new friend and brother today, meeting him after the Divine Liturgy. I told him, ‘I don’t witness for the Church. I witness for Christ, and He witnesses for the Church.’ I’m sure my new acquaintance was just as puzzled by this saying as I sometimes am, even though I came up with it. What does it mean to ‘witness for Christ’? And how is it that Christ witnesses for the Church? All I know is, I go where I am sent, speak to whomever He sends me, and what happens after that is all in His hands.

The Lord and Bridegroom of the Church knows how to entice His lovers, not with base self-gratifications, but by the beautiful gentleness and mercy of the Cross.

First He says, ‘Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls, for My yoke is easy and My burden is light’ (Matthew 11:28-30), and then, ‘If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me’ (Matthew 16:24). Conversion, yes, real, true conversion, is the only state in which we can hear, and rejoice to hear, these things.

There is only one conversion, and it is to Jesus Christ.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

On these the universe is established

In the news coming daily from the European continent, churches, that is, Christian houses of worship, even Roman Catholic ones, are being offered for sale because they have no congregations, and they are being bought up by Muslims. Some of these properties are even very historic. It seems only a matter of time before even the great Gothic cathedrals—Cologne, Beauvais, Ypres, maybe even the Sainte-Chapelle—will be converted into mosques, just as the great church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople was, only without the violence and carnage of military conquest.

Christians are justly concerned, but there is nothing they can do about it. Their numbers are dwindling, not all over the world to be sure, but in parts of Europe. Natural increase is insufficient to replace those who are dying off or just falling away. Religious indifference, combined with new personality-centered movements claiming to be Christian, have taken their toll. Yes, Europe as a ‘Christian continent’ has probably already been replaced by Latin America and Africa, but institutions change very, very slowly, wishing they were still alive, claiming to be, when in fact they are dead.

Nikolaj Velimirović, Bishop of Ohrid and Žiča, wrote of the ‘three ages in the history of the Church’…

There are three ages in the history of the Church: the Golden Age, when the Church was opposed to political governments; the Iron Age, when she was politically directing Europe’s kingdoms; and the Stone Age, when she has been subdued to the service of political governments. What a humiliation for the present generation to live in the Stone Age of Christianity!

It seems that we cannot have sunk lower than the Stone Age, but I think we have. The political governments have now in most places thrown away the Church, seeing that she is no longer of any value to them at all. In fact, in many places the Church is seen as an impediment to the progress of mankind and civil liberties. Ironically, however, having sunk below the Stone Age we do find ourselves—those of us who are still part of the confessing Church—back in a position very similar to the Golden Age. Whoever thinks that the Church is dead, or that we are post-Christian, is, I think, mistaken.

But that doesn't help those who are anxious for the fate of Christianity. In reality, they are grieving for the loss of what is essentially Christian real estate, not the loss of faith. Yes, the faith of Jesus Christ, used to power building projects throughout the ages instead of being allowed to transform and liberate humanity from bondage to sin and death, has produced a lot of beautiful, even awesome, things. But wherever the faith is alive, its works usually pass nearly unnoticed by the world, and even by the Church, whose leaders often pay lip service to virtue while trampling it in practice.

Human nature is fickle and weak. It is, we are, also very, very lazy. Having as a race abandoned our partnership with God in tending this garden universe, all our work is tedium, which we try to escape in various diversions, even—no, especially—in religious activities. And why? Seeking to serve the Lord, to harmonise our wills with His, to follow His true commandments (not those we make up), does not produce religion in us. It produces relationship. (There was no religion in Eden.) This is not easy. Religion gives us an easy way.

We offer God vegetables, like Cain did, and slay our brothers as he slew Abel. And why? Because we want to do things our way. God, if He does exist, should accept whatever we want to offer. This spirit is to be found in every religion, including Christianity. In the long run of Christian civilisations, the spirits of both Cain and Abel are present, just as the Lord tells us when He speaks, in another metaphor, of the field sown with wheat that has been also secretly sown with tares by the enemy. Religions come and go, wax and wane in the spiritual realm, just like wars and revolutions do in the earthly.

Christ says, ‘Do not be alarmed, the end is not yet’ (Mark 13:7).

Soon, it is said, Europe will become an Islamic continent. It is the Muslim belief that Muhammad's religion supersedes Christianity much as many Christians believe that their faith has superseded Judaism. Yet there are the faithful among the house of Israel worshipping, praying, studying the Torah, carrying out the commandments, as they always have, and with whom Christ has no quarrel. In the same way, there are the faithful Christians, worshipping in spirit and truth, rightly dividing the Word of God and applying it to their lives, loving mankind without condemnation, praying for those who hate them.

It is when the world no longer sees such as these, servants of the Most-High, sons of our Father who is in heaven, that those who remain unenlightened by the Gospel will have cause for anxiety, for it is on these the universe is established (as we publicly proclaim on the Sunday of Orthodoxy), and we should hope to be among them. They have no time to quibble and mourn over church properties, even the holiest shrines, because they know where their Treasure is. They know that their Kingdom, as Christ's, is not of this world. They know who it is they have trusted, and why.

Some religions are very long-lived, even when they are false, even when they don't really work, because people do not know, by nature, how great are those things which God has prepared for those who love Him, and they settle for less. Again, this is human weakness, frailty, desire for comfort rather than truth, wanting the feelings of solidarity even when unity is only an appearance, not the truth. Followers of Jesus Christ, wherever they find themselves, in whatever circumstances, are anxious for nothing, not that the Church will ever be lost, nor that anything that the Lord has willed shall fail to come to pass.

Yes, for Christ says, ‘These things I have spoken to you, that in me you might have peace. In the world you shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world’ (John 16:33).

More than I know

Benedict (Baruch) Spinoza, Albert Einstein, and Carl Sagan
‘An atheist has to know a lot more than I know.
An atheist is someone who knows there is no god.
By some definitions atheism is very stupid.’
―Carl Sagan

Carl Sagan was a brilliant mind, on a par with Albert Einstein and Benedict Spinoza, both fellow Jews and skeptic/believers. The God that Sagan and these other great men believed in is not the God most religious Christians and Jews believe in. One could almost say that they didn't believe in God at all, but that wouldn’t be quite true either. Belief and unbelief are wild cards.

Sagan claimed he was an agnostic, one who ‘doesn't know.’ This is hardly different from the believing Christian who is honest and can say, as many have said, it is hardly within the realm of humanity's capacity to know what God is, only perhaps what He is not. This approach has a place in historic (as opposed to fundamentalist) Christianity. It’s called apophatic theology.

What Sagan and many other great thinkers have missed is the fact that the God who is, and of whom we may know almost nothing FACTUALLY, did make Himself known to us ACTUALLY, by the things He did and by His teachings, when He appeared as one of us, the man Jesus Christ.

That man might have been anyone, and His words and deeds might have no more importance or power than those of any other religious figure, except for one ACT which is also a FACT: He was put to death, and rose from the dead to die no more.

This event was not some trick played on His contemporaries and on us. If that FACT is historical, then everything else about Him, down to His miracles, and even His virgin birth, and finally, His identity with the Divine Nature as the incarnation of the Logos, is also FACTUAL as well as ACTUAL.

This intrusion into His creation by the otherwise Unseen and Unknowable God has made Him visible and knowable in the only way possible for our species. Yet, to recognize Him is not a function of the intellect, and those who measure the universe by the limitations imposed by the human mind will never find Him.

(For those who may be reading whose mother tongue is not English, and who may be using machine translation, and even for those who are native English speakers, I am using the word pairs FACTUAL/ACTUAL and FACT/ACT in a very specialized sense, which a dictionary won’t find for you.

In my theology, ‘fact’ and ‘factual’ refer to what God has ‘made,’ that is, what can be measured and inspected by the scientific method. They also refer to real, documentable history. They are what most people (imprecisely) call ‘objective’ knowledge.

On the other hand, ‘act’ and ‘actual’ refer to what God ‘does,’ that is, what is really going on ‘behind the scenes,’ so to speak, but cannot be subjected to scientific or historical examination. They are what most people (often prejudicially) call ‘subjective’ knowledge.)

Really only one world

Recently the issue of animal ‘rights’ and welfare attracted my attention, and I wrote a mouthful, essentially disclaiming that I had anything to do with it (an obvious lie, since I eat meat, fish, and eggs), and saying that until we as a race evolve a bit more to where we’re all living on the ‘Garden of Eden diet’ (I could’ve said, the ‘Lenten diet’), animals will just have to put up with us.

Of course, on the serious side of this issue I wrote what any compassionate, thinking human being would say, that we should not keep the animals (or whose eggs) we are about to eat in conditions more fitted to machinery parts—tiny cages inside buildings, for example, that deny them any of the benefits of actually being alive in the brief time we allot to them.

But thinking a bit further on this topic of ‘cages’ reminded me of one of my other ‘passions’ about things existential and political, the imposition of national borders and the controls that they impose on the inmates (usually called the ‘citizens’) of a prison (usually called a ‘country’). Modern nation states have a modern notion of borders that was unknown for much of recorded history.

As recently as the mid-nineteenth century, people could freely move between countries in most parts of the world. For example, it wasn’t until 1864 that the U.S. Congress first centralized control over immigration under the Secretary of State with a Commissioner. The importation of contract laborers was legalized in this legislation. Border controls were about to arise.

With the current ‘refugee crisis’ (mostly) in Europe, one cannot avoid thinking about the controls that nation-states impose to keep people in (in the case of Communist states, and others), but mostly out (everyone else). The civil war in Syria, which should not be going on if the U.N. were more than a prodigal display of paper chasing and diplomatic hobnobbing, is the current cause.

Europe’s resources are already stretched enough with ‘little Mexicos’ of its own to be able to deal with the current flood pressing on its southern shores. Syrians make up at least half the horde of mostly Muslim refugees which, we complain, should be absorbed by other Muslim countries, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, for example, that have (we think) the resources (though not the will) to help.

True, but as for Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, we already know that ‘money seeks its own,’ and that though they might dribble out a few million bucks like an old man trying very hard to pee, the only refugees they will welcome, regardless of religion or race, are the rich, who seem to be a religion and race all to themselves. As for countries like America, Canada, or Australia, the same.

I believe in a world without borders and, after many millions of deaths, the final victory of love.

One day we will look back with as much pity and disbelief as we now look back at the Dark Ages (probably much more), and wonder how anyone could think they could keep people inside artificial ‘borders’ where they could use and abuse them under the pretext of protecting them. Some ‘countries’ like (I have to set the word in quotes, thinking of) North Korea, don’t care that the world knows.

But the rest of us—our countries, I mean—are quite confident and proud of the fact that we have divvied up the whole earth into cantonments, some of which resemble luxury estates, while others look more like concentration camps, to keep the first from slipping to the status of the second, and vise versa, since the second category of containments (the real term) is usually owned by the first.

There are two issues here, actually. One is, the wars and internal strife that create refugees (people who wouldn’t want to move if they could safely stay where they are). The other is, the controls over people that do not let them move freely anywhere in the world when they want to for whatever reasons, be they economic, educational, familial, or social. Solving the second issue dissolves the first.

But not, perhaps, in the short term. There will always be a lag between progressive social legislation and its acceptance by the societies that institute it. Evolution, not always untainted by revolution, is at work here. This is where education could provide a buffer to ease us into a borderless world, even while local clashes continued. It would also help if a U.N. really existed that lived up to its name.

My last paragraph, to sum it all up. If we (some of us) are moved by pity over animals being treated inhumanely by being caged in conditions unworthy of living beings to push for the abolition of such conditions, can’t we find it in ourselves to be motivated by the same pity to abolish the conditions we find our own species trapped in? Open your doors, nations! Why open them?

Because we are only one world, we are really only one world.

Friday, September 25, 2015

This is it

The Guardian published an interesting article, ‘Industrial farming is one of the worst crimes in history.’ An interesting article, yes, but unbalanced. It makes many good points, but it also makes animal rights, not merely animal welfare, a crusadable issue. This is my take on it, written as a human, but also as an Orthodox Christian to whom all life’s issues are theological.

If mankind has evolved from humanoids who, on the way to being modern humans, wiped out a large percentage of animals, as the article claims, and if we now, having evolved technological means to produce and harvest animals for consumption, propagate certain animals over others, isn't that just evolution at work?

As for domesticated animals, yes, there is a moral issue with regard to how these animals live. Certainly, they should not be confined in unnatural environments which do not take into consideration their needs as conscious beings, and their slaughter (when it comes) should not be such as to terrorize them in their last moments of life.

But as for projecting onto them human traits and needs, and giving them ‘equal rights’ with humans, well, then we had better figure out what to do with all those creatures when we stop eating them, and we had better get to work on replacing their contribution to human nutrition with an awful lot of tofu and tempe.

Personally, though I eat meat out of social convention, I could easily forego it and subsist on vegetable nutrition. I could not kill an animal or bird for food. Fish, on the other hand, I have no problem with catching and preparing. They are ‘fruit of the waters’ to me. So, yes, I suppose I must be carnivore of sorts, but even Christ ate fish.

But we can't say, ‘Stop the world, I'm getting off!’ Maybe someday humanity’s evolution will reach the point where carnivorous diet is universally abandoned. No, not maybe, but certainly, because when we reach the goal of our evolution in God's plan, we will ‘return to Eden,’ and our diet will be what was ordained for the first humans.

Perhaps we can start somewhere, but I think to try to move to this vegetarian lifestyle as a race without at the same time moving into the other behaviors associated with the Kingdom of God would only stop us in our evolution. If we accomplished it, we might imagine that we had ‘done enough,’ but we would not have. There is more.

Follow Christ. Enter the Church. Make of the human race a society of Saints. Establish justice. Eliminate poverty as well as disease and discomfort. The animals will again look at us and see God walking on earth, as they did before the Fall of Adam. No, we wouldn’t eat them either. We wouldn’t want to.

The Fall of Adam halted our evolution. Christ came to jump-start it. The Message to us is now as it has been for the past two thousand years: Follow Christ, don't just ‘believe’ in Him, and not only humanity, not just the animals, but the whole earth, even the universe, will finally be what it was meant to be when God created us.

If there can be any meaning to ‘animal welfare,’ this is it.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Again and again

The gospels, as we know, were written down some years after the events took place, even though they often read as if they were jotted down just as they happened. The way they are described incorporates an understanding of their significance which could not have been known to most of those who experienced them first-hand. All of the writers knew, by the time they composed them, everything that we know about Christ, and so what may seem to us their ambiguities or even their silence on certain matters would not have been so to their contemporaries. Hence, the need to read contextually.

The first generation of disciples in the first moments of time after the death of Jesus were in a state of almost perfect ignorance and confusion. Everything they had experienced for three years, everything they had heard Jesus say, all that they saw Him do, was a muddle mixed with their shock at what had just occurred and so swiftly—the unorthodox Seder meal, the sorrowful Passover walk in the garden afterwards, the troubling Judas kiss and the brutal arrest of their Rabbi, His merciless interrogation by the authorities and their illegal trial and conviction of Him, and finally, His unthinkable crucifixion and death.

As many have observed, in such a state of mind and emotion men such as these should not have been able to say and do what followed. We should never have, in fact, learned anything about Jesus of Nazareth at all. As illustrious and effective as His words and deeds may have been, we should never have discovered them, unless some evidence might have turned up in the secular reports of His contemporaries, or in allusions to Him in the Talmudic writings of the Jews. Even if He were somehow a divine being, the Son of God or whatever, if anything remained, it would have been only mythology.

But this is not what happened. Everything we know about Jesus Christ has come down to us through the gospels and the apostolic writings precisely because the Author was Christ Himself, speaking to us through the words of His disciples. Precisely because they met Him again and again, starting with the two on the road to Emmaus. And He told them the significance of everything in terms of the Law and the Prophets. Without the Law and the Prophets there is no Messiah, and so starting with Moses, He explained everything. Not just in that first encounter, but in the forty days that followed.

Of course, this is how we know anything about the Resurrection, even that it happened at all. The words and deeds of Jesus could not have held any everlasting meaning or exhibited such power, had He not finished His earthly ministry by, after His resurrection, explaining everything to them. Every heresy that followed in later ages up to the present time derive any rational force they have from doubting that it was the resurrected Christ who is speaking in the gospels and the apostles. Then, ambiguities in the writings become mountains to be climbed, and new religions can be created by men out of their heads.

The whole message of Christ and Christianity was complete and present in the understanding imparted by Christ to His first generation of disciples when He was with them personally after His resurrection, and yet only the foundations were seen. The building had yet to be built on those foundations, and so it was, and so it is still being built. We have finished only two stories thus far, and now a third is being layered on, though at first with trepidation. Some of the builders want to keep repeating the layers designed as the base. Others want to start building what the foundation was laid for, the many-mansioned house.

Now, we must go back, reread the words of the contract signed in the Blood of the Son of God which was written up between His Father and us, that new and everlasting Covenant which was initially and provisionally drafted with Noah and confirmed by the sign set in the clouds. Knowing what we know because Jesus told us, still tells us, and always will tell us again and again and more perfectly, we must return to what was designed by Him in the beginning, and to which His words and deeds direct us, the Kingdom of God, and add yet another story on its bold foundation, for He comes. He comes to judge the earth, and the nations by His truth.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The great inversion

You know that among the pagans the rulers lord it over them, and their great men make their authority felt. This is not to happen among you. No; anyone who wants to be great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be your slave, just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.
Matthew 20:25-28

It's curious how we have found so many ways to get around this saying of Jesus. One hierarch who otherwise declares himself the bridge-builder and the vicar of Christ on earth, humbly adds the epithet servant of the servants of God to the other titles by which he is known, and though protocol demands he be referred to as ‘his Holiness,’ we are advised that this form of address pertains not to him personally, but to what Christ has made him. That may be so; I don't know. But I ask myself, how does this differ from referring to the Queen as ‘her Majesty’?

Like all other human societies, the Church organizes itself in tiers according to rules of order. Is this not to be avoided? After all, even Christ had His inner ring of disciples, Peter, James and John, and even there we find an ambition for preeminence among its members which gave Him occasion to speak the words cited above, ‘anyone who wants to be great…’

Though Holy Church has institutions like the offices of bishop, presbyter and deacon, and has even added more classifications to these simple New Testament ones, the fact remains that within her we find strange inversions happening, even from the earliest times, that prove the saying of Jesus fulfilled and write a spiritual history of mankind that remains almost impossible of documentation.

In the ancient Church, we have figures like elders Barsanouphios and John in Gaza, simple men who from their desert cells guided countless lives both during their time and up to the present day. Bishops even feared them for their God-bestowed authority, and heeded their instructions, yet they considered themselves the worst of sinners.

In the film Ostrov, the simple, half-mad Fr Anatoly, after burning his abbot's best boots, nearly suffocating him in a smoke-filled boiler room, and then casting his precious down-filled comforter into the sea, sits side by side with him, both of them covered with soot and smoke, and talks to himself or them both, complaining that God has made him the leader of the monastery, and he simply can't understand why, since of all men he is the most sinful. You can tell that he's not just saying this out of humility; he really believes it. This is Fr Anatoly speaking, now, not the abbot. The abbot just sits there beside him silently and with a look of abject relief, thanking God for delivering him, at the hands of this madman, from his earthly crutches.

It is strange, too, how our perceptions of others can be so different, one person viewing another as a great saint, another criticizing him harshly. As C. S. Lewis writes, ‘What you see and what you hear depends a great deal on where you are standing. It also depends on what sort of person you are.’ I have known bishops who, I think, were great saints and men of God, yet I still hear them being traduced even after they have reposed, and being called bad men. Conversely, I am sure there are others whom I blame and others praise. So much for our private judgments. Why judge at all? But as Jesus says, ‘Wisdom is vindicated by all her children’ (Luke 7:35).

Holy Church is both the most merciful refuge for the afflicted and at the same time the most dangerous place for souls who still seek the world. Her structures and order can both relieve the afflicted and afflict the pious. The lowlier you are in spirit, the less you are jolted by the cataracts in the flow of churchly life, whether you are positioned at the top, as a chief shepherd, or just one of the lesser sheep. The stronger is your hold on the control of life, your own or that of others, the greater is your danger, to yourself and to others. A ride over the cataracts might throw you out of the boat, your stiff stance working ironically against you.

Spiritual freedom—ultimately, this is what it all boils down to. As the apostle writes, ‘When Christ freed us, He meant us to remain free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery’ (Galatians 5:1). All worldly systems of social organization lead to slavery and preserve it among men. Only Christ Jesus, in His divine teaching and holy example, has set us free from this when He turned the world upside down, as His disciples continue to do, for which the world blames them.

These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also. They are all defying Caesar's decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.
Acts 17:6-7

Unwalled city

It seems to me,
from my limited experience
of sixty-four years,
that if you really trust Jesus completely,
you are unafraid to trust yourself
to people,
situations,
and the world in general,
as they come your way.

By this I don't mean
that you entrust yourself into everyone's keeping.
But you are somehow able to discern,
even without giving it much thought,
and without anxiety,
what is appropriate in every encounter.

You seamlessly entrust yourself to others
in exactly and only those areas
where trust even has meaning at all.
You can be fearless
because there is no longer anything to gain or lose.

Why?
Because of Christ.
He has you, and you have Him.

Beyond both need and want,
unopposed and defenseless,
you are an unwalled city
defended, like Rome, by that invincible weapon,
the peace of Christ.

Finally able to see

To watch, to wait, to keep the heart pure, the eye single.

To be two-hearted is against nature, yet we change ourselves, yielding to forces outside us, through fear at first, and then to triumph over others, we duplicate our heart, we become duplicitous.

To be two-eyed is according to nature, yet we are commanded to have a single eye, so that our bodies may be full of light. ‘If your eye offends thee, pluck it out, and throw it away…’ Our choice is before us.

So we find ourselves, when we awake, to have been sleeping on a battlefield, we know not how long, and we resent this. ‘Why me?’ asks every soul, as it reads the God-etched commandments in the flesh.

So the Church father (we forget his name) says, ‘Man is commanded to become God,’ and we remember that he spoke this at a funeral oration of another ancient ‘great.’ But it is our own funeral that matters to us.

By nature thus, contrary to nature thus. We yearn to transcend the chaos of our lives, yet dig ourselves deeper in that chaos as we multiply our hearts and refuse to put out one eye, that which consumes all.

Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us whom You have made, and bring us back to where we began, our hearts one in Your heart, and seeing You with a single eye, finally able to see.

Even in Jesus

How ironic it is, that the Blessed Virgin Theotokos is the apostle and abbess of Mount Athos, an isolated peninsular republic composed only of male monastics! How she came into that inheritance, becoming the apostle of that ‘almost island’ of the Chalkidhikí is a little known story that I have recounted elsewhere.
My favorite ikon of the Theotokos as Abbess of Mount Athos is the one shown right, recently written in Byzantine style. It has replaced an older image that is still frequently found, painted in Western style.

One of the strangest but most potent proofs of the status of the Virgin Mary in the Kingdom of God is her constant, sometimes visible, presence on the Holy Mountain. At times the monks literally see her standing among them during services, or walking abroad on the mountain. True, she has reposed, yet her body has disappeared, and so her state resembles that of the ‘raptured’ (1 Thessalonians 4:17, αρπαγησόμεθα, ‘snatched away’), almost a sort of ‘first fruits of the New Creation’ in a similar way to Christ being the ‘first fruits of the Resurrection.’ These facts, at least, should commend her to the attention of Christians, even if only as their model. The Virgin Mary is, after all, the first Christian, and everything that happened to her can and will happen to every follower of Jesus, if we only allow it.

Sometimes the Church’s use of the saints as our role models is totally off the mark! An example of this is the emphasis on the Virgin Mary as a role model only for women: this misrepresents both the Mother of God and the Christian woman. Though I am not sure that in Roman Catholic hagiography you ever hear women called ‘equal-to-the-apostles’ as in the Greek Church ‘isapóstolos’, yet not only the Theotokos, but Photini (the woman at the well) and Mary Magdalen among others have this distinction. Perhaps since the Virgin Mary never became a ‘priest’ it is safe to make her the role model for women, and bolster it with such images of her that conform to a mistaken ideal of feminine virtue and piety.

The fact that the Mother of God’s life ended in the extraordinary way that is recorded in the Orthodox Church points to the fact that her example and existence is for all Christians to imitate. She is the first Christian as well as the last faithful Jew, and so she retains her position among all of humanity—not just among Christians, ‘all generations shall call me blessed’—as, if nothing else, at least our first and most transparent model of what a follower of Jesus is. Far from waiting on our prayers and devotions (though she is aware of them and offers them to God the Holy Triad) she is walking the world beside her Divine Son as He searches each one of us for hearts that can be saved—hearts, not just souls, for as the Desert Father says, ‘If you have a heart you can be saved.’

There are some Christians who simply don’t believe in the ‘communion of saints,’ that is, their living but invisible presence among us, because they haven’t really grasped the significance and power of the Resurrection—that is, Jesus Christ risen from the dead.

The saints are only present because they are in paradise, and paradise is a Person, not a place. It is Jesus. Lack of attention to Mary is part of this failure to appreciate what the Resurrection means. From their point of view, Jesus ‘ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father.’ They have grasped that but have neglected His words, ‘Lo, I am with you to the end of the age.’ They confine His real presence to the sacraments if they still accept these at all, and they make ‘Christ is in our midst’ into a mere metaphor, to be applied as a consolation for the aridity and sterility of their devotions.

At worst some of them don’t even have a clue as to what eternal life, even what salvation, is, or how it applies to our earthly life. This is where the atheist and agnostic find ample opportunity to mock what they think Christianity is, but which is only a ghost of it, an attenuated parody of authentic Christianity, which does not reside in mere systems or institutions, but in the arena of spiritual struggle in which the saints have toiled from the beginning till now. Yes, these things are understood and lionized in the traditional Church, Catholic and Orthodox, yet even there, they are often reduced to systems of self-serving spiritual materialism, and finally, church imperialism.

How deeply the true knowledge of the meaning and power of the Resurrection can transform our lives, if we only believe. ‘All things are possible, if you only believe.’ Yes, even in the communion of saints. Yes, even in Christ in our midst. Yes, even in Jesus.

Following Jesus, we can laugh

The shortest verse in the bible is not ‘Jesus laughed’ or ‘Jesus smiled’, but ‘Jesus wept.’ He is not known as a laughing deity, like some buddhas are, but rather, as the Man of Sorrows.

Looking for an image that I could use to illustrate this post, I was unable to locate one that showed Jesus laughing, or even smiling, that I felt was not irreverent.

Is it any wonder, then, that people have a hard time imagining that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, could have a sense of humor, or enjoy many other things that regular human beings enjoy. Why is this?

It's a form of latent Gnosticism, isn't it, that Christians in all times and ages have had a difficult time getting used to Jesus as a Man with all that it implies.

Jesus Christ is the θεανθρωπος, theánthropos, the ‘God-Man’ as we call Him in the Greek Orthodox Church. We're eager to confess Him as Lord and God, but we sometimes don't know how to be comfortable with Him as Man. I notice that many of the trends in modern evangelical worship tend to make the experience not far removed in atmosphere from a club or coffeehouse. This shocks the Orthodox, but we return the favor by shocking our liturgically antipodal brethren with our over-the-top ceremonialism. Touché!

Worship is how we relate to the God half of the indivisible God-Man, but everything else about our Christian life needs to proceed from our relationship to the Man half of that same, unique Being. Why? Because He has somehow taken up our humanity with Him into the Godhead, so that the Holy Triad should no longer seem alien to us, as we are indwelt by Him and live in Them.

Jesus the Man did have a sense of humor, as we can see if we can make ourselves read the gospels without a religious bias. In fact, His attitude toward religion itself was sometimes quite humorous.

It’s because the Church throughout much of her history has been in bondage to religious spirits rather than in manly relationship with the Saviour that all kinds of atrocities have been committed in His name—wars, persecutions, tortures, you name it. Nothing that satan hasn't tried outside the Church hasn't also been tried inside her—not by Christians, of course, but by the bad seed that the enemy has sown there.

When we meet the saints of today, those who, as Martin Luther said, ‘canonize themselves,’ we find human beings who are fully human and yet partake of the Divine Nature in some way we cannot quite fathom, but whatever it is they have, we want, that is, if we really want Jesus. Otherwise, the saints are merely an annoyance at best, or an embarrassment and conviction at worst. ‘Just ignore them. Maybe they’ll go away!’

Following Jesus, we can laugh at the world and its schemes and threats, because He defeated it on the Cross and He defeats it in us who believe and follow Him every day.

There is a time for laughter, and a time to be serious, even solemn. And there too, let Jesus the God-Man show us the way. Let’s worship Him as did His disciple John the Revelator, in fear and awe, but let’s also walk with Him as did His disciples on that road to Emmaus, except, unlike them, may we recognize Him right away.

One in essence and undivided

Be silent out of strength, powerful through prayer, untroubled by opposition because of irreversible certainty, and trusting of the Lord who giving us free choice yet protects, preserves and saves all who turn to Him. Yes, as Christ teaches, ‘Be as sheep among wolves,’ or in another place, ‘Be as cunning as serpents and as innocent as doves.’ What all this is leading us to, ever so gently by the meek Lord Himself, is to make us understand that there really is no ‘us and them,’ that ‘what the Lord has joined together, let no man tear asunder.’ We think this phrase applies only to marriage, but then, what is marriage if not a special instance of this unity that underlies all our being? Marriage and the life of the Church are both examples of the life of the Holy Trinity, ‘one in essence and undivided.’

Christ prays the Father—not just in the gospel according to John, but throughout all time and in every place, unceasingly—‘that they all may be one, even as You and I are One.’ What He is doing is not asking the Father to bestow upon us something that is alien to our nature—our true and original nature, that is—but to open our eyes to see the Divine Image which we in fact are, the unbroken, undivided, Image of God, that which He became a human being to reveal to us. He says, ‘If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father,’ but also to see Christ is to see Adam before the Fall. Everything that Jesus teaches us about ourselves leads us to only one conclusion: Our neighbor is our brother, is our other self, and no one hates himself, no one considers himself his enemy, but he loves him and seeks his good. This is where the words of Christ take us.

The human race is a single organism, ‘one in essence and undivided,’ as God sees us. How else can He love each of us as though we were His only creature? The universe's Divine Spouse loves His Bride and in the tunnel of time is perfecting her, preparing her for Himself, making her also Divine. Though the tunnel can pass through deep darkness, at its end is Light, and that Light can be reached by no other way than that which He has revealed to us—the Cross. Let's take up that Cross, brethren, because it's not heavy like His earthly cross was, nor are we mocked and despised on our way as He was, nor do we bear it, nor will we die on it, as He did, and does, for the sins of the world. No, my brethren. He has done the hard part, ours is the easy. ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.

And your neighbor as yourself.’

Monday, September 21, 2015

Monarchy

Monarchy is initiated everywhere when a strong center of decisive action is required. No committee by whatever name really rules a nation; it may appear, or be decreed as such, but behind it must be an unbridled but untitled monarch.

Monarchy becomes hereditary if and when it can maintain itself as that strong center.

There has been no true monarchy since the advent of constitutionalism.

A true monarchy must unite in itself, in the person of the monarch,
all the attributes of the nation, including its religious heritage.
A king is also a priest, if not a god.

The office of Christian Emperor within the Church was threefold:
pre-eminent preacher of the Divine Dispensation (Law and Gospel), dispenser of Divine Healing (the royal touch),
and living icon of God the Father.

The person of Christian Emperor within the State was likewise living icon of God the Father, who thence begat his people, to whom he was not just symbolic, but literal, father, and from him, through his people, proceeded the spirit of the nation, its ethos, the lord and giver of its life.

In this way, monarch, people, and ethos not only reflected, but actually incarnated, the Holy Triad of the Divine Nature: One substance in three persons. Thus, Orthodox Christianity, as a complete revelation of the One God as a society of persons, equal in substance but differing in function, was, is, and shall be the perfect foundation of earthly society, both spiritual and temporal.

Pure monotheism as Judaism is an incomplete revelation; Islamic monotheism, a compromise with humanistic reason. Neither ever did, can, or could produce a true monarchy, only an anticipation (pre-Christian kings of Israel and Judah), or an imitation (the Caliphate).

Whether or not a country has ever been governed by monarchy, it may still become a monarchical civilization. Indeed, when a nation finally realizes that its very survival depends on it, it will abandon the unsuitable and wasteful aberrations it once called government, even though its origins were formerly lauded as noble, and return to monarchy.

We can only hope that when it is ready, it will fall to Orthodoxy, not to Islam or to some other new pseudo-religious philosophy, to bring the nation to ethical rebirth and true monarchy.

Ο εχων ους ακουσάτω τί το Πνευμα λέγει ταις εκκλησίαις.
‘Having ears, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’
Revelation 3:13

Just part of theirs

In support of the United Nations' International Day of Peace, September 21, I humbly offer these meditations…

Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks to Sultan Mehmed IV,
by Russian painter Ilya Yefimovitch Repin
(We of the Western world could never be like them,
so perhaps it will be left to the Russians to save us from Islam after all.)
Is there such a thing as a moderate Muslim? We, or at least those who rule us, must think so, because we’re letting in Muslims into our countries by the boatload. In all of human history (at least that part of it known to me) there has never been a clearer example of willful self-delusion about an enemy.

By its very creed, translated into every major language, Islam openly declares itself the enemy of that part of the human race which does not submit to it. In every place where it has taken control it gives evidence that it is able and willing to enforce its ideology on all, whether by teaching or by terror.

In spite of its record in history, in spite of its current regimes, in spite of its cultural blackmail of western democracies and its taking hostage of entire populations by fear at every level, our leaders in Europe and America confidently tell us that this is a religion of peace, and anyone who disagrees is ignored.

Reaction by the people is slow in coming, but it’s on its way. We sense that our very species is endangered. Yes, Western, even Christian, man is an endangered species, more than any other animal, and all because democracy which turned out kings is now about to turn us out. Islam is stronger.

Again, in bold face because we know all about it yet deny what we know, Islam is arriving at our borders and on our shores with the aim of supplanting us, here and there peacefully, now and then violently, because we give them the right to do so, imposing no restrictions on them, only on ourselves.

To avoid giving Islam offense, western democracy has already capitulated in theory, if not yet completely in practice, and without doubt many countries are democracies no longer. They have already become dhimmocracies—rule by dhimmis, those who submit to Islam’s demands without conversion.

Our political leaders, almost without exception, have been doing more than bowing before and kissing the hand of a Sa’udi king. That incident early in the first term of the current American president was more than an example of ignorance. It was prophetic. We now begin to see where we are being led.

They are in the same position as the Orthodox hierarchs were in Soviet Russia, when they were forced to swear allegiance to the State, declaring that the State’s successes were theirs, even the success of uprooting and abolishing Christianity altogether. Actually, they are not in the same position.

They are betraying Western civilization, culture, and values of their own free will. There is no force involved. No one is making them sign our death warrant. Their Christless nihilism has paralyzed them, rendering them incapable of protecting the nations that elected them to establish the common good.

I asked, if there were such a thing as a moderate Muslim. I think I know the answer. A moderate Muslim is one that is willing to wait for you to die all on your own, rather than wasting the resources you’ve given him for his betterment to make war on you. As long as you keep feeding him, he’s moderate.

There is another kind of Muslim who actually is moderate. He’s the descendant of the trickle of Muslim immigrants who came to your country a few generations ago, during the Ottoman era, before World War I. His Islam is as harmless as the Christianity of many Christians, something to do on the holidays.

It seems a certainty that there was never a time or place when Islam was moderate, only lazy or impoverished, and therefore unable to be warlike. The same people who refuse to see what is happening right in front of them cannot be expected to study history. They say it was written by the victors.

Now that we have the most up-to-date evidence of what Islam thinks of history in the atrocities committed at Palmyra, we can catch a glimpse of what history would look like if they were allowed to write it. So far, they’ve been part of our history. What will it be like when we are just part of theirs?

What is the Father to do?

The words of Jesus have limitless application. What he once spoke to his hearers, the Pharisees, in first century Palestine, by way of warning, are just as much prophecy as they are parable and moral precept. Of this we can be sure, and it is this quality of the words of the prophets of Israel, and of all true prophets—that they have limitless application—that has preserved them for all peoples, cultures, and lands down to the present age.

There is a spirit of religion—and here we must be quite careful to deliberately say we are not speaking of true religion, that which causes us to come to the aid of the helpless while keeping ourselves uncontaminated by the world—yes, there is a spirit of religion which we must fight against, which the prophets battled, which Jesus contested, which encroaches on all spiritual inspiration and endeavor, especially the Church of Christ.

Christ tells us of the father with two sons. He tells us that the father asked one son to go and work in the fields that day. The boy said, ‘Yes, I will go,’ but did not go. The father had also asked the other son, who refused, saying, ‘No, I won’t go,’ but who nonetheless went. After hearing this story, the people were asked, ‘Which son did the will of his father?’ and they responded, ‘The son who went to work in the fields.’ Jesus had made his point.

We hear this story in church every year, probably more than once, and if we read our bibles regularly, we will come across it in the 21st chapter of the gospel according to Matthew. We all seem to know what it means, but we never think of applying it, except to excuse ourselves in a haphazard, unserious way. We think, ‘Well, I am neither the son who was obedient in word but not in deed, nor the disobedient who repented and worked. It’s not about me.’

Sadly, and unavoidably, but forgivably, it is about us, both as individuals and as the world of the Church. Sadly, because once we see what we ‘should have done’ we’re sad about it. Unavoidably, because when we look back at our lives, we still maintain, ‘What else could I have done?’ And forgivably, because in looking back at our lives, or at Church history, we quickly abandon regret, and forgive ourselves, and forget. Our religion gets us out of this mess.

But it isn’t real. The words of Jesus have power, though they do not use it against us, but for us. They are prophetic words, and we are caught, whether we know it or not, in the net of our own evasions. Thinking we have escaped by the grace of God, ‘He tore the net and we escaped,’ we justify our present behavior by that of our forgiven past, a past that looks more and more rosy as real history fades from view. We said, ‘Yes,’ but we did not go.

So the Church—which should lead the world in all things because it is the light of the world and the city set on a hill which cannot be hid—is found out by the unbelieving world, which has learned well from our bad example and behavior, and goes out to work in the fields while saying ‘No’ to the Father, instead of us who say ‘Yes,’ but do not go. That world now begins to teach us what mercy is, even though in disobedience it also blasphemes life.

This is a mystery. How salvation freely offered is rejected as a form of words by some who go and perform those works that pertain to the Kingdom. Even greater a mystery, how others forego the work, believing all has been accomplished, and pursue a salvation of their own making.

What is the Father to do with His two sons?

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Asleep in our boat

Sometimes I wonder, when Jesus fell asleep with His head on a cushion in the disciples' fishing boat, what was He doing? He must have gone out countless times with them on that fickle lake, in clear weather and in foul, by night and by day. Did He often just fall asleep? Was He tired, or just bored with what was going on? Of Him, if of no one else, this saying is at least true, ‘I sleep, but my heart is awake,’ yet He is not the Bride (who speaks these words in the Song of Songs), but the Beloved whom the psalmist extols, ‘of all men You are the most handsome, Your lips are moist with grace, for God has blessed You forever’ (Psalm 45:2 Jerusalem Bible).

When the Word and Son of God became man, was that too a kind of ‘sleep in the boat’?

I mean, while reclining and growing in the womb of the Theotokos, He was asleep, yet the worlds continued to run their courses, and nature renewed itself as it always does, even though the Lord who creates, sustains and—yes!destroys all things was hidden in a cleft, not of rock, but of human flesh.

Of course, how could someone not record that day when sleeping, they had to rouse Him? They needed His help. The wind and the waves were getting the best of them. They were in danger of capsizing. If He didn't wake up and do something, He would have to swim for His life as well. Or would He? Does He only pretend to be asleep, so we have to go to the trouble to rouse Him?

Perfect trust met perfect care on that day. He who slept for our sake in the Woman's virgin womb, and slept for our sake in the rich man's unused tomb, slept also for the sake of His disciples in that boat. Strong as that vessel was, they knew it could not withstand the tempest raging around them. They woke Him. ‘Master, don't you care? We're going down!’ We know how that story, and all the others written about that Man, ends.

Yet here we are in our boat, our fishing boat, the Holy Church, and the sea is getting very rough as we can see. The disciples have forgotten all about fishing. Some are attending to the management of the rudder and sail, some are counting the moneys garnished from the last catch, a few are mending nets, and all are worrying, mostly without admitting it, about the raging tempest around them. Do we know who it is that is asleep in our boat?

Friday, September 18, 2015

Mistaken identities

Most people have probably had this experience at least once in their lives. You are out and about, it might be in a place you know, or somewhere far from home. You suddenly notice someone near you, but with their back to you, or perhaps someone a short distance away but too far to see them clearly, but you are sure that it’s someone you know.

In your excitement you might call out to the person with their back to you by name as I once did, ‘Hey! Jody!’ and when the fellow (along with five other people in the store because I was so loud and abrupt) turned around to look, it was a completely different person. I wonder what I looked like at that moment. I pretended it wasn’t me and sheepishly walked past and away.

With the person seen from afar whom you think you know, it’s worse if you wave and begin running towards them, not so bad if you take your time and just approach, perhaps saying nothing aloud, till you are close enough to see that they are not who you thought they were. Perhaps due to your poor eyesight or their real resemblance to someone you know, you embarrass yourself.

You actually greet them and speak to them, only to find out they are not who you thought they were. ‘I beg your pardon! You look exactly like my college chum Larry! I’m so sorry!’ and after their quizzical look you quit their presence as quickly as you can, and escape into yourself, into nonentity. It helps if there’s a crowd you can disappear into, but if not, well, ‘grin and bear it.’

What is this all about? It is about mistaken identities. They usually happen when we are ‘too quick on the draw,’ using a dueling metaphor. Why we are too quick can be an innocent and light-hearted joy that unfortunately must be spoiled through no one’s fault. It can also be due to some human weakness in us, a shallowness seeking depth, but in the wrong way, time, or place.

Many mistaken identities bring with them a great deal of unnecessary pain and suffering, however. These too often come from human weakness, shallowness, picture-thinking or vain hope. Many a marriage is discovered to be non-existent, an attempted mating between two people, one or both of whom ‘never knew’ each other, but were impelled by fantasy about the other.

One or both wake up one day and realize there is no marriage. For the tradition-bound, or out of economic or social necessity, or both, they decide that ‘that’s how it is,’ that they’ve ‘made their bed and now must sleep in it,’ and resign themselves to an unhappy life. If they’re religious, they console themselves with religious platitudes which they only half-believe, and they persevere.

That’s not what happens with the majority of modern people, who look for the slightest unhappiness with their imagined mate as a pretext to dissolve a union that, if they had really wanted or knew how to preserve, could have continued. But this example, marriage between mistaken identities, is not really what I am thinking about. What I am thinking about, is how we write each other’s stories.

It’s very common among certain kinds of people, to interrupt when another person is speaking, their minds racing ahead with a response or correction so impetuously that they cannot wait for the other to finish a sentence. They almost want to cover over what the other is saying. I say ‘almost’ when I really mean they do want to, but they’re completely unaware of it. They want to tell the story.

They don’t want to hear the other out, because they don’t believe that the other is a real person. The person that they know and believe in is a fabrication of their own needs, wants, or hopes. They want to rewrite any parts of the other person’s story that don’t conform to their expectations. Talking over someone is the mildest form of this delusion, that others must be who we want them to be.

Mistaken identity is, perhaps, one of the main reasons for most of the conflicts in the world at large and close up. As we gradually become aware that other people really do exist, and that they are usually different from what we think they are, and that the story they have to tell, whether verbally or existentially by their lives among us, if we’re honest, we begin to let them be.

We learn to give people room to be who they are, even if we don’t like what that is. This is where the Christian is put to the test. Do we obey the words of Jesus, or do we only say that we have responded to His call? If Christ has called us—and He has, because His call is to all people regardless of their state of life, regardless even of their religious beliefs—then we’ve chosen obedience to His commands.

And what are His commands? ‘A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another’ (John 13:34-35). And what of mistaken identities? To love others, to want for them that which you want for yourself, is to begin to see them as they really are.

Monday, September 14, 2015

At our gates

It’s a very strange world we live in today, one that we could never have imagined just fifty years ago on a great number of counts. The one that I think about constantly is, how the world has changed to accept it as a ‘given’ that anything you want to do, to be, or to have, you are absolutely entitled to, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone (else).

I had to put ‘else’ in parentheses because it’s not clear to me whether it’s part of the ‘given’ that hurting oneself should also prevent one from doing, being, or having what one wants (or needs). There’s those parentheses again! It seems I can hardly have a thought or say it aloud without parenthetically subsidizing it with provisos.

But it’s quite true, that it’s becoming mainstream, if it isn’t already, to believe that if something is possible, then you must try it, or at least let anyone else try it, if they want to. The total invasion of our privacy by the media that occurs in all age groups has opened the door to possibilities that many of us would never have thought of.

I used to think, when I was younger, that it was very weird for people to smoke. My parents smoked when I was growing up, but they made it criminal, a capital offense even, for any of us to smoke. My original justification for not smoking was, I didn’t want to be like my parents. The real reason was, it just didn’t appeal to me.

But I also wondered, how could anyone even think of picking leaves of a specific plant, drying them out, curing them, and in various formats (rolled up inside of other leaves, or in paper, or stuffed into little buckets with blow-pipe attached) lighting them on fire and sucking the smoke into one’s lungs? It seemed to go against nature.

Lungs are for breathing good, clean air, just as noses are for smelling fragrances as well as warning us of danger by detecting bad odors. Mouths are for eating, tongues for sensing the delicious and the foul in a way similar to the nose’s functions, and likely for the same reasons. Nature seemed to be pretty straightforward and obvious with us.

I used to have a crude saying, ‘God made [feces] stinky so we wouldn’t eat [them].’ I’ve muffled the real saying with bracketed substitutes; the saying is possibly already offensive. But as to the thought itself, of course, it doesn’t work for some animals, rabbits for instance, who eat their pellets so as to have one more chance to extract the nutrients.

But I still think that the natural world in combination with our sense mechanisms keeps us from harm and guides us to what is good for us—not always, but almost always. And I am appalled by some of the anti-natural things we do in our pursuit of pleasure, justifying everything by the tacit maxim, ‘if it’s possible, then try it,’ especially when I do them.

Which makes me think it through some more. Just because something isn’t obvious and natural doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try it. Who would’ve thought of many of the successful remedies modern medicine has developed if they didn’t pursue possibilities? Yet, just because something is medically possible doesn’t mean it’s wise, moral, or even necessary.

Possibilities coupled with freedom and the resources—time, place, and money—to pursue them simply cannot justify themselves, even when they do not appear to hurt anyone. Reason, a rational mind, and optimally, an informed, rational mind is what determines whether something is worth doing. Or else, mindless consumerism and narcissism is what we fall into.

The very strange world I mentioned at the beginning is the result of the mindlessness that has hijacked our civilization and turned citizens into slaves. Worse than slaves, really, for slavery is only the status created by addiction. Worse than slaves, even worse than addicts, we turn rebels intent on destroying not only God and His world, but ourselves.

Physical suicide is nothing compared to this—spiritual suicide. Yet here we are, doing this to ourselves every day and watching others do it to themselves. Outward deviations—bodily mutilations and anti-social personas—are only the ‘tip of the iceberg.’ We console ourselves, ‘well, at least I’m not as bad as that,’ as we drive ourselves over the cliff.

Savage ridicule and parody is what is dished out to those who still know that life has a purpose, that reason is a gracious guide in the pursuit of beauty. Once again, in this sphere and every other, the unearthly demon is unearthed to plague the earth, to poison its inhabitants with what is not worthy of them, but Truth stands always at our gates with what is.