Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Apostles and their Successors…

Rummaging through the attic a couple of weeks ago, I ran across a pile of old posters rolled up in a cardboard tube.
One of them was a copy of the Creed of Nicaea, written out on a large piece of stiff paper about 40cm wide by 52cm high, in brown and green calligraphy, which I penned by hand when I was a new Christian, about 25 years old. The Creed is in the form I learned in the Episcopal Church which I belonged to after I accepted the Lord. Though a little different than the Pistévo, or the Symbol of Nicaea, which I now confess in its original Greek form (without the filioque), it is still an interesting relic of my early life in Christ. What is especially interesting is that I added, in the margins, verses of scripture that support each of the statements made, and I looked them up in the bible manually—no such things as computer or internet searches back then (1976), and I've never owned a concordance. If you click on the image of the creed, it will zoom to a size that you can read online, or download and print out on a color printer as I just did, and it comes out beautifully on 8½x11 stock.

Below is the exact text, brown is the Creed, green the bible verses and commentary.

The Apostles and their Successors with fear and trembling defined in human words the deposit of the Faith. As St. Hilary put it: We are compelled to attempt what is unattainable, to climb where we cannot reach, to speak what we cannot utter. Instead of the bare adoration of faith, we are compelled to entrust the deep things of religion to the perils of human expression. The Nicene Creed expresses the mind of the Church at the close of the struggle that followed upon the Council of Nicaea in 325. Its form is that adopted by the Council of Chalcedon in 451. It represents the whole Church's stand at the end of the Arian controversy.

I believe in One God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible;

For us there is one God, the Father from whom all things come and for whom we exist.
1 Corinthians 8:6
In the Beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
Genesis 1:1
In Him were created all things in heaven and on earth, everything visible and everything invisible.
Colossians 1:16

And in One Lord, Jesus Christ, the Only-Begotten Son of God, Begotten of His Father before all worlds,

There is one Lord Jesus Christ.
Ibid. (1 Corinthians)
He is the Image of the unseen God, and the First-born of all creation.
Colossians 1:15
All things were created through Him and for Him; before anything was created, He existed.
Ibid., v. 17
Not one thing had its being but through Him.
John 1:3
His state was divine, yet He did not cling to His equality with God, but emptied Himself to assume the condition of a slave and became as all men are.
Philippians 2:6-7
God has made this Jesus whom you crucified both Lord and Christ.
Acts 2:36
He was born not out of human stock, or urge of the flesh, or will of man, but of God Himself.
John 1:13

God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, Begotten, not made, being of One Substance with the Father, by Whom all things were made;

The Word was with God, and the Word was God.
John 1:1
The Word was the true Light that enlightens all men.
He is the radiant Light of God's glory and the perfect copy of His nature, sustaining the universe by His powerful command.
Hebrews 1:3
The Word was made flesh. He lived among us, and we saw His glory, the glory that is His as the Only Son of the Father.
John 1:14

Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary,
And was made Man;

This is how Jesus Christ came to be born: His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they came to live together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.
Matthew 1:18
Now all this took place to fulfill the words spoken by the Lord through the prophet Isaiah: A virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel.
Ibid., vv 22-23.

And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried;
He descended into hell; is not found in the Nicene Creed,
but in the Apostles'.

And the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures;

He sacrificed Himself for us in order to set us free from all wickedness.
Titus 2:14
Yes, God loved the world so much that He gave His Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not be lost, but may have everlasting life.
John 3:16
Christ Himself… was put to death… He was raised to life and… He went to preach to the spirits in prison.
1 Peter 3:18-19
Christ died for our sins. He was buried and… He was raised to life on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.
1 Corinthians 15:3-4

And ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father;

The mystery of our religion is very deep indeed: He was made visible in the flesh, attested by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed to the pagans, believed in by the world, taken up in glory.
1 Timothy 3:16
He has gone to take His place in heaven at the right hand of divine Majesty.
Hebrews 1:3

And He shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead;
Whose Kingdom shall have no end.

God has appointed Him to judge everyone, alive or dead.
Acts 10:42
Your throne, God, shall last forever and ever.
Psalm 45:6

And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life,
Who proceedeth from the Father
and the Son; was added in the 6th Century (unscriptural, heterodox).

I shall send you from the Father the Spirit of Truth who issues from the Father.
John 15:26

Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified;
Who spake by the prophets.

God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets.
Hebrews 1:1

And I believe One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church;

There is one Body, one Spirit, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, and one God.
Ephesians 4:4-6
I have given them the glory You gave to Me, that they may be One as We are One. With Me in them, and You in Me, may they be so completely One that the world will realise that it was You who sent Me, and that I loved them as much as You loved Me.
John 17:22-23
Christ loved the Church and sacrificed Himself to make her Holy.
Ephesians 5:25-26

I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins;

Go, therefore, make disciples of all the nations; baptise them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Matthew 28:19
These remained faithful to the teaching of the Apostles, to the Brotherhood, to the Eucharist, and to the prayers.
Acts 2:42

And I look for the Resurrection of the dead, and the Life of the world to come. AMEN.

This I know: that my Redeemer lives, and He the Last will take His stand on earth. After my awakening He will set me close to Him, and from my flesh I shall look on God. Amen.
Job 19:25-26

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The God who loves me is coming

Follow the Lord to Golgotha.

A man wounded, knowing how to bear weakness

Isaiah 53:3 Septuagint

Be wounded
and know how to bear pain.
The Cross must be familiar and acceptable to you as a place to be and a mode of existence.

Then the Lord will come at some time, without fail, as He knows best. He will come and find you. He will touch your aching head, as "…He touched the leper" (Matthew 8:3).
He will speak to you. He will enter into you like light, repose, paradise. You will be aware of Him. You will feel Him. You will actually live His passion and resurrection. You will find yourself inside the icon of the Resurrection, of the Descent into Hades.

This icon will be an expression of your life. Christ will be constantly leading you by the hand, bringing you to light, to freedom, to an unending journey which is Himself.

You understand then the words of the Lord, "Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into His glory?" (Luke 24:26) Christ had to suffer and to come forth as a Bridegroom from the tomb.
A great mystery!

You feel that you had to suffer, to endure pain, to die in the earth like a seed, so that there might shoot up from within you something that does not pass away.

I am created for some specific purpose, for something intangible, invisible to the naked eye, and yet incarnate.
I know it. I believe it. I experience it.

When I move away from it, everything goes awry, in my soul and in my body. When I am within it, I am firmly grounded and recover everything, the health of my soul and body. When I am alone, I am in communion with the saints. When I am in a crowd, I am nourished by the pure spring welling up in the desert within.

Reverence for this least and greatest thing takes the form of constantly going outdoors without protection, of asking at every moment only that His will should be done. Asking it not with my mouth and voice, but with my whole manner of living, all the time.

And when you ask that His will should be done, when your whole being is one bleeding petition, it happens. But this happening is not something you can determine in advance. It may happen by happening or by not happening. It may be that before your petition is even finished, the answer comes. Or you may wait years and wear yourself out, and be disappointed, and reach utter exhaustion, and be destroyed. And then, when you are no longer expecting anything—neither you nor anyone else—He Himself will come to raise you up, to take you with Him on a new journey.
Then you will understand why He was slow in coming for you. He was with you "in another form" (Mark 16:12), even when He had not come and you were waiting for Him.

How everything functions as a whole! How nothing is irrelevant, nothing is wasted! How the blessings go deeper than we hoped! How the afflictions, the pains and the perplexities till the field of our souls like a deep-cutting ploughshare! How totally and utterly the strange and heaven-sent rest differs in nature from the rest and satisfaction afforded by any earthly and temporary success! How it teaches us humility, how it schools us in love, how it reconciles us with others! It strengthens us, it invigorates us, and at the same time it makes us weaker, without any prickles or sharp corners which could wound others!

—Archimandrite Vasileios

My citadel is God Himself.
the God who loves me is coming…
Psalm 59:10 Jerusalem Bible (1966)


Two men more unlike each other can hardly be found, and yet here they are, cheek to cheek, the father and father of the Church, proving that there is more than mere flesh and blood involved in spiritual parenthood.
"What is born of the flesh is flesh. What is born of the spirit is spirit" (John 3:6). Yet the flesh is not to be discounted, for that is what we are made of to begin with, where we start from, but that is not where we end up.

Today is the commemoration of holy apostles Peter and Paul. The ikons show their appearance as it has been handed over to us generation after generation. I love it that the family is so faithful in keeping the treasury of faith intact. Peter is always shown with a head of thick white or gray hair and a short beard and mustache, an industrious and fair small businessman. Paul always has his characteristically balding pate, his hair and mustache dark, his beard and sidelocks curly, just as you would expect of a man who was groomed to be a great rabbinical scholar in Israel.

Did they ever really hug each other like this? Well, probably not often, but even once would be enough to warrant it being recorded on spiritual film. Two men almost fated by their backgrounds to be enemies, or at least to feel superior to each other. The one a man of the people, roughly educated, speaking just enough Greek to trade and just enough Hebrew to pray, attending to the business of wife and family and providing others with a livelihood, a small town fisherman, careful of his affairs, clannish with his friends, loyal, trusty and true. The other, a cosmopolitan man of some means, a tent-maker probably by hereditary trade, though trained for better things, the study of Tanakh—the Torah (law), the Nevi'im (prophets) and the Ketuvim (writings)—unmarried because not yet a rabbi worthy of a wife, Greek and Hebrew second nature to him, Aramaic for dealing with all classes of men, prepared to meet every man on his own ground, a man for all seasons.

Our ikons and paintings show them together, but this is a spiritual unity not a historical and personal one, for little did they actually collaborate in their preaching of the Good News. Between them, though, the Lord who chose them, "you have not chosen Me, I have chosen you" (John 15:16), has all the bases covered until the end of time, with the help, of course, of the other ten. When we see Peter in the ikon, we should remember that it is not he alone, but all the original apostles, that are there represented. The holy eleven, or twelve if you count Matthias who was chosen by lot to replace Judas Iscariot, are with Peter. And among them all, there is not a single one that is not a friend for our inmost soul.

They walked with the Lord. They were present for most of His miracles. They touched Him, ate with Him, lived with Him. He slept in their presence, and they in His. They were as close as a band of brothers could be. Their fellowship seemed impenetrable, but for the intrusion of the "one untimely born" Paul (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:8), who would not have been found walking with them and with Jesus during His three year mission. He had more important things to do then, to sit at the feet of the sages of Israel thirstily drinking in their words, so that he would become worthy of their company and fellowship. If Paul had been among the Pharisees who knew and met Jesus, like Nikodemos and Joseph, he wouldn't have been quiet about it. But no, he admits to having been born "too late."

We are now at the end of the Apostles' Fast, and tomorrow the rest of the holy apostles will be commemorated. With them we share the Good News of the Kingdom, of the Living One, Jesus the Christ, "the Word co-eternal with the Father and the Spirit, born of the virgin for our salvation" (Ton synanarchon Logon, Resurrectional Apolytikion, Tone 5). We are not imprisoned as holy apostle John was on Patmos, "for having preached God's Word and witnessed for Jesus" (Revelation 1:9). We are still free to do these things, there is still a little more time left for us to go out into the field of the world to the harvest of souls.

What is keeping us idle? What treasure have we counted more precious than the death of God's Son which has granted us eternal life and great mercy?

Now is the acceptable time of the Lord, now if ever, the fields are white for the harvest, and the sower and reaper rejoice together, to reap what in reality they have not worked for, to reap what others have planted, following Jesus the Lord of the harvest, who says,
"He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me, scatters" (Luke 11:23).

Though it be the eleventh hour, come, brethren, labor on.
The Lord of the harvest is always ready for us.
Let's not just honor the apostles.
Let's join them.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Blessèd is her husband!

Like Christ you do not splash about
in the shallows of me.
You well up from deep places,
somehow you make the deep places, even.
Like Christ, you are born again
in my heart, where you shine as a radiance
visibly unseen.
Like Christ, you made me yours
to save me
from the death I was growing to love.
Like Christ you speak to me of the thoughts
I am afraid to admit.
“Yes, God does love you”
you said – when I had been silent for too long,
when I had only wondered about God’s love
silently in my mind,
to Christ.
And as the scriptures teach,
the great blesses the lesser.
This is why you bless me
every day of my life, why
God hears your prayers for me
when I cannot pray for myself.
Like Christ your meekness, your sincerity
cause you to be overlooked.
People look at us and think that I,
with my ridiculous pretensions to
knowledge and competence
am the likelier of us two.
You knew this;
like Christ you were never jealous.

But the virtuous love you
(you are perhaps my only virtue)
and men of truth praise you.
And I, too, praise you now,
far later than I should.
I know of your patience,
the quiet grace that grows in you
unsuspected by yourself.
I know that you are serious in places
where I have carried fluff in my heart.
I know of your integrity,
I know that you labor for your father’s success
with an intensity that other men
lend to ambition, while you do it for love.
I know unspoken things that you have done
and forborne to do
for love.
This I know, and more,
and praise you.
Husband, mine own, my truer self,
bless me evermore.

The original poem, In Praise of a Husband, can be found here.

Freedom at what cost

Freedom at what cost—the phrase sounds so familiar to me, like a verse from a song lyric that is embedded in my memory, but I can't place it. I think it's from Bob Dylan. Perhaps it'll come to me...

Every day one learns something new—that is, if one is open to it. That doesn't mean giving up your own opinions or ideas, but just being willing to hear those of others. Today I learned a little bit about what the modern Christian considers “the freedom of the Gospel.” One thing I have to admit at the outset, though. I may be open to hearing other people's opinions and don't mind sharing mine, and I admit it when they are just my opinions. But, there are some things which simply are not opinions, which cannot be. Rather, they are absolute truths, the kind of truths that cannot be refuted without abandoning rationality altogether. What I learned today was that not all Christians feel this way.

First off, too, let me admit that I'm not a modern Christian. I don't accept it that human nature is any different now than it was at the time of the bible writers. I also don't think that cultural context plays a very large part in understanding and applying the scriptures. I'm an early Christian, and so in large part I do what the early Christians did and do because, as C. S. Lewis states, “we are still the early Christians.” As to the scriptures, I go to the Hebrew and Greek originals to hear and understand what the writers are saying. As to understanding them, I listen for the plain meaning and also consult Church fathers ancient and contemporary when in need of help. Finally, I travel in a spiritual ship built “in an ancient pattern that journeys far” (a line from one of my favorite songs by an old Scots folk group, The Incredible String Band).

Apparently, I have been left behind by the modern church, because I still model my life, in bulk and in fine, by the written Word of God, not of course legalistically, chained to the letter of the Law, but as a sinner saved by grace, as the psalmist says, “I run the way of Your commandments, since You have set me free” (Psalm 119:32 JB).

Today I learned from one of my juniors, that Christ has set us free, free to totally express ourselves as unique beings, to try everything, to experience everything, as long as we do nothing that upsets the church. An example was offered. A new young minister and his wife came to his congregation. The wife had pierced nostrils, and a ring in her nose. This was seen as upsetting the congregation, and so she voluntarily stopped wearing it. But as long as our self-expression does not upset the church, so reasoned my young Christian brother, it was acceptable to be ourselves.

To me this seems relativistic, and I said so. In the conversation that ensued between us, what I noticed was the total absence of reference to the scriptures, and the standards of Christian behavior (for there are such), by my friend. When I pointed this out, I was told that the bible is to be understood in the context in which it was written, and then reinterpreted to fit current cultural norms.

“Does that mean, then, that when a society has come to accept as normal and acceptable drug addiction, fornication, pornography, sexual abuse of children and animals, homosexual activity, role reversal between men and women, and mercy killing, then, we have to adjust our understanding of the bible to accept these too?”

My friend looked at me like I had just said something embarrassing, shameful and patently ridiculous, and then said something to the effect that, we have to accept everyone who says they are a Christian, and let them have the freedom to make their own life choices. Hmm, well, that didn't make sense to me, but I could see I was not getting anywhere, and I don't argue, at least I try not to.

“So you mean to tell me that the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was their inhospitality to the strangers that Lot took in under his protection, as some moderns allege?”

Again I was met with silence and incredulity, and a look of “How can you be saying that? Leave it alone.” This young brother gave me other examples of how we have complete freedom to express ourselves and develop ourselves, and in fact, that this is precisely what God wants us to do. He doesn't want us to just follow “the same old same old.” At this point it was my turn to meet him with silence and incredulity.

So I said, “Well, thanks for explaining to me what is meant by the freedom of the Gospel from a modern point of view. That actually gives me some insight into what I have seen going on in the modern churches. I really wondered why they acted like that.” My friend wasn't convinced that I really understood, because he could see that I still didn't agree with him, but he graciously replied, “I know you don't agree with me, but you're entitled to your opinion.”

Ah, those famous last words, and I let him have them.

Walking a Christian minefield

This is so incredibly typical.
Touchy Christians.
We sport our Jesus wear and signage: on our clothing, our cars, 4x4s and pickups. Now too, our beautiful, muscular, tanned bodies (not mine, actually!) sport our choice of ‘gods’ in the form of tattoos, body art we call it, to be polite. “Jesus saves” or maybe a hopelessly complicated cross-like design or maybe even a rustic, plain cross, or fine art like Durer’s praying hands or (gulp!) the Last Supper (you can view a person's forearm tattooed with this priceless artwork here). Yes, some of us do these things. Our bodies, temples of the Holy Spirit, our humanity, God's divine Image—we 've heard that we've been “bought and paid for” (1 Corinthians 6:20 and again at 7:23), so what's all the fuss about… sanctification?

Real life scenario. Two young men working together in a factory. One, a Christian, has a tattoo, and he challenges the other, a non-Christian with almost a dozen piercings on the visible parts of his body from the neck upwards (who knows what’s below), to get a tattoo. “Tattoos cost too much,” says the skinny boy to the other, who tips the scales at maybe 250 pounds or more. Into this dialog, a third man intrudes, unwisely perhaps. “What?” he exclaims to the fat Christian, “You really have a tattoo?”

“Yeah, I do,” replies the other, “what of it?” The third man turns to the skinny young pagan, “You don’t want to get a tattoo. Those piercings will close back up after you outgrow them, but not a tattoo. That’ll be there till you die, and then longer. Your body wasn’t given to you to be a billboard. Respect it.” This is really too much for the Christian brother with the tattoo, who chimes in to the other, encouraging him to “go for it” with a tattoo. “Yeah, I want to get a panel of tribal-looking art on the right half of my body,” says the skinny boy, “but it’d cost way more than I make here.”

“What are you saying, brother?” retorts the third man to the chunky Christian. “Surely you must have read in the Word, ‘You must not tattoo yourselves, for I am the Lord.’ ”

“Hey, it’s not your place to judge me, now, is it?” says the tattooed but touchy Christian, and the third man is silent. He knows when the Word is weak, it’s not for him to be strong. He knows when he and the Word have been “defeated,” and he withdraws.

This is the age we live in, when the Word of God is tossed about and mocked by those who say they believe in it, yet who do not let it touch them, no matter what, and where simply pointing to its truth constitutes a charge of judgment.

They little know what judgment really is.
But the day is at hand.

Remember who your teachers were (2 Timothy 3:14), and imitate them as they imitate Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1), and do not forget their teaching, but keep it.

You were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.
You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men.
1 Corinthians 6:20, 7:23 NIV

Only faith

First, to retell a story that will not seem at first to have anything to do with the topic of this post. Fr John, our parish priest, told this story as part of his sermon yesterday…

A little boy asked his father, “Daddy, am I stronger than the devil?” The father looked at his son lovingly and replied, “No, son, the devil is stronger than you.” The little boy continued, “Daddy, are you stronger than the devil?” Again, the father answered his little boy, “No, son, the devil is stronger than me too.” Once more, the persistent son asked, “Daddy, is Jesus stronger than the devil?” This time the father was able to answer in the affirmative, and smiling at his little son's perseverance, said, “Of course, son! Jesus is stronger than the devil! He has trampled him under His feet!” “But daddy, then I am stronger than the devil,” replied the boy, “because Jesus is in my heart!”

This post is just about faith…
Some people think that formally returning to Christianity will solve our problems, especially with the encroachment of Islam in the West. They are mistaken…

Making faith in Christ the price which must be paid to save Western civilization from the Muslim hordes is to make Christ the means to an end, our end. It may be true that the apostasy of the Christian West is largely responsible for its decline, but so did the virtuous among the pagan Romans blame “atheism,” abandoning the old gods for this new deity Christ, for the decline of Rome. I’ve always found this charge of atheism against the early Christians not an absurd lie, as many Christians of later ages have considered it, but rather a hint of what being a disciple of Jesus really means. The atheism they were accused of was their abandonment of traditional gods and their religious cults. But then, what did they do instead?

Yes, they did worship Christ as a deity, so tell the ancient records but, whatever they were doing, it was still viewed as something irreligious and irreverent by their contemporaries. The great labyrinthine structures of medieval Christendom had not yet arisen, and the liturgy of the Church of the late Roman Empire was still comparatively simple and held very close to the Hebrew and Greek Christian scriptures. It was almost a religionless Christianity, something that only in recent times has surfaced again among followers of Jesus. In fact, as we find our civilization sliding into cowardly weakness and self-indulgence, it appears that this religionless Christianity may be the only one that will survive.

The Muslim hordes I referred to above are immigrants from Islamic countries that Western nations, including Canada and the United States, have been allowing to set up house among us without becoming part of us. And can we expect them to?

On a very basic day to day level, many of these immigrants are as law-abiding and abstemious as Christians once by and large were, but are no longer. They are the “flocks and herds” of Islam, harmless as brute beasts. Behind them and among them, however, are their “herdsmen,” and it is these that are causing havoc and fear, as they wage jihad (warfare against the infidels—that’s us) and incite others to jihad.

There is an arena, yes—but a much deeper arena of conflict than most people realise, and it’s been going on for centuries. As one blog puts it, ‘a new phase of a very old war,’ though they are still thinking in geo-political terms.

I read the writings of anti-jihad, anti-Islamic contras who defend verbally the Christian West and decry the weakness and self-seeking duplicity of Western politicians. I admit it and agree with them; it is positively frightening how they are not faithful to their charges—the original inhabitants of the West—to govern and protect our democratic way of life, but we are, after all, democracies. We put these people in the driver’s seat. If we were really concerned that they are betraying our patrimony to internal enemies piece by piece, we would do something, now, and if not now, when?

Back to my original statement.
Some of the opponents of the encroachment of Islam are in fact Christians, or claim to be, and their war cry is to save Christian civilization, but it seems that they want to take a short cut. They seem to want to arouse the instincts of the masses of Christianised but not Christian citizens to somehow take a stand against Islam on a political and social level.

British National Party in the U.K., if I understand them correctly, want to deport every Muslim who tries to propagate his religion. I recently heard that there is a movement to make it illegal to sell the Qur’an in the Netherlands, just as it is illegal to sell copies of Mein Kampf. I sympathize with the sentiment but oppose the erosion of the right of free speech in banning books. On the other hand, I do agree with the BNP in wanting to deport unassimilating aliens that want to subvert the institutions of a country—for it’s not about religion; if it were, there could be no reasonable argument.
It’s about human rights.

We can’t use conversion to Christianity as a means of preserving Christian culture and civilization; it’s proven unreliable. On the other hand, conversion to Christ does cause real changes, but to individuals. These changed people, becoming followers of Jesus, do have a marked effect on society, usually out of proportion to their numbers, but they are unlikely to be mobilized into armies and mobs to combat theoretical or even real evils. This is not because they are cowards, but because they are truly fearless. They fear the coming of the Muslim hordes no more than they fear being surrounded by pious talking cultural Christians who, as a matter of fact, are even more numerous.

Authentic Christianity is the faith of the martyrs, witnesses for Jesus, and it cannot be stopped or defeated, ever. Even as stinging as Islam is, it only engulfs and conquers the unprotected. What is this protection? It is faith in the living God, and in His Christ.

This is a reprise of a post originally published on February 17, 2009 as Only faith is unstoppable.

Pearl of great price

Peter said to him, "We have left everything to follow you!"
Mark 10:28

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.
Matthew 13:45-46

Then, a challenge…

If your sort of Christianity hasn't cost you everything,
then it probably isn't worth anything.
On the other hand, if your Christianity is something
you earned yourself, then you don't need Jesus,
and you aren't really a Christian.

And then, an invitation…

to read the poem where I found the above quote.
Click here to read the poem, titled
The Pearl,
by Jim Swindle.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Only because of Jesus Christ

The source of the disciple's life lies exclusively in his fellowship with Jesus Christ. He possesses his righteousness only within that association, never outside it. That is why his righteousness can never become an objective criterion to be applied at will. He is a disciple not because he possesses a new standard, but only because of Jesus Christ, the Mediator and very Son of God. That is to say, his righteousness is hidden from himself in fellowship with Jesus. He cannot, as he could once, be a detached observer of himself and judge himself, for he can only see Jesus, and be seen by Him, judged by Him, and reprieved by Him. It is not an approved standard of righteous living that separates a follower of Christ from the unbeliever, but it is Christ who stands between them.

Christians always see other men as brethren to whom Christ comes; they meet them only by going to them with Jesus. Disciple and non-disciple can never encounter each other as free men, directly exchanging their views and judging one another by objective criteria. No, the disciple can meet the non-disciple only as a man to whom Jesus comes.

Here alone Christ's fight for the soul of the unbeliever, His call, His love, His grace and His judgment comes into its own. Discipleship does not afford us a point of vantage from which to attack others; we come to them with an unconditional offer of fellowship, with the single-mindedness of the love of Jesus.

When we judge other people we confront them in a spirit of detachment, observing and reflecting as it were from the outside.
But love has neither time nor opportunity for this. If we love, we can never observe the other person with detachment, for he is always and at every moment a living claim to our love and service.

But does not the evil in the other person make me condemn him just for his own good, for the sake of love?

Here we see the depth of the dividing line. Any misguided love for the sinner is ominously close to the love of sin. But the love of Christ for the sinner in itself is the condemnation of sin, is His expression of extreme hatred of sin.

The disciples are to love unconditionally. Thus they may effect what their own divided and judiciously and conditionally offered love never could achieve, namely the radical condemnation of sin.

If the disciples make judgments of their own, they set up standards of good and evil. But Jesus Christ is not a standard which I can apply to others.

Christian love sees the fellow-man under the cross and therefore sees with clarity.

There is only one judgment, one law, and one grace. Henceforth the disciple will look upon other men as forgiven sinners who owe their lives to the love of God. ‘This is the law and the prophets’—for this is none other than the supreme commandment:

To love God above all things,
and our neighbors as ourselves.

— Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, Book 2, Chapter 18

杉原 千畝 Chiune Sugihara

In my previous post I noticed a photo of Japanese diplomat 杉原 千畝 Sugihara Chiune (Japanese place the family name first), whom I knew to be a hero of the Holocaust, or השואה ha-sho’ah, during World War II, when he was instrumental in saving the lives of over 6,000 European Jews by getting them exit visas to Japanese territory. For his heroic acts, he was awarded the status of חסידי אומות העולם Chassidéy ’Ummót Ha‘olám, Righteous among the Nations, by the State of Israel in 1985.

Chiune Sugihara was born January 1, 1900, in Yaotsu, a rural area in Gifu Prefecture of the Chūbu region to a middle-class father, Mitsugoro Sugihara, and Yatsu Sugihara, a samurai-class mother. He was the second son among five boys and one girl. This has meaning for me especially, as that is the locale where my best friend in Japan, Taka Imayama, is from, and which I visited two years ago. My Japanese ‘home’ is Chūbu (Nagoya and Gifu).

I don't want to repeat his story in this post, but you can read it here in Wikipedia, and also here in a private webpage titled A Hidden Life.

What prompted me to research a little further was the question whether or not he was a Christian. From seeing him being included in the Catholic Hagiography Circle webpage dedicated to non-Catholics, I assumed he must have been, but I wanted to find out for sure. Many Japanese that are well known in the West have been Christians, such as my favorite actor Toshiro Mifune, or the conductor Seiji Ozawa, but it hadn't occurred to me that Sugihara might have been one too. Being a Christian in Japan is not quite the same as being one in America or Europe where it's almost something you are born into. Usually, you must choose.

As it turns out, Chiune Sugihara had accepted Orthodox Christianity when he lived in Harbin, Manchuria. He had married a White Russian woman, so the original impetus may have been as it often is, convert in order to marry. Orthodox Christianity does not permit the marriage of believers with non-Christians. But they were divorced, and in 1935 when he married his second wife, a Japanese, she also converted to Orthodox Christianity, taking the name Maria. This leads me to suspect that his Christianity was not merely a formality, as his later actions proved.

In his quiet, modest way, Sugihara very much embodied the noble concept of Tolstoy’s prince. He sought neither fame nor fortune, merely saying “I may have to disobey my government, but if I don't I would be disobeying God.” When asked why he chose to help the Jewish refugees, he responded,
“You want to know about my motivation, don't you? Well. It is the kind of sentiments anyone would have when he actually sees refugees face to face, begging with tears in their eyes. He just cannot help but sympathize with them. Among the refugees were the elderly and women. They were so desperate that they went so far as to kiss my shoes, Yes, I actually witnessed such scenes with my own eyes. Also, I felt at that time, that the Japanese government did not have any uniform opinion in Tokyo. Some Japanese military leaders were just scared because of the pressure from the Nazis; while other officials in the Home Ministry were simply ambivalent. People in Tokyo were not united. I felt it silly to deal with them. So, I made up my mind not to wait for their reply. I knew that somebody would surely complain about me in the future. But, I myself thought this would be the right thing to do. There is nothing wrong in saving many people's lives… The spirit of humanity, philanthropy… neighborly friendship… with this spirit, I ventured to do what I did, confronting this most difficult situation… and because of this reason, I went ahead with redoubled courage.”
Yes, I would agree that he deserves to be commemorated in the calendar of saints, but it's God's calendar of saints, not ours, who are often duped by worldly glory and the will of men. As I prayed in my previous post, I pray again, “With the Saints give rest, O Christ, to the souls of Your servants…”

HERE is a rough sketch for an ikon of Chiune Sugihara.
And HERE is the finished ikon.

The Unchurchables

With the Saints give rest, O Christ, to the souls of Your servants where there is no pain, nor sorrow, nor suffering, but life everlasting.

O God of spirits and of all flesh, You have trampled down death and have abolished the power of the devil, giving life to Your world. Give rest to the souls of Your departed servants, in a place of light, in a place of repose, in a place of refreshment, where there is no pain, sorrow, and suffering. As a good and loving God, forgive every sin they have committed in thought, word or deed, for there is no one who lives and is sinless. You alone are without sin. Your righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, and Your word is truth. For You are the resurrection, the life and the repose of Your departed servants, Christ our God, and to You we give glory, with Your eternal Father and Your all-holy, good and life-giving Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages.
— Greek Orthodox Memorial Service

Looking for a suitable photograph of Mother Maria Skobtsova to use in my previous post, I ran across a webpage that I have discovered once or twice before, Hagiography Circle, an online resource for Roman Catholics to connect to their saints. The photo of Mother Maria was on a page titled Non-Catholic Models. The page had an apologetic for why the site would dare to post the stories of non-Catholics who, if they had been Catholics, might be considered saints:

"As it is true in the Catholic faith, several members of the Orthodox and Protestant churches have responded generously to this divine grace by allowing the Spirit to work fully in and through their lives - even to the point of martyrdom - for the sake of the Reign."

I was simply impressed how anyone could make such a statement. It demonstrates to me a very fatal flaw in what passes for the Church in this world. There are just too many good examples of people living in Christ outside what a particular institution calls 'the Church.' I call these examples, "the Unchurchables," not because they did not belong to the Church, but because somehow they "slipped through the pews and escaped," to do the work that Christ had called them to.

I have not examined the lives of most of the people depicted in the photos, but I do know the stories of some of them, and I know of many others that could be added. I wonder how things look to them from their angles of the Throne. As C. S. Lewis (who in my estimation should have his picture there, so I added it!) has said, when all is said and done, "there will be some surprises."

Click on the image to zoom it (after clicking, hover the mouse over the image till you see the magnifying glass, then click once more) and see the pictures and names of "the Unchurchables" clearly. If the image were to be complete, it would be way too large to post on the internet…

After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”
Revelation 7:9-10 NIV

An eyebrow kiss

Forgive me, brethren, for this little piece of levity.

“Careful, brother! I don't want my crown to fall off!”

All this smooching between hierarchs and popes is really quite comical, if not even tragic at a deeper level. I have long since personally given up hoping for as well as renouncing the kind of "unity" that this represents. For me, it is simply a non-issue. The unity which Christians share is above all a grace of Christ in the Holy Spirit, and we know that the Church has never been divided and never can be, but for those who battle it out on the external level. The canons of the Church are in place for good reason, and the lines have been drawn with good intentions, but all of these are temporal and fade away at the approach of Christ, for whose sake all who follow Him have given up all, and in whose presence all our righteousness, orthodoxy and orthopraxy, for all their "glory", are still just filthy rags. Christ has saved us in spite of ourselves, so our best response is to love one another as He has loved us, without plucking each other's eyebrows in the process.

Photo and idea from Fr Milovan's blog post, The Arrogant Papal Brow.

The only measure of all things

The evangelical spirit of religious consciousness "blows where it will," but woe betide those ages and those peoples upon which it does not rest. And at the same time, blessed are they that walk in its paths—even those who know it not.

What is most characteristic of this path?
It is a desire to "Christify" all of life.
To a certain degree this notion can be contrasted to that which is understood not only by the term "enchurchment," but also the term "Christianization."

is often taken to mean the placing of life within the framework of a certain rhythm of church piety, the subordination of one's personal life experience to the schedule of the cycle of divine services, the incorporation of certain specific elements of "churchliness" into one's way of life, even elements of the Church's ustav.

"Christianization," however, is generally understood as nothing more than the correction of the bestial cruelty of man's history through inoculation with a certain dose of Christian morality. And in addition to this it also includes the preaching of the Gospel to the whole world.

"Christification," however, is based on the words, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me" (Galatians 2:20). The image of God, the icon of Christ, which truly is my real and actual essence or being, is the only measure of all things, the only path or way which is given to me. Each movement of my soul, each approach to God, to other people, to the world, is determined by the suitability of that act for reflecting the image of God which is within me.

If I am faced with two paths and I am in doubt, then even if all human wisdom, experience, and tradition point to one of these, but I feel that Christ would have followed the other—then all my doubts should immediately disappear, and I should choose to follow Christ in spite of all the experience, tradition and wisdom that are opposed to it.

— Mother Maria Skobtsova, Types of Religious Lives

No place like home

To the Jews who believed in Him Jesus said, “If you make My word your home you will indeed be my disciples, you will learn the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
John 8:31-32 Jerusalem Bible

Immediately upon hearing these words, argument and self-justification breaks out. Instead of attending to the first statement, the ‘if’ of Jesus’ word, His hearers latch on to the second statement, that in being His disciples ‘indeed’ they will be made free by the truth.

They take charge of the word He just spoke to them and immediately jump on it, assuming the worst, accepting it as an accusation or challenge to what they think they are. “We are descended from Abraham and we have never been the slaves of anyone! What do you mean…?”

Nothing has changed, not with the Jews who believed in Him (for those are the very people that He was addressing and who came back with an argument), nor with the modern Christians (who also say they believe in Him, as long as…). They too pass over the ‘if’ of Jesus' word. Instead, they focus on themselves, not on Him, not on what He is really saying.

What He is really saying they don't even hear. What He is really telling them is the straightforward path to discipleship and fellowship with Him, and they meet it with silence.

So, the silence of the Word is met with silence, with non-recognition, by those ‘who believed in Him.’

Who can receive the word of Jesus in silence, just as He speaks it, without the interference of the ‘believing’ but questioning mind?
For this defines a great divide, a great gulf which cannot otherwise be bridged, between what we are and what we think we are, what the Word declares and what we think it declares, between discipleship and our need to justify ourselves.

The call to discipleship is answered by a simple ‘Yes’ and, as Ignatios of Antioch writes in his letter to the church at Ephesos,

“a man who has truly mastered the utterances of Jesus will also be able to apprehend His silence, and thus reach full spiritual maturity, so that his own words have the force of actions and his silences the significance of speech. Nothing is hidden from the Lord; even our most secret thoughts are present to Him. Whatever we do, then, let it be done as though He Himself were dwelling within us, we being as it were His temples and He within us as their God. For in fact, that is literally the case; and in proportion as we rightly love Him, so it will become clear to our eyes.”
(Ignatios of Antioch, Ephesians, ch. 15)

For what does the Word Himself declare to us?

Jesus replied, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and We shall come to him and make Our home with him.”
John 13:23 JB

מִזְמוֹר קיט

Psalms for the 26th Day (English)
119: 105-176 (Nûn~Tav)
Psalms for the 26th Day (Hebrew)
119: 97-176 (Mém~Tav)

Psalms, the heart of the scriptures and of the soul of man, the cry of the soul of kings, and of priests, painting them prophets—what a blessing to have this gateway to the throne room of the Most High!

I reach for my copy of Tehillim, the Hebrew psalm book, on this cool, cloudy morning. All my windows have been open all night, and the sun hasn't warmed the air yet. The air is still, and the sound of birds opening their songs is all to be heard.

“26th Day of the Month” proclaims the header.
The reading begins at verse 97, so I have to turn back a few pages to find the psalm number, to call it out in Hebrew…
Mizmor Qoph Yod Tét, Psalm 119
Then, I return to my place, and see, what a perfect verse to begin the day!

מָה-אָהַבְתִּי תוֹרָתֶךָ: כָּל-הַיּוֹם, הִיא שִׂיחָתִי
Máh ahávti toratèkha, kol hayyóm hi sichatí…
O how I love Your Torah! All day long it is my conversation…

I try to complete the reading, but as I take it into me, verse by verse, my spirit takes seláh, pause, my eyes close and I am lost in wonder, as the Word reminds me of all God's wonderful works. I never quite reach my destination, the end of the psalm. But the day is freshened by this beginning. I will return to it later in the day, and by nightfall, the whole psalm portion will have been read and prayed. God is good.

In the English 30-day psalm cycle, Psalm 119 begins at the end of the 24th day, taking in the first four stanzas, numbered by the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, Aleph, Bét, Gímel, Dálet. Then, stanzas through Mém follow as the psalm portion for the 25th day. And on the 26th Day, the remainder of Psalm 119, beginning at stanza Nûn, verse 105 by our reckoning, is to be read and prayed.

Psalm 119 has become for me a kind of favorite, almost a statement and rehearsal of my personal faith and life in Christ, and also something akin to an owner's manual—I am the apparatus, He is the Owner, but in the case of this apparatus, the apparatus needs to read the instructions, not the Owner!

In my original Jerusalem Bible, the book will almost always automatically fall open at the page where Psalm 119 for the 26th day is marked, so it probably has been read more than any other page in the book. I almost always start any bible reading by reciting verse 105, “Now Your Word is a lamp to my feet, a light on my path.” I find the minor difference between the English and the Hebrew psalm portion for this day interesting: The Hebrew starts with, “O how I love Your Torah…” while the English commences with, “Now Your Word is a lamp to my feet…” Really, two ways of saying the same thing, how valuable, how indispensable, is God's Torah, God's Word, in the life of the disciple!

Tehillim, praises, Psalms, songs, truly the heart of the scriptures and of the soul of man!

Now I know why they used to be included in every edition of the New Testament, though nowadays it is possible to find them omitted. Not only do they present in condensed form the main truths of the Old Testament, providing the prophetic background for the New, but they also teach the disciple to pray, and form his inner man. You can read the New Testament alone all you want, but without prayer, it is impossible to enter into the life described there, you remain a spectator or philosopher only. Psalm 119 concludes,

Yahweh, may my cry approach Your Presence;
let Your Word endow me with perception!
May my entreaty reach Your Presence;
rescue me as You have promised.
May my lips proclaim Your praise,

since You teach me Your statutes.
May my tongue recite Your promise,
since all Your commandments are righteous.
May Your hand be there to help me,

since I have chosen Your precepts.
I long for You, Yahweh, my Saviour,
Your Law is my delight.

Long may may soul live to praise You,
long be Your rulings my help!
I am wandering like a lost sheep:
Come and look for Your servant.

No, I have never forgotten Your commandments.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

In us

Thanks to Presbytera Candace Schefe of Holy Transfiguration GOC in Anchorage, Alaska, for sharing this word with us...

You asked somebody, "Where is God?” And you got an answer that God is inside you. And you marvel at this answer. How can that be?

Kind of like light in a room, or like fire in a stove. When you are able to feel God within you, you will feel and know that He is inside you, but you will not be able to explain it to someone else. But you will look for images in nature and then you will speak to the other person as I speak to you: God is within me like light in a room, or a like fire in a stove, or like air in the lungs, or like life in every creature, or like force and love and thought inside of man. Of course, these are just images and likenesses, and they cannot express what a man feels when God dwells within him in His fullness. God’s apostle, our spiritual father Paul, wishes for the faithful to be filled with all fullness in God [Ephesians 3: 19]. God works from within a man in two ways — by helping and by governing.

When helping, God works within a man of medium or weak faith, who only occasionally remembers God and only keeps His commandments partially. God does not abandon him because he also does not completely abandon God.

However, God acts through governing in a man of great faith, who has opened wide the doors of his soul to his Creator. And it is written, "He who opens the door I will enter to him" [Revelation 3: 20]. Such a man does not rely on himself at all but only on the Almighty. He feels the presence and the working of the Spirit of God within himself and has great love toward his Lord.

And Christ has promised to the one who loves God that God will come and dwell within him. "He who loves me will keep my word and my Father will love him. And we will come to him and will make our abode within him." You will not be able to understand this if you forget that God is a Spirit, who can enter everything and be everywhere, according to his power, and will. He is high above all matter, like the sun is high above the earth, but its light can enter every open thing. As the apostle says: "One God and the Father of all who is above all and through all, and in us all," [Ephesians 4: 6]. He writes this about the holy and the faithful.

But when someone rejects God, starts thinking ugly thoughts and speaking against God, God also leads him. It is the same as if somebody would close off the windows of a room and prevent the light from coming in and illuminating everything. For God’s prophet Samuel said to the self-willed King Saul, "You have rejected the word of the Lord and for this the Lord has rejected you… and the spirit of the Lord abandoned Saul."

But even when God abandons a soul of a stubborn man, He does not stop working on him from without, the way He works on water and stone and wood.

But if a man remains stubborn and resists God until the end and refuses to repent, then God allows an evil spirit to enter in. Like it is written about Saul when the Spirit of the Lord abandoned him, "and an evil spirit disturbed him from the Lord." Or as it is written, even worse, about Judas the betrayer, "Satan entered into him."

Such people, who rise against God, of course, can never feel God within themselves or say, "God is inside of us."

And those who love God, and desire Him, and see Him, and entreat Him to come, they feel God within themselves and they can say, "God is within us by His Holy Spirit."

Blessed are such bright souls, for they will always reign in the kingdom of Christ. As the Lord has promised to those who love Him saying, "I will take you to myself so that you may be where I am."

Nikolaj Velimirović, bishop of Ohrid

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Once and for all

Life doesn't end with death: There it begins.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

It can only happen

It can only happen, when you give up all.
It can only start, when you have sold all your possessions.
No, not your house, your car, your job, your clothes—
though if you want to leave these to others, you may—
but possessions kept so close, held onto so tightly
that no one but you sometimes even knows they are there.

The ownership of privacy is the root of all evil,
though the love of money can take second place,
but both stop the sun from rising on your neighbor’s field.
To wish for ourselves a happiness that excludes all others,
to hedge about our garden to keep out all comers,
this pride of privacy hides the truth, and mocks the life.

Not only world rulers despoil and defraud the poor,
but meek shepherds lolling in the sheepfolds smiling lies
hoard for themselves not money only, but stranded souls.
Not only vineyard laborers beat and blaspheme the past,
but presently murder the Owner’s sons and daughters,
with stone arrows shot from behind their lookout towers.

It can only happen, when you walk away shaken.
All your pockets emptied, your feet unshod, hands staffless,
heart moved like mountain cast into churning sea,
driven out by the darkness that enfolded you in your tomb,
blasted open with the dynamite of unexpected light,
when you walk away shaken, your eyes and ears, opened.

When you have sold all your possessions, return and follow Me.
No point in questioning until you want to hear the answer.
Playing a game of rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief,
preventing others, by your privacy, from entering in,
stopping all at the gate, demanding what cannot be given,
only your door have you locked and barred and sealed by unbelief.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The foolish language of God

The language of the Cross may be illogical to those who are not on the way to salvation, but those of us who are on the way see it as God's power to save. As scripture says: I shall destroy the wisdom of the wise and bring to nothing all the learning of the learned. Where are the philosophers now? Where are the scribes? Where are any of our thinkers today? Do you see now how God has shown up the foolishness of human wisdom? If it was God's wisdom that human wisdom should not know God, it was because God wanted to save those who have faith through the foolishness of the Message that we preach. And so, while the Jews demand miracles and the Greeks look for wisdom, here are we preaching a crucified Christ; to the Jews an obstacle they cannot get over, to the pagans madness, but to those who have been called, whether they are Jews or Greeks, a Christ who is the power and the wisdom of God.
1 Corinthians 1:18-24 Jerusalem Bible

I believe in God. I believe in God because I have come to know Him in the person of Christ. The realm of that experience and the living Tradition to which it belongs stands outside of reason – as does much of human life and the universe around us. Reason’s God is too small. It is not surprising that those who give an inordinate place to reason find such a small God unbelievable.
— Fr Stephen, Reason's God, Glory to God for All Things

O Lord, my strength

My elders taught me, when I was a youth,
to cling to heaven and earth, lest I stumble.
For a long time I remained a child,
and for a long time I used to lean on the crutch that they gave me.

But once eternity flooded through me
and I felt like a stranger in the world,
heaven and earth snapped in two in my hands like a frail reed.

O Lord, my strength, how frail are heaven and earth!
They look like palaces built of lead,
but they evaporate like water
in the palm of the hand in Your presence.
Only by their bristling do they conceal their frailty,
and frighten uneducated children.

Get out of my sight, suns and stars.
Sunder yourselves from the earth.
Do not entice me, women and friends.
What help can I receive from you,
who are helplessly growing old and sinking into the grave?

All your gifts are an apple with a worm in its core.
All your potions have passed through someone's entrails many times.
Your garments are a cobweb that my nakedness mocks.
Your smiles are a proclamation of sorrow,
in which your feebleness is screaming to mine for help.

O Lord, my strength,
how feeble heaven and earth are!
And all the evil that men do under heaven
is an admission of feebleness and infirmity.

Only someone strong dares to do good.
Only someone who is nourished and watered with You,
my strength, is filled with strength for goodness.

Only someone who sleeps in Your heart knows rest.
Only someone who plows before Your feet
will enjoy the fruit of his labors.

My childhood, nourished with fear and ignorance,
came to an end; and my hope in heaven and earth vanished.

Now I only gaze at You and cling to Your gaze in return,
O my cradle and my resurrection.

Prayers by the Lake, IV - Nikolaj Velimirović, bishop of Ohrid

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Reminiscences of my Dad

My Dad, after whom I am named Roman, is now 83 years old, lives in Florida, is still in good health, and is as active as can be. [Dad reposed on January 20, 2013. Memory eternal!] We talk by phone every week, and I try to visit him at least once a year, even though we live almost at the extreme antipodes of the continent from each other. Even though he has a computer, his internet access is dial-up, and so he rarely if ever visits my blog, and will probably not see this. Even so, I want to tell him, “Thanks for being my Dad, and may God grant you many, many years.”

My first reminiscence, an explanation about my name...

While I was growing up, and until the age of 37, I was called Norman, my original English name. I was born when my Dad was serving in Korea, and my Mom and he could not agree on my name. “I want my first-born son named after me,” my Dad told her.
“We can't do that!
‘Roman’ is such a greenhorn name! All the kids will laugh at him when he goes to school!”
my Mom argued. She always wanted to be the most American and up-to-date. My Dad's name is an ancient name, like the names of all
his brothers and sisters, but he gave in, because he was far away, and he didn't want to argue. But my Mom offered a compromise, “Norman, how about Norman?” she offered.
“It sounds like Roman, and then the kids won't bother him, because it's an American name. Think of Norman Rockwell.” My Mom was a graphic artist, and she liked paintings and painters. So, I was baptised as a baby in the basement chapel of a neighborhood convent in Chicago, Saint Mark's, and my Dad's sister Elizabeth (Evelyn) and her husband Leo, were my godparents.
My grandmother Sophia (far left in the photo) used to call me Normek which is Polish for Normie and my parents called me Norm. I won't tell you what my schoolmates called me, but they made fun of me anyway, because back in the 1950's, Norman was just as goofy-sounding a name as Roman would have been. In fact, it was worse. Kids with very foreign-sounding names, like Dragomir or Wolfgang were never taunted, because their names were just too mysterious. Mine, however, was just on the cutting edge of nerd-dom, and so I was always embarrassed to even tell people my name.I just had to include my first grade class photo. The kids in this picture are too precious, and so typical of what we were like in those days. About half of the class were either immigrant kids or American-born of immigrant parents. Zoom the photo and see if you can tell which are the immigrants, the ‘greenhorns’ as my Mom called them, and which are the Americans. By the way, I am the boy at the right end of the second row from the top, wearing a white shirt and tie. Seymore is next to me wearing a suit (his name was a bit weird too, and he got teased as I did), and Dragomir is the fourth boy from the right in my row, standing below the smiley boy in the dark suit. It's strange that I still remember many of them by name. I was in love with Maud, the Asian girl second from the left in the third row.

To finish the story, at the age of 37, when I was chrismated into the Greek Church, I regained my original name ‘Roman’ in the Greek form ‘Romanos’ to honor my Dad, and because my Mom had already reposed, it gave her no offense. That's the story of my name, if anyone was wondering.

Now, to the real reminiscence of my Dad...

I was 17 years old, had just gotten my driver's license, and had not yet really learned how to handle a car in all situations. I was working the 2nd shift at the Wheaton post office where my Dad was the superintendant. It was after midnight, and a drizzly sort of night, and I was going home. Filled with the sense of power I had, driving my Dad's new station wagon, I took a curve at too high a speed, rolled the car into a ditch, breaking the windshield and all the windows, lost my glasses and bumped my head really bad, but the car bounced back onto its wheels and was driveable. I drove the 18 miles to my house, my Mom was up waiting for me, but Dad was already in bed, snoring. She opened the door and asked, "Norm, are you alright?" and then looked at the car, roof smashed down and all the edges lined with grass poking out of sod fragments. She hurried me in, and then went and woke up my Dad. I went with her.

"What happened, Norm?" he asked. I lied. I made up a story of how there must've been oil on the road when I took that curve and rolled his new car into the ditch. He slowly got up and got dressed, "Where did it happen?" he asked, then, "Let's go and see if we can find the windshield and get the license sticker off of it, so it can't be traced." We went down and found the sticker and tore it off the shattered windshield, and drove home. We both went back to bed. I feared for my life in the morning.

What did Dad do? Nothing. He just started driving his jalopy to work, tried to salvage parts off the new car (he worked on cars), and rescheduled me to work in the Dead Letter department during his working hours, since we now had only one car in the family. He never blamed me or punished me or even mentioned what happened again. He took the loss, and acted as if he never had that new car.

I've never forgotten this incident all my life, and even though when I've reminisced about it with my Dad, he has said, “Well, that's not how I remember it!” ...well, he probably doesn't want to be made out to be a ‘softy.’ After all, he was an army man.

The other reminiscence (for there are two) about my Dad, well, I've posted this before, but anonymously, but here it is again, only now you know who the old veteran was...

An old man sitting in his tiny room on a day bed.
On the wall behind the bed are two glazed picture frames, the one on the left full of awards and ribbons from his American Legion days, the one on the right displays an arrangement of military decorations, bars and medals hanging from ribbons, with a sepia tone photo of a young soldier in his early twenties. He has company with him in his room, a rare event.
His visitor asks him about the medals, “What was this one for? And what about that other one?” The old man’s eyes get a far away look in them when asked about a medal for his service in Korea during the war almost sixty years ago. “What did you do when you were in Korea to earn that? Were you in combat?”
“No, not exactly what you’d call combat, but I was surrounded by it. Me and another soldier, we were assigned to carry mail between Pusan and the front lines. When we landed in Pusan, that’s about all there was of Korea, the Chinese had overrun everything. My original army unit was almost completely wiped out. I got placed in a different unit, and we took the mail back and forth.

“We lived in the railway car that carried the mail, like a postal unit on wheels, it got hauled from the base at Pusan to wherever we had to get the mail to and from our troops. We took in a Korean boy, must’ve been twelve years old or so, named Kim Mun Heup. He spoke good English, he was from a rich family in Seoul, but both his parents were killed in the fighting. We took him in as our house boy. He cooked, washed our stuff, helped us buy food and supplies in the towns wherever we went. He lived with us in the railway car.

“We paid him, of course, but I got a hold of a Sears Roebuck catalog, and we let him look through it and pick out clothes and other things. We sent away for them, and when they finally got here, boy, was he ever happy! He had a baseball cap and real American clothes, tee-shirts and blue jeans, and shoes. Boy, was he ever proud! Kim found about six other boys, all orphans like himself, but younger, and became their manager. He got his orders from us, and gave them their work. He paid them, and shared with them, of course.

“I was proud of him, too, and I wanted to adopt him and bring him back to America, but I knew that wouldn’t go over well. I’d just gotten married before being shipped off, and I had a baby on the way. I knew my wife wouldn’t want to see me bring home a kid just ten years younger than me, and not ‘one of us,’ if you get my meaning.

“When we were in the north, at the front, refugees would come to me and my buddy, maybe Kim told them about us, and we’d give them a place to stay and a ride in our mail car back to the south. We’d drop them off at various places along the way, where they had friends or relatives to take them in. Times were pretty rough, and they’d lost a lot. Once we even hid a bunch of Catholic nuns who escaped from the north and dropped them off in a safe area. They were Koreans, of course, but spoke good English, as did most of the people that came to us for help.

“Boy, would we ever have gotten in trouble for hiding these people, if the base commander had found out! But he never did. That’s because we always dropped them off before the train got back to Pusan. We didn’t see any harm in it, helping those folks. What else could we have done?

“I didn’t stay right to the end of the war. Our replacements arrived, and me and my buddy returned to the States. Like I said, I really wanted to adopt Kim and bring him home, but it just couldn’t happen. So before we left, we gave him a couple of thousand dollars and dropped him off in a small town where he had some relatives. The money was for his education. I hope he made it. We didn’t stay in touch after the war. Life had just changed too much for all of us.”

The visitor listened to the old man release his secret story and wondered, had anyone else heard this told in many a year? Was the buddy still alive, staying alone in some cottage like this old soldier? And where was Kim? Three whole lifetimes were lived completely apart, that once for a year or a little more had been more closely knit than family, two young men and a boy riding the rails together in a war-torn land, carrying messages between danger and safety, carrying souls secretly from oppression to freedom.

That’s worth more than medals.