Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Greetings of the New Year 7525

The Indiction, or New Year’s Day of 7525 anno mundi, begins at sundown,
the 31st of August, 2016 anno Domini.
I write these words in the wee morning hours of New Year's Eve—yes, the morning of the evening before the first day of the year, not of our Lord, but of the (creation of the) world—and once again I can hardly believe how time flies. Just think, it's only been seven thousand five hundred and twenty-five years since the world was created. Sheer nonsense to the scientist. Even worse for the free-thinking modern who already's been burned by Archbishop Ussher's marginal date of the world's genesis four thousand four years before Christ. ‘We weren't born yesterday,’ they all think, who know for sure that the world is a globe that circles a star which is one of billions of other stars in the local cluster of billions of galaxies. And I must say I agree with them, that they weren't born yesterday—at least not literally yesterday, only a yesterday about seven and a half thousand years ago.

Because somewhere and somewhen about that short time ago what we now are was let loose out of a mass of evolutionary biology that had been in the making for—gulp! yes—billions of years in an existential event briefly described in a book called the Holy Bible and defined by the Divine utterance of ‘Let there be.’ In that Book it isn't quite as specific as we have (since it was written) figured out, that this letting loose happened in the northern hemispheric season of autumn, and for the reason that there had to be fodder for the animals, and for us, to eat. Well, I am not too sure this explanation for why the event was a fall event is valid. I mean, it isn't as though what existed and was alive before us didn't eat to live. Of course they did, but until we were let loose, till we emerged as fully alert, rational and conscious beings, we didn't know that we were—literally—at all.

A living creature not conscious of itself is not to be differentiated from the primordial clay, it is impersonal, it needs to have personhood breathed into it, it needs to be a living soul, it must be able to say and mean ‘I’—no small thing and as rare in the spectrum of living things as life is rare in the physical universe. Only two events can (and should) grab our attention in the world in which we live, and from which we may well chronicle our lives: our creation, that which is called the first Adam, and our re-creation, that which is named the second Adam. In the first event, what was a mere animal was raised to human life; in the second, that which was merely human was raised to life eternal. If we do not marvel at or doubt that the second event, divine incarnation, transfiguration, and resurrection happened and mark the passage of time, neither should we marvel at or doubt the first event.

It is history, that first event whereby the human race came into existence, man, then woman, to whom were entrusted the naming of the animals, and the taming of the universe, just as it is history, that second event whereby the Divine Nature, not satisfied in generating biological life from inert minerals, nor even rational life from mere animals, Themselves defying all supernatural protocol and the envy of angelic beings, dives down to retrieve from the abyss of created being Their image with the purpose of marrying it to the Uncreated, proclaiming, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.’ This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Christoholic

Nope, there’s no cure for a christoholic. Sometimes I don’t know for sure if I think this is good or bad. Sometimes I don’t know if I am one or not. Most days I’m not, at least I don’t feel like one. I guess I am just afraid of being obsessed. And I ask myself, what the difference can be, between being obsessed and possessed. I know the term ‘demon-possessed,’ but I also think demon-obsessed would better fit some of the negative predilectious fantasies of today’s world. Even though the red skins, horns and barbed tails have joined the ranks of other mythological beings, the reality is still with us, and is now even more dangerous, as a shape-shifter.

But christoholic? What does this mean? Well, it’s Greek, after all, so that should make it hard to understand. Listen up! From Strong’s Greek Concordance: hólos (a primitive adjective and the root of the English term ‘whole’) – properly, wholly, where all the parts are present and working as a whole – i.e., as the total, which is greater than the mere sum of the parts. This factor is especially significant in metaphorical contexts or those focusing on the spiritual plane.

Duh! There we have it! Christoholic defined, a person for whom Christ is everything. But again, I ask myself, is this a good thing? After all, we’re just humans. Aren’t we supposed to have a life of our own? Paul can’t be serious when he writes that it is not him who lives, but Christ who is alive in Him. It must be metaphor—aha, yes! Even Strong’s agrees with me! ‘…especially significant in metaphorical contexts or those focusing on the spiritual plane.’ So being a christoholic can just be your, uh, imagination after all! You don’t really have to do anything. Yes, I like that.

But there really are people who act, at least, like Christ is everything to them. Maybe they’re a kind of fundamentalist christoholic. They don’t seem to know when to stop. A few of them are even clergy. Imagine! Priests (and even presbyteras) who live as though they hadn’t a private bone in their bodies. They just always seem to be available. (I wonder if their kids are a mess?) I personally knew a priest like that once, but after serving the community for nineteen years he reposed early, from cancer, not from exhaustion. His presbytera just kept going, as if she were the Energizer Bunny. The last time I saw her, she was leaving to visit some more shut-ins. As for their kids, well, they all turned out as far as I can tell.

‘I know a woman in Christ,’—taking off on a phrase of St Paul’s but changing gender so you know I can’t be talking about myself—I know a woman in Christ who is such a christoholic that almost nothing keeps her away from church, and I’m not just talking about services. Wherever she goes and with whomever she hangs out—her family, her friends, yes, probably even her enemies if she has any—she speaks and acts as if the Lord Jesus and His blessed Mother were also with her, and she never seems to stop giving. The strange thing is, she never makes you feel obligated to her. Afterwards, you just feel thankful. People like her go beyond metaphor, skirting metamorphosis, radical change. That’s a real christoholic.

When I was younger, though I hadn’t thought of giving christoholism a name yet, I really thought I had this dis-ease. I called myself a ‘total immersion’ Christian, to point out that I didn’t just want the triple-dunk and then a merely ordinary, work-a-day life. I wanted to be a disciple. I had many good examples, but here I am ‘still crazy after all these years,’ but still not a real christoholic like my mentors. I haven’t given up, though. I still hope to make the grade, but even if I don’t, I am just glad to know that christoholics exist, and whenever I meet one, I am deeply grateful.

Yes, ‘still crazy after all these,’ as poet Paul Simon sings. I just hope my kind of ‘crazy’ is the same sort as the Desert Fathers had, those intrepid christoholics who lassoed me, a wild horse, and brought me to curb, for Christ, so that I might let Him be for me, ‘all in all.’

Church

Christian parents bring their children to Him, stand them before Him in that holy school, which is called the Church. Here, upbringing is pursued according to all the laws of human development.

First through the senses — by impressions. As a person recognizes and begins to love the beauty of nature in its general features before any learning, by becoming familiar with it through simple contemplation and childhood experiences, so in the Church the first notions of God, the earliest and more important in the person’s life, come through the contemplation of images, actions, symbols pointing to the spiritual world.

The mother, the object of all the love and tenderness of the child, stands with a reverent expression and prays before the Savior’s icon; the child looks at her, then the image — and does not require long explanations of what it means. This is the first, silent lesson of the Knowledge of God.

The child in church: the beauty of the church, the lighting, the bright vestments of the priesthood, the singing and silence of those standing and praying while facing the sanctuary, the holy activities, the lack of everyday objects, the forbidding of irreverent movements, the demand for attention to something higher, special — these are lessons of reverence before God, which cannot be replaced by any fancy speech of a religious teacher.

In these lessons, one cannot notice the moment at which the children begin to understand what is being read or sung in the church; we only know that we loved our Savior long before the lessons in the Law of God, because we often heard readings about Him, prayed to Him often, kissed His Gospel, cried about Him when the Gospel of His Passions were read, and rejoiced with all our hearts, celebrating His Bright Resurrection.

This abundance of blessed influences and the very grace of God is what parents deprive their children of by not taking them to church to receive Holy Communion and not taking them to church from infancy, for the empty reason that the child doesn’t understand anything — as if only an analyzing wisdom is the guide of all influences acting on the development of a person!

Here, especially, is where religious feeling is instilled, the main engine of spiritual life. The loss of this time and this method of developing the heart is a loss that is irreparable. Later, the child will assimilate even abstract notions, and will begin to repeat lessons, but the heart, which is already occupied by other influences and tendencies, will be dull and deaf to spiritual impressions.

—Archbishop Ambrose (Kliucharev)

Version française, ici.

Foundations

The well-being of society in any culture depends primarily on the family, how it functions, and on what foundations it’s built and maintained. The scriptures of the Old and the New Testaments used to be the source book of Christian marriage and family life, but even for the majority of Christians, this is no longer true. In the Orthodox faith, we may have a better grasp of these truths, we still know them and are expected to follow them, because the Church has yet to follow the world in playing games with marriage and the rules. Who knows how long this will last, though, because even in the Orthodox Church, the world takes its toll of broken marriages and families, while the Church looks on, sometimes, uncomprehending, unable to help. This is a tragedy that casts its dark shadow even on the inner walls of the Church.

Here are a few thoughts on marriage from an Orthodox perspective, written to a young couple getting ready to take the plunge. Entering into any relationship always requires leaps of faith, all the more with marriage since it’s a relationship ‘for keeps.’


First, what’s going on in your latest ‘hard talk’ is a necessary step in your growing relationship. It’s what I would call the constitutional stage. You need to sort out right at the beginning what the constitution of your marriage is, ‘in order to form a more perfect union…’ Of course, for you both, the constitution is the Word of God, Jesus is your Mediator, the Bible the written document you are to refer to.

The order of marriage, that is, how it works, is pretty clear in the Bible—too clear for most modern people.

‘Christ is the head of every man, man is the head of woman, and God is the head of Christ,’ (1 Corinthians 11:3) and everything that this verse implies, being amplified and explained and examples of it given in the rest of the Bible.

In Christ there are priesthoods, conveyed by means of ta mystiría, ‘the mysteries.’

The first one is basic, which you receive when you receive Christ (give your permission to Him to be Lord of your life), are baptized and chrismated. That chrismation (anointing) is the symbolic act whereby you are joined (the meaning of sym-bolos, ‘together-thrown’) to Christ and become one of the royal priesthood, the holy nation. Everyone in Christ is called to be that, as Metropolitan Anthony of San Francisco used to teach, and their ministry and witness is to do ninety percent of what ordained clergy can do.

Another priesthood is marriage, which you receive when you declare that you are one flesh with your betrothed. Here, both the man and the woman give each other permission to each other’s all, which is the only kind of permission that can produce a Godly family. The woman and man covenant with each other to follow what the Bible says marriage is, respecting its order. Their ministry and witness is to produce a family in Christ.

Another priesthood is the ordained ministry. A man must be married, ideally, so that his marriage witness can be the foundation of his now expanded witness and responsibilities. Notice that though the man is the head of the woman, the man cannot be ordained to this priesthood without his wife’s explicit permission. Once she gives it, she acknowledges that both of them have become bondservants of Christ, and the ministry and witness of both of them, individually and as a married couple, now have added dimensions.

The reason I gave this example of the step by step process is to illustrate how, in Orthodoxy at least, the relationship of husband to wife follows the scriptures but within constitutional limits. There is a divine and merciful order in all that our God has prescribed for us. If we follow it, then there is no danger and nothing to fear in entering the marriage covenant, for either party. If we begin to deviate and try to adapt it to fit our preference, things start to go wrong.

The fear that the woman will be considered an inferior by her husband is a false fear driven by worldly thinking. There is no superior and inferior in Christ, but there is order. In the Bible, the matriarchs are all examples of womanliness, and when we read of their submission to their husbands, do we ever get a feeling of inferiority? Ruth, in fact, was so devoted to her husband that when he died she transferred her obedience to his mother Naomi, I will go where you go, your people will be my people.’ Do we ever get the feeling that Ruth was inferior in fact or feeling when we read this story? Quite the contrary, she is seen by us as heroic.

In His divine order for our relationships with each other, God gives us not opportunities for bondage but for freedom. He transforms us from rootless plants to deep-rooted trees by streams of water’ (Psalm 1). He starts with our basic raw natures which are full of fear and doubt and weakness, and He transforms us into heroes.

That is why the Orthodox marriage service culminates in commemorating the forty martyrs of Sebaste, the presbyter leading the couple by the hand—bridegroom in front, bride following—while with his other hand he holds aloft as a beacon or torch, the golden-clad Word of God, the Gospels.

Your marriage is an inviolable tabernacle, a sort of Holy of Holies that no one, not even your future children, can penetrate. This is a given, and knowing this should dispel any man’s or woman’s fear of what might happen.

The man creates with his brothers the outer world, he protects, he acquires, he extends the borders, he takes captives (for Christ). The woman creates with her sisters the inner world, the hearth, the home, the nurture of children, the sanctuary and paradise of her husband. This is what comes out of our following of Christ in the priesthood of marriage.

In the Orthodox marriage service this is seen in numerous places, and the basic concept of the crowning symbolizes the martyría (Greek, ‘witness’) of marriage. As with Christ, this martyría has two aspects, the cross, and paradise. Christ’s death on the cross opened for us who believe the gates of paradise. In marriage, our deaths to ourselves open for us and also for our children the gates of paradise, making the Christian family and home an ikon of paradise. That’s why a man and woman are crowned as king and queen, as Adam and Eve, and their future family and home, blessed as Paradise.

Work these things through with each other, get your constitution in order ‘for a more perfect union.’ God is with you.

‘Bridegroom! Be exalted like Abraham, blessed like Isaac and multiplied like Jacob, walking in peace and righteously doing God’s commandments. And you, O bride! Be exalted like Sarah, gladdened like Rebecca and multiplied like Rachel, being happy with your husband and keeping the precepts of the Law!’

— Final blessing from the Order of Crowning
in the
Orthodox Wedding Service

What cannot stand

‘One day in the next century that Church – tens of millions of Christians trained to die – will be released into global mission and our prayers for the fall of Islam will be answered.’

I read this in a post some time ago, and now I've forgotten where, but it was full of optimism and statistics to prove that Christianity was going to overcome Islam.

Somehow, I got a different picture from this post and its encouraging statistics. First of all, statistics mean nothing. Sorry, but I don't pay them any attention. Only God has the means to measure how many human beings have come to know Him and have accepted His Son and are ‘trained to die,‘ whatever that means to you or me.

Second, I saw from comments left on this blog that the more important issue for most people was whether one is a post-millennialist or some other kind of philosopher. Don't ask me, because I just believe what the Word of God says and don't try to interpret, and I don't deal in labels.

What ‘prayers for the fall of Islam’? I would bet that if any Christians actually pray for the fall of Islam it is relatively few. Pray for the fall of what cannot stand? What kind of prayer is that? We already know that Islam is in the process of falling as we speak. It's not directly attributable to any Christian gang warfare strategy against Islam, though the availability of the Bible through the internet and all the other internet resources is certainly making headway. Yet these resources are not our claim to victory. Those who make use of them on their own initiative—the Arabs and other Muslims themselves—are far more responsible for the melt-down going on in Islam than we are.

Islam is falling right now not because of our statistics or our efforts. It is simply a false and backward politico-religious system whose time has finally come—for dissolution. The Information Age provided by the humanistic world system that cares nothing for our Christian faith has provided the platform for Islam's fall. We Christians may take credit for it, just like Catholics believe Pope John Paul II was responsible for the fall of Communism, but I think both interpretations are missing the mark.

People want to be free. They want to be happy. They want to live without constant fear for their lives. They want to know that they can raise a family and pass on their heritage to their descendants. The following of Jesus Christ is always possible in every situation, but with various costs. In Saudi Arabia, the cost is probable death. In America, the cost can be apostasy. Why? Because a church that is victorious in the world always becomes ‘Imperial Church.’

We know this, we who are Orthodox Christians. We Greeks have learned our lesson. The throne behind the altar in our churches can be sat in by no one but Christ or His earthly representative, the Christian Emperor. We expect ours to be sat in by Christ alone. Our last emperor went down on the walls of Constantinople in 1453, proving the vanity of worldly power. Some of the Russians haven't apparently learned that lesson well enough yet, despite the murder of their last emperor; many of them seem to be holding out for an earthly emperor to sit on the throne behind their altars.

Islam is dying. It's death throes are proclaimed in the violence of the Mujahideen. We will live to see the fall of Islam, but it won't be like the fall of communism. History never quite repeats itself. The Christian opportunity is never more present than in one's own household. Before we glory in the evangelization of the Islam-enslaved peoples, have we witnessed to ourselves?

Sunday, August 28, 2016

It costs so little

Over six years ago I started recording myself reading the Greek New Testament aloud, and posting the recordings on a blog, Η Καινή Διαθήκη. The recordings are short, one chapter each. I didn’t want to tire anyone out.

I think when I started, my idea was to eventually have the entire Greek New Testament read aloud online. I read the Revelation and the Gospel, both of St John, first. Then I added the letters of St John. Next, I read the letter to the Hebrews, which is where I logically go when I am tutoring someone in Greek. But that is where I stopped.

My life changed. Other things got in the way, even crowding out the blissful times I had reading Greek aloud to myself, when I wasn't tutoring or studying with a friend.

The blog, though six years old now, still works. You can go there and listen to me reading Greek the way I learned it in church, tinged with a bit of my Israeli Hebrew accent. I know there are mistakes here and there in my pronunciation or diction. I try to read the text with meaning, but I sometimes fail. I actually get tired a little, when I am reading aloud for a couple of hours, and the connexion between eyes, mind and voice sometimes falters.

Since I read the scriptures aloud in the original languages anyway, one day I thought, why not record them and put them online for the benefit of others? And that’s what I did. At the time, there were no online audio files of the original Greek New Testament, just the modern Greek translation. In the years since, perhaps others have put the Greek New Testament in audio files online.

Some people have thanked me and wondered at the effort I put into it, as if it were something extraordinary, when actually it wasn’t. I ‘sacrificed’ one morning of free time on a weekend to read and record Revelation. For the Gospel, a few hours on two days during the same long weekend. I wrote sacrificed in quotes because it was anything but a sacrifice. There’s nothing I would’ve preferred to do than read the scriptures aloud.

A Greek woman at my church laughed at me one day and called out to her friends sitting at a nearby table having coffee after liturgy, ‘Romanós reads the Greek bible to relax! He says it’s fun!’ I laughed along with them, maybe for a different reason.

The truth is, there is so much we can do to build up the Body of Christ, the Church, and it takes so little effort, so little organization, so little cost.

The institutional church, when it wants to do a ‘good work’ or a ‘ministry’ or whatever it calls it, expends so much time, energy and even money just setting up for it. Yet, after all is said and done, and they’ve finished thanking and congratulating each other, what was really accomplished, really now, not just in appearance?

Sometimes a lot, yes, but often, precious little, and I do mean precious. Why? Because time, money and talent, as they call these three commodities, are ‘precious’ to those who actually think they own them.

The truth, however, is very different. We actually own nothing, not our time, not our talent, not even our money.

Mother Gavrilía Papayanni used to say, ‘There is nothing cheaper than money.’ 

I’ve often wondered what she meant by that, but I’m guessing she meant that giving money to causes (to make ourselves feel better) is the easiest and least costly way to help others.

Back to the facts, we own none of these things. All that we have and all that we are is pure gift from above, from the Father, and so it’s really quite ridiculous to act as though we are doing anything extraordinary when we expend these on others rather than ourselves.

The time it takes me to read scriptures aloud for myself or for others, that time is the Lord’s. That expense is to His account. It costs me nothing. Even if I forget myself, and fall into thinking that I own what’s in my pocketbook, still it costs so little to do so much for someone else, so why not just do it?

Sometimes it’s money, but usually it is simply a kind word, a sincere eye-to-eye look, a smile, even a silly joke or small talk to someone who, if not for you, would be locked in the prison of their own cares.

It costs so little for us to liberate our neighbor from that, and sometimes, it even liberates us!

Μηδενι μηδεν οφειλετε ει μη το αγαπαν αλληλους ο γαρ αγαπων τον ετερον νομον πεπληρωκεν.
Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.
Romans 13:8 NIV

To such love

People are undisciplined. I am undisciplined. Notice I didn’t say ‘the people are undisciplined’ as if I were about to write a lofty diatribe against the failings of the blue collar worker and the red neck, in contrast to the discipline and superior control of the elite—not!—as these generally excel at indiscipline.

I don’t exactly fit into any of the aforementioned categories, but I do know that I, along with the rest of the race, am disposed to indiscipline. Some people who know me imagine I am more disciplined than I am. That can only be in comparison with someone else. My house is as much a shambles as anyone’s.

That thought came to mind, ‘people are undisciplined,’ as I was walking up to the supermarket door this Sunday afternoon to buy a couple of things I’d forgotten during the week. I have a saying, ‘I never feel guilty,’ which again proved itself an exaggeration, because I always feel guilty when shopping on Sunday.

Even at sixty-five years of age, I’ve never been able to shake off the idea that Sunday is the Lord’s day, the Christian fulfillment of the Sabbath law, making the morning purely His—I’ll see you at church; don’t be late!—and the afternoon, not exactly mine, but Somebody else’s too, who wants me to stay at home.

He wants me to stay at home, to abstain from worldly pursuits, foremost of which is going shopping. Instead I am supposed to ‘rest’ to honor His commandment and His seventh-day rest after creating the world. When I was a child, society enforced obedience to the commandments: the shops were closed.

People had to exercise at least a little discipline in managing their households and their affairs, because they knew that the world did not operate round-the-clock. After six, working people went home to their families. Saturdays, some worked, but never on Sunday. The only exceptions were maintenance workers.

Hospitals had to work twenty-four seven as they still do. So did the police. So did any number of other types of employment. Yes, there were round-the-clock factories. I worked graveyard shift in one once, and I know the feeling of getting off work at sunrise. But still, Sunday was Sunday, even on the farm.

As a young hired man on a dairy farm, Sunday belonged to the Lord—and to the cows! But farmer Cameron, my boss, insisted that I do no field work or other unnecessary labor that day. Milk the cows before breakfast and let them go. Round them up and milk them in the evening. Rest in between.

People are undisciplined. We like to have freedom to do absolutely whatever we want, without restrictions of any kind, except that we do not hurt anyone. As a democratic society, we’ve gradually loosened and then discarded all the rules that were put there to help keep us out of trouble.

They were obviously written by the ruling class to keep us in our place. It never occurs to us, unless we are Christians or Jews, that social restrictions such as those that regulated past societies were actually put there to compensate for popular indiscipline, to keep us from harming ourselves, to protect society.

The Sabbath law, one day in seven free of servile labor, even if the day weren’t used to honor God, was pleasing to everyone once. Legislation doubled it to two days’ length in most countries—Saturday (the original Jewish Sabbath) and Sunday (the Christian equivalent), but its original reason was forgotten.

The human organism lives in cycles. God, or social evolution, determined that one seventh of our waking time needs to be set aside in relative inactivity in order for the organism to stay physically healthy and to remain emotionally (and spiritually) integrated. To take a day off means to take a day off—yet we work!

What should be the easiest thing in the world to do turns out to be the hardest, even for me. Here I am. I was feeling sick this morning (from over-eating last night) and so missed church. I recovered sufficiently to go to the church, where a festival was taking place, to greet friends and to support the community.

After staying less than an hour, I came home, stopping on the way at the supermarket to buy milk and juices. Now, here I am sitting at my console typing a confession of my own indiscipline soon to hit the online public. What should I be doing? What should be the easiest thing—take a break! He commands it.

Yes, He—He commands it. He tells me, ‘for your own good, lay aside the things of this world, you can talk to that world tomorrow, just settle in, it’s a beautiful day, I made it for your pleasure, just use it,’ and I think I’m almost convinced. But what of next time? And this day is more than half spent.

‘Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself,’ came directly to my mind, which also yearns to rest. How right God is! How generous, how loving and thoughtful! How He prepares everything for us! And how difficult it is for us to surrender to such love!

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Apostolic Rule: Disciples

The teaching of holy apostle Paul…

Insist that people stop teaching strange doctrines and taking notice of myths and endless geneologies; these things are only likely to raise irrelevant doubts instead of furthering the designs of God which are revealed in faith.
1 Timothy 1:3b-4

The only purpose of this instruction is that there should be love, coming out of a pure heart, and clear conscience, and a sincere faith. There are some people who have gone off the straight course and taken a path that leads to empty speculation.
1 Timothy 1:5-6

Here is a saying that you can rely on and nobody should doubt: that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.
1 Timothy 1:15

Fight like a good soldier with faith and a good conscience for your weapons. Some people have put conscience aside and wrecked their faith in consequence.
1 Timothy 1:18b-19

There should be prayers offered for everyone—petitions, intercessions and thanksgiving—and especially for kings and others in authority, so that we may be able to live religious and reverent lives in peace and quiet. To do this is right and will please God our Savior: He wants everyone to be saved and reach full knowledge of the truth.
1 Timothy 2:1-4

The Spirit has explicitly said that during the last times there will be some who will desert the faith and choose to listen to deceitful spirits and doctrines that come from devils; and the cause of this is the lies told by hypocrites whose consciences are branded as though with a red-hot iron.
1 Timothy 4:1-2

Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales. Train yourself spiritually. Physical exercises are useful enough, but the usefulness of spirituality is unlimited, since it holds out the reward of life here and now, and of the future life as well.
1 Timothy 4:7-8

The point of all our toiling and battling is that we have put our trust in the living God, and He is the Savior of the whole human race, but particularly of all believers.
1 Timothy 4:10

Be an example to all the believers in the way you speak and behave, and in your love, your faith, and your purity. Make use of the time by reading to the people, preaching and teaching.
1 Timothy 4:12-13

Take great care about what you do and what you teach; always do this, and in this way you will save both yourself and those who listen to you.
1 Timothy 4:16

Anyone who does not look after his own relations, especially if they are living with him, has rejected the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
1 Timothy 5:8

Never make yourself an accomplice in anybody else’s sin. Keep yourself pure.
1 Timothy 5:22b

Anyone who teaches anything different and does not keep to the sound teaching which is that of our Lord Jesus Christ, the doctrine which is in accordance with true religion, is simply ignorant and must be full of self-conceit, with a craze for questioning everything and arguing about words. All that can come of this is jealousy, contention, abuse and wicked mistrust of one another, and unending disputes by people who are neither rational nor informed and imagine that religion is a way of making money.
1 Timothy 6:3-5

We brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. As long as we have food and clothing, let us be content with that. People who long to be rich are a prey to temptation. They get trapped into all sorts of foolish and dangerous ambitions which eventually plunge them into ruin and destruction. The love of money is the root of all evils, and there are some who pursuing it have wandered away from the faith.
1 Timothy 6:7-10a

Aim to be saintly and religious, filled with faith and love, patient and gentle.
1 Timothy 6:11

Warn those who are rich in this world’s goods that they are not to look down on other people and not to set their hopes on money which is untrustworthy, but on God who out of His riches gives us all we need for our happiness. Tell them that they are to do good and be rich in good works, to be generous and willing to share.
1 Timothy 6:17-18

Have nothing to do with the pointless philosophical discussions and antagonistic beliefs of the “knowledge” which is no knowledge at all.
1 Timothy 6:20

God’s gift is not a spirit of timidity, but the Spirit of power and love and self-control.
2 Timothy 1:7

You are never to be ashamed of witnessing to the Lord.
2 Timothy 1:8a

God has saved us and called us to be holy, not because of anything we ourselves have done, but for His own purpose and by His own grace.
2 Timothy 1:9

Keep as your pattern the sound teaching, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. You have been trusted to look after something precious. Guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.
2 Timothy 1:13-14

Accept the strength that comes from the grace of Christ Jesus.
2 Timothy 2:1

You have heard everything. Hand it on to reliable people so that they in turn will be able to teach others.
2 Timothy 2:2

Put up with your share of difficulties like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.
2 Timothy 2:3

Remember the Good News: Jesus Christ risen from the dead.
2 Timothy 2:8

If we have died with Him, then we shall live with Him.
If we hold firm, then we shall reign with Him.
If we disown Him, then He will disown us.
We may be unfaithful, but He is always Faithful, for He cannot disown
His own self.
2 Timothy 2:11b-13

There is to be no wrangling about words: all that this ever achieves is the destruction of those who are listening.
2 Timothy 2:14

Have nothing to do with pointless philosophical discussions. They only lead further and further away from the true religion. Talk of this kind corrodes like gangrene.
2 Timothy 2:16-17

God’s solid foundation stone is still in position, and this is the inscription on it: “The Lord knows those who are His own,” and “All who call on the Name of the Lord must avoid sin.”
2 Timothy 2:19

Instead of giving in to your impulses, fasten your attention on holiness, faith, love, and peace, in union with all those who call on the Lord with pure minds.
2 Timothy 2:22

Avoid futile and silly speculations, understanding that they only give rise to quarrels. A servant of the Lord is not to engage in quarrels but has to be kind to everyone, a good teacher, and patient. He has to be gentle when he corrects people who dispute what he says, never forgetting that God may give them a change of mind so that they recognise the truth and come to their senses, once out of the trap where the devil caught them and kept them enslaved.
2 Timothy 2:23-26

You may be quite sure that in the last days there are going to be some difficult times. People will be self-centred and grasping, boastful, arrogant, and rude, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, irreligious, heartless and unappeasable. They will be slanderers, profligates, savages, and enemies of everything that is good. They will be treacherous and reckless and demented by pride, preferring their own pleasure to God. They will keep up the outward appearance of religion but will have rejected the inner power of it. Have nothing to do with people like that.
2 Timothy 3:1-5

Anybody who tries to live in devotion to Christ is certain to be attacked.
2 Timothy 3:12

You must keep to what you have been taught and know to be true. Remember who your teachers were.
2 Timothy 3:14

All Scripture is inspired by God and can profitably be used for teaching, for refuting error, for guiding people’s lives and teaching them to be holy.
2 Timothy 3:16

Before God and before Christ Jesus who is to be Judge of the living and the dead, in the name of his Appearing and of his Kingdom: Proclaim the message and, welcome or unwelcome, insist on it. Refute falsehood, correct error, call to obedience. Do all with patience and the intention of teaching. Be careful always to choose the right course. Be brave under trials. Make the preaching of the Good News your life’s work in thoroughgoing service.
2 Timothy 4:1-2, 5

Bring those whom God has chosen to faith and to the knowledge of the truth that leads to true religion, and give them the hope of the eternal life that was promised long ago by God, who does not lie.
Titus 1:1b-2

Have a firm grasp of the unchanging message of the tradition.
Titus 1:9a

To all who are pure themselves, everything is pure; but to those who have been corrupted and lack faith, nothing can be pure.
Titus 1:15

Preach the behavior which goes with healthy doctrine.
Titus 2:1

In everything you do, make yourself an example of working for good.
Titus 2:7

When you are teaching be an example in your sincerity and earnestness, and in keeping all that you say so wholesome that nobody can make objections to it.
Titus 2:8

There must be no petty thieving. Show complete honesty at all times.
Titus 2:10a

God’s grace has been revealed, and it has made salvation possible for the whole human race, and taught us that what we have to do is to give up everthing that does not lead to God, and all our worldly ambitions. We must be self-restrained and live good and religious lives here in this present world while we are waiting for the blessing which will come with the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Christ Jesus. He sacrificed himself for us in order to set us free from all wickedness and to purify a people so that it could be His very own and would have no ambition except to do good.
Titus 2:11-14

Be ready to do good at every opportunity.
Titus 3:1b

Be courteous and polite to all kinds of people. Remember, there was a time when we too were ignorant, disobedient, and misled and enslaved by different passions and luxuries.
Titus 3:2b-3a

If a man disputes what you teach, then after a first and a second warning, have no more to do with him.
Titus 3:10

Faith will give rise to a sense of fellowship that will show you all the good things that we are able to do for Christ.
Philemon 1:6

All texts are taken from the Jerusalem Bible (1966).

Dysangelion

Whether such a word exists or not, it is a logical possibility from a Greek point of view. For example, we say évkolo, ‘easy’, and dýskolo, ‘difficult’. Since there is the evangélion, ‘good news’, there must be the dysangélion, ‘bad news.’ Logically, such a word can exist, but worse, the reality, or unreality, behind such a concept can also exist, and it does.

αρχη του ευαγγελιου ιησου χριστου υιου του θεου…
The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah,
the Son of God…

Mark 1:1


This first verse of the gospel according to Mark has always been one of my favorite verses in the entire Bible. Every time I hear it, my spirit jumps like the unborn John the Baptist jumped in his mother’s womb when he heard the voice of the mother of his Lord greeting his mother. And whenever I read it, I think I feel what Walt Whitman must have felt as he describes in his poem,

BEGINNING my studies, the first step pleas'd me so much,
The mere fact, consciousness--these forms--the power of motion,
The least insect or animal--the senses--eyesight--love;
The first step, I say, aw'd me and pleas'd me so much,
I have hardly gone, and hardly wish'd to go, any farther,
But stop and loiter all the time, to sing it in extatic songs.


For Uncle Walt, the great Book of God (the World God made) startled and awed him as much as the little Book of God (the Word God speaks) startles and awes me, and stops me in my tracks, stops everything in me, brings ‘me’ to a complete halt, so I can take ‘Him’ in, who passes and speaks to me His name as He hides me ‘in the cleft of the Rock’ who is Jesus. He passes and speaks His name,

The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.
Exodus 34:6-7

Mercy, mercy, mercy is God’s response to us who chant unto Him, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy,’ but to men whose God is the world instead of whose world is God have another heritage, one that they have chosen for themselves, since they refused to let God choose for them their path, and let Him bring them to His land of promise. Instead, they wander, sometimes for generations, in circles in spiritual wasteland, afraid to follow the Word of their Lord into the abode of joy. They send out scouts to reconnoiter that land, and when they return, they believe only those who say, ‘the men that we saw there make us look like grasshoppers,’ and so ‘they refuse a land of delight’ and stay huddled together in small clutches of madness and anger like dwarves in a stable.

Among the Desert Fathers is a story where someone came to an abba and told him that so-and-so has abandoned the spiritual path and taken the road back to the world. The abba’s response is, ‘Don’t marvel that one has taken the road to the world, but that one has abandoned it.’

So it is, that one day, coming upon an article at a blog of a retired judge in upstate New York, I found the story of a fifth generation Baptist minister abandoning the spiritual life and taking the road back to the world. Actually, it is a fait accompli. He took that road back, and he’s even written a book about it, Towards The Light: A Fifth-Generation Baptist Minister’s Journey from Religion to Reason. It was reading about him and his book that put into my mind the neologism dysangelion, ‘bad news,’ for what else is this man peddling, but the bad news, and not ‘about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God,’ but about—himself? So what else is new? Without knowing it, in his own way he is following the same logic as that of many modern Christian authors, writing books that promote not Christ, but themselves.

Reading the short article online, one by one all the same, stale arguments against religion, attacking it in legitimate and illegitimate ways, crossed my mind, but of course nothing really against Christ Himself. What could this man, or anyone say? Jesus has not left the door open to him or to any man to be able to attack Him. He is Who He is. ‘Of all men You are the most handsome; Your lips are moist with grace, for God has blessed You forever’ (Psalm 45). As C.S. Lewis put it, speaking of Christ, He is either a madman, or the Son of God: there is no alternative.

So we live in a world where free will exists and in political systems, most of us, that allow freedom of thought and expression, and so what used to be ‘in the closet’ and just whispered behind our backs, can now be done and said openly, the ‘bad news’ has gone public among us, wreaking havoc and terror among the pious servants of God. Well, no, not exactly, but if people want to be like wanton prostitutes lifting their skirts and exposing their shame, then we let them. God is not mocked, and neither are we.

A mad dog


A seminarian wrote,

I remember listening to a debate in my apologetics class regarding good works. One classmate made the point that Mother Teresa never did anything good because she did not have a regenerated heart. This is a controversial statement for two reasons. The second is that most people assume that she was a Christian because of her works, though that is debatable based on her writings and what she professed.

To be sure, this debate was taking place in a Calvinist (I would like to say evangelical, but I no longer know what this term means to others besides myself) seminary, where they will be very careful to reiterate that we are never saved by works (which by the way, all Christians believe, even Roman Catholics), but the conclusion that they came to, that it is doubtful that Mother Teresa was a Christian, is incredible.

Mother Teresa is someone whom I know fairly well, from reading about her work among the poorest of the poor (including among us who are not so poor), and her testimonies as well as what others have written about her. I know a fellow Christian when I see one. How can anyone doubt that she was a Christian? Well, I suppose the same people would doubt that a Roman pope could be a Christian… but my point is, that we are wasting our time and efforts to no avail, and in fact endangering our own souls, to judge others like this. In our effort to discern what is the correct doctrine of salvation or whatever, by our shallow judgments we trample the work of Christ in His saints, when they do not fit our presumptuous dogmatic schemes. Lord, have mercy!

Just call me a mad dog barking at a dumb wall that will not fall down no matter how hard I bark, but bark I must just the same. There are people trapped behind that wall, separated from the simple Truth who is Jesus Christ, the Lord and Savior of our souls, who also is knocking on the doors in that wall, seemingly to no avail.

Like the merchants of Gadara, they fear the Man who sent their livestock careening to their deaths down the cliffs by the Galilean lake. They care little about the man whose life was straightened by the Master's words, nor that he who ran naked and gashed himself is now in his right mind and clothed. They hear the Man knocking whose teachings they say they glorify and guard against the wrong-minded, and they themselves do not open the door. He might cast their livestock, their investment, into the lake too, and then they would have nothing, be nothing, except (if they still wanted it) to be His disciples. He might tell them, as He told the Gerasene demoniac, that He didn't want him to follow Him, but rather to go and tell others what had been done for him. And that's just not good enough for them. They want to sit on thrones to the Master's right and left. But can they drink the cup that He has drunk? Or will they, like the one ‘enthroned’ on the cross to His left, say, "Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us!"
(Luke 23:39)

Exclusive, and Inclusive

These two writings of the modern Church Father Nikolaj Velimirović, Bishop of Ohrid and Žiča, should be read and appreciated together. I have reposted these many times before, but some things just cannot be heard enough. Truth is truth, but our ears and minds fall asleep between feedings of this heavenly food…

Exclusive

The primitive Church was very puritanic concerning the Christian spirit. She was not particular as to the vessels in which to pour the new wine, but she was extremely particular as to the wine itself. She borrowed the vessels in Judæa, Alexandria, Athens, Rome, but she never borrowed wine. The Christian spirit and the pagan spirit were just like two opposite poles, like white and black, or day and night. The Church was conscious of it, and jealously watchful that no drop of any foreign spirit should be mixed with the precious spirit of the New Gospel. There existed no thought of compromise, and no idea of inclusiveness whatever regarding the spirit. The terrific conflict of Christianity and Paganism through centuries sprang from the irreconcilability of two different spirits. Were the Church as inclusive as to the spirit as she was to forms, doctrines, customs and worships, conflicts never would arise—but then neither would Christianity arise.

The modern Church is particular as to its institutions, but not particular at all as to its spirit. The Roman Emperors never would persecute the modern Church, for they would easily recognise their own spirit included in her. Nor would the Pharaohs from Egypt persecute modern Christianity. Nor would Areopagus or Akropolis be puzzled so much had St Paul preached to them the modern European Christianity with its complicated spirit of all kinds of compromises with Heaven and Hell, compromise with the State, Plutocracy, Nationalism, Imperialism, Conquest, War, Diplomacy, Secular Philosophy, Secular Science, Agnostic Parliaments, Tribal Chauvinism, Education, Officialism, Bureaucracy, etc., etc. All these things have their own spirit, and every such spirit is partly or wholly included in the spirit of the Church, i.e. of modern Christianity. None of the Christian Churches of our time makes an exception as to this inclusiveness of all kinds of spirits. Even Protestantism, which claims the simplicity of its Christian ritual and administration, represents a lamentable mosaic of spirits gathered from all the pagan corners of secular Europe and mixed up with the Christian wine in the same barrel.

The Church of the East excommunicated thousands of those who crossed themselves with two fingers instead of using three fingers. The Church of the West burnt thousands of those who did not recognise the papal organisation of the Church as the only ark of salvation. Yet there is rarely to be found in the Church annals an excommunication on the ground of chauvinism or brutal egoism. No one of the world conquerors—neither Napoleon nor Kaiser William—have been excommunicated by the Church. It signifies an extreme decadence of the Church. And this decadence penetrates and dominates our own time. Speaking on the reunion of the Churches the peoples of the East are anxious to know, not whether the Church of the West has preserved the unmixed Christian spirit in its integrity, but whether this Church still keeps Filioque as a dogma, and whether she has ikons, and whether she allows eggs and milk in Lent. And the people of the West are anxious to know whether the Eastern Church has a screen quite different from their own screen at the altar, and whether she has been always tenaciously exclusive in teaching, worship and organisation. Who of us and of you asks about the integrity of the Christian spirit? If St Paul were amongst us he would ridicule our controversies on Filioque and all the trifles concerning Church organisation and the external expressions of Christianity. He would ask: What happened with the spirit he preached? What happened with this spirit which excommunicated de facto the Jewish narrow Patriotism and the Roman Imperialism? Have we still this exclusive spirit which moved the world effecting the greatest revolution in History? I am sure he would have to repeat with good reasons to every Church and to everyone of us: ‘If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His.’

Well, we must come again to this source of Christian strength and greatness, which is Christ’s spirit. A new revival, yea, regeneration of Christianity, could be possible only in a united Christian Church; and the union of the Church is possible only upon the ground of the primitive Church, which was inclusive in teaching, worship and organisation, but exclusive in spirit. On the day when we all exclude from ourselves the Jewish and Greek and Roman spirit, and retain only the pure Christian spirit, we shall be at once ready to include each other’s Church into one body, into one Christianity. We must be clear about it, and we must confess that the divisions of the church are due to the invasion of a foreign spirit, an unclean spirit, into the Church. When the Church cleanses herself from this foreign unclean spirit she will be victorious over herself, and from this victory to the ultimate victory of Christianity over our planet will be a very short distance.

Inclusive

Judaism was destined for the people of Israel only. The Christian Church was destined for the people of Israel too, but not for them only. She included Greeks as well.

The Greek polytheism of Olympus was destined for the Hellenic race only. The Christian Church was destined for the Hellenic race too, but not for it only. She included Indians as well.

Buddha’s wisdom was offered to the monks and vegetarians. Monks and vegetarians the Christian Church included in her lap, but also married and social people too.

Pythagoras founded a religious society of intellectual aristocrats. The Christian Church from the beginning included intellectual aristocrats side by side with the ignorant and unlettered.

The Persian prophet, Zoroaster, recruited soldiers of the god of light among the best men to fight against the god of darkness. His religious institution was like a military barracks. The Christian Church included both the best and the worst, the righteous and the sinners, the healthy and the sick. It was a barracks and a hospital at the same time. It was an institution both for spiritual fighting and spiritual healing.

The Chinese sage, Confucius, preached a wonderful ethical pragmatism, and the profound thinker, Lao Tse, preached an all-embracing spiritualism. Christian wisdom included both of them, opening Heaven for the first and showing the dramatic importance of the physical world for the second.

Islam—yes, Islam—had in some sense a Christian ambition: to win the whole world. The difference was: Islam wished world-conquest; the Church, the world’s salvation. Islam intended to subdue all men and bring them before God as His servants: The Church intended to educate all men, to purify and elevate them, and to bring them before God as His children.

And all others: star-worshippers, and fire, and wood, and water, and stone, and animal-worshippers had a touching sense of the immediate divine presence in nature. The Church came not to extinguish this sense but to explain and to subordinate it; to put God in the place of demons and hope instead of fear.

The Church came not to destroy, but to purify, to aid and to assimilate. The destination of the Church was neither national nor racial, but cosmic. No exclusive power was ever destined to be a world-power.

The ultimate failure of Islam to become a world-power lies in its exclusiveness. It was with religion as with politics. Every exclusive policy is foredoomed to failure: the German as well as the Turkish and the Napoleonic.

The policy of the Church was designed by her Divine Founder: “He that is not against us is for us.” Well, there is no human race on earth wholly against Christ and wholly unprepared to receive Him. The wisdom of the Christian missionaries therefore is to see first in what ways Providence has prepared a soil for Christian seed; to see which of the Christian elements a race, or a religion, already possesses, and how to utilise these elements and weld them into Christianity. All that, in order to make Christianity grow organically, instead of pushing it mechanically.

In conclusion let me repeat again: the wisdom of the Church has been inclusive.

Inclusive was the wisdom of her Founder, inclusive the wisdom of her organisation and of her destination. Exclusiveness was the very sickness and weakness of the Church. That is why we in the East in the time of sickness of the Church looked neither towards Peter, nor Paul, nor John, but towards the Holy Wisdom, the all-healing and all-illuminating. For Aghia Sophia in Constantinople, the temple dedicated to Christ the Eternal, includes in itself the sanctuaries of Peter, Paul and John; moreover, it is supported even by some pillars of Diana’s temple from Ephesus and has many other things, in style or material, which belonged to the Paganism of old. Indeed, Aghia Sophia has room and heart even for Islam. The Mohamedans have been praising it as the best of their sanctuaries!

Look to the Holy Wisdom! Look beyond Peter, and Paul, and John—through them and still beyond them! Every Church has her prophet, her apostle, her angel. Look now over them all to the very top of the pyramid, where all the lines meet!

Either Christianity is one, or there is no Christianity.
Either the Church is universal, or there is no Church.

Nikolaj Velimirović, Bishop of Ohrid and Žiča

And to the Republic

Affirming that America, that is, these United States, are a Christian nation, an opinion I can only hold because of the overwhelming evidence (for better or for worse) in support of it, and noting nonetheless that none of the multitude of Christian sects, nor the Church, have been established as a state church, and since in these modern times a significant proportion of the citizens espouses no institutionalized religion, it seems reasonable to me that Government should get out of the marriage business.

Without denying that the basic unit of human society is the family, and of the Church the Christian family, as an Orthodox Christian I believe that marriage is between one man and one woman, and that nothing the Government can do has anything to add to or take away from it, when it confines itself to its proper sphere, the maintenance of law and order among free, equal, and fraternal citizens, which can, and in this day should, include the regulation of households, of which families are a significant subset.

By ‘families’ I mean to say, biologically related households, not to the prejudice of households which are also families consisting of biologically unrelated people. By ‘marriage’ I mean the traditional marriage between man and woman, not to the prejudice of the unions of same sex couples who may also call their partnership ‘marriage’, nor to distinguish as different the households that are maintained by each. It is in society’s best interests that its basic unit, the household (or family), be safeguarded and maintained.

To that end, Government, as instituted the servant of the people and their guardian, should deploy its authority to make firm the bases of society, the households, regulating by license all householders to assure the safety and liberty of the citizen, from conception till death, yes, from cradle to grave making sure that no one is being denied what belongs to all, yet within the bounds of reason with respect to the maturity of each. Parents and guardians have authority by nature over offspring. This to be respected.

That the Government, again I speak only of these United States (which have their own traditions and constitutions), should foster, maintain, and regulate the basic unit of society by universal licensing, establishing households (or families) as legal entities, removes all social controversy, confines the deliberations of the various religious bodies regarding marriage and the family to those under their jurisdiction, and restores the right of essential privacy in relationships between adult citizens.

The movement for ‘marriage equality’ has brought it about that ‘gay’ and lesbian couples can now legally marry and raise families if they so choose. Some of these couples are Christians belonging to sects whose theology of marriage includes same-sex unions. That the Government has extended ‘marriage’ to all was and is not within its authority. Rather it should retreat from this usurpation and confine itself to establishing and maintaining what is for the good of society without prejudice to any.

The Government should ‘marry’ no one. That is an office belonging to the Church, and to religious bodies, whether Christian or not. Instead, for legal purposes and for equitable taxation, it should register and hold to standards domestic partnerships consisting of two householders, as well as recognizing as households any that may consist of only one adult member. Two unmarried siblings could live together and maintain a household, or two unwed parents of children, however they have become single.

We have a responsibility to rebuild society out of the rubbish heap that it has become through the depredations of consumer addiction and fantasy mongering. Leaving well enough alone will work only in those places in America where society still exists, primarily in rural and small town settings, but even there the creeping disease of anti-social attitudes can be found. We have to include as many people of good will as possible and, in the end, all in the restoration of society in America, one nation, under God.

Indivisible, yes, and especially this: with liberty and justice for all.

Jesus, Taker of Souls

Jesus, you are the taker of souls,
you are the secret thief of souls.
Under cover of night you steal your daughter
from pirates who curse and strike the air.

Jesus, you are the holy piper
and every soul who hears you
throws away his living and runs after you
leaving his winding-sheet in the road.

Jesus, you are the all-loved man.
Masked in darkness, you draw out the soul
of a dying man from its lifelong home.
Though he is terrified he surrenders.

Jesus, you are the taker of souls
for every soul that hears your name
immediately tries to give away his life
so he can be free to join your Company.

Jesus, you are the teacher who sings to souls.
A shock went through the body human
And all men in their souls looked wildly
for the light that suddenly shined on them.

Jesus, you are the all-loved man
for every one who thinks he runs from you
leaps into your arms and he who chases you
tries to hold a bundle but drops it in the path.

Alana Roberts
the latest from her blog

When the time comes

Homelessness. The phenomenon is growing. It wasn’t out in the open at first, although of course it was, we just didn’t notice it, because we don’t usually look under bridges or in the deep bush of unoccupied wastelands. What we did notice at first, and for many years now in the big cities, was this other phenomenon: on the side of every road where drivers must stop, for a stop sign or traffic light, a man would be standing holding up a piece of cardboard on which was scrawled ‘Anything helps. God bless!’ or something to that effect.

Half a century ago, when I was a child, beggars were scarce, even in a big city like Chicago. In fact, I don’t remember seeing any. In my young adulthood, I emigrated to Canada, to Edmonton, a big city in Alberta. There I saw my first beggars, Native Americans (Indians) panhandling for small change on downtown streets. Most of them looked terrible, most were alcoholics and unemployed, refugees in reverse from where they came from on the reserves, and they often slept on out-of-the-way sidewalks and in neglected doorways.

I can’t remember giving these beggars anything, but then, in those days, I barely had anything to give. Instead, I had always followed a pattern that I had seen in my own family: help your neighbor in need, when you can, with whatever you have, but don’t drop money into a beggar’s hat just because he looks poor. It was a pattern that I later realized was part of God’s plan: He sends people to you, and you know it, because what they need is exactly what you know you can give. No need to go out of one’s way to look for beggars to help.

Sometimes these people were homeless. My mother took in some boy prostitutes during a severe cold spell one winter in Joliet, Illinois, where she was living. I think it was my younger brother who discovered them. They were street kids, homeless, trying to keep warm and sleeping in railroad box cars. They supported themselves by servicing affluent homosexual men who would drive down from Chicago for ‘safe sex’ with boys. My mother knew what they did and didn’t judge them. For a few days, they could live as kids again, warm and well-fed.

But the beggars of today, those street corner bandits. Yes, some of them behave as bandits, though most just stoically stand there looking somewhat pathetic. I don’t doubt that they need help, but it isn’t the kind of help they’re asking for. The guilty public, those who silence their consciences for other sins they are committing, roll their car windows down and throw a handful of inconvenient small change, a dollar bill or two, into their hand, and then quickly speed off, barely hearing the ‘Thanks and God bless!’ croaked out as their receipt.

This phenomenon has reached epidemic proportions, but as long as it was just bodies guarding street corners, people have put up with it. The other phenomenon, the homelessness though, is one that cannot be as easily ignored. Why? Because the homeless, whether by choice or circumstances, aren’t camping out in remote, abandoned locations anymore. They are camping out where we can see them, where we work, go shopping, even where we live. The number of new camps is visually staggering, and the authorities’ response is scant.

Yes, local civil authorities are taking measures to respond to this phenomenon, but because we are no longer a society but just aggregates of individuals who depend on others to take responsibility and solve our problems, the response is ineffectual. Homeless shelters often in unused public buildings, legal campgrounds where there shouldn’t be any, dropouts from society being moved about like gaming pieces, all because there is in reality no society. What’s the proof of that? Societies have both the will and the power to defend themselves.

Defend themselves from what? From anything that breaks them down, anything that creates disorder on the scale that we now see it all around us. An aggregate of individuals, each putting themselves first, is not a society. It is a human population which has reverted to the state of nature, to what used to be called ‘the noble savage.’ Savages we are, but noble? Far from it. ‘Every man for himself’ is the recipe for the social ills we now find ourselves in, unemployment, poverty, and now, epidemic homelessness. Before we can solve these problems, we must become a society.

Gemeinnutz vor Eigennutz, ‘the common good before one’s own good,’ a German expression capitalized by the National Socialists and which became Hitler’s basic stance on the subordination of the economy to the national interest, is both a rational and a Christian concept essential to the maintenance of human society. We have to stop thinking emotionally. We have to step out and act. We have to ask, ‘What does good?’ instead of ‘What feels good?’ We have to look at our stock pile of ideas, and put the ones that produce what we want to work.

This is where, it appears to me, society is heading. What? Didn’t I just claim that we are not a society but an aggregate of egoists? Well, yes, I did, but now I have to speak less precisely. Society is starting to wake up to the fact that we have handed over our authority to political elites, to oligarchies. Next, we must realize that this happened because we abandoned our commitment to social responsibility, because we preferred being baby-sat instead of being grown-up. As long as our needs were being met, automatically, we needn’t do anything more.

This is, of course, nonsense, again, as we are finding out. We are just around the corner from some massive changes. Homelessness is a squalor we have discovered we can no longer afford, beggary a blight that we can no longer support. There are better ways to live, not just for the homeless and those found begging at intersections, but for ourselves as well. The ills that plague society, such as it is, have actually killed society, and we just didn’t notice. Now, there’s nothing we can do but bring it back alive. Let’s be ready to move when the time comes.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Beatitude

I am happy, and I want to be, but it’s not something I have to talk myself into, like some silly optimist. Happiness doesn’t come easily, because it can’t depend on what’s happening around us, and it isn’t achieved by merely ignoring the evils in the world near or far. No, it doesn’t come easily if we think it comes from anywhere outside ourselves.

Happiness is something built into us by our Creator, it’s a gift He has bestowed on every creature, it’s an inner light which He appointed for us to be able to see our way, even when things get very, very dark. That sin which clings so closely that we fall to thinking is part of us, that we sometimes blame God for, makes us unhappy, at odds with everything.

Some people even canonize the state of being unhappy so that they can feel pious about it. It becomes a proof of their fidelity to God and to His Word. Sin in them confuses ‘blessed are they that mourn’ with a personal cult of unhappiness that they seek to impose on others around them. We all have experienced this. We call it ‘guilt tripping.’

In His sermon on the mount, our Lord begins by revealing to us the true human nature with which we were created. We call these sayings ‘beatitudes’ and sometimes confuse them with a regimen of ideal behavior which we feel the Lord is asking of us. The contrary is true. He is telling us of the gifts He bestowed on us when He created us happy.

Yes, happy—μακαριος, makários, ‘happy’—the blessed state in which we were created. He begins, ‘How happy are the poor in spirit: theirs is the kingdom of the heavens.’ Can anyone make themselves, by trial and error, ‘poor in spirit’? Is the Lord asking this of us? Or is He telling us, ‘Return to Me, and I will return to you. Be what I made you. Be happy’?

The same is true of the other beatitudes, even the next one which seems impossible to us, ‘How happy are those who mourn: they shall be comforted.’ If He created us to be happy, how can He be telling us that when we are happy, we will mourn? What will we mourn for, and how are we to mourn? Ironically, this saying’s solution is, the question is the answer.

We are being called, we are being tugged at, by the Lord to be happy, to return to the state of being in which we were created. At that moment when at His loving command each of us emerges from nothing, He is with us, He is the first person we see as our eyes open, His being becomes our being, we receive our sight and see the world through His eyes, we are happy.

‘How happy are the meek: they shall inherit the earth.’ And why not? The whole earth and all the wonders that it contains are given to us, who are His earthly image. We hear these words, again, as a conditional statement and, indeed, in a sense they are. We will inherit the earth means we have inherited it only when we return to our nature, meekness.

Read the rest of these sayings of Jesus, and hear them not as conditions to be met that are foreign to us, but as the conditions intrinsic to human nature, to which Christ is calling us to return. The difference is subtle between us making ourselves good against our nature, and yielding to the good that is our nature. The first is a work of man, the second a work of God.

How happy are those who hunger and thirst for what is right: they shall be satisfied.
How happy are the merciful: they shall have mercy shown them.
How happy are the pure in heart: they shall see God.
How happy are the peacemakers: they shall be called sons of God.
How happy are those persecuted in the cause of right: theirs is the kingdom of the heavens.
How happy are you when people abuse you, and persecute you, and speak all kinds of evil against you because of Me.
Rejoice and be glad, for great shall be your reward in the heavens: this is how they persecuted the prophets before you.

‘Rejoice and be glad’ is a word not spoken by our Lord as spiritual decorum, but in spirit and truth. He really expects this of us, and He knows that we know there’s no way to ‘rejoice and be glad,’ except by being what He made us. The apostle Paul chimes in his assent, ‘I want you to be happy, always happy in the Lord. I repeat, what I want is your happiness.’

Can it really be impossible for us to be happy? We make it seem so hard. We always find fault with the world, our neighbors, and ourselves. Can it be that we are just not looking where we’ve been told to look? And if we only looked there, looked within where Christ says ‘the kingdom of the heavens’ is, even where He is, might we then be happy?

I am happy, and I want to be, but it’s not something I have to talk myself into. I already believe it’s all true: Christ risen from the dead has remade the universe, reversed the curse of death, and is here in this room with me at this very moment. Yes, and with you too who have stumbled upon me in my cave. Let’s forget ourselves, then, and remember Him. Let’s be happy.

Yes, all it takes is a ‘be’ attitude.

Without uttering a word

‘The Holy Spirit compelled me,’ is what she is reported to have said. A woman, a stenographer in the United States House of Representatives, grabbed the microphone and began a rant against—I am not quite sure what it was she was against, except perhaps the Masons, a group she mentioned by name, accusing the nation’s founding fathers of belonging to this organization. There are Christians who will see this as an act of bravery and defiance, and others who will regard it with embarrassment and shame.

This is clearly not how Christ and the holy apostles operate. People can study the Bible their entire lives and miss the point of the good news of Jesus Christ completely, and some of them, having swallowed the Holy Ghost feathers and all, lay the blame for their bad behavior at His feet.

Such incidents just remind me of what scripture itself says, that God’s foundation stone is still in place, having been laid by the only One who could ever lay it, and on it have been built, are being built, and shall yet be built as long as the age endures, countless lives of quiet martyrdom.

Martyrdom. This is not what many think, seduced by self, assuming what does not belong to them, making themselves anointed warriors in the cause of God, to lash out blindly and then cringe to receive the blow the world may offer. It usually knows better. The world is not dumb.

To follow the Lord Jesus, to study His every move, every word, as written in the holy and divine scriptures, to join the apostles in imitating Him, to follow His commandments which are better than the laws of Moses, because they conquer the only enemy, that which lives within.

The world is sustained by the invisible Three. The Son does what He sees the Father doing. The siblings of the King of Israel, having been joined to the Father by more than flesh, continue His work, doing even greater works, for their heavenly older Brother has gone on ahead to ready the Place.

Martyrdom is to die daily with Christ, to rise from every fall, to love without limit, to suffer wrongs and not insist on rights, to bring the good news of freedom from bondage, of joy from sorrow, of mercy the spring of justice, of light over darkness. Martyrdom is to live in beauty which is holy.

We cannot know what compels people to act as they do. They may tell us one thing, but it may be another, something even hidden from themselves. One thing, though, is certain. The Holy Spirit is never the cause of confusion. He reunites tongues split by man’s greed at Babel, and offering no resistance to evils, undoes them by His presence without uttering a word.

Religions and non-religions

There seems to be a very definite pattern in the development of false, man-made religions spooked up by false, man-ordained prophets. Some survive and become denominations. Others die out because their prophets just didn’t know when to stop.

Jim Jones of ‘People’s Temple’ is one recent example, whose cult came to a tragic ending in Guyana.

Whether we recognize them as valid religions or not, even in the non-Christian faiths — Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, Taoism, native American spirituality — we can sense that there is real truth there, even if only partial, and that what constitutes these faiths is not something that was ‘religiously engineered’ but, instead, the deposit of a gradual realisation by a culture of what, and even Who, the Truth is. This is why all ‘real religions’ anticipate the revelation of Jesus Christ the God-Man, and can be ‘old testaments’ leading into the New and Everlasting Covenant.

Since the Church started in the Hebrew world, the Hebrew religion became the first of these ‘old testaments’ and was canonized by the Church. But as the Word of God Jesus Christ goes forth to meet all cultures, lands and times, the Evangelion can be built on the supple and expectant spiritual traditions, or religions, of almost all people, to greater or lesser degrees.

In the case of Islam, this cannot be done, because it is a man-made religion borrowing selectively from the real religion of Judaism and from the faith of Christ, willfully changing what it has borrowed, sometimes inverting it, so that all that remains are just names and words, while the Truth content is discarded. The same can be said of some of the new religions invented in the United States, and for exactly the same reasons.

I testify, that I can witness to a Hindu, for example, whose religion I am very familiar with, and show how the myths that are taken as true by them really are true and in fact are made fully comprehensible only when one meets Christ in them. How is this possible? Because Christ is, was, and will be, that is, always was, the Truth that underlay their myths, those stories awaiting His literal coming and their meeting Him in space and time to be fulfilled.

Yes, Jesus Christ ‘the same yesterday, today, and forever,’ can be found even when well-hidden in the real religions. As for those that are not real religions, but mere human constructs for the subjugation and conquest and annihilation of human souls, Nicolaitans, these have no meeting with Christ in this or any world, except when they are flung forever into the fiery lake.

The witness of the Church to people under subjection to Islam and modern cultic religions, for example, must be undertaken in a similar way as the witness to atheists, and to all people who are religionless to begin with.

As C. S. Lewis wrote in his allegory The Pilgrim’s Regress, ‘the definition of a Pagan [is] a man so travelling that if all goes well he arrives at Mother Kirk’s chair [at the Church] and is carried over this gorge [the sin of the world]…’

Cultists are not Christians, and Muslims are not pagans, by creedal criteria. They are subjects of a form of pseudo-religious nihilism, of anti-humanism. Their conversion is only possible, I think, by meeting the Lord in person (in the person of His servants) and not by reference to their religious heritage, for they have none.

This is probably true, even universally, precisely because ‘religious’ conversion is not a matter of exchanging one set of ideas or beliefs for another, but of meeting the Lord in person, and this usually happens by meeting one of His true servants. Could this be what He is telling us here?

The one who hears you hears Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me, and the one who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me.
Luke 10:16