Monday, September 24, 2007

Your cross isn't meant to be a burden

In the process of looking for images to use in my previous post, I ran across a blog called Sisters' Weblog: It Bloggles the Mind, and also this short post by one of the sisters, Susan Price. I'm using the title of her post as the title for mine, and I want to start off by quoting her words, which I found strangely meaningful:

Christians often assume that to "take up our cross" means simply to carry a burden. When we run into a life trouble, we will say things like "oh, this is just my cross to bear". We basically shrug it off, totally missing the significance of the cross.

Ever consider that the cross is not meant to be a burden? It is meant to cause death.

The cross is meant to kill us! It is an instrument of death! Oh that wonderful cross!

Change of scene:
The tail end of a baptism service at Aghía Triás.

My son Andrew is a Byzantine cantor, trained in Greece, and is often asked to chant at family services, such as baptisms. This past Sunday he chanted at a baptism and asked me to pick him up afterwards so he could get to sleep right away. (He is also a virtuoso guitarist and probably was going to be playing at a club that evening, so he needed to pre-rest.) He gave me a time to return for him, but when I arrived, the service was still going on. The actual anointing and baptism by triple immersion (of an infant) in the silver goblet-shaped font had already occurred, and what met my eyes as I entered the temple was a procession of Fr Paul, the godparents with the newly illuminated infant, and an entourage of small children from toddlers to maybe 4 or 5 years, around the font, some holding candles.
It was like suddenly coming upon a secret ceremony in the depths of the forest, like the marriage procession of the foxes in Akira Kurosawa's film Dreams).
It was all at once mysterious, solemn, joyful and bright.
I watched it for some minutes, and then it broke up and gradually resolved itself into other arrangements of grownups and small children.
Orthodoxy is, above all, a childlike religion.

It made me ponder once again the mystery of the cross. Little did these babies following the priest in a primitive procession around a sacred font know, let alone understand, that what they had just performed and witnessed was the death of the old man in a small child and the birth of the new. Easily described on paper and challenged by many different points of view, this mystery would, if God has His way, usher that newly illuminated child, at some future time, into the mystery of the cross. The cross that Jesus was nailed too, yes, and from which His body was taken down, and which was the implement by which, through His death upon it, paradise was opened, first to the good thief, and then to everyone who had ever lived from Adam and Eve onwards. Yet also, the cross that she (I believe the infant was a baby girl) would have to bear, if she would, and upon which she would someday also die, if she let God have his way with her. These are the thoughts that passed through my mind as I witnessed the innocents processing around the mystery that they knew not yet.

Christianity can be many things to many people, but unless it is first and foremost the cross, it can devolve into ritual, culture, or magic. Not that everyone will have the same cross to bear and to die on, not that what it looks like or feels like will be the same for all, not that those who follow Christ to Calvary will all understand what is happening to them the same way, but nonetheless the cross awaits us all, at least all of us who seek to follow Jesus.

Mother Gavrilía recommended after the Bible itself, the book The Imitation of Christ, by Thomas à Kempis. Except for the fourth book of this work, which deals with medieval Roman Catholic worship of "the blessed sacrament," the Imitation is good reading for the disciple of Jesus. Here are some passages from book 2, chapters 11 and 12, that I'd like to share in concluding this entry:

Jesus has many who love His Kingdom in Heaven, but few who bear His Cross. He has many who desire comfort, but few who desire suffering. He finds many to share His feast, but few His fasting. Many follow Jesus to the Breaking of Bread, but few to the drinking of the Cup of His Passion.

At this point I want to interject an observation from my own Orthodox Church. During Great and Holy Week, it's strange how the Wednesday evening service is packed to the doors (it is the Maundy Thursday morning service, held in the Greek tradition the evening before) when everyone comes to receive the blanket absolution and anointing with holy chrism for healing of soul and body. Absolution without personal confession! And the very next evening, the longest service of the week except for the Pascha (Easter) services themselves, the Passion of Christ service, also called the 12 Gospels service, in which the entire passion is read aloud and visually enacted with icons and ceremonies, the church has ample room for more. Probably a third of those who came the night before come to this service. Why? It's about 4 hours long! The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. Many follow Jesus to the Breaking of Bread, but few to the drinking of the Cup of His Passion.

Again, from the Imitation:

Why, then, do you fear to take up the Cross, which is the road to the Kingdom? In the Cross is salvation; in the Cross is life; in the Cross is protection against our enemies; in the Cross is infusion of heavenly sweetness; in the Cross is strength of mind; in the Cross is joy of spirit; in the Cross is excellence of virtue; in the Cross is perfection of holiness. There is no salvation of soul, nor hope of eternal life, save in the Cross. Take up the Cross, therefore, and follow Jesus. Christ has gone before you, bearing His Cross; He died for you on the Cross, that you also may bear your cross, and desire to die on the cross with Him. For if you die with Him, you will also live with Him. And if you share His sufferings, you will also share His glory.

See how in the Cross all things consist, and in dying on it all things depend. There is no other way to life and to true inner peace, than the way of the Cross, and of daily self-denial.

Go where you will, seek what you will; you will find no higher way above nor safer way below than the road of the Holy Cross.

Thomas à Kempis is not talking about making up some masochistic religious routine to follow to buy your way into heaven by your own blood, sweat and tears. Don't kid yourself or waste God's time. If pain and suffering in themselves were good, we would be right to wear hair shirts and beat ourselves bloody with cat-o'-nine-tails like some misguided medieval "saints" did. But no. The way is simple. Follow Jesus, and the world itself will supply every obstacle it can find to trip you up, keep you down, sadden and discourage you, trample your joy (if it could, if you let it), but in the following of Jesus, real following (not lip-service), you can laugh at "the world, the flesh, and the devil." The martyrs, it is written, often went to their deaths, singing. This is history, not some fairy tale. His story, as the pun goes, and it can be ours too, if we follow "the Royal Road of the Holy Cross" as Thomas à Kempis entitled chapter 12 of book 2 of his Imitation of Christ.

If you've patiently read this far, brethren, only three more words from me:

Just follow Jesus.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Where are the Radically Changed Lives?

This is the title of a blog post by a local Baptist pastor. You can read his original post here. Although I read his post and left a short comment, I want to share the second comment left there with anyone who visits my blog. The comment which follows was written by pilgrim, and is as well-written an apologia as I've ever read for why a follower of Jesus might refrain from "going to church." As one who still attends church services, I nonetheless agree with and endorse the statements he makes here. In my humble opinion, what the holy apostles were talking about when they said "don't stay away from meetings of the believers, as some do" (cf. Hebrews 10:25) is precisely NOT what goes on in most churches today. I know for a fact that he who wrote the following DOES fulfill the commandment to fellowship and worship—it's just not "in church."

Asking "Where are all the radically changed lives?" actually reveals why I and many others have stopped spending their energies on an institutional church and their services. Why bother going to church when all you ever hear is,"We don't have it right yet," or "How do we follow Christ--now"?
What impedes people from following Christ is often the institutional church and Christian culture, of any sect or denomination. We are told that they have the answers, yet, when we get there, they seem just as confused as the world. All we see is a Christian bubble that mimics the trends of the world. The world does this, the church follows, trying to outrun and draw off clients. The world has YouTube, the "church" has GodTube. The world has DirectTV, the "church" has SkyAngel.

This is just a part of the problem. The problem is simple. People are just professing Christians, people have been "Christianized", they are in a state of "
Christianosis". These are the lukewarm ones whom Christ will spit out of His mouth. Either you are born from above, or you are still a fetus, waiting to be born by the Spirit, which gives life. You cannot be in the womb and yet claim to be born.

Being a disciple of Mashiach has always been simple. Hold to the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus and witness for His name sake in all areas of life. Love one another and in loving one another, abide in the light. Look for the Parousia of Christ and hope in the resurrection and αλλαγησομεθα (the change or transformation) of the saints when He comes. And forsake the world and its corruption and pollution, living as if you are looking for the heavenly city, the one made by God, prepared by Christ.

This is the will of God, revealed in the Scriptures, by the apostles and prophets. Again, Christ has words for the churches, if they would look to His Apocalypse and have ears to hear, but I think for the majority, they are scared of doing this and will not choose to hear. As Messiah spoke to the church of Laodicea, so He speaks now to many churches:
"Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with Me."

Seeing that Christ is outside the door, shows that He is not present inside. That He knocks, shows that He is a stranger, for only strangers knock for entrance; those who are known freely come in. His call is to anyone, which shows that it is always an individual call. Anyone who chooses to, can go to the door and let Mashiach in. Thus they will have fellowship and break bread together.
At the Parousía of Messiah, will the church inhabitants shrink away, or will the morning star rise in their hearts as they go to stand before the Son of Man? This a question we should each ask of ourselves.

The true transformation will come then, when the sons of God are revealed to all creation.

Thursday, September 20, 2007


Martyrdom—this is a word we’ve heard a lot lately, especially on the news. Muslim fundamentalists commit martyrdom. Christians suffer martyrdom. But what is martyrdom, really?

It comes from the Greek word μαρτυρια, meaning “witness”. It’s one of the four characteristics of Orthodox Christianity: liturgía “worship” literally “the people’s work”, dhiakonía “servanthood”, martyría “witness”, and kinonía “fellowship”.
A modern addition to this foursquare scheme is paidheía “instruction”.
It used to be considered sufficient that the idhiótes, that is, the laity, were educated and edified by the original four. But the modernist Orthodox wants to make sure the world understands that we are “educated” too. “Nobody who speaks only Greeks is anybody!” as Spiro exclaimed in the film My Family and Other Animals.

Back to martyrdom.
Muslims commit it,
Christians suffer it.

A Muslim terrorist firmly believes in the reward of paradise and seventy-two black-eyed virgins if he commits martyrdom by, for example, strapping a bomb to himself, walking into a crowd of “enemies of Allah”,
and blowing himself and them up.

A Christian who suffers martyrdom
at the hands of unbelievers
because of his testimony,
his witness to Jesus as Lord and Savior, firmly believes that Christ will stand up for him, based on His word of promise, “Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32 NASB)

The Christian doesn’t know the particulars or details of the reward, if you can call it such (though Jesus does, cf. Matthew 10:42), but he believes in it just as firmly, and with good reason.
“The Word of God says so.”

So, martyrdom means “witness”.
It seems strange that witness can be committed as an act of violence towards oneself and others by the followers of Muhammad, and at the same time suffered as violence committed against oneself by others. But that’s how it is. Has it always been this way?

Have there been Muslim martyrs who suffered rather than committed martyrdom?
Well, yes, of course there have. Think of the Crusades, when Roman Catholic armies attacked the Muslim states of the Near East. Of course, they were only trying to win back what the Muslims had conquered in the first place. Maybe that’s not a good example.

How about the case of Mansur al-Hallaj (AD 858-922), who was martyred for his faith? Well, yes, it was by his fellow Muslims. He wanted to testify of his relationship with God to others, even at the price of his own life. He also referred to the martyrdom of Christ, saying he also wanted to die ‘in the supreme confession of the cross’. Many Muslims of his time criticized him as a crypto-Christian for distorting the monotheistic revelation in a Christian way. Well, maybe that’s not a good example either.

Have there ever been Christians who committed martyrdom?

Well, again I think you could cite the Crusaders, though reliable contemporary sources, Francesco of Assisi for example, expressed the opinion that the Crusaders needed Christ more than the Saracens did, so that’s probably not a good example.

I think the closest I can come to finding a Christian equivalent to ‘committing martyrdom is the acts of the Greek neo-martyrs during the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire. These were (usually) men who had gotten into trouble with the Turks, but who escaped punishment, fled and lived in hiding. Later, after repenting for their apostasy (most of them had been forced to become Muslims, and then had backslid), they would return to the places where they had denied Christ and ‘commit martyrdom’ by boldly confessing Christ and denouncing Muhammad in front of Turkish authorities, who then had them executed (not without trying to induce them to recant, rejoin the Muslim fold, and be pardoned). They could have stayed in hiding (and most former apostates did), but something inside these men couldn’t be silenced. Perhaps they read the passage in Matthew, “Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men…”

Are we any closer to defining martyrdom?
I think not. What martyrdom really is can be learned only by following Jesus, going where He goes, doing what He does. Here’s what martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote about some aspects of martyrdom:

Neither failure nor hostility can weaken the messenger’s conviction that he has been sent by Jesus. That his word may be their strength, their stay and their comfort, Jesus repeats it. ‘Behold, I send you.’ For this is no way they have chosen themselves, no undertaking of their own. It is, in the strict sense of the word, a mission. With this the Lord promises them his abiding presence, even when they find themselves as sheep among wolves, defenceless, powerless, sore pressed and beset with great danger. Nothing can happen to them without Jesus knowing of it. ‘Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.’

… Jesus never called his disciples into a state of uncertainty, but to one of supreme certainty. That is why his warning can only summon them to abide by the Word. Where the Word is, there shall the disciple be. Therein lies his true wisdom and his true simplicity. If it is obvious that the Word is being rejected, if it is forced to yield its ground, the disciple must yield with it. But if the Word carries on the battle, the disciple must also stand his ground. In each case he will be combining wisdom with simplicity. But wisdom, however spiritual it may be, must never lead the disciple along a path which cannot stand the test of the word of Jesus.

… It is not our judgment of the situation which can show us what is wise, but only the truth of the Word of God. Here alone lies the promise of God’s faithfulness and help. It will always be true that the wisest course for the disciple is always to abide solely by the Word of God in all simplicity.

… The return of Jesus will take place suddenly. That fact is more certain than that we shall be able to finish our work in his service, more certain than our own death. This assurance that in their suffering they will be as their Master is the greatest consolation the messengers of Jesus have. As is the Master, so shall the disciple be, and as the Lord, so the servant. If they called Jesus a devil, how much more shall they call the servants of his household devils. Thus Jesus will be with them, and they will be in all things like unto him.

—Dietrich Bonhoeffer (martyr, 1945)
The Cost of Discipleship,
Ch. 24 The Suffering of the Messengers

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Everyone knows it

An emissary of the King, wrongly accused of cloaked aggression by the one he was sent to, exiled to a trackless waste, attacked by enemies, tries to return Home while protecting the one that is the reason he is being attacked, succeeds in making his way to the house of mud, where the ship he expected is not to be seen, and perishes in a final combat, knowing that he lives forever.

Deep down inside every human being the Truth that God placed there, the true Light that enlightens everyone who comes into the world (John 1:9), remains for each one to discover. It shines in the darkness of human ignorance, and though that darkness cannot comprehend it, it also cannot extinguish it. (cf. John 1:5).

The Truth revealed openly and fully only by Jesus Christ in His person, His teachings, His ministry, His miracles and His victory over death, that Truth being instilled in the depths of every human being, still shines through, shedding Light in every culture, even in those ignorant of Christ.

Yet the Truth does shine in the non-Christian world, in every culture. That's the way God is. He's faithful. He wants everyone to be saved, though only if they want it too. The challenge of the true missionary to the non-Christian world is to be able to find those sparks of God's Truth in their pagan traditions and, without admitting anything unchangeable by grace, to build on these native "old testaments" wherever they turn up.

As an Orientalist by training and inclination, I watch a lot of East Asian films. Recently I bought a copy of the Korean film Musa the Warrior. After viewing it for the first time, I waited a couple of weeks and watched it again this weekend. It is a very good film, historically, a realistic portrayal of a violent time in the history of China, the period when the Ming dynasty was liberating the country from Mongol control, around AD 1375. It's about a Korean delegation that was wrongly accused of spying by the Ming and exiled to the Gobi Desert. Their adventure in escaping, trying to return to Korea, and helping to rescue a Ming princess from the Mongols, is the subject of the film. It may not sound interesting, but it is.

Watching it a second time, I got a lot more into the details and my understanding was deepened. My favorite character is the young General Choi Jung (pictured above), and I was startled by one scene near the end of the movie. Something that Choi Jung said to his men, just before their last battle, really hit me, went through me like a lance.

If the soldier attempts to live, he'll die.
but if he attempts to die, he'll survive.

The film is in Korean with English subtitles, and the translation is awkward. But the way Choi Jung looked when he said this, somehow brought the whole meaning of the film, for me, into sharp, burning focus.

In the pre-Christian Korean culture, here was a man shedding the true Light on his fellow men. They all had this Light in them, otherwise his words could not have had the effect they did. Without knowing it, he almost quoted Luke 17:33:

Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it,
and whoever loses his life will preserve it.

This is the Truth speaking.
Everyone knows it.

It always encourages me to see this kind of thing in a movie because, whether people realize it or not, the seeds are there to be planted in the good soil. Let's hope that we're part of that good soil, to hear the Word, accept it, and produce a crop—thirty, sixty or even a hundred times what was sown. (Mark 4:20)

If anyone would come after Me…

The feast-day of the Holy Cross was last Friday, September 14. Today, the Sunday following, had some reminders of the Cross in the hymns sung and in the scriptures read, Galatians 2:16-20 and Mark 8:34-9:1. "What a great theme to preach on," thought I to myself. So at sermon time, I decided I would give listening a try.

Fr. Paul started his sermon by recounting an incident from the life of neo-martyr Father Dmitri Klepnin who along with Mother Maria Skobtsova and her son Yuri were martyred by the Nazis during WWII. Father Dmitri was questioned by an officer named Hoffman, who said he’d let them all go if only they promised to stop helping the Jews. Fr Dmitri said, how could they? It was their ministry. Hoffman slapped him, "How dare you equate being a Jew-lover with ministry?" At that point, Fr Dmitri took hold of his pectoral cross and pushed it close into Hoffman’s face saying, "Do you know, do you know this Jew?" He suffered a beating for that, and soon afterwards he and Yuri were sent to Aushwitz to die.

After telling us the story, Fr. Paul moved on to preach a story (oops! I meant sermon) based not on Christ's words or on the teaching of holy Apostle Paul, but intead on his meditations on some of the words read in the service of Proskomidí (the preparation of the eucharistic gifts). To put what he preached in perspective, let me quote a little from the service book. Rubrics are like stage directions, and are printed in red, hence the name rubric (red letters):

Rubric: Putting on the pectoral cross, if he has the right to wear one, the Priest says:
Whoever would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me. (Matthew 16:24)

Rubric: Then the Priest, taking a prosphora (the Eucharistic loaf) in his left hand and the Lance in his right, makes the sign of the Cross three times over the seal with the Lance, saying each time:
In remembrance of our Lord and God and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Rubric: Then the Priest thrusts the Lance into the right-hand side of the seal, beside the letters IC NI, and says:
Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter. (Isaiah 53:7)

Rubric: As he cuts along the left side, that is, beside the letters XC KA:
And as an unblemished lamb before the shearer is dumb, so he does not open his mouth. (Isaiah 53:7)

Rubric: As he cuts along the upper side:
In his humiliation judgement was denied him. (Isaiah 53:8)

Rubric: As he cuts along the lower side:
Who will declare his generation? (Isaiah 53:8)

I have witnessed this service myself, but it is not normally in view of the congregation, especially since it takes place before most of the people arrive, and behind the iconostasis. It is a very moving service.

What Fr. Paul made of all this was a four-point program for imitating Christ in His humiliation, as a way of dealing with evil in the world. The four cuts made in the eucharistic loaf and the scriptures cited at each cut, he said, can represent, resist not evil, protest not evil, expect not justice, care not for reputation. Then, he explained his ideas a bit further, and related them to the sayings of Jesus, regarding going the extra mile, turning the other cheek and, of course, Jesus' very words, "Offer the wicked man no resistance." (Matthew 5:39) Then, he quoted himself from a sermon he delivered earlier in the year, "Evil cannot be defeated. Evil can only be transformed." He taught us, moreover, about Mahatma Gandhi's wonderful concept of satyagraha, active non-resistance, and how we can practice this for the good of the world.

If only I had paid more attention to his sermon, I'd be able to report it a little more faithfully. But my mind kept drifting back to the words of Jesus, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." (Mark 8:34 NIV)

Cheap grace versus costly grace

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession.
Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has.
It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods.
It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble, it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.
Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.

Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ.
It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.
It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner.

Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: 'ye were bought at a price', and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us.
Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.

—Dietrich Bonhoeffer (martyr, 1945)
The Cost of Discipleship, Ch. 1 Costly Grace

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Don't interpret, just listen

When you forget your religious ideas—what you have heard, what you have been taught by preachers, religions, and denominations—and let the Word of God speak; when you listen instead of interpreting, you will have no trouble understanding Revelation.

—Oliver B. Greene, The Revelation, Verse by Verse Study
© 1963 by O. B. Greene, published by The Gospel Hour, Inc., Greenville, SC

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The faith of the Apostles

There's a lot going on in "church" in America these days, and even in the rest of the "first world" (is there such a place, the "developed" countries?). From inside the doors of Orthodoxy, the outer courts are looking pretty chaotic, buying and selling, of religion, of blessing, of comfort, of self-realization, of culture, of anything that the world sells, only dressed up in a "Christian" cover.

Sadly, even holy Orthodoxy is being slowly but subtly lifted onto the bandwagon of "successful" programs and outreach "strategies," hoping to become as "relevant" as everybody else. Convert priests are foisted on kindly, welcoming and naïve congregations, convert priests who have no Orthodox root, no understanding of what a priest is. Do the hierarchs do this to test us, or do they hope we'll train these enthusiasts?

Orthodoxy fights back without striking a blow, the sheer intransigence of the flock, and the unchangeable liturgical forms, adding drag to the hasty, impatient boys. But they still have their way with us, for the time being.

Vespers is now vestiges of the evening service. Why?

So that neophytes can have more time to enlighten us with their worldly learning? Why pray, when prayer can be talked about, instead of just doing it? So, little by little these axeheads try to chip away at the Tree of faith.
What's happening, from another perspective, is the transformation of the Bride of Christ into a mystical business, of priests into businessmen in black, of pastors into administrators, of preachers into entertainers. This has been rampant outside of Orthodoxy; now it's seeping in. The words of holy Apostle John ring true now as always, "Children, be on your guard against false gods." (1 John 5:21 JB)

If the church where you live is experiencing any of these things, here's some good words written not long ago (1983) by Fr. George Papademetriou, a Greek Orthodox theologian, that I hope will encourage you to remember that the truth of Orthodoxy is the Truth of the Word of God, which Christ has told us "will never pass away" (Matthew 24:35). Even when the local church, for a time, is ravaged by wolves in sheep's clothing, we have to remember, THAT is not the Church; THIS is…

Today, especially when great confusion exists about the ministry of the Church in the world, Orthodoxy must reinforce age-long values and the faith of the Apostles.
"And His gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the Body of Christ." (Ephesians 4:11)

This verse gives the true objective of the clergy; that is, the ordained priests have the unique function to equip all members for the apostolate or ministry.

The apostolate is not the monopoly of the clergy, it is the responsibility of all, and the role of the clergy is to help all to fulfill it.

There is always a danger of clericalism, and this we ought to avoid. Since the time of Saint Paul, the Church avoided clericalism with its emphasis on defining the Church as the Body of Christ.

In the Church the promised unity of all things in Christ is foreshadowed (Ephesians 2:1-22), and for this reason the Church must be the place where God's plan is made known to the whole kósmos (Ephesians 3:7-10). In the Church the people of God must grow up into full maturity as the embodiment of the love of God for His whole creation (Ephesians 3:14-21). Within this context we can understand the task of training the whole membership of the Church to share in God's purpose for the whole creation. Only then will we be doing Christ's work as the people of God—both clergy and laity.

Invasion of the Body snatchers

I wasn't going to publish this post, because it seemed too polemical, and I don't want my blog to become a billboard for my internal struggles.
But maybe others are going through similar things.
Though the post is unfinished, here's as far as I got.
I don't know if I'll leave it open to view permanently, so if there's anything here you want to keep, best copy it to your PC.
And don't let the Body snatchers get you!

I hope this is not the case where you go to church, but this is what's happening in select locations of the Greek Orthodox Church in the Americas, a phenomenon I call "the invasion of the Body snatchers." It's not something out of a science fiction movie, though it could be. It is something that our Lord, Jesus Christ, told us would happen (Matthew 16:5-12), and something that the holy Apostles warned us about (2 Peter 2:1-22). "Certain people have infiltrated among you, and they are the ones you had a warning about, in writing, long ago, when they were condemned for denying all religion, turning the grace of our God into immorality, and rejecting our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ." (Jude 1:4 JB) One thing more, this is not a phenomenon only of modern times or of America, or even just of the Orthodox Church, but a perennial invasion, what Sergei Fudel calls "the dark double of the Church" whose crimes are not of the Church, but against it, even while it claims to be the Church, but it is not! (Revelation 3:9)

The invasion of the Body snatchers.

What Body? Why, the Body of Christ, His Bride, she who waits for her Lord's coming, His parousía. She waits, but she is told, "Well, where is this coming? Everything goes on as it has since the Fathers died, as it has since it began at the creation!" (2 Peter 3:4 JB) The Church is told anything to get our minds off the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, even as we blow the words, "I expect the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the age to come." We are told anything, and then we're given a task list of things to do, busy work, fund raising, intellectual navel gazing, and best of all, partying.

"They" have been despatched by the father of lies to snatch the Body, to abduct the Bride, and moments before the Bridegroom arrives.

How does this look locally, and in Greek Orthodoxy?
Where once nothing was done for show, everything is done for show.
Where once our faith was not for sale, cheap grace now is for sale.
Where once we gathered to feed on the Word of Life, we are now penned to feed the vainglory of a speed-speaking talk show host.
Once a people partaking as one Body of the resurrection of Christ, now simply stage extras and a captive audience watching a New Age drama.

I take back what I said before. Maybe it IS something out of a science fiction movie… or maybe all a bad dream.

I used to dream of waking up in church, as a little boy.
Everything as it must be,
at home with Jesus.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Easy as 1-2-3

To view the three links at the head of this post, just use the back button to return here and click the next link!

The arrangement of the previous three posts, all quotes from saints that I love and respect, was apparently no accident. Their words are my witnesses, they are my apologia for a life in Christ that others find fault with. As I said in a recent post, I have nothing new to say, and I'm guilty of every evangelical crime in the Book—at least I'd like to be! But Father Alexander, Elder Païsios, and Mother Gavrilia, three of my Orthodox friends, I hope will speak up for me when I am judged by men, if not by God.

Just say Yes

The only thing I know that I have permanently—and I do not speak out of conceit or imagination—is what I have day and night, wherever I may be… It is first, faith; second, faith; third, faith. That's it!
There's nothing else I can say to you. It animates and guides my life.

Since I have faith, if someone were to come and tell me, "Will you go with me to Lebanon?" I would answer,
"How can you say 'yes' just like that?" they may ask.

"Yes, I say 'yes' because I believe that if it is not for my own good, God will arrange things so that the very same persons who invited me will say 'no'. For instance, there may be some delays with formalities which will prevent our departure, and so on. I have seen that occur in my life, regularly, these last fifty years—not just for one or two years, as I am now ninety-one years old! I wish you all to reach that age!"

I read in the Gospel again and again something extraordinary.

Jesus comes and says to the Apostles, "Leave your fishing nets now, and follow Me!" If they had answered, "Who are you? Why should we lose the day's work? Why should we lose our profit? Where will you take us? What will you do with us?" If they had answered so, what would they be? They would have remained in darkness. They said 'yes' to a Stranger Who came and told them "Come, leave everything, and come!" Why? Because they had faith in God and were expecting the One, Him Who would tell them "Come!" And this is how it began. Whereas if they had said, 'No', what would have happened?

Mother Gavrilía Papayanni

To see God's miracles

When someone leads a simple life, humbly looks upon himself and feels the need of God's providence, then he puts aside all his concerns and worries and has faith in Him. When God sees that his soul totally depends on Him and not on itself, He will mercifully protect it. Thus, this soul will intensively experience the sense of God's providence and feel contented.

God wants our souls to be simple, without many thoughts and too much knowledge, like an infant that expects everything from its parents. That is why the Lord said, "If you do not become like children you will not be able to enter in the Kingdom of God." We must humbly pray to God and admit our weakness, and this way we will be able to free ourselves from our concerns and worries. Just as our shadow closely follows our body, God's mercy will follow our humility and faith.

When we believe in God and have trust in His fatherly providence and concern, then we do not think of ourselves. Instead, we know that God is aware of all our needs and looks after our problems, from the simplest to the most serious one. The only thing we must want is to allow God's love and providence to function in our lives, when He wishes to and in the way He thinks is best for us. When we have this kind of faith and inner disposition, we are able to see God's miracles—God Himself—who is always close to us under all circumstances.
Elder Païsios of the Holy Mountain

How can God help us?

Constantly, each day, each hour, God is sending us people, circumstances, tasks, which should mark the beginning of our renewal; yet we pay them no attention, and thus continually we resist God's will for us. Indeed, how can God help us? Only by sending us in our daily life certain people, and certain coincidences of circumstance. If we accepted every hour of our life as the hour of God's will for us, as the decisive, most important, unique hour of our life -- what sources of joy, love, strength, as yet hidden from us, would spring from the depths of our soul! Let us then be serious in our attitude towards each person we meet in our life, towards every opportunity of performing a good deed; be sure that you will then fulfill God's will for you in these very circumstances, on that very day, in that very hour.
Alexander Elchaninov
The Diary of a Russian Priest

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Finally, an honest pope!

It's about time that a Roman pontiff comes clean with what papal authority teaches its followers as infallible truth. After admitting that any churches not recognizing him as head of the Church are not really churches, but only ecclesial bodies (we already knew that from the documents of Vatican II), he even admits that the Greeks and other Orthodox are "indeed 'churches' because they have apostolic succession," but that "they lack something because they do not recognize the primacy of the pope," which is "a defect, or a 'wound' that [harms] them."

Holy Father, what is this "something" that we lack? Is it what Jesus told the rich young man who wanted to follow Him? "Jesus said unto him, 'If thou wouldest be perfect, go, sell that which thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me.'" Matthew 19:21 ASV

What do you think now, Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople and New Rome? What do you think of your friend's behavior? You kiss him and exchange visits and presents, while you persecute the men of Esphigmenou without restraint. Could it be you know they are right? Could it be that the pope of Rome is only up to his old tricks, or the tricks of his master?

I refer the brethren, those who call on the heavenly Father in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, to call to mind once again what our forefathers in faith replied to the monster manifested in their days, and what they notoriously held on to, that faith "once and for all delivered to the saints." Here is a link to the letter of the Orthodox patriarchs replying to a letter of Pius IX, styling himself "bishop of Rome," in which he also tried to assert his (false) authority over the Christians of the ancient faith:

Encyclical of the Eastern Patriarchs, 1848 — A Reply to the Epistle of Pope Pius IX, "to the Easterns".

What is written in this letter (and it is a long one, but worth the read if you have patience) was true when it was written, and just as true today. No pope or papal authority can withstand it, because it rests on the Truth of God's Word, and is alive through the continued presence of His Spirit in the true Church, the Bride of Christ, the little flock "who follow the Lamb wherever He goes."