Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Work

This post is not connected to the previous one, in spite of the word "work" in both, and no comparison is intended. The following are merely excerpts from Dietrich Bonhoeffer's book, The Cost of Discipleship, which I happened to be reading this evening. You all must know that this book has been pivotal in my life, second only to the Bible itself. Hence, the name of my blog.

All the activity of the disciples is subject to the clear precept of their Lord. They are not left free to choose their own methods or adopt their own conception of their task. Their work is to be Christ-work, and therefore they are absolutely dependent on the will of Jesus. Happy are they whose duty is fixed by such a precept, and who are therefore free from the tyranny of their own ideas and calculations.

The choice of field for their labours does not depend on their own impulses or inclinations, but on where they are sent. This makes it quite clear that it is not their own work they are doing, but God's.

The love of Jesus is something very different from our own zeal and enthusiasms because it adheres to its mission. What is the urge that drives us to proclaim the saving truths of the gospel? It is not just love for our fellow-countrymen or for the heathen in foreign lands: it is the Lord's commission as He delivered it in His missionary charge. It is only that commission which can show us the place where the promise lies.

The proclamation and activity of the messengers are identical with that of Christ Himself. To them has been granted a portion of His power. They are charged to proclaim the advent of the Kingdom of Heaven, and to confirm their message by performing signs. They must heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead and drive out devils. The message becomes an event, and the event confirms the message.

Since the authorization and equipment of the messengers is absolutely dependent on the word of Jesus, it is essential that nothing should obscure their royal mission or make it incredible. The messengers are to deliver their testimony to the riches of their Lord in royal poverty. The gifts they have received are no personal possessions which they could trade for other goods.

'Freely ye have received' (Matthew 10:8).
To be a messenger of Jesus confers no personal privileges, no title to power or renown. This is true, even where the free messengers of Jesus have turned into a regular ministry in the Church. The rights of a university education and social standing mean nothing to those who have become messengers of Jesus. 'Freely ye have received.' Or was there something else in addition to the call of Jesus which drew us into His service without any merit of our own?

'Freely give,' He says, moreover: 'Show men that you have plenty of riches to give away, but desire nothing for yourselves, neither possessions, nor admiration, nor regard, and least of all, their gratitude.' Whence could you have any claim on it?

The poverty of Christ's messengers is the proof of their freedom.

The above comes from The Cost of Discipleship, Book 3, The Messengers, Chapter 23, The Work. These words written by a modern evangelical Church father are foundational in their importance, yet the modern Church doesn't hear them or want to hear them. Both the Bible, the Word of God, and the "other books" from ancient to modern Church fathers as well as the plethora of egocentric Christomaniac publications, all are there to serve us, to give us something to inspire us, whet our appetites, mull over and discuss till they are falling apart in our brains, but never to act upon, never to let them convict us and drive us to repentance, to pity, to authentic following of Jesus, to serving the brethren, to fulfilling the 'great commission.'

What is the matter, visible Church? Are you deaf, blind, crippled? You're obviously not dumb, since you do practically nothing but blab. But for me, it's not enough to sit around in a religious kaffeeklatsch and let a deacon smitten with the glory of a descendant of the Paleologi dynasty possibly joining his church tickle my brain.

I just now thought of this verse, opened my Jerusalem Bible randomly to Psalms to find it, and the Book opened to the exact page!

Yahweh Sabaoth, bring us back,
let Your face smile on us and we shall be safe.
Psalm 80:19

Yes, Lord, bring us back, take us to You.
Come, Lord Jesus.

The work of Muhammad

I found this essay on the internet, but I couldn't discover its author, other than that it appeared on a Lutheran publication. It seems to me to be a good analysis of the difference between (authentic) Christianity and Islam.

The work of Muhammad is based on being honored and the work of Christ is based on being insulted. This produces two very different reactions to mockery. If Christ had not been insulted, there would be no salvation: This was His saving work: to be insulted and die to rescue sinners.

Already in the Psalms the path of mockery was promised. "All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads". (Psalm, 22:7). "He was despised and rejected by men ... as one from whom men hide their faces . . . and we esteemed him not" (Isaiah 53:3). When it actually happened it was worse than expected. "They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head.... And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, 'Hail, King of the Jews!' And they spit on him" (Matthew 27:28-30). His response to all this was patient endurance. This was the work He came to do. "Like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth" (Isaiah 53:7).

This was not true of Muhammad, and Muslims do not believe it is true of Jesus. Most Muslims have been taught that Jesus was not crucified. One Sunni Muslim writes, "Muslims believe that Allah saved the Messiah from the ignominy of crucifixion." Another adds, "We honor [Jesus] more than you [Christians] do...We refuse to believe that God would permit him to suffer death on the cross." An essential Muslim impulse is to avoid the "ignominy" of the cross. That's the most basic difference between Christ and Muhammad and between a Muslim and a follower of Christ.

For Christ, enduring the mockery of the cross was the essence of His mission. And for a true follower of Christ enduring suffering patiently for the glory of Christ is the essence of obedience. "Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account" (Matthew 5:11).

During His life on earth Jesus was called a bastard (John 8:41), a drunkard (Matthew 11:19), a blasphemer (Matthew 26:65), a devil (Matthew 10:25); and He promised His followers the same: "If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they malign those of his household" (Matthew 10:25).

The caricature and mockery of Christ has continued to this day. Martin Scorsese portrayed Jesus in The Last Temptation of Christ as wracked with doubt and beset with sexual lust. Andres Serrano was funded by the National Endowment for the Arts to portray Jesus on a cross sunk in a bottle of urine. The Da Vinci Code portrays Jesus as a mere mortal who married and fathered children. How should His followers respond?

On the one hand, we are grieved and angered: On the other hand, we identify with Christ, and embrace His suffering, and rejoice in our afflictions, and say with the apostle Paul that vengeance belongs to the Lord, let us love our enemies and win them with the gospel. If Christ did His work by being insulted we must do ours likewise.

Jesus Christ is still the only hope of reconciliation. And it means that His followers must be willing to "share His sufferings, becoming like Him in his death" (Philippians 3:10).

If you won't believe, don't speak

Zechariah asked the angel, "How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years." The angel answered, "I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time."
Luke 1:18-20 (NIV) Read the whole story here: Luke 1:1-25, 57-80

Today the Orthodox Church commemorates the birth of the honorable prophet and forerunner, holy John the Baptizer, and the gospel text appointed was the one cited above.

Last week on Sunday I heard an Orthodox priest say two things in a sermon that astonished me. "If you see evil in the world around you, it's because of the evil inside yourself, that you're projecting into it." This was somehow supported by citing the text, "The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!" Matthew 6:22-23 (NIV) The same priest also said, "Evil cannot be defeated. Even God cannot defeat evil. Evil can only be transformed." This saying was not supported by citing any scripture text. It was merely stated matter-of-factly, as a self-evident truth, and it was part of the drift of where this sermon was going. This second saying could possibly make sense only if one redefined the word "evil" in terms different than scriptural and Orthodox understanding. But in that case, it is no longer Christian truth, nor would it have a place in a sermon delivered to the faithful in sýnaxis (assembly). It would only be philosophy. I prayed during the sermon, and especially hard after hearing these words, but I couldn't keep myself from uttering anáthema! after each of them. So much for last Sunday.

Today, as I worshipped and prayed during the divine liturgy, the Lord put this meditation in my heart. How is it that Christians say they believe in Christ and the bible and the teachings of the church fathers and mothers, how is it that they flock to church, sometimes packing it to the doors, and yet… this one hates and despises her husband even though he has remained faithful to her, that one disowns a son because he hasn't fulfilled his ambitions for him, another hates his father because he is willing to tolerate and wait for sinners rather than punish or abandon them? All the while these "believers" are praying loudly in the service, or piously pushing church bulletins into the hands of arriving worshippers, or singing in the church choir. This mystery occupied me for a few moments while I was listening to today's epistle and gospel being read. I was listening to the scriptures, but in the part of my mind that wordlessly watches, this meditation was in my sights.

The epistle reading was
Romans 13:11-14:4, the theme summarised thus: "…let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light." The gospel reading was the one for the birth of John the Baptist, quoted above. What this turned into at sermon time again astonished me, not for any "radical" pronouncements spoken as last Sunday, but for the blind irony of it—it was a talk on "silence" in the sense of "not speaking", based on what happened to Zechariah, and yet it was excessively wordy, long and convoluted, citing not scripture but quoting from the modern Roman Catholic author Father Henri Nouwen, "Somewhere we know that without silence words lose their meaning, that without listening speaking no longer heals, that without distance closeness cannot cure." The priest who delivered last week's sermon in some ways outdid himself today. Using Nouwen's quote as the basis for his talk, he recommended to us that we should try to be quiet sometimes, to make a room for silence in our lives, so that our words can heal. I suppose "quietism" is a good thing, but somehow I don't think that it's something you can or should talk about for 20 minutes to a captive audience. Just do it, and maybe your "healing words" will have an effect on us!

I wonder what happened to this convert priest that made him so eloquent? So much for the service and the sermon today, and my meditation.

In the fellowship hall was an older woman and her two grand-daughters who are going through a lot of family problems right now. My wife has been ministering to her for many months, befriending her and helping her materially and by asking the Church for food vouchers when needed to give her (because she is too ashamed to ask for them herself). Today was one of those times when they had no food in the pantry at all. After hearing this, Anastasia went off to look for the priest who preached today and last Sunday, because her usual "helper" Fr. Jerry was away on vacation. I saw my wife and the pastor walking together and talking as he moved towards a conference room where a meeting was about to take place. Then, he excused himself, went into the meeting room (it's walled in glass, so we can see into it), and pulled out a file folder and started speaking to the meeting while he fumbled with some papers. Anastasia rejoined us at the table where we sat with our "little family."

"Father N. says he doesn't have the combination to the church safe and he's made it a point NOT to have it. He says, could you stop by during the week when the church office regular staff is there?"

Well, that was bad news! So, after making some arrangements with the yiayiá (grandma) to make sure she could come tomorrow for some help, Anastasia just gave her whatever cash she had in her purse, so they could buy some groceries, today. Then, with our oldest son Jacob, who was with us at table, we left.

On the way home, we talked about the sermon.

Jacob, who is very well versed in the scriptures and a seminary graduate, commented: "The whole point of the gospel reading is that if you won't believe what the angel says, then you don't speak. The scripture passage could have been explained, using the testimony of the bible itself and the church fathers in less than five minutes."

Thank you, Jacob! May the Lord send you into His vineyard soon. I can't wait to hear a real Orthodox sermon again!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Waiting for a judge…

…to show up. That’s what these times are like, as Jacob, my oldest son, remarked to me last Sunday after services, while we stood alone in a crowded fellowship hall, coffee cups in hand. We’re like the people of Israel in the biblical book of Judges. We don’t move on the Lord’s command, we just go about our business, being oppressed and pillaged by our enemies, the devil, the flesh and the world, while waiting for a judge to show up, but they rarely do. Instead we have shepherds that are afraid of their sheep who not only don’t go after the lost, but isolate themselves from the sheep who do! The saying of Jesus contrasting the shepherd and the hired man is very true of these times.

"But a hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them."
John 10:12 (NKJV)

After reading yet another long, dreary blog post of a local pastor who is on his way back to earth, analyzing the causes and sharing out the blame for why his evangelical church is losing members, I myself wonder if there’s anything one can say to him. He carefully describes the symptoms of spiritual and moral decay, yet beyond this, he seems to know nothing but what he reads in trendy “Christian” books and reviews. “The boat is sinking, brothers! But let’s not bother Jesus, He looks so peaceful napping there in the stern…”

He's there, in the true Mysteries of His Word, His Body and Blood, His Bride, the New Birth by Water and the Spirit, the Unity and the longsuffering Love of His Messengers. Truly knowing Him makes one Orthodox in the only sense that matters, gives our Orthodox faith its only reason for being. Without Him all is lost, even the great Ship laden with the precious cargo of ageless Holy Tradition. Patriarch Bartholomaios writes, we are to "wake up the Christ that is sleeping in the night of the non-Christian religions." Rather, let's wake up the Christ, asleep within us in the stern of our own Ship, that "built in an ancient pattern that journeys far," before we are capsized by the waves of the storm of this vile age.

"And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, 'Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?' And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, 'Peace! Be still!' And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, 'Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?'"
Mark 4:37-40 (ESV)

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Forty Years

Sometime around 10:15 on the morning of June 7, 1967, the first reservist paratroopers of Brigade 55 broke through the Lion’s Gate leading into the Old City of Jerusalem and reached the narrow enclave of the Western Wall. Having just fought a fierce two-day battle in the streets of east Jerusalem, they grieved for lost friends, and grieved as well for their own lost innocence in what for many was their first experience of combat. They leaned against the Wall, some in exhaustion, some in prayer. Several wept, instinctively connecting to the Wall’s tradition of mourning the destruction of the Temple and the loss of Jewish sovereignty—precisely at the moment when Jewish sovereignty over Jerusalem had been restored.

Yitzhak Yifat stands in front of the Western Wall moments after its capture on the morning of June 7, 1967

Several hours later, Yitzhak Yifat, a twenty-four-year-old reservist about to begin medical school, reached the Wall. As part of the brigade’s 66th Battalion, he and his friends had fought in the Six Day War’s toughest battle: Intimate combat against elite Jordanian Legionnaires in the trenches of Ammunition Hill, on the road to Mount Scopus. Something in their faces—perhaps a combination of exhaustion and uplift—caught the eye of a news photographer, David Rubinger.

Yifat is the centerpoint of the photograph, and not only because he is physically positioned there. Among his friends, only Yifat’s face is truly memorable; the faces around him seem to blur into his. Partly that is because he alone has removed his helmet, revealing the civilian beneath the soldier. Yifat also allows himself to appear vulnerable: While the men around him are tight-lipped, suppressing emotion, his mouth is open, as if trying to express the ineffable. For all of Rubinger’s staging, the emotions on Yifat’s face--grief, bewilderment, relief, awe, hope--could not have been coaxed or rehearsed.

Forty years later, the picture of the paratroopers at the Wall has become, arguably, the most beloved Jewish photographic image of our time—appearing in Passover Hagadas and on computer screen savers and posters in college dorm rooms. When Israel recently marked forty years to the Six Day War, the photograph at the Wall served as the media logo. Despite attempts to transform the picture into political parody and commercial kitsch—it has been co-opted for a protest poster by an artist opposed to the occupation, painted in rainbow colors by a gay group, and featured in a cigarette advertisement—its power to inspire hasn’t diminished.

Monday, June 4, 2007

From ancient times…

…wicked demons in human form defiled women, corrupted boys, and showed men such terrifying sights that whoever did not have the insight to discern what was happening became confused. Obsessed by fear, they failed to recognize them as evil demons. They called them "gods" and gave to each the name which each demon had given himself.

Socrates tried by true reason and exact inquiry to bring these things to light and to draw men away from these demons. That is why the demons, working through men who delighted in evil, knew how to bring about his execution as an atheist and sacrilegious person. They accused him of having introduced new gods. And now they try to do the very same thing to us.

For it happened not only among the Greeks that these things were brought to light through Socrates, but also among the barbarians. It happened through the same Logos [Word] who took form and became man and was called Jesus Christ. Him we follow, and we deny that the spirits who have done these things are true deities, but assert that they are wicked and infamous demons, in no way even capable of such actions as men are, who strive for goodness and merit.

Justin Martyr († AD 166), from his First Apology

This brief excerpt from the writings of one of the earliest Church fathers was printed on the front of our Sunday bulletin at Holy Trinity, along with the icon of the saint. When I first started reading it, I thought for sure the description was of the modern-day pornographic media industry that has dragged down popular culture to the low moral level we now find it. But as I read on, and being a historian, I quickly grasped that this was the classic argument against the pagan gods of the Greco-Roman world. Still, something about it impressed me as still being timely. Could these "demons" still be at work, exalting themselves in persons such as Maitreya who claims to be the World Teacher and Savior (though he is still hidden from us), José Luís de Jesus Miranda "The Man Christ Jesus" who simultaneously declares that he is Christ AND Antichrist, and Vissarion of the Last Testament Church in Russia who claims to be a reincarnation of Jesus? Could these same demons also be behind most or all of the UFO phenomena? Many people have noticed similarities between this activity and ancient "divine theophanies."

The drift of my blog is not to explore or discuss controversies, but to share Christian spiritual testimonies. Perhaps many of my visitors are unaware that such things as I've mentioned above even exist, but it's only the tip of the iceberg. God grant us followers of Jesus discernment to avoid not just the obvious but also the hidden perils set to ambush us in this last age.

Longsuffering is perseverance…

…in adversity, endurance of evils, to abide to the end of temptation, not to let one's anger out by chance, not to speak a word in folly, not to suspect or to think anything that does not become a God-fearing man, as Scripture says, 'A long-suffering man shall bear for a time, and afterwards joy shall be restored to him. He will hide his words for a time, and the lips of many shall declare his understanding.'
Maximos the Confessor

Sunday, June 3, 2007

No one can hurt you…

…if you are determined to do only what is right; if you do have to suffer for being good, you will count it a blessing. There is no need to be afraid or to worry about them. Simply reverence the Lord Christ in your hearts, and always have your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you all have. But give it with courtesy and respect and a clear conscience, so that those who slander you when you are living a good life in Christ may be proved wrong in the accusations that they bring. And if it is the will of God that you should suffer, it is better to suffer for doing right than for doing wrong.
1 Peter 3:13-17 Jerusalem Bible

Are we there yet?

With the increase of lawlessness, love in most men will grow cold.
Matthew 24:12 Jerusalem Bible

People will be self-centered 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.
2 Timothy 3:2-5a JB

There will be signs in the sun and moon and stars; on earth nations in agony, bewildered by the clamor of the ocean and its waves; men dying of fear as they await what menaces the world, for the powers of heaven will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand erect, hold your heads high, because your liberation is near at hand.
Luke 22:25-28 JB

And if we're there, or getting close, then it's time to keep reminding ourselves of this…

It will be like this when the Son of Man comes. Then of two men in the fields one is taken, one left; of two women at the millstone grinding, one is taken, one left. So stay awake, because you do not know the day when your Master is coming.
Matthew 24:39b-42 JB

At the trumpet of God, the voice of the archangel will call out the command and the Lord Himself will come down from heaven: those who have died in Christ will be the first to rise, and then those of us who are still alive will be taken up in the clouds, together with them, to meet the Lord in the air. So we shall stay with the Lord for ever. With such thoughts as these you should comfort one another.
1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 JB

Friday, June 1, 2007

Eurabia Vaticana

For those who are even slightly interested in what's going down in Europe, I direct you to the Éllopos Blog link in my side panel. An article posted there on May 31, entitled Eurabia Vaticana, is particularly interesting. When you first link to this article, you'll see two links in the first paragraph which I recommend you to follow: Papal Chrislamism, and Patriarch Bartholomew. The first details the current pope's dealings with the Islamic community, and the second does the same for the ecumenical patriarch. I cannot comment on the pope's dealings except to say it's consistent with the papist approach to strong adversaries throughout history. Nothing new there. But it is disappointing to see how the Greek-Turkish patriarch is behaving. What else should we expect from a man who has been persecuting the monks of Esphigmenou Monastery on Mount Athos this many a year because they are defiant in their defense of Orthodoxy. The true Orthodox way has NEVER been to persecute those who disagree with us but, if we cannot see eye to eye, to live and let live. Or as patriarch Jeremiah responded to the Lutheran theologians who kept pressing him to join the Reformation, "Please don't write us anymore, except for love's sake." You see, love is still possible, especially among disciples of the Master, even when they don't see exactly eye to eye.

Anyway, check this out, brothers: