Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Deep is calling to deep

I have been a practicing Orthodox Christian since I was thirty-seven years old. I just turned sixty-five last Monday. I began my intentional, adult Christian life at the age of twenty-four, when after an intense personal encounter with the Lord, I gave my life to Him. Let me tell you, it was no shallow ‘born again’ experience. That meeting grounded me from that moment till this. The divine lightning flash that finds human flesh a good conductor of divine power found me and earthed itself in me, as it does in anyone receptive, and I began noticing gradually that I was burdened with gifts. The first one was easy, and I could’ve wished for no more. What was that first gift? To be able to see God wherever I looked, and in such a way that His divine image was indelibly apparent to me, in other people, and even in myself. For Christ clothes us with Himself as a majestic garment, and in such a way that He hides nothing true in us from ourselves. Yes, He clothes the nakedness of our personal sin with, not the skins of beasts, but with His own skin. For me, when this happened, it was not a matter of my choice. He called. I answered, ‘Yes.’

Why do I mention a little of this personal history? It is because though I always wanted to find the faith and the church that was pleasing to Him, following His verbal instruction to me, ‘Put yourself on the ways of long ago, inquire about the ancient paths: which was the good way? Take it then, and you shall find rest’ (Jeremiah 6:16 Jerusalem Bible), I was not immediately aware of Holy Orthodoxy. I was drawn at first to the Episcopal Church, to Anglo-Catholicism as it is called, seeing how closely it resembled, at the time—this is forty years ago!—the Church I was reading about in the New Testament and the early Church fathers. It was a gentle beginning, for life in the Church is not always a dinner party, but there are conflicts within just as there are conflicts without. Sandaled, toga’d and halo’d saints exist in holy pictures. When you meet them in the Church, along with others not so holy, they don’t usually look like what you expect. Hence the saying, ‘When you go to the Temple, be on your guard. Go near so that you can hear; the Sacrifice is more valuable than the offering of fools, even if they are unaware of doing wrong’ (Ecclesiastes 4:17 JB). As I learned the ropes, I drew closer to the Truth, and to the Church.

Of course, I was a member of the Church, even when I was an Episcopalian, yes, even from the moment I gave my life to Christ before crossing the threshold of a church. The Holy Mysteries had already been given to me as a child, but the children’s version of Christianity hadn’t satisfied me—it should have, but it didn’t—and so I went off, like the Prodigal Son, who asks his (heavenly) Father for his property (in Greek, ουσια, oo-SEE-ah, ‘essence’) and then departs to waste it on inanities. Like the Prodigal Son, and not after very long, about seven years, I came back, albeit reluctantly—no, not exactly reluctantly: I wanted to be a Christian, but I was afraid of the Church. The Voice that spoke to me that cold November morning singed my soul but curiously warmed it, removing instantly any fears I had. I knew the Church was my home, her God my eternal and heavenly Father, and Jesus Christ my Lord. I never looked back from that moment. Why? Because there was no longer anything to look back to. ‘The world of the past has gone’ (Revelation 21:4 JB). I wasn’t able to burn my bridges and keep mankind’s enemy from pursuing and capturing me, but I was given grace to ask Someone who alone could, to burn them, and He did.

Again, why this personal history? I am thinking of how the Church, even how Christianity, must look to those who stand outside, and why they stand there. Is it from pride, or is it perhaps, from fear? This was not my fear (when I said earlier I had been afraid; I can’t even remember anymore what exactly I feared: I think it was simply self-consciousness), but for many I think the fear is that Holy Church will make impossible demands. They have seen and heard the most visible and vocal, yet the least Christian, of the followers of Jesus doing exactly that—making impossible demands. Being outside the Church and thinking they’re looking in, they are misled, because Holy Church does no such thing. She doesn’t combine faith in Christ with advocacy of anti-scientific biases, or with degrading and judgmental legalisms. She does not teach that you must be a ‘young earth creationist’ to be a Christian, nor that you have to believe in the subjugation of women. Nor does she accept you only if you believe in such (unscriptural and modern) speculations as the ‘end times rapture,’ nor does she teach that you are truly saved only if you exhibit ‘pentecostal’ behavior: speaking in tongues, having visions, or miraculous powers.

Here in North America the peoples have been singed, not by the One, True Holy Spirit, but by the ravages of myriads of demon-driven, unspiritual dysangelists (not ev-angelists, bringing of the ‘good’ news, but dys-angelists, the opposite). Yes, singed and even burned, so that they are right to avoid contact with them, but wrong because they have not really given the Message a hearing. The misanthropy (hatred of humankind) that afflicts these people rightly scares off the unsaved. Who would want salvation from God on the terms they say are alone acceptable? And whether we admit it or not, the same affliction often finds members of Holy Orthodoxy avid recipients, so that they propagate not the Message, ‘for God so loved the world…’ (John 3:16) but radiate a rigorous, law-laden counterfeit ‘having a form of godliness but denying its power’ (2 Timothy 3:5). I am not saying that this is a problem of the clergy particularly, but of ordinary believers who, being ignorant of the Bible (because they fear looking like Protestants if they read it), turn to the fabulous in tale-telling and the miraculous in undiscerning self-delusion, or even worse, unashamedly accept the lies of popular ‘preachers’ outside the Church.

Lord, have mercy! And yes, He has had mercy, on us, and on all humanity when it comes to His divine οικονομια (ee-koh-noh-MEE-ah), His plan of salvation, revealed, taught and practiced from the time of Christ and the holy apostles until this very moment. Nothing has changed, nothing been added or taken away (though some has been lost through negligence and presumption, yet not forever). The Message is forever the same, cannot be combined with indulgence in our fantasies, speculations, or carnal passions. If you, brother or sister standing outside the Church, refusing to call yourself ‘Christian’ because of the history of abuse and even crime, or the obsessive man- and woman-hating blasphemies spoken by the ignorant and self-willed in the name of Christ at this very hour, know this: Our God is not their god. Ours is the One whose nature to us and to you is fatherly love, and yes, motherly love too. Our God is ‘the only lover of mankind,’ but you must come to Him, even if in your own way and when you really hear His call, in your own time, but to Him you must come in the end, for there is no other. He is mercy to those who run to Him, but judgment to those who run away. Do not hold back because of anyone, or anything.

‘Deep is calling to deep as your cataracts roar…’ sings the psalmist (Psalm 42:7 JB). Yes, the Lord knows us to our very depths, and from His depths He calls to us, and He honors those who hearken to His voice.

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