Sunday, June 15, 2008

Not only on paper

A hearty “thank you” to Presvytera Candace Schefe for this quotation from The Prologue from Ohrid.

That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith.
Ephesians 3:17

A person does not have Christ who has Him only on his tongue.
Neither does a person have Christ who has Him only on paper.
Neither does a person have Christ who has Him only on the wall.
Neither does a person have Christ who has Him only in a museum of the past.
A person truly has Christ who has Him in his heart.
For Christ is Love and the throne of Love is the heart.
If Christ is in your heart, then, for you, He is God.

If He is only on your tongue, or on paper, or on a wall, or in a museum of the past—and even if you call him God—for you, He is but a toy. Beware then, O man, for no one can play around with God without punishment.

The heart is a seemingly narrow organ, but God can dwell in it. When God dwells in it, then it is filled, and filled to overflowing, and nothing else can stand in it. If, however, the whole world were to settle in it, it would remain empty without God.

Brethren, let Christ, the Resurrected and Living Lord, pour faith into your hearts, and your hearts will be filled, and filled to overflowing. He cannot enter and dwell in your hearts except through your faith. If you do not possess faith, Christ will remain only on your tongue, or on paper, or on the wall, or in a museum of the past.
What benefit is there for you in that?

What benefit is there for you in holding life on your tongue and death in your heart? For if you hold the world in your heart and Christ on your tongue, you hold death in your heart and life on your tongue. Water on the tongue of the thirsty does not help. Let the living Christ into your heart, and your will be permeated with the truth and you will sense unspeakable sweetness.

O Resurrected Lord, cleanse our heart from the deadly guests who dwell in it and do Thou Thyself take up dwelling in it, that we may live and glorify Thee. To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.

Friday, June 13, 2008

A wandering moneyless tribe

"Regarding the rest of mankind, you should pray for them unceasingly, for we can always hope that repentance may enable them to find their way to God. Give them a chance to learn from you, or at all events from the way you act. Meet their animosity with mildness, their high words with humility, and their abuse with your prayers. But stand firm against their errors, and if they grow violent, be gentle instead of wanting to pay them back in their own coin. Let us show by our forbearance that we are their brothers, and try to imitate the Lord by seeing which of us can put up with the most ill-usage or privation or contempt—so that in this way none of the devil's noxious weeds may take root among you, but you may rest in Jesus Christ in all sanctity and discipline of body and soul."
—Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Ephesians, ch. 10

The above quote from Ignatios of Antioch's Epistle to the Ephesians was left as the twenty-second comment on a blog post chronicling the adventures of a wandering, moneyless tribe consisting of a "moneyless" philosopher and three young companions, members of the "Jesus Christian" cult. The comments began as a friendly questioning of the assertions and actions of this group by three followers of Jesus who are well-acquainted with the "philosopher." His responses gradually led the discussion to an impasse, and the addition of a couple of verbal ruffians made matters worse. The string of comments can be seen as a contemporary example of the kind of confrontation that we read about in early Christian history. We are still, as C. S. Lewis observed, "the early Christians," so we can expect to be handled in the same way that they were.
The hyperlink above takes you to that post.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

How deep the rabbit hole goes

Today I discovered a new strand of progressive thinking which really goes over the edge, and down Alice's rabbit hole. What to make of this quote by author and philosopher James Hughes?

"The emergence of biotechnological controversies, however, is giving rise to a new axis, not entirely orthogonal to the previous dimensions but certainly distinct and independent of them. I call this new axis biopolitics, and the ends of its spectrum are transhumanists (the progressives) and, at the other end, the bio-Luddites or bio-fundamentalists. Transhumanists welcome the new biotechnologies, and the choices and challenges they offer, believing the benefits can outweigh the costs. In particular, they believe that human beings can and should take control of their own biological destiny, individually and collectively enhancing our abilities and expanding the diversity of intelligent life. Bio-fundamentalists, however, reject genetic choice technologies and “designer babies,” “unnatural” extensions of the life span, genetically modified animals and food, and other forms of hubristic violations of the natural order. While transhumanists assert that all intelligent “persons” are deserving of rights, whether they are human or not, the biofundamentalists insist that only “humanness,” the possession of human DNA and a beating heart, is a marker of citizenship and rights."

James Hughes, Democratic Transhumanism 2.0, 2002

And now, for a quote that for us simpletons is a tad easier to understand and which, thankfully, gets to the core of Mr. Hughes philosophy…


"My problem with immortality is simply that I don't exist. You don't either. Our so-called personalities are just roiling masses of evolving impulses, memories, thoughts and sensations. There is no central chip, no core thought, no essential memory, that makes you you."

A new Tower of Babel

June is Gay Pride month in Portland, Oregon.

Nothing has changed. People are still people. There will always be a minority of people who have sexuality issues, whose emotional makeup is at odds with their physical configuration. God made us. How some of us got out of harmony, only God knows. He is probably more merciful towards people with this kind of dysfunction than most people believe. Every defect or obstacle is permitted to test us and make us stronger, not to destroy us. That goes for people with sexuality issues too. Now, the world has built another tower of babel, this time for sexuality issues, hoping to funnel the people who have them into chain gangs, to haul the building blocks up the ramps. Higher and higher they go. It's only a matter of time before the Hand of God strikes the building and releases the slaves.

Come, Lord Jesus.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

In a world like that

"Father, I’ve come to ask you to bless me."

"No. If you're right, you'll have God's blessing. If you're wrong, my blessing won't mean anything. If might is right, then love has no place in the world."

"It may be so."

"But I don't have the strength to live in a world like that.
I can't bless you."

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
John 1:5

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Scolding the Sheep

I wish I could say that it was the first time I've heard a homily like this, but it isn't. I've heard similar things before, and from the same preacher, who happens to be a retired high school teacher and an ordained deacon. While he was preaching, I was praying the psalms.
I started with Psalm 38 and got as far as Psalm 44. I didn't plug my good ear, because I was listening to him while I prayed. He has warned me that to pray or read my bible during sermon time is childish and disrespectful. On my side, I just want to make best use of my time. If a sermon or homily is useful, I listen. If it isn't, I pray. The following is in quotation marks for effect. They are not the deacon's exact words, but the general content of his homily, as I remember it.

"I fear for the future of the Church," he confesses, "because attendance at liturgy has gotten to be so poor. It's great that we have all kinds of projects and events that we work on, the Festival, AHEPA Crab Feeds, Greek Dancing, various glendis and what not.
But that's not what the Church is for. We should all be here whenever there's a service. The church is barely an eighth full when liturgy starts, and even by the time of the reading of the Gospel it's not even half full. People are piling in late and that's not right. If this were a really healthy parish, umm, I mean, cathedral, we would have eighteen bible studies instead of only two, and there would be at least three priests serving here, instead of one. Children don't do what we say, they watch us and do what we do. How can we expect our holy faith to be passed on to the next generation, if they see us acting in such a careless and irreverent manner? Where's our zeal?"

Yes, deacon, I too fear for the future of this church, but not for the future of The Church. By definition, the Church of Christ is the congregation of all faithful Christians, no matter where they be, who follow our Lord Jesus Christ and confess Him their Savior, and prove on the battlefield of their own bodies that they are willing to lay down their lives for Him, not only their two or three hours a week. I am simply appalled that the shepherds should scold the sheep for not being fruitful and multiplying.

"Go forth and make disciples of all nations," the deacon reiterated several times. "Why aren't we doing that?" he asks, using "we" instead of "you" because, I hope, he realises he is even more responsible than the sheep are for his lack of anything more than verbal zeal.

One of the first duties of the clergy is to actively seek out members of the congregation placed in their charge who have the kinds of spiritual gifts, talents, skills, dispositions, and desires that qualify them for active ministry in the church. Instead, what we have are clergy professionals who confess they are "afraid of the people," because they "cannot trust them," and who therefore hoard all authority and desire all control to be in their own hands. Then they wonder why attendance dwindles, why people don't come to them for confession, why (from their point of view) the parish has let them down.

Don't scold the sheep! Step up to the plate and be good pastors of the flock, and you will see results, if that's what you want. But as long as you want to play the numbers game, and do little else but picture perfect liturgies and ho-hum, kaffee-klatsch meetings, you're going to lose, even the numbers game, even what little you think you have. You cannot cheat God, nor is the flock deceived. We know when we have a shepherd who is doing what he sees the Good Shepherd doing, and when that happens, we come a-running.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Communion according to Chrysostom

Week by week you come to the Lord's table to receive bread and wine. What do these things mean to you? Do you regard them merely as some kind of spiritual medicine, which will purge your soul, like a laxative may purge your body? Or do you sometimes wonder what God is saying in these simple elements?
Bread and wine represent the fruits of our labor, whereby we turn the things of nature into food and drink for our sustenance. So at the Lord's table we offer our labor to God, dedicating ourselves anew to His service. Then the bread and the wine are distributed equally to every member of the congregation; the poor receive the same amount as the rich. This means that God's material blessings belong equally to everyone, to be enjoyed according to each person's need.
The whole ceremony is also a meal at which everyone has an equal place at the table. Thus we are celebrating our fellowship as brothers and sisters, with Christ as our unseen elder brother at one end of the table, and God as our unseen father presiding at the other end.

Archbishop of Constantinople

Friday, June 6, 2008

‘Who's your Friend?’

Today while driving my wife to go shopping (she doesn't drive), I tailgated a vehicle that had a little black bumpersticker "Got Jesus?" I've thought about having my inventor/mechanic son (number 3, born on Father's Day, he turns 23 next weekend) design and install for me a paint-ball gun behind the radiator screen on the front of my van. Then, I could paint-ball bumpers that desecrate the name of Jesus, like the one I just saw.

I live in hippie-dippy neo-pagan Oregon, but I work in whoopie-cushion Christian Washington state. Few things irritate me as much as using the motor vehicle, especially its more humble parts, as billboards to advertise one's make and model of Christianity.

"Only God" is another one of the stickers that I see, usually gracing the rear window of a car or pickup. "Real men love Jesus" was another one I saw last week. Aarrrgh!!!
I believe that Orthodox deacons, presbyters, bishops, and monastics should go around in public in their "blacks." No, I don't mean just wearing something black, I mean their rassos or anderis, or whatever they call them, yeah, their black dresses! And I think they should wear their pectoral crosses if they have one. Yeah, and I think that they should have long hair tied back in a pony-tail and have at least a nice, trimmed beard, if not a full, shaggy one. I don't feel that it matters if clergy of other denominations, including Roman Catholics, wear their clerical "blacks" in public, but I do think it's important that the Orthodox do. Why? Because our faith cannot be gainsaid, cannot be ridiculed or opposed, because ours is the ground floor, the foundation of all the others, because "we don't move the ancient landmarks set by our ancestors," and yet ours is the faith that does not grow old, "planted by streams of water, yielding its fruit in season, its leaves never fading." So our men and women "of the cloth" should appear fully clad in their uniforms, just as policemen do in the keeping of law and order, because what they are keeping is even more powerful, more precious.
Years ago, when I was a young man living in Edmonton, Alberta, the Orthodox priests used to go about downtown in their "blacks" and I often witnessed the native people (who were Orthodox, usually) and living on the street, reduced to poverty and alcoholism, get up off their blankets and flock to the priests whenever they appeared, kneeling before them, weeping and kissing their hands, asking not for money, but for prayer and a blessing. Witnessing this touched me deeply, and affected me in two ways.

First, that our priests really do represent not just the Church but Christ Himself when they appear publicly in their garb, and thus He clothes them with power from on high. Second, that any of us who are members of the priestly and kingly race known as Christians have the same calling, the same ministry to the lost, and can always walk with Jesus, ready to help anyone He puts in our path, in whatever way is indicated. This has made me what I am, and why I wear this attitude in place of my baptismal cross or icon button or whatever. I don't want to wear my decorations before I earn them. I don't want to put on my medal until the war's over and I've come through it alive. Anyway, that's my rationale as to why I don't purposely wear anything, especially an overt religious symbol, when I'm in the world. I used to do this when I was a young Christian (yeah, that's me in the picture), but there just came a day when I saw that it had to be me and not my flag that would draw people to me for help, because they could see I loved them, and not that I had a product to sell.

When I walk about in the world, at work, at shopping, out on the street, I often whistle a hymn from the Anglican hymnal (I have dozens memorised), one that anyone who’s ever gone to church would probably recognize. Why? I just want to remind myself, and them, that Jesus is near. I never go out anywhere without at least a pocket New Testament with me, that I can read while I'm sitting waiting for my oil change, or for my wife to finish shopping. When I go to the coffeehouse, alone or with a friend, I always try to have my Greek NT with me, and I like to read it for relaxation, out loud but softly. At work, my office cubicle has paper icons interspersed with family and friends' photos on the walls. So yes, I do have an appearance, a sign of the presence of Christ in my life, but it's not for show, it all has a purpose in which I live my life. Doing that unabashedly in public or in private, that's the way I let the shadow of Christ fall across my path. And if others notice the shadow, they may ask, "Who's your Friend?"

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Passover Flight

After trying many times to jumpstart my new blog, Taka's Japan, and after announcing it already once before, here I am again to give it another try. Our trip, and I should call it pilgrimage, to visit our best friend Taka and see something of Japan, is now just over a month in the past. You'd think I'd have had enough time by now to let the memories ripen and start to harvest the telling, but to tell the truth, Japan affected me so deeply, it has nearly left me speechless. Nevertheless, at least on the level of a travelog, I should be able to tell it now.

I'm starting the story here on Cost of Discipleship, because it starts out with a remarkable testimony of God's faithfulness that I want to share. Afterwards, there will be a link to take you to Taka's Japan, and I hope you will enjoy it.

Brock and I had airline tickets for a 2:30 p.m. departure from PDX on the 19th of April. It hadn't escaped us that this day was of special significance—the first evening of the Jewish Passover would begin at sundown, wherever we were. It was the first trip outside North America for either of us, and we would be crossing the sea to get to our destination.
To observe in some modest way the Passover Seder, the evening ceremonial meal that Jews partake of on this night, Brock had bought a box of whole wheat Matzos and a six pack of Welch's grape juice.
(I saved the empty box from last year's Passover matzos, and that's where I got the picture, but it's not the box we used this year.)
Anyway, as we did some last minute packing at Brock's place, we stuffed the matzos in my carry-on bible bag, and divided the grape juice bottles, putting two of them in Brock's backpack, and the other four in the cargo pockets of his pants. Then, we set off for the train that would carry us to the airport.

Things went fairly smoothly for us at the airport. That is, until we got to the security screening. As a person who hasn't flown much in the last few years, I was not on the ball about how to get ready to pass through the metal detectors, and as a result almost got rejected. When our carry-ons went through the screening machine, the two bottles of grape juice in Brock's backpack were discovered and he had to surrender them. After we both emerged on the other side of the security station and took stock of what we had and what we lost, we remembered the four bottles of grape juice still in Brock's cargoes. Whew! We could still observe the minimum of the Passover observance. We still had our "bread and wine."

No more hitches. We soon found ourselves getting aboard the plane and found our seats—the two middle seats in the group of four that runs down the center of the plane. On my left was a very tired and very private Japanese businessman, stiffly dressed and very taciturn. During the whole flight he pretended we weren't there, even when I excused myself in Japanese for accidentally grabbing his seatbelt as mine. On my right was Brock, and on his right was an Asian man who looked to be about 35 years old and probably Korean. We got our bags stowed under the seats and in the overhead, and settled down for the long flight. I wondered, would I be able to sit that long?

Before we'd left the ground, we started up a little conversation of greetings and introductions with the Korean man (we were right about his nationality), and he seemed genuinely friendly and good-natured. After a few minutes of this, we all got quiet again, as the plane took off and we were airborne. But things just didn't stay that way.

Something the Korean gentleman had said a few minutes earlier had piqued my curiosity, and so I called over to him and asked him my question. I can't now remember what it was. Maybe I asked him about his business or where he lived. However and whenever we learned these details during the course of the flight, he was a Korean who worked for a company based in Germany and their business was antennas and other such equipment. In the course of his career with them, Phil (for that was his English name) had done quite a bit of travelling in Europe. As I am a German-speaker and have a cultural interest in Germany, I asked him what it was like there.

This is how our conversation started out. Of course, I'm not describing the topics we talked about during the first part of our acquaintance or any of Brock's words, but all three of us engaged in a gradually deepening exchange of experiences, thoughts and philosophies. At some point, we found ourselves having to explain things about the two of us that brought into the discussion things like Jewish history, and the Bible. We had to assume at first that our new friend didn't know too much about the Bible or Jewish and Christian ideas. Brock explained about Passover, and how this evening was the first night of that holy day, and how it commemorated the Jews' exodus from Egypt. As Brock or I alternately explained and answered his questions, we noticed that Phil often repeated our answers and certain words we used, as if he were trying to memorise them. (Oh, I forgot to mention this important fact—Phil's command of English was almost perfect.) As time went on—and we occasionally took little breaks of silence—our new friend would sit up and turn to us with another question. Time passed, yet it didn't feel long at all for any of us.

It was finally dark outside (and dark in the cabin as well). The little monitor for watching movies had a map showing where the plane was. We were somewhere in the North Pacific off the Aleutian Islands. Our conversation had been going on for hours, but we weren't tired. We were very, very awake—all three of us. Brock turned to me, "Let's have our Passover now," and I reached down to my bible bag and pulled out the box of matzos. Then I reached up and turned on the reading light, and pulled the small New Testament out of the cigarette pocket in the sleeve of my jacket. Brock meanwhile dropped the tray open in front of him. We had emptied the grape juices out of his cargoes when we first sat down, and they were in the elastic pouches on the backs of the seats in front of us. I took the two out of mine, and Brock asked Phil if he would join us in breaking matzah and drinking juice as we observed the Passover together. "Can I really do it?" he asked, almost dumbfounded. "Of course you can," replied Brock, as he pulled another bottle of juice out of the seat pouch and placed it on the table close to Phil.

We were ready. Well, if all our talking and testifying on the trip hadn't disturbed anyone so far—not even the businessman to my left—I guess what we were about to do wouldn't either, although it might've raised some eyebrows if religious people were present.

Brock cited book and chapter, I found it in the New Testament, and Brock read the passages. First one, then another. These were the accounts of Jesus' last Passover with His disciples. (By now Phil already understood that we are followers of Jesus Christ, and that we also believe ourselves to be connected to Israel, as wild olive shoots are grafted onto the cultivated olive.) Brock also read some things in the epistles that related to partaking of the bread and wine. As he read the passages, we stopped, broke the matzos and ate them, drank the bottles of grape juice. Of course, we prayed also. All of this under the light of the reading lamp, using a drop-down table, and surrounded by strangers, not one of whom took any obvious notice of us. We weren't doing it for them, but for Him, for the Lord. "But even dogs can eat the crumbs that fall from their master's table…"

We finished reading scriptures, eating matzah and drinking juice, put the New Testament back in my pocket, and dropped the box of matzos into my bible bag. We turned the overhead light off. There was a peaceful silence.

The second half of a ten hour flight was still ahead of us. We rested sometimes, sometimes we talked. Something had changed. Phil was still asking questions, still repeating some of the answers, drinking it all in like a newborn infant. We learned a few more things about him too. Now we're entering a place that can't really be talked about, where people are becoming real, where the Spirit in us starts speaking things that words can't adequately express. We spent the entire remainder of that flight this way.

As the plane was coming in for a landing at Tokyo, we were jolted back to another reality—we were in Japan! We started saying our farewells early, and started promising each other to stay in touch. (That promise has been kept.) I had to give Phil something. I reached into my bible bag where I had seven or eight icon buttons pinned to an inside flap. They were for giving away as omiyage when I got to the Orthodox church in Nagoya. Only one would do for Phil. I gave him the icon button of the Pantokrator, the one that I usually wear. Someday, Phil would understand more, and know who this Man called Pantokrator is, and get to know Him, personally.

Phil, Brock and I exchanged cards and emails, and got ready to get off the plane and stand in some more lines, as we were cleared to get onto our connecting flight to Nagoya. We saw Phil a few more times, and then said our goodbyes for the last time. We were off to Nagoya!

Continued at…

First Night in Nagoya

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Church fathers and councils

Yesterday, I spent an enjoyable evening with a good friend, discussing the Church fathers and the councils, particularly the proceedings by Cyril of Alexandria against Nestorius. Earlier that day I had read a blog article about a different Cyril, that of Jerusalem, who is one of the great fathers of the Church. I left a comment on that blog which I will use to conclude this post of mine. What we observed was that, thanks to the reports of eye-witnesses, we have a lot of historical documents telling us about the lives of early Church fathers, in addition to having their writings. It helps to know something about those times, as we reflect on what is happening in the Body of Christ at the present moment.

If we think that the Church has problems today, or that bad behavior is the specialty of contemporary Christian leaders, we should delve a bit into the past. On the other hand, if we tend to equate the ancient fathers with an idea of a “golden age” of Christianity, or think that their writings and opinions are to be held uncritically superior to ours, we should think again. C. S. Lewis observed that “we are still the early Christians.” Every Church father, just as every Christian pastor, teacher or writer, still has to be examined in the light of the scriptural Truth, which remains the source and measure of the Christian “tradition.”

We’ve heard, with unthinking amusement, of the incident at the Council of Nicæa where Nicholas, the bishop of Myra, slapped or punched the 80 year old presbyter Arius, whose teaching about the non-deity of Christ was the reason for calling the council. Supposedly he was placed under house arrest until some of the bishops had a common dream that made them release him and restore him to the Council. I read in another place that this story is found for the first time in a 14th century Latin manuscript. To me, that smacks of tale-spinning, as do many of the other tales told of the saints in West and East.

Be that as it may, violence, at least in speech, was not rare among some of the Church fathers. An excerpt from the authentic transcript of the Council of Chalcedon follows. The moment is that of the Imperial officers ordering that Theodoret, the bishop of Kars, should enter the assembly:

“And when the most reverend bishop Theodoret entered, the most reverend the bishops of Egypt, Illyria, and Palestine shouted out—‘Mercy upon us! The faith is destroyed! The canons of the Church excommunicate him! Turn him out! Turn out the teacher of Nestorius!’ On the other hand, the most reverend the bishops of the East, of Thrace, of Pontus, and of Asia, shouted out—‘We were compelled [at the former Council] to subscribe our names to blank papers! We were scourged into submission! Turn out the Manichæans! Turn out the enemies of Flavian! Turn out the adversaries of the faith!’ Dioscorus, the most reverend bishop of Alexandria said—‘Why is Cyril to be turned out? It is he whom Theodoret has condemned!’ The most reverend the bishops of the East shouted out—‘Turn out the murderer Dioscorus! Who knows not the deeds of Dioscorus?’ …The most reverend the bishops of Egypt, Illyria, and Palestine, shouted out—‘Long life to the Empress!’ The most reverend the bishops of the East shouted out—‘Turn out the murderers!’ The most reverend the bishops of Egypt shouted out—‘The Empress turned out Nestorius! Long life to the Catholic Empress! The Orthodox synod refuses to admit Theodoret!’

“Theodoret then being at last received by the Imperial officers, and taking his place, the most reverend bishops of the East shouted out—‘Axios! Axios! [He is worthy!]’ The most reverend the bishops of Egypt shouted out—‘Don’t call him a bishop! He is no bishop! Turn out the fighter against God! Turn out the Jew!’ The most reverend the bishops of the East shouted out—‘The Orthodox for the synod! Turn out the rebels! Turn out the murderers!’ The most reverend the bishops of Egypt—‘Turn out the enemy of God! Turn out the defamer of Christ! Long life to the Empress! Long life to the Emperor! Long life to the Catholic Emperor! Theodoret condemned Cyril! If we receive Theodoret, we excommunicate Cyril!’ At this point the Imperial commissioners who were present put a stop to the clamor, as unworthy a meeting of Christian bishops.”

It’s really ironic how these bishops are described repeatedly with the honorific ‘the most reverend,’ in view of their atrocious behavior. After reading this account, it’s easy to see that blood had a low boiling point in that era, even among shepherds of the flock. Admittedly, the Council of Chalcedon was one of the more violent ones, and most historians consider the 1st Council of Nicæa much more civil. Yet even there, what we have from letters written at the time, indicate that tempers flared.

And why not? The understanding of the content of the revelation of Jesus Christ, who He is, was at stake. Moreover, we are so far removed from that time that we can’t be sure, always, that we’re understanding what we read in those old books. Still, it does seem that many of the things that were debated, argued about, and even fought over back then have little bearing on the gospel, on the good news.

The following is the short comment I left on the blog of my brother in Christ, Andrew Kenny, who ministers in Northern Ireland. I think I’d like to repeat it as a concluding comment to the historical drama just quoted from the Council of Chalcedon.

It’s good that we look at what the Church fathers said and did, what they taught, how they lived, and how they died. They were people like us, living in a culture not really too unlike our own, facing very similar social and ethical challenges. To their glory they laid down the foundations of our common orthodox faith, to their shame they quibbled and sometimes nit-picked each other to death over trifles, or over speculations on divine things for which there was never any warrant in scripture.

The contemporary Orthodox Church sometimes idolizes them, even seems to put them above scripture, while quietly shuffling their misdeeds under the rug, but the fact is they were humans just like us, their squabbling no different than modern denominational disagreements, and yet, underneath it all, they had a common faith that they could have practiced in peace and love, had they put away the works of the flesh.

Yes, faith in God and in His Christ is one thing, and faith as a body of doctrine quite another, yet we use the same word for both. This has been largely responsible for the decline of Christianity throughout the ages, and especially now, when we are living not in a post-Christian age, but deservedly in a post-church one.

Church is people in Christ. We can institutionalise “church” just as church has institutionalized “faith.” We think we do this to preserve both, yet we do exactly the opposite.

Christianity is not and never was perpetuated by institutions, only by what C. S. Lewis so aptly called “good infection.” In our studies of the Bible and the Church fathers, we should never forget that it is only God and His Christ, Jesus, and what He has won for us, that matters.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Ephesians 1:17 ~ 2:20

May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory,
give you a spirit of wisdom and perception of what is revealed,
to bring you to full knowledge of Him.

May He enlighten the eyes of your mind
so that you can see what hope His call holds for you,
what rich glories He has promised the saints will inherit
and how infinitely great is the power
that He has exercised for us believers.

This you can tell from the strength of His power at work in Christ,
when He used it to raise Him from the dead
and to make Him sit at His right hand, in heaven,
far above every Sovereignty, Authority, Power, or Domination,
or any other name that can be named,
not only in this age but also in the age to come.

He has put all things under His feet,
and made Him, as the Ruler of everything,
the Head of the Church,
which is His Body,
the fullness of Him who fills the whole creation.

And you were dead,
through the crimes and sins in which you used to live

when you were following the way of this world,
obeying the ruler who governs the air,
the spirit who is at work in the rebellious.

We all were among them too in the past,
living sensual lives, ruled entirely by our own physical desires
and our own ideas,
so that by nature
we were as much under God's anger as the rest of the world.

But God loved us with so much love
that He was generous with His mercy:

When we were dead through our sins,
He brought us to life with Christ—

it is through grace that you have been saved—
and raised us up with Him and gave us a place with Him
in heaven, in Christ Jesus.

This was to show for all ages to come,
through His goodness to us in Christ Jesus,
how infinitely rich He is in grace.

Because it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith;
not by anything of your own, but by a gift from God;
not by anything that you have done,
so that nobody can claim the credit.

We are God's work of art, created in Christ Jesus
to live the good life as from the beginning
He had meant us to live it.

Ephesians 1:17 - 2:10 Jerusalem Bible