Monday, July 31, 2006

Understanding the Word of God

Innocent of Alaska, called the ‘Enlightener of America,’ brought Orthodox Christianity to North America by evangelising the native peoples, especially the Aleuts. This is what he writes in his book Indication of the Way into the Kingdom of Heaven about the Holy Scriptures, and how anyone can understand them. I offer this as my last post for a while. Greetings to all the brethren who begin the fast of the Theotokos (Mother of God) tomorrow!

The Holy Spirit may be received by piously reading and listening to the Holy Scriptures. The Holy Scriptures are one of God’s greatest blessings, which can be used by anyone wishing to do so. In them, the divine wisdom is presented in such an easy, approachable manner that even the simplest and most uneducated person can understand it. Many cases are recorded throughout Church history and in the lives of the saints, in which the simplest of people, while studying Holy Scripture, were enlightened, became pious, and received abundant gifts of the Holy Spirit even while some scholars and intelligentsia read the Holy Scripture and became confused and fell into heresy.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Witnessing in the Land of End Times ‘Christianosis’

ο ποιμήν ο καλός
(oh pee-MEEN oh ka-LOSS)
‘the Good Shepherd’

Notice that both the rewarded and the condemned refer to Christ as “Lord,” clearly acknowledging His divinity, but as Christ asserts in the gospel according to Luke, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and not do the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46) Both the ikon above and the text cited below it come from the weekly bulletin of my church, Holy Trinity, Portland, Oregon. The ikon is rustic in style, like the simple faith it represents, the simple trust in the Good Shepherd, who is the Word of God and Who said, “The sheep that belong to Me listen to My voice; I know them, and they follow Me.” (John 10:27)

In order to write this article, I had to invent a new word—“christianosis”. I had to break the rules of noun formation in Greek, because I needed a noun equivalent of the verb “to christianize” and that already exists—“christianismos” in Greek, which means merely “Christianity” in English. But I needed a word that meant to christianize a people without really converting them. The word had to have a dysfunctional sound, something to remind one of other dysfunctional words, like “neurosis” or “psychosis” or even “hypnosis”, which, though not exactly describing a dysfunction, still alludes to something spookily wrong-headed. Hence, a new English word with admittedly faulty Greek roots—“christianosis”—the state of being christianized but not Christian.

Here in America, but also in other “Christian” lands, we find ourselves living inside the ruins of a great and ancient civilisation, one which bequeathed us not only spiritual values but cultural and material benefits as well. This civilisation is patronisingly called “Judæo-Christian” and the sacred name of it is pulled out of safekeeping whenever anyone wants to press their point of view. An example of this that everyone knows, is when someone who calls himself a Christian pulls out of context a bible verse or passage to legitimize his personal opinion. This is the downside of ‘proof texting.’ That doesn't mean that every quoting of scripture is invalid; it just means that there are two ways of using the written Word of God: either you submit your ideas to what the Word declares and let your mind be formed by Christ (that is, having the ‘mind of Christ’); or you develop a personal philosophy and then go fetch bible verses that seem to bolster your thoughts, in case you want to appear to have the mind of Christ.

Back to my subject, witnessing in the land of end times christianosis…

Why do I think that ‘America is christianized but not converted?’ Well, this was brought to my attention by the sole person who stopped and actually listened to our reading of the gospel of Mark yesterday in downtown Portland. She asked, “Why isn't anyone stopping to listen?” Hmm, good question. The Word is being read public'ly to the people who roughly fall into two groups.

The first group, the one you would expect to stop and listen (yes, not just rush past with a ‘praise the Lord’ or ‘God bless’), should be other Christians. Even with the low church attendance rate in Oregon and Washington, in any given crowd, at least 10% should be Christians, maybe 20% if you include Roman Catholics. (I am not analyzing this situation with a view to measuring the effectiveness of our witness.) These are people who ‘go to church’ and sit in respectful silence listening to the Word of God being read and preached (we hope!) in their churches. If they are so respectful in church, why don't they show the same respect when that same Word is being read in public? What do they really believe about the Word of God?

The second group, those who actually do stop, are some who are in fact Christians, whether or not they go to church, and some who don't know if they're Christians (and often don't care) but who are looking for the Truth. A significant portion of these are children, and the rest include such ‘types’ as street people, Goths, gays and lesbians, Latino immigrants and other marginalized folks, all of whom are mentioned by Christ (under different names, no doubt) as “sick needing a physician” and as “sinners needing a Savior.” Who are these people? Where do they come from? And why do they come near, and listen?

America has more churches than possibly any land on earth, and Portland is also richly endowed that way with churches and Christian “ministries” despite its reputation as Godless.

While we were at Pioneer Square, a Christian ministry from Alabama was doing a ‘worship’ presentation there, complete with a great band, and free handouts of food (cotton candy!) and bottled water. There was also a fellow (I don't know if he was with them) going all over the square and giving out little silver cards with an optical illusion game on one side and a gospel message on the other. We passed a group of young Goths playing with the cards and saying “Far out!” and “Ooh, wow this is weird!” Then they turned the cards over and one of them said, “It's just a gospel message.”

Just a gospel message!?

What kind of evangelism is that? Does Jesus walk the streets of Portland handing out toys and trinkets to the kids? So, yeah, people were sitting on the steps of the square all afternoon, listening to the music of this band. Not too many people, mind you. And who were they? Tired moms wanting to sit down for a moment with their cranky kids? Old Jesus Freaks who happened by and wanted to enjoy the music and the warm sun? People who were just plain bored and came there anyway, regardless of the music, because it wasn't as annoying as hearing someone preach, like two guys reading the gospel or the book of Revelation?

If the Son of God, the Word of the Father through whom all things were made, the Light of the world which that world cannot overcome, if He emptied Himself to assume the conditions of a slave, suffering for our sake, and dying to pay the debt of each and every one of us, on the Cross, if He went down to She‘ol to yank Adam and Eve by their wrists out of their deathly misery along with everyone else from righteous Abel to John the Baptist, and place them in paradise with Abraham and the good thief, if He rose from the dead, taking death captive, and after establishing the saints on earth as His Bride, ascended to the right hand of the Father to intercede for us, if He did all that, and we spend ourselves in entertainment and call it worship, take Bible cruises, listen to self-improvement and ‘God wants you to be prosperous’ talking books, and if there's anything left over, help the convenient needy of our choice, is it any small wonder (?) that the world which Christ came to save (not us, of course, we're His sheep!) plays with our leftovers and says, “oh, nothing special, just a gospel message!”

The good news drew crowds in the days of the Apostles. Why do we now have to run after the unsaved and shove tracts in their faces?

The preaching of John Chrysostom and Basil (the Great) drew crowds in the days of the Christian Roman Empire, no matter what the time of day or the season. Why do we try to fill our empty assembly halls with “spiritual” bread and circuses?

The signs and wonders of our Christian ancestors were changed lives, which in turn changed society. Instead, we have signs that say “Portland, you need to change!” and our followup is such things as a program of praise music!

Now, there's nothing wrong with worship and praise, except when we deceive ourselves into believing that worship and praise happens between the hours of church services or Christian concerts. In the heavenlies, the worship is unceasing, according to the will of God. And don't we pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”?

Jesus told Photiní (the woman at the well), “…true worshippers will worship the Father in Spirit and Truth: That is the kind of worshipper the Father wants.” (John 4:23)

What is worship in Spirit and Truth?

Apostle Paul's answer was, in part, “I worship spiritually by preaching the Good News…” (Romans 1:8 JB) Speaking more directly to us, Paul also wrote, “Think of God's mercy, my brothers, and worship Him, I beg you, in a way that is worthy of thinking beings, by offering your living bodies as a holy sacrifice, truly pleasing to God. Do not model yourselves on the behavior of the world around you, but let your behavior change, modeled by your new mind. This is the only way to discover the will of God and know what is good, what it is that God wants, what is the perfect thing to do.” (Romans 12:1-2 JB)

Where am I going with all this?

By our willingness to read the Word of God public'ly outside of church, we are being taught many things.
Christ wants to gather His lost sheep. It's too late (“…the time is close.” Revelation 1:3) to deliberate and develop programs. We waste valuable time. The Word of God, the Holy Scripture, is already everything we need to accomplish what He sent us forth to do: “Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations…” (Matthew 28:19)

The churches are, by and large, pitifully asleep, enmeshed in the cares of the world. Why do I think this?

Ask any Christian, where his/her bible is right now.
Ask what book, passage or verse did he/she read this morning.
Ask how long did he/she spend praying yesterday.
Ask how long since he/she had a one-on-one deep, spiritual fellowship with another Christian.

The churches have produced the very things they say they are against, by the refusal of most of their ministers and people to put God first in their lives. Every pierced and tattooed ‘Goth’ has both a mother and a father who, in their turn, have a mother and a father. Was the youth I often see downtown, who has images of barbed wire tattooed all across his face, born that way?

Jesus Christ has already won the victory over sin, hell and death.
About His Bride, the Church, the ‘Christian people’ He says (speaking to His heavenly Father), “May they be one in us, as you are in me and I am in you, so that the world may believe it was you who sent me.” (John 18:21 Jerusalem Bible) How can we be one in God the Trinity as Jesus prays, and at the same time NOT live in His victory over sin, hell and death? Impossible.

The time is close. Now, if never before, read the book of Revelation. Read it every day. It is like a “fifth gospel”. Don't try to interpret it. It's a mystery to him who seeks to open its seals, but it is revealed to him who TRUSTS the Lamb of God, the Only Worthy One, to open the seals. Just read the book, and read it aloud, and read it to others, your family, your friends, whoever will listen. It is NOT a literary relic of the apostolic age. It is NOT just a source for Orthodox liturgica. It is exactly what it says about itself. It's the only book of the bible with this blessing attached: “Happy the man who reads this prophecy, and happy those who listen to him, for the time is close.” (Revelation 1:3 JB) Read it as personally addressed to you, and the Lord will reveal to you what His instructions are for you. Will He do that the first time? Probably not, but by the tenth time you will begin to understand.

What! Do I have to read it over and over again? Yes. This is how we keep our lamps lit, we keep filling them with oil. (Matthew 25:1-13)

What else? Back to basics. You really do have to put God first. You can't fake it. You can go to church all you want, but you cannot avoid the winnowing fork of the Lord. You can't hide forever what kind of seeds you've planted. Judgment begins now, but it takes a long time… maybe. The pious Jews have a saying, “Repent one day before your death.” God is being patient with all of us. He doesn't want us to lose any more of our children by drugs, sex and suicide. What? You don't have any children? Think again, if you're a Christian reading these words. As Francesco of Assisi proclaimed, echoing Christ His Master, “There are no more fathers. There are no more sons. And everyone who has left fathers and mothers, children, lands for the sake of our heavenly Father will receive a hundred times more in the life to come…” We are ALL His children, and all His children are OURS. “You must call no one on earth your father, since you have only One Father, and He is in heaven.” (Matthew 23:9)

America has a serious case of ‘end times christianosis’.

If your church has a lot of members, if they're enrolled in lots of classes, seminars, programs and groups, if they give lavishly, how many of them have made the Word of God their home? How many are stepping out, every day, in faith to the lost, calling them ‘brother’ and acting likewise? It's hard to get the unsaved to trust us, because we have let them down. Now, we have to break through the protective walls, and show them Jesus. If we are following along behind Him, neither we nor they have anything to fear anymore.

There's no loss with Jesus.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Overwhelmed? Keep your eyes on Jesus!

You think this is some kind of simple, easy to say, pat response?
Keep your eyes on Jesus?

Overwhelmed? Only if you think you're in control of your life, that your personal decisions are of ultimate importance, and that making a mistake is fatal.

Only one decision in life is of ultimate importance, only one mistake that can be made is fatal. And you have made the decision, have you not, to follow Jesus? Can any other decision you are going to make in your life (and there will be many, too many to count), can any other decision add to that, or take away from it?

All other decisions you have to make don't have to be made, not now, not if you're not ready. If there is something that needs a snap decision today, to meet an external deadline, to satisfy another's expectations, whatever it is, look at it squarely: If you make the decision what do you gain, if you put it off what do you lose? If you make the decision, and it turns out to be the wrong one, how does it hurt you, does it hurt you, really?

Are you taking to yourself the responsibility to make a decision which is not really yours to make?

Nothing that truly pertains to you in reality can be measured, compared or contrasted with anyone else or anyone else's expectations of you. Your decision to follow Jesus has removed you from your own judgment and from the judgment of others. As Francesco of Assisi cried out as his father was dragging him before the authorities, “What has the justice of men to do with me? God is my only judge!” To which the magistrate foolishly replied, “Unfortunately, he's not around to help us out!”

Keep your eyes on Jesus. Not on yourself, not on how you're doing, not on what people expect you to do, be or have, not on decisions you or someone else makes you feel you must make, not on what you have to do tomorrow, not on what you did or didn't do yesterday, not on your feeling of loneliness, or your suspicion of “not doing all you can,” not on what you should or shouldn't be feeling, thinking or doing right now, not even on how much or how little time you're giving to good works, to pious exercise, to praying, to fellowshipping, to reading and studying the word of God.

Keep your eyes on Jesus. Go where He goes. (That's why I often end my letters and comments with, “Go with God, dear brother!”) That is, follow Him, watch His back, He's up there ahead, not far. Fit your feet into the prints of His feet. Run along behind Him. Keep your eyes on Him.

Do what He does. Does He read and study the Word? Well, yes, sort of, because He IS the Word. So don't think about studying the Word… study it! Well, when? What's wrong with right now? For how long? Keep your eyes on Jesus. What's He doing next? Oh, He's going off alone, He's going to stand before His Father… wait for me, Master, I'm coming! Take me with You! So don't stop and wonder, don't stop and ask yourself whether or not to pray. Just pray! If not now, when? Does your heart skip a beat now and then? Is it still beating? What's it for? Isn't it there at the core of your being, your inner metronome, for the music that is you, for your prayer? Don't think about Him and what you will say to Him, just say it! Talk to Him, now, while you're reading this! There is no time when He is not listening. Decisions flow out of the conversation that you won't remember making, because you made them Together.

Keep your eyes on Jesus. What did you say you miss? The days when mom and dad were always right? Did someone offer you again the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? Did some thief break in and steal some treasure you thought you had hidden away? Jesus knows that you are and will always be the child of His Father, that you are, as the Chinese say, “His heavenly younger brother.” Following behind Him, are you still carrying the burden of having to be right or wrong, or to make sure who else is? Following behind Jesus, learning of Him, have you found that His yoke is not easy, His burden not light? How can you miss carefree days in the sun, when you are following behind Him, when you keep your eyes on Him who has done, is doing, and will do everything for you? Running behind Him, can the days of knowing what to do be really over? Keep your eyes on Jesus.

Where He goes, you go. What He does, you do. Don't be overwhelmed, brother! Rather, rest in the knowledge that it is not what you know but Who you know that matters, not what you do but what He does in you that makes you worthy.

Go with God, brother! You have been bought and paid for with more than money.
Go, and do likewise.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Raven Girl's Baptism

These last few days between the commemoration of Holy Prophet Elijah (July 20th) and Holy Prophet Ezekiel (July 23rd) have been very intense for me, and the burning heat only added to the heightened sense of being “in the desert.” A fire wants to flare out, but only carefully do I open the door of my heart, just a crack, just enough to let a few sparks escape without burning me.

On Friday the 21st, I saw the film “Lady in the Water” with my friend Brock. On Saturday the 22nd, I learned, after the evening service, of the death of a young friend, by suicide, his body having been recovered earlier that day. He jumped off a bridge…

Today I came home to an empty house, and I decided I would try playing a videotape of the baptism of my wife's younger sister Cynthia Lou. I hadn't watched the video in at least a dozen years. You sometimes find with family videos, that you shoot them, watch them once, and then forget about them. In some way, that can be good, for when you see them again, the experience and wisdom of the intervening years can reveal much.

Cynthia Lou, “Cindy” to most of us, having grown up in northern Alberta, found a home, both physical and spiritual, in the little town of Milk River on the Alberta side of the border, opposite Montana, about 1990. Cindy was “adopted” by the townsfolk, by the ranchers nearby, and into the local Native tribe. She adopted the name “Raven”, which definitely had Indian connexions, but not from her association with the Milk River band. It was a name she mystically took as a young teenager when she still lived at home in Edmonton. She was adding it formally to her Christian name, now that she had decided to be baptised. It would henceforth become her “spiritual signature” in much the same way as mine is “Romanós”—it somehow defines who we are, at least until we receive the white stone from the hand of the Pantokrator (Revelation 2:17).

On the 26th of July, 1992, she was baptised in the Milk River, and a video was shot of the event. I wish I had the technology to share with you some stills from the videotape. The baptism was beautiful, if unconventional. Here are the details.

The Milk River is a little like the Sandy River here in Oregon, except that its waters are not death to the swimmer. It is a slow moving, mocha latté colored tributary of the Missouri River, and its valley is the northernmost extension of the Missouri basin into Canada. The baptism was held in the Milk River park, which is known for its weird rock formations and for the paintings left by ancient Native peoples. The Indian band that lives there adopted “Raven Girl” into their tribe, teaching her the native spirituality of communion with nature, while revering the Great Spirit. (They are also Christians.)

Raven's parents (my mother- and father-in-law), her local friends—townspeople, ranchers, Natives—and the couple who would baptise her, gathered in a circle around a blanket covered with “sacred” objects, most of them Native, but for a large Orthodox icon of the baptism of Jesus, which was a gift from Anastasía and myself. The icon was propped up against a box, and eagle feathers were placed to emerge from behind it, as a form of veneration (much as we place blessed branches behind our icons at home).

The proceedings were, to say the least, very informal. The couple who would be the “ministers” of the baptism was a Roman Catholic priest and his wife… yes, he was married, naturally suspended and disgraced, and was not dressed in any way indicative of his priestly status. Among other things that were said, he explained that he and his wife were the facilitators, they would take Raven by the arms on either side and get her dunked. He expected the people present, who would soon be standing on the river bank, to say the words, "We baptise you in the Name of the Father… (dunk!) …in the Name of the Son (dunk!) …in the Name of the Holy Spirit (dunk!). This is, in fact, how Raven was baptised by an out-of-grace Catholic priest, by threefold immersion, as we Orthodox baptise. (Our family is, in fact, Orthodox by ethnic origin, though only our immediate family, and some distant relatives, are church members.)

Back to the ceremony. After introducing everyone to each other, Cindy / Raven gave her testimony. She held up her first and only Bible, given to her nineteen years before by her sister and brother-in-law (Anastasía and me). She said that as a young teenager, reading the Bible, she fell in love with Jesus, and wanted to follow Him. Problem was, she did not go to church, and so as she entered the “danger years” of 17 to twenty-something, she fell away from the Lord, and turned her back on Him, following instead her friends, falling for men, alcohol and drugs. How long this lasted, she didn't say. But three years before her baptism, she met a man in Christ who set her straight, and back on the right course. She didn't say who, and at the time of her testimony she was still a single woman. But now that she was back with Jesus, nothing would turn her away ever again…

After her testimony there was some music, and Raven Girl did what she called “the dance of Joy”, starting with her mother, and going around the circle of now standing friends, and giving many of them a twirl. Then, it was time to get serious. About a dozen people read passages of the Bible that Raven picked out, as well as a few Native poems. Then the Catholic priest said it was time to go down to the river bank. People were asked to pick up the “sacred” objects that were lying on the blanket. A white woman picked up the large icon, carrying it on her arm like one might carry a large book, her other hand balancing a wine glass, all with the non-chalance of one who has no concept of “the Holy.”

Next, there was Raven getting into the river in her white dress. (She had taken off her floral crown—just like the Orthodox wedding crowns!) the priest and his wife took her by the arms and led her into deeper water. Then, the people cried out, "We baptise you in the Name of the Father!" and Cindy lay back into the river… but she floated! She's a swimmer, and forgot to keep her feet on the river bottom! That time her face did not go under, but she definitely was in the water. Then, "We baptise you in the Name of the Son!" and she sank backwards into the gentle brown current like a stone. Finally, "We baptise you in the Name of the Holy Spirit!" and down under she went again. When she came up, after a bit of swishing around, the three of them, dunkers and dunked, dove into the river and swam about thirty feet upstream before getting back on their feet and wading to shore, where Raven was first wrapped in a white sheet, and then covered in an Indian blanket.

Everyone climbed back up the trail to where they started. Somehow, the icon of the Baptism of Christ had changed hands. Now a Native teenager, an extraordinarily handsome youth of about 15 years, was carrying the icon, exactly as it should be carried—flat against his chest, cradled in his arms, with reverence. He was a precious young man.

At the end of the path from the river, a basin of water was set down. Raven was crouching at the basin, wrapped in her Indian blanket and wearing her floral crown again, and she washed the sand off the feet of the priest and his wife. Then, she stood up, and the priest washed the sand off her feet.

After everyone had assembled in a circle around the blanket, the priest took a glass bowl of oil and anointed Raven for what we Orthodox call “the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit,” only he used spontaneous, non-ritual words, blessing each body part as he anointed it. After Raven was anointed (chrismated?), she turned to the person next to her and anointed the forehead of that person who, afterwards, took the oil and turned to anoint the next person in the circle. So, the entire circle was anointed with the same holy oil, each brother or sister anointing the one next. When it came time for the icon-bearing youth to “pass the anointing” he handed the icon over to the Native teenager he was about to anoint. That boy also held the icon with a natural reverence against his chest while meekly getting a cross traced on his forehead in oil by his brother who, as we now could see, was wearing a grey T-shirt on which was boldly lettered "There's Only ONE!"

When the anointing came to the camera man, Raven took the camera, and the priest gave a full anointing to him, as he had done for Raven, and you could hear what words he used in his blessing. You could also see close up, the spiritual anointing that was overcoming the camera man.

There were of course lots more things that happened at the baptism, but this is what I can remember, as significant. Anastasía and I were not there, and so they made the movie for us. I am glad they did.

What can I say in closing? This event speaks for itself. I wish Raven could be visibly “Orthodox”, but of course, there is no church anywhere close, and she would have a hard time fitting in. She wasn't then, isn't now, and maybe never will be a “mainstream Christian”. But then again, I'm not either, and yet for me, there's no question of not being in church.

The Church is a mystery. Yes, the Orthodox Church is what it claims to be. If you want to know what that is, check out any of the links in the side panel of my blog. But still, the Church is a mystery. I confess the Symbol of Nicæa, "Pistévo eis éna Theón…" and I still know that when Raven was baptised, “the Church was there.” When I sit down and literally break bread with my brother in Christ, just the two of us, I know we are Three at that table, for "Christ is in our midst”—and that is the literal truth, because He is the Truth—and that “we are the Church,” as we sit together at the lunch counter at Fred Meyer on our lunch break. What can be added to that? Christ is in our midst! He is, and always shall be! “Ho Ón kai ‘o Ín kai ‘o Erchómenos, ‘o Pantokrátor!” (Revelation/Apokálypsis 1:8 — “He is, He was, He is to come, the Almighty!”)

I greet you, my dear sister in Christ, Cynthía Raven, on completing your fourteenth year with Jesus. God grant you many years, dear sister!

Saturday, July 22, 2006

"A Big Fat Greek Wedding"? Not!

I just returned from an early (10:30 a.m.) wedding and reception (11:00 a.m. and still going on) at a "wedding gardens" sort of place in Oregon City. It is going to be 101° F today. It's muggy and overcast, and there were a very few droplets of rain during the "service," and the temperature was still probably in the upper 80's. This is the weather I fled from when coming out here from the Midwest. Thank God, it is an Oregon experience only rarely…like today!

The second son of my Greek nouná (godmother) got married to a nice American girl. There were a lot of people at the wedding, which was held in the open air, in a garden, using a large gazebo as the backdrop. There were a lot of people there. Many I expected to see, who are part of the paréa (family and extended family, such as koumbári—godbrothers) of my nouná, were curiously absent. My wife and I sat next to Deacon David and Diakonissa Barbara, surrounded by mostly strangers, even though we sat "on the groom's side." I think I knew why we saw so few other Greeks there.

An Orthodox Christian cannot marry a non-Christian, which is a person who has not been baptised in the name of the Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), so that leaves out a few religious groups that call themselves Christian, as well as Jews, Muslims, and pagans (non-monotheists, atheists). If an Orthodox marries a non-Orthodox, however, a church blessing (the Orthodox wedding service) is not only allowed but encouraged, without the slightest pressure to convert. (In the film My Big Fat Greek Wedding it has to be assumed that the groom was a "pagan" and therefore had to be baptised, otherwise marriage would have been out of the question.) This is my take on the above "tradition"—Conversion for the sake of marriage without true inner conviction, or baptism performed on an adult in the same fashion, is dishonest and, though convenient, is just "asking for trouble."

This was apparently not the case here. The bride is apparently a Christian, though not Orthodox. They could have had a church wedding. They chose not to. I'm sure they had reasons. Though his mother, my nouná, probably attends services as much as she is able, her son, the groom, does not. Because of this, the son is simply not in "bodily fellowship" with the community. Why get married in a church if you don't "go" there? Many people do, and I reckon it is commendable honesty that made the groom and his bride decide against a "church" wedding. But why among the guests so few of the Orthodox extended family?

Early on, the word began to circulate that a member of Holy Trinity, one who is in "good standing" and a choir member, was going to "officiate" at this wedding. Well, you might ask, why not one of the priests? Couldn't a priest perform an Orthodox wedding service on the "neutral" ground of a wedding garden? Uh, well, no, not exactly. Maybe weddings have been conducted in other places than the church building under certain circumstances, I don't know. But the normative answer is, No. An Orthodox wedding service must be performed inside the temple, because the prayers and ceremonies require the presence of worship "things"—relative locations in the temple itself, liturgical furniture, icons, etc., as significant reminders of what is really going on—the Mystery of Marriage.

Anyway, an Orthodox layperson who happened to have a license to perform marriages from the State of Oregon (why or how he has this, I don't know) performed the service. So, what's wrong with that? I suppose, nothing, as long as he did not imitate the liturgical actions and words of a presbyter. Outside Orthodoxy, a young couple can "write" their own service. This is, apparently, what they did… only they "borrowed" words and ceremonial from the Orthodox service books:

The rings were "blessed" and called a "betrothal." Stéphana (wedding crowns joined with a ribbon) were also "blessed" and switched back and forth over their heads by the groom's brother as his koumbáro (in this case, "best man"). The ceremony was called the "sacrament" of marriage by the officiating layperson. Vows similar to those at Protestant and Catholic weddings were spoken. At the conclusion of the very short ceremony, the "minister" blessed the newly "married" couple with the sign of the Cross, "in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit," finishing up the liturgical gesture with a bold "thumbs up" at the end.

During the proceedings, I did not see a single Orthodox make the sign of the cross or hear anyone say "Amen" to anything said during the ceremony. There was a strange feeling of incongruity, perhaps enhanced by the chuckling and occasional interjection of spontaneous smart remarks by the participants. Could this be why some of the paréa didn't show up? I can only wonder.

The reception was a brunch-like affair, with a great disk jockey as master of ceremonies. He really made people dance, even though it was only about noon. I liked him instinctively. Something made me see him as a flash of clarity, somehow, amidst all the warm fuzzy-ness that surrounded us. And then, the time came for proposing toasts…

The last wedding I attended, an Orthodox church wedding between two converts from strong evangelical backgrounds (Lutheran and Assembly of God), when it came to the toasts at their wedding supper, I could have cried (I think I did), they were so full of abundant blessings, containing words from the Bible drawn from the speakers' hearts. They were toasts indeed!

At today's wedding, it seemed as though the toastmasters' tongues had been paralysed by some force of dysfocus. Young people nowadays seem not to know what a toast even is. When the "officiant" was called on to propose a toast, his too was brief and contentless. But wait… Of all people, the disk jockey stepped up to the mic, and the toast that thundered from his lips, ah… it started out quiet-like and then gained momentum as Someone grew greater and he grew less. This is the gist of his toast…

"Have you ever noticed, how God does things in threes? I mean, not one or two, but three seems to be the rule when He puts things together. So, you think He put these two together, but… No, not just the two of you, "Mister" and "Missus". You're really part of three… it's a triangle pointing Up, the two of you are the two corners at the base, and He is the top corner, of the triangle. And He wants you two together, with Him, just the three of you… Not the two of you, and the in-laws. Not the two of you, and the kids that will be coming. Not the two of you, and the "world out there." Yeah, especially not that! You've gotta keep the triangle intact, let nothing invade it. Nothing! And now I propose a toast to the bride and groom and to Him!"

This was the first time in the morning's proceedings that I said out loud and boldly, "Ameen! Ameen!" as I raised my glass of orange juice mixed with champagne. It was only at that moment that I really felt, the Lord Jesus had been invited to this wedding feast.

And He changed the water into wine.

"People generally serve the best wine first… but you have kept the best wine till now."
(John 2:10 Jerusalem Bible)

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Back to the Word of God

My original title for this post was More ramblings of a God-hunted man, but as the title should indicate what the topic is, I've changed it. So if you read it under its old title, don't bother reading it again… Go read your Bible instead!

This evening I had to choose between a bike ride and reading my Greek New Testament. Since I read the Greek NT out loud, and because I can't ride my bike and read at the same time, well, I chose the bible reading—with a difference—I took my Greek NT and went for a long walk up Mount Tabor.

I've been reading Revelation, ‘Í Apokálypsis tou Yisoú Christoú,’ out loud for the past three evenings. First evening, I sat on my front patio at night, and I got as far as half-way through chapter 11 (The Two Witnesses), and then my brain just crashed. Not bad for a first try. (I'd never attempted to read a NT book in Greek cover to cover, out loud.)

Second evening, I read just a little bit, up through the letters to the seven churches. Then I grabbed chapters 21 and 22, and read till the end. Not very ambitious.

Tonight, starting at about 8:15, I took up my copy of ‘Í Aghía Grafí’ the Holy Scriptures, started walking up Taylor Court towards the entrance to the park, and started reading right then and there, at chapter 1 verse 1 of Revelation. It was all uphill physically, but the Greek is starting to just roll off my tongue, and the best part, I understand most of what I am reading, without translating.

When I got up to the second reservoir, I found out that the paved roads of mountain were being used as a race course for bicycles, so instead of walking any further, I continued reading, standing off the road overlooking the sunset over the city below. Then I sat on the steps of the pump house and read there, out loud, till my legs started falling asleep. I finished the reading up through chapter 15 about 9:45, standing against a lamp post, and then I walked home.

Each time I read, I get more fluent and I understand more and more. Tonight I had one passer-by ask me what I was reading, and in what language. The door was not open for overt witnessing, however, but at least the man knew what I was doing.

The more time I spend with the Word of God, in plain English and even in Greek, the more I am convinced of the truth that “the anointing He gave teaches you everything” (1 John 2:27 JB). I am not dismissing the tradition of the Church as contained in the holy fathers, the seven councils, and so on. Where would we be without them? But once a person has given his or her life to the Lord Jesus Christ and accepted Him as Lord and Master, everything falls into place, if the Word of God is read, studied, believed and put into practice. Even if one didn't start out by going to church, by the time one got to the verse that says, “don't stay away from the assemblies of the believers, especially as you see the Day drawing near”, it would be obvious, “hey! wait a minute! shouldn't I be going to church, or something?” This may sound simplistic, and naive, but sorry, it is not. And this is how the Lord leads us, if we are faithful and want to be saved, really want to follow His call. There is no conflict with the church, not even with the ‘institutional’ church—that is, if you follow the call of Christ first, and then join a church. I don't believe in ‘christianizing’ someone, proselytizing them, making them a ‘church member’ first, and then hoping they'll hear the call—they might, but sometimes they don't.

Back to the Word of God… I have gotten disillusioned reading some of the blogs of fellow Xtians out there. They really do seem to enjoy spouting off about how passionate they are and all, that they don't know how to live a Christian life with passion and the feeling of fulfillment, and so on. As long as their Christian life consists of appliqués, they're stuck with an unreal version of Christianity.
What does it mean to know the Lord Jesus Christ, to be known by Him, and to accept the life of salvation, His free gift to us?
One answer is,
‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy strength, and with all thy mind, and thy neighbor as thyself.’
Another answer is, ‘Seek first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness.’
And yet another, ‘Anyone who saves his life will lose it, and anyone who loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it unto life eternal.’
I'm quoting all these from memory, and I am not going to impress anyone with citing book, chapter and verse. If you want to know, use Bible Gateway, the link is in my blog's side panel.

Back to the Word of God… We don't read the bible at the end of the day to relax, or when we feel like it, or when it is convenient. We read the Word of God, we study it, we feed on it, we sleep on it, we wake with it on our lips, we model our thoughts and speech on it, we let it form us because we don't have a ‘time to read the bible’, but we have the Word of God with us always. It never leaves our hand, heart or head.
How is this possible?

Do we carry the book around with us all the time?
Well, yes, almost all the time. But because we don't have the book with us physically all the time, from the times when it is with us, when we are reading and studying it, we have it, because we have internalized it, not perfectly, but essentially:
“The Word is very near to you. It is in your mouth and in your heart for your observance.” (Deuteronomy 30:14 Jerusalem Bible)
We cannot complain that the Word is incomprehensible or hard to understand or apply, because by our constant self-exposure to the Word of God, alone and with our co-disciples, we are taught everything by the Holy Spirit. It is when people read the bible as another book, when they consider the Word of God some ‘thing’ outside themselves, outside their intimate private lives, instead of the inevitable core of their being, that's when they complain of not understanding, of needing human teachers, of seminars and programs. Stop! I am not saying that we can't learn from others, but the best bible teaching comes from the close fellowship between two or three disciples who know, trust and love each other, and who exalt the Word of God, Jesus Christ, who is among them.

Back to the Word of God… We will never stop learning when we read and read again the Word of God, yes, the Holy Scriptures, the Old and New Testaments. Like my son Jacob hinted, “I think I will be learning Greek for the rest of my life!” That's how he announced, tacitly, that he wanted to put a life of service to God and God's people first. This life is not just for the ordained clergy, for pastors, priests and presbyters. This is primarily for us, the ‘laós toú Theoú’ the people of God. If you want a life in Christ, not just talk about wanting it, then you've got to…

“…make My Word your home. [Then] you will indeed be My disciples.”
(John 8:31)

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

With or Without Reason

The Call, Reconciled

How you gonna tell your story

Are you gonna tell it true
Either with or without reason
Love has paid the price for you
How you gonna cure this feeling
How you gonna right this wrong
Either with or without reason
the weaker do protect the strong
Listen in your hour of comfort
Listen in your hour of pain
Either in or out of season
the hunters still pursue the game
Oh, there's somebody waiting
Oh, there's somebody near
Oh, there's somebody waiting
Oh, there's somebody here
Now lately I've begun to wonder
just who is talking when you speak
Either with or without reason
the stronger still pursue the weak
The wisest of the fools can tell you
anything you want to hear
Either with or without reason
these are truths you hold so dear
Oh, there's somebody waiting
Oh, there's somebody near
Oh, there's somebody waiting
Oh, there's somebody here
I dedicate this inner chamber
I dedicate this harvest toil
Either with or without reason
the language of the heart takes hold
Now don't you see that Love offends us
when it rises up against this waste
Either with or without reason
evidence of sin and grace
Oh, there's somebody waiting
Oh, there's somebody near
Oh, there's somebody waiting
Oh, there's somebody here

Saturday, July 8, 2006

Converts, Retreads and Reverts

You may have noticed, lately I would rather refer my readers to others who have more and better things to say than I have, and here I go again. This one is aimed at my Orthodox readers, but perhaps others may find it interesting, intriguing, or just plain fun to read (as I do). There's an Orthodox priest out there who has a blog called "Ortho-Dixie" and it's about Southern Orthodoxy. I am really impressed as I look at it, and without ever meeting him, I can tell that Fr Joseph Huneycutt is a specially gifted priest and a very witty and lovable guy! I intend to get a copy of his book, One Flew Over the Onion Dome. The blog post I am going to direct you to with the following link has the title that I'm giving to my post. Here it is:

This really tickled my funny bone, Orthodox muzhik that I am, but maybe it will be worth reading for others. From the way it's presented, I think it's an excerpt from Fr Joseph's book.

Just bringing this worthy blog to your attention. Axios! Axios! Axios, Fr Joseph!

Asking questions…

I've always enjoyed reading Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, and despite the controversy which the book has always aroused, I am unashamed to read it and make no apologies. One part of the poem Song of Myself, starting with the line, "Trippers and askers surround me…" has always struck a chord with me. I don't pretend to know what Walt meant, but somehow what I read into it connects with what St Basil wrote about the kinds of questions people pose.

I just read an excellent post on the blog of a new-found friend, Symeon, and, as I often do with other people's blog posts that I find helpful, I want to quote part of it, and then direct you to the whole article. You'll find a link to it after the quote below.

In the ancient work, On the Holy Spirit, written in the fourth century, St. Basil the Great addresses Amphilochios, who St. Basil compliments for his "love of learning and diligence in study"—
But what I admire most about you is that your questions reflect a sincere desire to discover the truth, not like many these days who ask questions only to test others. There is certainly no lack nowadays of people who delight in asking endless questions just to have something to babble about, but it is difficult to find someone who loves truth in his soul, who seeks the truth as medicine for his ignorance. Just as the hunter hides his traps, or an ambush of soldiers camouflages itself, so these questioners spew forth elaborately constructed inquiries, not really hoping to learn anything useful from them, because unless you agree with them and give them the answer they want, they imagine that they are fully entitled to stir up a raging controversy.

Read the whole article at:

Grandma & Grandpa 'Superman' on the Road

Altho my stated aim is not to entertain but to communicate, perhaps with this short story, I will succeed in doing both.

This morning, I was just getting myself together for our Saturday sortie with the Word of God, and I went into our living room where Anastasía was apparently talking to someone in the room, a guest, it sounded like. There I saw a tall elderly woman with a slight stoop being handed the telephone directory by my wife, and it looked like she was a passer-by who, maybe, needed to use a phone. I thought nothing of it, and went back to my office to clean up the mess on my desk, and vacuum the floor.

A moment later, Anastasía found me and, with a "Honey, do" look on her face, explained that there was a stranded elderly couple that we needed to help. They were just dumped off by a taxi cab with all their luggage on the doorstep of the Seventh Day Adventist church across the street. They were on a trip, and their train connexion wasn't till 4 p.m. Since it was only 8:30 a.m., they had some time to kill, and so they found the closest SDA church to the train station, and had a cab bring them over, so they could attend Sabbath services. Well, that seemed reasonable and easy…

But the church was locked, and no sign of life… except for a sign on the door that said, "Services at the SDA campground in Gladstone today". Anastasía was out doing some chores and noticed the couple standing with all their luggage in the warm morning sunlight, hanging on to a railing. Her natural sympathies were aroused and she called out (across the street), "Are you okay? Do you need any help?" The answer was too inaudible, so Anastasía crossed 60th and talked to them, learning of their predicament.

It was about 9:00 by the time we rounded up Leo and Leona Reeves, an elderly (70-ish) farm couple from a 250 acre farm in "Idaho, just across the river from Ontario, Oregon." They had quite a bit of gear… you could tell they'd been 'on the road' for a while. We tossed everything into the hatchback of the van, and I helped Leona into one back seat, and Leo (through the other side sliding door) into the other, and off we went. (Luckily the campground was on a straight south trajectory from my house, just 11 miles down I-205.)

Leo and Leona Reeves (they chuckled when I called them "the lion and lioness") had saved for a very long time for this trip. You could tell it was their "trip of a life time." Their little farm was "growin' nothin' but hay right now," but they used to raise potatoes, sugar beets, and all sorts of vegetables, and wheat. One of their 'boys' was minding the farm while they are away. They used to have a small dairy herd, but years ago, when the government started homogenizing the dairy farmers, they got out of it, because they didn't want to change their ways. We talked awhile, sharing mutual reminiscences of our lives "on the farm" with them.

As we cruised down the highway to their destination, Leona and Leo told us about their trip.

Starting from their farm, they drove to Pasco, Washington, where they hopped a train, first destination being Maine, where the Reeves family was having a reunion ("only about 40 of us left, now"). Was the family from there? "No, but we all just decided to have the reunion in a place we hadn't been before." So they traveled by train across the northern tier of states… Idaho, Montana, one of the Dakotas, Minnesota, Wisconsin, down to Chicago, around the corner and straight to Maine.

After the reunion, they rented a car and took it across the waters by ferry to Nova Scotia and, from there, crossed the new bridge to Prince Edward Island ("at 40 bucks per car" one way). Then, they got back to the mainland and hopped another train bound for British Columbia! Hmm, considering where they'd been thus far, I began to admire how few pieces of luggage they were toting. Here, I expected the journey to end, with them returning to their farm in Idaho. I had underestimated them. "After visiting some friends in B.C., we decided to go to Florida. The girl at the ticket counter asked me, what town? I said (this is Leona talking), I don't know anything about Florida. Can you pick us a nice destination?"

At this point I asked, "How did you get to Florida from B.C.? Did you fly?" Leona replied, "Oh no, we took the train!" Leo added, "We bought the 30-day rail pass." So Grandma and Grandpa 'Superman', whom I was beginning to suspect were related either to George Reeves (the Superman of my youth) or to Christopher Reeve (the later Superman), had a nice stay in Florida, and then headed back north to New York. There, the trip hit an obstacle. The severe flooding in the Northeast had put some of the train bridges out of service, so they had to take an 8½ hour bus ride to Niagara Falls. At this point in my narrative, I am beginning to get dizzy… Where did Leo and Leona go next? Hmm, I'm trying to remember…

I know what happened! We arrived at the SDA campground, and the conversation turned once more to the matters at hand—getting them safely connected to the brethren. I don't think we ever heard the rest of their pilgrimage. Somehow, they trained it back to Portland, anyway. (I think I remember some mention of California, but I'm not sure.) I parked the van next to some people hanging around in the campground, and Anastasía and Leona got out to find out what was happening, and to make sure someone could return them to the train station by 4:00. When they returned, I helped them unload their luggage, Anastasía gave Leona about 3 pounds of ripe Bing cherries (from our tree) in a large bag, Leona gave Anastasía a "thank you" hug, Leo and I shook hands, and the Reeves joined their new friends, as we drove off, waving them farewell.

As we returned home, I commented, "Weren't they a young-spirited couple? Just like many of the elders at Holy Trinity." We agreed that we just had the privilege of meeting two more saints of God, "yielding their fruit in season, their leaves never fading" (Psalm 1:3).

Glory to God!

Friday, July 7, 2006

On the Road to Find Out

The following is actually a comment I left on the blog of a young musician who wrote that he was dissatisfied with his Christian life. As Cat Stevens wrote in his song Father and Son, "You're still young, that's your fault…," I want to tell this brother that part of the problem is "being green," but there's more to it than that, and if he really wants to follow Christ, he is going to be "on the road to find out," which is another Cat Stevens song, that ends with this verse, sung three times:
"The answer lies within,
so why not take a look now?
Kick out the devil's sin, pick up,
pick up the Good Book now!"

What's the ratio between the time you spend on studying the Word of God (to increase understanding and put it into practice), personal prayer (talking to God, and listening to Him, one on one), real fellowship (not just visiting), on the one hand; and all your other activities on the other (including sleep)?

I'm usually not an advocate of measuring, because I feel that when you are serving the Lord, no need to count and measure, especially your progress, because if it's good it tempts you to pride, if it's poor, it tempts you to despair. But just this one time, sort of like sticking a thermometer under your tongue. What's your spiritual temperature?

I know you're a talented person and you give generously of your time to your church. You must get some satisfaction from this. I know that you must spend a lot of your time practicing your music and/or just being involved in activity that keeps you current and on top of what you're doing with your talents. Still, nothing, but nothing, can take precedence over the three activities I listed at the beginning of my comment, not even ministry to others.

We are living at the close of the Church Age. In fact, the Church Age really is over, but the churches haven't figured it out yet. They're too busy talking about the latest mission strategy, fashioning more and more customized nets for those fussy fish out there, thinking up new baits for the old "bait and switch" game. Sorry, folks, you're like Peter and those disciples who gave up what the Lord had called them to do and went back to fishing for fish instead of for men (see John 21:1-11). They "worked" all night, yet they caught nothing. But Jesus, the Resurrection and the Life, spoke to them from the shore, asking, "Have you caught anything, friends?" When they admitted they hadn't, He gave them a command, "Throw the net out to starboard and you'll find something." When they did what Jesus commanded, the net became so full of fish, they couldn't haul it in.

Don't you see? When we have let ourselves, who are Spirit-born, anointed messengers of the Word of Life, ambassadors of infinite Glory to "a people that walk in darkness" (Isaiah 9:1), when we have let ourselves become imbued with "life as usual" and, without realizing it, let comfort and contentment with the world (no matter how guilty we make ourselves feel about it) take the front seat of our lives, we walk out of the will of the Most-High God, and "to walk out of His will is to walk into nowhere" (C.S. Lewis, Perelandra). Have I lost you with this run-on sentence?

James "the brother of God" wrote, "Don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God?" (James 4:4 NIV) When you study the Word of God, you have to believe what it says, even if it doesn't seem to make sense, even if it doesn't line up with what's going on in your church. Even this single verse from James puts many, if not most, churches to shame. If you rely on church protocol as a standard for faith, hope and love, you're lost!

Church is no longer there for us, to challenge us, to launch us into the place where faith is possible. Faith, not intellectual assent. Faith, not familiarity. Faith, not obedience to programs (the modern equivalent of "man-made traditions"). Faith, not carefully circumscribed acts of do-good-ness. Faith, not entertainment. Faith, not social or religious conformity. Faith, not labyrinths, seminars, pilgrimages, conferences, "Bible" cruises, liturgical dancing, acculturation.

Why do you say, "I hope similarly to one day be able to live a resurrection life…"?
Why not now? Is Jesus the Resurrection and the Life now, or in some indefinite future?
Do you really think that patterning your life after the ones you wish to mimic is going to bestow on you "resurrection life"?
What does mimicking have to do with anything?

We look to the saints for encouragement, but it is Only Christ that we are to follow. To follow the call of Jesus Christ sets us free from all man-made ideas of perfection, of perfect life (or whatever you want to label it).

Look only to Jesus, "the author and finisher of our faith" (Hebrews 12:2) and, keeping your eyes on Him alone, not on your friends, not on your church, not on your music, not on your mental or emotional state, not on the road ahead which seems too difficult, too lonely, too boring, or too long, enter into that joy, that rest, that peace, that glory, that resurrection, that faith which can move mountains, that wisdom and that God-given worthiness ("well done, My good and faithful servent"), none of which we can ever enter into or give ourselves by any work we do.

Back to basics. Did you compare the proportion of God's works versus YOUR works that I outlined at the beginning of this comment? The score, right now, doesn't really matter. What matters is this:
"…seek first His kingdom and His righteousness…"
(Matthew 6:33 NIV).

You can never get enough of God, of Christ, of the Word of God, of dialog with the Father in the Son's name, of fellowship in the Holy Spirit and in Truth, which is the kind of worship that the Father wants, not what is performed on "this mountain nor in Jerusalem" (John 4:21). Do not limit what the Father wants to give you. Don't ask Jesus to "leave the neighborhood" before He drives another herd of demon-jockeyed pigs into a lake, and makes you sit down in His presence, fully clothed and in your right mind (see Mark 5:1-20). There is nothing that you can want in Christ which the Father is not ready and willing to give you. You just have to ask.

As Morpheus said to Neo in 'The Matrix',
"Don't TRY to hit me, HIT me!"

As C.S. Lewis wrote in 'The Magician's Nephew',
"The trouble about trying to make yourself stupider than you really are is that you very often succeed."

Though you cannot make yourself into a disciple of Jesus by your own efforts, that is what you will become if you keep your eyes on Him, always set your heart on the things above, on His Kingdom and His righteousness (not on your own, mind you), determine never to settle for less than what is promised in the Word of God, nor to seek human approval, but only God's, to seek His commandments, and to love the brethren with a ready will.

"…lives out of the norm… where miracles happen, where there is awesome community, where hearts are open for all to see… lives that are different because of Christ." Brother, your own words invite you into the Kingdom. Study your Bible. Pray. Seek fellowship in Spirit and Truth.

"Up to the time of John [the Baptist] it was the Law and the Prophets; since then, the Kingdom of God has been preached, and by violence everyone is getting in."
(Luke 16:16 Jerusalem Bible)